Chapter 10 The Final Battle
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.
Nadine shivered as she wrapped her arms around her body and let out a gasp as she turned her head away from the terrible scene below.
"What is it Nadine?" asked Charlie anxiously. "Can you feel anything?"
"No Charlie," she replied, "nothing. It's just the horror of seeing those poor people down there."
Harry, Hermione, the helpers and the protectors had just arrived in the desert region sandwiched between the Red Sea and the river Nile. A special Portkey had been set up for their specific use after Fudge had received a report of yet another attack by the Nephilim. They all watched as the Egyptian ministry of magic people went about the daunting task of gathering the soulless but living bodies of the fifty or so desert nomads together, ready for transportation to a specially constructed hospital on the Saudi-Jordanian border. The hospital had been set up as a joint effort between the Arab states to house the ever-growing number of victims of the Nephilim attacks that were prevalent throughout the region.
"We've got to stop this somehow," said Harry. "This just can't go on!"
Hermione leaned against him and sighed. "What can we do Harry? The spell just won't take us to the Nephilim, nor to Voldemort…" she trailed off, shaking her head.
Sirius frowned as he looked towards Nadine. He and Dumbledore had hoped that by coming to the scene of a recent Nephilim attack, it would trigger something in the minds of the Anima Summas that would lead them to their lair. But Harry and Hermione had felt nothing. Sirius and the others had also hoped that Nadine might have been able to detect some sort of magical vibration. But that hope was now almost dashed as well.
"Do you think you can go down there Nadine?" he asked gently. "I know it's going to be difficult for you, but you may be able to pick something up closer to where the attack took place. We'll all come with you."
Nadine looked at Sirius and frowned, but then nodded. Charlie caught around her as they led the group down the hill towards the jumble of black tents erected on a rocky patch of the desert. She closed her eyes when she got to the edge of the encampment, not wanting to look at the blank stares of the victims, and walked slowly into the centre of the site, where she concentrated hard.
After a few minutes, she shook her head. "Still nothing."
Sirius sighed. "Come on. We can't do any more here - let's get back."
Two days later, Harry, Ron and Draco sat in the dining tent, the two living boys munching their way through a pile of sandwiches.
"That's disgusting!" exclaimed Draco. "I don't know how you two can stick away so much food - you haven't long had your lunch!"
"Your just jealous Malfoy," Ron mumbled as he continued to chew. "Just because you can't eat anything any more."
"I've been meaning to ask you Draco," said Harry. "Don't you get… hungry at all?"
Draco snorted, "Hah! You don't know very much about ghosts do you. Of course I don't get hungry - I haven't got a physical body to maintain."
"No, I suppose not - sorry," said Harry.
Dumbledore and Sirius had insisted that the group take a break from their forays into an ever-expanding area of conflict. They'd been to three places that morning - all in Eastern Europe - and had rounded up quite a few Death Eaters. The first two had been easy, but the last one had involved a fairly lengthy confrontation before Harry and Hermione had been able to confine the scattered enemy forces in a time bubble.
Hermione and Margot walked into the tent after a visit to Alicia and Angelina over at the Weasleys Wizard Wheezes tents. "Where's Ginny?" asked Hermione.
"She said something about going to look at something in the library tent," said Harry.
"We'll go and see what she's doing," said Margot.
When the two girls walked into the library tent, they found Ginny sitting at the desk bent over a large map. She looked up and waved at the pair. "Come in - I'm just trying something out - I've nearly finished now."
The two girls sat either side of Ginny and looked curiously at what she was doing. Ginny looked at the parchment lying on the desk at the side of the map, then poured over the map for a few moments, before carefully making a mark on it with her quill.
"What on Earth are you doing?" asked Margot.
"I've been thinking," she replied. "We can't seem to find out where the Nephilim are, so I thought that if I could find a large enough map of Egypt and the Middle East, and marked down all the places where the Nephilim have attacked, it may show up something. So I went over and asked Minister Fudge for this list of places where the attacks took place. I've marked down nearly all of them now - just one more to go."
She looked at the name at the bottom of the parchment and scoured the Jordanian section of the map. "Got it," she said, and placed a mark towards the top of the map. Then she sat back and looked at her handiwork.
"I thought that a pattern may emerge when I did this," she said. "Does anything strike you as odd about it?"
Hermione and Margot gazed at the map, but shook their heads.
"We'll I've had a lot longer to see the pattern," said Ginny. "Look - there's two in the Eastern Egyptian Desert, three more further up towards the Mediterranean coast, five on the Sinai Peninsular, seven in North and East Jordan and another five in Saudi Arabia. So there's ten towards the western end of the map and twelve to the Eastern end." She reached over and picked up a ruler and started drawing lines, connecting the marks to the East with the marks she'd made on the Western end. Then she sat back and looked down at the pattern.
"I can see what you're getting at," said Margot. "You think that these attacks may have come from a place roughly at the centre of all these places."
"That's right," said Ginny, smiling. "And it should be around the place where those lines I drew intersect."
Hermione nodded. "They don't all intersect at one spot, but they converge on roughly the same area. I think you've got something here, Ginny! Let's show the others - they're in the dining tent."
"Don't tell me they're still there!" she said disgustedly.
"No - we're here now!" said Ron as he led the other two into the library tent.
"Look at this," said Margot. "Ginny's been doing a bit of detective work, and we think she's on to something."
They boys listened as Ginny explained her theory and gazed at the patterns she'd made on the map. "That's brilliant, Ginny," said Draco with a look of respect in his smoky eyes.
"Great job Ginny," said Harry, leaning over to plant a kiss on her cheek. Then he picked up the map and walked towards the tent flap. "Come on - we've got to show this to Dumbledore and the others."
"Extraordinary!" exclaimed Snape as he looked at the map. Draco frowned as he stared at his former housemaster - he couldn't make up his mind whether he was expressing genuine respect for Ginny's efforts or just amazement that she'd been able to think of doing it.
Professor Dumbledore leaned forward and drew a rough circle around the area where the lines converged on the map, then sat back and raised his eyebrows. "This circle is roughly halfway between the Gulf of Aqaba and the southern end of the Dead Sea. Comments anyone?"
"Well it's by far the best lead we've had," said Sirius. "Excellent work Ginny."
Most of the others displayed their admiration, causing Ginny's face to burn with embarrassment, although she had a nice warm glow deep inside.
Remus pointed at the circle. "How big an area would you say that is?"
Ginny did a quick mental calculation. "I'd say, looking at the scale of the map, that the diameter of the circle is about fifty miles, give or take."
"That's still a big area to search," said Oliver.
"And this is still only based on an assumption," added Snape. "Thoth told you in his book that the Nephilim aren't stupid - they may have deliberately set out to pick their targets with this very possibility in mind, and tried to give the impression that their base is somewhere where it isn't."
"You could be right, Severus," said the headmaster, "but I don't think so. These attacks have been frequent and frenzied - it seems to me that they were too intent on sating their desperate hunger to give much time to planning this. And in any case, they may not even care if their base is discovered - they may just be glad that a load of souls come to them rather than having to go and find them."
"I think you're both right," said Hermione, looking at the map and at the list of places on Ginny's parchment. Then she started to number the places that Ginny had marked on the map, starting with 1 for the first attack, 2 for the second and then on up to the last place that was attacked.
"Look at this," she said. "Generally speaking, each attack has been in a different direction, apart from those they did on the same day."
"So it looks like they've made some attempt to throw us off the scent," said Sirius.
"But they didn't think it through far enough," added Charlie, smiling at Ginny. "They didn't reckon on my sister and her fascination for patterns on maps."
"So what's our next move?" asked Ceri. "As Oliver said, that's still a lot of desert to search, and you can be sure that they won't be out in plain sight - if Professor Dumbledore is right, they'll be using the City of Pillars as their base - and that's buried underneath the sands somewhere."
"But we've got a secret weapon, haven't we?" said Remus, grinning as he looked towards Nadine.
"Of course!" said Harry. "If the Nephilim are as evil as their horrible attacks suggest, Nadine should be able to pick up their dark emanations a mile off. What do you think, Nadine?"
"I suppose so," she said, suppressing a shudder as she thought of what those vibrations would feel like.
"How can we get there?" asked Harry, now anxious to start looking for the Nephilim.
"Leave that to me," said Dumbledore. "There'll be a Portkey in place first thing in the morning. But before you go, I want you all to be fully aware of the dangers you'll be facing. We don't know how many of them are out there, but we know that they're very powerful. And for all we know, Voldemort could be there as well with the remnants of his British and American forces. So your immediate task is just to locate where they are - I don't want you all wading in and attacking them - even you Harry - do you understand?"
