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Chapter 2 Between the Two Rivers
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.
Margot and Ron walked hand in hand around the edge of the garden one morning. Margot hadn't spoken much since breakfast, and Ron's attempts to get his girlfriend to talk didn't seem to be working. He frowned as he looked at her out of the corner of his eye - he could see that something was worrying her.
When they walked around behind the large beech tree at the back of the garden, Ron stopped and reached out to take hold of Margot's other hand, gently pulling her around to face him. "Margot… you seem… uh… a bit worried about something. Do… do you want to tell me about it? You haven't… you know… gone off me or anything have you?"
Margot looked puzzled for a moment as she stared into the concerned eyes of her boyfriend. She hadn't said anything about her horrible dream to anyone other than Ceri - they'd both agreed that it wouldn't serve any useful purpose to worry anybody with it. But at this particular moment she had something else on her mind. Her eyes opened wide as she realised what Ron was saying. "Oh Ron, of course I haven't gone off you. I… I love you - you know that."
Ron's expression changed to one of great relief and he let out the breath that he'd unconsciously been holding.
"Ron," said Margot, looking down at the ground shyly, "it… it's about something that Hermione said the other day. I… I've been getting these… feelings." She looked back up into Ron's eyes, her face colouring up. "Oh… I don't know how to say this!"
Ron pulled her towards him and gently eased her head onto his shoulder. "Just say it, Margot."
"But it's so difficult," she replied. Then she whispered into his ear, "I… these feelings… I can feel them now… they're about us, Ron, and I think you might not like me so much if I tell you about them."
"Margot!" exclaimed Ron as he eased her away to look into her tortured eyes. "There's nothing you can say that'll do that - you know that."
Margot put her head back onto his shoulder, shielding her eyes from the piercing gaze that tried to look into her soul. "Hermione told me that the rings are helping her and Harry with their… feelings. But there's nothing helping me Ron!"
Ron's eyes flew open and a red tinge crept up his face - he was glad that Margot couldn't see his reaction. "Margot," he whispered, "Harry and I… talked about it as well. He told me what the rings are doing. He said that you might have these… feelings… as well, but I didn't really believe him."
Margot gasped and she pulled away. "Ron… oh, I knew you'd think I was … not nice… if I told you!"
"I… I don't think you're not nice Margot. I… I've been having the same feelings - it's all I seem to think about these days. You're the nicest girl I know - it's just that I… I just didn't think you could have those sort of feelings for someone like me."
Margot smiled weakly. "And why not, mon petite chevalier rouge?"
Ron didn't answer - he just pulled Margot to him, holding her tightly.
"I think… Hermione thinks as well… that we should wait until the quest is over before we… before we… you know. We both think that we all have to stay… pure… until it's all over."
"Hermione knows about this?" said Ron weakly.
"Of course - she went through the same sort of thing with Harry last year. But they've got help - we haven't."
"Then we'll just have to be very… uh, careful," he replied, and then grinned slyly. "Perhaps I'll ask Ginny to run shotgun over us."
"You will do no such thing, Ron," she said, drawing back once more. "Ginny's got problems of her own without getting involved in ours."
"What problems?" asked Ron, his face full of concern.
"Just… girl problems Ron. Forget I said anything to you about it. It's nothing that she can't handle on her own."
It was just over a week after Margot's dream before she had the next one. But she wasn't alone - she shared it with the Anima Summas. They all experienced exactly the same details, which they were able to remember the following morning.
"This is weird!" said Harry as he sat talking with the other four the next morning. "Why do you think all three of us dreamt the same thing?"
Margot shook her head. "It's not the first time I've experienced something like that - it was very similar to my dream at the end of the last quest, when I spoke to you in the twelfth hour of the Duat. But although I was dreaming then, you weren't, of course - to you it was all too real."
"All this dreaming stuff is way beyond me," said Ron. "The only things I dream about are Quidditch and food - although not necessarily in that order!"
