Chapter 1 The Quest
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 : Please take a few moments to leave a review - I really do need to know what you think of this chapter. There are a few images on my picture board - feel free to take a look. There're more details at the end of the chapter.
"She's a very nice girl, Harry," said Hermione as she and Harry walked alongside the river, which ran close by The Burrow.
"Yes, she is," replied Harry. "But I had a bit of a job to understand her - her accent's pretty strong."
They were talking about Margot Denarnaud, the beautiful young French girl who had just given them details of the first part of their second quest - their quest to find the second store of ancient wizarding knowledge, which would help them in the fight against the Dark Side. After she had delivered her message, Margot had left, saying that she had to return to her home in Rennes-le-Chateau, but that she would speak to them sometime in the future.
"Yes, but wasn't it strange that when she gave us the message it was in perfect English - there wasn't a trace of her strong French accent. And I wonder what she meant when she said she'd speak to us again? Do you think that she's got a part to play in the remaining two quests?"
"I don't know, Hermione, you may be right. I wonder where the dreams she's been getting about us are coming from?"
"Well she does live right above the secret of Rhedae. Perhaps Jesus is speaking to her when she sleeps. Oh, I don't know - so many strange and mysterious things have happened over the last few months."
"I still don't know what her message means though," said Harry. "It doesn't make much sense to me at all."
"Perhaps we should speak to Professor Dumbledore," said Hermione. "After all, Jesus did tell us to listen to his advice. Perhaps he's heard of a God that has your name."
"Yes, I think you're right. We have to speak to Dumbledore, and we need to see him quickly."
The two stared at each other fondly, and they instinctively held hands. The two rings touched and …
… They suddenly found themselves standing in Professor Dumbledore's office at Hogwarts. Dumbledore looked up, startled, as Harry and Hermione appeared before him.
"How the devil did you two get here?" he asked.
"P… Professor Dumbledore," stuttered Harry. "How did we get here?"
"That's what I asked, Harry. Hermione? Do you have any answers? Harry and I certainly don't."
"I… I'm as surprised as you are, Professor," she replied. "We were just talking - saying we needed to speak to you urgently. And then when we held hands, and the rings touched, we just found ourselves here. We didn't say any spell or anything."
Dumbledore grinned fondly at the two youngsters. "I think it must be some of the ancient wizarding knowledge coming to the surface, possibly activated by your mutual desire to get here. And it must be very powerful - you know that the magical protection around the school prevents anyone Apparating here, so you clearly didn't Apparate. Hmm… I'm not personally aware of any other form of instantaneous transportation, other than a Portkey, of course. I think this is one aspect you can concentrate on in your development as the Anima Summas. You need to practice this - you never know when it may come in handy."
"But Professor," said Harry, "we didn't do anything. How can we practice something if we don't know what to do?"
"Well, Harry, it seems that you wanted to see me urgently, and the rings must have picked up on this when they touched. It may well be that the rings transported you. Try it out when you get back to the Burrow. Use your imagination. Now, why do you want to see me?"
"It's the second quest, Professor," said Hermione. "Margot Denarnaud - that's the name of the French girl that's been watching Harry - came to see us a short time ago. She's a Seer, and she's had a message about the quest. We wanted to ask you if you can make any sense of it."
"And the message… ?" asked Dumbledore.
Harry nodded for Hermione to tell the headmaster what Margot had told them. She took a deep breath. "She said, 'Seek out your eponymous deity. There you will start to uncover the place of the second store of ancient knowledge. As above, so below'. She couldn't tell us any more, and she doesn't know what it means, herself. What do you think, Professor?"
"Well I think - and don't take this the wrong way - that you have to solve this yourselves. I can't help you because I'm not an integral part of the quest. You solved the riddles of the first quest yourselves, with the help of Ron and Ginny, of course, and I believe that you four have to solve this on your own as well. You see, you'll get a far better insight into things if you work on a problem without any help - a far better insight than if you were told the answer by someone else. Do you understand what I'm getting at?"
"I think so, Professor," said Harry. "We'll find out a lot more about the quest if we work out the clues ourselves."
"Exactly, Harry. But when you unravel the message, be sure to tell me. I may be able to help then - especially if you need to do some research. Don't forget, the facilities of the school library are at your disposal whenever you need them."
"Thank you, Professor," said Hermione. "Have you been able to get any Aurors to help us from the ministry?"
"I'm afraid not, Hermione. Although there's a big Auror recruitment drive going on since Voldemort's return was announced, it's going to take time to train them all. Fudge has had to take quite a few of his existing people off active duty to do the training, and the rest of them are fully stretched keeping tabs on the Death Eater recruitment that seems to have been on the increase since the attack on the school. I can sympathise with his position - he's got a very difficult job on his hands. But he's promised to try to release some Aurors when he's able."
Harry frowned. "When we work out what Margo's message means, we'll probably have to go chasing around the country, or even further afield. Who knows where the second quest will take us."
"Hmm. I know, Harry. It's important that your remaining two quests are completed as quickly as possible. You already have Sirius, Remus and Ceri to help with your protection, and I'll ask Professor Flitwick if he can help during the summer holidays. I can't release Professor Snape, though. I need him to continue his spying at some of the Death Eater meetings that have been going on lately."
Both Harry and Hermione let out a sigh of relief that they wouldn't have to put up with Snape during the holidays. They had quite enough of him during the school year.
"Thanks, Professor," said Hermione. "I think we'd better get back to the Burrow now. Sirius and the others must be frantic wondering where we've got to."
Dumbledore smiled. "Are you going to try your new - or should I say ancient - method of transportation to get back?"
Harry looked at Hermione. "Shall we try?"
They both thought about getting back to The Burrow and then reached out and held hands, making sure that the rings touched. And…
"What!" exclaimed Harry. "We did the same things as before. Why didn't it work this time?"
"Oh, I don't know, Harry," said Hermione with a pained expression on her lovely face. She looked pleadingly towards the headmaster.
"Don't be discouraged," said Dumbledore. "This is very new to you, don't forget, and you need to practice. I have noticed one thing, however - something that may help you. It seems that a feature of your joint magic is spontaneity. Your bonding was spontaneous, the ancient spells you've used up to now were completely spontaneous, and from what you've said, the way you arrived here today was spontaneous. But when you tried to force the issue, as you just did, nothing happens. Think about it, and try to change the way you approach this. Try not to have any expectation or pre-conception in your minds - just try to let the power within you take over for that split second. Keep practicing and I'm sure it will all fall into place. Come on, you can get back to The Burrow by Floo Powder."
The headmaster walked over to the fireplace and picked up a small pot from the mantelpiece. He pulled out a small handful of powder and threw it into the flames. With a loud rushing noise, the flames turned blue, and Dumbledore motioned with his hand for the two youngsters to step into the flames.
A short while later, Harry stepped from the fireplace into the kitchen at The Burrow, closely followed by Hermione.
"Where the bloody hell have you been?" shouted a very distraught Ginny as she saw her two friends appear from the fireplace. "Do you know how frantic we've all been? When Ron couldn't find you to tell you lunch is ready, we feared the worst. Sirius and all the others are down by the river looking for you. We thought you'd fallen in and drowned, or been captured by Death Eaters or something. I was just about to contact Dumbledore by Floo Powder."
"Sorry Ginny, but it wasn't intentional," said Harry. "We've just spoken to Dumbledore and he sent us back here through the Floo network from Hogwarts."
"What? But how did you get there?"
"Later Ginny," said Hermione. "But I think we'd better get the others to call off their search first."
