Chapter 7 Island of the Crow
"So we think that Merlin, Morgana and their helpers went to the Azores," said Hermione. She'd just finished telling the headmaster and his team, including the protectors, about what they'd found in the Aureus and how they'd arrived at their conclusions.
"But we've got a big problem," said Ginny. "There are nine islands making up The Azores, and we haven't got a clue which one Merlin would have gone to."
"So we're hoping that either Professor Flitwick or Professor Lupin may have heard something during their travels about any legends of Merlin in the Azores," said Ron, looking towards the two professors hopefully.
Remus and Professor Flitwick glanced at each other, but they both shook their heads.
"I've been to Portugal," said Remus, "but not to The Azores, and I haven't come across any old legends about Merlin in those parts."
The hopeful looks on the faces of the five youngsters changed to ones of disappointment, but they looked up suddenly when Professor McGonagall spoke.
"I may be able to help," she said. "When I was a student at Hogwarts, many years ago now, I became friendly with an exchange student from Portugal. She lives in a little town not far from Lisbon, and we've kept in touch over the years. She was born in The Azores, on the Island of Flores, I think, but moved to the mainland when she graduated from Wizarding School. But I know that her family still lives there, and I remember her telling me that her ancestors were among the first people to settle on the islands in the fifteenth century. Now I don't know if she's aware of any old legends about Merlin, and to be quite frank, I don't see how there can be - after all, Merlin would have gone there over a thousand years before the islands were settled, but I'll get in touch with her and see if she knows anything."
"Thank you, Professor," said Hermione. "You're the best chance we've got."
The professor smiled at her favourite pupil. "I can only try, Hermione. May I use the private Floo link Headmaster?"
"Please do, Minerva," replied Dumbledore as he watched the deputy head walk out of the tent.
"I can see why The Azores is a candidate for the remnants of Atlantis," said Sirius as he looked at the map that Ginny had earlier placed on the headmaster's desk. "They're in the middle of the Atlantic, right opposite the straights of Gibraltar."
"They're just the tops of very large mountains rising above a curiously-shaped area on the mid-Atlantic ridge," said Hermione. "They're volcanic in origin, and some authors think that Atlantis sunk some two miles below the surface of the ocean during the terrible cataclysm, leaving just nine islands as the only remnants of Nibiru - Atlantis."
A little while later, Professor McGonagall walked back into the tent and took her seat. "I've spoken to her, but she's not aware of any legends about Merlin. But she says that if there are any, her mother would know about them. Her father, who died two years ago, was a mine of information on the folklore of the islands and he may have told her something. But there's a problem - her mother hasn't spoken a word since he died - she just sits in her old armchair all day staring into the fireplace. But although my friend knows nothing, her brother might. He lives in the family home on Flores with his wife, two children and his mother. His father or mother may have told him about the old legends - he's very interested in that sort of thing."
"Would your friend mind if we visited her family?" asked Harry.
McGonagall nodded. "She's agreed to get in touch with them, and she'll arrange for her brother to set up a Portkey for tomorrow morning."
"Thank you, Professor," said Harry.
"What part of the island do they live on?" asked Ceri, standing up to look at the small map of Flores.
"They're a family of farmers," said McGonagall, "and they live in a sparsely populated area at the northern end of the island, so there won't be any prying eyes when you materialise. And I doubt very much that there'll be any Death Eaters there either - I wouldn't think that Flores would rank as a place for them to keep an eye on for an appearance of the Anima Summas."
She pointed to an area on the map. "Their farm is just about in this area - there aren't any other houses within several miles of the place."
"But we'll still have to keep our guard up," said Sirius darkly. "We don't want to be complacent about anything."
"I think that these five can be excused from your intended learning session this afternoon, Jules," said Dumbledore.
Margot's grandfather nodded. "Yes, they'll need to be fully alert in the morning."
At nine-thirty the following morning the group, which included Professor Flitwick but not Snape, who was away on a spying mission, materialised at the Portkey site, which happened to be behind an abandoned wine storage building on a fairly steep slope above a pretty little valley. They were all pleasantly surprised by the mild climate, much warmer than the valley back in Wales.
"Sirius Black?" asked a middle-aged wizard who stood just to one side of the building.
Sirius smiled and held out his hand. "Simao Garanito, I presume?"
The wizard smiled and nodded as he shook Sirius' hand. "It's good of you to let us visit, I hope it's not too much of an imposition - I know that your mother isn't well."
"You're all very welcome," said Simao. "I know how important it is to your quest." He looked at Harry and glanced at the famous scar on his forehead.
After the introductions, Nadine said, "I'm glad you speak such good English. I don't think any of us speak Portuguese."
"My father made sure that all the family learned English," he said. "He always used to say that a great deal of knowledge is written in the language, and he wanted to make sure we weren't excluded from all that wealth of knowledge. I've carried on the tradition, and made sure that my two children learned English as well."
He led the group down the hill and along the side of a stream that flowed along the valley bottom towards a large stone farmhouse. He opened the door and ushered everyone inside the large living room. It was a bit crowded, but there were enough seats for everyone. Simao introduced his wife, Sara, who then rushed into the kitchen to make the coffee, and his mother, Mafalda, who just sat in her armchair, staring into the empty fireplace.
Simao frowned, but smiled wryly. "I'm sorry if she appears rude, but she hasn't spoken for two years, ever since my father died."
"Please don't apologise," said Ceri. "Your sister's friend told us what an effect your father's death had on her. I'm so sorry."
Simao nodded. "I understand you want to talk about the local legends, but before we start, I'll get my two lazy kids - they seem to think that because they're on a two-week holiday from school, all they need to do is lie in the sun - that's all they've done for the past week or so."
He walked out to the garden at the back of the house and returned shortly with two youngsters in tow, both dressed in only the barest swimsuits. The sun shining through the back door showed them up in silhouette, so it was difficult to see their features.
"This is my daughter, Rafaela," said Simao, shutting the back door to reveal a slim, pretty, black-haired girl of about sixteen. "And this is her twin brother…"
"Hermes…" breathed Ginny.
Everyone stared at Ginny in astonishment, who was gazing at Rafaela's brother with undisguised admiration. He was slim but well muscled, and his body shone with a healthy tan. His dark hair fell over his forehead in a haphazard fashion, and his dark eyes sparkled with mischief as he gazed at the pretty redheaded girl.
"Uh no," said Sara, balancing a large tray of coffee cups as she walked to the centre of the room. "His name's Hugo."
"Ginny!" whispered Hermione. "Don't stare!"
"You kids can get better acquainted later," said Sirius, "but first things first - let's talk about the folklore of the islands - Hermione?"
Hermione nodded. "The final part of our quest is the search for Atlantis. And we know that the great wizard, Merlin, came to these islands and found the entrance to the legendary place. But that's all we know - we don't know which of the islands he came to, or where the entrance is. We're hoping that you'll know something - however vague it may seem to you - that could point us in the right direction."