"Ron!" exclaimed Ginny. "Don't be so flippant - this could be very serious."
"I only said what my dreams are about, Ginny," said Ron, looking hurt. "I know it could be serious."
Hermione had contributed nothing to the conversation up to this point - she sat deep in thought. Then she looked up at her friends. "I think it must be part of our ancient powers and knowledge coming to the surface."
Harry frowned. "What makes you think that?"
"Well, the dream was primarily about us - the Anima Summas - and I think that because Margot was sleeping so close to us, and knowing her ability to experience dreams and visions, she just mentally picked up on it and… well, just joined in. What do you think, Margot, you know more about this sort of thing than any of us?"
Margot thought for a few moments. "Well I've heard of shared dreams between two people before, mainly between two psychically compatible people who are very close. But I've not heard about three people sharing a dream, and it's certainly the first one I've experienced. But I suppose that what you say is theoretically possible, especially considering the joint powers of the Anima Summas."
"That's amazing!" exclaimed Ginny. "I wish I could have joined in on it!" She glanced at Ron a bit warily. "Tell us again what you saw in the dream."
"Well," started Harry, "Hermione and I were walking down by the river bank, and we heard a noise coming from one of the bushes."
"That's where I joined in," said Margot. "I walked through the bushes and up to Harry and Hermione."
"Then the three of us started talking about Thoth," continued Hermione. "And with that, he just appeared in front of us, sitting on the ground reading his book. He didn't say anything; he just looked up at us and pointed to the book. Then he smiled and disappeared."
"Then we had this sudden urge to Zapparate to somewhere," said Harry. "I don't know where - but we just knew that we'd find Death Eaters there."
"Did you feel that as well Margot?" asked Ginny.
"Well not exactly," she replied. "I knew that Harry and Hermione had to go somewhere, but I didn't feel that I had to go there myself."
"Then we all felt this sudden sense of urgency," said Hermione. "It was really strange - a deep-seated feeling that we had to do something. Not the urgency to Zapparate - this was something else."
"What was it you had to do?" asked Ron.
"We don't know," replied Hermione. "I can only describe it like one of those itches somewhere deep beneath your skin - an itch that you can't quite reach to scratch it."
"Then it was over," said Harry. "It wasn't until Margot tackled us about it that we realised that we'd all had the same dream."
Ginny's head suddenly shot up, her eyes ablaze. "Have you read it yet?"
"What?" they all said.
"Have you read it yet!" she repeated. "The Book of Thoth - he was pointing to his book in the dream - then you had this feeling of urgency. I think it's something that's been embedded in your minds, something that gives you a bit of a jog when something starts to materialise in the Book of Thoth."
"Of course!" said Hermione. "Why on earth didn't we think of that before?"
Harry frowned and reached out to hold Hermione's hand. He sent his thoughts to her, but spoke them as well for the benefit of the other three, "I think it's all part of the lethargy that seems to have settled on us since the summer holidays began. We've all wondered why we haven't made any progress with the quest, but I think it's all been part of the quest."
Hermione nodded silently, understanding Harry's thoughts, but the others just looked puzzled. "What do you mean Harry?" asked Ron.
"Thoth told us that we wouldn't be able to read his book until the time was right. Perhaps it's only now that the time is right. Perhaps all this lethargy and agonising over what to do was just meant to be. Perhaps we were being taught the virtue of patience or something. It's difficult to explain it in words, but you know what I'm getting at Hermione."
She nodded. "I know Harry, and I think you're right. It's as if my mind has been… sort of… opened up again. Even now, I'm beginning to see things more clearly, and think them through. I just haven't been able to do that for the last month or so."
"Before you tell us your ideas Hermione," said Ginny, "don't you think you and Harry should materialise the book of Thoth and see what's written there?"
Hermione nodded and reached out her hand to Harry once more. He caught it and they both closed their eyes, concentrating on materialising the book of Thoth. The surface of the grass in front of them started to shimmer, then the book appeared as a faintly glowing papyrus scroll.
