Egeria was dreaming of terrible things when they came - of crushed hope and lost dreams and the freedom she had once enjoyed. Even in dreams that time seemed so short, a mere fraction of a second, a mere stolen moment before Ra was standing over her, his expression hard, his stature imposing, his words unforgiving. Egeria. What have you done?
Even in dreams she couldn't quite explain why she had tried to make excuses. Oh, how young she had been back then, young and foolish, charmed by her discovery, charmed by the vision which at the time was not in the least plausible. Egeria. What have you done? Ra asked again and again, and she tried to explain – to tell him of the human she had met, the very one he had ordered her to control. They are not primitives, she tried to tell, they have philosophy, mathematics, principles - they look up at the heavens and they see things even we do not always see! Even where we have not guided them or controlled them, they have intelligence and imagination that might one day surpass ours!
So foolish. Even in her own dreams she berated herself for that, her young impulsive self. What ever had made her think that Ra would see it, that he would understand - and, even if he did, where had she gotten the idea that he would accept it? Not to mention seeing the possibility in it. Ra was a being of power and control - especially control - he did not want to hear the words, might surpass ours from anyone's lips, not even his queen's. For him humans had always been slaves, and nothing more.
Yet, there it was again, the nightmare. Her, standing shocked and frightened, caught in the act of teaching, teaching a little human boy how to understand writing. Ra, at the doorway, his eyes glowing, his servants all around him, Jaffa guard's flanking him at both sides. His question, as the little boy ran off in fear, her stutters, as she tried in vain to explain what he would never understand and never, ever accept. Egeria. What have you done?
What had she done, in the end?
She shook awake from the uneasy dreaming as words echoed through her prison, muddled and slurred by the tank's liquid, but still just barely understandable. Automatically her head jerked up to see who it was this time - the scientist who was in charge of administering the drug that kept her fertile, kept her breeding? Or the assistant, who took care of the tank's filtration system and made sure it was rich in the nutrients and vitamins that she required for survival? Or perhaps the specialist who took her young away time and time again, there to check the status of her pregnancy?
Blurred shapes beyond the glass became clear, and she jerked back a little. It was the man she saw sometimes, very rarely - Dollen, a politician of some sort, perhaps even a governor. Military people were there as well, flanking him, and for a moment Egeria though how much like Ra he seemed. But there were other people as well.
"No," she whispered, as she glanced from left to right. Sometimes new people came like this to see her - only once though. Old people, young people, women, men, even children. They peered into the tank and asked questions and at the end of the day they decided, we will take the drug, you have our support. More money to the project that abused her in ways Ra had never managed. More strain on her, as they demanded her to make more and more of her mindless young.
Except, these people weren't asking questions. They were arguing. Confused, Egeria looked between Dollen and a young female - a girl, even - who was loudly arguing. "…it is inhuman no matter what direction you look at it from! No, I don't care about the nature of the so called Goa'uld - despite what they have supposedly done; it doesn't change what you are doing here, which is abusing a sentient being for your own good!" She was saying, waving her arms and tugging on her long, brown hair in irritation.
To which the politician answered; "Miss Granger, I understand where you are coming from, at one time I felt very much like you do, but for the good of the Pangarians we cannot halt the drug's creation process - you know of our dependency on it, and to stop would amount to a holocaust --"
"A holocaust you brought upon yourself!" she argued back, and as one of the military men and a few of the scientists joined the argument, it got too blurry for Egeria to keep up with.
Still, she leaned forward, straining to hear individual opinions. She didn't know who this Miss Granger was, but to hear someone standing in defiance against the practice was a… painful relief. It had happened every once in a while during the last years - so, so many years - but it had never made much difference. People like this Granger were silenced eventually, and then the drug manufacturing continued as it had.
With a tired sigh, Egeria turned her attention away. Yes, it never meant anything, she thought, even though she appreciated the girl's passion a little. She wished, she dearly wished, it would made a difference. But none of the others had. Neither had her own efforts, and there had been many of them - each other either counteracted by the Pangarians, or ignored by them. None of it made a difference.
She almost jolted back, when one of the young people pressed her face almost against the glass of her tank - a young, blonde haired girl with wide eyes, staring at her like she had never seen the like. Most likely never had, either. Had the situation been different - had her life been different - Egeria might've felt amusement, maybe even some traces of that old fondness she had always held for human young. But she was too tired to do more than look back.
"Harry?" the blonde human asked, turning away. "I don't think this is a Crumple-horned Snorkack."
Another human shifted forward - a male this time. He smiled faintly. "No, I don't think so," he agreed, pressing his hand against the tank. Curious, Egeria shifted closer to see him more clearly. He had pieces of glass in front of his eyes, and dark hair. His eyes seemed tired - sad too, maybe. "Maybe we should leave," he said.
"Home?" the blonde girl asked, glancing up and away from Egeria. "I would like to go home."
"Me too, Luna, but I actually meant leaving this room - this facility. We can't go home unless we can figure the ship out, you know that," the young man, Harry, said, still looking at Egeria. He lowered his hand from the glass, and placed it on the girl's shoulder. "We should go. The others are waiting for us at the central building."
"We can't go before Hermione is done arguing," the girl answered, shrugging her shoulders and turning to look at Egeria again. "And the others can wait. Do you think she has a name?"
"Hermione?" Harry asked, sounding confused.
"I think she does. Hermione is a very name like name, and Hermione goes by it, so I think that means she has a name - but no, I meant her," Luna said, tapping the glass with her finger tip. "If she is sentient like they say, then she should have a name."
"Probably yeah," Harry nodded, shaking his head. "But don't go naming her all by yourself - she might get angry at you," he added before bowing his head a little and looking Egeria in the eyes. Then he did something so surprising that Egeria's fins shot up and she very nearly straightened herself completely. "Do you have a name?" he asked - hissing the words out softly in a language she hadn't heard in ages: her own.
Before she could even begin to think of what to answer, one of the scientist rushed forward to push the two children back, saying, "Away, away from the tank; you will excite the queen!" and soon they were too far for Egeria to hear what they were saying, or if they were saying anything at all. Instead, her attention was again drawn to the argument, which was now moving away from the tank - out of the room.
"… as you say, the ship is ours and we decide whether or not we will share its secrets," the brown haired girl, Hermione Granger, was saying as Dollen led her and the others away. "I want to know more about this Tretonin and the way you make it before I will let you step one foot on that ship - because if your behaviour with that will be like what you show for the queen…."
"…I assure you, Miss Granger, that we are wiling to share everything and do whatever we can to demonstrate that our medical procedures are not as cruel as you seem to think - and the reasons behind the necessity of the Tretonin are not as light as you believe. Fifty years ago, when the medical research originally began, Pangar was suffering the effects of a pandemic…."
And then they were too far away for Egeria to hear, the door closing behind them and leaving her alone in her tank, in her room. She looked after them, lowering her fins and quivering with disappointment. That young human, that Harry, he could speak the mother tongue of the Goa'uld - the language the symbiotes without hosts spoke. How did he manage that? It wasn't a language humans could learn - it was simply physically impossible, their vocal chords couldn't make the right sounds….
Egeria sighed, and lowered her head, eventually resting it against the bottom of the tank. She was so very tired, too tired to think, too tired to hope. Perhaps she would sleep some more, she thought, closing her eyes and letting the soft currents in the tank tug on her fins, lulling her off to sleep. She'd have more nightmares, perhaps about Ra again, or Janus, Numa, or possibly of her children, wherever they were - if there were any left. She would've preferred not to, but she was tired, so very tired….
Somewhere, Ra was still demanding answers. Egeria. What have you done?
She woke up to the touch, as gloved hands ran along the side of her birthing sack. Lifting her head, she glanced up to see one of the scientists leaning over the tank, both hands gloved all the way up to his shoulders to avoid skin contact with the water. She shivered, grateful of the fact that despite their medical abuse, the Pangarians never sought to physically hurt her - even now, while checking her condition and the progress of the latest of her young, the scientist's hands were almost gentle.
Once, she had tried to use these check ups to escape - or at least to bite the people who so used her - but she had neither the strength of body nor spirit to try, and so she just laid and let the man do his examinations.
"There are less," the scientist said to others in the room. "The sack isn't full - I think we've lost at least three this time."
Another scientist sighed, shaking his head. "That's only, what, thirty four per cycle now?" he asked with worry. "Each year it's less."
"And the fertility serum is having less and less of an effect," the first scientist agreed grimly, taking off his rubber gloves. "This is getting bad."
Had Egeria been able to talk to them, she would've told them that she was getting old - her body wasn't good enough to support the original numbers. Once, twenty or so years ago, she had once given birth to almost seventy mindless symbiotes per cycle – an admirable sum for any queen without a host. But that was twenty years ago, and her efforts to lessen her young, to drain them of their minds and powers, were taking their toll on her. Another ten years or so, and she'd be completely unable to continue, no matter how they drugged her in order to keep her going.
At least by then, it would be over.
As the scientist bustled about, making notes and observations and tweaking the serum delivery system, she dozed lightly in and out again, remembering her first Tok'ra child and how happy she had been when her beliefs had been passed on. There had been so much work to do, but she hadn't been alone, she hadn't been alone… like she was now.
She came out of the sleepy haze as more people joined the room - two soldiers and the youths from before. Miss Granger was there, her hair tied back and her sleeves pulled up, looking determined. Harry was there too, talking with another young man. "… well, of course I can, but I'm not going to just yet - not before Hermione calms down."
"Probably a good call, mate," the other young man, red haired and freckled, chuckled.
"If you two are done," Hermione snapped over her shoulder, while walking straight to Egeria's tank. "We're not here to fool around, you know," she added while bending to look at the queen.
"Ugh," the redhead said, noticing Egeria. "Merlin, she's an ug--"
"Ron, don't you dare," the brown haired girl said sternly. "This is important."
He grimaced, giving Egeria a slightly uneasy look. "I don't really see how," he said, pulling himself a chair while the scientist and the soldiers exchanged words behind the backs of the three young humans. "I mean this whole thing has nothing to do with us, does it? I think we should be concentrating on getting back home," he said, waving his hand at the room around them. "What ever these people do in their secret facilities isn't really any of our business, is it?"
"Uuh, big mistake, mate," Harry murmured, grinning, as he turned so that Hermione couldn't see his expression.
"Not your busi - not our business? Of course it is our business! They are abusing, borderline torturing this being, and I am not going to do any business with the Pangarians before I know everything they have to say about this whole thing," Hermione snapped, waving around as well. "I do not associate with enslavers or torturers."
"It's not human, Hermione," the redhead said, though looking a little defensive.
"So what? She could be!" the girl said, lifting her chin. "Just because she doesn't look like you or talk like you, it doesn't mean she can't be intelligent, she can't have a soul or emotions - can't feel pain. How would you feel if it was Dobby in that tank - or a unicorn? Or one of us - we're not exactly normal humans either, so it might as well be!"
"Okay, okay, calm down," the redhead, Ron, said, lifting his hands in surrender. "Don't bite my head off; it wasn't me who set this thing up."
The girl huffed, before turning to the scientists and demanding to see their data. Behind her, the two youths exchanged a look and sighed, apparently adjusted to her outbursts. Egeria, on other hand, followed the girl's progress with interest. People had spoken for her before, but never with such vehemence. And what did she mean, not exactly normal humans? They looked like humans. Perhaps they were Jaffa?
"I guess we're waiting, then," Harry muttered, chucking and approaching the tank thoughtfully. "This might take a while."
"A while which we don't have. We should be trying to figure out a way to get home - we should already be heading back!" Ron muttered, folding his arms. "Not that the idea of spending another four months cooped up on a ship sounds in any way enticing, but… we should be trying. We have… we have stuff to do," he finished lamely.
"I know, trust me, I know. We have a war to fight," Harry sighed, kneeling beside the tank and looking Egeria up and down. "Sorry about that. If it hadn't been for me and that stupid vision…."
"Yeah, yeah. We know, you've said it some half a million times already. You can safely assume that we have forgiven you," Ron said, grimacing slightly as he looked between Harry and the queen. "Do you have to be that close to it? It's giving me the creeps."
"I don't know," Harry answered, shrugging his shoulders. "After Blast Ended Skrewts, she's not half bad looking really."
"You just had to make that comparison," the redhead muttered but gave Egeria another look. "Hey, you're right. Still not a pretty sight, but yeah, she could look worse."
Egeria almost chuckled at that, not sure when the last time was that she had heard simple light hearted talk like this. Mostly light hearted anyway. She had to wonder what kind of world they came from - they were obviously not Pangarians. And Pangar, as far as she knew, had no war - despite the things they did in the name of medical science, they were mostly peaceful people.
"Her health is declining," the brown haired human girl said, stepping forward with a wad of papers in her arms. "The number of children she can have has gone down each year, and they've had to increase how much they feed her, and the… the fertility drugs they give her. Oh Merlin, the poor creature. And no wonder, after so many years."
"How many?" Harry asked, and Egeria glanced up. She had lost count of the years, and though it made no difference at this point, knowing would still give her… something.
"Hm. They started the experiments about forty five years ago, and she's been… she's been producing offspring's for about twenty five years," the girl looked up and at Egeria with such compassion in her eyes that Egeria was a little taken aback.
"Ouch," the redhead murmured, shifting uneasily where he sat. "That's a long while. And didn't you say that the stuff they're making, this Tre-whatever it is, it doesn't even work right?"
"It does, and it doesn't," Hermione said, sitting down on the floor beside Harry, almost out of the range of Egeria's vision. "It does cure all illnesses - at first it was only given to those who were ill with incurable lethal diseases, and it worked almost every time. The problem is that once you've used it even once, you become dependant on it."
"It means they have to keep on taking the drug," Harry explained to his redheaded friend. "So the drug is addictive?"
"No, not addictive - but those who have taken it will die if they stop taking it," Hermione answered. "It suppresses the user's immune system to the point that the moment they stop using the drug, the moment the last dose is out of their system, their… well, their organs stop functioning properly. Most of the users who stop die of heart and liver failures."
"Merlin," Ron murmured, glancing at Egeria who was staring at the brown haired girl in surprise. She had known that there would be side effects of the drug they made of her young, but she hadn't though they'd be this severe! The Pangarians must've formed the drug in a vastly different manner than she had assumed - she had thought that they used the drug as mild injections to counteract the most violent diseases. She had assumed that, at worse, the side effects would've included powerful withdrawal, nausea and maybe decreased resistance to diseases. But the drug must've been more potent than she had though, for it to have such a damning after effect.
That explained why they required so much of it, why they kept forcing her to breed so rapidly….
"How many people are on it? The way they put it in the beginning, I got the impression they're all on it, but this…" Harry trailed away, looking at Hermione.
"At first, the number could've been counted with one hand - only those very important to the people of Pangar were allowed to have it, scientists and such, people they didn't think they could bear to lose. But it worked so well, that people with milder diseases wished it as well. And… they thought they could eventually refine the Tretonin so that it wouldn't have such side effects," the girl said, looking a little at a loss.
"How many people, Hermione?"
"About… about forty thousand," she said, glancing up at Egeria, who recoiled a little at the number.
"Forty thousand people?" Ron asked, blinking rabidly. "Forty thousand people, all using this thing? Which kills you the moment you stop using it? What the hell?"
"Why did they let so many people use it?" Harry asked with shock. "If they knew that they had to keep on using the drug, why did they…?"
"They really thought they could do something about the side effects," Hermione answered, shaking her head while she leafed through the papers. "They thought that within the next five years, ten years, twenty years… an answer would be found. And in that time, more people started using it, demanded access to it. They can barely produce enough to support the forty thousand using it now, but more people demand it."
She looked up and at Egeria, who was hanging her head. "Thousands of people depending on her, and she's at the end of her rope. No wonder the Pangarians want the ship - they think it might be their way of finding another Goa'uld queen…."
Egeria shifted at that, bristling. But the insult she felt at being called a Goa'uld didn't last long, not under the helpless fatigue she felt after what she had learned. "Forty thousand people," she whispered, turning away from the odd, sympathetic human children and hiding her head behind the bulk of her birthing sack. "Forty thousand people. Merciful heavens…" she hadn't thought it was so serious.
"Wait, what was that?" she heard Harry murmur, and more sensed than heard how he got up and went around the tank so that he could face her.
"What is it?" Hermione asked.
"I could swear I could hear her speaking," the black haired human said, and bowed to face her. Then, like before for one moment she had thought had been a mere trick of her imagination, he hissed in the mother tongue of the Goa'uld. "Can you speak?" he asked, hissing and snarling the barely used language of the symbiotes as easily as if he was speaking his own tongue. "Can you understand me, Goa'uld queen?"
Egeria lifted her head slightly and looked up at him, her fins bristling and her pincers flaring. But she hesitated, not sure if it would be wise to speak to this human, or try as she didn't know if he would understand her as she understood him. What would happen? Would the Pangarians then try and gain information from her once they knew they could communicate, torture her for technology perhaps? Or try and force her to make more offspring's for them only so that they could be killed, one after another, in name of their drug?
