Keith Lewis Keith Lewis 10 1491 2003-01-01T12:37:00Z 2003-07-07T13:30:00Z 20 11310 64468 537 128 79171 9.2720
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.
Author's Notes : Thanks for the reviews - glad you like the story. Some questions on the review board :
Is this gonna be H/Hr? - Anticipation of an event is often just as good as the event itself.
Will Harry and Hermione stop suppressing those emotions any time soon? - I wouldn't bank on it - the time has to be right.
There'll probably be a short pause in posting after this chapter - looks like I'll be away from home for a couple of days - but I should resume posting on Thursday.
It wasn't until fully four days after the Halloween ball that Hermione even spoke to Harry. Ron had tried to get her to patch things up with him, but she was stubborn - the sight of Ginny crying forlornly into her pillow had affected her badly. She loved Ginny, she was her best female friend and her feelings had been mangled by Harry.
The worst part was that she couldn't forget the way she and Harry had kissed a few weeks ago. However hard she tried to put it out of her mind, she just couldn't forget those feelings she'd had when it happened. She hoped and prayed that she wouldn't be put in the same position that Ginny was in right now - she refused to let that happen. The redhead was suffering bravely, and she really felt for her.
The event that made her speak to Harry occurred in the common room one chilly evening. The four were sitting around the fire reading, when Harry suddenly clutched his amulet. It had grown suddenly warmer as it lay against his chest. When he felt it, that familiar urgent feeling had grown much stronger, but he couldn't tell what the urgency was exactly.
Hermione noticed Harry clutching the amulet, and a look of concern crossed her face. She still thought that he should have got rid of it when they spoke in Diagon Alley, and she was afraid that something bad was going to happen. "What's the matter Harry? Why are you holding the amulet like that?" she asked.
"The feeling of urgency I told you about has just grown stronger, and it feels a lot warmer than it did. It doesn't feel like anything bad, but I get the distinct feeling that I've got to do something."
"I knew there was something I'd forgotten!" she exclaimed. "I was going to do some research on the amulet. I'm sorry, Harry, I just forgot. I think I'll go down to the library and see if I can find that book I told you about. I shouldn't be long."
"I'll come with you, Hermione," Ginny said, and they both went out through the portrait hole and headed towards the library.
As much as they tried, they couldn't find the book on magical amulets that night, although they hadn't had much time before Madam Pince closed the library. They resolved to go back the following day, which was a Saturday, when they would have plenty of time to look for it.
They had just finished breakfast the following morning when Hermione and Ginny got up to go to the library.
"Hang on a minute, you two," said Harry. "I have to show you something. Come on Ron. Lets go."
They followed Harry up the stairs until they reached Professor McGonagall's office. They looked at each other with furrowed brows, wondering what Harry had to show them. They were even more confused when Harry walked up to the suit of armour standing next to the professor's office. They were intrigued when Harry pulled out his wand, tapped the right arm of the armour, and said 'sugar beans'.
To their surprise, the suit of armour stepped aside to reveal a doorway, which Harry opened and he beckoned them inside. They were in a room they hadn't seen before - it was empty with only a mirror standing against one of the walls.
Harry turned to his friends. "I've got something to show you. I've had to keep it secret up until now and it must remain a secret - only you three will know, apart from Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall. Promise?"
"Yes, we promise. Now tell us what it is," said Ron impatiently.
"Now don't be frightened by what you are about to see. I'm new to this. Are you ready?"
"Come on, Harry, get on with it," said Hermione, who had a strange feeling about this.
They saw Harry close his eyes and his brow furrow in concentration. Then they saw him change. Three pairs of eyes opened wide, and three mouths dropped open as they looked at the huge golden eagle standing before them. "Bloody hell!" shouted Ron.
Ginny, however, looked very excited. "You're an Animagus! When did you do this Harry?"
"And how the bloody hell did you do it?" said Hermione sternly. Two humans and an eagle looked at Hermione with disbelief. Hermione didn't swear - except for the other night when Harry had upset her.
Harry unfurled his wings, the ends touching each of the walls, and flapped them slowly.
"You're beautiful, Harry. When can you take me for a ride on your back?" said Ginny excitedly. The other two could only laugh.
Harry then changed back to human form. "I can't speak human when I'm a golden eagle, Ginny. And I don't know if I can carry anybody yet - I've only just perfected it and I haven't even flown yet."
Harry then explained to his astonished friends how he'd become an Animagus, with the help of Professor McGonagall.
"They thought it would help in the fight against the Dark Side. I think they know something I don't. I'm sure they think that I'm going to be involved in the fight at some stage."
"Oh Harry," gasped Hermione, putting her hand over her mouth.
They looked glumly at Harry, afraid of what was ahead, but Ron lightened the mood. "When are you going to fly, Harry? And I want first go at riding you," he glared at Ginny.
Harry laughed. "Oh no you don't Ron. My little sister gets first go - if I can do it, that is!"
Ginny's emotions were still a bit fragile, but she still grinned at Harry.
Hermione and Ginny went into the library later, to look for the magical amulets book. Hermione had a sudden thought and walked over to a rarely used bookcase. She looked at the titles closely and then pulled a large book from the shelf. "I've got it!" she shouted at Ginny, prompting a loud "Shhhhhh" from Madam Pince.
"Sorry," she mouthed as she settled down beside Ginny to look through the book. They looked at the index to see if there was anything obvious. There was - there was a section on 'Amulets that give feelings of urgency'. They turned to the chapter impatiently, and read ...
'Feelings of urgency are sometimes emitted by a certain type of amulet. This feeling can only normally be felt by the person to whom a message is directed. This class of amulet is known as the 'Message amulet' class. The normal method of revealing the message is for the intended recipient to hold the wand onto the amulet and speak the word 'APERIO', while thinking of a parchment and quill.'
"That's it!" said Hermione, and wrote the information onto a blank piece of parchment. "Let's go and find Harry and Ron. I want to see what the message is."
They ran all the way back to Gryffindor tower and said the password to open the portrait hole and climbed in. Harry and Ron were playing wizard chess in the corner, but there was no one else in the room. "Harry. Ron. We've found something," shouted Ginny.
They walked over and Hermione read out the notes she had made in the library. "Come on - let's see if it works," she said excitedly.
Harry pulled the amulet over his head and placed it on the table. He pulled his wand out from his robes and held it directly on the knight. He closed his eyes, thought of a parchment and quill, and said, "APERIO."
The four watched with baited breath, waiting for something to happen. Suddenly, a blue light came from the tip of the sword the knight was holding, and started to form letters in the air above it. After a few moments the message could be read …
'The former conqueror - the true Anima Summa - must go to ancient Rhedae. There will he find the ancient secret, which must be revealed to him and his helpers.'
The four looked at each other. "What the hell does that mean!" exclaimed Ron.
Hermione thought for a moment. "The former conqueror must be Harry - you know, the conqueror of 'You Know Who' when he was a baby. I haven't a clue what the Anima Summa is - but again it must be Harry, because the message is directed at him. I don't know where Rhedae is, I've never heard of the place. And what is the secret to be uncovered and who are the helpers? - I really don't know." She wrote the message onto the piece of parchment, and just as she finished, the message outlined in the air vanished. Harry picked up the amulet.
"Could the helpers be us three?" said Ginny as she looked at Ron and Hermione.
"I don't know, Ginny. But you've all helped me up to now." He looked down at the amulet he was holding, "The feeling of urgency has gone. I can only feel warmth and security now - like it was the first time I held it."
The four looked down at the parchment and read the message again. Not one of them noticed the portrait hole open and close. Outside in the corridor, Draco Malfoy grinned. It had been easy - he had been lurking outside the entrance under his Invisibility Cloak when the Mudblood and the Weasley girl came along and opened the portrait. They were so excited about something that they hadn't noticed that the portrait had remained open longer than usual. He had followed them inside without any bother. He removed the cloak, and rushed off to the owlery.
Back in the common room, Hermione was in her element. "We've got to research this," she said. "We've got to scour the library for references to a place called Rhedae, and for any information on the true Anima Summa. Agreed?"
They all nodded, and they knew that Hermione's insatiable appetite for knowledge would drive them on until they found what they were looking for. "Come on," she said, "no time like the present," and she pulled them back in the direction of the library.