They all looked at it expectantly, but then Ron gasped, "It's still blank!"
"Hang on a minute, Ron," said Ginny. "Last time we saw it there was only one page - but you can see that there's about five pages now. Maybe there's something written on the pages underneath."
Harry reached out and flipped over the pages of the scroll, all of which were blank except for the fifth and last page. They saw that about half the page was covered in Egyptian hieroglyphics.
"What does it say?" asked Margot.
Hermione scanned the columns of script and then summarised what was written. "Thoth is talking about an ancient spell; one that Harry and I can use. He says that in times of strife, the forces of Dark can be located by use of this spell which, it seems, Harry and I already have in our memories - one of the spells that Jesus gave us below Rennes-le-Chateau. We can use it to Zapparate to them."
"Anything else?" asked Ginny.
Harry shook his head. "That's all."
"Why do you think the first four pages are blank?" asked Ron.
"Probably because we're not yet ready to read what's on them," replied Harry. "But I can't see the relevance of this particular spell to solving the quest."
Hermione grinned suddenly. "I think that's part of it. Thoth is just telling us that there are spells and knowledge for us to find - but once we find something, we can't just go off and use it. We've got to be a bit cleverer and use our judgement in how we apply the knowledge - some things are better saved for later use. What do you think?"
"I suppose that makes sense - I think," said Ron, doubtfully.
"I think we'd better tell Sirius and the others about this," said Margot. "That spell might come in handy if we want to locate where the Death Eaters are - you know, to check if they're hiding out along our intended path or something."
"Of course, once we get our full powers, we could use it to locate Voldemort, I suppose," said Hermione.
Harry straightened up from his crouched position suddenly. "Yes! We can use it to get to Voldemort - maybe that's why Thoth told us about it now, before Voldemort translates those spells and activates the Disc of Gates. I think we should find him as soon as possible and stop him!"
"Harry, we can't!" exclaimed Hermione. "Didn't you hear what we've been saying? We've got to apply a bit of shrewdness to this. I think it'll be a big mistake to tackle Voldemort before we've got access to our full powers."
Ginny shuddered. "Come on. Let's find Sirius and the others."
"At last!" hissed Voldemort as Lucius and Travis walked into his cave. "Have you set up the special team?"
"Yes, my Lord," answered Lucius. "As we speak, thirty of our best Death Eaters are beginning their intensive training."
"Good. Crabbe, is the Portkey ready yet?"
Crabbe nodded. "Yes, my Lord. We can leave for the desert immediately."
Voldemort walked over to Ahmed who was still toiling away, trying to crack the cipher that hid the spells. He'd come to look on his task as more than just an intellectual challenge; he now saw it as an affront to the immense knowledge and prowess that he possessed, and he absolutely refused to believe that someone was capable of thwarting his best efforts - even if that someone had been an Anima Summa!
"You stay here to work on the spells, Ahmed," said Voldemort. "I should be back later this evening with some answers to help you complete the task."
Voldemort strode out of the cave, followed by Lucius, Crabbe, Travis and Wormtail. He didn't hear what Ahmed muttered under his breath - luckily for Ahmed. "I don't need any help! I just need more time."
Five minutes later, the five Dark Wizards strode purposefully through the cleft in the cliffs and into the ruined city of Petra, heading towards El Deir and the magical entrance to the fabled city of Irem.
The petrified body of Findus Plonger still stood at the entrance to the Temple of Gates, but didn't attract even a cursory glance from Voldemort as he led his group inside. The four torch holders were still in place around the inky black alter, and Wormtail was sent to bring more of the other-worldly dark material from the building next door to replenish what had been consumed when the last ritual had been held.
"Will you use the Disc of Gates to channel the magical energy this time, my Lord?" asked Crabbe.
Voldemort shook his head. "No Crabbe. We'll use the Necronomicon again - I don't want to risk the Nephilim getting through the gate yet."