As the three rushed out through the kitchen door, they almost collided with Arthur and Molly Weasley, who were just about to enter. "Oh, thank goodness," breathed Molly, her relief clearly showing. "Where did you two get to?"
"We'll tell you later, Mum," shouted Ginny as she rushed past her parents. "We'll fetch the others."
Half an hour later, everyone sat around the magically enlarged kitchen table, eating a late lunch. Arthur and Molly sat at the top end of the table, with Ron, Ginny, Harry, Hermione and Percy along one side, and Sirius, Remus, Ceri, Fred and George opposite them. At the bottom end sat Charlie and Nadine, who had decided to stay at The Burrow for a few more days before going back to France to stay with Nadine's brother, Demont.
"I bet Dumbledore had a shock when you just appeared in front of him," said a grinning Remus.
"Yes," replied Hermione, "but he wasn't the only one. I think Harry and I were even more surprised."
"So what did Margot say, Harry?" asked Ron. "You haven't told us what the quest is yet."
"That's why we wanted to see Dumbledore," replied Harry. "We wanted to see if he could make any sense of it. But he told us that only us four should be involved in working it out - like we did with the Rhedae mystery."
Hermione told the attentive gathering what Margot had said. 'Seek out your eponymous deity. There you will start to uncover the place of the second store of ancient knowledge. As above, so below.'
"Phew!" exclaimed Ron. "What do you think that means?"
"I think we'd better start to work on it after lunch," said Harry. "The sooner we find out what it means, the sooner we can start the quest."
"Dumbledore told us that Fudge can't give us any extra help," said Hermione. "Everybody's tied up either keeping track of the Death Eaters or training new Aurors. But he did say that Professor Flitwick will be able to help over the summer. But as soon as school starts, he'll have to go back to Hogwarts."
"As will you four," said Sirius sternly. "I know the quests are important, but you can't miss out on your schoolwork, and in any case, Remus will have to go back to Hogwarts as well for his DADA classes. We'll just have to fit your quest around that, somehow."
"I can help," said Charlie. "The ministry hasn't given me a new assignment yet, so if you, Sirius, can persuade them and Dumbledore to second me from my dragon job to your team, you'll have an extra pair of hands."
"I don't know, Charlie," replied Sirius. "It's going to be very dangerous, probably more dangerous than it was in Rennes-le-Chateau. Are you sure you know what you're getting yourself into?"
"Of course I do, Sirius. And you know what I can do - you'd have been pretty hard pressed to keep Wormtail and his mob at bay in France without my help."
"Our help, Charlie," said an indignant Nadine. "You're not getting into this without me."
"No way, Nadine," Charlie retorted. "It's too dangerous. You were hurt back in Rennes-le-Chateau and I won't see you put in that position again."
"You're not my keeper, Charlie Weasley. I can look after myself. And in any case, the kids may well find my ability to detect psychic vibrations very useful."
Everyone couldn't help but grin as the two lovebirds had the first argument of their relationship. They were stopped in full flight by Ginny. "Hey you two - isn't there a bit of déjà vu here? Charlie, you tried to stop Nadine helping us back in France but you were outvoted. What makes you think there's any difference now? If Nadine wants to help us, then I for one will be glad of it."
"Me too," said Harry, Ron and Hermione all at the same time.
"Well that's settled then," said Nadine. "What do you think, Sirius? Can you arrange for both of us to be added to your team?"
Sirius looked towards the top end of the table. "Arthur, Molly - what do you think?"
Arthur looked at Molly and she nodded. "I can't say I'm wild on the idea of Charlie and Nadine getting into this," said Arthur, "but Molly and I will be happier knowing that they'll be there to look out for Ron and Ginny. No, we've got no objections."
Sirius looked at Charlie and shrugged his shoulders. "Thanks, Charlie, Nadine, I'll speak to Dumbledore straight after lunch. I'm sure he can persuade Fudge to allow you to join the team."
"What does eponymous mean?" asked Ron.
"It means 'named after' or 'the same name as'," replied Hermione.
Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were sitting in the garden discussing Margot's message, trying to make some sense of it.
Ron thought for a few moments. "So we have to seek out the god who has the same name as the Anima Summa?"
Ginny giggled. "I haven't heard of a God called Harry before."
"Nor James," said Ron. "I've heard of kings called Harold and James, but not a God."
"I know," said Hermione, frowning. "That's what's so puzzling. And that's not all, of course. Even if we do identify the right god, how do we find him? Can you think where a god, any god at all, can be found?
"And what's more," Hermione continued, "even when we find him, the message says that will only be the start of the quest. So there are probably going to be more puzzles to solve after that!"
"And what about that last bit?" asked Ginny. "As above, so below. That's weird!"
"I think it's something to do with that statue of Jesus we saw in the church at Rennes-le-Chateau," Hermione answered. "Remember - he had one hand lifted to the sky and the other pointing at the ground. That's the mystical sign of the Tarot Magician - the re-creation of heaven on Earth - As above, so below."
Ron looked confused. "So we've got to find heaven on Earth?"
The four looked blankly at each other, trying to find a way through the mystery.
"Do you think we should do some research?" asked Ron. "We can go back to Hogwarts and look in the library - there may well be a god called Harry or James that we haven't heard about."
"Hang on," breathed Ginny with a twinkle in her eye. "We're missing the obvious here. Margot didn't say the god has Harry's name. She just said your eponymous deity. And there are two Anima Summas, aren't there, so she may have been referring to Hermione!"
"Of course!" exclaimed Hermione. But then the smile that lit up her beautiful face faded. "But I haven't heard of a goddess called Hermione either."
"No, neither have I," said Harry. "But you have to admit that your name is a damned sight more divine than mine. Ron's right - we've got to get back to Hogwarts and do some research in both the wizarding and Muggle sections of the library. We've got to find out if there's a goddess called Hermione - or a god called Harry, of course."
"Let's go and tell the others," said Ginny as she lifted herself up from the grass.
"Look, I know you need to get back to the school but you can't go just yet," said Molly. She looked at the crest-fallen faces of the four youngsters, knowing that the call of the quest was pulling at them and they were full of the impatience of youth. "You know Hermione's parents are coming here tomorrow, and you can't let them down. Hermione, they haven't seen you since the last day of school and they gave up a lot to let you stay here with us."
"I know, Mrs. Weasley," said Hermione. "You're right, of course." She looked at her three friends. "We can go there the day after tomorrow."
"Hey, in the meantime, maybe Ron and I can help you with your ancient spells," said Ginny. "With your telepathy and your instantaneous method of transportation. What is that called, anyway?"
"We don't know, Ginny," said Harry.
"Well we've got to call it something," said Ron. "We can't refer to it all the time as 'instantaneous method of transportation' - my tongue might fall out of my mouth if I say it too many times."
"How about ZAPPARATE?" asked Ginny.
"I think I like that, Ginny," said Ron. "How about you two?"
Harry looked at Hermione and smiled. "ZAPPARATE it is - provided we can do it again, of course. Come on, let's go out to the garden and try."
The four walked towards the far end of the garden, and Harry told Ron and Ginny what Dumbledore had said about practicing Zapparate. Ron picked up a red-coloured stone from the path and walked towards the middle of the lawn where he placed it on the grass. "Concentrate on this stone and see if you can Zapparate there," he shouted.
Harry and Hermione closed their eyes and held hands, making sure the rings touched. They merged their thoughts and visualised the stone, trying to build the desire to reach it. After about four minutes, nothing had happened, and they gave up.
"Perhaps it has to be a person you want to reach," said Ginny. "You thought of Dumbledore when it happened before. I'll go and stand with Ron and you try to reach us."