They were weary by the time they went in for their evening meal. They had spent all day looking through loads of wizarding books, but could find absolutely nothing about Rhedae or Anima Summa. Hermione was frustrated, and knew that it could take some time to find the information they needed.
"I'll draw up a schedule," she said to the others. "We can work in pairs in the library. Harry and Ron can work one shift, and Ginny and I the other. We'll find something even if it kills us."
"And it probably will," muttered Ron.
"What was that, Ron Weasley?" said Hermione. Harry laughed. He hadn't seen Hermione so fired up in a long time.
At breakfast the following Wednesday, Harry was busy trying to get a list of students who wanted to try out for the Keeper vacancy in the Gryffindor Quidditch team. He already had 3 names, when he saw Kristen come into the hall with Parvati and Lavender. He beckoned her over. "Kristen, I've been thinking. The Quidditch House matches will be starting soon, and I thought that we could share the Seeker position between us. I thought we could each play one game, and the one who does best can play the last game. What do you think?"
"No way, Harry. You're the Gryffindor Seeker, and you're the captain - you've got to play. And anyway, you've already beaten me once."
"Yes, but as you know that wasn't because I was better than you. You know how close that was. I can't see you just sitting in the stands when you've got all that talent."
"Thanks, Harry. I remember having a similar conversation with my Salem house captain 3 years ago. I was playing Keeper then, but he could somehow see that I'd make a good Seeker and persuaded me to switch positions. I won't be happy not playing, but I'd be even less happy taking over from you."
"You used to play Keeper? But Kristen, I'm looking for a Keeper to replace Oliver Wood. I'm holding try-outs tonight and you've got to come." He was writing her name on the list before she even replied.
That evening, Harry looked at the list of students trying out for Keeper. He was standing alongside the Quidditch field with Katie Bell, Angelina Johnson and Alicia Spinnet - the Gryffindor Chasers. He looked down the list of four names as he waited for them to arrive. Seamus Finnegan and Dean Thomas were both Harry's roommates in the 5th year and Colin Creevey was in 4th year. Kristen's name was last on the list.
When they arrived, Harry explained how the Keeper would be selected. The Chasers would try to score from various distances, and would throw the quaffle 30 times. The one who pulled off the most saves would be the new Keeper.
"Right, Colin - you first," said Harry, and he watched Colin get onto his broom and fly over to the goal area. Harry could tell as he watched him fly that he wouldn't be much good. Colin was a whiz with a camera, but Quidditch?
Harry was proved right as he marked Colin's score on the list - 1 save. And that had been a fluke. He had dived towards the right, lost his grip on the broom and hung suspended beneath it, his back to the Chasers, as the quaffle hit him on his backside and bounced away. The Chasers had taken 5 minutes to recover from their fit of laughter before they could resume.
Dean had fared better than Colin, but not much. He was after all a soccer fan, who idolised his favourite team - West Ham United, which played in the English premiership (author's note : they were relegated to the first division at the end of last season - bad luck, Dean!). He did, however, manage to save 5 shots.
Seamus was by far the best of the three boys. He looked quite good as he stopped 20 of the shots flung at the goal. "Well done, Seamus," said Harry as he marked down the score.
Kristen was the last one up. Harry immediately saw that she oozed class as she patrolled the goal area. She was focused and she flew her Firebolt like a dream. She was a brilliant Seeker, but she was also an excellent Keeper, and by the end of her session, she'd saved 26 shots.
"Thanks for coming, everybody. Kristen's the new Keeper and Seamus is reserve." Harry walked over to Kristen and congratulated her, as did the Chasers, who walked back up to the school with Seamus, Dean and Colin.
"Do you want to fly around for a bit?" Harry asked Kristen. She smiled and nodded, and pushed off from the ground.
"See if you can keep up with me," she shouted over her shoulder. Harry laughed and zoomed after her on his Firebolt. After half an hour of high-speed flying and aerobatics, they went up to the school to have their evening meal, chatting amiably.
From the window of her office, Professor McGonagall had watched the two flying around and the way they had interacted. She smiled to herself as she saw them enter the school.
The following Saturday evening, Harry called Hermione, Ron and Ginny over to him in the common room, and whispered, "Early tomorrow morning, I'm going down to the edge of the Forbidden Forest to try out my flying - and not on my broomstick if you know what I mean. Everybody's going to be in bed at that time so there won't be any risk of me being spotted. Do you want to come?"
They all nodded excitedly. "Will you let me ride you?" whispered Ginny.
"It depends how it goes, Ginny - we'll see. 5.00 a.m. down here - is that all right?"
Four pairs of bleary eyes met early the following morning, and they walked quietly down to the main door and let themselves out. Thankfully, Peeves must also have been sleeping that morning. It was still dark as they walked across the Quidditch pitch towards the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Dawn was just breaking as Harry transformed into his golden eagle Animagus form.
"Magnificent!" breathed Hermione as she looked at the green eyes and slightly unruly feathers on the top of the eagle's head.
Harry opened his wings, bent his legs, and pushed off powerfully from the ground. The beats from his wings were so powerful that the other three had to shield their eyes from the dust that was stirred up from the ground, and clutched their robes that billowed out behind them. Up he soared into the lightening sky.
Harry was ecstatic. The feeling of freedom in his dream turned out to be very real, and he marvelled as he rode the thermals, his wings spread wide, rising high into the early morning air. What he hadn't felt in his dreams was the incredible sense of power. He could see his three friends as mere dots below him when he decided to try a dive. He pointed his body at the ground and with powerful beats of his massive wings, set off in their direction. He pulled his wings back in against his body as he picked up speed.
Below him, three pairs of eyes followed his every move, and gasped when they saw him hurtling toward them at breathtaking speed.
Harry could see them duck as he approached, and he spread his wings to break his speed. He came into a perfect landing right beside the others, and immediately transformed. He was grinning as he asked, "Well, what do you think?"
"Incredible!" said Ron.
"Marvellous, but I felt really sick when you went into that dive," said Hermione.
"Way out," said Ginny. "How about my ride now, Harry?"
Harry looked at the grinning redhead and smiled. She had been looking forward to this, he could tell. "All right Ginny. Let's try it. When I transform, climb on my back, just in front of my wings, but keep your legs well forward to the front. I don't want to knock you off when I start flapping. Hold onto my neck - but don't choke me!"
Harry transformed and bent his legs to let Ginny climb onto him. As she settled onto his back he flexed his legs, bouncing up and down slightly to test her weight. He then kicked powerfully off from the ground and soared up into the air. He could hear Ginny screaming excitedly above him, and she told him to go into a dive. And he did - but not like the one he did earlier - he was afraid that Ginny would fall off. After fifteen minutes, Ginny's weight started to tell and he felt a bit tired, so he came into a smooth landing beside his friends and Ginny jumped off.
Harry transformed and Ginny hugged him. "That was incredible, Harry. I haven't felt anything like it before. It's much better than a broomstick, and a lot more comfortable."
They all laughed at Ginny's obvious delight. "Can I have a go now?" said Ron.
"After Ginny, I feel a bit tired Ron. I think it's best if I get in a bit more flying before taking your weight on my back. But I promise you'll be next. Then it'll be your turn Hermione."
"No way, Harry. You know I don't like flying, and the speed that you go, you'll have half my breakfast over your head. No - I'm quite happy to watch!"
They again all laughed as they walked back to the school for their breakfast.
It was late autumn, and the weather had taken a turn for the worse. The storms, which had become more and more normal over the last few years, had started to rush in from the Atlantic, one after the other. Harry could put up with the rain, but he hated the gales that battered the school. It meant that Quidditch practice was impossible, and it made his Animagus flying very uncomfortable and hazardous.
Professor Flitwick was waiting for the 5th year Gryffindors and Ravenclaws to settle down before starting their Charms class one morning. The Gryffindors, in particular, were looking disgruntled he noticed, and smiled to himself. They had just come from double Potions with the Slytherins.
