Callias' family home was on an undisturbed back street, squeezed between the houses of a lawyer and a sandal-maker. He pushed open its thin wooden door and ushered Ollivander inside, revealing a small courtyard with a cement floor. After a brief stop at a bronze altar to pay the usual respects to Zeus, the two men followed the soft chatter of female voices towards a lamp-lit room at the rear of the house, and the smell of burning olive oil.
The room's occupants reclined on couches or sat on chests; they seemed to be in the early stages of their evening meal. The floor was piled with mats, several deep, on which an assortment of large plates and bowls bore bread, artichokes, olives, cheese, and a steaming kakavia. A great barrel-chested man with striking deep-green eyes looked up at Callias as he entered.
“Decided to join us tonight, have you?” The man's voice was gravelly, but not harsh. “Better here than out drinking with -- who's this?”
“Ollivander of Croton,” Callias introduced him smoothly. “A wizard and fellow scholar, visiting Athens.” Ollivander was glad that Callias, at least, was still affording him that much status. “Ollivander, this is my father Timandridas.”
“Be welcome in my house,” said Timandridas, leaping energetically to his feet and pumping Ollivander's hand. “Any friend of my son's is a friend of mine.” He gestured at the large, straight-backed chair -- by far the grandest in the room -- in which he'd been sitting. “This place is yours. No, I insist; you are my guest.”
The seat of honour was of some dark wood, elaborately carved with a profusion of date-palm leaves, and so high that it required a footstool. As Ollivander climbed into it, Timandridas was continuing, “This is my wife Thestylis.” He indicated a smiling matron, a little on the plump side, who was already examining Ollivander with her sharp eyes. “My daughters, Simaetha and Hermione” -- two young women of around Ollivander's age -- “capable witches both, as I expect they'll tell you in great detail, if you give them half a chance.” Neither looked particularly dangerous, but having seen their brother in action so recently, Ollivander wasn't inclined to doubt their father's word. “And there,” Timandridas went on, waving negligently at the other end of the room, “is my household slave, Ripi. Ripi, a cup of wine for our guest, please.”
A diminutive figure jumped to its feet, brushing past Simaetha. “Certainly, sir,” it squeaked, snapping its fingers. A large double-handled drinking goblet stirred itself from the floor and rose into the air, there to rendezvous with a tall earthenware jug intricately painted in black and orange. Cup and jug orbited gracefully around each other as the wine poured itself, without spilling a drop; the cup then floated over to Ollivander and hovered invitingly within reach of his right hand. Unsure how long the house-elf's magic would keep it there, he moved quickly to secure it by non-magical means.
“A strange thing happened to us on the way here tonight,” said Callias, over the rim of his own wine-cup. “We were in the alley behind the vase-painters' street, minding our own business, when we were attacked.” He put down his cup and filled his mouth with bread.
“Attacked!” Thestylis instantly forgot the cheese she'd been reaching for, and fixed her eyes on her son. “By whom? For what?”
Callias chewed nonchalantly; by the time he was quite finished, he had the full attention of everyone in the room. “We don't know why. Actually, we don't really know who, either. They were a pair of vengeful ghosts.”
“Lykanthropos!” gasped Simaetha, the elder of his sisters. Her big brown eyes were wide with excitement. “There've been rumours of them on Mount Lycabettus lately; I wonder if--”
“Now, Simaetha,” interrupted Timandridas. “You know better than that. Only ignorant Mugloi think that werewolves are a kind of ghost.” He turned to Callias. “Alastores, were they?”
“Yes, I'm sure that's what they were. We had to move quickly, but we saw them off.” Callias modestly didn't mention that the credit for the seeing-off was due mostly to himself.
“That's very odd,” mused Timandridas, raising his thick, bushy eyebrows. “Most unusual for an Alastor to go wandering the world of its own volition, and by sheer coincidence choose a wizard for its prey.”
“Someone could have sent them,” suggested Hermione at once. She was dark-haired like her mother, but had her father's remarkable eyes.
“Or they might be seeking revenge against those who wronged them in life,” Callias offered, pulling at his beard thoughtfully.
“That's possible, but I wouldn't think it likely,” said Timandridas. “Alastores are, or were, the ghosts of the victims of the most unspeakable crimes. Most of them died long ago; their vengeance is still terrible, but they have long since forgotten why, or even on whom, they seek to inflict it. Still, I suppose these two could have had recent deaths.”