Voldemort climbed up the steps to the top of the altar and placed the Necronomicon on its black surface. He looked down and waited until the torch holders were filled and lit and his four servants went to their correct places; then he started the ritual.
As he proceeded, Voldemort looked up at the temple walls and saw that once more, some of the pieces of black material started to spark into life. He watched as his helpers knelt on the ground and raised their arms, chanting the strange words of the ritual. He looked back down at the Necronomicon, lifted his wand, and chanted the words that were there. Green light burst from the end of his wand and covered the Necronomicon, while the black material on the walls now glowed and pulsed with the green light.
The Dark Lord spoke the final words of the ceremony as he pointed his wand at the book before him. "SA KAPU… GEN KURUM."
Green light started to stream down from the walls onto the Necronomicon, where it gathered for a few moments before sending a beam of green power towards the fresco at the far end of the temple.
The beam stopped midway between the altar and the fresco and a small black hole started to form in the air at the place where the light was concentrated. Slowly, a small area of white light started to expand at the centre of the hole, extending outwards to consume the blackness. Then it was finished; the gate had been opened once more.
Voldemort could just make out the shadowy form of the Guardian undulating in the background. Then the image became clearer and the Guardian stared into the temple, his evil gaze taking in the dark-cloaked figures before him.
"Voldemort!" said the Guardian of the Gate. "Where have you been? I told you to keep me informed of your progress!"
Voldemort glanced at the Death Eaters below the altar, and again saw that they had not heard the Guardian - the voice was for his ears only.
"That is why I am here," he replied. "I have recovered the Disc of Gates and the spells, but I have paid a heavy price. Hundreds of my best followers were killed or captured in a fierce battle at the place where the spells were hidden. But I prevailed, and I now have the ancient relics."
"And what of the Anima Summas? Have they been eliminated?"
"No," replied Voldemort. "But my campaign of terror has started, and the wizarding communities throughout the world tremble with fear. But there is a problem. The ancient spells have been scrambled in such a way that they cannot be read. I believe that it was the ancient Anima Summas who did this deed before they were hidden. I have come to seek your advice, for all attempts by my best scholars have failed to reveal the spells."
The Guardian stared at the Dark Lord for a few moments. "I am not pleased with you Voldemort. If you are as dark as you say you are, you should have the knowledge to cut through the spell of Light. But no matter - seek out the secret abode of another Dark Wizard, the archenemy of the ancient Anima Summas. The answers that you seek will surely be found within his secret chamber. Go to Abydos - to the tomb of Osiris. At the back of that place you will find a small column of copper that supports a rounded recess that holds, or once held, the likeness of Seth. Twist the column and open it."
Voldemort nodded. "You have my gratitude. I will take my scholars to Egypt and find the answers to the riddle."
"I do not want your gratitude, Voldemort. We grow impatient. I want to know when you have eliminated the Anima Summas. Then we can come into your realm and take our revenge."
"As soon as I have the spells, the Anima Summas will be my first target. When they are dead, I will return and open the portal fully."
"Be quick, Voldemort, our patience wears thin."
The Guardian gazed with evil eyes as the light shimmered, and the gate to the Dark Realm closed. Voldemort stared for a few moments at the spot where the portal had been, and breathed deeply. He fought to control his anger at being spoken to as if he were a mere puppet of the Nephilim, but his anger eased at the thought that he now had the key to unlocking the spells. He placed the Necronomicon inside his robes, then turned and walked back down to the temple floor.
"Come - we have to collect Ahmed and then go to Egypt to find the secret chamber of Seth."
"No Harry! I absolutely forbid it!"
Sirius stared angrily at his godson and run his hand through his black hair once more. "How can you even think of tackling 'You Know Who' before you've got access to your full powers!"
"But Sirius," said Harry, looking abashed, "if we can stop him translating those spells, we'll be saving a lot of innocent lives, I know we would."