Simao rubbed his chin and stared at the floor for a few moments, then slowly shook his head. "It's well known that The Azores have been sited as the remains of Atlantis, but there aren't any local legends about it. And I can't think of anything that would be remotely connected to Merlin."
He looked at his wife, who shook her head. "I haven't heard of any tales about Merlin visiting these islands."
"Caverna dos Ramos."
Every head turned towards the corner of the room and gazed at Mafalda, who still stared into the empty fireplace.
"Mother?" said Simao in a tremulous voice. "Did you just speak?"
Mafalda lifted her head and turned to look at her son. "Caverna dos Ramos," she repeated.
Simao walked slowly towards his mother and dropped onto his knees before her. He reached out and held her hand, a tear running down his face. "Those are the first words you've spoken in two years." The rest of his family quickly joined him by her side.
Mafalda let out a loud sigh, and started speaking once more. "Just after we met, your father used to speak of a mysterious cave at the northern tip of this island. He went there a long time ago when he was very young, and he saw something that convinced him that the cave had been visited by wizards a long, long time ago, long before the island was inhabited."
Mafalda looked at her family, her gaze resting on each of them for several moments. "It's time to come back home," she said. Then she looked towards Harry and Hermione. "I've been away too long. But these two have an awesome task to perform, and just seeing them made me realise that I should not dwell in the past. There are far more important things to be done in the present."
"What more do you know about this cave?" asked Harry gently.
"Nothing," she replied. "Only what I have told you."
"I know of it," said Hugo, looking at Ginny. "My friends and I used to play down on the beach close to the cave. We used to dare each other to go inside - but none of us did. You see, there is a very mysterious aura surrounding the cave, one that keeps everyone away from it. But it seems as if my grandfather was made of sterner stuff."
"Can you take us there?" asked Ginny.
Hugo smiled and nodded. "Yes, it's only a couple of miles away. It should take only about an hour to get there."
"Uh, I'd better warn you that we've been attacked by Death Eaters on our quests," said Sirius, looking at Sara and Simao. "It may be better if you just give us directions to the cave."
Sara laughed nervously. "Nonsense - there aren't any Death Eaters on Flores."
"Well we don't expect to run into any here," said Ceri, "but we thought it best to warn you."
Simao looked at his son. "It's up to you Hugo."
Hugo looked once more at Ginny and a slow smile spread over his face. "I'll go. If Ginny isn't afraid, then I won't be either."
Ginny smiled prettily, but looked down at the floor, a slight flush on her face when she broke contact with Hugo's sparkling dark eyes.
"Will you have something to eat before you go?" asked Sara.
Harry shook his head. "Thank you, but no. We need to examine this cave, but we'd like to come back later if that's ok?"
"Of course it is," she replied, and then turning to her son said, "Hugo - get dressed properly before you go."
"I'm going too," said Rafaela, running up the stairs after her brother.
Harry and Hermione walked over to Mafalda and gazed down at the old lady. "Thank you so much," said Hermione. "You've helped enormously."
"No - thank you," she replied. "Thank you both. I feel so much better now."
Simao looked up at the pair and mouthed silently through his tears, "Thank you."
A little while later, Hugo and Rafaela rushed back down stairs, both now more suitable attired for a trek through the rough countryside. They kept to their usual formation as they walked along the rough path bordered by a profusion of wild hydrangeas towards the north coast of the island, although Oliver and Katie walked only a few yards in front of the main group.
As they walked, Rafaela kept glancing at Ron and eventually plucked up the courage to speak to him. "I saw your photograph in our wizarding newspaper last year, and I read all about your exploits. You must be very daring to go to all those dangerous places to help the Anima Summas."
Ron smiled. "They're our best friends, Rafaela - I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Even so," she replied, "I think you're wonderful."
Rafaela flushed slightly and walked quickly ahead to join her brother, who was walking at the front of the group beside Oliver and Katie. Margot wore a frown as she nudged Ron. "Stop flirting with her Ron."
"What? I'm not flirting with her!"
"Humph!" she said and slowed her pace to let Hermione and Ginny catch up with her.
"What made you call him Hermes?" asked Hermione, grinning slyly at her red-haired friend.
"Uh… a slip of the tongue," she replied.
"So did he remind you of that statue of Hermes we saw when we climbed Mount Olympus?"
"Well he does look a bit like him don't you think?"
"Well apart from the fact that Hermes was fair and Hugo is dark, I suppose so," replied Hermione.
"You like him Ginny?" said Margot, grinning.
"I hardly know him," she gasped, but it was obvious in which direction her eyes had been wandering ever since they'd started on the trek.
Oliver, Katie, Rafaela and Hugo had stopped up ahead and were waiting for the rest of the group to join them. They stood at the edge of a steep cliff, coated in lush vegetation, that dropped precariously down to the sea more than two hundred yards below. Harry breathed deeply as he took in the lovely vista before him. Down on the beach to the right, a thin finger of land jutted out into the Atlantic, and just this side of it was a small green-topped island, not more than fifty yards out from the shore line. The beach was a narrow band of dark-coloured sand, evidence of the volcanic nature of the island.
"What's that island out there?" asked Harry, pointing to a hazy chunk of rock that rose steeply out of the sea on the horizon.
"That's Corvo," said Hugo. "It's the smallest island in the Azores, and it's about fifteen miles away."
"How are we going to get down there?" asked Katie, looking aghast at the drop below her.
"This way," said Hugo, smiling as he jumped off the edge of the cliff. Ginny gasped and held her hands over her mouth, but then smiled when she saw that Hugo hadn't thrown himself to his death - he'd jumped onto the start of a narrow winding track about three feet below, that zigzagged down the steep-sided cliff.
The walk down wasn't as perilous as it first appeared, most of the steep drops being hidden by the profusion of flowers and dense vegetation, but they still had to make sure of their footing in case they tripped on the loose stones that littered the path.
Ten minutes later, they all stood on the beach looking back up at the cliff they'd just walked down, and secretly dreaded the climb back up to the top. Hugo pointed to the right. "The cave's about a hundred yards over in that direction."
Ginny decided to walk beside the boy as he led the way over the warm sand. She looked up at him and smiled. "Your father said you're on holiday from school?"
"That's right," he replied. "There's only one small wizarding school in the islands - on the main island of Sao Miguel. My sister and I board there, but we can't wait to get back here to Flores."
"I'm not surprised," said Ginny. "It's so beautiful."
Hugo grinned and once more gazed deeply into Ginny's eyes, turning her knees to jelly. Then he glanced away and came to a stop, pointing at the base of the cliff. "This is the cave - Caverna dos Ramos."