There was a brief silence, during which Ripi the house-elf got up to -- quite unnecessarily -- rearrange the comestibles on the floor. This did not prevent Ollivander from noticing the others now regarding him -- a perfect stranger in their house -- with the faintest hint of cool suspicion.
“Ollivander,” Thestylis asked him neutrally, “do you know of anyone recently killed, who might have turned back from Hades with a grudge against you?”
“No, certainly not!” He considered affecting a quick laugh, but decided against it. “I'm sure I've never murdered anyone. The Avada Kedavra is for Persians and other barbarian mages, not civilised Greeks like ourselves.”
“A mystery then,” said Callias lightly, ladling kakavia into a bowl and adding a chunk of bread. “We should all be on our guard for the next few days.” The fish stew did look good; Ollivander hopped off his chair to fill his own bowl, grateful for the distraction.
The air seemed to clear, and everyone turned their attention to the food for a while. Ollivander's mouth watered as he sprinkled black pepper on his stew: Timandridas must be a successful wand-maker indeed, he reflected, if the everyday fare in this house ran to ingredients from the uttermost parts of India. In such comfortable circumstances, it was easy to forget that his precarious “visiting scholar” status might not last beyond this one night.
“Tell us about Croton,” Simaetha beseeched him after a while. “I've never been beyond Athens myself, and I love to hear about exotic places.” She smiled encouragingly.
“Well,” said Ollivander, caught with a handful of nuts halfway to his mouth. “Croton's not such an exotic place, really. It's a Greek city, like Athens, though smaller of course, and without the great minds and monuments you have here. My mother makes wands there, although I daresay they aren't as good as the ones made in this house.”
“Oh, we are both from wand-making families, then!” Simaetha seemed delighted that she shared this detail of background with him. The light in the room seemed to brighten for a moment, perhaps from the flickering of the lamps.
“Yes, indeed, although I'm sorry to say I've made only a few attempts at wands of my own, and with rather mixed success. Do you have intentions of pursuing the craft yourself?”
Simaetha hesitated, looking embarrassed.
“All our children are still too young to be master wand-makers,” her mother interjected firmly. “Wand-making is not simply a matter of following instructions, like brewing up a potion to cure boils. It is an art that demands years of magical experience before one can even properly begin. None of you young ones should be ashamed of your efforts so far; if you have the talent, it will show itself in time.”
“Ollivander has a most unusual wand himself,” said Callias, saving his sister from the need to respond further. “It's of elder -- show them, Ollivander, go on.”
That caught Timandridas' attention, and before Ollivander could think about it much, he was placing his wand in the capacious palm of his host's outstretched hand.
“An elder wand; goodness me,” rumbled Timandridas, holding it by its ends and inspecting it at close range. The whole family watched as he shook it gently. “Elder and...”
“Sphinx tongue,” Ollivander supplied.
Timandridas frowned. He flexed the wand between his fingers, then held it up vertically next to his ear, as if listening to music he didn't approve of. An uneasy feeling came over Ollivander; could there be something wrong with his wand?
“How did you come by this wand?” asked Timandridas abruptly.
“It was my father's,” Ollivander told him nervously. He noticed that Callias had stopped eating in order to listen.
“How did it pass from him to you?” Timandridas' green eyes were piercing him, as if to let the truth escape.
“He died last autumn.”
“How did he die?”
“Of a fever.”
“And the wand simply changed its allegiance to you?”
“How -- remarkable.” Timandridas' voice passed no judgement; he just seemed intensely curious. “Not that a wand should be passed on within a family -- that's hardly unknown. But I can tell, for sure, that no sphinx gave its tongue for this wand.”
“Wha--” That was unexpected. Of course his father's wand had a sphinx-tongue core; Ollivander had known that all his life. If Timandridas had remarked that this was not a wizard's wand at all, but only a rare variety of sea-urchin, he would have been no less astonished. “Are you sure, sir? My mother would have known the core of this wand, if anyone did.”
“I don't doubt it.” Timandridas was lost in thought for a while. Simaetha, wide-eyed, looked back and forth between him and Ollivander, as if guessing which of them might deliver the next revelation. No-one was paying attention to their plates any more, except for Callias, who took the opportunity to sip his wine and sit back, waiting.
“I suppose you know the legend of Orpheus,” stated the wand-maker eventually. It was unclear whom he was addressing, but it hardly mattered: everyone else in the room, including Ripi the house-elf, nodded and murmured that they did.