"I am not a Goa'uld," she finally answered him, in hisses and squeaks that were the rarely used language that, until now, she had thought only symbiotes could manage.
"She can speak," Harry murmured, kneeling beside the tank. On the other side, there was sound of scattered paper and creak as a chair was pushed back, before the two other humans joined the black haired young man. He glanced up at them. "I can't quite make it out; it's a bit different from Parseltongue - sharper. But it's similar."
"Try again," Hermione ushered him, placing her hand excitedly on his shoulder and squeezing. "Tell me what she tells you."
Harry nodded, and turned back to Egeria. "My name is Harry," he introduced himself in soft, almost gentle hiss. "Do you have a name?"
The old queen shifted a little. "My name is Egeria," she answered slowly, and when Harry frowned, she repeated her name once, and then once again.
"Egeria," Harry hissed slowly and glanced up to his friends to repeat it in human tongue. The human girl nodded excitedly, and then motioned him to go on. Turning to Egeria once more, Harry licked his lips thoughtfully, and then frowned. "What was that what you said before, that you weren't…" he trailed away.
"Goa'uld," Egeria said, her fins quivering. "I am not a Goa'uld. I am Tok'ra - I rebelled against the Goa'uld," at this she lifted her head a little. She had little reason to be proud these days, but for that she would always feel sense of victory and accomplishment. Even if it had amounted to almost nothing, she had still done it. She had gone against the overwhelming power of the other Goa'uld.
"Uh, what?" Harry asked, frowning, apparently not quite understanding.
"Tok'ra," Egeria repeated slower this time. "I rebelled against the Goa'uld - I fought against them. Ra punished me for it." She had to repeat the words over and over for him to understand. The effort was making her tire quicker, however, much quicker than she would've liked, and soon her head was drooping.
"I think she says she was punished for something. Rebelling?" Harry said to his friends, trying to make sense of it. "Against, uh, Ra?"
"The Pangarians say they found her in a stasis jar of some sort," Hermione said, leaning forward. "Maybe she was put that way for a reason - maybe she's a prisoner."
"So they're breeding a criminal. What difference does that make?" Ron asked.
"Well, if the Goa'uld are like the Pangarians say they are - pretend to be gods, enslave humans, that sort of thing... then what would their prisoners be like? What would be their rebels be like?" Hermione asked, leaning so heavily onto her black haired friend that Harry took support on the tank's table.
"Egeria," he said, turning to the queen with a new look about his eyes - new interest burning in the green depths. "What did you do?"
Egeria. What have you done?
"I chose freedom," she answered, her eyes closing as her head drifted down to rest against the bottom of the tank. "I chose freedom."
"… I sympathise, I truly do, but this revelation, if it even is the truth and not some sort of deception, does not change the reality and gravity of the situation," a familiar voice spoke very close to the tank, waking Egeria from her sleep. "The facts still remain the same. Forty thousand people still depend on the Tretonin - forty thousand people will still die if the production is halted. I do not know if I can make that any clearer."
It was Dollen, who was facing Hermione, Harry and yet another youth Egeria had not seen before - a male with brown hair and a solemn look about his kind face.
"But surely this means that at least you will be looking into other options? Whatever happens, the status quo doesn't do, you must see that," Hermione was saying, motioning at the tank, at Egeria. "Not just for her sake, but also for your people. Egeria is old and obviously the process of breeding is wearing her out - not to mention the fact that over and over her children are dying at your hand! And once she is too old and too worn for you to abuse her any longer, then what happens? And how many more people have you inflicted with the Tretonin? Can't you at least try and find other means?"
"Miss Granger, I assure you, our scientists have tried everything they can possibly imagine - for twenty years we have been working on a way to counteract the flaw in Tretonin with little success. There is simply nothing we can do about it," Dollen answered, wringing his hands. "As for what comes to our people, no more people have been given Tretonin in the last two years - and that will not change unless we come up with a cure for this."
"And that's all? You're going to keep at this until she dies?" Hermione asked, pulling her hair and looking exasperated. "Are you sure there is nothing else you haven’t tried, nothing else that you could possibly - some other medicine that could take the place of the Tretonin? Or something that will reawaken the disconnected immune system? Anything?"
"We have tried, Miss Granger, trust me on this. Every possible mean, even the craziest idea has been considered. There is nothing we have been able to do --"
"Maybe there is still something you haven't considered - not for lack of trying but because of availability. Neville," Hermione turned to the new youth, pressing her hand to his chest. "Neville here is a Herbologist from our world, he knows all sort of things plants can do, maybe he can help."
Dollen glanced at the young man and then sighed. "I appreciate the offer," he started, taking a deep breath. "But I doubt that there is anything on this planet that our scientists haven't tested and tried. I do not think that your friend - talented as he may be - can contribute anything that hasn't been considered before…."
The argument continued on, with Egeria following it with tired interest, trying to smother the hope she hadn't allowed herself to feel since the first time watching Pangarians dissect one of her young. Someone fighting for her so vehemently was… incredible. But she could tell that they were at a stalemate despite Hermione's enthusiasm - and they simply didn't have the means out of it. Anything Hermione would suggest or offer would do no good, and despite their good intentions, the Pangarians simply couldn't stop doing what they had been doing for the last twenty years - the cost was too great for them to even consider.
"Harry," Egeria called softly, making the black haired youth turn to her, and then leave the argument. "They are arguing because of me?"
"Arguing, um…" the young man spent a moment trying to figure out the sentence in his head, before nodding. "Because of the drug they make of your young."
Egeria shifted forward a little. "Can you tell me about it?" Maybe there was something she could do. The Pangarians weren't as simple as the majority of the people she had known, but they still had a ways to go. She, however, didn't - and maybe there was something she could contribute. The death of forty thousand hadn't been her intention. "How do they make the drug?"
"Sorry, I didn't get that," Harry apologised, leaning forward and almost pressing his ear against the glass. "Could you repeat a little slower?" Egeria did, once and then again until Harry nodded in understanding. "Okay," he said, and turned away from her.
"What are you doing?" Dollen demanded to know.
"Talking to her. How do you think we found out she's not a Goa'uld?" Harry asked, pulling a chair and reaching for Hermione. "Can you hand me the stuff you have about the drug? Egeria wants to know about it."
"Wait, how can you - why does she --?" Dollen started, sounding shocked.
"Harry has the ability to talk to snakes and snake-like creatures - that's how he understands Egeria," Hermione said, taking the folder she had been carrying and handing it over to her friend. "Why does she want to know?"
"I'm not sure if that is entirely wise --" Dollen started, and two guards at the door stepped forward a little.
"I don't know yet, she just wants me to tell her how it's made. It can't be dangerous - it's not like she can do anything about it, being locked up in an aquarium as she is," Harry said, leafing through the papers. "What do you want to know?" he asked, in the hissing language that seemed to come unnaturally easy for him.
"The complete process," Egeria pressed on. "What do they extract from my children, and how is the final result refined." She repeated her request over and over, trying to pronounce things a little softer as it was the sharper sounds Harry seemed to have difficulties with, until finally the message got through.
Harry nodded slowly until he found the paper. Then, as the others in the room watched, he began to read from the file in soft, gentle hisses, explaining how the process went. Egeria quivered and hissed slightly at certain parts - her children were alive, alive when the drug's parts were extracted! And they were kept alive for months until the parts they needed for the drug stopped regenerating.
It explained so many things, though. If they had only used the parts in the blood of her children, the drug would've been so much fainter - it could've worked as an immediate cure for several human illnesses, but with side effects of weakness, withdrawal and immunity system deterioration. But this way, with this stronger drug… it completely dismantled the human immune system - and it was because of the method she had used to sabotage her young that it did that. If she had gone a different way… or if she had not sabotaged her children at all….
It was not at all what she had thought - not at all what she’d had in mind. She had originally done it because her first children, the ones she birthed with her knowledge and intellect, were dissected. She couldn't bear to watch it again, so the rest of her young she had made lesser, weaker. And then, when the experimentation had continued, she had weakened them further until they carried a mere fragment of what they could've been. Maybe that way, it would've stopped. Maybe that way, they would've learned their lesson, and finally stopped….
Except, they hadn't. And it was her fault in part - because she had made her young so weak, because the Pangarians had made the drug so strong, it had become lethal, and they couldn't stop its production, not unless they wanted to see those using it die.
But knowing this, she now knew something else. It could be undone. She could undo the damage she had inadvertently done - the damage the Pangarians had inadvertently done.
"Egeria?" Harry asked softly, touching the screen of the tank. "Egeria, are you with me?"
"I am tired," she answered, shifting a little. She felt heavy - her unborn young felt heavy inside her. Her own deeds, her own mistakes felt heavy. Oh, Egeria. What have you done, indeed. "I didn't intend this," she added and looked up. "Harry, can you write something down for me?"
"What, uh… write? You want me to - okay, give me a moment," the human youth said, and glanced over his shoulder. "She wants me to write something. Can I have a pen and a paper?"
They were hastily given by Dollen, who had been watching them. Then everyone in the room - Harry's friends, Dollen, the scientists and even the soldiers came to look over the youth's shoulders, as Harry tried to write what Egeria told him to.
"Harry," Hermione whispered. "I can't read this. Are you writing parseltongue?"
"Goa'uld, I think. We can translate it later," the youth answered, before asking Egeria to repeat the last instructions again. She did, over and over, until finally he got the entire message down - the instructions for making more Tretonin from less. "Egeria, what is this?" Harry asked, once he was done writing what Egeria now saw was the oldest method of writing of the Goa'uld - the dialect they had written back when the Unas had still been their hosts.
"An offering," she answered, resting her head against the floor of her tank and sighing in exhaustion. "Of more time. I'm so tired…."
As Harry turned to the others to explain what Egeria had offered them, she drifted off to sleep which, for the first time in decades, didn't involve nightmares.
"… the place where they found you with one of the local archaeologists. Turns out I have knack for understanding Goa'uld, so I helped them translating the wall in the place where they found you," Harry's words woke Egeria, making her glance upwards. He was sitting beside the tank, leading through some papers. "Turns out this place has been inhabited by two Goa'uld. First Ra, who probably brought you here, and then Shak'ran, who won the planet from him."
"And what happened to Shak'ran?" Egeria asked, lifting her head a little.
"I don't know. He left eventually - something about mining and how Pangar wasn't fruitful anymore," the youth answered, turning to her. "You're awake."
"Yes," she answered, giving him a thoughtful look. "You understand me better."
"A little. Hermione gave me this spell - the problem was with my hearing, I couldn't hear all the sounds you make. Now I can, so, no more repeating," Harry smiled, closing the folder and placing it down on the table beside the tank. "That thing you gave me has the Pangarians a bit excited. Apparently they will be able to increase their Tretonin production by sixty percent with that formula."
"Yes," Egeria nodded. Spell? Maybe name Harry's people used for their technology. Many human populations associated advanced technology with magic, so it wasn't that strange. "That is why I gave it."
"Why? I mean, sure, you want them to increase the production, obviously, but why would you want that?" Harry asked, frowning. "There's already some talk about how they can now maybe give it to more people, and I don't think that's a good idea. Dollen agrees with me, thank Merlin, but I don't see how more Tretonin is a good thing. Especially for you."
"I suspected problems, but I do have a motive," Egeria admitted, her fins flaring. "What I intended was to give them more time so that they can create the technology through which they can free themselves of the Tretonin. As it is, Pangarian medical science is not advanced enough yet, they do not have the means or the understanding to do it yet. But with some instructions - and with the time the enhanced formula gives - they might be able to do it before I die."
"Before you die," Harry said slowly. "The point was you not dying, as I recall it."
Egeria considered that for a moment before sighing and lowering her head. "I am tired," she said softly. "And old, so very old. I will not live for long, even if the production is stopped and I am required to birth no more of my young, it is inevitable. I have accepted that - my time is soon coming."
The young human eyed her for a moment, before leaning back in his chair. "Wow," he murmured finally. "I mean, that's kind of sad, of course, and I feel sorry, but… wow. You're dying, but you're… helping the Pangarians? That's just…."
"That is the will of the Tok'ra," Egeria answered simply. "I could not simply do nothing - not when I have the means to help the humans so dependent on my young. Not when I have the means to save them."
"That's admirable," Harry murmured, giving her a smile. "But don't you have any means of helping yourself? As far as I can tell, the Goa'uld can maintain the whole god thing because of their technology - the ship which brought us here is obviously Goa'uld technology. With that sort of thing, can't you -"
"Ship?" Egeria interrupted.
"Ah, yes. Me and my friends, we sort of… stumbled upon a space ship," the youth answered, grimacing a little. "And before we could get out, it set course for Pangar - or something like it. We couldn't do anything to stop it, we had no idea how. Four months later, we arrived here and managed to get down to the planet by using these… ring things on board." He shrugged.
"An automated emergency escape vessel perhaps - Ra had several. They are programmed to automatically set course for a Goa'uld home planet the moment someone comes on board. You must've triggered the program when you boarded the ship," Egeria said thoughtfully. "Most intriguing."
"That's what Hermione says, but I never really got it all," Harry answered. "The Pangarians have been pretty nice to us, despite the fact that we teleported right into the middle of their museum exhibit. And especially after the ruckus Hermione made after finding out about how the Tretonin is made," he added, snorting and then waving his hand to dismiss the matter. "That's beside the point, though. If the Goa'uld have interstellar travel, then surely they have something that could help you."
"There are… some means of healing, but I choose not to accept them," Egeria answered. "Some Goa'uld healing devices have a detrimental effect upon the mind. Some have the side effect of damaging the spirit, of leeching the goodness out of the user's heart. I would rather die free and as pure as I can manage, than live using that sort of technology."
The young human eyed her for a moment, frowning as she rested her head down, tired even after such a short speech. "I'm sorry," she said. "Carrying children makes me tire quicker than I would like."
"I see," Harry nodded, glancing at her birthing sack. "It must be terrible. To have kids, only to have the Pangarians…."
"It is… bearable, if only just. My children aren't whole; I don't impart my knowledge upon them. They never know the fate that befalls them. That helps," she answered, sighing.
"You mean your kids, they aren't born intelligent? You can do that?" Harry asked.
"Yes. Normally knowledge is passed from the queen to the offspring, who then emerges whole with whatever knowledge the queen chooses to give and a fully realised personality," Egeria answered, closing her eyes. "In the beginning, when the Pangarians found me, I thought… I thought they knew who I was, what I stood for - I thought they might be interested in becoming Tok'ra. The children of my first cycle were… they were full. They were intelligent. Beautiful. And then… then the Pangarians…."
"I'm sorry," Harry whispered, resting his hand on the glass in a display of compassion.
"I couldn't bear to watch it again, so I chose not to give birth again. But the Pangarians found a way to force me through a fertility drug. This time, I didn't pass on my knowledge and I haven't since," she said, tired and weary in more than just body and mind. She felt even older than she was.
They were both quiet for a moment, she mourning her young, all her young from the first beautiful Tok'ra child she’d had, to the last mindless young she had given birth to - to the children even now growing in her sack. And he, offering silent support and compassion in a way no one had for so long, for impossibly long.
"I should… I should begin explaining what the Pangarians will have to do, to counteract the effects of Tretonin. It will be a long process and the sooner we begin, the better," Egeria said after moment.
"Yes, maybe. Before that, though, could you tell me something?" Harry asked. "Could you tell me what does Tok'ra mean? You've used that term, and I don't understand it."
Egeria glanced at him with surprise and then hummed low, making the liquid around her vibrate. "Tok'ra, against Ra," she said a little wistfully. "It is what I am. What I chose. What I started."
In quiet, almost sad tones, she told him of Tok'ra, of the ideology she had wished to pass on to her children in hopes that one day, the Goa'uld dominance would end, and humans and symbiotes could live in harmony. Of course, she hadn't arrived at the ideology alone - and would forever be grateful for Janus for showing her the flaws in the Goa'uld ways. She recalled her host of the time - Liviana, who had been so kind, so loving. Egeria would probably always regret taking Liviana so forcefully when she had taken her as a host, but they had come to understand each other. Together, they had created the ideology of the Tok'ra. Together they had started a rebellion against the Goa'uld.
"And then Ra locked you up?" Harry asked, his hiss quiet.
"Not immediately. I was... free for a while. I had children; I passed on my knowledge and my ideals. For a while I had hope. Then Ra found me… and eventually imprisoned me," Egeria sighed. "I never did understand whether he did it out of cruelty or kindness. He could've killed me, kept on torturing me forever… I believe I don't wish to know, either."
"I guess I wouldn't either," the human youth answered thoughtfully and then glanced up as others entered the room. "Commander Tegar," he greeted one of them, changing his language to that of humans.
"Mr. Potter," the man answered, glancing between him and Egeria, who rested her head on the bottom again, sighing. "If you would come with us, there are some questions we wish to ask of you."
"About Egeria?" Harry asked. "Shouldn't the questioning done here, where she can answer?"