The group gathered around Hugo and stared at the cave entrance, a roughly semi-circular hole about eight feet high and twelve feet wide.
"What does it mean - Caverna dos Ramos?" asked Nadine.
"It means the cavern of branches," said Rafaela.
"Why is it called that?" asked Charlie. "Is it filled with trees or does it branch into a number of different directions inside?"
Hugo shook his head. "I don't know - we've never been inside."
"Will you check it out Nadine?" asked Sirius. "Don't go inside - just check on the outside and see if you can make out what sort of aura is there."
She nodded and walked slowly over to the cave entrance, closing her eyes as she got near. She stopped when she was five yards away, putting her hands on the side of her head. She stood that way for a few moments and then walked back to the others. "There are very ancient wards protecting it," she said. "But they haven't been set by Dark Magic - they just give a gentle suggestion that the cave should not be entered. If we concentrate hard as we approach, we'll have no problem getting inside."
Sirius nodded. "Filius, Charlie, Remus, Katie and Oliver - will you stand guard outside the cave? Hugo, you and Rafaela stay outside as well if you feel uncomfortable about going inside. Ceri, Nadine - come with me inside the cave with Harry and the other four."
"I'll come as well, if you don't mind," said Hugo. "I've always wondered what was inside, and now that I know that the aura isn't evil, I'd like to see for myself."
Sirius, Ceri and Nadine led the way, followed closely by Harry and Hermione, then Ron and Margot, with Ginny and Hugo the last pair to enter. They all closed their eyes and resisted the urge to turn away as they walked over the threshold of daylight into the darkness of the cavern. Ginny instinctively reached out and held Hugo's arm as they stepped past the wards.
They all illuminated their wands and held them high, gazing around the interior of the large cavern. Harry walked to the back of the cave. "I can see why it's called the cavern of branches," he said, holding his wand high so that the others could see the five dark tunnels dotted around the back wall leading into the depths of the cliff. His voice echoed hollowly in the large cave.
Hermione squinted her eyes and walked towards the right-hand tunnel, where she'd spotted something on the rock wall at its entrance. "Look at this!" she exclaimed excitedly, holding her wand to a carving etched into the rock.
The others walked over and stared. "Do you think it's…" said Margot quietly.
"It has to be!" gasped Harry.
"Excalibur," whispered Ceri. "I think it's a carving of King Arthur's famous sword - the one that Merlin helped him get from the Lady of the Lake."
"It must be a message to us," said Hermione. "To the Anima Summas that came after Merlin's time. It's telling us that they were here, and whatever it is we have to find is down this tunnel."
"Come on," said Ron, walking into the tunnel. The other five, including Hugo much to Ginny's pleasure, followed him and soon caught up. After about fifty yards of winding rocky passageway, the tunnel abruptly ended in a small circular chamber. There were no exits other than the one they'd just come through.
"Look at these," said Hermione, staring at some faded writing on the rock wall. "Hieroglyphics - write this down Ginny."
Hermione held her wand close and started to translate, "Now let's see - it's not very clear, these glyphs are awfully faded, but I think it says… The entrance to the fabled isle is located on the isle to the north, inside the centre of the volcano. A rock in the shape of the island's namesake points the way. This was told to us by our friend and mentor, Thoth, who often spoke to us of his homeland."
"The message must have been written by Osiris and Isis," said Harry quietly.
"And it must have been found by Merlin and Morgana when they came here," added Ginny.
"Is there a volcano on that island you pointed out to us earlier Hugo?" asked Harry.
"Oh yes," he replied. "There's a very large crater at the highest point on the island. I've climbed it many times - and when you get inside, it's huge."
"What about this rock?" asked Hermione. "Do you know of that?"
"And what's the island's namesake?" asked Ginny.
"It's known as the Isle of the Crow - that's what Corvo means," said Hugo. "But I'm not aware of any rock that looks like a crow. But that's not surprising - the caldera's so big, I've only walked over a very small section of it."
"How do we get there?" asked Sirius. "Can we Apparate?"
"I suppose so," said Hugo. "But whenever I've gone there I've gone by boat - I haven't learned how to Apparate yet."
"Don't worry," said Nadine. "If you give us the coordinates, we'll take you with us. Oh, I assume you'll come with us to show us the way?"
"Of course," grinned Hugo. "I wouldn't miss this!"
"We'd better get back to the farm," said Ceri. "We can Apparate to Corvo after lunch."
On the way back to the farmhouse, Ginny walked alongside Hermione and Margot, and leaned close to them to whisper, "Did you notice how Hugo helped us with the clues back in the cave?"
Hermione and Margot exchanged sly grins.
"Well what do you think?" asked Ginny impatiently. "He's going to help us get to that volcano on Corvo as well - do you think he's the sixth one?"
"I really don't know Ginny," said Hermione gently. "And I can't think what we can do to confirm whether he is or he isn't. Let's see how things develop when we get to Corvo."
"Well I think he is!" Ginny exclaimed, looking back at Hugo talking to Harry about twenty yards or so behind them. But her eyes narrowed when she saw Rafaela walking close to Ron. She nudged Margot and darted her eyes to the rear, drawing her attention to the intimate conversation that seemed to be going on between her brother and the pretty islander.
Margot's eyes narrowed in concern and she slowed her pace, straining to listen to what was being said.
"Uh, I don't get a lot of time to go out," said Ron. "And it's too dangerous anyway. We have to stay in a secret hideaway so that 'You Know Who' can't find us."
"That's terrible Ron," said Rafaela. "But you can come here sometimes if you want - 'You Know Who' would never come here."
Ron glanced at Margot walking not far in front of them, and slid his fingers down inside his shirt collar, trying to loosen it, but the heat he was feeling wasn't coming exclusively from the sunshine. He thought hard about what he could say to the girl. She was obviously interested in him, but he didn't want to upset her.
"Look Rafaela, I… well you probably don't know this, but I'm… engaged to Margot."
Rafaela gasped and put her hand over her mouth. "Oh I'm so sorry. I didn't know! If I'd known that, I wouldn't have… well, you know."
Ron smiled. "You weren't to know, but I thought it best that I tell you now. You're a very pretty girl and it's not that I don't like you - it's just that I'm… in love with Margot."
"I understand," she replied, and walked back to talk to her brother and Harry, her face pink with embarrassment.
Margot stopped and waited for Ron to catch up with her. She caught under his arm and whispered in his ear, "I don't remember you proposing to me?"
"Uh… I… I had to say something to her, Margot. I thought that if I said we were going to be married, she'd stop coming on to me."
"So what makes you think I'd say yes if you proposed to me?"
"What? I… well, purely hypothetically, of course, what would you say?"
"Well, purely hypothetically, what would you ask me?"
"Uh! You know what I'd ask you - hypothetically."
Hermione and Ginny both burst out laughing - they couldn't help but overhear the conversation. "Stop teasing him Margot," said Ginny. "You're almost as bad as Nadine."