Again, Harry and Hermione joined hands and thought of their two friends, trying to generate the need to reach them. Again they could feel that nothing was happening, but Ginny let out a yell, "I saw you shimmer, just then. Come on, try it again - you nearly did it."
"Let's try to relax a bit more, Harry," said Hermione. "Perhaps we're trying to force it too much, like Dumbledore said."
Again they tried, but this time they helped each other to relax, easing each other's natural instinct to force it to work. They felt something, the strangest thing; they felt as if they were in two places at the same time. They opened their eyes and saw their friends standing in the middle of the lawn, but they hadn't been able to reach them.
"That was bloody incredible!" exclaimed Ron.
"What?" said Harry. "We're still here - it didn't work."
"Maybe not, but you're not far off doing it," said Ron.
Ginny ran back to the pair smiling. "You were there," she said. "For a few seconds you seemed to flash between the two places. You sort of blinked into existence beside us and then back again. All you need is practice, and I'm sure you'll be able to do it."
"Give it a break, for now," said Ron. "Why don't you try out your telepathy, and we can get back to Zapparate later."
"Right," said Harry. "Last time we tried it we could read each other's thoughts at a distance of fifty yards. Let's go for seventy yards this time. Measure it out, Ron."
Hermione went and stood just inside the line of trees that grew alongside the riverbank, and Ron followed. He then paced out the seventy yards, walking to the far end of the garden, where Harry joined him. Hermione closed her eyes and concentrated. 'Harry, can you hear me?' she thought.
'Yes. Your thoughts are quite weak but I can hear you.'
The four walked back to the centre of the garden, where they flopped onto the grass. "We can't do much more practicing that," said Ron. "The garden's not big enough. We'll have to try it again when we get back to the school."
"Where is he, Lucius?" hissed Lord Voldemort. He, Lucius Malfoy, Wormtail, Travis and two other Death Eaters had just arrived by Portkey at a spot about fifty yards from an impressive wall of reddish-coloured cliffs, which shimmered in the bright sunlight of the Southern Jordanian desert.
"He should be here, my Lord," answered Lucius. "This is the right place, I'm sure."
They looked around at the stark barren wasteland, which stretched away from the cliffs as far as the eye could see. They looked for any sign of movement, which would herald the arrival of the Arab guide who would show them the way to the ancient ruined city of Petra. Suddenly, they saw a tall figure approach from the direction of the cliffs. He was dressed in sand-coloured robes, the traditional dress of the Dark Wizards of the desert region. The robes were excellent camouflage in the desert; the man had stood no more than twenty yards away, but he hadn't been spotted by the six black-cloaked figures.
The man walked up to Voldemort and fell onto his knees. "Greetings Great One," he said. "It is a great honour to have been chosen to help you find your way to the ancient city."
"How far away is it?" asked Voldemort.
"It is but a short distance from where we stand, my Lord. Please follow."
"Are there any Muggle tourists about?" asked Travis.
"No," replied the man. "There will be no tourists here today. Fifty of my most trusted Death Eaters patrol these cliffs and will make sure that you will not be disturbed for as long as you remain here."
Travis looked towards the cliffs. "I can't see anyone there," he said.
"They are there. They know how to blend into the rock."
The Arab rose to his feet and started walking back towards the cliffs. When they reached the massive stone walls, he turned to his right and walked for a further thirty yards and beckoned towards a narrow fissure in the cliff face. He then led the six into the dark opening, which meandered into the rose-red rock. The sunlight was abruptly cut off as they entered the fissure, and Lucius looked up to see only a narrow strip of sky at the top of the cliffs that towered above them. He could see that the cleft in the rock completely bisected the two cliff walls as they walked into the gloom. There was no sound as they walked along the sandy floor. They walked for several hundred yards, the way twisting from right to left and then back again, before they came to the end of the narrow passageway.
As they walked into a clearing, they were faced with one of the most impressive sights of the ancient world. Hewn from the living rock of the cliff that faced them, was a magnificent ornate temple about fifty yards high, the entrance fronted by six huge stone pillars.
"This is the Khazneh, my Lord," said the Arab. "The Treasury."
"Thank you," said Voldemort. "You have done well. Now go - wait at the entrance at the fissure in the cliffs in case I need your services later."
As the Arab walked back through the cleft in the rock cliffs, the six approached the Treasury. Wormtail walked past the pillars and up the stone steps into the temple. After a few minutes he came back out. "My Lord. Inside is a large square room and it's completely bare. There doesn't appear to be any doorways leading off it."
"Don't be stupid, Wormtail," growled Voldemort. "There won't be a signpost announcing the entrance to Irem."
Voldemort went over and stood at the side of the second huge stone pillar on the left, the one that Aleric had written about - the one that would point the way to the City of Pillars. He looked up at the massive red sandstone structure, looking for any indication where the key to the entrance to the fabled city of Irem could be found. He walked around it, but the pillar appeared to be completely smooth, with no markings. Lucius, who was scrutinising the pillar from some distance away, shouted over to Voldemort.
"My Lord, there seems to be a section of the pillar which is a lighter colour than the rest of it - at the front about twenty feet from the base. Do you think that's where the key is?"
Voldemort grunted and walked back towards Lucius and looked up. "You may be right, Lucius. I can't see any other markings."
Voldemort went back to the pillar and muttered a few words. He slowly rose into the air and stopped when he came to the lighter coloured section of rock. He examined it closely, but could see no writing or any other kind of mark on its stark surface. He reached into his cloak, pulled out his wand and held it directly on the light red section of rock. "ALOHOMORA," he shouted.
Travis, who was standing directly beneath Voldemort at the base of the pillar, hurriedly stepped back as the step on which he was standing began to shimmer. Voldemort floated back to the ground and watched with the other five as the step turned bright red and lifted a few feet into the air. Voldemort knelt on the sandy floor and peered into the space beneath the shimmering stone. He could just make out the shape of something, which rested on the floor of the small chamber. He reached in and pulled out a strangely shaped black coloured object. It was about ten inches in length, very light, and was cold to the touch. It looked like a long, narrow arrowhead, the top ending in a sharp point and the bottom about three inches across, both sides rising slightly towards the middle to form a sort of inverted V shape.
"This must be the key," said Voldemort. "It looks as if it must fit into a similarly-shaped recess to activate the entrance to Irem."
He looked up at his five followers. "Lucius, Travis - come with me into the temple. We must search inside for the place where this key fits. Wormtail, you and the other two search on the outside of the temple, and make sure you miss nothing."
For the next two hours, the six Dark Wizards made a thorough search of the temple but could find nothing that resembled the shape of the black key. Voldemort growled with frustration as he walked back out of the temple into the sunshine, and looked again at the key, turning it over and over in his hands. Then something caught his eye. As the sunlight reflected off the key, he thought he could see the outline of a shape at the broadest end. He angled the object so that the sun shone directly on the key, and he saw the faint outline of some kind of drawing.
"Lucius," he said. "Come and look at this. What do you make of this outline?"
Both Lucius and Voldemort looked closely at the key, trying to make out what the drawing represented. They saw that the outline resembled a sort of urn, perched atop a broad, flared column.
"This must be the place where the key fits," said Voldemort. "See if you can see anything that looks like it on the temple front."
After a few minutes of scrutiny, nothing could be found that matched the drawing. "Perhaps it's somewhere else in the city, my Lord," said Lucius.
"Perhaps so, Lucius. Wormtail - fetch the Arab. Maybe he can recognise this."
A few minutes later, the Arab Death Eater bowed before Voldemort. "Do you know this city well?" asked the Dark Lord.
"Yes my Lord," replied the man. "We sometimes stay in the old abandoned places of residence towards the centre of the city."
