Chapter 1 A Death
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Arthur and Molly Weasley looked on with astonishment at the number of people that came out through their fireplace and walked into the kitchen at The Burrow. Professor Dumbledore was the first one to arrive.
"I'm sorry to spring this on you both," he said. "I hope you don't mind putting up a few extra people over the summer?"
"No, of course not Professor," Molly replied as Dumbledore walked over and stood next to her, then turned and watched the procession from the fireplace.
Sirius led the way, quickly followed by Remus, Ceri, Oliver, Katie, Charlie, Nadine, Jules Denarnaud, Hermione, Harry, Ginny, Margot and finally Ron.
"We've got enough for two full Quidditch teams," whispered Arthur. "I'd better add a few more rooms to the house I think."
The Burrow was already the most weirdly shaped wizarding house in the country following the magical extensions that had been added the previous summer, and it was soon to become even more bizarre.
Thoughts of house alterations were far from Molly's mind, however. She stared open-mouthed as she saw Ron sidle up to Margot and entwine her hand in his as he looked lovingly into her beautiful green eyes. She returned Ron's look in kind and then glanced shyly at Arthur and Molly.
Ginny, beaming from ear to ear, caught under her parents arms and pulled them towards the pair. "Mum, Dad, come and meet Ron's new girlfriend. This is Margot."
Arthur held out his hand and Margot smiled as she shook it; then glanced nervously at Molly, who was still staring, her eyes wide.
"Pleased to meet you Mrs Weasley," said Margot.
Molly visibly shook herself, stepped up alongside Margot and caught under her free arm, dragging her from Ron's grasp as she led her over to the kitchen table. "Come and sit down Margot, let's get to know each other shall we?" Then her tone changed as she looked back over her shoulder. "Ron, Charlie, Ginny - why didn't I know about Margot sooner than this?"
"Mum!" they all said at the same time.
"Before you get too cosy Mum," said Charlie, "meet our other guests. This is Professor Jules Denarnaud, Margot's grandfather. And these other two lovebirds are Oliver Wood and Katie Bell. Katie's Harry's cousin on his father's side."
Arthur didn't know where to start first. "Margot's? Harry's? We'd all better sit down, I think. It seems we've got a bit of catching up to do!"
Later, while they waited for the 'special' dinner to be prepared by the excited Molly, the five friends sat in the garden talking about the final quest.
"Thoth was an amazing person," said Hermione. "I can remember everything he said down to the last detail."
"So can I," said Harry. "Maybe our minds were more receptive when we were ghosts."
"For my benefit, can you tell me once more what he said about the quest?" asked Margot.
"He said, 'This is your final quest. Seek out my former existences and follow them back to the beginning of wizard-kind - to the beginning of magic. When you finally arrive at the source of our kind, you will find one last magical spell, the spell that you must use to deal with the horror that will soon be unleashed on the Earth, the horror that threatens to disrupt the balance,'" said Hermione.
"How many former existences do you think he had?" asked Ginny.
"Who knows," replied Hermione quickly. "But when we get to the end of the quest, we'll know where and how witches and wizards came into being - how magic started. This is so exciting! I can't wait to find out."
"What bothers me," said Ron, "is the bit about the horror soon to be unleashed. Do you think that's the Disc of Gates that 'You Know Who' has?"
"Professor Dumbledore thinks it could be much worse than that," said Harry. "He thinks that Voldemort may try to bring the Nephilim back from the Dark Realm."
They all shuddered as they thought about it. Dumbledore, Remus and Snape had told them all they knew about the fabled Nephilim and the Dark Realm.
"If they're anything like Lammashta, then god help us," breathed Ginny.
"They seem to think they're worse than her Ginny," said Harry. "Much worse."
"We've got to keep our minds focused on the quest," said Hermione. "We can't be deflected by what Voldemort might do. In any case, Dumbledore thinks he'll only raise them if he thinks he's losing the war."
"I wonder who the sixth team member will be," said Margot. "Do you think it might be Katie?"
"Why do you think it's Katie?" asked Ginny.
"I don't know, really," she replied. "It's just so strange that after all this time, Harry's cousin suddenly comes into his life."
"But don't forget what Thoth said," said Ron. "He said that we haven't met the sixth member yet."
"No Ron," said Hermione, thinking furiously. "He didn't say that - he said that we don't know the sixth one yet. Think about it, we've met Katie before of course, but we didn't really know her - know her to be Harry's cousin. What do you think?"
"I suppose it's possible, but what do we do?" asked Ginny. "Katie obviously doesn't know that she's the sixth one - she'd have told us. Thoth said that she, or he, would seek us out. I really don't know."
"I think it's best if we ignore the sixth one for now," said Harry. "We won't accomplish anything by just speculating. All we can do is concentrate on the final quest. We've got to work out what we've got to do to find out Thoth's previous existence."
They all nodded solemnly, but for the moment not even Hermione could come up with anything.
"No, you ask them Oliver!"
"But Katie - it's so embarrassing. We've only just met them and they're good enough to put us up at The Burrow. You ask them."
"But it's just as embarrassing for me Oliver! Why don't you have a word with Charlie? Maybe he'll be glad if you suggest that he swaps with me."
"I don't know Katie. Perhaps Charlie and Nadine aren't - you know."
Oliver had spent the last few nights doubled up with Charlie in his room, while Katie was in one of the newly added rooms with Nadine. They'd become used to sharing a tent in the canyon at Qumran, and they were quickly becoming frustrated with the new sleeping arrangements at The Burrow.
Oliver skipped a flat stone over the calm water of the river running at the side of the garden. "I suppose we'll just have to put up with it Katie. In any case, Harry told me that Fred and George had put 'creaking floorboard' charms outside all the rooms, and they only activate after dark - everybody'll know if we start swapping rooms in the middle of the night."
Katie giggled. "How do you think Harry and Hermione are coping?"
"You know the weird things they can do. Maybe they just - what do they call it, Zapparate - to somewhere quiet - who knows?"
"It'll do us some good to show a bit of restraint anyway Oliver. We really can't risk upsetting Mr and Mrs Weasley - not to mention Dad! I've only just found him and I don't want him to think anything bad about me."
Oliver sighed, "He'll never think anything bad of you Katie. Hey, maybe we could sleep in a tent in the garden?"
"No Oliver - everybody will know what's going on if we do that. Now why don't you just be a good boy for a little while?"
"Katie!" said an exasperated Oliver. "A little while might just drag on throughout the summer!"
"I don't think there's much chance of that," she replied, grinning. "As soon as Hermione gets her head into gear we'll be off to goodness knows where."
"Well maybe I'd better tell her to start coming up with some answers soon then," he said a little petulantly.
Katie leaned against his arm, grinning as she looked into the water. Oliver turned and put his arms around her shoulders, looked deeply into her eyes, and pulled her towards him very gently.
"What's the Dark Side up to? Have you heard anything Sirius?" asked Charlie.
Sirius had called a meeting of the protectors in the kitchen to discuss their tactics when they were with Harry and the others on the quest. He had a feeling that as soon as Voldemort deciphered the spells and activated the Disc of Gates, the Anima Summas would be his first target.
He shook his head. "Nothing definite Charlie. I spoke to Dumbledore this morning and he said that Snape has been busy trying to find out what's going on, but apart from a lot of recruiting and one other thing, nothing. It seems that 'You Know Who' is spending all his time on those spells."