"But Professor," Harry replied, "they've got to be stopped!"
"I know Harry," he said gently, "but please listen to my advice - when you detect them, I want you all to come straight back here before you do anything. Then we can work out the best way to tackle them. I'll arrange with minister Fudge for as many Aurors as he can spare to go back with you - I know that his forces have been severely depleted over the last few weeks, but so has Voldemort's forces, so the attacks in this country and the United States have dropped off dramatically in the last few days - I might even be able to arrange for some teams of American Aurors to go with you as well."
Everyone wore serious expressions as they continued to look at the headmaster, who paused for a few moments while he took a sip of water.
"One more thing - this could be the final battle in this war. I'm hoping - banking - on Voldemort being with the Nephilim. If he is, make no mistake that the fight will be fierce and difficult. I will be coming with you for the final conflict, as will Severus and Minerva and as many of our staff that will agree to come with us. But we've all got a very specific job to do - that's to support Harry and Hermione when they face Voldemort and the Nephilim. We've got to keep any Death Eaters off their backs while they face their greatest challenge. I don't want anybody trying to tackle the Nephilim or Voldemort and his Disc of Gates, unless it's in support of the Anima Summas. Is that clear?"
They all nodded. Dumbledore's speech had made them all realise even more the great severity of the task that lay ahead - and for Dumbledore to announce that he'd be there to fight alongside them only served to heighten that awareness. But it also gave them a lot of comfort, knowing that the greatest wizard in the world would be with them when it mattered most.
They were all ready to go early the following morning. The night had been a long one, and sleep had come only slowly as they all wrestled with the dangers of the task ahead. But they all stood outside Dumbledore's tent with a fierce determination as they waited for the headmaster to emerge with the Portkey.
"Don't forget what I told you yesterday," said Dumbledore as he walked across and handed over the Portkey. "This is a scouting mission only! You will materialise approximately at the centre of the search area - Good luck."
Harry looked around at the barren expanse of the desert into which they emerged. He felt the heat from the blazing sun, which was not far above the eastern horizon, and tapped the water bottle inside his robes, knowing that it would be needed as the day wore on. The desert seemed to stretch forever on all sides, interrupted only by a line of cliffs low down on the horizon far to the north. Nothing stirred in the arid desert - not even the few snakes and scorpions that were undoubtedly there - although Harry did spot a small lizard lying on a rock, unmoving as it waited for the sun's heat to stir it's body into action.
Nadine stood with her face to the sky, her eyes closed, trying to pick up any sign of magical emissions. Everyone looked on as they waited for her to give her verdict.
"There's something," she said finally. "I can't make out what it is because it's so faint, but there's definitely something here."
"Let's do what we did back in France," said Charlie. "We can walk in each direction for a little way and see if they get any stronger."
"Which way first?" asked Oliver.
Sirius shrugged. "I suppose one way's as good as any other - let's try north, towards that line of hills in the distance."
"Hang on a minute," said Katie as she piled five or six rocks one on top of the other. "We want a reference point to come back to in case we have to check in another direction, otherwise we might easily stray out of the search area."
They walked towards the line of cliffs, forming up instinctively into their protective positions around the six youngsters, always scouring the desert for any signs of movement. They must have walked for several miles before Nadine called a halt and checked once more for the vibrations.
"They're stronger," she said at last. "Still faint, but I can feel them a bit more clearly here, and they're… they're not very nice."
"We're going in the right direction then," said Sirius, looking ahead to the line of cliffs, which didn't appear to be any closer than when they'd started out.
They walked on for another hour and the cliffs started to become more distinct, despite the shimmering haze that made them wobble from side to side disconcertingly. After another few miles, Nadine once more closed her eyes and opened her mind to the emanations.
This time, there was no delay in her voicing her verdict. "Over there," she gasped, shaking her head as if to rid her mind of the evil vibrations. "They're a lot closer now." She pointed over to her right, at the red-coloured cliffs that were now no more than two miles away.
They adjusted their direction and walked towards the cliffs, now being far more cautious as they approached a place that could harbour hidden danger.
"Further to the right," said Nadine, following their arrival at the base of the cliffs. They walked along, looking intently up at the stark red bastions of rock, trying to find a cave or opening - anything that would take them closer to the source of the vibrations.
Without warning, they came upon a cleft in the rock, splitting the cliffs from top to bottom. Oliver and Katie walked slowly inside, wands held to the fore, and peered at the dark passage that led into the rock.
After a few minutes, they came back out. "It's definitely a well-worn path," said Oliver. "It winds about a bit, and we didn't get to the end of it, but it's certainly been in use very recently."
"Stay close together," said Sirius, holding out the Portkey. "At the first hint of trouble, grab hold of this and we'll get out of here."
The closely packed group walked slowly into the opening, following the sandy path as it wound its way through the cliffs. "There's an opening just up ahead," whispered Katie, seeing that the rocky walls were becoming brighter just around a left-hand bend. They cautiously edged forward, and soon emerged into a sandy area.
Remus gasped. "I know this place!" he exclaimed, looking at the impressive Treasury built into the rose red cliffs. "This is Petra!"
"The ancient city of the Nabataeans," added Hermione, looking up at the building, savouring its ancient classical contours.
"Who the hell are they?" asked Ron.
"Later Ron," said Sirius quietly. "Let's take a closer look."
They walked up to the Treasury, and Oliver quickly climbed the stone steps at the front and peered inside for a few moments. "Empty," he said as he walked back down to join his colleagues.
"Where's Nadine?" asked Ginny, her expression anxious as she looked around the group.
"She was right behind me," said Charlie, turning and running quickly back to the opening in the cliffs.
"Nadine!" he exclaimed when he saw his girlfriend leaning groggily against the cliff wall, just before it emerged into the open sandy area. He quickly went to her and put his arms around her shoulders as he helped her stagger over to the rest of the group.
"What happened?" he said, his eyes full of concern.
"I opened my mind to check the vibrations," she whispered. "It was horrible… so evil. I… I think it's coming from right underneath our feet, but I don't want to check any further and experience those feelings again!"
"It's ok, Nadine," said Sirius gently. "You've done your job - all we've got to do now is find a way down. The City of Pillars must be underneath Petra somewhere."
"Hang on Sirius," said Ceri. "You know what Dumbledore said. We've found where they're holed up, so we'd better get back and report."
"But we've got to try to find out how to get to them Ceri," said Harry. "It might take ages, so now that we're here, we might as well dig around a bit."
"No Harry," said Sirius resignedly. "Ceri's right. We've done what we came here to do, now we've got to work out a plan to get at them."
He held out the Portkey and everyone, Harry very reluctantly, grabbed hold while Sirius said the special spell that activated it. Before he did so, however, he walked over to the opening in the cliff face, and placed a small rock just inside, out of view of the Treasury building. He'd been given the special Portkey by Dumbledore the previous evening, with instructions to place it at a suitable spot where they could safely arrive with the main force at some time in the future.
"So they're below the ancient city of Petra?" said Dumbledore, stroking his beard reflectively as he listened to Sirius' report. After eating a late lunch after returning from their scouting trip, the group had joined Dumbledore and the rest of his team in the headmaster's tent.
"But we don't know how we can get down to them," said Sirius. "We thought it better to report what we found rather than risk detection."
"Perfectly correct," said Dumbledore. "But we've got to find a way down there before we commit our forces. We don't want to be caught out in the open."
"Should we go back?" asked Harry, hopefully.
"No Harry," said Dumbledore. "I spoke to minister Fudge earlier this morning, and he's been able to muster together only five full teams of Aurors to help us, and that includes some volunteers from America. I think it might be best if we send one of those teams to spy out the place, and try to see where the Nephilim emerge from below the city. Then we can all join them when they send word back to us."
"I'd like to join that team," said Snape. "As you know, I'm well versed in the techniques of spying, so I could be of great help to them."
"Thank you, Severus. I was hoping you'd say that. I'll see Fudge immediately - the sooner we know how to get at them, the sooner we can attack."
Dumbledore and Snape walked over to the Ministry of Magic tents and walked inside. A few minutes later, they came back out with Marcus Heatherington-Jones, who ran quickly over to a line of tents, newly erected to house the five teams of Aurors.