"Look at this drawing. Do you know of any place that bears this structure?"
The Arab peered closely at the drawing on the key, and thought for a few moments. "Yes, I think so my Lord. It looks like the very top section of the central column of one of the temples - the temple is called El-Deir; it means 'The Monastery'.
"How far away is this place?" asked Voldemort.
"It is about two miles away, my Lord. It is at the highest point of the city."
"That's strange, my Lord," said Lucius. "Do you think it can be the right place? It seems odd that we have to go to the highest place to get down to the city underground."
"Hmmm," said Voldemort. "How better to hide the entrance to an underground city than at the highest place. No, I think we're on the right track." Voldemort turned back to the Arab guide. "Take us there now."
"As you wish, my Lord. Please follow," said the Arab as he turned and started along a broad track that led from the Treasury to the centre of Petra. They passed many crumbling ruins, and some that were in a far better state of preservation, as they walked through the city. When they reached the far northwest end of ancient Petra, the guide stopped and pointed to a rough path that led up into a high massif of sandstone rock.
"The way to El-Deir lies here, my Lord," he said. "The path up is fairly smooth to start, but gets much steeper as we reach the top."
The guide led the way up the path, and ancient rock tombs cut into the sandstone could be seen on both sides. After a while, the path became steeper, and finally passed through a narrow cleft between sheer walls of sandstone. The guide stepped to one side as they all emerged into an open area of white sand. Facing them was a massive structure, similar to the Treasury, but larger, cruder in construction and far more eroded by the desert winds that bombarded the temple with sand. It was about sixty yards wide and fifty yards tall, and like the Treasury, had been hewn from the sandstone cliff face.
"El-Deir, my Lord," said the Arab. "Look at the top of the central column - that is the shape of the drawing on the black stone."
Voldemort squinted up at the structure in the bright sunlight, and looked at the shape at the top of the temple. He looked back down at the black key and grunted, "Yes, you are right - this is the place. Is there a way to the top of the temple?"
"Yes, my Lord. There is an opening in the rock at the side of the temple. The top can be reached by some rough stone steps."
"Wait here. The rest of you come with me."
The six black-cloaked figures walked slowly across the white sand and stood in front of the temple. "Wormtail," said Voldemort. "Get up there and see if there is a shape that the key will fit."
"Yes, my Lord," said Wormtail as he walked to the left side of the monument. He had some difficulty with the first part of the climb, but after the initial part, the steps became easier to negotiate. After ten minutes, he emerged at the very top of the temple, and started edging his way across, keeping as close as possible to the rock wall. Eventually, after enduring the angry urgings of Voldemort, he reached the central column and started climbing onto the eroded sculpture of the urn.
"Well, Wormtail," shouted Voldemort. "Can you see anything?"
"N... No, my Lord," stuttered the anxious Wormtail, who was clinging for dear life to the urn. "I can't see any depressions in the stone at all."
Voldemort turned to Lucius. "It must be inside somewhere. Come on - everybody - look inside the temple. " He looked back up at Wormtail. "Come down, Wormtail, and help us search inside."
The five walked through the twenty-five feet high entrance doorway into the gloom of the temple, where they had to light their wands. Wormtail followed a few minutes later, relieved to be on solid ground once more.
The six moved around the crude interior, examining the walls and floor. Lucius walked to the far end, where a slab of rock, about eight feet square, was slightly raised above the floor. It appeared to be a natural aberration in the rock floor, but Lucius thought it could have been used as some sort of altar in the past. He slowly walked around the rock, peering closely at the top and sides. As he neared the centre part of the back end of the rock, he stopped and looked closely at a small ledge, some six inches above the floor. He bent down and felt all around the ledge with his left hand, holding his illuminated wand close to the rock floor.
"My Lord," he shouted suddenly. "I think I've found something."
Voldemort and the others walked quickly over to Lucius, who stood up in triumph. "I felt a depression just underneath that small ledge. I think it's the same shape as the key."
Voldemort quickly knelt on the floor and felt underneath the ledge. He looked up at Lucius with an evil grin on his face. "Well done, Lucius."
Voldemort took the black key from his robes and held it beneath the ledge, turning it until the shapes matched. Then he pushed the key firmly into the depression. The key fitted perfectly. He then stood back up, took out his wand, and bent down to place it directly on the key. "ALOHOMORA," he shouted.
All six stepped back from the rock as it started to shimmer, then turned a bright red colour, and finally disappeared to leave a gaping hole in the floor, eight feet square.
They all edged to the hole and looked down into its dark depths. At one side of the hole, the side nearest the front of the temple, was a narrow flight of stone steps leading down into the gloom below. Voldemort extended his illuminated wand into the hole and saw that the steps went down only about ten feet, where they ended at a black stone floor. No exits could be seen; it just looked like the bottom of a large rock tomb.
"Come on," said Voldemort. "Let's see if there's anything down there." He led the way to the black floor below, and was soon joined by the other five. They all looked around at the rock walls, using their wands for illumination, but could see no sign of an exit.
"What's this?" said Voldemort suddenly as he looked down at the rock wall. At about chest height, and protruding slightly above the surface of the wall, was a black object, the same shape as the key he'd used earlier. He reached out to touch the object, which appeared to be firmly attached to the wall. "I wonder," he breathed quietly.
He again held his wand against the black object and shouted, "ALOHOMORA."
All six black-cloaked figures were at once bathed in a bright red light, which shimmered around them. Then, just as suddenly as it appeared, the light went out. Voldemort blinked and looked around him. They were all still standing on the black stone floor, but the walls of the chamber had disappeared. He looked above him, but the entrance hole in the floor of the temple was also nowhere to be seen, just an empty, gloomy space.
"What?" shouted Travis. His voice echoed and then finally faded into the distance of the dark, dusty place in which they found themselves.
Harry and Hermione were sitting quietly side by side on the bank of the river that flowed past the side of the garden at The Burrow. Their eyes were clouded, immersed in their own thoughts. They sat slightly apart from each other, each knowing that their emotions were at that moment hidden from the other. They were also careful to keep their thoughts guarded. They had learned that in order to hear their thoughts, they had to consciously project them.
They were both, however, thinking about the same thing - the thing that was becoming increasingly difficult to conceal, both from themselves and their friends - a raging and passionate desire. They were desperately in love, a love that seemed to be growing day by day, and they both wrestled with the consequences of what that love would inevitably lead to. They were red-blooded, healthy teens and over the last few days they had become more and more aware of their developing needs and urges.
Both were pure in mind and body, and their experiences of life up to this point did little to help them cope with the problem they now faced. They both knew, of course, where their love would eventually lead them, but they both felt that they were too young to enter into such full-blooded intimacy.
Although they both thought the same things, they had been careful to conceal it up to now, so they didn't know how the other felt about it. But Hermione knew that the situation had to change, she knew that if she kept her raging feelings hidden from Harry for much longer, it might just cause a rift between them.
She brushed a lock of hair away from the side of her face and looked at Harry tentatively, wondering what she should do. Then she spoke in a quite voice, "Harry?"
Harry jumped slightly, drawn away from the thoughts that mirrored those of his girlfriend. "Yes Hermione?"
"Harry… I… I think we need to talk."
"About… about what I'm feeling right now. Oh, this is so hard!"
"Hermione…" Harry reached over to touch her hand, but Hermione drew back slightly, denying the contact.
"No, not yet Harry. I want to say what I feel before you feel what I feel."
Harry smiled wryly. "I think I know how you feel. I feel it too."
Hermione's eyes grew wider. "You do?"