"What one other thing?" asked Ceri.
"Snape couldn't find out what exactly, but there's something going on - he picked up a few snippets of conversation about special training for a select band of Death Eaters."
"Perhaps it's something to do with the Disc of Gates," said Remus, deep in thought.
"We don't know," Sirius answered. "But Snape's doing his best to find out more. I'm sure the headmaster will let us know as soon as he hears something."
"What about the spy at Hogwarts?" asked Oliver. "Has anything been heard about Draco Malfoy?"
"Only that his father's arranged for him to finish his education at home," said Sirius. "But Dumbledore thinks that if 'You Know Who' has managed to find out that he's turned away from the Dark Side, then…" He trailed off, letting the others draw their own conclusions.
"So what about our tactics when we get out into the field?" asked Oliver.
"That's why I called this meeting," Sirius replied. "The worst thing about protecting the kids is that we don't really know the conditions and terrain until we actually get there - we just don't get the time to fully research the places in which we find ourselves, so we can rarely plan ahead with any degree of confidence."
"Do you think that will change on the final quest?" asked Nadine.
"I doubt it very much Nadine," said Ceri, grinning wryly. "When those kids get a lead on what to do next, they just want to go and do it straight away. Oh I'm sure we'll get some indication of what to expect, but not in the detail that we'd like."
She looked at Sirius, who nodded for her to continue. "It's best that we adopt the same basic tactics that we used on the second quest. When we're on the move, we surround them, but now that there're seven of us, it might be a good idea for two of us to take up a position well ahead of the main group - scout around to try to pick up advance warning of any imminent attack."
"That's fine, Ceri," said Remus, "as long as we know in which direction we're heading, but we won't always know that. Remember when we followed the Roman road from the gap in Wales? We had to rely on Harry to fly high above to try to pick out the route."
"Well in that case, we just revert to our usual tactics and make sure we give protection from all sides," said Ceri.
"Hang on a minute," said Katie, her brow creased in a frown. "Did you say that Harry had to fly? Does he take his broomstick with him on the quests?"
"Uh… no Katie - but you'd better ask him yourself how he does it," said Sirius, smiling.
"There's one other thing," said Ceri. "We got a bit complacent at Abydos and we very nearly paid a heavy price. First Harry and Hermione decided they wanted a cuddle out under the stars and then Ron went off and did his own thing. So whenever we have to camp out in the countryside, we've got to maintain a watch at all times - we can work out the shifts according to the environment in which we find ourselves."
"And we've got to stress on the youngsters that they can't go walkabouts whenever they feel like it," added Sirius. "But I'm quite sure they learned their lesson back in Egypt."
"Fred and George told me they were working on a new gadget when I last spoke to them," said Oliver. "Have you heard anything about it?"
Ceri and Sirius exchanged puzzled glances. "Not a thing Oliver. Have they said anything to you about it Charlie?" asked Sirius.
Charlie shook his head. "Nothing. Do you want me to get in touch with them?"
"That might be a good idea Charlie," said Ceri. "If they've got something that will tip the balance in our favour out there, I'd like to hear about it."
"What was she like Dad?" asked Katie.
Sirius, Katie and Harry were sitting in the garden one afternoon, talking about Katie's mother and her family.
"She was a very gentle and sensitive girl Katie," said Sirius wistfully. "She didn't have the bravado of Harry's father and she was always on to us about breaking school rules."
"So why were you so attracted to her if she was so different to the Marauders?" she asked.
"I don't know. I suppose it was a bit like opposites attracting. Not much different from Harry and Hermione really - she was always on to you and Ron about breaking the rules wasn't she Harry?"
Harry grinned. "She was when we first met up, but we soon cured her. Didn't Auntie Janice get involved in your escapades at all Sirius?"
"Oh no, Harry. She was dead against it. I remember how we first got together - James was teasing her, trying to get her to help us with one of our pranks against the Slytherins, although he knew she wouldn't, of course. Well, she got a bit upset about it and I remember the tortured look in her eyes. I couldn't help myself - I sprung to her defence, much to the astonishment of the others, and told James to leave her alone. She gave me a very strange look, smiled and whispered her thanks before walking off. Well I couldn't just leave it like that; I wanted to know what that strange look meant, so I followed her. After that, we started to spend more and more time together."
"I can't understand why she didn't rebel against her parents," said Katie. "Why she didn't come back and tell you that she was pregnant."
Sirius sighed, "Her parents, your grandparents Harry, were very strict Katie. I suppose they always lived in fear that something like that would happen to her. I don't know if she ever tried to contact me - James was very reluctant to talk about it."
"But why didn't Dad tell you what was going on Sirius?" asked Harry.
"I'm not sure he knew anything Harry. He didn't really get on with his parents - he was the one who rebelled against the strict upbringing. He was a very strong character, a lot stronger than Janice in that respect, and he didn't have a lot of contact with them after she was taken away from the school. Oh I know he tried to find out the reason why Janice was taken away - he loved his sister dearly - but if he ever found out, he certainly didn't tell me. I've agonised about that ever since I found out about Katie, but we'll never know now."
"What was she like at school - academically?" asked Katie.
"Bright as a button," grinned Sirius. "Always towards the top of the class. When I think about it, she was a lot like Hermione, but without her strength of character. Not that she was a wimp - far from it - but it must have been her over-strict upbringing that prevented her going against any kind of authority."
"How did she get on with my mother?" asked Harry.
"They got on well Harry. They weren't best friends or anything, you see Lilly was in Gryffindor and Janice was in Ravenclaw, so they were only together for any length of time when your mother and father, Janice and I spent time together. But I suppose Janice felt a bit like the odd one out - the studious Ravenclaw amongst three adventurous Gryffindors."
"It must have been hard for her," whispered Katie. "The gentle one amongst the devil-may-care Marauders. She must have loved you a lot to put up with your antics."
Sirius smiled. "We loved each other very much Katie. Never doubt that. I only wish that things could have turned out differently for us all."
"I like your set-up Arthur - very impressive."
Jules was inspecting Arthur's shed, filled with every-day Muggle devices. The piles of dead batteries had long since been removed from around the walls.
"Have you worked out how that clockwork train I brought you last time works Arthur?" asked Arbuthnot.
The Grangers had arrived earlier that morning to spend the weekend at The Burrow, and Arbuthnot had brought a fresh supply of batteries and a few more Muggle items. Arthur's eyes had gleamed with excitement and anticipation as he'd inspected the smoke alarm and mobile phone.
"It's amazing Arbuthnot," he said. "Come and see."
He led them outside to the far corner of the garden, where he'd laid out the track. But the track wasn't quite the same as Arbuthnot had brought him. He grinned and shook his head in disbelief at the changes that Arthur had made. It wove around the trees and shrubs and at one point climbed vertically over an old tree stump.
"That'll never work Arthur," said Arbuthnot, chuckling to himself. "A clockwork engine will never be able to climb over that."
Arthur grinned and wound up the mechanism of the little engine and attached it to the front of a line of four small empty trucks. Then he stood back proudly as it chugged along the track through the trees and shrubs and up to the tree stump, where it easily climbed up one side and down the other.
Arbuthnot gasped, "How on earth did it do that?"