Margot grinned and held Ron's arm tightly. Ron just looked confused.
Ditton-Under-Wold is a sleepy little village, nestling in the rolling Cotswold Hills in rural Gloucestershire. It's one of those picture-postcard olde-worlde places, situated away from the main tourist trail and glad of it. Apart from its beauty and idyllic location, the village was otherwise unremarkable - apart from the fact that it was the place where Cornelius Fudge had been born and raised.
John Ballot shivered in the early morning frost that covered the ground. John had taken over from Oliver as the leader of the team of Aurors, and he glanced around to make sure that everyone was in their designated place. There were five teams guarding the village that morning - one hundred Aurors - and John's team had been summoned from their normal area of operations to help out with the thinly stretched resources of 'The Shires' division.
Severus Snape had found out about the attack during one of his spying missions, but he hadn't been able find out much else - only that Cornelius Fudge's home village was on a list of places to be targeted by Death Eaters that morning.
"I wonder when they'll strike?" one of the team asked John.
John shook his head slowly. "No idea. But it's a good job we've had time to evacuate the place."
The five teams had arranged themselves around the village perimeter, each guarding a likely place where the Death Eaters would start an attack. They'd all been supplied with the newest version of Relocators, and felt slightly more secure after hearing good reports about them from other parts of the country.
John stiffened and spun around when he heard the familiar sounds of several Whammo explosions coming from the other side of the village, soon followed by the sounds of spells and curses being thrown. He reached into his robe pocket and retrieved the Muggle communication device when he heard his name being called.
"Keep your position, John." The group commander's voice came over the radio. "There's about fifty Death Eaters attacking from this side, but we should be able to take care of them - you stay where you are in case more of them attack from your end."
John acknowledged the message and called for his team to keep a close eye on the hill in front of them. Five minutes later, more Whammos exploded. They were the ones placed by John's team just the other side of the hill they faced.
"Get ready!" he shouted.
The minutes dragged by, but no attack came, and the Whammos had stopped exploding several minutes ago. The team members looked at each other in confusion, wondering what was going on. "Is this a new tactic?" asked one of the men.
"I don't …" started John, but then fell silent as a dark green light covered the village and its perimeter, shimmering like a glass dome."
"What the hell?" exclaimed John and reached for his radio, intending to contact the group commander, but the radio was completely inert. He flung it on the ground beside him in frustration and kept his eyes peeled on the top of the hill.
"Oh bloody hell," breathed one of his team, looking towards the left-hand side of the hill. Striding over the hilltop came the sinister form of Lord Voldemort, holding the Disc of Gates above his head. The sounds of battle had died away shortly before the green light had appeared, and it was strangely silent all around the village.
John thought furiously - he knew what the device was capable of, and he knew that his team stood no chance against its awesome power. "Get out of here - all of you!" he shouted to his team, invoking the emergency procedure for his team to Apparate out of an area of immediate danger. He didn't Apparate himself - he wanted to make sure that everyone got away safely first. But neither did anyone else - they looked around in confusion as their attempts to Apparate away from the area failed.
John looked in horror at the Dark Lord, the realisation dawning on him that the strange green light covering the village was responsible for their failure to escape. His jaw set firm, determined that he wouldn't forfeit his life lightly. He shouted for his team to hold fast and take what cover they could as they waited for the inevitable attack. Voldemort still stood alone at the top of the hill, but he was too far away to attack.
Then Voldemort held the Disc high above his head and shouted several strange words. A black light shot from the glowing crystal at the centre, over the heads of John and his team, and covered the village and the other four teams. John turned and looked on in horror at what happened next. The black light seemed to intensify, hiding from sight all that it covered. Then it shimmered as barely-visible ripples of energy shot through the blackness. Then the blackness slowly faded away and the results of its evil endeavours were revealed for John and his team to see.
Nothing - there was absolutely nothing left of the village and the eighty aurors who guarded it. There was just a dark brown mark, completely devoid of life. Not even the Relocators had been of any use against such all-embracing evil. A growl of anger came from deep inside John Ballot as he turned once more to face the Dark Lord. He stood up from behind his cover, knowing that there was no protection from that awesome power, and waited. Deep in the back of his mind, he felt confused. He wondered why he and his team were still in existence.
"Four days," shouted Voldemort, looking down at John with disdain. "Tell Fudge that he has four days to capitulate. My patience is at an end, and if I do not receive word of his surrender by that time, the next target will be the ministry itself. I've obliterated the place where he was born, and I can do the same to the place where he works. Tell him to speak to his American friends. Tell them that the same fate awaits them also."
Voldemort turned on his heel and walked back over the hill and out of sight of the Aurors below. Then the green light covering the area disappeared. John turned and looked down at the ground when the radio he had earlier discarded suddenly burst into life with the sound of the group commander's voice.
"John… stay where you are… this green light is preventing us from Apparating away. The Death Eaters are just standing out of range from our spells, as if they're waiting for something. Keep a close look out at your end… what…. What's that black…"
The radio fell silent once more. Everyone stood around looking at it incredulously. They'd just heard the final words of their commander before he was consumed by the black evil, but no one understood how his final message had suddenly emerged from the past to haunt their already fragile minds. Somehow, hearing their dead comrade's voice was even more terrible than the act that snuffed out his life.
"It's called Monte Grosso," said Hugo as he stood on a paved track half way up the huge volcano that dominated the small island of Corvo. He looked up towards the rim. "The entrance to the caldera is at the northern end and we can get to it by following this track that leads all the way to the top."
The group had just Apparated to the island of Corvo, taking Hugo as their guide. Rafaela had elected to remain with her family on Flores - she was still feeling very embarrassed at making a play for Ron's affections. Margot had spoken to her and tried to ease her discomfort, but the girl couldn't help but feel bad about things.
Oliver and Katie took their usual point position, this time in the company of Sirius and Ceri, with Charlie, Nadine, Remus and Flitwick bringing up the rear - the steep sides that bordered the track made it impractical and unnecessary to cover the flanks. The six teens walked in the middle of the group, with Hugo at their front, but he was soon joined by Ginny, who trotted up to walk alongside him.
The track was quite steep as it wound its way to the top, and the group were soon breathing quite hard, but they were all grateful for the stiff breeze that came off the sea to the south-west. Hugo turned and grinned as he heard Ron complaining vociferously about the way their quest always seemed to lead them steeply up or down - rarely along level ground.
"Don't mind my brother," said Ginny. "He always complains when we have to climb mountains. It's when he stops complaining that we have to worry."
Hugo gazed into Ginny's eyes and smiled.
"What!" she whispered, the boy's penetrating gaze bringing a slight tinge of pink to her cheeks.
"That photograph in our newspaper didn't do you justice," he said.
