Keith Lewis Keith Lewis 6 1460 2003-04-28T09:33:00Z 2003-07-24T13:29:00Z 16 10317 58812 490 117 72225 9.2720 Chapter 3 Necronomicon
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.
'Be warned. The magic contained in the Necronomicon is nothing to fool with and it may subject you to evil forces with which you cannot cope. The words herein are for the true followers of the Dark and no other. Remember, if you fool with the incantations, you were warned! As a follower in the ways of the Dark I, Abdul Alhazred, can vouch for the legitimacy of this!
This is the testimony of all that I have seen, and all that I have learned, in those years that I have possessed the Dark Knowledge. I have seen One Thousand and One moons, and surely this is enough for the span of a man's life, though it is said the Prophets lived much longer. I am weak, and ill, and bear great tiredness and exhaustion, and a sigh hangs in my breast like a dark lantern. I yearn to walk in the path of the Great Ones, to follow them into their Dark realm where I may be rejuvenated and made strong once more.'
Voldemort looked up after he read the opening lines of the Necronomicon. He hissed with excitement and anticipation at what he would learn. He cackled with glee as he awaited news from his inner circle. He had earlier ordered Wormtail to get in touch with his chief lieutenants, and had told them to arrange a little reminder for the magical community of the country, a reminder that he, the Dark Lord, was back and ready to take his rightful place in the world.
He turned his attention back to the fabled book and read on….
'I have seen the Unknown Lands that no map has ever charted. I have lived in the deserts and the wastelands, and spoken with demons and the souls of slaughtered men and women, victims of the fiends that were let loose in the land.
I have travelled beneath the Seas, in search of the Palace of Our Master, and found the stone monuments of vanquished civilisations, and de-ciphered the writings of some of these, while still others remain mysteries to any man who lives. And these civilisations were destroyed because of the knowledge contained in this book.
I have found fear. I have found, there in the ancient City of Pillars in the Temple of the Gates, the Gate that leads to the Dark Realm, by which the Ancient Ones, who ever seek the entrance to our world, keep eternal watch. I have smelled the vapours of those Ancient Ones, the mighty Nephilim, whose names are written in the MAGAN text, the testament of some dead civilization whose priests, seeking power, swing open the dread, evil Gate for an hour past the time and were consumed.'
Voldemort stared at the text and re-read it, not once but three times, not believing what he had seen. "It can't be!" he hissed. "The Mad Arab must indeed have been mad. But yet, those words somehow ring true in my very being. I feel it…"
He searched his memory, trying to find the bit of information that would confirm the truth of these words. And then he had it.
"Of course!" he exclaimed, the dank cave walls echoing his assertion, the only witness being the coiled Nagini in the far corner. "Irem! The temple where the Mad Arab laid the book to rest. That must have been the Temple of the Gates, the place where access can be gained to the Dark Realm. But how is it achieved?"
He read further…
'Let all who read this book be warned thereby that the habitation of men are seen and surveyed by that Ancient Race of Dark Gods and demons from a time before time, and that they seek revenge for that forgotten battle that took place somewhere in the midst of the desert. Raise them at your peril, for their revenge will be terrible. They alone possess the power and knowledge to defeat the sons and daughters of the Light. They alone know where and how to raise the ancient sword of destruction. Be warned that those who re-enact the ritual depicted in the temple must surround themselves with the greatest protection lest they be swallowed into the gaping maw of the fiery Demon of Darkness.'
Voldemort's eyes closed as he tried to remember the details of the temple in Irem. His eyes suddenly shot open as he remembered the frescos he had seen. "That must be it. Those frescos must show the ritual to be performed to gain access to the Dark Realm."
His voice bellowed out through the cave, calling Wormtail from the smaller cave where he'd been banished while Voldemort studied the book.
"Yes my Lord," said Wormtail, panting from the effort of his mad sprint into the cave.
"Wormtail - summon Lucius and Crabbe immediately, and then bring Travis back with you. There is something that we must do."
As Wormtail ran outside to do his master's bidding, Voldemort returned to reading the Necronomicon, wanting to read everything that was there about raising the Ancient Ones, the Nephilim, from the Dark Realm.
The room was dark, all magical lights extinguished. The room was filled with tension and anticipation of the event that was soon to happen.
Then, floating magically towards the table came a very large cake, aglow with the light of sixteen magical candles. The cake settled over the middle of the table and then gradually dropped to the silver dais that had been placed there to receive it.