Jules laughed. "A little levitation spell Arthur?"
"Not really Jules," he replied. "I just applied a few charms to the mechanism. They give it extra power when the train needs it. I'm going to extend the track to go around the whole of the garden when I get time, but first I'll need to sort out a little problem I've been having. Those blinking garden gnomes keep hijacking the train and driving it off into the undergrowth, so I'm looking for an appropriate gnome-repellent charm I can use. I don't suppose you know of any Jules?"
Jules chuckled, "I may have one or two that might work, but as you know it's notoriously difficult to control those little blighters. I'll check through some of my books later."
"What are garden gnomes?" asked Arbuthnot, looking confused.
"Believe me Arbuthnot," answered Arthur, "you really don't want to know. Just be glad that you've only got slugs to worry about in the Muggle world."
All three men looked up as an owl flew low overhead, hovered for a few moments as it looked at the crazy antics of the charmed little train, and hooted as it flew towards the other end of the garden where Harry and the others were sitting. It perched beside Ginny, lifted its leg for her to undo the sealed parchment, and then flew to the kitchen window hoping for a few scraps to eat before returning to Hogwarts.
Ginny looked at the envelope and grimaced, "My OWL results I think."
"Go on then Ginny, open it!" shouted Ron, remembering how she'd teased him when his own OWL results had arrived last year. They'd had their sixth year exam results the day before - Hermione, as usual, had finished top of year six, only rivalled by Margot, who'd had equally good marks in the four exams she'd tried. Harry and Ron had been pleased to find that they'd done really well - a testament to Jules' accelerated learning spells.
Ginny continued to look nervously at the envelope, under the amused gaze of Harry and Ron and the sympathetic gaze of Hermione and Margot.
"Would you like me to open it for you Ginny?" asked Hermione.
Ginny shook her head and her jaw set in determination. "No thanks, Hermione."
She tore open the envelope and stared at the parchment for what appeared to be an inordinate amount of time. Her face showed no reaction whatsoever.
"Well?" exclaimed Harry.
Ginny looked up slowly, her eyes wet and her lower lip trembling slightly. "I don't believe it! I've passed them all - I've even done better than Percy!"
Her friends hugged the incredulous Ginny and dragged her off towards the kitchen to give the good news to her mother and the others.
The ghost sat all alone in a very cold and a very dark place. He didn't know where he was, he didn't know how long he'd been there, having lost all track of time, and what's more, he didn't really care. All he knew was that he was dead, and he couldn't stop thinking about it. He was in the very depths of despair.
Once more he thought back to the events leading up to his death…
"I gave you plenty of warning Draco," said Lucius despairingly. "Why didn't you use the time you had to get away?"
"I…I knew it wouldn't do me any good father. I'd have spent weeks, maybe months, wondering when he'd find me. I know there's no escape, so I might as well face the music first as last."
"Just don't say anything to upset him," said Lucius as he led his son into Voldemort's cave.
"Ah… Draco. You're here at last."
Draco shuddered at the evil gleam in the Dark Lord's eyes and stood nervously in front of his throne, glancing at his father every so often.
"Tell me Draco," said Voldemort, visibly keeping his anger in check for the moment, "why didn't you tell me that Potter and his friends went to the pyramids in Egypt?"
"You WHAT Draco," Voldemort finally exploded. "You thought it wasn't very important perhaps? Or you couldn't remember the way up to the Owlery? CRUCIO."
Draco fell to the ground screaming as the fiery spell hit him in the middle of his chest. Lucius bit hard on his bottom lip, not daring to raise a hand to help him. After thirty seconds, Voldemort lifted the curse.
"Tell me why you didn't let me know Draco, and I'll know if you're lying to me, so don't even think about it."
Draco lifted himself up onto his elbows and stared fearfully at the Dark Lord. Then something seemed to flash through his mind, making him abandon all caution. "I don't think what you're doing is right," cried Draco. "You shouldn't be killing innocent people."
"Ah, so now we have it," hissed Voldemort. "You've turned away from me. You've decided to help Potter have you?"
"No… I… I still don't like Potter, but he and his friends don't deserve to die," whispered Draco as he got slowly up from the floor, his legs shaking as he stood looking up at the Dark Lord.
"Don't they now! And what do you think I should do about you Draco? Do you think that you deserve to die?"
"No, my Lord. I've helped you up to now. Doesn't that count for anything?"
"You don't just decide to leave my service Draco. No one does that. CONSIDER YOURSELF TERMINATED!" Voldemort rose from his throne and pointed his wand once more at Draco.
The deadly green beam hit Draco again in the centre of his chest. Lucius suppressed a strangled sob as he watched his son drop slowly to the ground, where he lay unmoving, his eyes staring blankly at the cave ceiling.
"Get him out of here Lucius. No one turns against me - not even your son," hissed Voldemort.
Lucius lifted Draco's lifeless body into his arms and carried him back out of the cave, where he Apparated back to the extensive grounds of his mansion. He shuddered with delayed reaction and thought with dread about what he'd say to his wife. He lifted his head and howled with despair at the cloudy sky. At that instant, he swore he'd get his revenge on the Dark Lord. He didn't know how and he didn't know when, but he knew that when it came, it would be sweet. He silently cursed the Dark Lord and the way he treated his servants. He, Lucius Malfoy, knew that an efficient and loyal Death Eater force could not be maintained solely by force and terror. He knew that you reaped what you sowed, and that when he took over the reigns of the Dark Side - after Voldemort inevitably met his end - he would know how to treat his servants. He resolved to bide his time, and when the opportunity presented itself, he would make sure that he would be in the right place to take over the leadership.
He carefully laid Draco on the damp earth and stood for a while, looking down at his only son and heir; then he walked up to the mansion to instruct his house elves to prepare a grave in a secluded part of the rear garden.
Draco's ghost - his Ba - raised itself out of Draco's body and looked down at his lifeless form in horror. The shock coursed through him as he stared at what he'd once been. And he wondered what would happen next. He lifted his head to the sky in an instinctive reaction - hoping to see some sort of salvation for his tortured soul.
High above, he saw brightness amid the dark clouds, a brightness that burst open to reveal a portal of light, through which a brightly shining form drifted and moved down to stand at his side. Draco reached out his hand imploringly.
"Wh… who are you?" asked Draco.
"I am a spirit of the Light," replied the shining one. "I have come to give you council. Hear what I have to say. You have done many bad things during your earthly existence and you have thought many bad thoughts. But you have died because you turned aside from the Dark Path. You considered the well being of others when you took the decision to renounce your evil ways, but your path into the Light has not yet been set. You have begun the journey into the Light, but you must do one more selfless act, one more thing that will ensure your place among the shining ones in the Light Realm. You must wander as a shade until that time arrives. You will have time to reflect on your life - consider your next actions very carefully."
The shining form rose back into the light above and disappeared. The air around Draco shimmered, and he found himself standing in a cold, dark place. All was still and silent - as silent as the grave…
He sighed once more as he reflected on his misfortune and wondered what he could do in this deserted place to save his soul from the futility of eternal wandering.
"How's the prototype coming along George?" asked Lee.
"We're just putting the finishing touches to it Lee," he answered.