Ginny instinctively raised her hand and tried to stop her hair blowing around in the wind, remembering that it had looked unruly when Rita Skeeter had taken that unexpected picture at The Burrow.
"No," whispered Hugo, reaching out to push her hand away. "It looks beautiful just the way it is."
Ginny smiled shyly and dragged her gaze away from the sparkling eyes. Margot nudged Hermione and nodded at the pair walking in front of them. "What do you think?" she whispered. "Hugo seems very taken with Ginny."
"And I don't think it's a one-way thing either," Hermione whispered back. "She's convinced that he's the sixth member of the team."
"Oh I hope so," replied Margot. "She'll be devastated if it turns out that he isn't."
"I've been thinking about that," said Hermione reflectively. "If it's not Hugo, who can it be? I'm sure that this is the last leg of the quest, and we'll find Atlantis on this island, so time is running out for the sixth member to join up with us, and there aren't any other people around - it's a very isolated island."
Margot sighed as she gazed at the pair in front, now chatting and laughing - they seemed so right together, somehow.
After an hour's hard slog, the group finally stood at the rim of the volcano, looking down into the huge crater in amazement. It was about two miles across and over three hundred yards deep, and the sides and bottom of the caldera were sectioned into a patchwork of enclosed fields, evidence that the islanders used the fertile volcanic soil to good advantage. But there was no sign of anyone working in the crater - just the odd few cattle grazing in some of the lush green fields. At the far side, at the lowest point of the crater, were several clear blue lakes in which stood a number of small islands, some of them connected to the main crater floor by thin tongues of land that stretched out from the lakesides.
"This is a magical place," said Nadine. "I don't mean in the 'magical vibrations' sense - I think it's so beautiful and mysterious."
Charlie nodded and put his arm around her waist. "You wouldn't think such a place as this could exist inside a volcano."
Harry gazed around the crater walls, looking for any rocky outcrops that looked like a crow. "There's loads of rocks all over the place - we'll just have to examine each one we come to."
Hugo pointed to a rough path just below where they stood, that led down to the bottom. "That's the way down."
Sirius and Hugo led the way to the bottom of the crater, stopping every so often to peer at some of the larger rocks that dotted the sides on the way down. At the bottom, they decided to walk around the left-hand side, opposite the side where the lakes were, and spread out as they moved over the undulating ground. Half an hour later, they stood at the furthest end of the caldera, disappointed not to have spotted the rock formation thus far. They moved back towards the end of the crater they'd started from, this time walking beside the lakes, but the number of rocky outcroppings seemed to be far less than the other side.
As they approached the end of the lake closest to their entry point, Ron stopped and pointed up at a small hillock that overlooked the lake. "There's a line of rocks up there on top of that hill."
"There's a lot more over to the side," said Oliver.
"Come on Ron," said Professor Flitwick. "We'll check out your hill while the others check around the side of the crater."
The two climbed quickly up the hill and stood in front of a line of rocks that formed a ridge along the top, but there didn't seem to be anything unusual about their shape. Ron let out a grunt of disappointment, and started to walk back down towards the others, but Flitwick held up his hand. "One moment Ron. Let's walk around and look at them from the opposite side."
Ron shrugged and climbed back up to join Professor Flitwick as he moved around behind the left hand edge of the outcrop. They walked along behind the rocks, squinting at them from every possible angle in an effort to force them into an image of a bird, but they could see nothing. When they reached the right hand edge of the ridge, Ron again showed his disappointment, and sat down on the lush grass in disgust. The little Professor smiled and bent down to console him, but stopped in mid-bend, staring intently at the far side of the rocky outcrop.
"Look! Look!" he yelled, hopping from foot to foot in his excitement. Ron sat up and held his head close to the professor's arm to follow his line of sight, and gasped in amazement as he saw what the professor had seen.
"Here it is!" yelled Ron, running over to the far side of the ridge and waving his arms towards his friends below. "It's up here - come quick!"
Then he walked back to stand beside Flitwick, waiting for the rest to join them.
Harry was the first to approach, and Ron caught his shoulder and pushed him down into a sort of half-squatting position while he pointed to the rock that Flitwick had spotted. Harry gasped. The rock, seen from this angle and elevation, did indeed look like a bird, and because of it's colour, it looked exactly like a crow, hunched low to the ground. But the most exciting thing about it was the thin rocky projection, jutting out from the 'crow's head' and pointing down into the crater below.
"Well done Professor," said Harry, grinning at his Charms teacher.
"I must confess," said Flitwick, "that if I wasn't so small, I'd have easily missed it."
By this time, the rest of the group were gathered around Ron, bending down and peering along his outstretched arm towards the rock.
Harry and Ron were the first to arrive at the rock, and scrambled up onto the ridge where they had a good view of the crater below and the direction in which the crow's beak was pointing. They lay flat on the rock and looked along the rocky beak.
"It's pointing to that little island on the lake," said Ron.
"And to a jumble of rocks standing at the end if it," said Harry, his voice full of excitement. "The entrance down to Atlantis must be in among those rocks somewhere."
They jumped down and told the others what they'd found; pointing to the little island perched at the end of a promontory of land that stretched into the middle of the lake closest to them. They all then moved swiftly down to the lake, around its left-hand edge, and onto the finger of land that led to the island. A few minutes later, they stood on the little island, looking back up to the spot where the rocky crow was perched, but from this angle and distance, they couldn't distinguish it from the rest of the rocks along the ridge.
Sirius and Oliver walked up to the rough volcanic rocks that protruded onto the island from below, looking at their odd arrangement. There were two stands of rock, a large one right in the centre of the island and a smaller one further down towards the edge of the lake. They peered into the space between them, and saw that there was just enough room to squeeze in between. Katie walked up and eased Oliver and her father to one side. "I'm a lot thinner than you two," she said as she turned sideways and eased her way between the rocks.
"Watch where you're treading," shouted Oliver. "We don't want you falling down a hole."
Katie muttered something that wasn't very complimentary to her boyfriend, and then just as she disappeared from sight, shouted, "It opens out a bit just inside. It's a sort of enclosure - like a cavern, but with a narrow opening up above. Hang on a minute… yes… there's something here. There's a cleft at the bottom of the larger stand of rock… it looks like it might lead into a cave or something."
"Hang on a minute Katie," shouted Oliver. "I'm coming in!"
He squeezed quickly between the rocks and walked over to stand beside Katie, who was bending down looking at a narrow opening at the base of the large crag. Sirius, Harry and Ron soon joined him, but there wasn't room for the others in the confined space between the two rocks.
"There's not enough room to squeeze through there," observed Sirius. "Not even for you, Katie."
"This has to be the way down," said Harry, looking down at the ground for a suitable piece of rock. He selected a loose piece of rock, flattened and ending in a sharp point and knelt on the ground to clear away the loose earth at the bottom of the cleft. Ron and Oliver soon picked up two other pieces of rock and joined Harry in his attempt to find out if the cleft extended below ground level.