"How could I not, Hermione? I mean, I'm in love with the most beautiful girl in the world and we're always together. It's torture, but I don't know what to do about it."
Hermione smiled and reached out her hand, lightly brushing the unruly mop of hair from his eyes. Then she dropped her hand and rested it on top of Harry's, letting her emotions flow, all thoughts of hiding her feelings now gone.
Harry sucked in a deep breath as he felt the love and raging passion enter his very being, and Hermione gasped as Harry exposed his own thoughts and emotions to her probing mind. They both reached out then and drew each other into a tight embrace, crushing their lips together in an outward pouring of their wild passion.
Hermione dug her fingers into the tops of Harry's arms as she pulled away slightly and rested her head on his shoulder. Harry lightly kissed her ear, whispering, "I love you, Hermione."
He moved his lips down to her neck and kissed the soft skin, moving down to plant yet more kisses where her neck met her shoulder. Hermione let out a quiet gasp and raised her head higher. "Harry," she whispered, "please… please don't."
But Harry did - when she didn't pull away and then raised her head even further to expose more of the delicate skin at the base of her neck.
At the same instant, the rings on both their fingers started to become warm. They looked up with surprise and gazed into each other's eyes, the all-consuming desire that threatened to overwhelm them now plain to see. Their hands, the ones on which the rings lay, reached down and touched.
Then they allowed the rings to touch.
"ANIMA SUMMAS." They both heard the voice of Jesus in their heads. "THE TIME HAS ARRIVED FOR ME TO GIVE YOU COUNCIL. IN ORDER TO ACCOMPLISH YOUR TASKS YOU MUST REMAIN PURE IN MIND AND BODY. YOU MUST REMAIN COMPLETELY IN CONTROL AND BE UNCLUTTERED BY THE ALL CONSUMING DESIRES OF THE FLESH.
ONLY WHEN YOU HAVE COMPLETED YOUR TASKS CAN YOU ENJOY THE FRUITS OF YOUR LOVE.
I WILL HELP YOU WITH THIS."
The warmth in the rings faded, as did the voice of Jesus, and they sat looking at each other in wonder. They were surprised to feel that all vestiges of lust and desire had been driven from their minds. The love, affection, deep respect and the need to protect the other still remained, remained as strong as it had ever been. But the mind-crippling emotions that had threatened to mask their powers of reason and logical thought had now disappeared.
They both felt that a veil had been lifted, and they could now think more clearly.
"Harry?" said Hermione tentatively. "It was so confusing, what I was feeling before. It felt so wrong, but at the same time so right. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
"Yes, Hermione. I wanted to, but I didn't want to… you know… we're both still very young."
Hermione sighed deeply and reached out to Harry, clinging to him desperately.
"Perhaps you'll be able to work out what the message is all about now," Harry whispered into her ear. "I think you were - we both were - a bit preoccupied before."
"Yes, I just couldn't seem to think things through - whenever I tried to concentrate on the message, those thoughts and desires would keep intruding. But I think that the rings have put paid to that - for now at least. And I do feel a bit relieved that we'll be a bit older, and more mature, before we… well, you know."
They broke apart and grinned as they looked at each other. "I don't think we'd better say anything about this to anybody, Hermione."
"No Harry - it would be dreadfully embarrassing anyway."
"So, do you know what the message is all about now? Now that your mind is free again?"
Hermione thought for a moment. "No, we've got to research the names of deities first. But it's a good thing Ginny was thinking on all four cylinders when she pointed us in the right direction."
Before breakfast the following morning, Harry and Hermione were walking in the garden. As they reached the far end, where the rickety gate led out to a path that meandered down to the village, they heard voices. They walked towards the gate and smiled as they saw Mr and Mrs Granger looking very confused. Mr Granger was holding a small package in one hand and scratching the top of his head with the other. "It must be here somewhere, Millie. I'm sure we followed Arthur's directions correctly."
"Then where's the gate, Arbuthnot!" said the impatient Millie. "We must have taken a wrong turn somewhere."
The Grangers, of course, couldn't see the gate, which was right in front of them, because of the wards that had been set up to protect The Burrow. Hermione ran up to the gate, opened it, and stepped onto the path. "Mum! Dad!" she shouted as she skipped over to her parents and wrapped her arms around her mother.
"Where did you come from, Hermione?" asked her father, now looking even more confused.
"There's magical protection covering the house and garden, Dad," said Hermione as she hugged her father. "Come on; follow me."
Hermione led her mother and father into the garden where they were greeted by Harry and then led over to the cottage. As they entered, they were met by the wonderful aroma of breakfast and freshly baked bread. Ron sat at the enlarged kitchen table tucking into a huge pile of scrambled eggs on toast.
Millie grinned. "I see you haven't lost your appetite, Ron."
Ron looked up. "Hello Mrs. Granger, Mr Granger, nice to see you both again. Uh, Mrs Granger, would you mind giving my mum the recipe for that pizza you made for us in France?"
Millie laughed. "Of course I will, Ron."
"Millie, Arbuthnot - come and sit down and have some breakfast," said Arthur as he and Molly came into the kitchen. "The rest will be down shortly. What have you got there, Arbuthnot?"
Arbuthnot glanced down at the small package. "Oh, just something for you to look at Arthur. I thought you might be interested in seeing one of the latest things to come on the market in the Muggle world."
Arthur's eyes lit up with excitement. "That's great! We can go over to my shed after breakfast - there's loads of things there I want to show you."
After breakfast, Molly gave the Grangers a tour of the cottage, which was an architect's nightmare and made even more bizarre by the extra rooms Arthur had added to make space for everyone. There were hardly any straight lines in the house and the magical world obviously hadn't heard of a spirit level. However, The Burrow positively oozed charm and homeliness, qualities that were not lost on the Grangers.
Later, Millie grabbed her daughter and led her out into the garden. "Hermione, I… we, your father and I, have talked a lot about you and Harry over the last couple of weeks."
"Yes, Mum?" said Hermione, wondering what was coming next.
"Well, it's obvious that you're both deeply in love with each other, and… oh this is so difficult!"
"Mum! You're not going to start talking about the birds and the bees are you?"
"Look, Hermione. You didn't get out much when you were younger, and you weren't really close to kids your own age. I know that you and Harry are very responsible, but we're worried about whether you'll be able to cope if… when… you start to feel certain things."
Hermione laughed at her mother's obvious discomfort. "Don't worry, Mum. I know what you're trying to say." She lifted her left hand and pointed to the ring on her middle finger. "The rings are helping us. They've said that we must remain pure until our tasks are completed, and they're helping to curb our natural urges. So there's no need for you to worry - you won't become a grandmother for some time yet!"
"Hermione!" Millie's initial indignation soon vanished and a gentle smile spread over her face as she held her daughter's hand. "I'm relieved, Hermione, and I know your father will be too. We're not so old that we can't remember the things we felt when we first fell in love you know, and the love you and Harry have must be so much more powerful than that."
"Yes, Mum. Come on; let's go and see what Dad is doing."
They walked over to the side of the cottage, where Arthur had his large shed, and heard hoots of laughter coming from inside. They went in to see Arbuthnot and Harry holding onto the side of the shed, tears streaming down their faces, giggling uncontrollably. Arthur was looking puzzled, wondering what was causing their mirth. As Hermione and her mother looked around the interior of the shed, they couldn't help but grin. Two large tables were overflowing with every-day Muggle items - electric can openers, Walkman radios, quartz clocks, an old telephone and many other similar things. But around the sides of the shed were stacked hundreds upon hundreds of old batteries, in all shapes and sizes.