"It's not entirely about Egeria. Come this way, please, there's much to discuss," the commander answered, motioning him to follow.
"I guess I got to go," Harry murmured, turning to Egeria. "I'll be back," he hissed, resting his hand against the glass again. "Try and get some rest."
"It is all I get, most of the time," Egeria answered, already drifting off.
The next time Egeria awoke, it was to tapping against the glass of her tank. Tired but alert, she looked up, expecting to see Harry, but instead finding the faces of Tegar and Dollen close to the tank. Tegar was the one rapping his finger against the glass, holding some papers in his other hand.
"Egeria. I do not know if you can hear or understand me, so… nod once if you can understand, please," Dollen said, with somewhat strained smile. Egeria glanced between him and Tegar and then looked around to see if Harry or the others were anywhere near. They weren't, there were only Pangarians in the room. After a moment, she sighed and nodded, worried about where this was going, but unable to do much more than comply. After having proven that she could communicate with Harry… it had been inevitable.
"Good," Tegar said, as the two of them pulled chairs and sat down, he ruffling through some papers while Dollen fiddled his hands nervously. "There are some questions we would like to ask of you - all can be answered with a yes or a no, so you can just nod or shake your head as an answer. Do you understand?" he waited until Egeria nodded, and then nodded himself in return. "Very good. First of all --"
"First of all," Dollen cut in. "Do you understand that we were labouring under the impression that you were a Goa'uld queen with the beliefs and ideals of the Goa'uld of whom we've read in our ancient texts and monuments? That we did not know of your difference in ideals?"
Egeria shifted a little with surprise and nodded her head. No, they couldn't have known - for them she had been just a Goa'uld queen and a wellspring of possibilities. They had neither the knowledge nor the understanding to expect more - and she doubted that Ra had left any good records of his doings behind.
"I hope you can forgive us. Had we known…" the politician sighed, shaking his head helplessly.
"Yes, indeed, had we known. Now," Tegar cut in sharply. "Mr. Potter is under the impression that you seek to aid us in freeing our people from the necessity of taking the Tretonin," he said, and the Tok'ra nodded before he even asked. He blinked, and wrote something down, before continuing on. "Do you think it is truly possible? The side effects of the drug can be defeated?"
Egeria nodded, this time a little slower. It was possible, very possible, but it would take work, and she doubted it would be perfect. Judging by the way the drug was made, there were… flaws with it - more than the obvious. And she didn't know what kind of problems those flaws would cause.
"You gave us a formula of increasing the Tretonin production whilst lessening the… production costs. Mr. Potter says you did this as an offering," Tegar continued. "I assume that you require a… counter offer?" at this Egeria shook her head. "No?" Tegar asked, surprised. "Then why --"
"Please. If you have the means of saving our people, the tens of thousands that are dependant of the Tretonin, then… if there is anything we can do, any way of --" Dollen started, and stopped when Egeria shook her head again. "I do not understand," the politician murmured, running his hand over his hair. "We assumed that you did this for the sake of your freedom - that you perhaps wished to gain a host…."
Egeria shook her head again, sighing a little. They hadn't realised how old she was, apparently. They didn't understand how tired she was, how weary. Or how beautiful the concept of slipping away to the eternal darkness seemed. She wished to help, to save the Pangarians because their status was partly her fault, and she did not want her final act in life to play such a part of their death. She wanted to slip away free of such guilt.
Not to mention that at this point she was so old and so weak, that if she took a host it was likely that she would only live for some years after that and when she died she'd take her host with her.
"Then, you are helping us without asking anything in return? Is that what you intend?" Tegar asked, looking a little lost when Egeria nodded. "We had not… expected that. Not after what we…."
Egeria shifted to the side, more to show her discomfort at the subject than actually recoiling. Tegar swallowed and nodded, seeming to understand. "Well then. Let's talk about time. All in all, how long do you think it will take to cure our people? More than a decade?" To that the Tok'ra queen shook her head, knowing she didn't have that much time. Tegar nodded his head slowly. "Less than a decade? More than five years, then?"
"I would say that means around five years," Dollen said, as Egeria tilted her head slightly from side to side, like weighing the matter. "Five years and our people will be whole again. But then, that would mean…."
Egeria lowered her head and nodded. Yes, indeed. Even with the enhanced formula, the current amount of Tretonin wouldn't last the population for long enough. They would need more. Which meant she would need to keep on producing her mindless young for the drug.
"I wish there was another way," Dollen murmured softly, and Egeria nodded sadly in agreement.
"What do you need to succeed in creating the counter drug?" Tegar asked. "I imagine Mr. Potter's aid, as he is the only one who can communicate with you, but what else? Workers? Equipment?"
Egeria nodded to both suggestions, and as Dollen and Tegar begun to theorise what they would need, she nodded here and shook her head there, and together they planned the salvation of the Pangarian people.
When Harry learned about the plan, he didn't seem too happy - certainly not as happy as Egeria had hoped to see him. "Of course, I'm happy that you're coming up with something, working together to solve this mess, but… I was kind of hoping to be on the way back to home sometime soon," he admitted. "It took so long to get us here too…."
"Your world is in a war," Egeria more stated than asked, shifting closer to the glass.
"Yes," the youth agreed. "Well, not the whole world, but our corner of it is on the brink of war - it's probably started now. We need to get back there - they need us there. With the way our Ministry - our governing body is - they need every one they can get."
"But you're so young," the Tok'ra queen said softly. "Is your presence so important?"
Harry hesitated and then smiled. "It's kind of like with your rebellion," he then said. "There's Voldemort and his people, who are trying to take over and dominate those they think are inferior and impure. Then there is the Ministry, which is supposed to be protecting people but which is in the end doing nothing but making things worse. And then there are we precious few, caught in the middle, trying to somehow achieve peace. We're young, sure, but when there's so few on the side of our Order, I think every person counts."
"Your Order is like the Tok'ra," Egeria said thoughtfully.
"Kind of. In a smaller, non-interstellar way. Non-global way even. But it's important," Harry sighed, rubbing his forehead. "We need to go back. If we could figure out how to turn the bloody ship around somehow, we'd already be heading back as we speak, but… we have no idea how to operate the damn thing."
Egeria sighed, shifting idly from left to right. "Without knowing the design of the ship, I do not think I can help," she said after a moment. "I have been imprisoned for a very long time. I do not think I could advise you if the technology has advanced - and it most likely has."
"Yeah," Harry murmured, sighing. "Well, I'll help you for as long as I can, but getting home is kind of the priority to us."
"I understand, and I appreciate the effort," the queen assured, before shifting forward a little. "How is it that you came by the ship, exactly?"
"By a bad case of even worse luck," the youth answered with a self-deprecating chuckle, leaning back in his seat. "I was lured to a place I wasn't supposed to go, and my friends insisted on coming along with me. I thought someone dear to me was held captive there, but… well. It was a trap - in a place beneath our Ministry where the Ministry kept its secret, dangerous projects," he said, and shook his head. "We were ambushed and after some fighting and running, we were surrounded. We fought - and thought we were going to be killed - when a stray spell hit the ring platform beneath us, and…" he made a lifting motion. "Up we went. It saved our lives - and then got us perfectly stranded."
"That sounds somewhat lucky, actually," Egeria mused.
"Yeah, bit of very bad good luck," Harry chuckled. As his chuckles trailed away, he began to frown. "Five years, huh?" he murmured. "So long to make an antidote?"
"I thought I would be able to guide the Pangarians to it by then at the least," Egeria said. "It would be quicker, but limited technology and even more limited means of communicating, it will take much longer than it otherwise would."
The young man frowned, absently tapping his fingers against each other. "If you had a host?" he then asked.
Egeria hesitated for a moment before nodding her head. "Yes, it would be quicker. But in good conscience, I cannot take a host. I am old - if I take a host now, it will be likely that neither I nor the host will survive. And if we would, our lifespan would be short due to my age and the damage done to my body - and most likely when I died, so would my host."
"And… there is really no way to heal you?" Harry asked.
"Not unless you know the elixir of life," the queen answered with sad amusement. "It is alright, Harry. I have accepted my end."
The young man wasn't listening, though, but was instead staring at her with a deeply thoughtful look about his face. "I don't have any Elixir of Life, no… but I do have magic," he said, and suddenly stood up. "Hold that thought, I'll be right back," he said, and before Egeria could answer, he was already rushing out of the laboratory.
Soon he returned with several people in tow. Hermione walked next to Harry, with Ron right behind them. There was a brown haired youth Egeria recalled was called Neville, and beside him walked Luna, the blonde girl she had seen when she had seen Harry and Hermione for the first time. Then there was a redheaded girl she had not yet met, but who she suspected to be from the same planet as the rest of them - the group that had been transported to the escape vessel and then brought to Pangar with Harry.
"… just if it is possible or not. I mean, there are a lot of things we can do that muggles can’t - I mean, muggles can't regrow bones! So maybe there is something we have that could help her," Harry was saying, motioning ahead and towards Egeria's tank. "We have to have something, spells, anything. Hermione?"
"I'd love to help, Harry, I really would, especially after all we’ve learned," Hermione said, already shaking her head and looking regretful. "But I don't know any healing spells. And even if I did, I doubt they would do her any good. Human physiology is so vastly different from hers that I wouldn't dare to even try. I'm sorry."
Harry sighed, and then turned to look at the brown haired youth. "Neville, how about you? You must know some herbs that can help with something like this - even a little bit?"
"I guess I do, but most of that has pretty much the same problem as healing spells - different physique. Besides, this is a different world - even the basic grain and vegetables are all different here," his friend answered. "Even if there is something out there that might help, I wouldn't know where to even begin looking - and if I found something, it would take months if not years to figure out how to use it for anyone's good."
The black haired youth let out an impatient noise, turning his attention to Ron who lifted his hands in surrender before he could even ask anything. "Don't look at me," the red haired girl said immediately after. "I don't know anything about anything like this. Ask me how to curse an annoying brother and I'll tell you how to do that, but this… this isn't my sort of stuff."
"Damn it," Harry muttered, turning away and to look at the last one left - Luna, who had made her way to beside Egeria's tank. "Luna? Anything?" the black haired youth almost pleaded.
"Hmm," she answered, crouching beside the tank and tapping the glass with tip of her fingernail. "She is not a magical creature," the girl said after a moment. "But I think magic could cure her."
"Magic, really," Egeria murmured, wondering about the world where they came from. It was starting to seem startlingly primitive.
"Yes, that's what I think too," Harry said impatiently, but it edge of hope in his voice. "What sort of magic?"
Luna glanced at him and then pointed at him. "Like you," she said, like it explained everything, and then turned to look at Egeria again. "A wizard would never need Tretonin, you know."
There was a moment of confused silence, before Harry snapped his fingers in realisation and turned to Hermione. "They wouldn't, would they?" he asked and she nodded slowly, realisation dawning. "Do you think it would work?" Harry pressed eagerly.
"What would?" Ron asked with confusion, while Neville and the red-haired girl exchanged bewildered glances.
"I… it might," Hermione said slowly. "Magic does work a little like Tretonin, if in completely different way. Actually, as far as I can understand the process of the blending of these symbiotes… magic has similar effects. Increased age, accelerated healing, resistance to diseases…" she trailed away, looking thoughtful. "It could work."
"Harry," Egeria hissed to interrupt. "What is your magic?"
The black haired youth blinked. "Magic is magic," he answered in a low hiss, looking confused. After a moment, he reached into his left sleeve and pulled out a wooden stick. Then, as a shocked Egeria watched, he proceeded to lift a chair from the floor without even touching it. "This is magic."
"It's that device?" Egeria asked slowly, while staring at the floating chair. Around Harry, his friends were giving the black haired young man mystified looks.
"No, this just directs it. The magic is in here," Harry hissed, patting his chest. "Inside me. Inside all of us," he added, motioning at the others. "We were born with it."
At first Egeria was very tempted to say that it wasn't possible. But maybe… maybe it was. There were ways. Nanotechnology for one could potentially give a person the ability to control magnetic fields and levitate objects seemingly by thought alone. And then there was the theory of the Hok-Taur, though she had never believed in particular --
Egeria's line of thought completely derailed, as she watched how Harry turned the flying chair into a great bird, which flew around the room once before landing on his outstretched arm. With her pincers wide open in shock, she stared at the great eagle sitting on the young man's arm. That, she knew for a fact, could not be done by any means. Except perhaps by illusion or hologram technology, but she had never heard of anything like this before, not even by holograms.
"We're capable of this, and many other things. Back on our home world we're all still in school, though," Harry answered, while placing the bird back to the floor, and turning it back into a chair.
"Harry? What did she say?" Hermione asked.
"She asked about magic, so I demonstrated," he answered, shrugging his shoulders. "I don't think she believes me, though."
The brown haired girl bit her lip, before stepping forward. "Our kind generates a certain type of energy, which we call magic because the term works pretty well for us," she said slowly. "We can, as Harry showed, manipulate the energy to move things without touching them, and temporarily transform something into something else - like the chair into an eagle. We can also create effects like this," she added, bringing out her own stick, and creating what looked like northern lights, right onto the room's ceiling. "This would be an illusion charm, it's not actually real. When we get older and more powerful, though, some of us gain the ability to make illusions temporarily physical. There are many other things we can do - like putting broken thing back together, healing a wound… it can be used in battle too, to attack, to defend…."
"And some of us can permanently change their own physical structure. Animagi can take the shape of an animal for as long as they choose to, though it's a tough one to learn. Metamorphmagi though are born with the ability to change their features, and they can look pretty much like anything they want to, with no illusions involved," Harry added.
"Incredible," Egeria whispered, as Hermione made the illusionary lights vanish again. Harry translated the word to others with a grin.
"Also, our kind are immune to normal diseases that plague humans. Of course we have our own brand of diseases, but that's a different thing," Hermione continued. "We heal quicker than normal humans do when we get hurt and unless the damage is very severe, we heal completely. For one, I don't think a wizard can ever have internal bleeding of any kind - magic repairs internal things pretty quickly."
"Really? I didn't know that," Ron murmured. "Huh. You learn something new every day."
"Magic works fastest where it is important," Luna added. "Heart, brain… spine…."
"We also tend to live longer," Hermione said thoughtfully. "Normal human life span is around sixty, seventy years - though some can go up to a hundred if they're lucky. Wizards can live twice as long - trice, if they use certain potions."
"It could work," Harry murmured.
"You're not thinking that one of us should become a host for her," the red haired girl said, shuddering a little as she looked at Egeria uneasily.
"Our magic would probably rejuvenate her," Hermione answered, she too was looking at Egeria, but in completely different way. "And with the symbiote's healing ability and magic working together, it would be a powerful mix."
"No," Egeria said while shaking her head before they could get any farther, making Harry whirl around to look at her. "I cannot."
"Why not?" he demanded. "It could heal you. Make you young again. You could help the Pangarians find the cure quicker - you could visit the spaceship, show us how to get home. You could --"
The queen sighed. "I need to keep on making my young for the drug - even if I had a host, making the antidote will take time. And I am old --"
"Yes, but if it was one of us, it wouldn't be a death sentence. With magic, you would probably live for years, decades - hell, centuries maybe, who knows," Harry said. "And we have spells to replicate liquids. We might be able to increase the Tretonin storages without you needing to sacrifice anymore of your young."
"Perhaps, but there are risks. If your magic works like a symbiote's ability to boost the host's immune system, then it might be that your magic would fight me. Taking a host is not always an assured process - it fails quite frequently. It might end up being the death of one of you, and me - and then what would happen to the Pangarians? Then how would you get home?" she looked up to him seriously, ignoring the fatigue which was starting to rear its ugly head. "And which one of your friends would you risk?"
Harry stopped at that, closing his mouth and swallowing. "It's almost like you want to die," he said, almost accusingly.
"The possibility has its allure, I assure you. But more than that, I do not wish to be the cause of death for anyone else," Egeria answered. "Life is sacred."
By the way Harry's eyes steeled, she got the feeling that it might've been the wrong thing to say - or very much the right one.
While the Pangarians took up the task of modifying the Tretonin manufacturing facility to suit the needs of manufacturing a cure for the drug, Harry took the task of writing everything Egeria said down. Egeria, though not at all sorry as it was good that her instructions on how the drug was to be made were in written form in case of accidents, knew he had a hidden agenda. She could see it in the way he sometimes argued with his friends whenever they came by, and how the Pangarians looked at Harry every time he provided them with translations of the notes he was making.
He intended to save her - even more so than Hermione, who was quickly learning how to help around the medicine facility and studying the method the Pangarians were using to keep her. Egeria saw the differences in the two of them soon. Hermione wished to save her because of principle - she loathed slavery with a surprising passion for someone who didn't really know it or understand it. Harry, though, just wanted to save Egeria because he considered her his friend.
"He's always been like this," Hermione whispered to the Tok'ra when Harry was out to deliver last batch of the notes. "He fought a mountain troll back when he didn't even know spells just for me - and we had barely had a full conversation back then. If he has even the slightest reason to think you deserve it, he will go to hell and back to save you. That's Harry Potter in a nut shell."