Sirius and Oliver briefed John Ballot and his team, the one selected by Marcus to carry out the spying mission, on what they would find when they arrived at Petra. John made a final check that all his Aurors were equipped with the Muggle communication devices and then they walked over to stand with Snape, who held out the Portkey for them all to grab. Oliver reflected sadly on all the new faces in the team that had once been his - he had only known John - and he shook his head at the realisation that the rest of his old comrades had fallen victim to the conflict.
After Snape and the others had gone, Sirius and Oliver walked back to the six youngsters and the rest of the protectors, who were waiting to start yet another foray in pursuit of Death Eaters. Dumbledore had consented to one more action, but had then insisted that they rest up ready for the coming conflict in the desert.
"I wonder where we'll end up this time?" asked Ron. "I hope it's the southern part of America - Eastern Europe is even colder than Wales!"
Harry, Hermione and Draco disappeared, followed a minute or so later by the rest of the group.
"This way," said Snape, leading the way into the sandy clearing in front of the Treasury building at Petra.
"What do you suggest Severus?" asked John, happy to rely on the greater spying experience of the Potions Master.
"We checked around this area when we were here earlier," he replied, and then pointed to the wide track leading to the right. "The centre of Petra is most probably that way."
John motioned for his team to split up and hug the sides of the cliffs, and then he and Snape followed them as they all made their way cautiously along the track.
"What exactly are we looking for?" asked John quietly. "Should we expect to find some sort of entrance going down below ground?"
"I very much doubt it John," replied Snape. "Since not even the archaeologists have found a trace of Irem, I'd expect the entrance to be very well concealed, and most probably protected by a magical spell."
"So how are we going to find it?"
"All we can do, I think, is to spread the team out around the city and wait for something to happen - the Nephilim are bound to come out sooner or later. But be sure to tell everyone to remain well hidden, and when the Nephilim appear, not to do anything to give themselves away. We'll just let them go, and then follow them back to their lair when they return."
"I'd better send one of them back to the Treasury building," said John. "For all we know, the entrance could be there somewhere, even though you checked it out earlier."
Snape nodded and walked quietly alongside John. After about three hundred yards or so, the track started to widen, and they came to the centre of the city. John directed several of his Aurors to hide among some of the ruined structures, strategically placed to afford the maximum view of the surrounding area, and then led the remaining team members further. After half an hour, only Snape, John and one other remained, everyone else having been allocated a vantage point.
John left his last Auror at the base of a path, signposted as the way up to 'El-Deir', and then walked with Snape along a rising path up to a monument that stood on a hill overlooking the city centre. There they settled down to wait amid some fallen masonry towards the edge of the hill, looking out over a fairly wide expanse of the city.
For the next two hours nothing stirred down in the derelict city. Snape looked up and saw the sun approach the red cliffs. "It's going to be dark soon," he said, and then stiffened as John caught his arm and eased him further down towards the ground.
Snape followed John's nod and looked in the direction of the path leading up to El-Deir. He shuddered when he caught sight of a large number of ten-foot tall horrors trundling down the path, and listened as John whispered into his radio to warn the rest of his team. The Auror hidden at the bottom of the path tried to push himself further into his hiding place as the monsters streamed past his position, and hoped that they couldn't hear the thudding of his heart as it beat rapidly inside his chest.
Everybody let out a sigh of relief when the Nephilim disappeared from sight, finally filing out through the cleft in the cliff walls and out into the desert.
"Get your men down to the start of that path," said Snape, getting up from his cramped position. "We'll have to find places to hide up there and try to spot where they go when they return."
Just over half an hour later, John and Snape looked down onto the imposing building that was El-Deir from their position high up on the cliff wall. The rest of the team was positioned around the tops of the cliffs overlooking the monastery, and one - a brave volunteer - was actually inside. They had all helped to cover the man with rocks taken from the floor inside the building, making sure to leave a small spy-hole so that he had an uninterrupted view.
It was quite dark when they heard the deep-throated laughter coming from the trail leading into the monastery enclosure. Snape frowned at the evil sound, knowing that it was as a result of a successful raid. He wondered grimly how many poor souls had been taken this night. Again they all hunkered down when they saw the first of the monsters come into sight. They were laughing and remonstrating among themselves, and John hoped that their preoccupation would help to keep his Auror safe inside the building.
For the next five minutes they streamed through the gap in the cliff and walked into El-Deir. Finally, all was silent and they all scrambled down to the lone Auror, who was waiting at the entrance to the building.
"Did you spot where they went?" asked Snape.
The Auror nodded. "They went to a low sort of altar at the back of the chamber. The first was holding a black arrow-shaped thing - he must have placed it somewhere behind the altar. Then the altar rose up to leave a hole in the ground with steps leading down - they went down, five at a time, the ones at the top waiting for a few moments before following on down."
"Let's take a closer look inside," said John.
They went into the chamber and walked over to the altar, where Snape knelt on the floor, holding his illuminated wand low to the ground. "There's a depression here," he said. "That arrow-shaped thing must be some sort of magical key."
"So how are we going to get down there?" asked John. "We haven't got a key!"
"We don't!" exclaimed Snape. "It's as I thought - and there's probably another process they go through after this altar stone is removed. They must have been waiting for that process to be completed before each group of five followed them down. We've found where the entrance to Irem is, but I'm afraid it doesn't help us very much. We'll just have to find another way in, somehow."
"But how are we going to do that?" asked John. "I wouldn't know how to go about finding it!"
"Neither would I," said Snape. "I think we'll have to rely on the special powers of the Anima Summas to do that."
Everyone was relieved when Snape and the team returned to Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad. Dumbledore, in particular, had been very relieved that the Nephilim hadn't been able to detect the Aurors - he'd feared that they'd be able to 'smell' the souls of the hidden team. But although the entrance to Irem was barred to them, at least they now knew that a large force could remain hidden, provided that great caution was exercised, while another entrance was sought.
They had decided to take their forces into Petra and set up camp well away from the path the Nephilim took from their lair beneath El-Deir down to the cleft in the cliffs. Snape, anticipating the move, had relocated the Portkey away from the cleft to the far north east of the city - in a deep wadi.
The hanging valley of Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad was almost deserted after the last of Dumbledore's force of about 135 left for Petra the following night. The force was joined at the last moment by 'Mad Eye' Moody and several of his best trainees. He said that there was not a chance in hell that he'd miss out on the action. Only Winky and Dobby remained to serve Jules, Fudge and his few remaining staff, together with one or two of the French contingent. Demont, Anne-Marie and most of their French colleagues had returned to France a few days ago, desperate to gather together the remaining ministry employees who were scattered around the country in small outlying offices and facilities. They also wanted to recruit a lot more people from the magical community to build up their depleted ranks of Aurors.
The first thing that Dumbledore did was to place powerful wards around their campsite, while Marcus directed several Aurors to keep a look out at the top of the steep sided wadi. Then the headmaster called a meeting to work out their strategy for finding a way down to Irem, and what they'd do when they got there. It was decided that only Harry and Hermione would search for an alternative entrance - it would be less likely that only two roaming around the ancient city would be spotted by any observant Death Eater or Nephilim.
"We can look at the places closest to the campsite first," said Hermione as they all studied the map of Petra, which Ginny had earlier found in the library. "We can check along the north wall of the city - it'll be easy to keep out of sight there - and onto that line of rock tombs leading into the centre. We'll have to be careful when we get there though - we'll be in plain view of anyone watching from the path up to El-Deir."
"Haven't you got a spell to make you invisible?" asked Ron.
Harry looked at Hermione, searching deep within his newly acquired memory of ancient spells. "There might be one," he said. "It's similar to the protective force field we can generate."
Hermione nodded. "I think it should keep us concealed."
They looked up when one of the guards rushed into the tent. "There's movement towards the centre of the city," he said. "It's hard to make it out in the dark, but judging from all the illuminated wands we can see, I'd say there's a large force of Death Eaters out there."
"You stay here," said Sirius, as he nodded for Harry and Oliver to join him. They ran quickly out of the tent and scrambled up the side of the wadi behind the Auror.
"There." The auror pointed to the middle of the city, where a row of moving lights wound their way up towards the start of the path leading up to El-Deir.
Harry clasped his hand to his forehead as he felt the first twinges of pain in his scar. "He's there," he said. "Voldemort's with them."
Sirius counted roughly a hundred and fifty moving lights, and watched until the last of them disappeared up the path. Then the three went back down into the wadi and walked into the tent.
"He's arrived," said Sirius. "Harry's scar started hurting - I counted about a hundred and fifty of them." Oliver nodded in agreement.
"We'd better get some sleep," said Dumbledore. "Tomorrow's going to be a very hard day for us all."