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY," they shouted as Arthur Weasley waved his wand and turned the lights back on in the kitchen. They were all grinning widely at the look on Harry's face. He hadn't really expected anything special for his sixteenth birthday - after all, he wasn't used to the attention after spending all his birthdays before this one at the Dursleys.
Hermione, who sat next to Harry, was the first to plant a big kiss on his pink-tinged cheek, and she was quickly followed by Ginny, Ceri, Nadine and Molly Weasley, the architect of both the surprise and the huge birthday cake. Ron, who sat the other side of Harry, slapped him on his back and more restrained and verbal congratulations were shouted by the others who sat around the table - Sirius, Remus, Charlie, Arthur, Fred, George, Percy, Professor Flitwick and Professor Dumbledore, who surprised everybody by suddenly emerging from the fireplace in a rush of blue flame. The headmaster had two packages, a large, thin rectangular one he carried under his left arm, and a large sack that he carried over his right shoulder, making him look somewhat like Santa Claus.
"Your timing is impeccable, Professor Dumbledore," said Molly. "Harry's just about to blow out the candles. Go on Harry."
Harry got to his feet and leaned over the table. He drew in a large breath and blew ferociously until all the candles went out, and everybody clapped their approval. The feast that followed rivalled the best that had ever been served at Hogwarts, testimony to Molly's inventive culinary flair and the help provided by Winky and Dobby, who served the various courses in the style that only the best House Elves could achieve.
Two hours later everybody lounged in his or her chair, still at the kitchen table, too full to move. Fred, nudging George, eyed the headmaster quizzically. "What have you got in those parcels, Professor?"
The headmaster stood up and looked at Harry with a grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye. "These? Oh well, I suppose it's time for Harry to get his present. Harry, this sack is stuffed full of birthday cards for you. Just as you went through the fireplace to The Burrow, a huge flock of owls arrived at Hogwarts. They flew around the school for ages, no doubt confused that you were no longer there. Professors McGonagall, Snape and myself had a dickens of a job persuading them to come into the Great Hall and leave the cards in our care."
Dumbledore heaved the sack over his shoulder, walked over to Harry, and dropped it with a loud thud by his side. Harry opened the sack and saw hundreds upon hundreds of letters, he rummaged around inside, glancing at the addresses, seeing his name on all the ones he looked at.
"B… But how, Professor?" he stammered. "These can't all be for me, surely? Who would have sent them?"
"I think you've got to thank Rita Skeeter, Harry," replied the headmaster. "She's still writing a series of articles in the Daily Prophet about the Anima Summas, and three days ago she published your birthday. So these are no doubt from your many admirers around the country, and a bit further afield if I'm not mistaken. Some of those owls looked very strange, certainly not indigenous to the U.K."
"It's going to take ages to read all these," said Harry. "I don't know how I'm going to be able to write back to everybody thanking them."
"Hey Harry!" exclaimed Ginny. "I know. Why don't we get your fan club to reply for you? We can ask Colin Creevey and Clare Bryant to do it, I'm sure they'd love to get involved."
Harry looked doubtfully at Ginny, but Dumbledore said, "I think Ginny's got a very good point. I'm sure that not all these are birthday cards; a lot of them are probably messages wishing the four of you well on your quests. They're all counting on you to save them from Voldemort, after all."
"But I can't ask Colin and Clare to do all that, it wouldn't be fair on them," said Harry.
"I don't think you have anything to worry about on that score, Harry," said the headmaster. "I'm sure they'd only be too glad to help. Look, after you've read them, let me have them back and I'll get in touch with them for you. How does that sound?"
"Thanks, Professor," said Harry, "I'd be very grateful."
"And now Harry," continued Dumbledore, "I suspect you're wondering why you haven't had any presents yet." Everyone at the table grinned, full of anticipation, with the exception of Hermione, who looked just as puzzled as Harry.
"We all wanted to get you something that will endure through time," said Dumbledore. "And not only you, Harry. Hermione, this is for you as well - look on it as an early birthday present. We all clubbed together and contributed towards this." He picked up the rectangular package from the floor and held it in front of him. "Your friends here chipped in, as well as all the professors at Hogwarts, and even some of the students. The balance was made up from a mixture of school funds and the Ministry of Magic, so you could say that this is from the whole country."
Harry and Hermione looked at each other, and then back at Dumbledore. "But Professor," said Hermione, "whatever it is must have been very expensive."
"Uh yes, Hermione it was. But it was well worth it."