Hermione was sitting with Ron at one table, and in front of them were Harry and Kristen. Professor Flitwick cleared his throat, "The headmaster has asked me to concentrate on the blocking of charms for the rest of this term. I know that Professor Lupin is doing the same in your DADA classes, but we feel that the more practice you get on this the better. This morning we'll look at the Confundus charm. You may remember it from last year - the charm that causes confusion to the person it's aimed at. The charm works by slightly altering the electrical patterns in the brain - it manipulates the messages passed between the brain cells before they are sent to the nerves in the part of the body to be acted upon. The blocking of this type of charm is difficult - very difficult. But you can, with practice, attempt to repair the electrical messages before they are passed along."
He looked at the students and saw that he had their full attention. "Before the charm hits you, you have to keep a small corner of your brain as clear as possible. You have to concentrate hard and visualise, say, the very front of your brain, and think a clear thought - one that is familiar to you. You have to keep concentrating on that thought. And then when you do something - such as raise your arm - you send that thought to your arm. The thought doesn't actually go to your arm, but to the part of the brain that controls arm movement. If done properly, your clear thought will unscramble the confusion, and allow you to react normally and raise your arm - is that clear?"
There were some very dubious looks from most of the students, so the professor once again explained it, giving different examples for illustration.
"Right, let's try it. Seamus, come out to the front please." Seamus walked up to Flitwick.
"Now think a clear thought, and nod when you're ready. Then I'll throw the charm."
Seamus concentrated for a few moments, and then nodded. "CONFUNDO" said Flitwick as he aimed his wand at him. Seamus had a glazed look in his eyes as the professor said, "Now raise your right leg."
Seamus scratched his nose, and everybody laughed. "FINITE INCANTATEM" said Flitwick as he removed the charm. "Don't be discouraged. You're all going to need plenty of practice to even approach getting this right. Hermione - you next."
Harry saw Hermione concentrating furiously before Flitwick sent the charm. "Raise your right leg," said the professor. Hermione made a great effort, and her leg twitched, but she also raised her left arm and started waving. After Flitwick removed the charm, he was glowing in his praise. "Excellent, Hermione. I saw your leg twitch. You will certainly be able to master this with practice. Come on, Harry. Let's see if you're as good as Professor Lupin says you are."
Harry walked out to the front, and started to think of his Animagus form, which he tried to push to the front part of his brain. He nodded to the professor. "CONFUNDO." Harry felt strange, but still held onto the image of his eagle at the front of his brain. "Raise your left arm."
Harry sent the image of the eagle to his left arm - and lifted it above his head. "Now raise your right leg," said Flitwick in a hushed voice. Harry raised his right leg. "Now turn around and face the wall." Harry did exactly that. "FINITE INCANTATEM," said the professor.
There was silence in the room, before Seamus started to clap. The other students also joined in the applause, marvelling at Harry's ability to block the charm at his first attempt. Flitwick just looked stunned, gazing with disbelief at Harry. "Thank you, Harry. You can sit down now," he whispered. He then recovered his composure and smiled. "That, class, is how you block Confundus. I suggest you go and pick Harry's brains - both physically and metaphorically."
"Now split into pairs and try it out on each other. I shan't be long - I've got to see the Headmaster for a moment." And he left the room deep in thought. Everybody crowded around Harry asking him how he'd managed to do it.
Harry looked embarrassed and confused. "Well I just did what Flitwick said - no more and no less. I really can't tell you any more. You just need to keep a clear thought in your head."
The others didn't really believe Harry and went to practice on each other. Kristen turned to Harry. "Come on then, Harry. Try it on me."
"Are you ready?" he asked. After she nodded, Harry threw the charm but Kristen was unable to block it, scratching her head instead of blinking her eyes.
"Oh, Harry. How do you do it?" she said after the charm had been lifted.
"Now do exactly like I tell you, Kristen." She nodded. "Think about your Firebolt. Got it? Now push the Firebolt to the front of your brain. Now when I ask you to raise your left arm, send your Firebolt to your left arm. Ready?" She nodded.
Harry watched as Kristen poked out her tongue at him, but he also noticed her left arm twitching. "Great, Kristen. You did as good as Hermione. Your left arm twitched," he said as he lifted the charm.
Kristen grinned and hugged him. "Thanks, Harry. You were a big help then. Come on, let's practice some more."
Hermione watched as Harry helped Kristen. She'd felt a bit uneasy when she had hugged Harry, and was a bit envious that he wasn't helping her with the charm blocking. She shrugged it off, however, and turned back to Ron, who had a finger stuck up his nose.
Ceri was sitting at her table in the guest room, reading a pile of intelligence reports from Dumbledore's spies, when there was a knock on the door. She opened it and saw Snape standing there.
"Ah, Miss Jones, is Sirius Black with you? I have a piece of information for him."
"Sorry, professor. He's gone to meet a group of our spies in London, and he won't be back till this evening. Can you give me the information?"
"Well since the both of you are working together, I can see no reason why not. There's going to be a meeting of 'You Know Who' and his inner circle on the 21st December at midnight. It will be a progress meeting, but I've heard talk that something new has come up and I can't find out anything more about it. It's going to take place on the Isle of Lewis, off the northwest coast of Scotland - inside the main megalithic stone circle at Callanish. Now there won't be much cover - no trees or anything, but there's a lot of uneven ground surrounding it, and there's an avenue of standing stones leading up to it. So with luck, you should be able to find a suitable hiding place."
Ceri made a few notes as Snape spoke. "Thanks, Professor. I'll tell Sirius when he gets back."
Snape nodded and left the room. Ceri looked pensively after him. 'He's a strange one,' she thought, 'but I guess his heart's in the right place'.
Sirius returned that evening, and Ceri told him about the meeting. "We'll have to get there early to find a good hiding place," he said. "And wrap up warm - the Isle of Lewis is not where I'd choose to be in December. It's a wild and inhospitable place - marvellous in the summer, but extremely bleak at this time of year. Still, we've got over a week to plan - perhaps you can check the library for any photos of the site - it's quite famous so there should be plenty there."
Ceri nodded. "When am I going to meet your godson, Sirius? I haven't had much time to get about the school, what with all these reports to check, and I haven't seen him yet."
"Oh, you'll meet him soon enough, Ceri. Did you hear about what happened in Charms class the other day? Flitwick came charging into the headmaster's office, and told us that Harry'd completely blocked the Confundus charm - and at the first attempt."
"That's amazing! How does he do it? I mean he's only 15 and yet so powerful. Imagine what he'll be like when he's fully grown - he'll be as powerful if not more so than Dumbledore!"
"Well I don't know about that, Ceri. So - tell me - what do you get up to in the evenings? You must be very lonely here - maybe you'd like to come to dinner at the Three Broomsticks with me one night. There's a quiet back room there, so I won't be seen - as long as you don't mind doing the ordering. What do you say?"
"Sounds good, Sirius. I'm used to being on my own, and I don't really mind, but I suppose a change of scenery would be nice. Tomorrow ok?"
Sirius nodded and transformed before going out the door towards Dumbledore's office.
"I don't know, Hermione. I don't think we'll find anything. There's just no reference at all so far about Rhedae and Anima Summa," Ron moaned after he and Harry had returned from one of their shifts at the library.
"Now don't give up, Ron. It's only been a few weeks, and we've checked less than a quarter of the wizarding books - and that's not counting the restricted section."
"But it's all right for you, Hermione. You love reading books. But it's so ... so boring," he replied.
"Oh come on, Ron," said Harry. "It's the middle of December - Christmas will be here soon."
"Yeh, and so will the Yule ball," he said with a miserable expression on his face.
"What are you all doing for Christmas? Is anyone staying here with me?" said Harry.
"Sorry, Harry," said Ginny. "Mum and Dad want me and Ron to come home. Bill and Charlie will be there and it's not often that the whole family gets together. Hey perhaps Dumbledore will let you come too?"
"I don't think so, Ginny. He's already told me not to get my hopes up about Christmas. He says it'll be safer if I stay here. What about you, Hermione?"
"I'm sorry, Harry. But my parents want me home too. I feel I must go because I may not see them over Easter. They're going to France on holiday then, and I don't think I'll be going."
Harry sighed, "Oh well, it's going to be pretty lonely, but at least I can go out and do some flying - if the weather's ok, that it. I really need to strengthen my wings."
"So Harry," said Hermione with a steely glint in her eye. "Who are you going to take to the Yule ball?"
The frostiness wasn't lost on Harry. "I don't know if I'll take anyone. I always seem to put my foot in it when it comes to dances. How about you?"