Harry and Hermione started their search just after dawn the following morning. Everyone was there to see them off, except Ron, who was still finishing his breakfast. Before they climbed out of the wadi, they held hands and said the spell they'd thought of the previous night. At first, the familiar silvery blue light shot from their upraised hands and fanned out to cover them. Then it shimmered and disappeared, as did Harry and Hermione.
"Cool!" exclaimed Ginny. "Are you still there?"
"We're still here, Ginny," said Harry, "but not for long. We'll see you later, hopefully with good news."
They walked towards a ruined tower that marked the corner of the north wall of the city, and spent a few minutes checking for anything unusual. Then, not finding anything, they walked along the crumbling wall towards a line of tombs cut into the rock. They looked closely at the wall as they walked, looking for any odd formation or inscription, but they could see nothing of interest.
Hermione checked the map when they reached the first of the tombs. "It's the tomb of Sextius Florentinus," she said. "He was the Roman governor of the city in the second century."
They looked up at the swirling patterns in the red sandstone rock, and the open entrance that led into the dark interior.
"The outside looks like a face," muttered Harry. "And the doorway looks like a gaping maw. Very odd."
They walked slowly into the dark interior of the tomb, and found that they had to end their invisibility spell so that they could use their wands to illuminate the place - the light couldn't escape from the force field. It wasn't very big inside, just a small chamber with a niche cut into the rock wall at the back to hold the body of the ancient Roman governor. Thankfully, he wasn't in residence any longer.
"There's something here," said Hermione. "I can feel it - a sort of tingling sensation coming from the left-hand corner."
Harry caught hold of Hermione's hand and led her over to the roughly hewn corner of the tomb. They raised their wands and closely examined the walls and floor, looking for the source of the magical irritation. Hermione felt her wand being drawn to a spot on the rock about four feet above the floor, but when she looked at it closely, there didn't appear to be anything there.
She shook her head in frustration. "There's something drawing me to this area of rock," she said, "but I can't see anything!"
She placed her wand on the wall and watched, fascinated, as it started to move under its own volition, scraping over the rock right into the corner to the right and then along the back wall for a few inches, where it came to rest. Harry lowered his arm and placed his wand next to Hermione's, then jumped as the spot where their wands touched started to shimmer and glow. The outlines of two hieroglyphic characters slowly appeared on the face of the rock, shining with a silvery glow against the dark red sandstone.
"Open me," said Hermione, translating the ancient Egyptian.
Harry placed his wand directly on the glyphs and said, "ALOHOMORA."
They turned their heads at the sound of rock moving against rock and walked over to the niche in the back wall. The stone slab that had been laid in the niche to support the Roman governor's body had moved into a recess at the side, revealing a dark opening.
"Do you think this is it?" asked Harry. "The way down to Irem?"
"I don't know, Harry," said Hermione doubtfully. "It's all a bit… too convenient don't you think? We've only been searching for about half an hour."
Harry grinned at the sceptical look on his girlfriend's face. "We're not on the quest any longer, Hermione. I think you've come to expect problems to be complicated and difficult to solve - just accept that we've had a bit of luck for a change."
"I don't know, Harry…" she said, still sceptical.
"Look, Osiris and Isis probably left that message when they came here. They probably found this back-door entrance to the city, and marked the place for their helpers to follow them down or something."
"Well if that's the case, there's definitely something fishy about it! The tomb wouldn't have been here in Osiris and Isis' time!" Hermione now had a determined look on her face.
"The Roman tomb might not have been," Harry persisted, "but it was probably a more ancient tomb or cave that was converted into a tomb, and the outside walls decorated."
"I wish I had your optimism," she said. "And we don't even know if it leads down to the city."
"Well there's only one way to find out."
Harry leaned over and lowered his wand into the opening, seeing that it dropped down to a rough rocky path about six feet below, which sloped down to the left. He jumped up onto the lip of the opening and eased himself down, bracing his arms on the sides as he lowered himself down to the floor.
"Come on, I'll help you," he whispered as he looked up at Hermione's face staring down at him from the opening above.
Hermione's head disappeared, to be replaced by her legs as they dangled down into the gap. Harry reached up and caught around her waist, supporting her as she dropped down beside him. They stood looking at each other, their faces very close together, as they held each other tight for a few moments. Then they reluctantly broke apart and held their illuminated wands in front of them to look at their surroundings. Then they shuffled down the rocky path to the left, stopping when it turned to the right and bent back on itself at a 180-degree angle. They followed the path on down, as it doglegged to the left and right several times - always leading lower beneath the ground.
After a few minutes, the path levelled off and turned abruptly to the right. Harry caught Hermione's hand and eased her behind him as he peeked around the corner.
"There's a short corridor about ten feet long," he whispered. "Then it looks like it opens out onto a larger area. We'd better put our wands out."
They walked slowly into the corridor, feeling their way along in the darkness, until they reached the far end, and stopped once more as they peered out into the gloom. They couldn't see very much - it was too dark - although there appeared to be a dull glow far to their right.
"There's something over there," said Harry, pointing in the direction of the diffuse light.
"Shhhh," whispered Hermione, cocking her head to the side. "I think I can hear something."
They both listened intently, hearing the faint sounds of low, guttural voices. As their eyes became more accustomed to the gloom, they could just make out the shapes of two large pillars rising from the floor, not more than ten yards away from where they stood.
"This must be Irem," whispered Hermione. "The City of Pillars."
"And those voices must be the Nephilim," added Harry. "I wonder where Voldemort is?" He reached up and felt his scar, which had started to tingle, but not painfully so. "He's here, but he can't be very close to us."
"We'd better get back up, Harry," whispered Hermione. "We've got to tell the rest what we've found."
Lord Voldemort growled at Lucius and Crabbe, "Why are they keeping us waiting so long!"
Voldemort had led his forces into Irem the previous night after receiving a summons from Satani, the leader of the Nephilim. Voldemort had taken the decision to keep his elite Death Eaters by his side wherever he went, hoping that they'd attract the Anima Summas - but so far, it hadn't worked. When they'd arrived, Satani had told Voldemort that he and his followers were needed to open the Gate, so that the Nephilim, now fully sated by the souls they'd devoured, could regurgitate some of them through the portal to their remaining numbers still in the Dark Realm. But he'd sent them to the far end of the city to await his call - he'd said that they had to enact a long and complicated ritual within the Temple of Gates to prepare for the regurgitation process, which must remain hidden from the eyes of the uninitiated.
Lucius had found a large building built into the far cliff face, suitable for holding their forces, and there they'd waited all night and into the morning. Almost all the Death Eaters had slept, but Voldemort couldn't. He was impatient to open the Gate and then return to his main objective of flushing out the Anima Summas. And when he'd disposed of them, after taking their ancient knowledge and spells for himself, he'd concentrate on the task of dealing with the Nephilim.
Voldemort had no doubt that Satani intended to kill him as soon as his usefulness was at an end, but before that happened, his powers would be enhanced by Potter and Granger - and he still had the Disc of Gates, of course.
Wormtail and Travis, who'd been sent to the far end of the city to spy on what was going on in the Temple of Gates, rushed into the building, panting from the exertions of their long run.
"My Lord," said Wormtail, gasping to regain his breath. "There's a force of Aurors at the far right corner of the city - we saw them file out of a tunnel in the rock wall."
"Who's leading them?" hissed Voldemort.
Travis shook his head as he answered. "They were too far away to get a good look. We saw about fifty of them, and more were pouring out of the tunnel when we decided to come straight back here to tell you."
"We thought that you'd want to know as soon as possible," added Wormtail.
Voldemort grunted, then called for his men to follow him towards the centre of the city.
"They'll be attracted towards all that noise that the Nephilim are making in the Temple of Gates," said Voldemort, addressing Lucius and Crabbe as they walked at the head of the Death Eater force along a wide avenue. "Crabbe - take Travis, Wormtail and half my servants and go towards the far right of the city. When you hear the sound of battle, take them from behind. Lucius, we'll take the rest of the men and aim to ambush them before they reach the temple."
The Death Eaters split ranks when they reached the centre of the city, half branching to the right and half to the left. As they approached the far left corner of the cavern, Voldemort's group moved with a lot more caution - keeping their eyes and ears peeled for movement.
"They can't have come past this spot yet," said Lucius. "Shall I position the men ready for an ambush?"
Voldemort nodded. "When you've finished, come back to wait by my side. I want you to relay my orders to the others when the fighting starts."
