The simple story that the press was told was that Harry Potter was taking a vacation. He was physically and emotionally exhausted from the defeat of Voldemort and just needed a break. Those close to him however, knew a different story, one that was much closer to the truth. The Boy-Who-Lived-To-Defeat-Voldemort had defeated him and was feeling at a loss. The thing that had defined him for so long was now gone and he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be anymore. It was an easy decision for Harry to take off for parts unknown, to see the world, and discover who he was, not what people expected him to be.
He promised Ron, Hermione, and Remus that he’d write at least once a week no matter where in the world he was. Harry had no intention of leaving the world behind, just going on a little voyage. A pilgrimage, so to speak, but with no specific destination in sight. So with just a backpack (with a special compartment magically expanded to carry a Firebolt) and a sturdy new pair of shoes, he set off for parts unknown.
Harry started in France and worked his way south. He visited both muggle and wizarding places of historic import, and places just because they looked nice. When it was time to sleep though, he always stayed in muggle hostels. They were cheap and anonymous; no wizard would think to look for him there. If he wanted to treat himself then he stayed in a small hotel where he didn’t have to be out for the day at nine a.m. On bad days, or in towns where he had no idea where the nearest hostel was, he slept outdoors in a field somewhere. A few simple spells made sure nothing disturbed him overnight.
The days blurred into a mass of plastic hostel beds, local foods and wine, trains, buses, and a lot of walking. True, he could have apparated, but he knew he had all the time in the world and he was going to take it.
When he hit the south of France a month and a half later he crossed into Italy to work his way down the coast. Genoa, Pisa, Viareggio, then a lengthy four week stay in Florence. In his last letter to Hermione he mentioned he was going to stop there and she had replied with a book-sized missive of places he should see and why. As it turned out, Hermione was right about being able to get lost in the Uffizi because of the sheer amount of artwork, and Harry had to return there a second day just to see everything.
After a minor fiasco in Naples, which was by no fault of his own, Harry hopped the last boat out of town and ended up on an island…somewhere. By the time he had landed, it was extremely late and just about everything in sight was closed up. So it was time to sleep in a field again, hiking for an hour or so before he found a bit near a cliff that looked safely vacant.
And for the first time in a very long while, Harry dreamed.
The dream came in flashes—a stout and lushly leaved tree in the midst of a grassy garden—
--a bonfire, flames licking and snapping up towards a night sky with a sliver of a moon—
--chanting, men’s and women’s voices mixed in harmony singing towards a red and orange sunrise, with an undertone of chirping exotic birds—
--a stone wall, with tangled tendrils of green vines creeping over the top—
--an feeling of warmth, of arms like roots curling around him and embracing him—
Harry awoke with a jolt, maybe a psychic kick to the solar plexus. The sun was just peeking over the edge of the cliff, and much to his surprise there were bare feet surrounding him. He followed the legs upwards to see a group of young girls standing over him, clad in a variety of muggle clothes, just outside the protective barrier he had cast.
“Hello,” he mumbled, knowing it was far too early for him to scrape together the meager amount of Italian he knew.
“Buon giorno,” a few of the girls say, some giggles slipping out around it.
Off in the distance, maybe half a mile away, Harry could see what looked like the remains of an old castle, crumbling grey stone walls with a few low turrets peeking out over them. But there was something familiar about it…That was it, it reminded him of Hogwarts. Not because of the look of it, but because of the shimmer of diversion spells around it. He’d bet anything that with a closer look the castle would look more inhabited.
“Uh…parla inglese?” he asked the group, hoping someone would be able to help him.
“Mi dispiace, no,” one of the girls said. Then they traded a look, all seeming to come to the same conclusion at once. “La Matricia.”
“Excuse me?” Harry said, getting to his feet. The girls began to walk towards the castle, chattering and laughing.
The girl who had spoken before turned around again. “Voi venite,” she said slowly, pointing at him then at the castle. She walked a few more steps backwards, then waved him closer. It was fairly obvious that they wanted him to come up to the castle. Harry gripped his wand tighter and followed them. Worst case situation, he could toss a few hexes out and then apparate back to the port.
The half mile walk was over quickly and they arrived at a set of wooden doors, held together by bolts blackened with age. The girl pulled a wand out of her jeans pocket and waved it at the doors. They swung open silently, revealing a bustling world inside. People of all ages were swarming around, some farming small plots of land, some mending clothes, some using magic, and some doing things the muggle way. In any case it was surprisingly busy for such an early hour. The inside of the castle was noticeably larger than the outside, the stone walls encapsulating a place where many people could live and work quite comfortably.
“Where are we?” Harry asked, still holding onto his wand as he took in the sights.
“La Matricia voi racconterà,” one of them said. This was the second time they had mentioned ‘la matricia,’ so hopefully whoever or whatever that was would give him some answers. The girls led him through the crowd to a quieter area. This part was more park-like, with stone benches scattered amidst local foliage. On one of these benches was an older woman, with salt and pepper hair draping over her shoulders. Her loose caftan-like outfit was being blown about in the early morning breeze, as were the pages of the large and rather dusty looking book that was on her lap.