Fred and George Weasley were sitting in the front room of the Shrieking Shack, eating lunch with their friends and employees Lee Jordan, Angelina Johnson and Alicia Spinnet. Their other five employees, seconded to them by the Ministry of Magic, were still working on the production line upstairs in the hectic task of keeping up with demand for their Whammos. Orders were still coming in thick and fast from both the U.K. and America, and now that school had finished for the summer holiday they no longer had the help of some of the seventh year students at the weekends.
"How're we going to cope if the ministries like it?" asked Angelina. "We're fully stretched already with the Whammos."
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," said George. "We can probably persuade Cornelius Fudge to lend us a few more ministry employees, but if he doesn't we'll have to try to get hold of some of the students to see if they'd like to earn some cash during the school holidays - I'm sure that Harry and Ron can rustle up some of their mates to help us. What do you think Fred? Fred… Fred!"
Fred jumped. "What?"
"I said what do you think?"
"Have you heard anything we've been talking about?" asked George, looking askance at his brother.
"Uh… sorry George, I was miles away then. Now what were you saying?"
A grin slowly spread over Angelina's face. She'd noticed that Fred wasn't taking much notice of the conversation, and she saw in which direction Fred was staring before George jolted him back to reality. She saved her observations for later, however, after she'd had a chance to fully think through the implications.
"I said that if the new prototype takes off, we'll have to get extra help." George reiterated.
"I'm sure Fudge will come up trumps or maybe we can see if some of last year's seventh years still haven't found jobs yet," said Fred.
The other four grinned at Fred and shook their heads. "I think all this work is getting to you Fred," said Alicia.
"Uh… no, I was just miles away," said Fred. "By the way, I spoke to Charlie this morning - he asked me about the new gadget and whether we could consider giving some to the protectors to try out. What do you think?"
"Anything we can do to help the Anima Summas is ok by me," said George. "We should be able to get it ready for field trials by the end of the day, so we can go down to The Burrow in the morning to give them a demonstration."
"Right! Back to work then," said Fred, getting up from his chair. "That lot upstairs must be getting hungry by now."
They all trouped up the stairs to the workshop to relieve the ministry people, Fred and George walking over to the corner of the room to work on the prototype and the others taking their seats around the large Whammo production desk in the middle of the room. Angelina made sure she was sitting close to Alicia.
"What do you think of Fred's little performance?" whispered Angelina as she leaned close to her friend.
"I think he must be tired Ang - he's been working very hard recently."
"I know he has, but that wasn't the reason why he was so distracted."
"Didn't you notice where he was staring all through lunch?"
Alicia shook her head, looking baffled.
"He was staring at you Lissy. Don't tell me you didn't notice!"
"Angelina! I think you must be mistaken - Fred's never said that he fancies me."
"No mistake, Lissy. He was definitely staring at you all through lunch. What do you think about him? Do you fancy him at all?"
"I… I haven't really thought about it," she replied doubtfully. "Fred's… well, Fred's just Fred isn't he."
"So you'd say no if he asked you out on a date?"
"If Fred asked me out on a date I'd think he was up to one of his pranks - I'd just wait until he said the punch line. You know what he's like."
"Is that a yes then?"
Alicia stared at her friend. "Now did you hear me say yes?"
Angelina grinned slyly. "No - but I didn't hear you say 'no' either."
The next morning, Fred and George prepared to go on their visit to The Burrow. They'd packed a box of their new inventions and had made sure that there were enough stocks of materials up in the workshop for the day's production. Then they Apparated to a quiet spot just outside the confines of The Burrow and walked through the rickety gate into the garden and the welcoming aroma of breakfast being cooked.
"That's one thing I miss Fred," said George. "Mum's cooking. I think we timed this visit just right for a plateful of bacon and eggs."
Fred grinned as they hurried over to the house. Then halfway across the lawn he stopped, his mouth wide open, pointing to the line of bushes that bordered the left-hand side of the garden. "Who the hell is that?"
George looked and gasped, "And what's our Ron doing with her?"
Ron was unaware that his two brothers were watching him closely. Margot was equally oblivious to the scrutiny of the twins as they walked towards the pair engaged in a rather intimate embrace.
"The old dog!" breathed George. "Why didn't he tell us he had a girlfriend?"
"And more to the point, why didn't Ginny tell us?" said Fred.
"Hey!" shouted George, grinning. "That sort of thing is strictly forbidden at The Burrow. If you want to eat, the kitchen's the proper place for that."
Ron and Margot broke apart, Margot looking confused and Ron raising his eyes to the sky in defeat. He'd managed to keep Margot a secret from the twins up till now, but he knew that they'd find out sooner or later.
"Come on then Ron - introduce us!" exclaimed Fred, looking at Margot and shaking his head in bewilderment that his little brother had managed to attract such a beautiful girl.
"Margot, these are my two brothers Fred and George. This is Margot, you two, and no teasing her!"
Margot smiled as they both shook her hand, feeling the same confusion as everyone else who'd met the identical pair. "Which is which?" she asked.
"I'm George," he said. "How on earth did you meet this vision of loveliness Ron?"
Margot blushed prettily as she withstood the gaze of the twins. "I've heard a lot about you two from Ron and Ginny," she said.
"Why didn't you tell us about her Ron?" asked Fred.
"Because I wanted to postpone all the teasing for as long as I could," he replied sullenly.
Margot laughed. "I'm sure they're both very nice Ron. They must be if they're your brothers."
"We're going to like you Margot," said George, smiling. "You must be very special if you can keep Ron out of the kitchen when breakfast's nearly ready."
Ron couldn't conceal a smile. "Margot's one of the helpers now. She's with Ginny and me on the Anima Summas' second quest."
Fred pointed to the box he was carrying. "We've got something here that might help you with that - fresh from the amazing think tank of Weasleys Wizard Wheezes. Charlie wants us to give you all a demonstration on how they work."
The four walked across the lawn and into the kitchen, just in time to join the others for breakfast. Jules looked up in astonishment. "I think I must be seeing double," he breathed.
After breakfast, Fred and George led everyone out into the garden to give their demonstration. They stood in front of the others and each took a small object from the box and placed it in his pocket.
"Right," said Fred, walking back about ten yards into the garden. "Do your worst, Sirius. Try to put a spell on me. You'd better use Rictusempra just in case."
Sirius grinned. "Aren't you sure it'll work then Fred?"
"Well it's worked every time during the trials," he replied. "But you can't be too careful."
"What do they do?" asked Ceri, intrigued.
"Later Ceri," said George. "First the demonstration, then the explanation. Go on then Sirius."
Sirius pointed his wand at Fred, who stood nonchalantly with his hands in his robe pockets, and said the tickling spell. Everyone gasped as the beam of energy sped towards Fred, and just whizzed through the empty space where he'd just been standing a fraction of a second ago. Fred grinned as he stood about ten yards away from his earlier position. "You next Oliver - try something a bit stronger if you like."
Oliver pointed his wand at Fred and sent a full body bind spell - with the same result. Fred was now standing back in his original position.
"How did you do that?" he gasped.
"Let's get back to the kitchen and we'll explain it all," said George.
"So come on then," said Remus as they all sat around the table. "What just happened?"
Fred took the small object from his robe pocket and held it up for everyone to see. "This is a Relocator - our newest invention. We got the idea after we visited Camp Merlin a while ago - one of the Aurors said it might be a good idea to work on something like this."