"Nobody's asked me yet," said Hermione.
"Me neither," added Ginny.
Ron looked from one to the other as they waited for him to say something. "Well don't look at me! I don't know who I'll be taking." He glanced at Hermione, but got no reaction.
Harry went to bed that night, and went to sleep quicker than he normally did. The dream that he had was different from anything he'd dreamt before.
Everything was dark. He had a feeling of claustrophobia - it felt like he was in a tunnel, not dissimilar to the one in the mountain above Hogsmeade, but he was standing on a solid, level floor. There must have been some slight illumination coming from somewhere, because he could just make out a shape up ahead. The shape seemed to be moving slowly, but he couldn't make out any details. Then he heard it - 'Come. Hurry. Do not delay' - it was a low, ghostly voice that reached him. It was not very loud and he had to strain to make out the words. Then the shape seemed to shimmer, and it was gone. The voice had gone as well.
He woke up with a start - clearly remembering the dream, and trying to make sense of it. He gave up and went about his usual morning routine, before going down to breakfast.
That evening, the awful weather had eased. The wind had dropped and it had stopped raining. Harry called for a Quidditch practice session and the seven Gryffindors trouped down to the field, happy that they'd get some flying in at last. The session went well and they tried out the crossover move. Angelina and Alicia picked it up fairly easily, and Harry was looking forward to using it in their house matches.
Kristen was doing well in goal, stopping most of the shots that came her way. She and Harry also had great fun dodging the bludgers that Fred and George hit at them. After the end of the session, Harry and Kristen stayed to do some racing - they enjoyed pitting their speed and skill against each other. As they raced towards one of the goal posts, they were neck and neck. They streaked towards the ground as if trying to get the snitch, the first one past the post being the winner. They arrived at the ground together, and bumped. They fell off their brooms and ended up in a tangle on the damp ground, both laughing joyously.
They both went to get up at the same time, and their heads banged together. Rubbing their heads ruefully, they looked at each other and grinned. They both leaned forward at the same time and their lips met. When they pulled apart, they stared at each other, both nervous of the other's reaction. Again they smiled and Kristen reached out and took hold of Harry's hand. "It's ok, Harry. I liked that. Did you?"
"Yes, Kristen, I did," he said, and pulled her close. She rested her head on his shoulder and smiled to herself. She then reached up and wrapped her hand around the back of his head and pulled him into another kiss. Harry responded with a feeling of joy in his heart.
When they again looked at each other, Harry whispered, "Does this mean you're my girlfriend now?"
"If you want me as your girlfriend, then yes," smiled Kristen.
Professor McGonagall was standing at her window watching all this. She had a satisfied smile on her face as she turned and went to inform Dumbledore of the development.
McGonagall was not the only one watching from an upstairs window. Hermione felt an icy hand clutch around her heart as she saw Harry with Kristen. She felt sad and hurt. She angrily told herself that she had no reason to be, but she couldn't help but think back to the time when she and Harry had kissed, and the wonderful feeling it had given her. Her mind started to play tricks on her - filtering in unbidden thoughts - 'that could have been me down there, if I hadn't been so stupid'. She angrily looked away from the window and resolved not to let it bother her. She would throw herself into her schoolwork, and continue with the research they had started. No - she wasn't going to let it bother her - it wasn't as if she and Harry were together or anything - was it.
The following day, Hermione was calmer. She had spent a sleepless night thinking about all the things she would do, all the reading she would catch up on, and how to further their research. She was happy that she had a firm grip on her feelings now.
She walked into the Great Hall for breakfast and saw Harry and Kristen together. She sat beside Ron and Ginny and looked over at them.
Harry felt a little guilty as he looked at Hermione - but he didn't know why that was though. "Uh, Hermione, Ginny," he said nervously. "Kristen and I - well, we're together - as a couple, I mean - we're an item. Are you ok with that?" He looked at them nervously, waiting.
Both Hermione and Ginny smiled and nodded. Ron just sat there grinning, Harry had told him last night when they went to bed. "So I suppose you've got a date for the ball then, Harry?" he said.
Harry looked at Kristen, surprised that he hadn't asked her already. "Is it a date?"
"Yes, I suppose it is," she smiled.
After breakfast, they walked out hand in hand. A sudden hush went over the room, and there were one or two gasps. This was followed by an excited buzz of conversation as most of the girls in the hall discussed the new development.
Draco Malfoy didn't need to do anything special to find out this little snippet of information - he saw it along with everyone else. He got up from his seat and followed his well-worn path to the owlery.
As Harry and Kristen went through into the hallway, Parvati and Lavender came up to them, on their way to breakfast. "Well, and how are the love birds this morning?" said Parvati. Kristen had told them all about the previous evening's events.
"You really do make a lovely couple," sighed Lavender.
Harry and Kristen both blushed furiously and went out of the main doors to go for a walk down by the lake before classes started.
Ginny was deep in thought as she went out from the Great Hall. She didn't notice a blond-haired boy waiting for her to approach him. She jumped slightly when she heard him. "Ginny, I was wondering. Would you go to the Yule ball with me?"
"Eh ... yes I'd love to Justin," she said, smiling prettily. She had noticed Justin Fitch-Fletchley the 5th year Hufflepuff before, and liked his assured and calm manner. He wasn't bad looking either.
"Great," he said. "I'll pick you up outside your common room on the night. Ok?"
"Yes, fine. See you then." Ginny smiled to herself as she walked up to the common room. She was glad someone had asked her to the ball at last, and she was also glad that it had been Justin. He wasn't Harry, but then nobody was Harry, except Harry.
That evening, Ginny told her friends about Justin. "He's a nice guy, Ginny," said Harry. "I'm pleased for you."
Ron, however, looked darkly at Ginny. "I don't know, Ginny. Aren't you a bit young to be going out on a date?" Ginny was shocked and stunned. She knew Ron was protective of her, but this was ridiculous.
"Sod off, Ron!" she replied. "I'm only just over 6 months younger than Hermione. Do you think she's too young as well?"
Ron looked sheepishly at his sister. "Sorry, Ginny. I'm only thinking of you, you know."
Ginny's angry features softened. "I know, Ron. But I'm not a baby any more. And I can look after myself."
Harry and Kristen went out for a walk, and Ginny went to her dorm, leaving Ron and Hermione together. Ron looked nervously at Hermione. "Hermione ... I ... I was wondering. Um, w ... would you go to the ball with me?"
Hermione looked at Ron feeling panic - she knew this would happen. And she couldn't tell him someone else had asked her - no one had, yet. She really liked Ron - he was her best friend - but she only liked him as a friend. And she was determined that she wouldn't do to Ron what Harry had done to Ginny at the Halloween ball. She had to think quickly. "Yes, Ron. I'd love to go with you. But we need to have a little chat first."
Ron's beaming smile faltered, wondering what she was going to say. "Ron ... I love you ... I really do. But only as a best friend - nothing more. I'm sorry, but I can't help how I feel. I told Harry the same thing after you saw us that time. The last thing I want is to hurt you, and I'd only be leading you on if I don't say this now. Can you accept that?"
Ron's face fell. "Hermione ... I ... " He took a grip of himself then and hoped that his disappointment didn't show too much. "I understand. And yes, if you like, we'll go to the ball as best friends. I can handle that. Eh ... Hermione … it's Krum, isn't it? You still like him, don't you?"
Hermione was taken aback. "No Ron, it's not Viktor. He was only ever a friend. I never liked him that way."
"But there is someone then? Someone you like?"
"No ... no, of course not." Her face took on a far-away look.
'Those jolts,' she thought, 'the hurt I felt when I saw them together, the excitement of that kiss we shared …' Her eyes filled up as the realisation hit her.
"Hermione?" said Ron quietly. "There is, isn't there?"
"Yes," she whispered, only now fully realising how she felt about Harry. That simple little question that Ron asked had forced her to face up to it, and she couldn't deny it to herself anymore. She thought, 'I should have known all along what those jolts were. But there's nothing I can do about it now. If only I hadn't been so stubborn and stupid. But it's too late now - Harry has a girlfriend. And anyway, he doesn't like me that way - he told me that he didn't want to lose me as a best friend. I'll just have to accept it and get on with my life.'
"Who is it? You look a bit upset."