Ten minutes of digging revealed that Harry was right. The opening at the base of the rock became much larger the further down they dug, and spurred them on to greater efforts. Soon, they'd uncovered an opening that was large enough for a person to crawl through.
"What's happening in there?" shouted an impatient Ceri from outside.
"We think we've found it," shouted Sirius. "Give us a couple of minutes to squeeze through and then follow us."
Harry was the first to ease his way into the opening, going in feet-first, with Sirius and Oliver holding on to his arms in case there was a drop on the other side. Harry stretched his legs as far as he could and grinned when his feet touched a hard surface. He eased himself further inside and told his two supporters to let go of his arms as he pulled himself completely through the gap.
Harry took out his wand and lit it, moving it around above his head to get a feel for the place. He saw that he was standing on a four-foot wide ledge about three feet below the level of the ground outside, that extended to either side of him for about five feet. It was just over six feet to the rocky ceiling, and he cautiously edged further along the ledge and held his wand into the dark space that opened up below. He lay flat on the ground and extended his arm further into the space to reveal a sort of funnel-shaped passageway, no more than two feet wide, that slanted down below the ground at an angle of thirty degrees from horizontal - steep, but not too steep to crawl down if he wedged his arms against the sides of the funnel to stop him falling out of control.
He moved back to the outside opening and told the waiting three what he'd found, and then waited until they'd all eased their way into the cave. They moved to one side to allow the rest of the group to follow and soon, everyone was packed like sardines inside the confined space.
"I'll go down first," said Harry, brushing a loose bit of dirt away from the side of his face.
"We're all coming with you kids," said Ceri, looking to Sirius, who nodded. "We'll come as far as we can before it's obvious that you have to proceed alone."
"Hang on," said Ron, reaching into the rucksack that Charlie was carrying. "I thought this might come in handy again."
Everyone stared and grinned as he pulled a long length of rope from the sack and tied one end around Harry's waist. "What! I take this with me everywhere, ever since I used it in the labyrinth at Rennes-le-Chateau. There's one golden rule I've learned since we started these quests - never go anywhere with Harry unless you've got a piece of rope!"
Harry grinned and waited until Sirius, Oliver and Charlie had the end of the rope securely in their grasps before easing himself feet-first into the narrow funnel. He stretched out his elbows to the sides and braced himself against the walls, and then eased himself slowly downwards, letting gravity do the hard work as he alternately relaxed and tightened his grip on the wall.
Everyone held their breath as Harry sunk out of sight, only the vibrations on the rope that held him showing that he was still moving downwards. After several minutes, the rope suddenly slackened, and Harry's voice echoed up the funnel from below.
"It's about twenty feet down," he shouted. "It comes out into a cavern, and it's big enough to hold us all easily. I'm untying the rope now - if one of you eases down like I did, the rest of you can just slide down and two of us can support you at the bottom."
Oliver was the next one down, and then helped Harry catch the others to ease their momentum as they slid down the funnel one by one.
"You're not going to like this!" said Hermione, who stood at the far end of the cavern, looking out through the opening at the far end while the last of the group slid down to join them.
Ceri walked over and looked out, then gasped, "Uh oh! Not very nice at all!"
The rest crowded around the pair as they held their wands into the space beyond the opening. They looked out into a large circular gallery, and the cavern in which they stood was about a hundred and fifty feet above the floor. Down to the left, stretching at a fairly gentle angle was a narrow rock ledge that wound around the sides of the gallery from their position, right down to the rock floor.
Ginny looked with apprehension at the narrow ledge, and seeing her expression, Hugo leaned close and whispered, "Don't worry, Ginny. I'll help you get down."
Ginny smiled gratefully and stepped back to let someone else take the lead. Oliver and Katie were the first to step out onto the ledge and stood with their backs pressed tightly against the rocky wall as they moved side-wards along the perilous path. Remus and Flitwick followed, and soon they were all edging their way cautiously down the gallery. Hugo kept hold of Ginny's hand as he led her down, not taking his eyes from the girl as she inched along the ledge. The pair was the last to reach the bottom, and Ginny hugged Hugo gratefully for his help, although she clung to him just a little too tightly, and a tad too long for a mere display of gratitude.
Hermione and Margot again grinned at each other as they watched Hugo and Ginny, and then sat down beside one of the rock pools that dotted the bottom of the gallery, rippling the cool water with their hands.
"Over here," shouted Remus from the opposite end from where the others were resting. "I've found something."
They all walked over to Remus, who was standing alongside an opening in the gallery wall. As they approached, he pointed to the wall above the opening, holding his wand high to illuminate the ancient writing.
"Hieroglyphics," said Harry. "Perhaps it's a message from Osiris and Isis."
He stretched up onto the tips of his toes and translated the short column of glyphs. "It says… Be warned that the way forward is only for the Anima Summas and their helpers."
He turned to look at Hermione, who nodded that she agreed with his translation.
"Well this is as far as we go then," said Sirius.
Harry and Hermione held hands as they ducked inside the opening and peered inside. Harry turned back to the others. "It's a round-shaped tunnel - a bit like that funnel we came down at the top, only a bit bigger and not so steep. From what I can see, we should be able to walk down it fairly easily."
Nadine looked at her watch. "It's six o'clock. You'd better have something to eat before you go."
"Good idea, Nadine," said Ron, smiling.
After they finished some of the sandwiches that Margot and Nadine had helped Sara make, they sat drinking a hot cup of tea as they chatted about what might lay ahead.
"How much further down do you think we have to go?" asked Ginny.
"You might have quite a way to go yet," said Remus. "I'd estimate that we're not far from sea level at the moment, and if Atlantis has sunk down as far as the Mid-Atlantic ridge, it'll be at least another two miles further down."
"In these sort of conditions, that could take quite some time," said Oliver.
"You'd better take some of the food that's left," said Charlie, grinning at his brother. "I wouldn't want to see you going hungry down there."
Harry and Hermione walked over to look once more into the tunnel, and gestured for Ron, Ginny and Margot to join them. "We've got a decision to make," said Harry, looking at Ginny.
"Should Hugo join us or not," said Hermione.
"Of course he must," said Ginny quickly. "I think it's obvious that he's the sixth one."
"I'm not sure, Ginny," said Harry. "Oh I know he's been a big help to us, but there's nothing that's happened so far that tells me he's the right one."
"And there's that warning," said Hermione, looking up at the hieroglyphics. "If Hugo's not the one, then it could be dangerous for him to come with us."
"So how will we know?" asked Ron.
Ginny brightened. "Ron's right! If he is the right one and he doesn't come with us, we could fail at the last hurdle. He's got to come!"