“He was the one whose wife Eurydice was poisoned by a viper on their wedding day, and he descended to the underworld to bring her back,” summarized Simaetha, unnecessarily.
Timandridas nodded. “Quite an undertaking, that must have been,” he said deliberatively. “Cerberus, the guardian of the front door, is said to be an exceptionally bad-tempered specimen, even as giant three-headed dogs go. But then Orpheus, I suppose, was no schoolboy. Well, you know the story: Orpheus wrested three favours from Hades, but only one of them did him any good. His cloak of invisibility served him well to the end of his days. Otherwise, though, the gods punished his hubris most cruelly: his Eurydice was resurrected, but only as a pale apparition, with no desire to return to the mortal world. And as for the other thing he brought back--”
“A wand,” breathed Callias, leaning forward and starting to grin, “of rare and potent make.”
“Yes. A most unusual and powerful wand, which Orpheus might have found quite useful, had it not been immediately stolen by one of his followers. I suppose he was lucky not to have been murdered for it; that seems to have been the fate of most of its owners since then. Not that they didn't deserve it; they were quite an unpleasant lot, on the whole. Salmoxis was one.”
“Oh, I know of him,” said Hermione at once. “He founded a cult whose rites involved--”
“Nothing you're too familiar with, I hope,” her father cut her off quickly. “Salmoxis was a slave, though not for long after he got hold of the Wand of Orpheus. He died in Thrace, and the histories don't reveal where the wand went then, although it may have been reclaimed by his former masters: the Pythagoreans.”
“Of Croton,” declared Callias eagerly, making a vigorous slashing motion with one hand. “Where their descendants still live -- the family of our honoured guest among them. And here he is with an inherited wand; that sounds like rather more than a coincidence to me.”
Glances of surprise and delight flashed between Timandridas' children. Ollivander stared incredulously at his wand as it lay in the hands of the master. By some trick of the flickering lamplight, it looked smaller, now that it had been taken from him. Could that harmless-looking stick really be a semi-mythical artifact, something fashioned, not by any mortal wizard, but -- he shivered to think of it -- by Hades himself?
“Not just any inherited wand,” continued Timandridas, his voice as cool and contemplative as when he had begun. “An elder wand; that is rare enough in itself. With a core of Thestral tail-hair: doubly ill-fated. I would never create such a wand, even if I were asked to, for fear of the consequences; I know of no wand-maker who would. Yet here it is.”
“I mislike this,” said Thestylis, who alone in the room looked uneasy, even frightened. “Whatever shall we do?”
“I think,” said Timandridas carefully, “that I will give the wand of Orpheus back to its owner.” He proffered it, holding it by its tip between a finger and a thumb. “And I advise him to take good care of it, and use it cautiously, and above all to have nothing to do with Orphic cultists -- though that last point would be good advice in any case.”
Ollivander took the wand, relieved to have it back despite the aspersions on its nature. It was his wand, after all: he had given up the wand of his childhood (an undistinguished construct of apple and doxy wing) for it, and now he would never need another. As it nestled into the palm of his hand, he knew that using it cautiously was out of the question: he used it for everything, and always would.
Callias changed the subject after that, to some athletic friend of his who aspired to throw the discus at the Olympic Games, and whether he had any real chance of doing so. It was a relief to feel the centre of attention shift elsewhere, although Ollivander knew that he had only the customs of hospitality to thank for the rather forced lack of scrutiny. This family would be more than happy to part company with him, and his mysterious wand, on the morrow.
As he lay restlessly before falling asleep that night, Ollivander reflected that there was quite a lot he needed to accomplish the next day, if all of his troubles were to be deferred, let alone resolved. Should he return to the Academy, and hope to find Plato in a compromising mood? If not, then what? Where would he be sleeping tomorrow night? He had a wand that made him a dangerous wizard to know, apparently; it was unclear how to improve that situation, or whether he even wanted to. And, if he had the time to spare from his other concerns, he should beware of Alastor attacks: at least two of the restless ghosts were after him, possibly driven by some unknown enemy. Then, in the later stages of drowsiness, his brain relaxed enough to wonder if Simaetha had been consciously trying to flirt with him, and whether he should just put that out of his mind, or...
In the last moments before oblivion, he realised that there was one problem, at least, that he did know how to address.
He would need a piglet, though.