"I ... I can't tell you, Ron. He doesn't even know himself. And I know that he doesn't feel the same way about me." A tear rolled down her cheek as the full realisation hit her.
"Tell me, Hermione. Who is it? I won't let anybody treat you like this!"
"No, Ron. It's not his fault. He doesn't even know. Now please, leave it."
Ron was full of anger as he looked at Hermione's retreating form. She was so lovely, so beautiful. 'Who the hell is this guy? I wonder if Harry or Ginny knows about this,' he thought.
Later that night, after Kristen had gone to her dorm, Ron called Harry and Ginny over to talk to them and told them what had happened with Hermione. Ginny was shocked - she thought that Hermione really liked Ron. Harry knew different of course, but didn't dare say.
"So who is it? Do either of you know?" Ron asked them.
"I haven't got a clue," said Harry. "It's the first I've heard that Hermione likes a boy. Has she said anything to you Ginny? You know - girl talk?"
"Not a thing, Harry. I'm as much in the dark as you are."
"I'm not happy about this," said Ron. "Hermione's hurting - I could tell when she told me - and I can't bear to see her like that. We've got to do something."
"But, Ron. If she won't tell you who it is, what can we do? Ginny, can you have a girl-to-girl talk with her? Try to find out who this bloke is?"
"I'll try, Harry. But I can't promise anything- she can be pretty deep when she wants to be."
Harry felt strange when he went up to the dorm. He'd had a jolt when Ron told them about Hermione. But it wasn't anything more than concern for his best friend - was it? Those kisses they'd shared though. No - he'd already been through this with Hermione and they'd agreed then that they would remain as best friends - nothing more. He had no right to feel anything more - and anyway, he had Kristen now and he really liked her. But he felt the same anger as Ron. Who the hell had the right to reject a girl such as Hermione - but no, he couldn't think that way. Ron said the bloke didn't even know anything about it. Who is he, anyway?
The following day, Hermione was thinking about their research, and felt herself wishing that they had the Internet at Hogwarts. She could find anything she wanted on the Internet. 'The Internet!' she thought. 'Muggle books - of course. We haven't looked at any of those books.'
Since it was a Saturday, she knew that they could spend the whole day checking the Muggle section of the library. There weren't as many Muggle books as there were wizarding ones.
She rounded up her 3 friends and told them about her idea. They went straight to the library and pulled all the likely looking books on places and travel onto the middle table.
They started to read through the indices of the books, but could find nothing. Deep in thought, Hermione went back to the bookcases and started to browse through the titles. She came upon a book entitled, 'Mysterious Places - A Review', and idly looked through the index. She found nothing, but on a whim, turned to the back of the book and looked at the alphabetical references.
'Now let's see - R … Rhedae - see note in chapter 12 - there it is!' She'd found something at last. She rushed back over to the table and excitedly showed them the book and the reference.
She hurriedly turned to Chapter 12 and they saw a brief footnote …
'Rhedae - The Visigoths founded the prosperous town known as "Rhedae." In 410, the Visigoths pillaged Rome and captured the massive treasure of Jerusalem, which had been taken there by the Roman Emperor Titus in the year 70 AD.
The Visigoths were in turn, defeated by the Merovingians led by Clovis. Charlemagne, who had become the all-powerful master of an immense empire, gave the city of Carcassonne to one of his leaders with Rhedae being a part of his lands. It was raised to the level of a Royal City by the marriage of Almaric, son of a Visigoth king, with the Merovingian Princess Clothilde, and it was to become famous for its court.
From the 11th century, Rhedae began to decline, being put to the torch by Simon de Montfort and his crusaders against the Cathar Heresy. Thus the city of Rhedae disappeared forever, leaving only the small village that still stands today. That village became the focus for one of the most incredible mysteries of the modern era - the details of which are beyond the scope of this tome'.
"What!" said Ron. "There's got to be more on it than that!"
Hermione scanned through the book, but could find no further references. "Well, there's got to be plenty on this somewhere - we just have to go through the Muggle section and find all the books about modern day mysteries. Come on, Let's get looking."
After an hour's search, ten books were piled in the centre of the table. They each took a book and started reading. After another two hours, only one book remained and they had found nothing further about Rhedae.
"I don't know about you lot, but I'm starving!" said Ron. "Coming to lunch?"
"Ron! We've only got one book left to go through," said Hermione.
Harry laughed. "When it comes to a fight between Ron's stomach and anything else in this world, there's only one winner. Come on, let's go. We can come back here later."
"No, I'll stay and go through the book. You three go to lunch, and I'll grab a sandwich later," said Hermione.
Ginny made eyes at the boys and gestured to the library door with her head. "I'll stay with Hermione. You two go." They nodded knowingly and left for the Great Hall.
Hermione and Ginny settled down and looked at the index at the back of the book. There was no reference to Rhedae.
"That's strange," said Hermione. "This book is about modern day mysteries, so there should be something here. Wait a minute. Rhedae - that footnote said that it disappeared forever, leaving a small village. I wonder if it's called something else now - you know, like London. The Romans called it Londinium before it was renamed."
"You may be right, Hermione," said Ginny, "but before we look any further, can ... can I ask you something?"
Hermione put down the book and looked at her friend. "Of course, Ginny. What?"
"I talked to Ron last night. He told me that you liked somebody …"
"Ron and his big mouth!" interrupted Hermione. "I wish I hadn't said anything now."
"But Hermione, we're all worried about you. Who is this boy?"
"What? What do you mean ALL? Who else has Ron told?"
"Calm down, Hermione. He only told Harry and me."
"He told Harry? Oh no!"
"But we're your best friends. And like I said, we're worried about you."
Hermione's anger evaporated then. "Look Ginny, thanks for your concern but I can handle this myself. I can't tell you who the boy is - he doesn't even know I like him. And ... and it's best if it stays that way. There's no need to worry about me, so please forget it."
Ginny wasn't happy, but she had known that Hermione would react something like this. And she also knew that nothing she could do would shift her. But she certainly wouldn't forget it - she knew what it was like to feel that way for somebody, and not have those feelings returned.
"If you say so, Hermione," she said quietly.
"Right, back to the book. Now let's see … let's look at the chapter titles, maybe that'll help." Hermione looked at the front of the book and run her finger down the list of chapters. "No … no … no … what's this? 'A Merovingian Mystery' - chapter 11. That other book referred to the Merovingians in the footnote."
She eagerly turned to chapter 11, and the two girls began to read.
About an hour later, Harry and Ron came back into the library carrying two plates of sandwiches for the girls. Harry looked at Ginny and raised his eyebrows questioningly. Ginny frowned and quietly shook her head.
Hermione looked up from the parchment, which was covered in the notes she had made. "We've found something - not a lot, but at least we now know where Rhedae is."
"Great - where?" said Ron.
"I'll read you my notes - there's a bit of background to this mystery." And she started reading from the parchment in front of her …
'Berenger Sauniere was the parish priest of a small village set on a hilltop in the Langedoc region of Southern France. During the late 19th and early 20th century, he had been receiving vast sums of money to refurbish the local church and also to build many structures in the area. Sauniere died in 1917, leaving the secret of where he got his fabulous wealth to his housekeeper, Marie Denarnaud, who promised to reveal it on her deathbed -- but sadly she had a stroke, which left her paralysed and unable to speak before her death in 1953.
Sauniere's confession before his death was so shocking that the priest who heard it rushed, pale-faced from his bedside, having denied him absolution and last rites.
The mystery is made greater by several parchments found by Sauniere in 1891, which contained a fairly simple cipher. They were apparently written by his predecessor, Abbe Antoine Bigou. The parchments were, on the face of it, Latin transcriptions of passages from the Bible Gospels, but they contained deeper mysteries. Sauniere also appears to have left certain other "clues" in the highly unusual redesign of his church and of the other structures in the area. Hidden within those Latin parchments was a message in French, which translates as :
"THIS TREASURE BELONGS TO DAGOBERT II KING AND TO SION AND HE IS THERE DEAD."
Within the second parchment was an even stranger message:
SHEPHERDESS NO TEMPTATION THAT POUSSIN TENIERS HOLD THE KEY PEACE 681 BY THE CROSS AND THIS HORSE OF GOD I COMPLETE THIS DAEMON GUARDIAN AT MIDDAY BLUE APPLES.