A little earlier, Marcus Heatherington-Jones had been the first one to emerge from the tunnel, closely followed by John Ballot and three teams of Aurors. Marcus had insisted that his men enter the city first to make sure that it was safe for the rest to follow on behind.
"It seems to be all clear, Professor," John whispered as he went back into the tunnel and spoke to Dumbledore. "But there's strange noises coming from the far end of the city, and we can see an odd greenish glow coming from the same direction. It's not very bright, but at least it gives off enough diffuse light to just make our way in the gloom."
Dumbledore nodded and turned to Sirius, gesturing for him to lead the others out into the City of Pillars. The protectors emerged from the tunnel, surrounding the six teens and Professor Dumbledore. Then came Fred, George, Alicia, Angelina, Lee, Snape, Flitwick, McGonagall, 'Mad Eye' and his three trainees, the ministry staff and the last two teams of Aurors bringing up the rear.
Marcus held up his hand before they proceeded into the city and quietly called for the team-leaders, Sirius and Dumbledore to join him at the head of the column. "These buildings and avenues look to be very tightly packed," he said. "I think we'd better not use the automated capabilities of the Relocators - it'll cause as much confusion to our men as it will to the Death Eaters. Pass the message that they should be used in manual mode - like the original Relocators."
Marcus sent John Ballot and his team to scout ahead along the path that skirted the right-hand wall that enclosed the city, and another team further into the ruins and along a parallel path, protecting their left flank. They proceeded slowly, exercising great caution, hearing the noise made by the Nephilim become louder with every step they took.
"Whatever they're doing," said Dumbledore, "seems to be building to a crescendo."
"What about Voldemort?" asked Harry. "Do you think he's with them?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "There's no way of knowing that, Harry. How's your scar?"
"It's tingling, Professor, and it seems to be getting worse."
Hermione reached out and held Harry's hand, sending soothing thoughts into his mind, trying to ease his discomfort. Harry grinned at her - it certainly seemed to be helping. His mind was working overtime now, anticipating the coming conflict and trying to work out how he and Hermione could best deal with the evil forces that were so near at last. He sent his thoughts to his girlfriend, feeling her own mixture of excitement and fear. Three years - three long years on the quest. And now, all they had learned and accumulated on those quests would very soon be put to the ultimate test. They felt confident in their newly acquired abilities - but they hoped that they would be up to the task when it came down to the bottom line, as it inevitably would.
They walked on - the light from the far end of the city was now making it a lot easier for them to see the path ahead. They passed a broad avenue to their left, leading into the depths of the city, but they ignored it and carried straight on, keeping the cliff wall to their immediate right. The group was spread out over a distance of about a hundred yards along the path.
At the front of the group, John Ballot could just make out, in the distance, where the path came up to the far wall. The noise and glow was now over towards their left, coming from a building set against the back wall. He stopped, and held up his hand. Some instinct born of long experience in the field was telling him that all was not well. He turned and led his men back towards the main group following on behind and walked up to Sirius and Marcus.
"There's something wrong," he said. "I don't know what exactly, but I can feel it in my bones - I think we should branch off into the city and find another way."
"Do you think there's a trap…" Sirius started to say, but dropped to the floor, pulling Ceri down beside him when he heard and saw curses flashing towards them from the building on the left of the path about fifty yards ahead.
"Get down, all of you," he shouted, but needn't have bothered - they'd all already followed Sirius' lead and flung themselves down, watching the beams of energy whiz harmlessly overhead.
"We've got to get off this path," shouted Marcus. "You and your team cover us John - we'll get further into the city and try to take them from that side."
John's team laid down a barrage of spells, aiming in the general direction of the ambushers, allowing Marcus and the rest to crawl across to the cover of the buildings on their left, and then through the narrow alleys to the next walkway where they met up with the flanking team of Aurors.
John then directed his team to ease their way across to the comparative safety of the buildings, and not before time as a large group of Death Eaters came charging up the path behind them, peppering their position with powerful spells that flung showers of masonry down just in front of where they lay.
Marcus, hearing the sounds of spells from their rear, sent two teams to help John and his men, while he led the remaining two teams into the jumble of structures towards their first attackers, leaving the rest sheltering amongst the ancient buildings. The sounds of curses and spells filled the air, as the two opposing sides came to grips with each other. A loud explosion rocked the city as Voldemort unleashed an incredibly powerful spell from the Disc of Gates towards the buildings flanking the path, destroying two of the structures and burying ten of John's group beneath a jumble of masonry.
Another explosion buried five more Aurors beneath falling rubble, forcing John and the remaining Aurors further back into the city, where they joined up with Dumbledore and his group.
"Voldemort's using the Disc," gasped John. "We haven't got a hope."
"The Nephilim!" shouted Sirius, seeing several huge shapes moving quickly towards them from behind.
"Do what you can to hold off the Death Eaters here," said Dumbledore, piercing John Ballot with a determined stare. "I'll see what I can do to keep those monsters at bay."
Ten huge Nephilim emerged from the gloom, not forty yards away, their slobbering mouths and low growls indicating that they were out for more than just blood. The six friends and their protectors joined up with John's men, lending their support to the beleaguered Aurors. Harry and Hermione joined hands and sent spell after spell at the attackers, immobilising several groups, while at the same time staring intently into the gloom, scouring the area for any sign of Voldemort.
Dumbledore stood alone against the ten Nephilim, who roared as they approached his position. He stood up straight, pointed his wand at a spot just in front of them, and spoke the spell that sent a bright green beam, which hit the ground five yards from the leading ogre, who took two steps forward and three back as he collided with the powerful force field that rose from the ground.
The Nephilim roared with frustration as they tried to break through, but they were effectively blocked. The monster on their left flank grunted and called for his colleagues to abandon their efforts to break through, hearing the sounds of fighting over towards their left. They quickly turned and faded into the alleyways, heading towards Marcus and his group.
"Harry, Hermione!" shouted Dumbledore. The pair ran quickly over to the headmaster - their powerful spells had held up the attacking Death Eaters and forced them to take cover, giving Sirius and the others time to regroup and find better cover.
Dumbledore pointed in the direction where the Nephilim had disappeared. "Help me contain those Nephilim - they've gone after Marcus and his Aurors."
The three moved swiftly, listening to the sounds of spells to guide them, but glanced at each other worriedly when the sounds started to ease, only to be replaced by the heartrending sound of terrified screams and shouts. They redoubled their speed, and soon came upon the terrible scene - the Nephilim had taken the Aurors unawares from behind, and had decimated their numbers. The empty shells of almost thirty of them lay on the ground, their souls ripped from their bodies, while Marcus and his remaining men huddled together behind a low wall, trying to keep the huge shapes at bay by laying down a barrage of spells - most of which bounced harmlessly off the beasts. Their Relocators had been completely ineffective against the unconventional attack of the Nephilim.
Dumbledore once more sent the spell that erected a barrier between the Nephilim and the Aurors, while Harry and Hermione joined hands and pointed their palms at the slobbering attackers, who turned and started towards them.
"NAHU DUGU ISTEN." They watched as the silvery-blue beam covered the Nephilim and then faded. The Nephilim stopped in their tracks and a glazed expression entered their eyes. Then they turned and walked slowly back in the direction of the temple.
Lucius and the other Death Eaters had watched the action unfold from the windows of the buildings in which they were hiding. Initially, they laughed as the Nephilim started to eat the souls of the Aurors, happy to be cast in the role of mere spectators, but shrank back in fear when Dumbledore and the Anima Summas had appeared. Lord Voldemort, who had made a brief foray to help his men attacking John Ballot's group, returned to Lucius' side just as the Nephilim were banished back to the temple.
"Potter!" he hissed, and raised the Disc of Gates, ready to send the spell he'd been reserving for the Anima Summas. But he was frustrated when he found that Marcus and his remaining ten Aurors obscured his aim as they ran swiftly towards Dumbledore and the two teens, and then followed them back towards their main group.
"Follow them!" shouted Voldemort as he led his men out of the buildings. "Some of you try to flush out Potter and Granger. Get them to chase you back here so that I can get one good shot at them." Then he put his hand on Lucius' arm. "Wait here with me, Lucius."
Meanwhile, Dumbledore and his group had rejoined the others, who had arranged themselves behind cover in a rough semi-circle to repel the Death Eaters attacking from the direction of the path that skirted the boundary cliff walls of the city. The defensive circle was completed with the arrival of Marcus and the others, and Harry and Hermione moved from building to building trying to join back up with their four friends.