It appeared to be just a small oval disc, about three inches at its longest axis, with a red button at the centre. He handed the disc to Sirius to inspect, while George walked around the table to give out the other Relocators from the box.
"Well we saw what it does," said Katie, "but how does it work?"
"And what are the operating parameters?" asked Oliver.
"The what?" asked Fred, grinning. "It's a sort of magical battery. It holds a suspended Apparate spell, waiting for it to be activated by the user."
"If you're in the thick of a fight with Death Eaters, and you see a curse coming your way - well you know yourselves from past experience that you just don't have the time to concentrate and Apparate to a safe place. This little thing does most of the work for you. All you have to do is touch the button and you'll be Apparated a short distance away, out of the path of the curse. Just like you saw it do to Fred out in the garden."
"That's amazing," said Ceri. "But what if it just Apparates you into the path of another spell?"
"Ah, that's where the clever bit comes in," said George. "It senses the space around you up to a distance of ten yards in all directions, and it works out the safest place to transport you. And before you ask, we've tested it out on confined spaces - it wont Apparate you into the middle of a solid object - it senses that you wouldn't be safe materialising inside a rock wall, for instance."
"Well thank goodness for that," breathed Ginny.
"But what if all the available space around you is full of curses being thrown?" asked Ron.
"Then, my little brother, you know that you're luck's run out. It will, in fact, relocate you into the path of the least harmful spell, but if they're all, say, the killing curse, then I'm afraid it's goodnight Vienna for you."
"It's a magical device," said Fred. "Not a miracle worker."
"Is the range limited to ten yards?" asked Sirius.
"I'm afraid so, Sirius," said Fred. "We've tried to extend it, but anything further than that distance has produced mixed results. We know that it's completely safe within a ten yard radius, but it doesn't seem to be able to detect solid objects beyond that."
"How many times will it work?" asked Ceri. "In a prolonged fight, we may need to use it more than once."
"We think it's indefinite," said George. "We used the same Relocator about fifty times in quick succession during one of our tests. We think that once the Apparate spell is set on the object, it just stays there."
"Amazing," said Charlie. "I think this could be a real life saver."
"But you have to touch the button to activate it," said Harry. "It can't, for instance, detect a curse from behind and activate itself?"
"We tried to make it an automatic process," said George. "But we just couldn't get it to work - there's just too many variables."
"Can you let us have some of these?" asked Sirius. "I'd be much happier if we had these up our sleeves when the Death Eaters attack."
"Of course," said Fred. "How many do you want?"
"Well there're twelve of us, but we're expecting one other to join the helpers at some stage, so would you be able to let us have thirteen?"
"No problem," said Fred. "You can have them now, and we've still got enough to demonstrate them to the Ministry."
"Just one question," said Hermione. "What if you accidentally touch the button when there's no danger about. What'll happen then?"
"Oh sorry," said George. "We forgot to tell you the most important bit. You have to activate the device before you use it. So when you think there may be a possible attack, you hold your wand onto the button and say, 'CITO FABRICA'. To deactivate it, you say 'COMPLEO FABRICA'. Any more questions?"
"Yes one," said Margot. "How on earth do you manage to think up and make something like this? It's incredible."
"I just knew we'd like you Margot," said George, grinning.
"You have to have a bit of a devious mind Margot," said Fred. "We've been into that sort of thing for ages, thinking up pranks to pull on the Slytherins. Ask Sirius and Remus - they'll know exactly what I mean." Moony and Padfoot nodded their heads in agreement.
"Thank you both," said Nadine. "I've got a feeling that we'll be thanking you even more before this quest is finished."
"Right," said George. "We'd better get going Fred. We've got an appointment with Marcus at the Ministry in less than an hour."
Marcus Heatherington-Jones greeted the twins warmly as he ushered them into his office. "Sorry the minister can't be here, he's at No. 10 briefing the Prime Minister on the latest developments."
"You're the one we want to see Marcus," said George. "We've just delivered some of the new devices we spoke to you about to the Anima Summa group and they seemed quite keen to try them out."
"Well if they can do what you say they can, they'll be an important asset in the hard times ahead. I've had a quick word with 'Mad-Eye' Moody and he's keen to put them on trial in his war games at the training camp. How many have you got for us?"
"We've got twenty on us, and we can knock up another twenty by tomorrow morning," said Fred.
"Fine," said Marcus. "I'll take the ones you've got. I'm going over to Camp Merlin this afternoon. Perhaps you can deliver the rest to Moody tomorrow. Right, you'd better tell me how they work."
That evening, Bill Weasley paid one of his lightening visits to The Burrow following a meeting he'd had to attend at Gringotts in Diagon Alley. Like the twins, he was quite taken with Margot and hadn't quite got over his astonishment at seeing his little brother with such a stunning girl.
He collared Sirius over by the edge of the garden, doing one of his frequent security inspections.
"So Sirius, have you spoken to her yet?"
Sirius pulled a face. "No Bill. After the shock of finding out I've got a daughter, I just haven't seemed to find the time."
"You'll regret it Sirius - take it from someone who's let more than one beautiful woman slip through his fingers."
"I know Bill, and I will speak to her. It just seems… well, a bit insensitive with Katie close by most of the time. I don't want her to think that I've completely abandoned the memory of her mother."
Bill nodded. "I can see what you're getting at, but that was a long time ago. I'm sure that Katie will understand."
"I hope so Bill, I really do."
Ceri and Nadine were sitting in Ceri's bedroom, talking about Sirius in a very similar way that the two men were talking about her.
"He hasn't said anything," said Ceri in answer to Nadine's probe.
"I can't understand him," said Nadine. "Bill was so sure that he'd say something."
"I think I know why, Nadine. He's afraid of upsetting Katie. I can understand the way he feels because I've been feeling the same way. The reason I haven't pushed him into saying something is because I don't want to get in the way of her mother's memory. I know it happened a long time ago, but they've only just found each other, and what would she think if I made a play for her father at such a time as this?"
"I'm sure Katie would understand Ceri, she seems to be a very warm and understanding sort of girl."
"She is Nadine - I can tell from the emotions I'm picking up from her. But I can't help thinking that things have changed, even if it is only temporarily. Don't forget, if Sirius and I get together and perhaps get… married, I'll be Katie's stepmother. I've got to get my head around that - as will Katie."
"So what are you going to do?"
Ceri thought for a few moments. "Nothing Nadine. If Sirius thinks we can get together, he'll have to choose the right time to do something about it. He's got more than one female to think about now."
The next morning, Harry and Hermione strolled hand-in-hand around the garden before breakfast. Harry leaned over and whispered into her ear.
"Have you still got your naughty desires under control?"
Hermione stopped walking and stared at her boyfriend. "Harry Potter - that's an awful thing to say. You know as well as I do that they're under control, as are yours. And anyway, they're not naughty."
Harry grinned. "Just teasing Hermione. Do you think we should have a word with Ron? Give him some advice on how to curb his wicked desires?"
"Honestly Harry, what's got into you this morning? And what makes you think that Ron's got wicked desires on Margot anyway?"
"He's a boy isn't he? I know how I felt before the rings put a lid on my urges."
"And Margot's a very intelligent and sensible girl. She won't let anything like that happen, I'm sure."
"No? Have you seen the way she looks at him?"
"Harry! She loves him, but that doesn't mean that she'll jump into bed with him the first chance she gets!"