During his reconstruction of the church, Sauniere is also said to have discovered a secret chamber below one of the flagstones in the main aisle. When he lifted the flagstone, the underside of it contained a carving of a knight on horseback carrying a child. It is thought that the child was Sigesbert, son of Dagobert II, who was secreted to the city of Rhedae (now the village of Rennes-le-Chateau) after the murder of his father - the last of the Merovingian kings.
To this day, despite research by writers, scholars, historians and treasure-seekers from around the world, the secret of the mystery has yet to be revealed. This is not to say that more important information and clues have not been uncovered. The following is a brief list of some of the theories put forward as to what Saunière's secret might reveal:
- Visigoth gold, which comprised much of the treasure of King Solomon including the solid gold Menorrah, the seven-branched candelabra belonging to the Jews and of which all trace was lost after its arrival in Carcassonne.
- The treasure of Dagobert II.
- The treasure of Blanche de Castille, being the ransom money for her son, St Louis, which she later hid in the Rhazès after learning of his execution at the hands of his captors.
- An object of great religious significance such as the Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant or the Menorrah.
- An important document, such as evidence of the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, implying that their descendants still live on.
- The location of the tomb of Jesus on Mount Cardou, which is close to Rennes-le-Chateau.
There have been many books written about the mystery, and further information can found there.'
"Wow!" exclaimed Ron. "I love stories about buried treasure."
"Look at that line there," said Harry, pointing to the item that had attracted his attention. 'Rhedae - now the village of Rennes-le-Chateau.'
"That's right, Harry," said Hermione. "And the message from your amulet told you to go there - 'where you will find the ancient secret to be uncovered'. Now this is telling me that the mystery of Rhedae is not about a normal treasure - although it's obvious that Sauniere got hold of vast sums of money - but about something else, perhaps something spiritual - to many people, that is a treasure in itself, greater than any amount of gold and jewels. And there's something else that this is telling me. You know how the ministry hides certain things from Muggles?"
"What - like making them think that Hogwarts is an old ruined castle?" said Ron.
"Yes, well the same thing could be at work here. We know that magic is somehow involved, because of the amulet and the message, so there might be somebody trying to hide what the mystery is. But in a very subtle and clever way."
"How's that?" asked Ginny.
"Well, what if someone wanted to hide whatever the secret is, but someone else found out about it? And it certainly looks as if that priest found out about it. But what if he told someone else, or someone else found out about it, somehow? Now if you wanted to keep the secret hidden, how would you go about it?"
"Well I'd alter their memory," said Ron.
"Yes, but what if you didn't know how many people had been told or you didn't know who the person was who'd been told. What then?"
All three just shrugged, not sure where this was going.
"Well I know what I'd do. I'd start putting out a lot of misinformation - you know, write articles or a book or get my friends to write articles and books about it, but each one giving a different answer to the riddle, and each one false. Of course, other people not involved in the conspiracy would pick up on it - that's just human nature - and start to write their own books, each with their own pet theory. That way, the whole issue is clouded, and you wouldn't be able to pick out the true facts from the false - and the book here says that a lot of books have been written about the mystery, and it lists a lot of weird and wonderful explanations. I think it's obvious."
"Brilliant, my dear Watson," said Harry. "Hermione, you never cease to amaze me. How on earth were you able to work that lot out in such a short period of time?"
"Harry!" said Hermione, blushing. "It really wasn't that difficult. All the signs are there."
"Well maybe," said Ginny, "but I certainly wouldn't have been able to work it out."
"So - it seems that Trelawney was right, for once. I'm going to have to go on a long journey to the south of France. But how am I going to get to Rennes-le-Chateau?" said Harry with a frown on his face.
"And if she's right," said Ron, "she also warned about great danger."
"First thing - your not going, Harry," said Hermione, "at least not on your own."
"Now hang on, Hermione. Ron just said about the danger - I'm not letting anybody come with me. I've got to do this on my own."
"No way, Harry," said Ron. "We're not going to stand back while you get all the fun. We're going and that's that! And don't forget, the amulet message said about the helpers going as well."
"Now that that's settled," smiled Hermione, "the second thing - before anybody goes anywhere, we've got to properly research what we're getting into. We need to get a lot more information."
"But there aren't any more books on it in the Muggle section," Ginny pointed out.
"No. But there are loads in the Muggle world - this book says so. We just need to get hold of them."
"How are we going to do that?" said Ron. "We can't leave the castle, and in any case, you said yourself that most of them are a pack of lies anyway. So what's the point?"
"Whatever the different theories, there's always a grain of truth in them. Like the clues in the unusual church design the book talks about - it would be silly to lie about that because anybody can walk into the church to check it. There must be loads of other 'facts' that we can pick out from all the available books."
"All right, you've convinced us," said Harry, "but how are we going to get hold of them?"
"I'll be going home for Christmas, so I can get them then," she replied.
"Hermione, the book shops are going to be closed all over the holidays," Harry reminded her.
Hermione thought for a moment. "Then I'll ask my parents to get as many books on the subject as they can after the holidays and send them to us here."
Harry reached over and squeezed her shoulder. "What would we do without you, Hermione?"
The buzz of excitement and activity among the girls of Hogwarts showed that it was 21st December - the day of the Yule ball. The Great Hall had been decorated, and twelve huge Christmas tees were spread around the walls, each one adorned with magical ornaments that twinkled, shone and twirled around.
The Yule feast had been eaten, and the band had started playing. Ron and Hermione were sitting at their table watching Ginny and Justin as they danced to a fast number. They were obviously enjoying themselves. Harry and Kristen were also dancing, but they didn't seem to notice the tempo of the music since they were still dancing very close together.
Hermione couldn't help but sneak longing glances at them, all the while trying to hide where she was looking from Ron. Eventually, Ron asked her to dance, and they joined the merry throng on the dance floor. Gradually, Hermione got into the spirit of the time of year and was surprised to find that she was enjoying herself. Ron helped a lot because lately, he had not been picking arguments with her as he usually did, and they were getting on better than ever.
When the ball finished, Harry, Kristen, Ron and Hermione walked back to their tower together. They had just given the password to the Fat Lady when a red-faced Ginny came running up to them. As they went into the common room, she caught Hermione's arm and gestured her upstairs to the dormitories.
"Hermione - he kissed me," said an excited Ginny as she sat on Hermione's bed next to her.
Hermione smiled. "Are you sure that's all he did, Ginny? By the colour of your face …"
"Hermione! Of course that's all he did. It was my first kiss," she said the last part very quietly.
"So you really like Justin?"
"Yes, I think so. I mean - the kiss wasn't like I expected it to be. Parvati keeps going on about her first kiss being a mind-blowing experience, but it wasn't like that. It was nice, though. He was very romantic - and he's a gentleman. He knows how to treat a girl properly and I feel comfortable with him. Oh I had a great time tonight, Hermione. Did you?"
Hermione gave her a weak smile and nodded.
Ginny kicked herself mentally. "Oh I'm sorry - I didn't think. Wa … was he there tonight? The boy you really like?"
"Yes he was, Ginny," she said sadly.
"Was he with another girl?"
"Yes. … Ginny, I'm tired now and I need to get some sleep …"
"Sorry, Hermione. I'll see you in the morning." Ginny thought about her friend as she went to her own dorm. It was obvious that she wasn't getting over the boy, whoever he was. She just didn't know how she could help her.
Sirius and Ceri were in the Shrieking shack that night. It was 10.00pm and they'd be Apparating to Callanish a little later. They'd studied the photographs that Ceri had managed to find in the library and had spotted a good place to hide.
"Are you going home for Christmas, Ceri?" asked Sirius.
"No. There's nothing there for me any longer. I'll just have a quiet time in the guest room eating chocolates, and catching up on my reading."
"I'll be at Hogwarts over Christmas. There's only a few of us staying - Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape and my good friend Remus Lupin. It'll just be like old times - Remus and I were at Hogwarts together as students. It's just a great pity that James and Lily won't be there," he said wistfully. "But Harry will. He's the only student staying so you'll get to meet him at last. Look, Ceri, you're very welcome to spend as much time with us as you like."
"That's nice of you, Sirius, but won't you want to be on your own with Harry and Remus? You see so little of them."