"But, of course, it may not be the last hurdle," said Hermione. "I've got a feeling that it is, but when did anything on these quests work out the way we thought it would?"
Harry pondered for a few moments. "You're right, of course, Ginny. He'll have to come - if he wants to, that is. We'll leave it up to him, shall we?"
Ginny grinned and rushed over to Hugo, who'd been watching the five talk and look in his direction several times.
"You've been talking about me haven't you?" he asked.
Ginny nodded. "You have to understand that things could get very dangerous from now on. It's always been the case at the end of the last two quests. I… we think that you may be the sixth one - there has to be six of us to complete the final quest. But it's up to you whether you want to come with us."
Ginny looked hopefully at Hugo, who smiled. "Of course I'd like to come with you. I don't know whether I'm the sixth one or not, but I don't want to miss out on the rest of the adventure. And in any case," he looked slyly at the beaming Ginny, "I've got to come to look after you, haven't I?"
Ginny caught hold of his hand and dragged him to his feet, and then pulled him across to the other four. "He'll come with us!"
"You're aware that it could be dangerous?" asked Harry. Hugo nodded solemnly.
"We'd better do the same as we did in the labyrinth," said Hermione. "Ginny - will you keep a map of which way we go, just in case there may be branches in these tunnels?"
Ginny reached into her robes and pulled out several pieces of parchment and a quill, holding them up to show the others.
"Right," said Harry. "Time to go, I think."
"You lot take care," said Sirius, walking up to them.
Katie walked up and hugged Harry, whispering in his ear, "Be careful, Harry - and make sure you all come back safely." She kissed him on the cheek and then stepped back. Harry grinned warmly at her - he still hadn't fully got used to having a cousin who cared for him.
The six, led by Harry and Ron, walked into the tunnel and soon disappeared around the first bend, the shouts of encouragement from the protectors ringing in their ears.
"Come on," said Professor Flitwick, walking back to the large rock pool at the centre of the gallery. "We might as well make ourselves comfortable. We might be waiting here for some time."
He pulled his wand from his robes and sent a charm towards several rocks protruding from the gallery walls. He grinned as they started to glow with a white light, flooding the gallery with a soft and gentle illumination. Then he pointed his wand at a large rock embedded in the floor, and sent another charm that transformed it into a large and sumptuous cushion. He sank down onto it with a sigh, and raised his eyebrows at the others, inviting them to follow his lead.
Only Remus could remember the charm, however. The others had to let Flitwick provide comfortable seating for them. They settled down to wait - something that they found very hard to do, especially when they remembered the agonies they went through when they had to wait for the four to emerge from the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Remus and Flitwick spent much of the time wandering around the gallery, inspecting the rock formations and reminiscing about the revelations at the top of Mount Olympus, while the other six split up into their natural pairs. Katie, however, couldn't help glancing across at her father whenever Oliver started to get a bit frisky, and likewise, Sirius, however much he tried, couldn't help glancing at Katie whenever he and Ceri held each other closely. The big problem was the lack of any privacy in the gallery.
As the hours wore on, Flitwick settled into a gentle slumber, while Remus just stood at the entrance to the tunnel. He smiled wryly as he looked towards the three couples, pleased that they were all so happy with each other, but feeling a pang of regret for his own situation. Ever since he'd been smitten with the curse of the werewolf, he'd made a pact with himself never to become involved with a girl. He just couldn't risk the cursed gene being passed along to any children that may result from such a liaison. But even with that in the forefront of his mind, he still deeply regretted that he could never find the kind of love that Sirius had found.
He sighed and walked back to his cushion, sank down and closed his eyes. Sleep was still far away, but he could still dream.
Harry and Ron led the way through the smooth-sided tunnel, which twisted and turned as it moved ever further down into the bowels of the earth. They walked for about an hour before the tunnel suddenly petered out at a narrow crevice. Harry squeezed through and found himself standing at the top of a sort of chimney that stretched vertically below him. He looked all around, but could see no other way forward, so he called back for the others to join him on the ledge of rock.
The chimney was quite narrow - narrow enough for them to ease their way down by making use of the many rocky projections for footholds, and by stretching their arms and legs to the side to give support against the sides of the walls as they moved down.
Again Harry led the way, but kept glancing up to make sure that the girls, in particular, were comfortable with the awkward climb down. But he should have concentrated more closely on his own progress. It was the concern for his friends that landed him in one devil of a pickle. He stretched down with his right foot to brace it against the projecting rock that until that moment had always been there for him, but instead found that he was trying to stand on thin air.
His leg shot from underneath him, dragging the rest of his body after it. He flung out his arms and for a few agonising moments, hanging suspended above a dark and unknown abyss. But he couldn't hang on and then he fell, feeling the increasingly warm air flood over his face as he opened his mouth to shout a warning to the others coming behind. Then he closed his eyes, concentrated, and transformed into his eagle animagus form, spreading his wings to halt the fall to the hidden depths below.
He flapped his wings and flew back up to where the chimney exited into the huge space, and screeched loudly, both in warning and to let his friends know that he was safe. He hovered directly beneath the hole and waited while an astonished Ron, who hadn't realised the mess that Harry had got himself into, eased himself down onto the eagle's back. Harry continued to hover until Hermione came into view, staring fearfully at the gaping hole that opened up beneath her feet.
Harry moved closer and tried to project his thoughts to her, telling her to remain still until he came back for her. Hermione cocked her head to one side, listening intently, and then nodded. She looked up and shouted to the others to stop climbing down the chimney, and she also shouted down for Ron to light his wand, so that Harry could see where he was flying.
Harry turned and circled around the top of the rocky ceiling, trying to get a feel for the size of the place in which he'd emerged. He could see that it was huge - really huge - the light from Ron's wand couldn't reach to the far side of the circular chamber. Harry dropped lower, keeping his keen eagle eyes peeled beneath him, trying to see the bottom of the chamber. Down and down he flew, always circling so that Ron could keep watch for any exits to the side, but there were none. Finally, after several minutes of flying, Harry spotted that the chamber started to curve to the right until it levelled out into a flat area where he could safely set Ron onto the ground. But before he dropped to the ground, Harry flew on a while longer to see where the huge chamber led. After about a hundred yards of flat ground, it once more dropped down to form yet another seemingly bottomless pit.
He flew back to where the level ground started and transformed as soon as Ron jumped down from his back.
"I'll go back and fetch the others," said Harry. "You have a look around down here and see if there's any tunnels leading out of this place."
Ron nodded, and wiped his forehead, which had started to perspire. "It's getting bloody hot down here," he said.
Harry grinned at his friend and then transformed once more, kicking off from the ground and rising swiftly up to the chimney exit. He hovered directly beneath, as before, and allowed first Hermione, then Margot, to climb onto his back. As soon as she felt she was secure, Hermione screwed her eyes tight shut, while Margot held her lit wand high for Harry.