The headmaster pulled the wrapping from the present and then placed a large painting on the table. Everyone gathered round to inspect it. It was a magical painting, showing Harry and Hermione standing side by side holding hands, their rings prominently displayed. Their heads and shoulders were covered in a soft silvery glow, and they kept glancing at each other and smiling, then looking back out of the painting at their audience and waving their hands. The background in the painting showed Hogwarts in silhouette against a lightening sky, and the sun just rising from behind one of the turrets. The painting was headed, 'Anima Summas at Hogwarts'.
Harry and Hermione were thunderstruck, unable to say anything. Dumbledore grinned as they looked, mouths slightly agape, at the painting. "I commissioned this from Leonardo Micaeloni, probably the best and most famous painter of magical portraits still living in the wizarding world. As subjects, he used a lot of wizarding photographs that Colin Creevey took of you both recently. He was in on this as well, you see, and I must say he did a good job getting just about every angle of you both, helped by Ron and Ginny of course."
Harry looked at the grinning Ron and Ginny. "So that's why you kept pestering us to go outside for walks." Both his friends nodded.
"Do you both like it?" asked Ginny.
Hermione glanced at Harry and smiled. "We love it. But where are we going to keep it?"
"That's already taken care of," said Dumbledore. "It will get pride of place in the Entrance Hall at Hogwarts. Everybody who enters the school will be able to see it high on the wall in front of them. It will be there as an inspiration to the student body, both present and future."
"Th… thank you Professor," said Harry, blushing slightly, "from both of us. We just don't know what else to say."
"Then don't say anything," said George as he handed Harry a small package. "This is from Fred and me. We wanted you to have a little something else to open."
'Uh oh,' Harry thought. 'Hermione, do you know anything about this?'
'Not a thing, Harry, honestly,' she silently thought back.
Harry slowly and cautiously started to open the parcel, glancing at the grinning faces of Fred and George. He knew that something unusual was about to happen. He finished opening the package and stared at a model of a Firebolt broomstick - almost an exact replica of his own, but only about twelve inches long. "Uh, this is great," said Harry tentatively. "But it's not going to do anything nasty is it?"
Fred and George didn't answer; they just sat grinning. Harry looked around the table, but everyone seemed to be as puzzled as he was. Harry looked back down at the model, not really knowing what he should do. He wasn't sure whether to place it on the table, keep holding it, or put it on the floor and stand well back. Then the broomstick started to move, but not in the way a broomstick usually moves. It seemed to wobble like jelly, undulating like a small snake as it sat in Harry's hands. Then, quick as a flash, it moved up Harry's arm and hovered for a moment on his shoulder.
Harry sat wide-eyed, squinting at the wobbly broomstick from the corner of his left eye, unable to move for fear of provoking it. Then the broomstick coiled back on itself like a rattlesnake, as if preparing to strike. And strike it did - it shot straight into Harry's left ear and disappeared completely. A gasp went up from those watching, and Harry clutched frantically at his ear, laughing involuntarily between his gasps of anguish as he felt the gelatinous creation wriggling and tickling inside him. Then, ever so slowly the broomstick reappeared, to the hilarious delight of Ron and Ginny and the disbelieving shriek of Molly, edging its way out of Harry's nose. It then slid down the front of his shirt, settled back into his hands, and vanished with a loud belching noise
There was a mixture of silence and barely suppressed sniggers from everyone at the table, but Harry cut the tension when he declared, "That was something else! The strangest thing I've ever felt."
"What do you think, Harry?" asked Fred.
"Did you like it?" asked George. "Do you think it will sell?"
"Fred! George!" shouted Molly. "Upstairs, now! That was the most embarrassing thing I've seen for many a year. Are you all right Harry dear?"
"Yes Mrs. Weasley, I'm fine. I suppose it was funny - to anybody watching, that is."
"Leave them alone Molly," said Arthur, trying not to laugh too much. "That's one of their better inventions I think. Technically it was very impressive."
Everyone now let go their suppressed mirth and Sirius and Remus, who had known all along what was going to happen, congratulated Fred and George on a very professionally constructed prank.
"Uh Harry," said Fred, "can we use you to advertise this? If we tell everybody that it was first tested out on Harry Potter, the Anima Summa, it's bound to sell."
Hermione looked at the twins darkly. "You mean to tell me that this is the first time you've tried it out? What if something had gone wrong?"
"Don't worry Hermione," said George, "we tried it out on ourselves first, during the development stages, so we were fairly certain it would work properly."