"No, there's nothing wrong with the batteries, Arthur," said Arbuthnot finally. "They've just run out - they've lost their electric charge."
"Oh," said Arthur. "I thought they were all faulty. They'd work for a short while and then stop. I kept getting more and more when I had to go out into to the Muggle world with my job, and I thought that the magic at The Burrow was affecting them somehow. I've tried a load of spells to get them working again but I've failed up to now."
"They need to be recharged, Arthur," said Arbuthnot, "but I don't suppose you can do that here since The Burrow hasn't got any electricity supply. Don't worry; I'll bring you a supply of new batteries when I visit next, but I think you'd better get rid of these old ones - they'll start to corrode eventually and make a mess."
"Right. Thanks, Arbuthnot. Eh, when are you coming here next?"
"I don't know, but I've got a few spare packets back at the car in the village. I'll get them for you later; they should keep you going till we come next time."
The Grangers left soon after dinner that evening, having spent a very interesting and enjoyable day at The Burrow. Everyone now sat around the kitchen table, drinking steaming hot cups of tea, talking about Margot's message.
"We'll go to Hogwarts straight after breakfast," said Sirius. "I've spoken to Professor Dumbledore, and he's expecting us to arrive by Floo Powder. Are you and Hermione coming with us, Harry, or are you going to Zapparate?"
"Uh, no - we'll come with you. We haven't managed to perfect it yet."
"How's your telepathy coming along?" asked Ceri.
"We've managed seventy yards so far, but we need the wide open spaces of Hogwarts to try for greater distances," answered Hermione.
"Any more thoughts on the name of the god or goddess yet?" asked Remus.
"No," said Hermione, "but I know just the book to look at in the school library. I noticed it there when we were doing our research on Rhedae. It gives a list of names and their meanings, so we should find something."
"I'm sure you will," said Remus, smiling.
"What are we going to do when we find it, though," said Ron. "That book may well tell us who the god or goddess is, but how are we going to find out where he or she lives?"
"First things first Ron," said Sirius. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Professors Dumbledore, McGonagall, Flitwick and Snape sat around the headmaster's desk in his office waiting for Harry and the rest to emerge from the fireplace. A rush of magical blue flame shot up the chimney and Harry stepped out, grinning at the headmaster and his other professors. He was closely followed by Hermione, then Ron, Ginny, Sirius, Remus, Ceri, Nadine and finally Charlie.
"I must say," said Dumbledore, beaming at the new arrivals, "it's very satisfying to see some of our old students back at Hogwarts. How are you Charlie, Nadine, and welcome to our little inner circle. Minister Fudge approved your addition to the team earlier this morning."
Charlie grinned. "That's great, Professor. Nadine and I are glad to be aboard."
He and Nadine shook hands with their old teachers, but with just a hint of apprehension when they came to Snape.
"I suppose you four will want to go to the library," said Dumbledore. "We can all meet in the Great Hall for lunch at about one o'clock."
Hermione grinned with excitement. "Yes, Professor, we want to start as soon as we can."
"Oh by the way," said Dumbledore. "You may look in the restricted section if the need arises, but be sure to call one of us first. You never know what's lurking in some of those books."
"Thanks, Professor, we will," said Harry over his shoulder as the four made their way out of the office.
"It's a bit eerie in here, isn't it?" said Ginny as the four slowly walked into the empty library. "It seems strange with no other students about and Madam Pince not at her desk."
"Don't worry, Ginny," said Ron, grinning. "Just think - we can make as much noise as we like."
"Honestly Ron," said Hermione, "we should treat the library with some respect, like we always do. Come on, you sit down and I'll get that book I told you about last night."
Hermione walked over to the Muggle section of the library and searched along the second row of books. After a few minutes, she pulled a smallish book from the shelf and sat down with her friends. They all looked at the title, 'The Etymology and History of First Names'.
"Before we look at Harry and Hermione," said Ginny, "can we look at what our names mean? Come on, turn to Ginny - let's see what it says about me."
Hermione grinned and thumbed through the 'English Names' section until she came to the right page. She read out to the others what the book said about Ginny, "'Pet form of Virginia'. Hang on a minute," she turned the pages until she came to the entry for Virginia. "Feminine form of the Roman family name Virginius. Possibly derived from the Latin 'Virgo', meaning maid or virgin. According to legend, she was a Roman woman killed by her father to keep her a virgin."
Ginny's face went bright red as the other three smirked. "Uh oh, Ginny. You'd better not tell Dad what your name means."
"Shut up, Ron. Hermione, look up Ron's name."
Hermione turned the pages. "Ron - short form of Ronald or Veronica."
"Hah!" shouted Ginny. "I bet Mum meant to call you Veronica."
It was Ron's turn to scowl at his sister. "Look up Ronald, Hermione."
"Ronald - Scottish form of Ragnvald, a name introduced by Scandinavian settlers and invaders."
"Oh," said Ron. "Look up Harry next."
"Harry - Medieval form of Henry. Also an Anglicised form of Hari. Hang on a minute." Hermione turned the pages and looked at the entry for Hari. "Hari - an Indian name. This was another name of both the Hindu gods Vishnu and Krishna."
"What!" exclaimed Harry. "That must be it, what we're looking for."
Hermione thought for a few moments. "I'm not sure. It's all a bit tenuous don't you think?"
"Well I might do if I knew what tenuous means," said Ron.
"Ron!" breathed Hermione. "I mean it's all a bit vague. And there are two gods with the name Hari. No, I don't think that's it."
"Well look up Hermione then," said Ginny.
"Hermione - In Greek mythology, she was the daughter of Menelaus, the king of Sparta and Helen of Troy." Hermione stared at the rest of the entry for a moment, and then exclaimed, "That's it! Listen to this - the feminine form of the name of the Greek god, Hermes. That's got to be it!"
"Look up the name Hermes. Let's see what it says," said Harry.
Hermione quickly turned to the 'Mythological Names' section of the book. "Hermes - Son of the main Greek god Zeus and Maia. He was the cleverest of the Olympian gods and messenger to all the other gods. He is often depicted as carrying a magic wand."
"I don't think there's any doubt about it," said Ginny. "Especially after the references to the magic wand and how clever he is. Sounds like your kindred spirit, Hermione."
"So Hermes it is then," said Harry. "But where do we go from here?"
"I don't know about you, Harry," said Ron, "but I'm going down to the Great Hall. Lunch will be ready in a few minutes, and I'm starving."
"You three go on down," said Hermione. "I want to see what more I can find on Hermes. Bring me a sandwich when you come back up."
The three friends knew better than to try to drag Hermione away when she was hot on the trail of more information, so they trouped out of the library, leaving Hermione as she went back to the Muggle bookcases and started looking through the Mythology section.
One hour later, they walked back into the library to see Hermione with a pile of books in front of her, hastily scribbling some notes onto a piece of parchment. Ginny went up to the table and placed a plate of sandwiches in front of her friend. "Eat, Hermione. You can tell us what you've found in between the mouthfuls."
"There's loads about Hermes in these Greek Mythology books," she said. "Listen to this. He was the cleverest of all the Greek gods, and legend says that he invented the lyre, the panpipes, the musical scale, astronomy, weights and measures, oratory and literature. Being the herald, or messenger of the gods, it was his duty to guide the souls of the dead down into the underworld. He was also said to bring dreams to mortals. Hermes is usually depicted with a broad-brimmed hat or a winged cap, winged sandals, and the herald's staff, or magic wand. He was the favourite of the ruler of the gods, Zeus."
"That's fine, Hermione," said Ron, "but how are we going to find him?"
"Patience, Ron," said Hermione as she looked back down at her notes. "There were many temples dedicated to Hermes in ancient Greece, and also in many other countries."