After setting the girls safely down, he once more rose into the air and hovered while a still-incredulous Hugo climbed down onto his back and held his arms out to steady Ginny as she flopped down in front of him. Hugo grasped her tightly as Harry once more flew down to the bottom of the chamber, and then helped her climb down once Harry had landed.
"Whoa - that was something else!" exclaimed Hugo, as Harry transformed once more.
"It very nearly wasn't," Harry replied, and told the others what had happened.
"That was quick thinking," said Hermione quietly as she caught around her boyfriend and held him close, trying not to think of what may have happened.
They all turned when Ron came into view, grinning from ear to ear. "I've found an exit," he said. "It's about fifty yards along this stretch of chamber, on the left hand side."
"What is this place, anyway?" asked Margot, looking around at the smooth sides of the chamber.
"I think it's a magma tube," said Hermione, "formed when the molten lava swelled up from the main magma chamber somewhere below. I'd guess we flew down for nearly a mile before coming to this level stretch - the lava must have hit a very hard core of rock when it welled up, forcing it to the side before coming to softer rock once more."
"And from the heat in this place, there's a bit more of that stuff down below somewhere," said Ginny, wiping her forehead.
"The tube drops off once more about a hundred yards further on," said Harry, "so it's a good job Ron's found something."
"And we're on the right track," replied the red-haired boy. "There's more of that strange writing above the tunnel entrance."
Harry and the others followed Ron as he led them over to the tunnel entrance. It looked to be far craggier than the places they'd come through so far, indicating that it hadn't been formed by the action of molten lava. Hermione held her wand high and looked at the hieroglyphs above the entrance, whispering to herself as she translated the script.
"It's just a message saying that this is the right way to go," she said.
Harry led the way into the tunnel, which although leading ever downwards, he was relieved to see that the slope was fairly gentle. After several minutes, the passage started to get steeper, and began to spiral around, always turning to the right and always heading down.
"I think it's winding around the outside of the lava tube," said Harry.
After another half hour of walking, the passage started to straighten out once more and the slope became a lot gentler. Up ahead, in the light from his wand, Harry saw a dark open space - he groaned when he realised that the tunnel was about to exit into another chamber, and he hoped it wasn't like the last one.
He walked slowly forward until he came to the exit and cautiously leaned out, holding his illuminated wand before him. As he'd feared, the exit led to yet another large gallery, although it didn't appear to have been created by the magma welling up from below. It looked more like one of the caves below Rennes-le-Chateau, only on a far grander scale.
In the increased light afforded by Ron's wand, the two boys could just make out the floor of the chamber some forty yards or so below, but this time, there was a wider ledge running down around the walls of the cavern to the bottom, where he could see huge stalagmites rising up into the heights above his head. He called for the others to be careful and stepped out onto the ledge, testing that the rocky floor was strong enough to support his weight.
He moved towards the right, keeping his back to the rock wall, and edged slowly along while the others followed. They'd gone about half way down when Harry stiffened at the sound of a scream coming from somewhere behind him. He turned his head quickly to see that Ginny had fallen to the floor of the ledge, and was scrambling frantically to stop the momentum of the fall taking her over the side and down to the rocky floor below.
Quick as a flash, Hugo fell to his knees and reached out to grasp Ginny's right arm, just as she toppled over the edge, the sinews in his neck tightening and his face contorting with the effort of holding onto her. Ron, who was immediately in front, bent down and grasped his sister's left arm as she reached it towards him, and between them, the two boys lifted Ginny back onto the ledge.
Ginny was shaking and gasping from the shock of her experience, and clung to Hugo as she started to sob. Hugo placed his hand on the back of her head and whispered into her ear, trying to calm her. After a few minutes, Ginny stood back and nodded, "I'm ok now I think. That bloody rock!"
She kicked out and sent a loose rock flying over the edge onto the floor below, satisfied that the object that had been the cause of the near-disaster had suffered the fate that she almost had.
Everyone breathed a lot easier and continued down around the cavern walls, this time keeping a wary eye out for any loose stones. At last, they reached the bottom and sat on the floor to rest for a few moments. Then they all wandered around the cavern looking for the continuation of their path. Margot called out when she came to a gap in the rock wall, the only one in the cavern as it turned out, and pointed to the strange writing that had been placed alongside it. But this time, the script was not in Egyptian hieroglyphics, and it also differed in that it was written onto a metallic-looking plaque, rather than directly onto the rock wall.
"What does it say?" Margot asked as Harry and Hermione looked closely at the oddly shaped characters. They both shook their heads.
"It's very similar to the cuneiform writing of ancient Sumer," said Hermione. "But it's not quite the same."
She looked up at the others, and whispered, "I think this could be the writing of the ancients - the writing of the people of Atlantis."
"But wouldn't Thoth - Enki - and the other Atlanteans have taught their own language when they re-civilised the world?" asked Ginny. "Why would they teach something different?"
Hermione shrugged. "I don't know, Ginny, but let's face it, look how many languages and dialects there are in our world - it must have been the same in Atlantis. And in any case, look how English has changed over the last few hundred years."
"I wonder what it says?" asked Margot. "Do you think it could be something important - you said in was very similar to the cuneiform of the Sumerians, so can you at least have a stab at what it says? It might be some sort of warning or something."
Harry shook his head. "I wouldn't have thought so - if it was that important, surely Osiris and Isis would have written something to warn the future Anima Summas don't you think?"
"You're probably right," said Hermione. "Come on Harry, let's take a closer look at it."
The pair held their wands close to the script and looked very closely at the wedge-shaped characters, talking quietly between themselves. After about five minutes, they stepped back, looking doubtfully at each other.
"Well?" asked Ron. "Any luck?"
Hermione let out a deep breath. "There are a few words that we think we recognise. But we can't be absolutely sure."
"So come on - tell us what you think it says!" exclaimed Ginny.
Hermione pointed to several of the shapes. "This first sequence of letters seems to be some sort of warning - you know, like 'DANGER' at the top of a sign, but it's not 'danger' as such. Then there's a sequence that we don't recognise, apart from the words 'Anima Summas'. After that, there's a sentence that includes the words 'true' and 'helpers', and in the last sequence are the words 'enable' or 'permit' and either 'to pass' or 'to proceed'."
Margot summarised what the pair had been able to translate. "So it goes something like, 'Warning - Anima Summas and true helpers. Permit to pass."
"That's right," said Hermione. "So it could be similar to the message left by Osiris and Isis back at the cavern where we left Sirius and the others."
"That said, 'be warned that the way forward is only for the Anima Summas and their helpers," said Harry.
"So it's not really telling us anything that we don't already know," said Ginny.
"I suppose not," said Harry. Then he looked at Hermione, took a deep breath and stepped across the threshold into the dark passageway.