"Ugghhh." She replied, looking very cross until Harry, grinning, put his hands on her cheeks, turned her head towards him, and kissed her on the tip of her nose.
The rest of the evening was a great success and Harry at last felt that he was part of a family, and the feeling it gave him was incredible.
Cornelius Fudge sat in his large and sumptuous leather chair in his office at the Ministry of Magic. He leaned back in the chair, tapping the armrest with his fingers, and held the report in front of him, the weekly report on Auror recruitment. He looked up when he heard a knock on his door. At his prompt, it opened to reveal a large man in his mid thirties, short curly hair tending towards baldness, and piercing blue eyes.
"Ah Marcus," said Fudge gesturing to a seat in front of his desk, "sit down please. I've been reading your latest report, and I must say that it doesn't make very good reading. Are you sure that these figures are accurate?"
Marcus Heatherington-Jones rubbed his knee nervously. Fudge had appointed him only four weeks previously as head of Auror defence for the country, and he still felt slightly uncomfortable to be moving in such high circles. After all, everybody had expected Fletcher to get the job because of his great experience, but for some reason Fudge had seen fit to appoint Marcus to a position that he'd thought was well beyond his reach.
"Quite sure, minister," he replied. "I double checked them myself before I released the report."
"Only thirty new recruits last week!" exclaimed Fudge. "I'd expected twice as many as that. Our recruiting adverts have been produced by the best magical advertising agency in the country. So why isn't it working? Have you got any thoughts on it Marcus?"
"Complacency minister," he replied with assurance. "The magical community was told about the return of 'You Know Who' over a month ago. At first, there was a clamber at our recruitment offices, but since then there's been no sign of any Death Eater activity. It's been very quite, too quiet. It's my belief that the majority of the wizarding public are beginning to doubt that he is, in fact, back. And that's led to the falling off in the number of people applying to join."
Fudge rubbed his chin. "Hmm, perhaps you're right and it does seem strange that we've heard nothing from 'You Know Who'. So what do we do? How can we get these numbers up?"
"I fear that's down to 'You Know Who'," replied Marcus. "Until the public get some positive proof that he's back I can't see what we can do."
Fudge squinted his eyes as he appraised his chief Auror. "You wouldn't be suggesting that we provoke an attack would you?"
"Of course not, minister - I wouldn't know how to go about it anyway. And let's face it; even his chief lieutenants won't take any rash action without the Dark Lord's express orders. No, I'm afraid we have to wait for 'You Know Who' to make a move first."
"I suppose so, Marcus. Right, the other item that caught my eye in your report is the one concerning training. You seem to be suggesting that something's lacking in the way we train our Aurors. Would you care to expand on that?"
Marcus paused for a few moments, gathering his thoughts. "I visited our training camp in the Forest of Dean two weeks ago. I spent several days there, since I wanted to see for myself how things are going down to the smallest detail. And I can only come to one conclusion. We're using our field Aurors to do the training, taking them off active duty to pass their experience on to the new recruits. Now that's admirable, but the big problem is that the vast majority of our front line Aurors haven't got any experience worth talking about, not the hard up-front battle experience that's necessary to produce tough and reliable new Aurors. Most of the Aurors with any experience of actually fighting Death Eaters have retired."
"Yes, you're absolutely right of course. And you think this is a big problem?"
"Yes, minister, I do. What we need is a group of Aurors of the old school, Aurors with the battle-hardened know-how to get the training job done properly. And they should be led by the best old-school Auror we can find. Do you think we can persuade some of them to come out of retirement minister?"
"Yes I do, and I'll get onto it straight away." Fudge smiled at Marcus. "Excellent work, Marcus - absolutely first class. I knew I could count on you. And as for the right man to head up our training operation, I know just the one for the job. The only trouble is, he probably won't listen to me. But I know whom he will listen to - I'll get in touch with Professor Dumbledore immediately."
The four friends sat at the largest table in the library at Hogwarts surrounded by a pile of books. Only Harry was reading, all the rest of the books had been finished and his three friends waited for him to finish the last one. A few minutes later he closed the book and looked up, shaking his head. "Nothing."
"We've looked through every book in the library about Wales," said Ron. "And not one of them has any reference to 'The Gap'. I don't know where we go from here."
The four looked at each other silently, looking for some inspiration. Then Hermione spoke, "Of course, 'The Gap' may not be the name of a place at all. It may be something quite different."