As Egeria watched him and his friends, she began to believe the words too. He really had no ulterior motives, no personal agendas - he just wanted to make sure she lived. It was a strangely heady thing to realise - especially for Egeria, who had been so alone and without anyone for so long.
"You wish to blend with me," Egeria said once, when they had just finished going through another set of directions. "You want the notes out of the way so that you won't risk anyone else when it happens. Isn't that right?"
"Just about," Harry agreed without bothering to even try to look sheepish.
"You are an interesting human," Egeria sighed, amused despite herself. "You aren't going to give up until I bend, will you?"
"Nope," he agreed, and glanced up. "You don't mind it's me, right?" he asked. "I mean, I'm a bloke and all. But it can't be Hermione because if the blending fails, she's the last shot my friends have at getting home. And Ginny's, well, she has bad experiences with possession and I don't want to even think about asking her, it wouldn't be right. And Luna, well…" he shook his head. "I think her mind is best inflicted on her alone."
Egeria shook her head. "I'm not going to blend with you at all unless I know for certain all issues are resolved," she answered. She had to admit though, with the plans Harry was writing down, and all the Tretonin replication his friends were doing - which worked astonishingly well - he was well on his way to resolving that issue at least. And it was a pretty impressive issue to resolve. But there were others. "Are you going to take me to your ship sometime soon, then?"
"Nope. I'm going to bring the ship to you," he answered, grinning.
The next day, he brought back first sketches and the day after that he brought drawings and finally a week later he had Hermione produce an illusionary copy of the ship's controls so that Egeria could examine it. It was an impressive feat but a very informing one as well. "It's a ship I know very well - I had one of my own, a long, long time ago. I believe this ship belonged to Ra, that is his mark over there," she said, as Harry wrote everything down again. "I believe you can merely take the previous course the ship took and simply reverse it so that you return to where the ship last embarked from. It shouldn't be difficult."
Still, she talked Hermione though the navigation system. "The location of your home planet will be recorded in the ship's logs," she said. "So if the autopilot fails, you can use that to set course for the ship," she said, and explained everything from accessing the ship's computer to manipulating the controls. Hermione, Egeria found, was an extremely quick learner for a human.
In the meantime, the Tretonin manufacturing facility transformed into one suited for medical experimentation. While Harry translated, the Pangarian scientists rushed back and forth between their test tubes and the Tok'ra queen, who taught them whole new medical procedures and had them building new medical equipment from scratch. None of it was anywhere near as sophisticated as the Goa'uld technology was, but it would do its job here, not to mention advancing Pangar medical science by a few decades.
"We are learning so much from you," Dollen, who was soon turning into a frequent visitor, said gratefully. "I dearly hope that once everything is ready, your blending with Master Potter will be successful and we can continue learning from your example."
And Egeria, to her slight surprise, found herself wishing it as well. Especially after she birthed her last cycle of mindless children, after which the Pangarians announced that, with the new formula and with the shockingly expanded stores of Tretonin they now had thanks to the magicians, they no longer needed her young.
"No more, Egeria. You can rest now," Harry said, smiling, but she didn't agree, not quite. Because, despite everything, her condition was still relatively good - and it would take some time still to finish the notes Harry was making. There was time.
"I could… I could give birth to Tok'ra," she said slowly. "One cycle. Please."
She could've cried when the Pangarians heartily agreed.
"… could be heading back already," the red haired girl said, as she and Harry entered Egeria's new room. "Hermione thinks she can operate the ship as well as she's ever going to, so… we could be on our way home. I don't see why we need to stay any longer."
"The Pangarians still need the notes for making the antidote," Harry answered, while pulling the curtains open and smiling towards Egeria, who stretched her neck sleepily. Her new tank, which the Pangarians had quickly gotten for her after finding out the old one was kind of small for her, was almost luxurious. Of course her weight made moving impossible - the birthing sack only carried her eggs at the moment and thus was mostly empty, but it still had considerable bulk, grounding her to the tank's bottom. Still, being able to stretch was something.
"And I won't be going anywhere before our blending," the black haired youth said, stepping closer to the tank. "Good morning, Egeria. Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, my rest was pleasant," Egeria answered, and then cast a glance at Ginny, who recoiled slightly at the sound of her voice. To her it was probably nothing more than series of squeaks and shrieks.
"But Harry…" the girl started, looking away from the Tok'ra. "It's dangerous, isn't it? What if the blending fails? You could die. Why does it have to be you anyway, why can't one of the Pangarians do it instead?"
"Because they don't have magic like I do. You know that Ginny," Harry answered resting his hand on the tank and turning to the human girl. "I'm not having this conversation again. We've all already agreed that we will see this to the end. Once the notes are finished and once we have at least tried the blending, then we will see about returning to Earth. I might or I might not come with you, we will see once the time comes."
"But... don't you want to go back home?" Ginny asked, frowning worriedly. "Everyone is waiting for us. I bet they are worried - we've been gone almost half a year now, and it will take so long to get back too!"
"Yeah, I do want to go home. But… I think I want to blend with Egeria more," he said, shrugging his shoulders.
"Come on, Harry, just because you feel responsible somehow --"
"That's not it. I want to blend with her. I like her, and I think I'd love to spend the rest of my life with her," he answered, and the girl's expression got almost stormy. "I've already decided, and the others agree with me. They might not like it, but they've stopped arguing with me at least. Why can't you?"
The redhead cast uneasy look at Egeria and then sighed. "You could die," she whispered. "Can't it be someone else? Anyone else?"
"Who, then? You?" Harry asked, and grimaced as she took a quick step back. "Yeah," he agreed. "That's pretty much the reaction I got from everyone else. Well, except for Luna, but I think that goes without saying."
"I just…" the girl started and sighed again, heavier this time, "I don't want to lose you, Harry."
Egeria looked between the two curiously, wondering if they had some sort of romantic arrangement between them. She hadn't noticed anything like it before, and Harry had never said anything about it, but this conversation was turning quite interesting.
"I'm not going anywhere," the young man said, patting the girl's shoulder awkwardly - more like a friend, than anything more. "I'm still here."
Ginny looked at him for a moment, before rolling her eyes and lifting her hands in defeat. "I suppose I can't lose what I never really had," she muttered, glancing at Egeria. "Do you really want this prat?"
Egeria flashed her fins in amusement, while Harry reared back with outrage. "Oi," he objected. "Who are you calling a prat!"
"You. You're a great big old insensitive prat, the old fashioned kind. With the emotional range of a teaspoon," the redhead snorted, waving a dismissive hand at him. "And I wash my hands of you." With that, she turned on her heels and headed off, shaking her head and muttering something under her breath.
"What was that about?" Harry asked after her, before glancing at Egeria. "Can you translate women speak for me?"
"It would go against the female code of honour, I believe," the queen answered, fins quivering with mirth.
Harry sighed, shaking his head at her. "Well then, how are you liking the new room?" he asked, looking around. "Well, you're still in a tank, of course, but it looks a bit better than a gloomy bottom floor laboratory."
"It's nice to see sunlight, yes," Egeria agreed, shifting a little. "I don't feel so tired here either, though it might be because I don't have the weight of thirty symbiotes pressing down on me."
"I imagine that would make things easier," Harry agreed. "Shall we continue with the notes, then? The eggheads downstairs are eagerly waiting for the next set."
"By all means, let us continue," Egeria agreed and after he had settled down at a nearby desk, they continued their work.
She was somewhat certain that Ginny wasn't the only one who had argued against Harry's decision - all his friends probably had and often, judging by the defeated look about their faces. It was hard to decide what to think about it - worry, because of how important Harry obviously was to them exactly as he was, or be grateful for the fight Harry had fought and won just for her. No one had ever wanted to be her host this much - and she doubted that anyone ever would've either, if Harry had chosen otherwise.
Interesting human indeed.
As the days went by and Egeria's children, the new generation of Tok'ra which might end up being her last, grew inside her, it seemed like the world around her transformed. It struck her at times what a novel transformation it was - for so long her life and everything around it had seemed so gloomy. For so long she had only experienced the inside of an unforgiving tank in an equally unforgiving laboratory, always dark and gloomy and fairly depressing, only reminding her about the sad state of her life, the dark fate that had somehow befallen her. Like a punishment for daring to hope against hope.
Of course, the majority of that hadn't changed, whilst all of it had changed. She was still old and tired, and she suspected that the laboratory that had housed her for so long would never truly change - only now that she had been moved into a sunlit office on the top floor, she simply didn't have to see it anymore. She was still in pain and the Pangarians were still dependant on the Tretonin, but she had hope and they had hope, and the feeling of shared future ahead gave her strength she had always suspected she would never again feel in life.
The idea that it would've never happened had Harry and his friends not stumbled upon the ring transporter on their home world was oddly frightening. Such a small moment had changed everything - and that small moment could've just as well never happened.
Egeria, despite many regrets and even more nightmares, wasn't truly that inclined to mourn or wonder about the past, so she left it behind her with relief, and embraced the time and journey ahead - however long or short it would be, it would no doubt be worth the risk and time.
In the end, Egeria and Harry finished making the instructions and notes for the Pangarians far before her cycle's end, leaving them with two weeks of nothing to do. That was only in theory though, as Egeria found that people still came to them for advice and instruction; how did this part of this machine go, how to stabilise this mechanism, how to improve the controls of this device. More often than not, it was about medicine. What works against this infection, what kind of medicine would work against this disease, what to do when this sort of injury occurs. All things they already knew how to deal with, but which they wished they had better ways of handling. Pangarian medicine science was, for humans, pretty good, but there was still a large margin of error in every treatment, and they saw her as a means of decreasing that margin.
She didn't mind. If she left a footprint on the medical sciences of Pangar, then that was perfectly alright with her. They were even starting a branch of medicine that used certain energy transmission and radioactive treatments derived from Goa'uld healing technology - they called this branch the Egerian Treatments, which despite the fact that she hadn't created the Goa'uld healing technology was still a homage she felt proud to have.
Mostly, though, what the Pangarian medical scientists came to her about was the Tretonin. With forty thousand people hanging in the balance, it was no wonder really, and there were many problems that needed to be dealt with in as much detail as possible. About four percent using the Tretonin who experienced some side effects to the drug - would the antidote work differently on them? How about the two percent that required double doses for the Tretonin to have effect? Or the ones that rejected the drug initially, the tenth of a percentage, who were kept alive only by intravenous solution with minuscule doses of Tretonin introduced to their veins every hour?
There were problems and she answered them as best as she could, but human physiology was at times impossible to predict. This treatment might not work on that person, that treatment might have detrimental effects to another's. She calculated odds and doses and Harry wrote down dozens of theories of how to treat this and that sort of side effects, dealing with as many of the potential problems as possible. It wasn't perfect, the margin of error remained, and there were still people who reacted differently to Tretonin that might also react differently to its cure, but they did all they could.
In the meantime, Harry's friends came and went, some to visit Harry every now and again, others taking actual part in the proceedings of the laboratories. Hermione had become an assistant in the experimental medicine laboratory, as she had a knack in assembling and fixing the machinery that Egeria instructed the people to make. Neville, on other hand, had become a student in the lower level botanical lab where the Pangarians were using what Egeria had given them to further their older medicine - most of which would be used to counteract possible negative reactions if the time came. Egeria didn't know what Ron and Ginny did, but Luna came and went like a ghostly wind, sometimes spending hours just listening to Harry and Egeria, other times not showing up for days.
"They are restless and want to go home," Harry explained. "Ron and Ginny the most - they feel out of place here, though now that they’ve got something to do around the archaeological sites, they don't complain as much."
"And Luna?" Egeria asked curiously.
"With her it's hard to say. She's learning and getting adjusted, but she misses the magic of home, I think. She won't complain, it's not her way, but when the time comes she'll be happy to leave," Harry sighed, shaking his head. "I don't blame her."
They were quiet for a moment, while Harry translated the notes he automatically wrote in ancient Goa'uld into human tongues. Egeria shifted a little, nudging the birthing sack with her crossed pincers, before sighing. Her young were growing rapidly, all twenty nine of them. "If our blending succeeds… what will happen?" she asked softly. "Will you wish to go home?"
Harry glanced up once, before turning his attention back to the writing. "I would… like to visit, at least. I would like to see the conflict back home resolved if nothing else - if I never find out what happens in the war, it will haunt me forever. But it won't be just my decision - and after all the times you got your choice taken away from you, I won't force mine upon you," he answered and glanced around them. "I kind of like Pangar, though. I wouldn't mind staying."
Egeria hummed thoughtfully, nudging the sack again to stop one of her young pressing so uncomfortably against it. They were listening, she knew, that was why they were always pressing against the skin. It was curiosity her mindless young had lacked, but one she hadn't recalled could be so uncomfortable. "If our blending succeeds, your war will become mine. And mine will become yours," she said. "I suspect I will feel your desire to see it resolved."
"And I'll get your urge to see the Goa'uld beaten?" Harry asked thoughtfully. "That'll be interesting. I bet my problems with Voldemort will seem like nothing in comparison."
"Perhaps," Egeria answered, and looked up at him. "If it hadn't been for you and Hermione, I would still be in that tank on the bottom floor. If it hadn't been for Luna, the concept of us blending would've never come to us in this way. I am in your debt - so if you wish us to return to your home, we will. In the grand scheme of things, your war is small and lacks the significance of mine, but perhaps that means it might be resolved easier. And if we survive, we can always return here, and finish our work."
The young man nodded slowly, leaning back in his chair. "We'll talk about it again once we're blended," he finally said, and turned back to the notes.
Egeria nodded her head, knowing that trying to make decisions wouldn't be wise before they finally had access to each other's memories and minds. Only then would any decision truly mean anything. It was wonderful that Harry too seemed to understand that - even if he was using it to avoid making any decisions now.
"I've been wondering about something, though," Harry said. "If our blending fails, what will happen to your Tok'ra children?"
Egeria started at that, and then quivered a little. "I had been hoping that perhaps the Pangarians would care for them until they are mature, and maybe… some of the Pangarians would consent to being hosts."
Harry looked at her seriously, before reaching for a new piece of paper and starting to write something down. "I've no doubt they will do the first at least," he said. "Dollen will be happy to, if nothing else - he feels honour bound. I don't know about the blending, though. Not that they wouldn't do it - some would just to keep the superior health they got from Tretonin. But they might do it for the wrong reasons."
"Sometimes the wrong reason is enough. One can't expect similar moral fortitude you display from everyone else," Egeria said. "Though of course I would wish my children to find worthy companions, I wouldn't dare to set my hopes so high."
"Well, I hope you'll excuse me while I do," Harry said, writing down furiously. Upside down, Egeria could see him writing a list of qualifications, and she didn't doubt a moment that Harry wouldn't be perfectly willing to take it to Dollen and demand that it be made very nearly into a law. "This is just in case though," Harry said, once he was finished. "Because if we survive, we'll be there to choose."
"Harry, there are limits to demands. You cannot expect everyone to bow to your will," the Tok'ra queen said.
"You are saving tens of thousands of them. They can do this much for your kids - especially after all they did to them for decades," Harry said sternly, standing up. "Besides, when we blend, your kids will feel like mine, right?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Yes, but …."
"Well then. As long as I have any say in the matter, my kids will have only the best," the black haired young man grinned - it was an oddly sharp expression. "I'll be right back," he said, waving the list he had made. "I have some things to arrange."
Egeria watched with something like helpless amazement as the youth headed off to make preparations for her children. Hermione had been right when she had said what she did. Given half a reason, Harry would go to hell and back for anyone he thought deserved it. "He will be a formidable host," the queen whispered to herself, remembering the gentle and kind Liviana who had almost always deferred to Egeria's will…and knowing that Harry would be nothing like the Roman girl had been.
The following day, Dollen visited her with Harry and group of people who had consented to becoming hosts. The majority of them were scientists from the facility, people Egeria had seen before, to whom she had even talked through Harry. She was a little surprised but not exactly shocked to see them there, eagerly offering themselves for the possibility.
"Now that we understand the true blending of a Tok'ra and a human, and that you are an understanding and a benevolent race, many of us would seriously consider such a blending," Dollen explained. "Not just for the health benefits, not even for the increased lifespan, but the wisdom and knowledge that is shared."
Egeria nodded, understanding this very well. Thousands of years ago, people had consented to housing her first Tok'ra young for similar reasons - and they hadn't understood them as well as the Pangarians did. These people, however, had witnessed some of her knowledge and been essential part in bringing forth her plan, so they understood the extent of what a blending would offer.
"I don't much care for the fact that they want to blend just to get some knowledge," Harry muttered in the mother tongue of Goa'uld, making Egeria flash a dismissive fin at him.
"Knowledge is always an admirable motive," she informed him, well pleased with the offerings. Still, she had to make sure that they understood what they were signing up for, and had Harry explain them the Tok'ra rebellion, the war that even now she felt the desire to fight.