"I know Harry," Sirius said more gently. "Look, I'm sorry to have lost my cool, but I really don't think it's a good idea. You'll be placing yourself in great danger, and not only yourself - Hermione would have to be there with you as well. Do you want to risk her getting hurt?"
Harry glanced at Hermione sitting next to him at the kitchen table. "No," he whispered.
Katie leaned across the table and squeezed Harry's arm. "Dad's right Harry. Now isn't the time to go chasing across the country after the Dark Lord. Listen to what Hermione said - she made a lot of sense."
Harry smiled wryly at his cousin. "She always does Katie. I sometimes allow my impatience to get in the way of her judgement, I'm afraid." He turned to Sirius. "All right Sirius, don't worry - I won't do anything stupid."
Hermione smiled at Harry as she caught hold of his hand in hers and gently squeezed.
"Hermione," said Ginny, "you said earlier you were starting to get a few ideas about the quest. Let's go back outside and talk about them."
The five youngsters got up from the table and walked into the garden, where they sat in a circle. Four pairs of eyes stared at Hermione - waiting for her to start talking.
She breathed deeply, looking at each of her friends in turn. "I don't think you're going to like this. We've got to trace Thoth's previous existences back to the place where wizard-kind was started."
"And we haven't got a clue how many former lives he had," said Ron. "We could go on a tour of all the ancient sites in the world for all we know. Remember last year when we had to chase after the places where poor old Pontius lived?"
"I don't know Ron," said Hermione. "But don't forget that we're looking for a civilisation that existed before Egypt, and there aren't many of those as far as we know."
"You've got somewhere in mind?" asked Harry.
"Yes, Harry," she said shaking her head. "I can't believe I didn't think of it before. And this is the bit you're not going to like - especially you Ron."
All four stared at Hermione, waiting.
"Ancient Sumer," she said. "As far as we know, that was the greatest civilisation before the Egyptian dynasties started. In fact, many scholars believe it was the very first great civilisation in the history of the world."
"But it can't be Hermione," said Margot. "Thoth told you to follow his previous existences - plural. So there must have been one or more even earlier civilisations than Sumer."
Hermione nodded. "I know, Margot. That's another thing that's worrying me. We don't know - nobody knows - of any great civilisation before Sumer. So when we get to the stage where we have to look for it, or them, there just won't be any information available. There won't be any books about it, so we won't be able to do any research. What do we do then?"
"First things first," said Ginny. "Let's get the Sumer one sorted - then we'll worry about the rest."
"Where is Sumer anyway?" asked Ron.
Hermione looked at Ron and smiled wryly. "Mesopotamia Ron. The land between the two rivers - Iraq."
"Oh bloody hell!" Ron exclaimed. "It was bad enough having Death Eaters to worry about, now we'll have Saddam bloody Hussein as well!" (*Note: The quest took place before the recent events in Iraq, of course.)
"I don't think we'll have to worry too much about him Ron," said Hermione. "I've got a feeling that the places we'll have to go to will be miles from anywhere - out in the desert where the ancient cities once stood."
"And knowing Saddam Hussein," said Ron quickly. "He'll have probably chosen that very spot to hide one of his chemical weapon stockpiles."
Margot rubbed Ron's shoulder. "Don't be so pessimistic Ron. I'm sure we won't come across anything like that." Ron soon forgot his agitation as he turned and became lost in the warm gaze of his girlfriend's beautiful green eyes.
"How come you know so much about Muggle current affairs Ron?" asked Harry.
"I heard Mr. Granger talking about the situation in Iraq with Dad and Margot's grandfather," he replied.
Margot smiled. "Those three get on so well together. You wouldn't think they would, given their completely different backgrounds."
"It's probably because Dad and Professor Denarnaud are so interested in the Muggle world," said Ginny. "But talking about Sumer - I thought it was called Sumeria, Hermione," said Ginny.
"That's a mistake that many people make, Ginny. The name, Sumeria, has only come into use recently - derived from the name of the people of Sumer - the Sumerians."
"So what makes you think that Thoth was in Sumer?" asked Harry, looking at his girlfriend.