But some of the Death Eaters had started to disperse around to the sides, making the Aurors constantly adjust their positions to keep them at bay. Wormtail, Travis and two others crept silently around the side of a tall building. Travis held up his hand and grinned when he spotted Ron, Margot and Ginny crouching behind a low wall about ten yards away, their backs fully exposed to their fire. He gestured for the other three to follow him from behind the building, and then they pointed their wands, ready to send the three teens into oblivion.
But they never managed to say the spells - the ghostly form of Draco Malfoy flew down from his vantage point overlooking his friends and moaned eerily as he drifted towards the attackers, moving right through the astonished Wormtail and Travis, causing them to yell with fright as they felt the cold enter their bodies. Ron turned and sent a stunning spell, which whizzed past Wormtail's head, but Ginny and Margot were more accurate as their spells caught the other two Death Eaters, sending them to the ground, unconscious. Travis and Wormtail turned and rushed behind the cover of the building and made their way back to the safety of the main Death Eater force.
Harry and Hermione arrived to hear the three thank Draco for his timely intervention, and sank down beside them.
"Ten of those Nephilim attacked Marcus' group," said Hermione. "We managed to calm them down and send them back to the their temple, but not before they sucked the souls out of thirty Aurors. If the rest of them join the fight, I dread to think what will happen."
"We're going over there to try to stop them coming out," said Harry. "You stay here with Sirius and the others." He pointed to a low building about fifteen yards to the left. "They're in there."
"We'd better go towards the centre of the city and approach the temple from that side," said Hermione. Harry nodded and caught her hand as they moved quickly, ducking low to the ground, back towards the main thoroughfare they'd spotted earlier.
Ron glanced at the two girls and whispered, "I'm not letting them face those things on their own - I'm going to follow them in case they need some help. Coming Draco?"
Ron moved swiftly in the direction that Harry and Hermione had gone, not waiting for Draco to answer, but turned when he heard footsteps behind him. "You two stay with Sirius," he gasped when he saw Ginny and Margot following him.
"Ron's right," added Draco. "It'll be too dangerous where we're going."
"Bog off!" exclaimed Ginny, turning towards Margot and winking. "We've stuck together all this time, and we're not splitting up now!"
Ron sighed, but knew better than to argue any further - not only would it be a complete waste of breath, it might attract the attentions of any lurking Death Eaters. He turned and ran quickly after his two friends, not wanting to let them get too far in front. The sounds of fighting gradually diminished as the four moved towards the centre of the city, always keeping the Anima Summas just within their sight.
Alicia nudged Fred and nodded her head over towards the right. She leaned close and whispered in his ear, "I saw movement over there - I think some of them are trying to get around behind us."
Fred likewise nudged George and Lee, while Alicia whispered into Angelina's ear. George told the ministry employees what they were going to do, then the five moved out from behind their cover and crept quietly in the direction of the flanking Death Eaters. Fred held up his hand and stopped when he heard the scrape of a shoe against the rough ground just around the corner of the building they were standing behind.
He turned and whispered quietly into George's ear, "Take the others around the other side of the building and come up behind them - I'll keep them busy on this side."
Fred waited until the other four disappeared around the back end of the building, and smiled at Alicia, who looked worriedly at him, and then took a deep breath. He ran quickly from behind his cover onto the rough path that ran alongside the building, and stared at the eight Death Eaters as he poked out his tongue, while at the same time jamming his thumbs into his ears and wagging his fingers at them in the age-old gesture of contempt.
The Death Eaters were initially taken aback, but soon recovered and sent eight powerful beams towards Fred, who Relocated safely five yards to his right. Again the Death Eaters sent their curses, and again Fred's Relocator moved him back to safety behind the cover of the building. The black-cloaked figures went to follow, but were sent reeling by the volley of spells that hit them from behind. Fred stepped back out from behind the building and added his stunning spells to those that continued to be flung by his friends.
They all looked down with satisfaction at the eight unconscious Death Eaters, and Alicia hugged her boyfriend. "You're a stupid git!" she hissed. "You didn't have to expose yourself like that - we could have taken them without that performance!"
Fred just smiled, the adrenalin pumping through his veins, and led the group back to their original position.
Harry and Hermione approached the temple from the left-hand side, recoiling from the hideous form of the petrified Plonger, the oblivious sentinel gazing out onto the city from his frozen pose beside the temple entrance. The pair averted their eyes and concentrated on the eerie glow issuing from the doorway, but turned quickly when they heard footsteps approaching from behind.
"Don't look at that!" hissed Harry as he saw Draco and his three friends come into view. Of course, all four glanced up and just caught sight of the right side of Plonger's face before staggering against the wall of the temple, feeling sick. Draco, obviously, didn't feel sick, but he still felt some of the horror that the unfortunate Death Eater must have felt before his death.
"What the hell are you doing here!" said Harry. "We told you to stay with the others!"
"We came just in case you need a bit of help with that lot," said Ron, looking towards the temple entrance.
Hermione gasped, her eyes full of worry. "Stay outside!" she said pointedly. "And if they get past us, just run for it!"
Harry held his girlfriends hand and they edged towards the doorway, peering inside at the demonic scene. They both gasped when they saw the horror of what was going on. The circular chamber was filled with the huge, prancing forms of the Nephilim, although ten of them stood quietly at the back, seemingly unaware of the furore that was going on around them. Just above the top of a black alter at the centre of temple floated a shimmering, sickly green mass - a roughly spherical jumble of writhing light. Within the light, the pair could see the agonised undulations of what must have been the souls that the Nephilim had captured. One of the Nephilim stood at the top of the steps leading up at the altar, looking back down at his colleagues, an evil smile on his face, as he addressed them.
Harry and Hermione moved further into the doorway, trying to get a better view of the features on the ugly face of the Nephilim at the top of the altar. "Satan!" breathed Hermione, her face twisting in distaste.
The four friends moved to stand behind Harry and Hermione when they heard the dreaded name, wanting to see what the fabled devil looked like. They watched and listened.
"It is done!" said Satani, his powerful voice filling the chamber. "The soul food is now ready to be sent to our colleagues who wait impatiently in the Dark Realm. Soon, our number will be sufficient to impose our will on this realm. Dark times, the like of which these puny beings have not seen for thousands of years, will soon be upon them."
He paused, raising his hand and pointing at the doorway. "We have more guests," he said, smiling evilly at Harry, Hermione and their friends. "It is not too late for them to join the food sphere."
The Nephilim stopped their prancing and turned to face the doorway, their eyes gleaming evilly as they saw the youngsters standing there. They started to surge forward, but stopped when they heard the command from Satani. "Hold for a moment! There is one that I wish to feed on myself. Her aura of innocence fills me with great longing."
Satani's evil gaze had alighted on Ginny. He pointed his finger at her and spoke several unintelligible words. A thin green beam emerged from his fingertip and alighted on the terrified redhead. Then, her face contorted in agony as she felt a terrible wrenching deep inside her very being.
Draco, seeing what was about to happen, flew swiftly into the room and swooped up to the altar, swirling around Satani's ugly head. The Nephilim, distracted by the unexpected attack, broke his concentration and the thin beam of light faded. Ginny staggered back against the side of the entranceway, gasping as she tried to recover her senses. Satani roared and reached out towards Draco, trying to grab hold of the ghost and suck him into his gaping maw.
Draco stopped for a moment and blinked. Then he grinned and spoke. "What's the matter Satan? Can't you eat me? No - of course you can't - I'm a ghost already!"
Again Satani roared, realising that the Nephilim could feed only on souls freshly extracted from the living physical body, but he again extended his hand and sent a broader beam of green light that surrounded Draco in an eerie green glow. Draco's eyes flew wide and he tried to drift back to his friends, but he couldn't move, held firm in the strange green force field.
Harry and Hermione joined hands and pointed their palms at the green glow surrounding Draco. "WUSSURU," they shouted. The green glow sparked for a few moments and then dissipated, releasing Draco from its hold and allowing him to float back towards his friends.
Satani's eyes narrowed, looking intently at Harry and Hermione. "The Anima Summas," he whispered, more to himself than to the other Nephilim. Then he raised his head higher and pointed at them. "Take them!" he shouted.
Harry and Hermione turned and pointed their palms at their four friends, saying a spell that enclosed them in a shimmering silvery-blue light and out of harm's way. Then they turned back to face the Nephilim hoard that was quickly approaching, listening with distaste to their joyous shouts of anticipation.
The situation was becoming very grim, but despite their backs being firmly pressed against the proverbial wall, little Professor Flitwick and Professor McGonagall seemed to be enjoying themselves. They'd worked out a ploy and were putting it into practice with great vigour and enthusiasm.