"Being part of the Tok'ra might mean that one day the System Lords will seek out means to defeat you, perhaps even destroy you," Harry translated with a frown. "They have done far worse for lesser reasons than this. A Tok'ra-Pangarian alliance might very well paint a target on your planet."
"Judging by what we have learned from you, that day might be ahead of us regardless," Dollen said thoughtfully. "We are a peaceful people, but we are advancing - and not just in medical science. With this new knowledge and with what we have learned from what the Goa'uld left behind, our sciences will develop even further. Already some of our scientists are working on protective and counteractive measures in case the Goa'uld return. And as far as we can understand, these sorts of advancements aren't exactly endorsed by the Goa'uld."
"No, they are not. And if you pose any sort of risk, real or imaginary, they will seek to destroy you. Sometimes for no better reason than because they simply can," Harry translated again, glancing at Egeria as if wondering if she knew what she was doing. But she wasn't about to lie to these people and potentially cause their downfall. "Tok'ra presence on this planet would only increase the risk."
"But with Tok'ra on our side, we might have ways of defending ourselves," the politician countered. "Perhaps even fighting back."
Egeria bowed her head at that, while the scientists around the tank nodded their heads and exchanged whispers, some agreeing, others disagreeing, but apparently not changing their minds about the blending. "Very well," she said. "I will have twenty nine children, so twenty nine hosts are required. However, my children have the right to choose for themselves and they might not choose the ones you suggest."
"Of course," Dollen said. "Several extra candidates will be selected, and when the time comes, we will look to your young to see whom they chose. I trust they will be capable of understanding us if Master Potter is incapable of aiding our communication?"
"They can understand you, and shake or nod their heads in answer. That should be sufficient, as long as you ask the right questions," Egeria said, feeling very satisfied with the arrangement. Long ago, when finding hosts for her first generation of Tok'ra, it had been hard work, and her children had died without hosts. Never before had there been so many offers - so genuine ones. "The Tok'ra-Pangarian alliance will be great," she said softly.
"… it just has me wondering, is all," Egeria could hear one of Harry's friends speak, as she surfaced from her sleep. It was the brown haired one with the kind face, Neville, who worked with the plant based medicine. "The whole facility has been talking about it since the notification came up, they've even compiled this list about benefits - they've posted it on the wall in the laboratory. It says that… that a Tok'ra symbiote can cure just about all illnesses - and injuries."
"Well, not all of them, I doubt even a symbiote could heal a chopped-off leg or something serious like that, but yeah, there is definitely healing factor involved," Harry answered, his back towards Egeria's tank as he spoke. He had his arms folded, and his tone was serious, though, so Egeria knew it wasn't idle conversation. "You thinking of becoming a host, Neville? I didn't know you were sick."
"I'm…. I'm not, obviously," the other human answered awkwardly, running his hands over his hair. "But… but my parents…."
"Ah," Harry murmured. "I see…. You think a symbiote might cure them?"
"Well… I don't know, that's why I'm asking you," Neville said, sighing heavily. "Harry, they've tried everything back on Earth, every treatment they could think of - for the last five or so years, they've even been trying experimental medicine on them. But the damage is just… too scattered to do anything about. Small injuries all over their brains, impossible to ever fix it all. Or even fix part of it. But a symbiote, as far as I can tell, the whole thing works… kind of naturally? I mean, they boost your own ability to heal? So maybe, with a symbiote, they might be able to… to heal themselves?"
"I don't know, Neville, I really don't. It's been almost fourteen years since your parents were… tortured, hasn't it?" Harry asked. "The healing ability of the symbiotes is amazing, but it's got some limits too. It's still just healing, not regeneration. Egeria has already told me that she can't heal all my old scars and such - though they may fade a bit, they won't be completely gone."
"Yeah, Hermione said that too, but… can you at least ask her?" Neville pleaded. "If it's impossible, then at least I'd know and won't have to keep wondering and hoping."
Harry sighed and ran his hand through his hair, before glancing at Egeria over his shoulder. "Egeria, you're awake," he hissed, turning to face her. "Did you hear what Neville asked?"
"Yes," the queen answered, shifting a little. "I suppose the heart of the matter is brain damage. What sort of damage is it?"
Harry considered it for a moment before folding his arms again. "We have a curse that causes pain - lots of pain," he then said. "It's forbidden by law for obvious reasons - but also because if you're put under it for too long, you go insane. That's what happened to Neville's parents," he added, and glanced at Neville, changing the language to the one the human would understand. "Do you know what exactly the damage is?"
"The way the healers explained it… it's a little bit of everything. The curse works on the cellular level, damaging just about every cell in the brain when it's cast - usually it's repaired immediately in wizards, but prolonged exposure…" Neville trailed away. "I believe the insanity is caused because, while magic can to extend cure a person, afterwards everything doesn't flow right. Memory, motor skills, ability to hold onto the present, even things like senses and such, they all get messed up."
"You know a lot about it," Harry noted.
"My parents have been like this for as long as I can remember. Trust me when I say I found out everything I could about their condition," Neville shook his head, and turned to Egeria. "My parents don't remember my name, or my grandmother's. They live in delusions and sometimes get trapped in their own senses. They can walk, for a while, but after that they just forget - and though they can talk, sometimes they only manage gibberish."
Egeria nodded slowly, thinking about it. It didn't sound like any brain damage she had heard of. Sometimes getting trapped in their senses, sometimes forgetting how to walk, sometimes speaking only gibberish… it meant that sometimes, they managed all that perfectly. How can someone with permanent brain damage go back and forth like that?
Unless the magical healing factor was playing part in it.
"How long does it usually take between times when his parents can walk, and times when they can't?" Egeria asked thoughtfully. "Or the times when they can talk and when they speak gibberish?"
"It's hard to say. They tend to have relapse of some sort once or twice a day," Neville answered after Harry's translations. "Sometimes when I visit them, they're almost coherent, but they decline before my eyes. Sometimes, they've just had a relapse and are unconscious, but they might wake up and talk to me almost as if they know me."
Egeria nodded again and then glanced at Harry. "How good are the regenerative abilities of wizards? Judging by what your friends said, wizards do not suffer things like internal bleeding, so the internal damage is repaired quickly, so fast that it never becomes an issue. How about brain damage?"
Harry thought about it for a moment, before asking the question of Neville, who folded his arms in thought. "I know this, I've heard about it somewhere," the brown haired magician murmured, frowning. "Yes, one of the nurses referred to a case abroad, about a wizard who got shot in the head with a muggle gun. They managed to stabilise him and keep him from dying, and in the end he made a complete recovery - because the magic regenerated the lost tissue. She was wondering why something like that couldn't happen with Cruciatus victims."
"Cruciatus is the pain curse," Harry explained before Egeria asked. Egeria, though, hadn't even been about to ask - she was too busy thinking about the possibilities.
"If your magic works like I think it does, then it's a much more potent healing factor than that of the Goa'uld," she started. "Normal humans cannot regenerate brain tissue - it's not possible with their current level of evolution. However, that's a bit irrelevant. I think what's happening is that the two humans in question go through cycles of regeneration and rejection. Their magic heals the damage done, bringing them into coherency for a moment. However, soon after their bodies somehow reject the healing, perhaps due to some after effect of the curse, causing the healed parts to be possibly consumed by cellular defensive feature present in magicians - or perhaps by magic itself."
"Okay," Harry said slowly, before quickly relaying the information to his friend. "Does that mean that a symbiote could heal Neville's parents?"
"It might be possible, though I am not perfectly certain. I would need to see what is happening in their minds, their brains, to know for sure. But part of a symbiote's ability is to effect certain cellular alterations in the host body - that is how we can direct our own regenerative capabilities to vital sections instead of all around the body in case the host is injured," Egeria answered. "If the injury works the way and your magic works the way I assume, then it might work."
Neville sat down after Harry relayed the message to him. "Well," he said, a little breathless and wide eyed. "Well, that's… that's something."
"Don't get your hopes up yet," Harry warned him. "There’s still a lot of stuff we don't know. For one, we don't know if magic and a symbiote can go together - it might be that the two healing factors involved are so strong that they reject each other."
"Still, it's something, and if your blending with Egeria works out, then… then it's more than something," Neville said, shaking his head. "Harry, I haven't had hope in years, if ever. I don't think I've ever actually thought that I might see my parents healthy and whole again. And they've been like that for so long…. At this point any smallest chance…."
The two of them fell into silence, while Egeria nudged at her birthing sack. The young inside were again trying to listen in, making the skin stretch at an awkward place.
"You think they would be happy about finding symbiotes inside of them, even if those symbiotes had happened to heal them?" Harry asked. "If that was possible, I mean."
"They've been locked up in a ward at St. Mungos without any help or hope for almost fifteen years," the other human said. "I think they'd be happy to be healthy again, no matter what means were used to make it happen. I think they would understand."
Harry hummed and then nodded. "We'll look into it," he promised. "But before we try the bending and see how magic and symbiote work together, there's not much we can do. So, we'll talk about this again, once I and Egeria are blended," he said. "We should know more about the whole thing by then. Alright?"
"Okay," Neville nodded and smiled shakily. "Thanks, Harry. It means a lot to me."
"Yeah," Harry nodded. "I hope we can help you, when the time comes."
Neville nodded, and while Egeria crooned through the sack to soothe her overly curious children, the two humans sat in compassionate silence.
The day after, Egeria cycle came to an end and she began giving birth.
For the first time in over twenty years, giving birth was a happy occasion for Egeria - for the first time, the scientists weren’t there watching, eagerly waiting to take her young away. Instead, only Harry was there, resting his hand against the glass as one after another, the prim'ta pushed through the sack's opening, and into the meagre freedom of the tank. Egeria watched them with a feeling she couldn't have known how to describe if someone had asked to, but thankfully, Harry didn't seem to feel the need to ask.
"They're smaller than I thought they'd be," he murmured instead, as the pale symbiote infants flitted back and forth in the tank's fluid, brushing against the glass where his hand rested, feeling an echo his warmth. "Paler too."
"This is the larval stage when they are still developing. In a few years' time, they will shed their skins and emerge fully developed, with fins such as mine. After that they will be required to take a host," Egeria said, using her pincers to shed one of her young of a lingering thread of the nutrient veins which had connected them to her. She glanced up as another young Tok'ra brushed against the glass where Harry's hand was. "They like you."
"Wicked," Harry whispered, grinning.
Egeria would've smiled at his enthusiasm, had she been able. She satisfied the urge by nodding. "You have done much for us, and they feel gratitude. As do I. It has been so long," she said, as another of her young broke free from the birthing sack, and tested his new surroundings. "I did not think I would again be able to birth children, my true children. I did not dare hope."
"I'm happy for you," the human said softly, tapping the tank's glass, when one of the young symbiotes flared its pincers slightly at him. Harry grinned a little wider, as the young Tok'ra flared again, and then swum away as fast as he could. "They seem spirited."
"Yes," the queen agreed, and shifted to help the next one to get out. "They will need that."
The birthing lasted for only about half an hour, and then the tank seemed even more crowded than it had before - it was inevitable, with twenty nine larval symbiotes swimming left and right and exercising the muscles they hadn't gotten the chance to use in her birthing sack. Egeria watched them with a satisfaction she hadn't felt in decades, in centuries. Twenty nine new Tok'ra, strong and curious - in the care of a world that now welcomed them with open arms. It was truly something she had never dared to even dream.
"I shall detach myself from the birthing sack now, so do not be alarmed," Egeria said to Harry, who was watching her young flit back and forward with amusement. "And please, let the Pangarians know that they can leave the sack in the tank. It will break apart soon, and my young will get nutrients from it."
"Alright," Harry agreed, and then watched how rib by rib Egeria released her hold on the sack's supporting spine, and then tore the weak membrane between her and the sack open. The freedom that followed was magnificent. The sack had been weighing her down for so long, that she had almost forgotten how light she actually was - how easy it was to move. Not as easy as it was for her young children, though - she had been motionless for so long, that her body felt the after effects and her swimming was jerky and clumsy for a while.
"Better?" Harry asked, as Egeria settled onto the bottom for a moment to rest, and watch her young who still kept on swimming in excited circles.
"Much," she agreed, and nudged her head against one of the prim'ta, who ducked to rub against her fondly.
"Good," the human nodded, leaning forward a little to listen. "Can your kids talk yet? I can hear squeaks and some hisses, but I can't make out the words."
"They can understand, but it will take a few days of growth before they can communicate back. After that I imagine the tank will be filled with their chatter as they talk amongst themselves," Egeria answered, glancing up at him. She hesitated for a moment, before lifting her head. "I'll be ready to attempt blending any time now," she said, and immediately the activity in the tank ceased as every young symbiote turned their attention to the human who would be their queen's host.
Harry nodded, smiling at her. "We'll do it tomorrow," he said.
Egeria bowed her head in agreement, knowing he probably wanted to say his goodbyes to his friends in case the blending went wrong. She didn't mind, it would give her some time to instruct her children as well. "Tomorrow," she said, and together they watched her young swim and strengthen.
The next day, Harry came to Egeria's room with all his friends, and several Pangarians, including both Governor Dollen and Commander Tegar, both of whom apparently wished to witness the blending. On Egeria's and Harry's suggestion, there was a gurney ready along with a medical doctor, who would take care of them if there were complications.
"As you sure? Really, really sure?" Hermione asked Harry, who approached the tank, tapping his finger against the glass in greeting to the younger Tok'ra. "Harry, the risks…."
"I'm sure," the black haired human answered simply, and turned to look at Dollen and Tegar. "You'll follow the guidelines and instructions if this goes wrong?"
"To the letter, Master Potter," Dollen answered. "We are confident that we can manage to proceed as planned even if… even if we do not have your guidance to aid us."
"And you five?" Harry asked, turning to his friends, all of whom looked decidedly nervous - with the exception of Luna, who had already moved forward and was staring at Egeria's children in fascination.
"We'll be able to pilot the ship home," Hermione nodded, a little bright eyed. "We even have some idea on how to fix it if something goes wrong," she added with a sad chuckle.
"Are you really sure, mate?" Ron asked, stepping forward. "Maybe one of us --"
Harry shook his head, smiling. "No, I want to do it - I like her. And I wouldn't ask any of you to risk yourselves like this. You have families waiting for you."
"So do you," Ginny said softly.
"Not really," he disagreed, turning to Egeria. "Are you ready?" he asked, still smiling, seemingly not at all nervous.
"Yes," Egeria agreed, and sprung up from the bottom and towards the surface. As she did, her young quickly rushed towards her, brushing against her fondly and chirping and squeaking their good lucks and farewells as best as they could. She answered in kind, whispering them her affection, before coming to the surface. "Take me and hold me close to your face. I will enter through your mouth."
Harry nodded, and as everyone, humans and symbiotes alike, watched, he took Egeria gently to his hands. They were warmer and a little rougher than she had expected, but sure - the lack of nervousness wasn't a mere act, he really wasn't nervous. She couldn't wait to blend and find why not - even the most welcoming hosts tended to be nervous just before blending.
"Come," Harry said, and held her close. She let out a wordless chirp of gratitude and triumph, and rushed forward, taking the welcome he so easily offered, and loving him a little more because of it.
Taking a host had never been so disorienting, she found. Instinct drove her to push through the back of his throat and find a snug place in his spine, comfortable and sheltered by his flesh. That was, however, the only comfortable thing she experienced upon entering.
At first she thought that his blood was tainted with poison - it seemed to burn against her skin and try and dry her in a way a human body or blood never had. Then, almost immediately after, his blood was soothing her in turn, healing the damage it had done, healing it even better - making her feel like her skin had suddenly became younger and tougher. At first she thought that this was Harry's magic, first rejecting her and then accepting her. Soon she found how mistaken she was - that it was really only his blood she had experienced.
Magic, she found as it crashed down upon her and squeezed all around - and then inside - her, was something completely different. Until the last moment she had thought that it was a mere ability, a genetic advance - that Harry was perhaps the legendary Hok-Taur Goa'uld had been trying to create for thousands of years. But no, it wasn't like that at all - magic and Harry were as much separate as they were one, and it almost felt like it had a mind of its own. That mind, that incredible, magnificent power, was testing her, trying to figure out what she was - if she was a risk, if she needed to be destroyed.
She had never felt anything like it. It was warm and cold and temperate all at once. It hurt and soothed, it burned and froze, it was there and it wasn't, it was physical and nothing like it - it was energy, it was vacuum, it was incredible, it was terrifying.
Then Harry was there as well. 'Let her in, let her in, I want her, I welcome her, let her in, let her join,' whispering somewhere in the distance which was nothing like the usual human-Tok'ra union. And the magic, still flickering at her in both body and mind, slowly receded. And then, as Harry breathed in and out and willed her to survive, magic pushed forward again, surrounding her with new determination - not to examine her anymore, because now it knew her. No, this time magic pushed forward to heal.