"Because," she replied, "most scholars think that the art of writing started in ancient Sumer. The clay tablets uncovered at the start of the twentieth century have been dated to before the Egyptians. And we know that Thoth invented writing - ergo, Sumer!"
"Ok, you've convinced me," said Harry, smiling. "So what else do you know about the place?"
"Uh - nothing," she replied. "I just remember reading a bit about it when we were researching Thoth."
"And you didn't read about the name of the one who invented writing in Sumer?"
"No, I'm afraid not," she replied.
"Well I suppose that means we've got to get back to Hogwarts to do a bit of reading again?" asked Ron, smiling wryly.
"Spot on Ron," said Hermione. "Let's get back and tell the others."
Ginny grinned. "Oliver and Katie'll be pleased about that."
Hermione frowned. "Why's that Ginny?"
Ginny glanced at Harry. "Uh nothing. I'll tell you later."
She went to follow Ron and Harry as they walked back to the house, but her progress was suddenly halted by both Hermione and Margot as they caught hold of the back of her robes.
"What about Oliver and Katie, Ginny?" whispered Hermione.
Ginny looked to make sure that Harry was out of earshot. "Don't tell me you haven't noticed! Can't you read the body language?"
Margot smiled. "Our sense of intrigue isn't as well developed as yours Ginny. You'll just have to tell us."
Ginny raised her eyes to the sky. "You two are an affront to the female of the species. Though, I suppose you have got two very good excuses for not being so attentive! It's obvious that Oliver and Katie are a bit… uncomfortable. I don't think they like the… uh… sleeping arrangements very much."
"Ginny!" gasped Hermione. "How do you know that?"
"I told you, Hermione - body language. And haven't you seen them sneaking off into the bushes down by the river?"
"Oh Ginny!" said Margot. "You don't think that they… you know… in the middle of the night?"
"Oh no, Margot. They don't play midnight musical chairs. Oliver probably knows that Fred and George have put 'creaking floorboard' spells all around the upstairs corridors in the house."
Hermione gasped once more. "I thought they were just joking when they said they'd do that!"
Ginny grinned. "Fred and George are always joking - but they don't joke about jokes. They take their pranks very seriously, you know."
"So…" started Margot.
Ginny nodded. "So they'll probably think that the sleeping arrangements will be a bit more… flexible, shall we say, when we get back to Hogwarts."
"You never cease to amaze me Ginny Weasley," said Hermione as the three started walking back to the house.
Alvis Grimwald looked down at the small village nestling at the bottom of a little valley at the North Eastern end of the Pennine Mountains in North Yorkshire, and glanced across at the line of thirty Death Eaters under his command.
Excitement and anticipation coursed through his veins. This was the first field training exercise to be held for the special squad of Death Eaters, charged with the task of tracking down and capturing, or killing, the Anima Summas. Their instructors sat about half a mile away, perched on the top of one of the grassy summits, and had an excellent view of the action that would soon follow.
The village of Skipleigh only had ten cottages and a small shop, but it housed one of the small wizarding communities that dotted the North Yorkshire Moors. It had been specially selected for the exercise because, in addition to the eleven magical families living in the village, a team of twenty Aurors was also based there, housed in several tents at the edge of the village.
Alvis quickly worked out his tactics, based on the training he and his team had been given, and gestured to his second in command, Hindley Musgrove.
"There are five Aurors on guard duty," he said quietly. "Two at the far end of the village, two at the near end, and one over by the tents. The rest of the Aurors must be inside eating their lunch. I'll take seven of the team and approach from the far side to take care of the guards there. Then we'll go around the back of the village to take the two at the near side. You take the rest of the team and wait for my signal to attack the tents and the last of the guards. Once we take them all out, we can tackle the village people."
"What about the detection devices?" asked Hindley. "They're bound to have the place covered with them, and they'll be far enough away from the village and tents to give the Aurors time to react."