"No, of course not. I'd ... we'd love to have you spend time with us. Settled?"
"Yes, as long as you're sure I won't be intruding. Thanks, Sirius. Look, we'd better be going. We want to make sure that the hiding place is ok."
They pulled their cloaks tightly around them as they arrived at the stone circle. It was bitterly cold in the northwesterly wind that whistled around the large standing stones. They quickly found the hiding place and looked about them. It was about 30 yards from the circle, near enough for their Animagus ears to pick up what was said at the meeting. The spot was behind a partially fallen menhir, one of a number that formed an avenue leading into the main circle of stones. Behind the menhir was a large depression in the ground, ideal for a dog and a wolf to crouch inside and listen. They transformed and settled down to wait …
The arrival of the inner circle followed the familiar pattern. First came Lucius Malfoy and the other Death Eaters, followed by Voldemort and Wormtail.
Ceri was pleased to see that Sirius again held his anger in check.
"Report!" said Voldemort.
Each of the Death Eaters gave what turned out to be a progress report on their recruiting activities. The last one, which was similar to the others, was given by Avery. "My Lord. We have recruited 50 new servants in the last two weeks. We have found two spies in their midst, and both are now dead. I am continuing to proceed with great caution, and our security is at a high level."
"Anything else to report?" said Voldemort.
"Yes, my Lord," answered Malfoy. "Two matters of very great interest were reported to me by our friend at the school. First, Potter has a new girlfriend. She's an American exchange student staying at Hogwarts until the end of the school year."
"Interesting, Lucius. But no doubt Dumbledore is giving her a lot of protection if she's Potter's girlfriend. Just keep an eye on things for the moment. We may be able to do something later. And the second thing?"
"This is strange, my Lord. Our friend was present when Potter and his friends activated a message amulet. He had the good presence of mind to write down what it said." He pulled a piece of parchment from his robes and read out the message. "Our friend has reported that they have been spending a lot of time in the school library lately - he's sure that they are doing some research, but he doesn't know if they've found anything yet."
"Now that is very interesting, Lucius. Tell our friend that I am very pleased with him. Does anyone know where Rhedae is?" Each of the Death Eaters shook their head.
"Hmmmm. Anima Summa. Now where have I heard that before?" said Voldemort, as much to himself as anyone else. "I think that this is to do with the emanations - it must be! Lucius, tell our friend to increase his activities. I want him to find out what Potter knows about this message. He has to find out where Rhedae is, and if and when Potter plans to go there. If this works out, we can intercept him and any of his friends, when they leave Dumbledore's protection. I know that Dumbledore won't go with him - he'll want to make sure nothing happens to his precious Hogwarts."
"Yes, my Lord. I'll arrange it straight away."
"Avery. I think you can take a break from your recruiting activities for a short while - leave that to your next in charge. I want you to arrange a little distraction - a nice surprise for Potter. Come to my cave tomorrow night and I'll tell you what I want done."
"Yes, my Lord." Avery bowed to his master.
"This has turned out to be a very interesting meeting, my servants. Now go."
Voldemort and Wormtail vanished, followed by the rest of the inner circle.
Sirius and Ceri transformed and looked at each other.
"What the hell is Harry up to now, Ceri? That boy's got a nose for trouble."
"Whatever it Sirius, it sounds pretty important to me. Do you know where Rhedae is?"
"Not a clue, Ceri. But knowing Harry - and especially Hermione - they'll find out. And they'll try to go there."
"Have you heard about this Anima Summa thing?"
"Uh … yes, I have. Very few people know about it - and we were all sworn to secrecy by Dumbledore. That's the one thing that I heard tonight that frightened me. If 'You Know Who' finds out what it is, he won't rest until Harry's dead - he may even stage a mass attack on Hogwarts, itself!"
"So what is it, Sirius?"
"I can't break my promise to Dumbledore, Ceri, but we have to go and see him straight away about this, and I'll ask him to tell you about it - although I don't think I need do that. I'm pretty sure he'll tell you tonight anyway - he trusts you, Ceri."
They Apparated back to Hogsmeade and made all haste to the school. Ceri and Padfoot had to knock Dumbledore up from his bed.
"I hope this is urgent," he said when Sirius had transformed. "An old man needs his beauty sleep, you know."
Sirius laughed. "You - old, Headmaster? That'll be the day."
The two sat down opposite Dumbledore, and told him what they had heard. "This is serious," said Dumbledore. "You're right in your assessment of what Voldemort will do if he finds out about the Anima Summa Sirius. Ceri, I think it's about time we let you in on a little secret."
He told Ceri about the prophecy, and everything they had found out since, including Kristen's birthday. "So you see, Ceri, it's very important that neither Harry, Kristen nor anyone else finds out about this."
"I can see the sense of that, Professor. But haven't we forgotten something? Harry already knows he is the Anima Summa - it was in the message."
"Ah, yes - the message. Harry seems to be getting involved in momentous things again, doesn't he? I'm not worried that he knows the term - but I would be if he finds out what it means. Now I don't for one minute think that he'll find out - at least, not from the school library or any other source I can think of. As far as I know, there's only one book that gives the explanation - and that's locked safely away at my old University. The only person who may uncover something, or at least have a good attempt at putting two and two together, is Hermione Granger. She's a very clever girl."
"Do you know where Rhedae is, professor?" asked Sirius.
"No - but I'll bet 50 galleons that Hermione has found out by now!"
"I think I'll have to have a little talk with Harry," said Sirius. "I don't want him doing anything stupid and I want to know why he hasn't told us anything about this."
The headmaster thought for a few moments. "No, Sirius. Don't say anything to him for the time being. Harry's not stupid. I'm sure he'll tell one of us two if he intends leaving the safety of Hogwarts. Just give him some time - he and his friends are probably gathering as much information as possible about Rhedae, and if I'm not mistaken, they'll have a plan all worked out before they decide to speak to us. There is something that must be done, though. I don't know what Voldemort and Avery are planning, but it won't be pleasant and it will probably be sooner rather than later."
"Yes, what are we going to do about that, Headmaster?" said Sirius.
"I'm taking you both off your spying duties, for now. I've already got Remus keeping a look out for Harry, and the others are watching all the possible Anima Summas - although from what Minerva tells me, it looks like it's Kristen Davis - but we can't be certain. I want you both to keep a close eye on Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny and Kristen. Work with Remus and Professor McGonagall on this. It's important that we protect them now, more than ever. I really think something very big indeed is going to take place, and the safety of the whole world depends on the outcome - I think it's that important. Will your people be ok with this, Ceri?"
"They've given me a free hand, Professor. They've told me that if you authorise something, then it's ok with them."
"Thank you, my dear. This may be a long-term job. It doesn't end when Harry finds his Anima Summa - they'll both need to be protected until they can build up their powers - and no one knows how long that will take. Now, the Christmas holidays start tomorrow, and all the students, apart from Harry, are going home. Your immediate task is to keep as close to Harry as possible - although you're probably planning to do that anyway. Just make sure he's accounted for at all times. Right, time to resume my beauty sleep - Sirius, you can take the guest room next to Ceri. Good night to you both - and well done. I appreciate your efforts."
Sirius and Ceri turned to leave. "Oh, Sirius. One more thing," said Dumbledore, turning. "Harry might just have a little surprise for you - ask him, and tell him I said it's ok to show you."
Sirius looked quizzically at the retreating headmaster as he walked back to his bedroom.
Harry stood outside the main doors of the school the following morning. His friends were leaving for home, and all the students were waiting for the carriages to take them to Hogsmeade station. He'd earlier said goodbye to Kristen, who had taken a Portkey back to her home in America.
"I'll be thinking about you Harry," she'd said as they broke their clinch. "I hate going home and leaving you on your own, but I couldn't persuade my parents to let me stay."
"Don't worry, Kristen. The time will fly and you'll soon be back."
"Yes, I guess," she said dubiously. But then she brightened. "But at least I'll get to see my friends and tell them all about you. They are going to be so jealous!"
Harry grinned and waved as she caught hold of the can of coke and disappeared with a 'pop'.