Even sarcophagus, the few times in her youth when she had experienced it, hadn't felt like this. It felt what she assumed it felt for humans when a symbiote healed them. It took what she had, her cells, her own healing ability, her very essence and genetic structure, and then it started to empower them. It was pure and incredible, neither good nor bad, but very, very present. It teased her cells and urged them to rejuvenate, giving them power they lacked. It pushed into the damaged parts and nudged and prodded until they were soft, and then healing - missing parts going as far as growing back. It didn't make her young, she could tell that, but it made her whole, healthy - like she would be, had the years of containment and experimentation never happened.
Only distantly she felt how Harry staggered, and was lifted to the gurney, how people chattered worriedly around them and talked. She could hear Harry answering them: "We are fine. I think my magic is tending to Egeria. It will probably take a while," he said and, answering a question: "It's incredible; I've never felt anything like this. I think it's because of her, but I've never felt my magic so… well before. I can actually follow it inside me. It's like… woah."
There was a distance between Egeria and Harry, a barrier even, and she knew without pain of doubt that this was nothing like Tok'ra usually was. She knew in that moment that she would never be able to control Harry - that their communion wouldn't be graciousness and charity on her part, with her allowing him to gain control because it was her will. No, magic itself would not allow it, because it was Harry, and not her. Magic would always keep that distance. Harry would always have primary control - and it would be his graciousness that they both would live by, him letting her have control if he so wished.
It was frightening, terrifying even, and even as she healed and felt stronger, she almost wished she had a normal human host instead - because Harry was powerful in ways she had never thought a human could be. But at the same time, she had never felt so sheltered before either, so well guarded, so well cared for. Despite the fact that Harry was the young one and she was thousands of years old, under the power of his magic, which felt ancient, as old as the stars themselves, she felt like an infant. It was disconcerting and humbling.
Then she felt something else, as Harry urged magic to release some of the barrier, to allow them to blend. She expected to see his memories and was already pushing her own forward to show him, to let them get to know each other in the way only Tok'ra and their host could. But it wasn't Harry.
'We aren't alone in here,' she whispered to Harry in their minds, feeling him jerk up at that. It wasn't just magic either, no; there was a fourth entity present. It felt chaotic, messy even, with malice radiating from it like cold warmth, unnatural and unnerving. Barely sentient or intelligent, but incredibly malicious. Egeria could feel how Harry's magic had tried to isolate it - perhaps years and years ago - to a section of Harry's being where it's effect would be minimum, but it was still there, and recently it had broken through the isolation. It had rooted into Harry's brain like an infection or a plant, and she could almost see it, how it was getting stronger.
'Voldemort!' Harry answered, and immediately she knew. Of his parents, how they had been killed, of him, how Voldemort had kill him with a curse which had failed. She knew of the scar and how it ached when Voldemort was near, she knew of the bond between them - of parseltongue, which was so close to the mother tongue of Goa'uld that they could've been the same. She knew of the visions and the nightmares, of Legilimency and Occlumency, the supernatural mind arts of wizards. She knew, with perfect clarity, that Voldemort had tried to possess Harry, and for a moment had even succeeded in it.
And she knew what the malicious entity was. 'It's the bond. What he left behind when the curse failed. A piece of him,' she said, rising up, speeded by magic which was now aiding her like it could sense her intention and was in perfect agreement. The entity was an intruder, like a Goa'uld, trying to take control. Except it was worse, it wasn't like a parasite, but like a disease, infecting and sapping Harry's strength as it grew. 'Should I kill it?'
Harry hesitated only for a moment before hissing, in parseltongue, in Goa'uld, in pure unhindered thought and emotion. 'Please do.'
It was unlike any battle she had ever fought. She had an incredibly powerful ally, magic, at her side - it almost felt like there was a friendly Asgard ship hovering above her head, its weapons and shields giving her support as she stepped out to have a fist fight with someone. Except the opponent wasn't quite like her, it wasn't quite physical, so it was like fighting against a shadow. But it was shadow surrounded by so much light that its defeat was inevitable.
But they couldn't kill it. They couldn't. Together Egeria and Harry's magic, which felt even more like an entity of its own now, managed to diminish it by a hundred fold, but it remained rooted in Harry, resilient like an old stain - sitting right atop the centre of Harry's very life. It lost the strength it had gained over the years, returning to the way it had been when it had first infected Harry, but it couldn't be killed. It shouldn't be.
'I can't kill it,' Egeria wailed, partly in anger and partly in frustration. 'If I do, you'll die!'
She could feel Harry thinking it through, but the thoughts were a blur of disappointment and frustration, realisation and mild disgust, nothing clear enough to tell what he was really thinking. 'Leave it,' Harry's thought finally broke through. 'It's been there a long time without causing any damage. Whatever strength it's gained since Voldemort was resurrected is gone now, so it shouldn't cause as much trouble. We can figure out what to do about it later.'
'Yes,' Egeria agreed, though knowing that it was there at all was making her uneasy. She shifted away, feeling as Harry's magic shifted and isolated the parasitic entity of Voldemort once more. It seemed that the magic had learned from the first time - the prison felt strong and secure this time, leaving the entity still there but contained in a bubble. 'It's… it's amazing. I've never felt anything like this,' Egeria admitted softly.
'Yes,' Harry agreed in a whisper, and outside he closed his eyes so that he wouldn't be distracted. 'I have never felt my magic like this either. It's been present always, I think… but not like this. Not this clearly.'
Egeria hummed. 'Show me,' she requested
'And you show me,' Harry agreed, and together they threw open their personal barriers, and let each other see into their memories, into their pasts.
Harry was young, but his mind was older and more mature than he was - especially now, with such a terrible mistake behind him. Egeria glimpsed it for a moment, before looking beyond it and to the beginning, wishing to experience things in order. Harry hadn't had a happy childhood, she soon found. He had lost his parents to Voldemort, and been given to his mother's sister, who had loathed him, whose whole family had loathed him. They hadn't had magic, nor had they understood it, and they had taken it out on him.
'I don't blame them. Not really,' Harry thought - and he actually meant it too.
As she learned all that, Egeria could feel the reverse in effect. Harry could remember Egeria's mother, Queen Nut, and how Ra had sought her out when she had been young. Ra had wanted to make her his queen, and Egeria had eagerly agreed as it was a position of great power. But Ra had wanted to see her worth before, so he had given her tasks to perform. Many of them had been horrible atrocities, with her leading battles and massacres that had resulted in the deaths of countless humans and Jaffa. Others had been cunning deceits, sometimes towards Ra's rivals, sometimes towards his allies, sometimes towards mere humans or Jaffa. She had become good at deceit and death in those times.
'I will never forgive myself for that,' she thought sadly. 'I will spend the rest of my life atoning.'
Harry had found his salvation in magic, in more ways than one. It had always been his, but when he had become aware of it - when he had been called to a school where they taught one to control it - it had become real. He had gained control of his life, or so it seemed. And it had been all he had never dared to even hope - he had never loved anything quite like he had loved magic. Even when some hated him for it and had been jealous, even when he had been shackled with fame that he hadn't felt he deserved, it had been brilliant. He had made friends, accomplished tasks - fought against a teacher and a murderer and saved a stone that, amusingly enough, did make the actual Elixir of Life that Egeria had once spoken of.
'I still don't know if I killed Quirrell or if Voldemort did it,' Harry admitted.
For Egeria, the assignment in Rome had been the turning point of her very existence. Ra had sent her there to seduce and control the newly crowned ruler, Numa Pompilius, who had proven to be cunning and wise, winning the support of his human subjects quickly. Ra had even suspected that Numa Pompilius had been a Goa'uld, and had wanted Egeria to find out. If he was, she had been meant to kill him - and, if possibly, somehow to gain the control of Roman Empire. She had been surprised when she had found that human king had been indeed that - a human king, not a Goa'uld. But Numa had been so brilliant, so well learned, that it had at time astonished her. Then she had found out about his teacher.
'In a way I suppose I should thank Ra - if he hadn't sent me on the assignment, I would've never met him,' Egeria thought fondly.
Harry's second year in Hogwarts had been worse than the first one. It had begun with an escape from his family and with incident involving a flying car that had very nearly gotten him expelled. Then, eventually, the school had fallen under attack by an unseen enemy - and somehow, people had come to blame him, whispering behind his back. For a twelve year old boy, it had been a shocking experience, but Harry had learned fast, adapted even quicker, and held his head up high. Even when the blame grew louder, even when one of his dear friends had been attacked, he had held his head high. And when the time had come, he had wielded a sword with courage, and despite his lack of skill he had slain a monster - and nearly been killed by it. He had saved Ginny, and regained his status as a hero. But the memory had remained.
'I'm not exactly bitter, I can understand, but…' Harry almost felt like he was shrugging his shoulders as he thought this.
Though Numa had worshipped him as one, Janus hadn't been a god. Egeria wasn't sure what he had been, but Janus was brilliant beyond human or Goa'uld intelligence - and with an imagination no Asgard could ever hope to have. He was full of new ideas and new theories, always going and moving and so very much in love with human potential. He had known the moment they had met that Egeria had been neither a water nymph as Numa saw her as nor a human, and he hadn't cared. Queen Mother, he had called her, and dazzled her with his brilliance.
'I didn't know I could love, before I fell in love with him,' Egeria whispered in her thoughts, holding the memory of his face close. 'In a way, you remind me of him.'
Harry's third year at Hogwarts had been full of shadows and whispers and unseen threats of a murderer and shades that ate souls. Regardless of the nightmares and the helpless fear of the Dementors, however, he still remembered it as his happiest year in the school because of one man, Sirius Black, the very murderer than had been supposedly looking to kill him. Sirius Black, Harry's godfather, the true family he had always wanted and never quite had - a link to his past, to his parents, to the things he had never experienced. Saving him with a feat of powerful magic and time travelling was still the greatest thing Harry thought he had ever done.
'The only thing I feel sorry about is Pettigrew's escape. If only Sirius had been cleared, found innocent like he was supposed to…' the thought was heavy with Harry's regret.
Egeria had been suspicious of Janus's intentions, of course, but had been drawn to his brilliance like a moth to a flame. His enthusiasm had been infective, and when he really gotten the chance to talk about his hopes and dreams and ideas, it had been impossible not to get sucked in. What Egeria had found the most amazing about the man, was that Janus had always had a knack for predicting events to come. He had known she would come, he had known she would befriend Numa Pompilius, he had known she'd become his water nymph advisor, and he had known she'd take the name Egeria for herself, and that it would become hers permanently. He had also known that one day she would be the origin of a rebellion.
'He never told me how he knew,' Egeria sighed, though she didn't feel as sad about that as she was of how short their time together had been.
Harry's fourth year had been one challenge after another, as he had been thrust into a tournament he hadn't wanted to take a part in. What had been the greatest trial for him at that time, however, had been the falling-out he’d had with his best friend. He had understood Ron's motivations and reasoning, he had understood the background and never really blamed his friend… but the abandonment had stung. It hadn't stopped him from renewing the friendship - but he felt he had still been reeling from it when the tournament had twisted and turned him, playing with his fame and name, and finally thrust him in front of the recently resurrected Lord Voldemort.
'I wish I had been able to save Cedric. He didn't deserve his end,' Harry thought.
Janus had shown Egeria the truth, the wonder and the magnificence of the human race. There was potential in them, beyond what the Goa'uld could see - beyond even the myths of Hok-taur. It wasn't about their bodies, or their brains, but their hearts - and about the curiosity that they had, which so many other races completely lacked. The Goa'uld especially. It wasn't all Janus had shown her, or all he had taught her, but it had been the most important of the things she had learned, and when he had left, mere months into their friendship, it was the lesson about humanity she hung onto the tightest.
'And I always will,' Egeria swore.
Harry's fifth year at Hogwarts had been worse than the rest, but it had a better beginning than any other. He had been able to spend it with his godfather and many other sympathetic to the cause he had been fighting for almost five years - or perhaps all his life. The Order of the Phoenix, so much like the Tok'ra, had been a beacon of strength and hope for him, even when the Ministry of Magic had denied everything about Voldemort and send a horrible woman to Hogwarts to stop the truth from coming out. Harry started his own small underground movement in the form of the DA, and taught many of his friends and classmates how to fight and defend themselves. They needed that, he had felt. And he had been right.
'I can't say I've ever been that good at making decisions, but going to the Department of Mysteries that night… that was maybe the worst one,' Harry sighed. 'Or maybe the best one.'
Egeria had befriended Numa Pompilius and done everything Ra had told her to do completely wrong. She had taught Numa philosophy that went against Goa'uld beliefs, and showed him how to rule and govern his people well. Numa had been wise and cunning indeed, and Egeria had never been so happy to fail so badly. Ra had been in the midst of a war back then, too busy to notice, and when he had thought to recall her, he hadn't been all that interested in the results. In the grand scheme of things, the Roman Empire had been nothing to him - of which she was glad.
'Of all civilisations of Earth, Rome was the one the Goa'uld never touched,' she remembered, proud and thoughtfully. 'I wonder if Janus….'
The vision leading Harry to the Department of Mysteries had been false, but had felt incredibly real. Now he knew that it was because of the piece of Voldemort - it had been manipulating him - but that didn't stop him from feeling ashamed. Not for falling into the trap, but leading his friends into it as well. Even if it had led him to the Ring Transporter, into the escape vessel Ra had left behind, and eventually to Egeria, he wished he could've done it all without causing so much trouble for his friends. He wished he could've felt the same homesickness they did - as it was, all he missed was Sirius, and even him distantly. Maybe if he did, their relationships wouldn't have been falling apart now.
'They don't understand how I can accept alien culture so easily, and welcome it,' Harry thought, partly amused, partly sad. 'They don't understand this is the second time it's happened to me.'
Egeria had hid her new beliefs for a while, hiding amongst Ra's people and giving birth to what might as well have been a whole different race of Goa'uld. Eventually Ra had found out. When he had discovered her teaching a human, he had begun to get suspicious despite her assurances that a learned host was better than stupid one. When she had tried to free humans meant to become slaves, he had unearthed her, and it had been all over for her. For a while, it had been pain, endless torment as he had tried to find out what she had done. Then oblivion, as Ra had taken her out of her host, killing poor sweet Liviana. The final thing Egeria had seen before the stasis jar had been sealed was Ra, glowering down on her.
'Merciful heavens how I hope my children managed to hide and survive,' she thought.
And then, they were in harmony.
Egeria felt Harry's mind surrounding her, and together they mourned and rejoiced their pasts, and felt solace in their union. He knew things of her no one else ever again would and she knew things even he would've never shared with anyone willingly. Harry's hate for Voldemort became hers, Egeria's hate for the Goa'uld became his, and likewise she shared his love for his friends while he too felt the love for Janus. Her admiration for humans and imagination was mirrored in him, his incredible capacity for caring was echoed in her, and all around them magic enveloped them, until it was hard to tell where one entity of the three started, and where another ended.
It was beautiful.
Then Harry did something that very nearly made Egeria cry. 'Do you want to speak?' he asked, and stepped aside to let her take the control of his body.
And then, she had eyes, and hands, and face a human body around her, hers to control. For a moment she stared at Harry's hands - her hands - like she had never seen them before. They were… surprisingly big. Liviana's hands had been smaller. Then, while everyone in the room stared, Egeria touched her hair and face, marvelling at Harry's masculinity. She had never been in a male host before. It was definitely a new experience.
A blurry experience, she found, and blinked as she realised that the glasses which Harry had worn for years to correct his visions were now making that vision worse. Gingerly, she pulled the glasses from her face and blinked. 'Ah, much better,' she thought. In their combined minds, her host chuckled.
"Harry?" asked Hermione, who was sitting beside them on the edge of the gurney. "Harry, are you alright? Your eyes, Harry, they… they glowed."
"Harry is --" Egeria started and stopped, a little startled at the voice. It was so much deeper than she had expected - especially with the distortion that tended to come upon it when a Goa'uld spoke through human. "Harry has graciously allowed me the control for a moment," she said again, trying to get used to the sound - to the surprising vibration it carried. "I am Egeria."
Explosive sigh ran through the people in the room, and the Pangarians shook hands and clasped shoulders in silent, compassionate celebration. Harry's friends however, only frowned and looked worried.
"Harry allowed you?" Ginny asked, frowning a bit deeper. "I thought the Goa'uld had the dominance of the body, that the human mind could be…" she stopped speaking, as Hermione threw a glare at her direction.
"In normal humans, yes. But Harry is not normal," Egeria answered, and smiled, touching her chest - Harry's chest. Oh, but it was flat, in comparison to how Liviana had been. "His magic changes things - it prefers Harry, so Harry has the primary control. I couldn't force my will upon him even if I wished it…" she trailed away and chuckled. She could feel the magic even now, churning inside. "It's incredible; I have never felt such a power."
"Wait you mean that magic makes Harry stronger than you?" Hermione asked, surprised.
"Not Harry, exactly. Magic… it feels like a different being all together, Harry but not quite Harry. I do not know how to explain it, but it is his, and it will keep me silent if Harry wishes it," Egeria said, and laughed softly. "It never occurred to me before, but this is such a relief!"