The girls dissolved into rapid fire Italian, no doubt quickly explaining what they had found. The woman sat silent until they had finished, then nodded, spoke a few words, and waved a hand. With a few small smiles at him the girls left, and the woman turned to him. She pointed at a bench directly across from her. “Please, sit,” she said in accented English. “It’s not every day we find such a powerful wizard sleeping in our field.”
“I arrived too late to find a hostel,” Harry explained, feeling comfortable enough to give a few details. “Where…what exactly is this place?”
“I doubt anyone would be able to tell you exactly anything, but this place is called Pithekoussai. It is many things to many people, school, lodging, home, library, hospital, sanctuary, countless things really. But most importantly, at least to me, it is the temple of the Great Lady.”
“The Great Lady?”
The woman, smiled a knowing smile that made him feel a little uncomfortable. “Mother Earth. The Lady of all ladies. This has been her temple since before the rise of empires. I am La Matricia, The Matriarch and high priestess of the Great Lady. Most people, however, do not find this place unless they are looking for it. So, who are you, and why did you find Pithekoussai?”
Harry paused for a moment trying to collect his thoughts. “My name is Harry Potter…” He trailed off at the woman’s sudden look of recognition, but she didn’t say anything and motioned him to continue. Even in what seemed to be such an isolated place Voldemort was known. It wasn’t a pleasant thought. “I’m just taking a little time to myself, now that things have calmed down. A vacation, sort of. But not really. Maybe a…voyage of discovery would be more appropriate.” If he elaborated any more than that they’d be sitting there for days. In any case, it was more than he would have liked to have shared, but La Matricia’s dark eyes seemed to draw him in and make him want to tell his story.
“That makes sense,” La Matricia murmured. “Well, Mr. Potter, you are welcome here for as long as you would like. I hope it can be the sanctuary you are searching for. All that I ask is that you abide by our rules of harming no one, and respect our ceremonies and holy days. It will be obvious when these things are about to happen, so do not worry about it until then. Is that fair?”
“Yes. Thank you for letting me stay here.” It was a spur of the moment decision, but that seemed to be the theme of this trip. Harry had decided not to plan and see where life would take him. If life had ended him up here, he felt obliged to at least stay for a little while.
“You are welcome.” The woman stood up, surprisingly tall and straight for her age. “Chiara!” she hollered. “Vieni!” She switched back to English. “You will find, Mr. Potter, that we have both magic and muggle here. However, there is no need to hide your magic from them. They are fully accepting of it as a part of every day life. You will also find,” she said with a twinkle in her eye reminiscent of Dumbledore, “that muggles have a magic all their own that we wizards cannot dream of. Ah, Chiara, please show Mr. Potter here to a chamber.”
A young woman with a great deal of curly dark hair piled on top of her head nodded. “Good morning. Please follow me.” Harry stood up at La Matricia’s encouraging nod.
“I will see you later tonight, Mr. Potter,” she said. “For now, please relax, and feel free to wander about Pithekoussai. If you get lost or confused, just ask anyone about to help.” With that, La Matricia picked up her tome and moved to another bench that had a beam of sunlight warming it up.
The girl, Chiara, led him out of the garden, back through the courtyard which seemed to be even busier now, and then inside one of the large stone buildings. “So, you speak English?” Harry asked as she led them through a corridor lined with arch shaped windows.
“Yes. I went to school in America,” she replied lightly. The corner of her long skirt was grasped in her hand to keep it from trailing in the dusty floor.
“Oh. Wizard school or a muggle one?”
“A wizarding school. My mother’s alma mater.” Which meant that since Voldemort had achieved worldwide notoriety, there was every chance she could have heard of him. Bugger. As long as she didn’t bring it up…
“Here we are,” Chiara said, coming to a stop at yet another wooden door. She pulled a key from her pocket and swiftly unlocked it. With a slight creak it opened, revealing a well lit but austere room. Harry followed her in, and watched as she laid the key on a small dresser. “I’ll leave you here so you can get settled in. The toilet is down the hall, fifth door on the right. Ciao, Mr. Potter.”
Chiara left, closing the door behind her. Harry dropped his backpack on the floor and took in his surroundings. There was a single bed in a wood frame, with crisp white sheets, a thick blanket, and an overstuffed pillow a top it. On the night table was an oil lamp, and a straight backed chair was in front of the large window. In one corner was a tall wardrobe, spacious enough to hang up the one good robe and cloak he had brought with him. On top of the dresser were a few beeswax candles, and a chain made out of grape vines as a decoration. There was also a jug of water and a bowl for washing, along with a small mirror right above it. All in all sparse, but comfortable.
Not sure of where he was going from here, Harry kicked off his shoes and sat down on the bed. Within a minute he was sound asleep, sunlight warming his toes.