Now he was waving goodbye to Ron, Hermione and Ginny as they entered one of the carriages. He thought that Hermione looked a bit off colour - she wasn't her usual self at all. 'I bet she's pining over that boy she's got a crush on. The git!' he thought as his friends were driven through the main gates. He turned back to the school sadly and walked back to the common room to do his homework. 'At least,' he thought, 'that will keep me busy until Christmas day.'
Harry opened his eyes to a chilly Christmas morning. It was snowing outside. He looked towards the bottom of his bed, but was disappointed that there were no presents in sight. When they went home for Christmas, his friends normally left his presents with Dobby, and he played Santa during the night. Harry had given presents to Kristen and his friends before they left.
He went over to the window and looked out to a scene normally reserved for the prettiest Christmas cards. There was about a foot of snow covering the fields, and the branches of all the trees were bent over with the weight of the snow they carried. He was thinking about what his friends were doing right then, when the door to the dorm burst open, and he turned to see his godfather grinning at him. "Merry Christmas, Harry."
"Sirius! Merry Christmas. When did you get here?"
"Oh I've been here a while. I'm staying in one of the guest rooms all over the holiday, so I guess I'll be seeing quite a bit of you for the next week."
"That's great Sirius. I've done all my homework, and I thought I was in for a week of boredom. You've made my Christmas."
"Well, don't you want to open your presents? I told Dobby to put them in my room, so we can do that together."
"Great! Come on, let's go."
As they walked up to his guest room, Sirius turned to Harry. "Oh, and I hope you don't mind, Harry. But I've asked Ceri - you know, the American Auror - to join us. She hasn't got any family any more, as I told you, so she's on her own and I couldn't see her spending Christmas alone."
"That's fine by me, Sirius. I know what it's like to be alone, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone, especially this time of year."
Harry and Sirius were grinning as they entered the guest room. Harry saw a very attractive woman in her early thirties sitting on a chair by the table. She had longish dark brown hair and hazel eyes. She was smiling at them both, and her eyes held a twinkle as she pointed to the pile of parcels on the table.
"Harry, I'd like you to meet Ceri. Ceri, this is Harry Potter, my godson."
"Pleased to meet you, Ceri." Harry smiled as he took her hand.
"You too, Harry," she said as she looked at the youngster before her. She marvelled at his bright green eyes, and there was no mistaking that scar on his forehead, above which was the unruliest mop of black hair she had ever seen. 'Whoever ends up with him is going to be one lucky witch,' she thought to herself.
"Come on, open your presents," she said. Harry laughed and dived towards the table.
The first parcel he picked up had Ceri's name on it. "Hey, Ceri. This for you," he said handing her the package, which was quite large.
She looked surprised as she took it from him. "Strange. I don't get presents any more," she muttered. Harry heard her, and he felt really bad as he thought about the family she'd lost.
Ceri looked startled as she immediately picked up the strong emotions coming from Harry - compassion, sorrow, understanding - and was even more surprised to sense that the emotions were directed at herself. 'He's so mature,' she thought, 'kids that age don't normally feel those sort of things for older people, especially for someone they hardly know. Sirius was right - he is special.'
Sirius noticed Ceri's pensive look and guessed what was going on. "Harry, I ought to warn you that Ceri's an empath - she can feel strong emotions."
"Oh - I didn't know." He looked embarrassed and said nervously to Ceri, "Sorry - I'll have to try to keep my thoughts to myself."
She walked up to Harry and gave him a motherly hug. "No need to be sorry, Harry. Your emotions then told me all I needed to know about you - and I think we'll get on just fine. Not that your godfather hasn't talked about you - he hardly stops. So I suppose I knew you even before we met."
Harry grinned at her. "Well - aren't you going to open it?"
She ripped open the package and pulled out a thick, fur-lined robe in a deep blue colour. "Oh, it's beautiful. But who'd give me this?" A small card fluttered to the floor, and she bent and picked it up. She read it out aloud, 'To Ceri - Happy Christmas - from Sirius.'
"Uh - since you're forced to be in this cold climate, I thought it would be a bit warmer than the one you wore last night," said Sirius.
"Oh Sirius, you shouldn't have. But thank you. I really appreciate this." Her eyes filled up at the thought that someone had bothered to give her a gift. The last time that had happened. … a tear rolled down her cheek. She hurriedly wiped it away and laughed. "Come on, there's plenty more to be opened."
After 20 minutes, all the parcels had been opened. Ceri had given Sirius a new wizard hat. "I thought yours looked a bit the worse for wear," she had said.
Harry was pleased with all his presents - this was turning out to be one of the best Christmases ever. He grinned as he looked at Sirius and Ceri - it was like having his own family to share Christmas with.
"Ceri, I'm sorry I didn't have anything for you - I would have got something if I'd known. And thanks again for the trainers - they're great."
"Don't be silly, Harry - you weren't to know."
"Oh Harry," said Sirius. "Have you got a surprise for me? Professor Dumbledore told me that it'd be ok for you to show me."
Harry looked puzzled for a moment, and then realised what Dumbledore meant. He grinned at Sirius. "Well it probably will be a surprise to you," he said, "but I think we need to go outside first."
Sirius and Ceri looked at each other and shrugged. "Well, I suppose I need to try out my new robe, and you your new hat," she said as they skipped down the staircase.
Outside, it had stopped snowing but by the look of the leaden sky, not for long. Harry walked around to the greenhouses, and looked about to make sure no one was in sight. "Ready?"
They both nodded. Harry closed his eyes and concentrated, and transformed into his golden eagle Animagus form. To say that Sirius and Ceri were surprised was an understatement. Harry looked with satisfaction at their wide-open mouths and staring eyes.
It was then his turn to be surprised as Ceri transformed into a beautiful she-wolf, quickly followed by the appearance of Padfoot. The two land-locked animals started running through the snow down towards the lake, and Harry took flight and swooped after them, diving at them and pulling up at the last moment. They frolicked about for a while before they all transformed, laughing delightedly.
"How long have you been an Animagus, Harry?" asked Sirius.
"Oh, not long. I still need to do a fair bit of flying to strengthen my wings. Professor McGonagall helped me with it after the summer holiday."
"Who else knows about it - apart from Dumbledore, that is?"
"Only Hermione, Ron and Ginny. I'm illegal, you know - Dumbledore thought it would be a good idea to keep it secret for now."
"Well that makes two of us," said Sirius. "I won't register until it's made public that I've been pardoned."
"Haven't you told your girlfriend, Harry?" asked Ceri.
"No not yet. I'll have to get Dumbledore's permission first."
"How is Kristen, Harry? Remus tells me she's a nice girl."
"Yes she is," Harry started to redden a bit, "but we've only been going together for a few weeks."
Ceri again sensed emotion coming from Harry, but it wasn't what she expected - she found it difficult to read, and it seemed to be one of confusion - confusion about girls in general. 'Oh well,' she thought, 'he is very young and at a vulnerable age when it comes to girls. It's strange. He's so mature in some ways but not in others.'
"How do your friends feel about you and Kristen? I mean they can't be seeing as much of you now can they?" Sirius asked.
"Oh they're fine about it. And I still spend plenty of time with them." Harry frowned slightly and he continued, "I'm ... that is, we're all a bit worried about Hermione, Sirius."
"Hermione? Why? What's wrong with her?" Sirius asked hurriedly.
"Well, Ron got it out of her that she really likes this boy - we don't know who though. Ginny tried to talk to her but she just clammed up. She says that this boy doesn't even know that she likes him, but she seems certain that he doesn't like her that way, you know? We thought it was just a simple crush, at first, but Ginny can see that she's still hurting - we're worried that she might get sick or something."
"Oh no, not Hermione," said Sirius. "You haven't met her yet, Ceri, but she's the kindest, warmest, not to say the most intelligent - and I mean mega intelligent - girl I know. I hate to think that she's suffering - she doesn't deserve that."
"Tell me about it, Sirius. If I find out who it is, I'll knock some sense into him!" said Harry angrily.
"It sounds like you, Ron and Ginny are very protective of Hermione, Harry," said Ceri. "I think the best thing you can do for now is let her know that you're always there for her and just keep an eye on her."
"Thanks, Ceri. We'll certainly be doing that," said Harry.
"Right - Christmas dinner will be ready soon," said Sirius. "I promised Remus that we'd call in on him before we all go down to the Great Hall. Come on, let's go."