"That sounds like a very interesting conversation," said Ron as he and Margot stepped out from the bushes. Margot's face was flushed, but Harry wasn't sure whether that was from embarrassment at listening to the conversation or something else that may have gone on in the bushes.
"Who were you talking about?" asked Ron. "Charlie and Nadine?"
Harry opened his mouth to answer, but quickly closed it as Hermione stepped down hard on his left foot.
"Uh, something like that Ron," said Hermione as she caught under Margot's arm and led her off into the garden away from the boys.
"What was that all about?" asked the confused Ron, watching the two girls walk away from them.
"Don't ask me Ron," said Harry, a pained expression on his face as he bent down and vigorously rubbed his foot.
Ron looked down at Harry. "Harry. Can I ask you something?"
Harry straightened up and looked at his friend, wondering what was coming - the last time he'd had that odd expression on his face he'd asked Harry how to go about kissing a girl. "What!"
"Uh, you and Hermione. Have you… uh… have you… you know, had any strong… urges?"
Harry grinned. "What sort of urges Ron?"
"You know what I mean Harry - you must have felt… certain things… when you're close to her."
"Of course I have Ron. I may be the Anima Summa, but I'm still flesh and blood. Why do you ask?"
"'Cause I've had them too. And I'm afraid to say anything to Margot about it - I'm her first boyfriend, and she's my first girlfriend and I don't want to spoil anything between us. What I want to ask you Harry is… how do you cope with it?"
"I've got help Ron," said Harry, lifting his hand and showing Ron the ring.
Ron's mouth dropped open. "You mean… he… he's helping you control your feelings?"
"Not my feelings Ron - just my, uh, let's just say my natural desires."
"You lucky bugger! You can't lend me the ring for a bit can you?"
Harry grinned and shook his head. "Sorry Ron, I don't think Hermione would be very pleased with me if I did that!"
"She knows about it?" asked Ron, incredulously.
"Of course she does - the ring is helping control her desires as well."
"You mean… she felt the same way as you did?"
"Ron - Hermione's flesh and blood as well isn't she?"
"I know that Harry, but… but I though girls didn't get the same sort of urges as us boys."
"What? Oh they do, Ron, believe me they do. What made you think they didn't?"
"I don't know - they're different to us aren't they?"
"Ron - they're not that different!"
"You're lucky Harry - you know exactly what Hermione's thinking and feeling whenever you touch her, but how do I know what Margot's thinking and feeling? Maybe she doesn't feel the same way as I do about… about… you know."
"There's only one way to find out Ron - ask her!"
"What! I couldn't just come out with something like this. She'll think I'm a pervert or something!"
Harry laughed. "She won't Ron. If I'm not too mistaken, she's probably agonising over the same things as you are. Talk to her!"
"How much did you hear?" Hermione asked Margot nervously.
"Enough," replied Margot. "But I don't think Ron realised you were talking about us."
"I'm so sorry Margot. Harry's been in a very funny mood this morning, but we wouldn't hurt you two for the world - you know that don't you?"
Margot smiled. "Of course I do - and thanks for defending my honour."
"We shouldn't have been talking about our friends like that - what you two do is none of our business," said Hermione.
Margot smiled once more, this time a little wryly. "Hermione - Ron's been the perfect little gentleman and nothing like that has happened - he hasn't even said anything about it. I think he's afraid of how I'll react."
"You're the first girl that Ron's been out with Margot. And he's always been a bit shy when it comes to girls. How do you feel about things?"
Margot turned to face Hermione, her brow creased and her expression worried. "I've never felt anything like this before Hermione. I love him so much, and I… I… I've been getting these funny… feelings. I think that something's wrong with me sometimes."
Hermione reached out and held Margot's hand. "There's nothing wrong with you Margot. There's nothing wrong with feeling those things - I felt the same things about Harry, and if it wasn't for the rings, I don't think we'd be able to resist them. The rings are helping us control our desires, Margot, but you and Ron only have yourselves to help each other."
Margot's eyes grew wide. "The rings are helping you both?"
"Yes. They told us we have to remain pure in mind and body until the prophecy is fulfilled."
"Since Ron and I are part of the prophecy, then I suppose that applies to us as well, don't you think?"
Hermione frowned. "I suppose you could be right Margot. Look - why don't you speak to Ron about it? Under all that bravado he's a very sensitive and understanding boy. Believe me, if you let this fester and build up, it might cause a rift between you - and it might get in the way of what we've got to do - so speak to him about it."
Margot turned and looked towards Ron speaking to Harry at the other end of the garden, and nodded her head. "I will Hermione. I'll just have to find the right time to do it."
Ginny watched her friends from her bedroom window and wondered what they were talking about. She had the feeling that whatever it was, it seemed fairly serious, and hoped that nothing was wrong. She sighed as she walked over to her bed and sat down, cupping her cheeks in both hands as she leaned her elbows on her thighs.
'I feel like the odd one out,' she thought. 'I wonder who the sixth helper will be, and when… he… will find us? Oh I do hope it'll be a boy!'
Crabbe Senior walked into Voldemort's cave and strode up to the Dark Lord sitting on his throne. "You called for me, my Lord?"
"Yes Crabbe, I can't find anything in my library that will help me translate these spells, and time is getting short. If I don't get some answers soon, the Anima Summas will achieve their full powers and they'll be more difficult to eliminate. I've been thinking - Irem is in the desert region, and the spells and disc were hidden there as well. I want you to speak to that group of Death Eaters we met at Petra. I want you to find out if they know of any scholars versed in the arts of ancient languages and ciphers - I've got the feeling that the answer to our problem lies somewhere out there in the desert."
Crabbe nodded. "Yes my Lord. I'll leave for Petra immediately."
Later that afternoon, Crabbe managed to locate the leader of the Death Eaters in the ancient residential area towards the centre of Petra.
The Arab scratched his chin, deep in thought. "There is one that may be able to help the Great One," he said. "He lives near Amman. He's a very old wizard - something of a recluse - he stays in his hut for most of the time, surrounded by his books and parchments. He's always trying to find hidden messages in the ancient writings."
"Can you persuade him to come with me to the Dark Lord's cave?" asked Crabbe.
The Arab nodded. "I'm sure that he'll be honoured to contribute to the cause of the Dark. Come, there's a Portkey to a place close to his home not far from here."
Ten minutes later, Crabbe and the Arab stood outside a mud brick hut that stood not far from the main highway outside the city of Amman. The Arab glanced at Crabbe and then knocked on the door once more, this time more forcefully. After another minute, the door creaked open a fraction and an old and wizened face peered out of the narrow crack.
"Yes. What do you want?"
"Ahmed," said the Arab, bowing slightly. "Greetings. There is something of great urgency that we must speak to you about."
Ahmed glanced at Crabbe, and then opened the door fully. "You'd better come in then," he said as he walked back to his desk and sat down in a rickety wooden chair.
Crabbe explained his mission, and Ahmed listened with increasing interest.
"I may be able to help," he said. "You said these spells are in a script that you've never seen before?"
"That's correct," said Crabbe. "The Dark Lord thinks it may be an ancient cipher, and he wants you to help him unravel it."
"I must admit to being very intrigued," he replied. "When do we leave?"