"Why?" Neville asked, more curious than worried it seemed.
"I didn't think of it before, but you people, you wizards, you have incredible powers. And if the Goa'uld would know, they would try to conquer Earth just to gain access to hosts like you. With magic, their power would be even more incredible, even harder to fight against," she explained and laughed again with relief. "But they cannot, because if they try to claim a wizard host against that person's will, the magic would enslave them! Perhaps even kill them!"
'I didn't think of that,' Harry mused, 'But now that you mention it, yeah. That is a relief.'
The wizards in the room shared a look, and seemed to relax a little. "But you didn't?" Hermione asked.
"No, because Harry accepted me. The potential was there," Egeria nodded, and then shifted to the side and lowering her feet to the floor. "It's okay, I just wish to see myself, to stand," she murmured to the people who shifted forward either to aid her or stop her as she carefully stood up. She found Harry's body surprisingly strong and nimble - and steady, despite her lack of practice.
As she took her first steps in a long, long while, Dollen stepped forward with Tegar at his side. "Queen Egeria," the politician said almost formally. "On behalf of the Pangarian people, I would like to offer my most sincere apologies for the events of the last decades. I know our actions were unforgivable --"
Egeria smiled, stepping forward and placing her hands onto his shoulders. "I have already forgiven you. And I contributed to the incident myself, I sabotaged my young which gave the drug it's weakness, so part of the blame rests on my shoulders," she said, and nodded at the man, who despite the mistakes done was not a bad governor, not if what Harry knew of the man was true. "I think its best that both you and I will look forward to what we can do instead back to what mistakes we made, and work together to resolve the problem."
The governor swallowed and nodded, deeply grateful look about his face. "Thank you," he said simply. "I would like that very much. We all would."
"Except for us," Ron interrupted from where he was sitting, on the edge of the gurney. "We would like to go home," he said, motioning at his friends, Harry's friends. "We would also like to know whether or not Harry is coming with us."
Egeria looked at him seriously for a moment, before bowing her head and shifting away from the control. Harry pushed forward again, and lifted his head. "Yes," he said, his voice returning to normal, smile gracing his lips. "We will go home. But there are things we need to do here for a bit before that. So, can you give us a couple of days?"
Blinking with surprise, the redheaded wizard glanced at the others, who seemed relieved. "I think we can spare a couple of days," Neville then said. "But what do you need to do?"
"Check the laboratories, fix a few mistakes, give a quick lesson or two, and check out the Chappa'ai," Harry answered, shrugging his shoulder. "It shouldn't take long and you can use the time to pack."
'You really should've told me about the Chappa'ai,' Egeria thought at him, thinking about the great ring that Harry had walked pass and through many times while in Pangar, never knowing what it was. 'There is a chance you might be able to get through it to Earth without needing to spend months in hyperspace. Why didn't you?'
'I thought it was a monument - I didn't know it was interstellar transportation device. Give me a break,' Harry answered, but there was some humour in the thought.
With new strength and a new will to do right, Egeria set to work with the medical experiment facility to make sure everything was going according to plan and no mistakes were being made. It was impossible not to, when Harry's beliefs of right and wrong were so much stronger than hers that it was overwhelming, especially since he saw everything as good until proven otherwise. Her will to correct mistakes and Harry's will to do everything possible to make things right… it was a powerful force.
Together with Hermione and Neville, several Pangarian scientists and the curious Dollen and Tegar trailing behind them, Egeria and Harry went from laboratory to laboratory, checking results and fixing broken machines as well as they could until everything was working as well as possible under the circumstances. They talked, sometimes Egeria and sometimes Harry, both perfectly willing to answer questions and both perfectly capable, with Harry's knowledge of what had been done so far and Egeria's what had to be done from here on blending into a single, well-functioning machine.
Once they had checked that the project wasn't in danger of suffering any major system failures or laboratory accidents, they had the head scientist gather everyone else, so that they could give them a quick lecture about the medical science they were learning to use - which they would have to use to complete the counter drug. In the end, Tretonin played a meagre part in the lecture, which was mostly about chemical reactions and particle emissions and energy wave treatments and such which are key parts of Goa'uld medicine. The scientists were mostly baffled - a good sum of the lecture was probably completely new information to them - but they seemed willing enough to take notes and discuss it afterwards.
"It's not that we don't appreciate the knowledge you have to share - we welcome it, of course," Dollen, who was starting to look a little wide eyed, asked after the discussion had ended. "But I don't understand why you're telling us all this."
"A cure, even without any understanding about the science behind it, may work but what will you learn from it?" Egeria asked. "There is still a margin of error left, both in Tretonin and its cure. If we can't come back from Earth, then at least now your people will have some idea about how to counteract any possible setbacks. Or at least they will be looking for the way to do it from the right place."
When the night came and most of the workers headed home, Harry and Egeria spent some time writing notes and instructions, both wishing that they had more time so that they could explain the science behind it a bit clearer. 'This will have to do,' Egeria thought, after twenty pages and some illustrations.
'You've already done a lot,' Harry thought back. 'The amount of information you know is staggering. The medical science alone, but the technology too, the history, the philosophy - the languages… it's beyond impressive.'
'Why thank you, Harry,' Egeria smiled. 'You're nothing to sneer at either.'
'I'm an infant compared to you,' her host snorted, and took the control so that he could stretch after the time spent at a desk. 'There's one thing I want you to try, now that we have time. Unless you mind, of course,' he thought after a moment. 'After what my magic did, how it felt like… I want to know if --'
'If I can use it?' Egeria asked. 'I'm curious as well.'
Harry stepped aside again, and Egeria stood up, reaching for the sleeve where Harry's wand was tucked in a crudely made fabric holster that Ginny had made out of boredom whilst they had been in hyper space. Fingering the handle, Egeria tried to feel the magic the same way Harry did every time he reached for the wand, trying to feel the warmth and the sparkles beneath the surface.
'Nothing,' she thought, frowning slightly.
'Try a spell,' Harry urged.
Nodding, she lifted the wand and incanted, with the confidence and experience Harry had gained after five years at Hogwarts, "Lumos!" only to have nothing happen. The wand remained cold, unlit and unresponsive in her fingers. None of the other charms did anything either, she couldn't levitate, couldn't transfigure, couldn't even summon or banish anything. Even Harry's most powerful spell, the Patronus charm, which she knew how to perform perfectly, which she backed up with her fondest, happiest memory of Janus… did absolutely nothing.
'I think the magic is refusing to obey you,' Harry said after a while, taking the control back and easily lighting the tip of his wand with a softly whispered lumos. "It accepts you as part of… us, but you're not me," he said out loud, absently drawing calculations about the effectiveness of lumos in Goa'uld into the air with the lingering glow of the shining wand tip. 'Oh, wow. I know maths!'
'I know mathematics, therefore, you know mathematics,' Egeria answered. 'I think you are right,' she added, thinking about magic. It would've been so much easier to say that it was a physical thing, that Egeria lacked some part, some aspect, maybe something like the Naquadah in her own blood, that would let her control Harry's magic. But she knew the truth. The magic had chosen Harry, not her, and even their blending didn't change that - didn't make her part of that.
"It's incredible," Harry murmured out loud, manipulating the lumos spell in ways he had never been able to before. "I can feel it so clearly, I can feel every vibration, every wave, every drop of energy… I can almost feel the magic's particles. It's like its ringing. Like I'm ringing with it."
"Harry?" voice asked from behind him, and Egeria perked a little as Harry turned around to see Hermione standing at the door. The girl was staring at the complex calculations Harry had drawn in glowing light right into air itself. "Oh," the girl said. "Egeria? Did you do that?"
"No, I did," Harry answered, eyebrows lifting as the others of their stranded party came inside a well. "Apparently I know maths now."
"Well, I figured you probably would - you know medical science now, so maths isn't that that big of a leap. I meant the…" she waved up and down along the calculations, while Luna moved curiously to poke one of the floating numbers. "I've been trying to figure out how to write in the air ever since our second year when you told me how Tom Riddle did it, but I never managed it. I can do illusions and such if I know the spell, but not writing," Hermione admitted it. "How do you do that?"
"I just… have it stay there," Harry said and waved one section of the calculations to vanish. "Magic normally dissipates quickly because that's the nature of it; it's too dynamic to hold shape in normal conditions. Light writing is rather like transfiguration, or conjuration, in the sense where you force something of one shape - or no shape - to take one. But essentially it's all about control and concentration - just willing the magic to stay where it is."
As he spoke, he started drawing a chart about how to do light writing. Egeria stayed back, enjoying the vision of Harry using the knowledge and understanding she had given him to discover something new. Hermione seemed to enjoy it too, but she seemed also fairly shocked, giving Harry wide eyed looks as he sketched a glowing calculation about the power required for the so called light writing.
"Woah, mate," Ron said from behind them, making Harry glance over his shoulder. "Did you get smarter?"
Harry blinked, and lowered his wand while Hermione drew hers to try. "No, not as such. But Egeria is pretty damn smart - and I can kind of… piggyback on that."
"So, an alien snake in your head makes you smart?" the redhead asked, and then perked up. "Hey would I get smart too, if I had one? Smarter than Hermione? That would be so wicked, I could finally go all know it all on the know it all!"
"Hey," Hermione objected, throwing a look at him.
"Are all aliens this smart?" Neville asked thoughtfully, he too was poking at the glowing writing curiously. "Or are there just one type of aliens, these Goa'ulds?"
"Merlin was an alien," Luna offered helpfully, making everyone stare at her. "He was," she said defensively. "He came from Atlantis."
Harry shook his head. "He might as well," he said, dismissing the matter. "And yes, everyone with a Tok'ra symbiote will be able to share their knowledge and wisdom. And also, yes, there are other aliens out there. There are a lot of human races out there of course, then there are the Jaffa who serve the Goa'uld. Then there are the Asgard who are actually more advanced than the Goa'uld…" he trailed away. "There have been lots of others, but… the Goa'uld have the tendency of driving them either out of existence, or into hiding."
"Nice of them," Ron snorted, finding himself a place to sit by the desk. He gave a meaningful look at Hermione, who sighed and lowered her wand.
Harry looked between his friends and sent a feeling at Egeria which could be summarised by a question mark. She nudged him to ask, and after a moment, he did. "So, what's up?" he asked, looking from Hermione to Ron to Ginny to Neville and Luna. "It feels like you're staging an intervention." Egeria snorted softly at that in the back of his head.
"A what?" Ron asked, confused.
"We actually might be, in a way," Hermione answered, folding her arms and tapping her wand absently against her shoulder. "You said that we could head back home in a couple of days. Day after tomorrow, I presume," she started, to which Harry nodded slowly. "And you are coming with us?"
"Yeah," Harry nodded. "Egeria agrees with me. Neither of us could bear not knowing what happens to the Wizarding world we need…" he searched for a word, which Egeria supplied. "…closure."
"Closure," Ginny more asked than anything, raising her eyebrows. "So, we're right," she said, turning to the others. "Take that, Ron."
"I just said he might not, I didn't actually place any bets on it," the elder redhead said, making Harry look between them confusedly.
"Bets?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. "About what? Me wanting closure?"
"No. Of you not staying on Earth" Luna answered, while tugging the numbers of Harry's glowing calculations out of shape with her fingertips.
"Yeah," Neville nodded, glancing at the others. "We'd have to be blind not to notice how much you like it here - and that's before Egeria. Now you're like… a native, or something."
"So, we figured out that you were probably coming back with us to Earth only temporarily," Hermione agreed. "To see if you can… well, get closure for the whole Boy-Who-Lived versus You-Know-Who thing. And after you got that, we figured you'd take the ship and then head right back to Pangar."
Harry looked from one magician to another before sitting down on a chair nearby. "Yeah, probably," he admitted. "We're kind of invested here, Egeria and me. And not just with the Tretonin thing and all, but Egeria's kids are here. And we want to see them grow up, we want to see them with their hosts, we want to see what will become of them."
Egeria pushed forward for a moment, with Harry easily letting her. "And I might want to one day have more, and we can't do that on Earth," she said, distorting Harry's voice to let them know it was her speaking. "Earth isn't aware of the galaxy and introducing the Tok'ra would possibly only end up in tragedy there. Pangar is more welcoming."
"Wait, you're thinking of having more kids? Thirty is not good enough?" Ron asked, looking a little shocked. "How are you going to do that anyway, from inside Harry? Is that normal?"
Egeria opened her mouth to explain, but got derailed by Harry, who just grinned. "We'll figure something out," he said. 'I think my friends might be better off not knowing what you have in mind, at least not just yet,' the wizard thought almost admonishingly. 'Knowing how Goa'uld queens give birth whilst inside human hosts… that might traumatise them for life.'
'Perhaps that was the intention,' Egeria thought, and they shared a momentary joined amusement concerning the faces Ron usually made when he was shocked.
'He sort of has a valid point. You can't exactly do with me what you would do with a female host,' Harry thought. 'Not that I'd mind but biology is sort of working against us.'
'We'll work it out when the time comes,' Egeria thought back.
"So, anyway," Hermione said, looking faintly worried. "You're not going to stay on Earth one way or another - probably for the best, Merlin only knows what muggles would do to you if they found out about Egeria. Or wizards for that matter," she added under her breath, running her hand through her hair. "You're gonna come back here and heal the Pangarians and then you will, what, start a Tok'ra empire and so forth?"
"And you probably think you're doing this all by yourself," Ron added.
Harry frowned, all inner amusement fading. Egeria sent a concerned thought to him, and as Harry joined it, they shared a moment of quiet disbelief. They weren't seriously considering… "I would never ask you to come with me," he said and Egeria agreed, though she could see that the others didn't.
"Of course you wouldn't. You never do," Hermione rolled her eyes. "Makes no difference," she added, pointing a finger at him. "There is a whole galaxy out there, full of sciences I've never even dared to dream of, and you think you're going to leave me on Earth?"
"What she said," Luna nodded, having now managed to turn Harry's calculations into a blur of pictographs which, if Egeria had to venture a guess about their purpose, probably had something to do with the Crumple-horned Snorkack.
"And I could never let you run off on your own, mate. What, with all the glory you'd be getting, the adventures you'd be having, while I'd be rotting away at the Burrow, helping mum wash the dishes? Yeah, right," Ron answered, rubbing his chin. "You think I could get a symbiote? It would be really wicked to be smarter than Hermione."
"Would you stop saying that?" Hermione asked, rolling her eyes.
Harry frowned at them, before glancing at the last two. "Neville, Ginny? What about you?"
Ginny grimaced. "Sorry, but I think I might rather stay on Earth," she said a bit apologetically. "This whole space stuff is pretty cool, but…" she trailed away, shaking her head. "I'd rather stay back home and play some Quidditch."
"Yeah," Harry nodded, and Egeria spared a sympathetic thought to the girl. No doubt her very existence reminded the girl of the year she had spent under Voldemort's control. Poor thing.
"I think it would be cool, but… I'm not sure," Neville said. "At the risk of sounding like a… well, I think I'd like to talk with my grandmother before making any decisions. But there's the whole thing about my parents…."
"We'll try and look into it when we get to Earth," Harry promised softly, and then turned to the others. "Ron, you know your mum will never agree to it - especially after you've been gone who knows how many months. And you, Hermione, what about your parents? Luna?"
"Mum will either understand or not, but I'm still not going to let you head off all by yourself," the redhead said, folding his arms and huffing. "No way."
"I hope that my parents will understand," Hermione said after moment of quiet. "They might not, but…. We can always visit Earth, can't we?"
"With trips from one place to another taking four months? Oh joy," Ron muttered, grinning.
"Dad will probably give me my own camera," Luna said when Harry's eyes landed on her. When his eyebrows rose at that, she shrugged. "Maybe a notepad too. I can write articles for the Quibbler."
"Ah, of course," Harry murmured, and looked between his friends. "Why are you telling me this now?" he asked. "This is too early. We haven't even gone back to Earth and I have no idea how long I will stay there, and when I can come back to Pangar. You might change your minds. I wouldn't hold it against you, but --"
"We won't," Hermione cut in.
"Nope," Ron agreed. "It might take time to run away from mum, maybe, but, nope not changing my mind."
"We told you so that you can say we to the Pangarians, not just I," Luna said. "Also, so that we can be sure that there are still symbiotes left when we come back."
When Harry's eyes widened at that, Ron snorted. "I wasn't kidding about that," he said, and when Hermione glanced at him, Harry could tell she wasn't either.
Egeria felt an odd jolt somewhere in Harry's belly, that made both of them feel like the ground was tilting a little under their feet. "You… you really want to be hosts?" Egeria and Harry asked together. "Wow," Harry murmured, when his friends nodded. "That's just… wow."
"It's a plan then, right? We go to Earth, we kick You-Know-Who's arse or die trying, and we come back," Ron said. "Unless you don't want us here, of course.
"Of course I do," Harry answered quickly, a little too loudly. "Of course I do," he repeated a little softer, attempting a steady smile - and failing.