Alvis pointed to the line of tall trees that bordered the lane that led into the far side of the village. "The range of those devices is no more than about fifteen yards. We'll approach behind those trees on broomsticks, high enough above the ground to avoid being detected. Once we get behind the cottages, we'll attack from the roof of the cottage at the far end. They won't know what hit them."
Then he pointed to the hill behind the tents at the other end of the village. "You take the others on broomsticks to a position behind that hill, but make sure you're at least fifteen yards above the ground. Keep your eyes on me and wait for the signal to attack."
Hindley nodded and crept across to the men to pass on the instructions. Alvis selected seven of the Death Eaters and after mounting their broomsticks, flew low behind the ridge, which led up to the lane at a point about a mile and a half away from the village. Hindley waited a few minutes before gesturing for the rest of the team to fly along the back end of the ridge in the other direction, towards the back of the hill behind the tents.
Ten minutes later, Alvis and the seven Death Eaters perched on the roof of the end cottage, looking down at the two Aurors, who were talking quietly to each other, oblivious to the danger that lurked above them. Alvis looked to the far end of the row of cottages and waited until the two guards walked out of sight behind the far cottage before starting the attack. He motioned to two of the best shots in the team, and watched as the two Aurors were hit by stunning spells - they didn't use stronger curses for fear of causing too much noise. They fell to the ground with hardly a sound being made.
Alvis then led his men, flying just below the ridgeline of the cottage roofs, towards the place where the other two Aurors were slowly patrolling. He looked towards the hill behind the tents and saw Hindley hovering just above the summit, looking towards him. He raised his arm in the air, and then dropped it, while at the same time muttering to his hot shots to take out the two guards below.
The Auror standing close by the tents looked up in surprise as he saw more than twenty black-cloaked figures bearing down on him from the sky. He opened his mouth to shout a warning, but was hit by a killing curse before a sound left his lips. Then the flying denizens landed and were soon joined by Alvis and the other seven Death Eaters. They split up into small groups and stormed into the tents, flinging curses ahead of them.
The remaining Aurors were caught completely by surprise and stood no chance. Within a few minutes they were all dead, no mercy having been shown to them. Alvis looked with satisfaction at his team - not one of them had been hurt in the skirmish - and then led them towards the cottages, directing half the team towards the back end of the little village.
By this time, some of the residents had stepped outside their homes to see what was going on - they'd heard the sounds of curses being flung during the attack on the tents. Some of them managed to Apparate away, grabbing hold of their children, but some weren't so lucky. They shared the same fate that the Aurors in the tents had suffered.
All the action had been seen by a young girl, a witch of about twelve years old, who'd been out walking in the hills at the other side of the valley. She looked on in growing horror as she observed the attack, and dropped low to the ground, trembling with fear. She'd never understand why she couldn't drag her eyes away from the terrible carnage in the valley below, but from one point of view, it was a good thing that she saw everything that happened.
It would be her that would give Marcus Heatherington-Jones the realisation that a new breed of Death Eater was at large - a force that was intelligent, resourceful and deadly - far different from the usual fare served up by the Dark Side.
Professor Dumbledore had a grim expression on his face as he listened, together with his team, the protectors and the five youngsters, to Marcus giving his report on the attack at the village. Cornelius Fudge, 'Mad Eye' Moody and Jules Denarnaud were also there in the headmaster's office at Hogwarts.
"That doesn't sound like any Death Eater force that I've come up against," said Oliver. "We were overcome by sheer numbers at Qumran, and they didn't employ any sophisticated tactics. But this is different. Eighteen Aurors and twenty three villagers killed and two Aurors stunned, and not one Death Eater hit in return!" He shook his head in sadness and disbelief.
"I think the conflict is entering a new phase," said 'Mad Eye'. "We can only hope that there aren't too many such Death Eater teams out there."
"And it took a twelve year old girl to tell us about it," said Marcus. "If it wasn't for her, we'd still be in the Dark. The two Aurors who were stunned, and the few villagers who managed to escape, didn't have a clue what happened."