A little while later, Ahmed bowed to the sinister figure of Lord Voldemort. "It is a great honour to be able to help in your great task."
Voldemort nodded. "I am told that you specialise in ancient ciphers and languages. If you help me to read these spells I will show you something that will make your mouth drool with longing. Succeed in your task and I will allow you to see some of the pages of the Necronomicon."
Voldemort drew out the fabled black book from his robes and held it so that Ahmed could see the cover. Ahmed's eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open to its fullest extent.
"The Necronomicon," he whispered. "I thought it was lost forever."
"This will be your reward if you translate the spells," said Voldemort, grinning evilly as he saw that Ahmed would apply all his vast experience to the full to be able to feast his eyes on the knowledge contained in the Necronomicon. He held out the parchment of spells. "Take these and work at the back of my cave. Wormtail will bring you food and drink whenever you feel the need."
Ahmed reached out and took the parchment, but he didn't immediately look at it. He had eyes only for the Necronomicon.
Charlie and Nadine grinned at each other as they walked down to the cabin in the little valley in the Langedoc, bathed in the warm sunshine of mid-morning. They'd arrived a little earlier and had walked over to the spot where they first found each other, romantically speaking, the previous year. After spending a few poignant minutes there revelling in their memories, they continued on down to the cabin, hoping to surprise Nadine's brother, Demont. Sirius had allowed them to take the day off from their 'protector' duties, since nothing much seemed to be happening at the moment.
"He'll be surprised to see us," said Charlie.
"I know," Nadine replied, grinning. "But he loves surprises."
They walked up to the cabin and went in - but Demont was nowhere to be found.
"Demont. Demont!" shouted Nadine. "Funny, he doesn't usually start on his rounds for another hour or so. I wonder where he is?"
"I hope the magical creatures in the forest haven't started acting up again," said Charlie. "Perhaps that's why he isn't here - he may have gone to the forest early."
The pair turned and looked up at Demont, standing at the top of the stairs with a blanket covering his middle.
"You lazy so-and-so," said Charlie. "I always thought you were an early riser Demont!"
"Uh. I didn't expect you," said Demont a bit nervously.
"Who is it Demont?" shouted a female voice from the bedroom.
A grin slowly spread over Nadine's face as she stared at her brother. "Who have you got up there brother dear?" she asked, revelling in his obvious discomfort.
A dark-haired, scantily dressed woman peered over Demont's shoulder and stared at the couple on the ground floor of the cabin. "Oh," she said as she raced back into the bedroom, quickly followed by Demont.
"We'll be down in a few minutes," he shouted over his shoulder. "Put the kettle on."
"Well the old scoundrel," said Charlie, grinning broadly. "Perhaps we should have told him we were coming."
"What! And miss all this? No way, Charlie - this is just perfect!"
"You're a wicked little witch," said Charlie, grinning as he caught hold of his girlfriend and planted a kiss on her forehead.
She squirmed free and trotted over to the kitchen, where she filled the kettle, pointed her wand at it, and then poured some ground coffee into the coffee pot.
It was brewing nicely by the time Demont walked down the stairs, closely followed by a nervous-looking woman of about the same age.
"Uh, this is Anne-Marie," said Demont, smiling as he turned towards his girlfriend. "And this is my sister, Nadine, and her boyfriend Charlie Weasley."
They sat down as Nadine poured four cups of coffee and handed them around. She still hadn't lost her grin as she appraised Demont and Anne-Marie. "So, when did this happen then? I thought you were hiding something from me Demont."
"Sorry," said Demont. "I wanted to spend as much time as I could with Anne-Marie before you started snooping around. I should have known better than to try to keep it quiet."
Charlie looked at Anne-Marie and saw immediately why Demont had become attracted to her. She brushed a few strands of her black hair away from her dark eyes, eyes that were full of mystery and held that special quality that few men were able to resist. "How long have you been together?" he asked.
"A few months now," said Anne-Marie. "We met at the French Ministry of Magic."
"Is that where you work?" asked Charlie.
"Yes - but I've… uh… got a few days off."
Demont glanced nervously at Charlie and his sister and quickly added, "She works in the Care of Magical Creatures office, and she wanted to come up here to take a look at the dragons that caused so much bother back last year."
Nadine pursed her lips, her eyes twinkling. "Hmm," she muttered almost inaudibly, although Charlie managed to catch what she said, "Curiouser and curiuoser…" Nadine was now convinced that Demont was holding something back, and the body language from the pair absolutely cried out that something very mysterious, and perhaps even clandestine, was afoot.
Now Nadine was very similar to her future sister-in-law, Ginny, when it came to picking up on thinly veiled intrigues, and she resolved to find out more about it. She sat, thinking furiously, as she observed her brother and his girlfriend, wondering what she could do to uncover what was behind it all.
Nadine stood up and walked over to Anne-Marie, caught under her arm, and pulled her towards the door. "You boys talk about old times," she said. "Anne-Marie and I've got a bit of catching up to do of our own." She made eyes at Charlie, and glanced in the direction of her brother. Charlie grinned, knowing that his girlfriend wanted him to quiz Demont.
The two girls walked out into the bright morning sunshine. "I want to know exactly where and how you met," said Nadine. "What he said, how nervous he was - everything!"
Anne-Marie laughed. "Demont said you were a very inquisitive girl."
"Demont?" said Charlie after the two girls disappeared outside the cabin. "What's going on? What are you keeping back from us?"
Demont squirmed as he withstood Charlie's piercing gaze. "Nothing Charlie. There's nothing going on… I… we… we're just a bit embarrassed about being caught with our pants down, so to speak."
Charlie grinned slyly and shook his head. "You've never struck me as being the shy type, Demont. You might as well tell me - you know that your sister won't rest until she finds out what's going on."
Demont sighed and raised his eyes to the ceiling. "I can't Charlie… believe me, I can't."
Charlie and Nadine opened the rickety gate and walked slowly into the garden at The Burrow, having returned from France just a few minutes previously.
"What did he say Charlie?" asked Nadine.
"Nothing. He said that he couldn't tell me - whatever it is."
"Hmmm. Anne-Marie wouldn't say anything either. Oh, she told me how they met and all that, but I could tell that she was holding something back."
"I wonder what the devil it could be?" said Charlie. "I have to admit to being completely baffled by it all. Hey! You don't think that Anne-Marie is Demont's boss' wife, or something like that do you?"
Nadine laughed. "No I don't think so, Charlie. I can't see my brother getting mixed up in anything like that! I wonder if… No! It can't be…"
"What!" shouted Charlie as he saw the way his girlfriend was concentrating furiously on some hidden thought.
Nadine slowly shook her head. "No, it can't be!"
"What!" yelled Charlie, beside himself with curiosity.
"I'll tell you when I've managed to find out a bit more. I may be completely wrong about this, so I don't want to say anything until I'm sure about it."
"Nadine!" gasped Charlie, but his girlfriend just smiled wryly and took off towards the kitchen door.
Voldemort sat on his throne in his cave, looking over his shoulder with irritation every so often. He leaned forward and spoke to Crabbe, who was standing in front of the throne with Travis, Wormtail and Lucius.
"Can't you get him to stop all that babbling?"
Crabbe suppressed a grin as he looked towards the back of the cave where Ahmed sat hunched over the parchment of spells, muttering to himself in Arabic as he wrote hurriedly onto another piece of parchment.