"So we've got to go to one of these temples?" asked Harry.
"You're as bad as Ron, Harry," said Hermione. "Now listen. I found these lines in a copy of 'Homer's Odyssey' and I think they may be the key to finding Hermes…
'So saying, Minerva, goddess azure-eyed, rose to Olympus, the reputed seat eternal of the gods, which never storms disturb, rains drench, or snows invades, but calm the expanse and cloudless shines with purest day. There the inhabitants divine rejoice for ever.'
"What the hell does that mean, Hermione?" asked Ron, a pained expression on his face.
"It was the name Minerva that drew me to this piece. That's Professor McGonagall's first name and I felt it was a sign. Homer is describing the seat of the main Greek gods on Mount Olympus. So I did some more digging." Hermione paused to hastily chew on a chicken sandwich.
"The summit of Mount Olympus was considered the meeting place of the twelve most important gods and the central point of all the earth. Those gods, and Hermes was one of them, were called the Olympians. A gate of clouds, patrolled by the goddesses called The Seasons, protected the entrance to it. Every day, the gods would gather in the great hall of the palace of Zeus and feast on ambrosia and nectar, and discuss the affairs of heaven and earth."
"Heaven and Earth!" exclaimed Ginny. "As above, so below!"
"So you think that we'll find Hermes on Mount Olympus? You think that perhaps there's a place on the summit that's the re-creation of heaven on Earth?" asked Harry.
"Yes, I do," Hermione replied. "The references to Minerva and it being the meeting place of the gods seem to point to this place. It can't be one of the temples; there's simply too many of them. So where better to meet Hermes than the meeting place of the gods?"
"But surely," said Ginny, "this is all myth, and Mount Olympus is myth as well. Remember you told us in France that myth is the product of a fertile imagination."
"You're right, Ginny. But perhaps it isn't all myth - the message is telling us to search for Hermes, so he must have existed at some time in the past, perhaps he still exists. And I've found that Mount Olympus is a real mountain; it's in northern Greece, near the Aegean Sea on the boundary between Thessaly and Macedonia."
"So you think we've got to climb up this mountain to the summit," said Ron, "How high is it, Hermione?"
"It's just under ten thousand feet Ron," she replied. Ron let out a loud groan.
"Don't worry Ron," said Hermione. "One of these books says that although the mountain is in a remote part of Greece, many young people climb to the summit and back down again in a day. So it shouldn't be too bad."
"That's all very well, Hermione, but did the book say what sort of state they were in when they came back down? Ten thousand feet - ughh!"
Harry laughed and then pushed his seat back and stood up from the table. "So Mount Olympus it is then. Thanks Hermione - brilliant as usual. We'd better go and see Professor Dumbledore and the others. We've got to work out how we're going to get to Greece."
As they walked back towards the headmaster's office, Ginny turned suddenly towards Hermione. "If loads of people have climbed the mountain, surely we would have heard about this meeting place - there'd have been a big splash about it in the Daily Prophet wouldn't there?"
"I don't think so, Ginny," Hermione replied. "I think it must be magically hidden from Muggles, like Hogwarts."
Professor Dumbledore and the others looked up as the four youngsters walked into the office. "Have you found something already?" asked the headmaster.
"Yes sir," said Harry. "Hermione has built a very strong case that we'll find Hermes on the summit of Mount Olympus in Greece."
"Ah Greece," said Remus, his face breaking into a smile. "That was one of my old stamping grounds just after I left University. I travelled around there visiting many of the ancient sites, and learning the language. It'll be great to go back."
"Did you go to Mount Olympus Professor?" asked Harry.
"No, Harry, I'm afraid not. It's in a fairly remote part of the country you know."
"Professor Lupin," said Hermione. "We've got to go there, and the sooner the better. What's the best way to get there?"
"I know a wizard in the north of the country. He lives in Thessaloniki, about seventy miles north of the mountain range. I'm sure I can get him to arrange for a Portkey to the base of the mountain."
"Uh, Professor," said Ron. "Can't you get him to place the Portkey at the top of the mountain?"
"Ron! This is a very magical and spiritual place," said Remus. "We can't miss the chance to experience the mystery and ethos that lies all around the base of the mountain. Thousands of years ago, many hermits took up residence in the caves and forests that surround the peak to soak up the unique atmosphere that lives there. And in any case, I can't ask my friend to climb to the top to place the Portkey there. No, I think it best if we pitch camp in the forests below. Hopefully, the Portkey will be in place by tomorrow evening and we can walk up to the summit early the day after. Look on it as a labour of love, Ron You'll enjoy the experience, I'm sure."
His three friends laughed as they ruffled Ron's hair, finally managing to make a smile appear on his face.
"I can just about hear her," said Harry as he glanced at Ron. The two boys were standing at the far end of the Quidditch field, looking towards Hermione and Ginny who were over by the lake, about three hundred yards away. Harry closed his eyes and concentrated, willing his thoughts towards Hermione's mind.
"Yes, she can hear you," said Ron who saw that Hermione was waving her arm in the air. "Let's try a bit further away."
Ron paced out another fifty yards and then stopped. Harry again concentrated and forced his thoughts to Hermione. He smiled as he heard the faint answering thoughts in his head.
They spent the rest of the day trying to extend their range until they could hear their thoughts at a distance of seven hundred yards. They had earlier tried again to Zapparate, but they couldn't quite manage to materialise permanently at their friends' side. Eventually they had given up and concentrated on extending their telepathic abilities.
At dinner that evening, Remus announced that he'd made arrangements with his Greek friend, and the Portkey would be in place the following afternoon.
"I wonder where we'll have to go after we meet Hermes," said Ginny. "We know that this is only going to be the start of the quest."
"Maybe he'll lead us into the Greek underworld," said Ron. "That was one of his jobs, wasn't it - leading the souls of the dead there?"
"Yes, Ron," replied Harry. "But if that's where we have to go, I hope we won't have to die first!"
The six Dark Wizards held their illuminated wands high, trying to see into the gloom of the sinister place in which they found themselves. A squeak of fear escaped from Wormtail's mouth as his wand lit up a hideous gargoyle perched on a short marble pillar. It seemed to look right into his soul as it stared at him angrily with blank, stone eyes.
They found themselves in a smallish cave, with one side open to the dark emptiness beyond. The cave walls were adorned with twelve pillars, each topped by a stone gargoyle.
Voldemort walked a short way into the darkness and raised his wand above his head. He muttered a few words and the light increased in intensity. The other five stepped up alongside him and raised their wands. Voldemort sucked in a breath of air, tasting the dank mustiness of the place. The floor was covered with the dust of eons, sprinkled with sand that had found its way down from the desert floor above.
The place that opened up before them was huge, the bright light from their wands not managing to cut through the gloom to the furthest reaches of the place. Voldemort looked up and could just make out the rock ceiling above. He also saw that countless marble pillars, which stretched from the dusty floor to the heights above, supported the ceiling. The pillars were huge, measuring about fifteen feet across.
"Irem," hissed Voldemort. "The city of pillars. At last!"
"Where do you think the Necronomicon will be, my Lord?" asked Lucius, staring into the vast expanse of the underground city.
"I don't know, Lucius," he replied. "Aleric's book only gave directions to Irem. I think we'd better split up and search for it. Wormtail, you and Travis go to the left. You other two search on the right, and you come with me, Lucius, towards the middle of the city. If you find anything, wave your wands above your heads and magically enhance your voices and shout. Now go."