They were crouched behind a mound of rubble, but Professor Flitwick needn't have bothered - his diminutive form would have been hidden even if he'd stood up straight. McGonagall stood on tiptoes and peered over the top of rubble. Then she ducked back down when she saw a curse coming from the corner of a building twenty yards to her right.
"Over to the right, Filius. Just at the corner of the large building," she whispered.
Flitwick nodded and jumped up into the air, spotting his target the instant his head popped up over the top of their cover. He quickly aimed his wand and sent a charm at the corner of the building. As soon as his feet landed back on the ground, McGonagall stretched up once more and held her wand towards their target.
A loud shriek could be clearly heard and a terrified Death Eater rushed from behind the building, staring wide-eyed at the huge dragon that was stalking him. McGonagall took more precise aim and sent a stunning spell, which hit the Death Eater on the side of his head. He sank down to the ground, unconscious, while the dragon just popped out of existence.
"Did you get him Minerva?" asked Flitwick.
McGonagall grinned and nodded. "That was a very impressive dragon you conjured up Filius."
The little professor ginned in turn and pointed to the top of the mound of rubble, wanting McGonagall to spot the next target.
Further along the defensive line, Sirius ducked instinctively as a powerful curse hit the top of the wall behind which he was standing, showering him with bits of debris. He stood back up and sent a spell in return, but the Death Eater had already ducked down behind his cover out of harm's way.
Sirius had led the protectors over to Marcus' position, helping to bolster his depleted forces against the chasing Death Eaters. The fight was furious and deadly - no quarter was asked or given. Both sides knew that this was the definitive battle in the conflict - and the future of the world hung in the balance. But the balance was tipping in the Death Eaters' favour.
Sirius looked around their defensive position, quickly assessing their remaining number. "Fifty left - only fifty!" he breathed. Then he turned to Ceri and Remus who stood at his side. "Where're Harry and the others!"
Ceri shook her head. "They went over to the other four when we came back with Marcus' group," she said, "but I haven't seen them since."
Sirius gasped in frustration, and then ducked once more as a portion of the wall above his head was once more reduced to rubble. He wasn't to know that Voldemort's forces had also been decimated by the battle - mostly by the Anima Summas who had effectively isolated several large groups so that they could no longer take part in the fight. Even Voldemort was unaware of his losses - only eighty Death Eaters remained, but they still outnumbered the Aurors and their supporters, and still held the upper hand.
Voldemort stood back from his front-line troops, taking a position at the corner of a ruined temple where he could keep a look out for the Anima Summas. He held his ultimate weapon in check - wanting to reserve it for the moment when he unleashed the curse that would end the Anima Summas' existence on this Earth. For the moment, he was content to let his followers whittle away at the defenders.
Snape and Dumbledore crawled over to crouch beside Sirius, Remus and Ceri. "Severus has a plan that might just work," said Dumbledore.
Sirius nodded, but couldn't help pouring out his worries to the headmaster. "Professor - we've lost sight of Harry and the other five!"
"I wouldn't worry too much about them," said the assured voice of Dumbledore. "They can look after themselves - I suspect they've gone to tackle the Nephilim."
Sirius stared at the headmaster and gasped, but he was powerless to do anything about the situation. "What's your plan, Snape?" he asked.
"I've spotted a chink in their ranks," he said, pointing over his shoulder in the direction of the path that flanked the boundary wall of the city. "After Harry and Hermione took out a large part of their forces, I've been keeping an eye on that spot - and there hasn't been any activity there ever since. If some of us can sneak over there, we can come up behind the Death Eaters attacking from the edge of the city and even up the odds a bit. What do you say?"
"Let's try it," he replied, indicating for Ceri, Remus, Oliver, Katie and Flitwick to follow them. They kept low to the ground, running over to the right-hand side, where they found Fred and his group huddled behind a building. "Fred, George - come with us," he said. "You others had better stay in case our little surprise doesn't work out."
The nine moved swiftly to their right, down narrow alleyways and around buildings, most of which bore the signs of recent fighting, and into the gap spotted by Snape. As they moved closer to the path skirting the cliff that marked the edge of the city, they proceeded with great caution, their eyes and ears trying to detect where the attacking Death Eaters were. Snape stepped out onto the path and waved for the rest to follow when he saw that it was all clear. Soon, the sounds of curses and spells become louder and they started to walk into the jumble of buildings flanking the path, seeking out targets for their surprise attack.
Sirius stopped and held up his hand, directing his colleagues to either end of where he stood. There, their backs exposed to their full view, crouched more than twenty Death Eaters, rising from their cover every so often to fling curses at the defending Aurors further inside the city. Sirius held up three fingers and silently counted down for the attack to begin.
In the skirmish that followed, all twenty-four Death Eaters were stunned or otherwise immobilised, while in return, Oliver, Flitwick and Ceri sustained superficial cuts from the flying debris as the Dark forces panicked and flung wild, inaccurate curses at their attackers.
Sirius and Snape were congratulating themselves when a Flipendus curse came searing through the air and caught Remus low down on his ankle, twisting his foot around into a painful and distorted position. Sirius spun around and saw another ten Death Eaters emerge from behind a large pillar, flinging curses that sent everyone flying for cover. Sirius roared with anger when he saw Wormtail among the attackers. Sirius rose from behind a fallen chunk of stone and stared fixedly at his archenemy, pointing his wand at him as he put sixteen long years of pent up anger and frustration into the spell.
A bright beam of light shot from his wand and caught Wormtail in the middle of his stomach, the powerful Flipendus sending him reeling backwards until his progress was stopped by one of the massive pillars. Wormtail's eyes flew wide as he stared with disbelief at Sirius - then his eyes rolled up in their sockets as his life quickly drained away. He slid down the pillar to flop onto the ground, leaving a trail of blood from the back of his crushed skull.
Travis and Crabbe stared at their colleague in horror, as did the other seven Death Eaters, giving Snape and the others the opening to send them to the ground, stunned. Sirius continued to stare at Wormtail's body, not believing that at last the cruel betrayal of James and Lilly had been avenged.
He blinked as Ceri shook him, bringing him back to full awareness of his surroundings, and dragged him after the others, leaving Katie to do her best to ease Remus' agony with a temporary repair to his smashed ankle.
Sandwiched between the Aurors in front, and Sirius' group behind, the remaining twenty Death Eaters on that side of the battle stood no chance. Ten of them were stunned into unconsciousness, and the other ten quickly surrendered.
As Snape had hoped, the tide had turned. Voldemort looked on with horror when he saw the enemy run across to join the forces facing his remaining Death Eaters, correctly surmising that his forces on the other flank had fallen. He began to get desperate, realising that he was now outnumbered, and raised the Disc of Gates, sending out powerful beams of energy. Most of the defenders managed to avoid the terrible power of the Disc of Gates, but four of them weren't so lucky. 'Mad Eye' and his three trainees had been crouching inside one of the buildings when it took a direct hit from one of Voldemort's energy beams, reducing it to rubble. Dumbledore and the others looked on in horror when they saw 'Mad-eye's walking stick poking forlornly out from several huge chucks of masonry. Nothing else could be seen amid the destruction, and nothing stirred in its midst. Dumbledore quickly called the pitifully few Aurors and supporters together and covered them with a protective force field - it wouldn't stop the full force of one of Voldemort's powerful spells, but it would protect them from the flying masonry and debris they created.
The Death Eaters weren't so lucky - Voldemort didn't stop to think about protecting them from collateral damage as his spells whizzed around them, burying some under falling buildings. One errant curse crushed the base of one of the pillars, sending it tumbling to the city floor, and bringing down tons of rock and sand from the weakened ceiling above. Another ten Death Eaters were buried, but Dumbledore's spell saved his own remaining forces from inevitable death.
Roaring with frustration, Voldemort broke off his attack and gestured for Lucius and his remaining ten servants to follow him back towards the Temple of Gates, with the intention of seeking long overdue help from Satani and his fellow Nephilim.
Dumbledore waited for several minutes before lifting the protective force field, making sure that no more debris was left to fall from the heights above. Then he led the way across the city in pursuit of Lord Voldemort.
Harry and Hermione looked on in horror at the approaching hoard of Nephilim. They could see that the Nephilim were too numerous and spread out over the temple area for their 'normal' spells to be effective in the scant seconds they had left before they were overwhelmed.
They glanced at each other, each sending the same thought, 'Things can't get much worse that this! The special spell!'