"The leader of the Arab Death Eaters said he was a bit eccentric," answered Crabbe. "But I wouldn't advise stopping his flow of thought - he might be close to unravelling the cipher."
Voldemort grunted in annoyance. "Well I hope he won't be long! I've been thinking - now that we haven't got a spy at Hogwarts any longer, we'll have to find some other way of keeping tabs on Potter and Granger. School starts back in just over a month's time. Any ideas Lucius?"
Lucius jumped slightly. "No my Lord."
Voldemort grunted once more. "Crabbe? Your son is still at Hogwarts isn't he? Do you think he can do a little spying for us?"
"No my Lord," said Crabbe hastily, thinking about the fate that befell Lucius' son. "Vincent and his friend Gregory Goyle aren't very… uh… bright. I don't think they'd be much help to us." He thought for a few moments. "But there may be someone else who could fit the bill. I'll speak to my son tonight and find out where the student lives. Then I'll see what I can do."
"Good," replied Voldemort. "You'd better take this with you." He handed Crabbe the Invisibility Cloak that he'd snatched from Draco after he'd killed him.
"There's something else I've been thinking about - the Anima Summas have their protectors, an elite force that goes with them everywhere. I want to build up my own elite force of Death Eaters in addition to the solid core of special Death Eaters you're training at the moment, specially trained in the arts of detection and elimination. I want them to work full time on finding the Anima Summas and taking care of them. If they can capture them, all well and good - I still want to get at their ancient knowledge - but if not, they are to kill them. I want you to select thirty of the best Death Eaters from the bunch getting the special training. Then I want our best instructors to get them ready for the task. Lucius, you and Travis will be responsible for selecting them and overseeing their training. Now go."
Lucius and Travis bowed and walked out of the cave, leaving Crabbe and Wormtail still standing in front of the Dark Lord's throne. An odd sort of noise suddenly came from the back of the cave, and Voldemort closed his eyes and shook his head. "He's hungry again Wormtail. You'd better see to him."
Voldemort watched Wormtail walk over to Ahmed, then turned back to Crabbe. "Right Crabbe, now tell me who this student is."
Harry's seventeenth birthday party was a somewhat muted affair. Everyone appeared to be jovial, but they were also quite tense. The five youngsters hadn't been able to uncover any leads on the final quest, and they were feeling the weight of the great expectations of the Wizarding Community on their young shoulders.
Dumbledore had made several visits to The Burrow, and although he was very supportive and hadn't put any pressure on them, his very presence spoke volumes about his concern that no progress was being made with the quest. He did his best to put their minds at ease, hinting that perhaps their worrying was creating the blockage to their progress. Although the headmaster said nothing, they all knew that Fudge must have been putting a lot of pressure on him to jolly up proceedings.
Hermione, in particular, felt she was under a lot of pressure. She knew that everyone looked to her to find a way through the cryptic messages and puzzles along the winding and devious path of the quest, and here she was, stumped at the very first hurdle. Harry tried his best to put her at ease, but he knew how she felt about it all.
It would be at least another week before the breakthrough came.
The next morning, Crabbe walked back into the cave and bowed to the Dark Lord. "It's done, my Lord. The spy will start working for us even before school starts in a month's time. I've given instructions that a watch should be kept on the school in case Potter and his friends decide to visit the library ahead of time. I've arranged for my wife to receive any messages from the spy, and she'll relay them to us here."
Voldemort nodded in satisfaction. "Excellent Crabbe - well done." He glanced over his shoulder to the back of the cave before turning once more to speak to Crabbe. "You've done better than that Arab. Every time I've spoken to him he says he's almost cracked it - and that's at least ten times a day! Are you sure he knows what he's doing?"
"Yes my Lord, he comes with the highest recommendations. Perhaps the ancient cipher is too difficult even for his expertise."
"Humph. Come on Crabbe, let's speak to him and see how far he's got with it."
Crabbe followed Voldemort to the back of the cave and stood over Ahmed, who looked up from the reams and reams of parchment littering his desk.
"How are you coming along Ahmed?" asked Crabbe.
Ahmed shook his head sadly. "Every time I think I've found the key to it, something else crops up to block the way. I'm beginning to think that a very, very powerful wizard has charmed it. I haven't seen anything like this before - the cipher defies any normal method, and even all the abnormal ones I know, to break the code."
"Do you think the Anima Summas may have done it before they hid it?" asked Voldemort.
Ahmed nodded. "I think that may well be the most likely answer, my Lord."
Voldemort straightened and breathed loudly, "Crabbe - you'd better get Lucius and Travis back here as soon as they've set up the special training. I think we've got to pay another visit to Irem - I've got to speak to the Guardian of the Gate again, I think."
It was the middle of the night at The Burrow, the only sounds being the hoots of Hedwig and Pigwidgeon as they spoke to each other out in the garden.
Margot lay sleeping in the bedroom she shared with Ceri, but her sleep was far from peaceful. Her head slowly rolled on the pillow, and her beautiful face contorted in mental torture as she dreamt.
'She stood at the side of her newfound friends, looking at the evil spectre of Lord Voldemort as he raved before them. He held the Disc of Gates high over his head as he glared with venomous hatred at the youngsters before him.
A flash…a new scene…Darkness…
They stood looking down at the ground with horror. There, lying in the pathetic and heart-rending pose of the utterly destroyed, was a lone figure. But Margot couldn't make out the features. She couldn't see who it was who was dead.'
She awoke with a start, the tears running down her face. Ceri bent over the trembling girl, her face full of concern. "What is it Margot? Have you had a dream?"
Margot nodded, and spoke with a trembling voice, "It was awful Ceri. I don't know who it was, and I don't know when it will happen. I saw death, Ceri - I saw a death."
Ceri looked worriedly out of the window of the bedroom as Margot clung desperately to her, sobbing pitifully into her shoulder.
Author's Notes : There aren't any images for this chapter, but normal service will be resumed in chapter 2. Many thanks for your reviews at the end of the last book - they're appreciated. To answer some of the queries :
Egyptologists faking their finds? - Yes, it certainly happened - Vyse's deception is just one of the more famous cases. But to be fair to them, Egyptologists are generally an honourable and talented bunch. My main gripe is their steadfast refusal to accept any evidence that goes against their long-held beliefs in what actually happened in ancient Egypt.
Should a load of Muggles have been at some of the ancient sites they visited? In some cases - yes, they were there. Especially at the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx, but not at Djedi's tomb - that was on the other side of the Giza Plateau, away from the main tourist haunts.
Too many romantic liaisons, and none of them get killed? - I'm a sucker for looking after the heroes - mostly.
Should book 3 be a bit darker, and should I kill off a few of the good guys - or should I keep them nice and safe? - Now that would be telling, wouldn't it!
Does James really have a sister in JK's novels? I don't remember her writing anything about that - but if you've spotted anything, please let me know.
The size of the Death Eater and Auror forces? That's a difficult one. I decided that I wanted to expand the action a bit - hence the recruitment drives in the fic. And if you look at OOTP it seems to confirm a larger force of Death Eaters in the first war. When Moody shows Harry the picture of the original OOTP, he mentions 21 of them. A little later, it says that they were outnumbered by 20-1 by the Death Eaters. So there were some 420 Death Eaters around back then.