The three pairs of black-cloaked figures walked into the long-abandoned city, looking intently at their surroundings. Voldemort and Lucius followed a broad avenue that seemed to lead towards the centre of the city. As they went, they passed many temple-like structures, some showing the decay of millennia, but others looking as sturdy as the day they were built.
"Who do you think built this place, my Lord?" asked Lucius as he gazed at a square stone alter, covered with strange markings.
"I don't know, Lucius. But whoever they were they followed the Dark Side - I can feel it all around." Voldemort again sniffed the air, revelling in the evil that infused it.
Lucius nodded as he pulled his cloak tighter around his body, feeling the unsettling aura of ancient and long-lost Dark Arts in the musty air. He shivered involuntarily as he picked up his pace to follow Voldemort, who was now striding with purpose along the dusty avenue.
Travis smirked as Wormtail let out a squeal. The large bluish-coloured lizard that was walking across his foot looked up at him with disdain, and then ambled slowly into a ruined house. "What's the matter, Wormtail, don't you like lizards?"
"Shut up, Travis." Wormtail looked around at the ruined structures. The path they were following seemed to be leading into a residential part of the city. "I wonder what caused all this destruction? The buildings back by the cave seemed to be intact."
"Look at some of these stones, Wormtail. I think there must have been one almighty battle here a long time ago. You can clearly see the marks of curses on them."
"Do you think we should go into some of these places and look?" said Wormtail.
"I don't think so," Travis replied. "These are just houses. If the Necronomicon is anywhere in this city, I don't think we'll find it in any of these places."
After a while, they came to the edge of the left-hand boundary of the city. The residences at the very edge, where they met the stark rock walls, seemed to grow directly out of the rock. They saw the narrow road branch to the right, and they stared up at the partially destroyed houses on their right as they made their way along it.
"There's nothing in here, Plonger," said one of the two Death Eaters who had taken the right-hand path. Findus Plonger, a thick-set bear of a man and the father of Grimus, expelled from Hogwarts for his attack on Hermione during the last school year, grunted as he took a final look at the inside of the curious building they had just searched.
"Let's look at the next one then, Prink. I want to find the Necronomicon before any of the others can get their hands on it."
"If we do find it, don't forget what Lord Voldemort said. We can't look inside it. He has to be the first to do that," said Prink.
"Don't be stupid, Prink. How will he know if we take a little peek at it? They say that the spells in that book can give you great power and wealth, and I don't want to miss out on that."
Prink shook his head, but held his tongue. He didn't want to antagonise Plonger too much; one or two other Death Eaters had done that and ended up with a few broken bones for their trouble. They had reached the right-hand perimeter of the city a short while ago, after walking through a residential area, but the broad avenue they now followed held some very impressive structures. They couldn't guess what their purpose had been all those long years ago, but their size and architecture certainly pointed to some important purpose.
The next building, although filled with many statues and alters, showed no sign of the Necronomicon, and the thick dust on the floor suggested that no one had entered the structure for thousands of years. They went back out into the avenue and continued on their way, passing an open area with the rubble of ruined buildings strewn around. After another hundred yards, they came to a row of smaller structures, but just as impressive in their decoration as the earlier ones.
"Look over there," said Prink pointing to the fourth building along. "Look at the ground at the entrance."
The dust on the floor outside the entrance of the building seemed to be less thick than anywhere else, as if it had been used much later than the rest. "Let's look inside," said Plonger as they walked over and extended their wands through the gloomy entrance.
Voldemort and Lucius stood in front of an impressive column, which stood in the middle of the broad avenue. Eight slightly smaller avenues led up to the column, each from a different direction. The base of the column bore a black stone plaque, which held the same strange markings, probably a long-lost ancient form of writing, as had some of the structures they had seen earlier.
At the top of the column was the huge statue of a man, and Lucius could just make out the hideous features of the broad face. The ears were a revelation - it made the man look like a fat Mr. Spock, but with heavier brows.
"I wonder who that is?" said Lucius.
"Who knows," replied Voldemort. "I think we've reached the centre of the city. See how these roads all lead to this spot? That must be a statue of one of the city's rulers."
"Well the Necronomicon is not here, my Lord. Where shall we go next?"
Voldemort looked at each of the avenues in turn, then pointed towards the right. "Down this way - I sense that the dark aura of the city is stronger in that direction."
Prink and Plonger slowly entered the building, looking around with awe at the statues and frescos it contained. The chamber in which they found themselves was circular, and the walls and floor were made of pink marble, shot through with black and shiny pieces of some unidentifiable material. The frescos depicted various scenes, which showed a number of hideous-looking figures performing some unfathomable ritual. The fresco at the far end of the room showed the figures standing in front of a bright circular light, holding their arms towards it in a display of reverence and worship.
These scenes were forgotten, however, when they looked towards the very centre of the room. There, rising about six feet from the floor, was an inky black altar. The two men couldn't identify the material it was made from, its black sides seemed to suck the light from the air as the illumination from their wands got close to it. Prink shuddered as he looked at its evil beauty.
But the thing that drew their attention, the thing that drove everything else from their minds, was the object that sat on top of the altar. It was a large, black-covered book - could it be the long-lost Necronomicon?
Prink gasped and then turned back towards the entrance, intending to signal Voldemort and the others. He shouted with fear as Plonger put his beefy arm around his neck and held him back. "Just one moment, Prink, I want to look at the book first. And if you breath one word to any of the others, I promise it will be your last. Do you understand?"
Prink hurriedly nodded and backed away as Plonger released his hold. He edged back towards the entrance, all the while keeping his eyes peeled on Plonger, who turned and approached the black altar.
Plonger's eyes were wide and bright as he slowly walked towards the altar. He walked up the few small steps that led up to the altar and stopped at the top step, holding his wand high. He gazed with rapture at the book - on the black cover was one large letter etched in gold - a stylised 'N'. He grinned with anticipation at the fabled tome and reached out his hand to stroke its ancient binding.
"No don't!" shouted Prink from the entrance doorway. "It might be dangerous."
Plonger turned around and grinned at Prink. "I know what I'm doing Prink. Don't worry. Just watch - you'll be the first to witness a Dark Wizard open the Necronomicon for the first time in nearly thirteen hundred years."
Plonger turned back to the book and placed his hand on the edge of the cover. He drooled with anticipation as he lifted the cover and opened the book to his full scrutiny. He started to read the opening lines, his whole body now shaking with excitement.
Then his eyes grew wide as he absorbed the full meaning of the first paragraph.
Prink watched from the doorway and cringed as he saw the transformation that came over his colleague. Plonger seemed to grow an extra foot as his body seemed to stretch towards the ceiling. His wand dropped from shaking hands and he let out a piercing screech. An inky blackness seemed to come from the book and cover the unfortunate Plonger from head to foot. Then the blackness flowed back into the book and the cover shut with a loud slam.
Prink stared wide eyed as Plonger toppled backwards from the top of the altar and hit the floor with a crash. He lay unmoving as Prink slowly crept over to the prone figure and tentatively prodded his shoulder with his foot. There was no response. He again pushed with his foot and the whole of the huge man's body moved as if it was frozen. But it wasn't frozen - it was petrified. He leaned over the body then, and for as long as he lived he would not forget the look on Plonger's face, a look that drew Prink to the very edge of madness.
Author's Notes (2) : There are three images on my picture board of the places that Voldemort visited in his search for Irem and the Necronomicon :-
Petra - the cleft through the cliff leading to the Treasury
Petra - The Treasury (You may recognise this, and the one above, from the movie - Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. They shot the concluding scenes at Petra.)
Petra - El Deir - the Monastery where the entrance to Irem was found. Note the urn-shaped sculpture at the top of the central section.