The answering smiles from his friends sealed the deal.
'I think I figured out why we can feel your magic in way you yourself never could before me,' Egeria mused, as Harry woke up after their first night together. Usually Goa'uld hosts didn't really sleep - as the Goa'uld didn't need it. The Tok'ra only slept when seriously wounded. Harry, though, had differently functioning body due to magic - his brain worked just a little differently - and while Egeria could stay awake as long as she liked, Harry needed his rest to keep a handle on his powers. While he had slept, she had theorised - and come up with some conclusions.
"Why can we, then?" Harry yawned, stretching his arms.
'Because of the Naquadah in my blood and physique. Naquadah is very powerful, and very receptive to all forms of energy - that is why the Chappa'ai are made of it, because of its conductive capabilities,' Egeria started to explain. 'That is also why Goa'uld and Jaffa can sense the presence of symbiotes in others; they essentially sense the Naquadah in them because they themselves have it as well. It is like resonance."
"So, you believe that the Naquadah is in a way resonating with my magic," Harry mused thoughtfully.
'And possibly also amplifying it,' she agreed. 'If nothing else, the resonance is giving you the ability to sense the magic more precisely - it might also be the reason why you can also control it more precisely.'
She could feel Harry thinking about in a rather distant sort of way, where she could get the general feel of his thoughts, but not the exact things he had in is mind. 'You might be right,' he finally thought to her. 'It would certainly explain it. You think it will happen with every wizard who might wish to become a host for a Tok'ra? Hermione, Ron, maybe Luna too, they would all get this… this resonance?'
'I don't see why not,' Egeria said eagerly. 'It might also be that a device could be made from Naquadah which would conduct your magic like a wand does.'
'Why would I need that?' Harry asked with confusion.
She sent him a feeling equivalent of lifting a single eyebrow. 'Harry, a wand is made of wood. Wood is not very durable,' after which she sent him image of the jewellery devices the Goa'uld used - creating effects almost like magic, but with technology. 'And if it was something like that, you could wear it always and always be ready.'
'Hm… the hand device seems a little clumsy,' Harry mused, mentally pointing at the jewel in the palm, which seemed to be more or less in the way. 'Seems a bit pompous to me too, wearing something like that all the time.'
'It's only an example. We would need to develop the device mostly from scratch, so we would have free hands with the design, more or less. It might not be that big, it might end up bigger - it might be that you can disguise it as a glove and no one would ever even notice it,' she answered. 'But it would be infinitely more secure than a wand.'
She could almost see Harry thinking the times he had lost his wand - and how easily it could be taken from him. 'Well it will give us something to do while we're slowly, slowly making our way to Earth,' he finally thought. 'Though, we don't have Naquadah, do we?'
'No, but we can still design it. And, if the Chappa'ai is still functional, our way back might not take so long,' Egeria added.
'Speaking of that; it's time to get up and get to work,' Harry decided, rolling out of the bed.
Sometime later, after breakfast with their friends and answering a few questions the Pangarians had compiled for them over the night, Egeria and Harry decided that it was time to see the Chappa'ai. Thankfully neither the Pangarians nor their friends had anything against it - they even wanted to come with them to see "what the fuss was about."
"He walks kinda girly now, doesn't he?" Egeria could hear Ron whispering behind her back to Neville as they made their way through the archaeological site and towards the Chappa'ai, which lay a little further ahead of them, surrounded by half-ruined pillar.
"Yes. Got bit of a swing going on, there," Neville observed thoughtfully.
"Boys," Hermione muttered at them, and Egeria could hear how she slapped one of them, probably Ron, on the shoulder. "Don't be mean."
"Yeah, yeah, but he does, doesn't he?" Ron asked. "Come on, look at him. Just try and tell me he's not swinging. If he was wearing robes, we would see all sort of… swishy movements."
"Her," Luna said.
"It's Egeria right now. So, her. Not him."
"That's so weird."
Egeria smiled and felt Harry chuckling inside her mind. 'Robes would be nice, though,' Harry mused. 'These Pangarian clothes feel a bit… I don't know, foreign. They don't sit right.'
'Hm yes. Roman robes. I think you might like a toga - it's not as much in the way as wizard robes seem to get.'
'That's because it's not a robe. It's a dress. No, wait, I take that back - it's a sheet,' Harry answered with a snort. Egeria swatted him slightly mentally, but could feel that the concept interested him. Though Harry was more comfortable in Wizarding robes than he was in the stiff-necked Pangarian wear, he did agree - in his first year of Hogwarts he had fallen over often and spectacularly because the robes had gotten into his way, the hem getting under his feet as he climbed up the stairs and so forth.
They shook the thought of clothing aside, as they came to the Chappa'ai. Egeria could see why Harry had mistaken it for a monument - the gate was displayed in the middle of ruins, and it had been standing there for long enough for people to have become blind. From Harry's memories Egeria knew that the gateway had only been discovered some tens of years ago and unburied along with the ruins - with little knowledge about what it was for. The rest of the ruins were still under work, it seemed, with people scurrying about, digging things and gently cleaning up what they found.
"Master Harry. Queen Egeria," Tegar, who was waiting for them at the Chappa'ai with a young woman and two guards, greeted them. "There is something you wished to show me?"
"Yes," Egeria nodded, tugging at the collar of the jacket she was wearing and then motioning up at the Chappa'ai. "How much do you know about this?"
"We have… we have found indications that it is some form of Goa'uld technology," the young blonde woman said while stepping forward. "The writing on the pillars explains how travellers would come and go here, and how the ruins around us were a sort of reception colonnade." She smiled, when Egeria lifted her eyebrows at her. "Pardon me, I'm Zenna, I've been working in these ruins most my life. Commander Tegar thought I might be of some help to you."
"It's nice to meet you," Egeria nodded, glancing around. "You are probably right - many Goa'uld occupied planets had similarly designed monuments around the Chappa'ai."
"Chappa'ai? This is what this is called?" Zenna asked eagerly, motioning at the gateway.
"It's a common Goa'uld name for it, though different races have different names for it. It essentially means Gate of Stars, or Star Gate," Egeria nodded, stepping forward and to the control device. "From what I have learned from Harry, you have yet to figure out how to operate it?"
"Yes - many permutations of the symbols have been used, but with little success," the young archaeologist said, stepping forward. "The device is functional, it responds to the control device, but as far as its true function goes, we have learned little. It is technology beyond our understanding, and the writings explaining its use have been most scarce."
"Yes. You could press these sigils endlessly, and never get the right sequence - there are billions of combinations, but only some thousands of Chappa'ai across the galaxy - as far as the Goa'uld have been able to determine, in any case," Egeria said.
"Can we presume you know some of these correct combinations?" Tegar asked, frowning.
"Yes," Egeria nodded. "However, I wouldn't dare to try the majority of them. Not only has it been hundreds of years since I visited them or even heard of them and I have no way of knowing what the state of those worlds currently is, but most of them are in Goa'uld territories," she said. "There is one gate address I would like to try, however - with your permission."
"And that would be to a world you know is safe?"
"Maybe," she nodded, and then bowed her head as Harry pushed through. While taking a comfortable seat at the back of his mind, Egeria watched through Harry's eyes how he turned his attention to their friends. "When Egeria was younger, back when Ancient Egypt wasn't so ancient and all…. Earth had a Chappa'ai too," he said, making Hermione perk up a little. "It was buried in a rebellion against Ra, but it's been a while and the gateway might've been unburied. If that's the case, we can go home within… seconds, not months."
"Really?" Ginny asked with disbelief, as Harry moved to the control device and glanced over the symbols in search for the point of origin.
"The Chappa'ai works like the Floo-network - except on a galactic scale," Harry answered and glanced up. "With your permission, commander…" he trailed away, and when the man nodded, he started punching in the symbols. As they lit under his hands the gate's inner disk turned, locking the symbols in place until the final, seventh one, at which point… it froze.
"It stopped. What does that mean?" Hermione asked, turning to him while Egeria sighed in the back of Harry's head.
'It was a long shot anyway, but at least we tried,' Harry answered her dismay. "It means that the gate on the other end is either not working, or just not there," he said out loud, sighing. "I'm essentially getting a busy signal. The customer you are trying to call… etcetera."
"So, the Earth's… Chappa'ai is still buried?" Hermione asked, looking disappointed.
"Either that or it's broken. Or just not there anymore," Harry answered, sighing. "I guess we'll need to take the four months in hyperspace after all."
"And then we'll need another four months to get back from Earth," Hermione agreed with a sigh, though she was giving the gateway a thoughtful look. "But a Floo-network that stretches across the galaxy, that's… something else. Do you know how it works?"
"Yes, we do," Harry answered. "I can explain it to you later; it's all a bit technical."
Hermione nodded, and while Harry mourned the fact that the gate hadn't worked, Tegar examined the control device curiously. "So, this gateway leads to other planets?" he mused. "And it works both ways?"
"If I had managed to open it from this side, then the traffic would've been from this side - it doesn't work both ways, stepping into a gate opened from another world would mean instantaneous death," Harry warned. "So it's not like an open doorway, exactly. But the gate can be opened from everywhere where there is a control device - so, you can go from here to another planet, then activate the gate there and come back."
Tegar nodded slowly and Zenna made a sound of understanding. "And for every planet, the sequence of symbols is different? Does this mean that Pangar has its own sequence?"
"Yes, of course," Harry nodded, and still talking about the Chappa'ai and the travel between worlds, they walked away from the gate that hadn't given them easy access to Earth. Though the Pangarians had theorised, they hadn't had any proof, and as Egeria and Harry explained the situation to them, they also cemented their new beliefs in the vastness of the galaxy around them - and their own place in it.
"At this point it might be safest for you not to engage in the use of the Chappa'ai," Egeria warned, when Tegar asked if they could supply some symbol sequences for them. "I do know now about the state of the galaxy, and any world that I remember to be safe might not be. And if you walk into a wrong world and get noticed by the Goa'uld, it might be it for you - your world might end up… as a point of interest for them. And that is something you do not wish. Trust me; being quiet and unseen is your best defence right now."
Though Tegar didn't seem too happy to have them withholding the information, he conceded a point there. "After seeing how just one of your kind can manage to transform our world and its sciences so thoroughly in the span of two months, it's hard not to," he mused.
The rest of their last day at Pangar was spent mostly while arranging their departure. Unlike on the way to Pangar, which had been torturous and hungry with 6 young magicians barely managing to survive by expending what meagre supplies they had to the limits with magic, their way back would be much more comfortable. The Pangarians happily supplied them with whatever they asked for - food being only the least of it, though the cooling system for the food and heating system for cooking was greatly appreciated. Clothing, hygiene products, beds of all things…. They even went as far as arranging books for them to read and arts and crafts supplies - on Luna's request - so that they would have something to pass time with.
While checking the systems of the fairly old shop, Egeria couldn't help but worry that it might get a bit crowded on the way back. The escape ship was larger than your average cargo ship, but not by much. The beds all had to be next to each other, and witches and wizards would all be sleeping in the same space. That hadn't caused more than a handful of scuffles on their way to Pangar, so it wasn't that big of an issue, but Egeria worried her presence might prove to make things more difficult.
'I don't think so,' Harry eased her worries. 'You at least can always give us something new to think about, with all the stuff you know. You can teach us and tell us stories every waking hour for years before you run out of material; that's worth a lot when there's nowhere to go and nothing to do, trust me.'
'Perhaps,' Egeria sighed, watching how Hermione and Ginny set up decorative screens they had gotten from the Pangarians between the beds, separating them from each other. It would give them some semblance of privacy. 'Well, at least there are four rooms, so if they want it, they can have some privacy.'
'Yeah, cockpit, bathing area, cargo hold - or should I say kitchen? And our lovely, newly selected bedroom,' Harry sighed. 'So much space at our disposal.'
Egeria smiled, while throwing an uneasy look at the far side of the room, where stood the single piece of furniture the room had had before they had started packing. The sarcophagus. One of the first things Egeria had done after coming on board was detaching the control crystals of the healing device - though on Harry's request, she didn't destroy them. Though prolonged use of the sarcophagus did have some serious side effects, it would be better to have it than not, if someone got mortally wounded in the war against Voldemort.
"What are you thinking?" Luna asked from where she was sitting on the floor beside the door.
"Space," Egeria answered, turning to her. The blonde girl blinked slowly at her, and she elaborated. "And of how little there seems to be."
"There's more than you think," the witch answered solemnly. "It will be crowded on Earth."
Egeria thought about it and then nodded. "Yes, no doubt," she agreed, turning to the tray of crystals she had been checking, before pushing the tray back into the golden wall. "Do you miss it much?"
"Not as much as in the beginning, but more than I thought," the girl admitted. "I didn't know I liked Earth, but I do. I really do." She was quiet for a moment, before adding; "I like Pangar too, but…."
"But Earth has Crumple-horned Snorkacks," Egeria finished with a smile. "Want to see something cool?" she asked, the Earth term coming from her lips with surprising ease, to Harry's amusement.
"Sure," Luna said jumping to her feet, and with a smile Egeria led her to the cockpit. As the ship was on orbit in space, with travel between it and the planet happening via the ships, the view was spectacular. It was hard to rival the sight of a planet, glowing like an enormous, magnificent gem in the darkness of space, surrounded by stars and moons…. But by pulling out the star maps and the destination logs, Egeria just managed.
All in all, the ship was ready sooner than anyone of them thought - stocking it with food and various items of comfort was easy enough with the rings, and Hermione and the others were very familiar with the ship after all the time they had unwillingly spent on it, that they got everything arranged inside it with ease.
Egeria knew, however, that some of the items included hadn't been exactly offered by the Pangarians. Quietly, each member of their interstellar party had gone to various people in charge, asking for this and that. Luna had gotten her art supplies, after all, so Ginny felt she deserved her writing supplies, and Neville his plants and Ron his various Pangarian board games. Hermione had asked nothing, but after all the books Pangarians had graciously offered, she had nothing left to ask. Neither did Harry, who was more or less satisfied with a bed to sleep in and food to eat. Egeria, though, had a need for something special.
When she made tentative questions about Naquadah, the Pangarians hesitated for a while before supplying her with a half a kilo of it in semi-purified form. "We try to mine it, but as the records say, the Goa'uld have already mined most of it and we can only find some trace amounts of it in the ground," Dollen admitted. "It's usually only used in laboratories for study and experimentation. It's considered extremely valuable, but in the light of what you've given us…."
Egeria thanked him and the scientist who had gave up years' worth of research material, already looking forward to what she might be able to make of it. Half a kilo, the majority of which was no doubt made of lighter elements, wasn't much, but if her plans for Harry's hand device could come to fruition, she would need it.
'How are you going to work it without the right tools?' Harry wondered.
'I'll figure something out,' she promised.
Once everything was done and set and the ship was ready to go, they decided together with Harry's friends not to wait until the next morning, but leave in the evening. "We can just as easily sleep on the ship," Hermione reasoned. "It's one night closer to home in any case."
It meant, however, that they didn't get much time to say goodbye to their Pangarian hosts. Still, Dollen arranged a small farewell party for them in the central building, with the scientists and soldiers from the medicine facility along with some archaeologist and such present. He toasted them generously, saying, "To our dear friends from a faraway world, who made the salvation of our people possible - and to Egeria, the queen mother of new Pangarian sciences." Which was in Harry's opinion a bit excessive, but which Egeria found very nice.
Most of the party was spent discussing the future of Pangar, theorising what it would be like after the Tretonin would govern their lives no more. Some of it was positive, some of it was negative, but overall it was very promising, much thanks to the fact that Pangar was a peaceful world. Unlike some human races might've, they weren't immediately planning weapons or such, but instead wanted to concentrate on their medical science and on improving it. There was some talk about new energy sources and shield technology too, but it was all still in the early stages.
Egeria and Harry slipped out of the party half way, and made their way through the city and to the medicine facility. Their last hours were spend by the tank where Egeria had once lived, saying good bye to Egeria's children, giving them instructions - and in few instances, also giving them names. The infant Tok'ra were still too young to speak properly but they managed to squeak out scattered words enough to get their own farewells and well wishes though.
"If we cannot for whatever reason return, take care of the Pangarians, teach them and guide them," Egeria whispered to her young while stroking her fingers along the glass of the tank. "They have come to be dear to us."
"Take care of yourselves, too," Harry added. "Look after each other."
'I wish I didn't have to leave them like this,' she thought to him, as the larvae Tok'ra swarmed around the spot where the two of them rested their hand, chirping and squeaking their assurances at them. 'I wish….'
'I'm sorry,' Harry answered. 'I wish we could take them with us, but we don't have the capability of caring for them, not like the Pangarians do.'
Egeria smiled, glad that he hadn't offered that they could stay in Pangar and let the others return to Earth by themselves. She wouldn't have taken the offer - it meant too much to him, and for her, to see the Wizarding world free and in peace - but it would've given her a temptation that would've no doubt haunted her later on. "We will be back," she whispered out loud, and bent to kiss the tank's glass. "Goodbye my children."