They made sure that their rings touched as they held hands and spoke the spell that Anu had placed in their minds in Atlantis. They were entering new territory - each ancient spell they'd used up to now had been with their full knowledge; their full understanding of what would follow. But this was different - neither of them knew what would happen when they invoked the mysterious spell.
Their four friends, protected inside their force field, saw what happened next, but didn't really believe what they saw. Neither did the Nephilim as they stopped and stared at the amazing event that unfolded before their eyes.
Harry and Hermione stood immobile as a glowing silvery-blue light rose from their joined hands, and covered their bodies. The glow increased in intensity, becoming so intense that Harry and Hermione faded from view inside the blinding light. Then, in a flash of released energy, the light suddenly faded. But Harry and Hermione were no longer there.
Standing where they'd stood only moments before, was a single figure - a single glowing entity. The entity turned slowly, looking down at its body, scrutinising its arms as it held them before its gaze. Then, it spotted the four friends in the protective cocoon, and smiled, recognising them for what they were - its friends.
Ginny's mouth gaped open, staring at the glowing being with open admiration and awe. She saw long brown hair, a cute slightly upturned nose, deep green eyes and a scar at the side of its forehead. She saw Hermione and she saw Harry - merged into a single fabulous entity. Like her three friends beside her, she also saw and felt the incredible feeling of goodness that oozed from the entity. They weren't sure if it was an Akh - a Shining One - or something new, something completely beyond their ability to comprehend. They could only look on in wonder as Harry-Hermione turned once more and faced the Nephilim.
Satani recovered his composure, and ordered his Nephilim to attack. But he couldn't keep the deep-rooted fear out of his eyes. This was the very thing that he'd been afraid of, the reason he'd wanted Voldemort to kill the Anima Summas before he arrived from the Dark Realm. Now he could only hope.
The Nephilim crowded around the shining being, extending their hands to exert their evil power to get at its soul. But they couldn't even touch it. Their hands came up against an invisible barrier that defied their best attempts to break through. They slowly retreated into the temple, towards their leader, followed closely by Harry-Hermione.
"You must return to your own realm," said the voice of Harry-Hermione. "You threaten the harmony and well-being of the Physical Realm. You must go now."
Satani roared his defiance and sent a powerful beam of energy, which just dissipated harmlessly in the shining aura given off by the entity. The other Nephilim, taking the lead of Satani, also flung spells, but they too were completely ineffective.
Harry-Hermione looked sadly at the Nephilim and raised its hand. No spell was spoken, and no beam of light issued from the extend palm. But the Gate beyond the black altar suddenly opened in a flash of energy, its black core widening to form a shining portal of light.
Then, Harry-Hermione pointed its palm at the Nephilim hoard. Again, nothing was seen or heard, but the huge satanic forms were raised above the ground, and sent slowly towards the open gate. They cried out in fear and frustration as one by one, they were pulled through. Finally, only Satani remained in the Physical Realm, still silently staring in defiance at the shining being. Then, he too was sent through the portal, after which it closed in a blinding burst of white light.
The four friends watched as Harry-Hermione turned once more to face them. They marvelled as they saw it approach - it didn't walk - it just drifted serenely over the ground. It then lifted its hand once more, and the protective force field covering the friends dissipated. The entity smiled benignly at its friends, and then looked beyond them as Dumbledore and the others arrived, panting from their fast approach.
"Voldemort's still out…" began Dumbledore, but was struck dumb when he saw Harry-Hermione floating just beyond the four youngsters.
"Who… who're you?" asked Sirius, looking wide-eyed at the entity as he walked over to stand beside Ginny, but then just stared as he began to recognise the amalgamated features of Harry and Hermione.
"What… how?" asked Ceri, breaking into a smile when she saw what was before her, and felt the marvellous goodness radiating from it.
Then, without warning, the light surrounding Harry-Hermione started to flicker, and finally dissipated in a blinding flash of light, causing everyone to shield their eyes from the glare. When they looked once more, Harry and Hermione, now their normal two selves were sitting wearily on the ground. Their four friends and Sirius rushed up and hugged them closely - even Draco.
"That was something else!" exclaimed Ron.
"How are you feeling?" asked Margot.
"Tired," replied Hermione, smiling at Harry. "So tired."
They reached out their hands and made contact, smiling as they relived the incredible experience. Ever since becoming the Anima Summas, they'd each known what the other thought and how the other felt. But this was different - to actually be the other was something to be savoured.
Dumbledore had a tear in his eye as he looked at the pair, and beyond them into the empty temple. Then he spoke softly to them. "Voldemort and a few of his men are still here somewhere, and in your weakened state, you'll be no match for him if he gets close. We'd all better get out of this city - there'll be another and a better time for you to confront him."
Sirius bent down and put his arms around the pair. "Let me help you up," he said. Then his eyes opened wide as Harry clasped his hand to his scar, and saw that his eyes were screwed shut with pain. He quickly stood back up and stared as Lord Voldemort emerged from a small annex that stood at the side of the temple. His eyes shone with a maniacal fire, brighter than the dark glow that covered him in a protective shield. He had listened to the battle in the temple, and the useless attempts of the Nephilim to subdue the Anima Summas. Now he'd have to finish the job himself.
He held the Disc of Gates before him as he stood in the doorway of the annex, and sent a powerful beam of dark red light that seared a fiery path between Dumbledore's group and the six youngsters and Sirius. A bright red sheet of shimmering light rose from the ground where the beam had struck, effectively isolating Dumbledore and his group.
Voldemort grinned evilly as he surveyed Sirius and the six teens, laughing hysterically as the spells flung by Sirius and Ron bounced harmlessly off his protective shield. Then his eyes narrowed as he looked intently at the weary Anima Summas sitting on the ground.
Harry reached out and held Hermione's hand, sending his thoughts, 'We've got to try to protect the others.'
They slowly raised their free hands and whispered, "DADEX MER."
The silvery blue light shot from their hands and hovered for a few moments, and then the protective green light cascaded down to cover both themselves and their friends. But they were very weak after using the special spell - just as Anu said they would be - and the green protective force field didn't seem to be as bright as when they'd used it in the past.
Voldemort sneered. "Your pathetic magic won't save you or your friends Potter. Nothing can stand up against me and the Disc of Gates."
He pointed the disc at the group and shouted a spell. The dark crystal at the centre of the Disc flared and a powerful beam of energy emerged, slowly at first and then gathering momentum as it approached the green protective shield. It hit the shield towards the top, smashing its way through and gouging a deep hole in the ground behind. The protective shield vanished in a flash of energy, flinging Sirius and the youngsters to the ground beside the prostrate Harry and Hermione.
Voldemort raised his head and laughed loudly. Then the laughing suddenly stopped, and he snapped his head forwards, his thin lips curving into a contemptuous sneer as his red eyes stared pointedly at the Anima Summas.
He once more raised the Disc of Gates above his head, pointing it directly at Harry and Hermione. "Now I'll finish it!" he hissed. He then focused his mind on sending the special spell he'd reserved for just this moment - the spell that would suck the souls out of the Anima Summas and send them into the Dark Realm, where Satani and his followers could extract their full revenge.
"ABATU SHI DUGA KADINGIR," he yelled.
Dumbledore had tried almost everything he knew to break down the red barrier that isolated him and his group. His eyes were full of anguish as spell after spell failed to break through. Then, finally, his last gasp spell caused the red light to shimmer and then disappear. But he knew that it was too late for him to do anything to save Harry and Hermione. And he could only watch with the rest of them as they witnessed the horror.
Everyone stood frozen to the spot, shocked by the sudden appearance of the Dark Lord, and their inability to stop him. They could only stand and watch in horror as the black beam of energy issued from the Disc of Gates and sped towards the exhausted and defenceless Harry and Hermione.
Author's Notes : Please review this chapter. It's almost finished now - just one more chapter and an epilogue to go. Sorry about the cliffy - well not really - I just had to leave you with one final cliff-hanger, don't you think? There's a few images on my picture board relating to this chapter.
- Ginny's Map - showing the intersections of her drawn lines over the desert.
- Desert where the search for the Nephilim took place - with cliffs in the distance
- Tomb of Sextius Florentinus in Petra - where Harry and Hermione found the entrance into Irem
- Track leading to Petra City Centre
- Wall to the North of Petra where Harry and Hermione searched for an entrance into Irem
- Map of Central Petra - Snape and John Ballot kept watch from 'Habis Castle'
- Underground Temple in the City of Pillars
- Shining Entity - the formation of Harry/Hermione Anima Summa
Chapter 11 - Into the Light - coming soon.