"I can't believe that there are many Death Eater teams like that out there!" Sirius suddenly exclaimed. "Your average Death Eater is high on brutality and short on brains - this group must be the elite of the whole sorry bunch of them."
Dumbledore looked with narrowed eyes at Sirius. "I think you've hit the nail right on the head there, Sirius. I've been pondering why such an advanced force using sophisticated tactics would want to attack a harmless little village. Now this is the first we've seen of them, so I wouldn't mind betting that this was some sort of training exercise - a flexing of muscles prior to more important engagements."
"What've you got in mind Albus?" asked Fudge.
Dumbledore glanced at Harry and the other four teens and pondered for a few minutes before answering. "I can't be sure, but it's best that you hear what I'm thinking, just in case. I can't help feeling that they're a team being specially groomed to prevent these youngsters completing the final quest."
Charlie gasped, "What makes you thing that they'll be their target Professor?"
"Voldemort hasn't had much luck stopping them up till now," he replied. "So it's reasonable to assume that he'll try something a lot more potent. He probably wants to buy some breathing space until he can get at the spells to activate the Disc of Gates. After that, he'll probably feel that he'll be invincible."
"If you're right, Professor," said Ceri, "we're going to have to be far more alert and aware of possible dangers than we've been up till now. It's a good job we've got the Relocators from Fred and George!"
"I may be completely wrong about this, of course," said the headmaster, "but it doesn't hurt to be aware of the possible danger. Severus - I think you'd better make it your priority to try to find out as much as you can about this group."
Snape nodded. "Yes Headmaster. There's a meeting of the local group in a few days time. Goyle Senior will be there, and he's usually a bit loose-lipped if prodded in the right direction. I'll do my best."
"Thank you Severus," said Dumbledore, and then looked at Hermione. "Right - what about the quest? I assume you're here to use the library?"
"Yes Professor," she replied. "We think that we have to go to ancient Sumer, but we don't know a lot about it, so we've got a bit of reading to do."
Dumbledore stroked his beard reflectively. "Sumer eh - now there's an ancient civilisation! But you may not be able to find a lot of books on it in the library - at least not in the main sections. Your best bet is the Muggle section I think, but if you feel you need more, I'm sure we can purchase them."
He raised his eyebrows towards Fudge, who nodded solemnly. "I'll get two of the people in my office to buy some. They're avid readers of anything to do with Muggle history, and they tell me there's a very good bookshop not far from Diagon Alley. I'll get them on it as soon as I get back to the office."
"Thank you Cornelius," Dumbledore replied. "Right. A spot of lunch anyone?"
"The headmaster was right," said Hermione. "There's not a lot about Sumer in the library at all."
The five sat around their usual table in the library looking at the three books in front of them - all they'd been able to find. Ron and Margot selected one of the books to read, Ginny and Harry another, and Hermione picked up the final one, before settling down to find out as much as they could about ancient Sumer.
An hour later, Ron let out one his usual comments, "This book is so bloody boring!"
"It's all we've got Ron!" said Hermione, looking towards Margot.
"I'm afraid Ron's right about this book Hermione," she said. "Most of it is about the descriptions of Ubaidian pottery, down to the tiniest detail. There's not a lot about the Sumerian culture at all."
"Ours is the same as well," said Ginny. "Just a list of excavated artefacts and their descriptions. It's just so dead! What about yours Hermione?"
"Not a lot better, I'm afraid," she replied. "The frustrating thing is that it just hints at Sumerian culture and their religious beliefs, and just lists all the cuneiform tablets that's been unearthed. I think these books were written by academics for academics, as a sort of reference to the purely archaeological aspects of Sumer. What we need are books that'll bring their civilisation to life. We need to know who they were, how they lived, what they believed, and of course, who their gods were."
"We'll just have to wait for Fudge to send us what his people have been able to find," said Harry.
Ron glanced at Hermione. "You ment