"What've you got in mind?" asked Harry grinning. "I can see the cogs churning over in your brain."
"What if 'The Gap' is just that? You know, a gap in an embankment or a mountain," she said.
"Come off it Hermione," said Ron. "There's hundreds of mountains in Wales and I read in one of those books that the biggest embankment in the country, Offa's Dyke, stretches the whole of the country from North to South. We wouldn't stand a chance of finding it."
"But you're forgetting something Ron," she said with a smile playing around her lips. "Pontius said follow the road through the gap." She looked at her friends expectantly.
"So?" asked Ron.
"Well don't you see? Only one lot of people built roads in Pontius' time - the Romans. So what we need to do is look on a map for all the Roman roads throughout Wales and see if there's anything labelled 'The Gap' on one of them."
"How many roads did the Romans build in Wales?" asked Ginny.
"I don't know," she replied, "but I do know that the traces of any Roman roads are marked on the large scale Ordnance Survey maps of the country, and we've got them all here in the library."
"But what if the road Pontius is referring to no longer exists?" asked Harry. "It may have been completely obliterated over the last sixteen hundred years or so."
"Then we come to a full stop Harry," replied Hermione, looking at Harry sternly. "Come on, we've got to be positive. It's our only lead and we've got to follow it up."
"All right Hermione," said Ron. "You'd better get the maps and we can split them up between us."
Hermione walked over to the Muggle section of the library and pulled about twenty folded red Ordnance Survey maps from the shelf.
"Bloody hell!" exclaimed Ron as Hermione shared out the maps between them. "We'll be ages looking at these. Look at the size of them when they're opened out." He opened one of the maps, which measured three feet square. "And not only that, we'll all be cross-eyed after looking at this lot."
"It won't be that bad Ron," said Hermione. "We're only looking for Roman roads don't forget. Now I've given you and Ginny the maps starting in the North, and Harry and I have got the ones starting in the South. So when we finish, we should meet up in the middle somewhere."
"I'm not giving up any of my meals for this," grumbled Ron. "When it's time to eat, we eat. Agreed?"
"Agreed Ron," they all said.
Eleven black-cloaked figures moved stealthily into the back garden of a small cottage on the outskirts of the little village of Widecombe, situated in the heart of rugged Dartmoor in the county of Devon. The moon periodically peeked out from behind the dark clouds skidding across the sky in the strong breeze, showing a narrow winding path that led through the garden up to the back door. They knew who lived in the little cottage, a young man who worked at the Ministry of Magic in the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad, and the light from the window told them that the man and his family were at home that night.
The leader of the group of Death Eaters motioned with his arm for five of his men to move closer to the door and take up position on either side of it. Then he led the other five up the path and halted, nodding to the two largest men to break down the door.
The young ministry employee and his wife were sitting at the kitchen table, playing Wizard Snap with their eight-year-old son, completely oblivious to the fate that awaited them. They looked up in alarm as the door burst from its hinges, and then with fear as they saw the Death Eaters pour into the room.
The young wizard made a dive for his wand, which was in the pocket of his robes hanging a few yards away on the kitchen wall, but he didn't quite reach it.
"AVADA KEDAVRA," shouted the leader of the Death Eaters, and the green light hit the young man in the middle of his back, his hand still two feet away from his wand. He dropped to the floor, dead before he hit it, his eyes staring blankly at the ceiling.
His wife let out an agonised scream and pushed her young son behind her back, trying to shield him from the evil in the room. He started to cry pitifully, and shouted for his mother as three of the Death Eaters walked over and separated them, one holding the boy and the other two holding the woman. The leader had a cruel smile on his face as he pointed his wand at the woman.
"CRUCIO," he cried, watching with avid satisfaction us the unfortunate woman crumpled to the floor, crying out at the agony that coursed through her body. Her agony lasted a full minute before the curse was lifted, but her respite proved to be only temporary. Again and again the leader sadistically applied the curse, and again and again the woman collapsed in excruciating pain. For fifteen minutes he subjected the poor woman to the cruel torture, all the while witnessed by her young son, until she mercifully lost consciousness.
Then the leader turned to the young boy, still held fast and trembling uncontrollably, and pointed his wand at him.
"You are old enough to understand what has happened here tonight. Tell those who will come for you what you have witnessed. Tell them that this is only a mild foretaste of what will come."
He pulled himself up tall and dropped his wand to his side. "Tell them that Lord Voldemort has returned. Tell them that he will soon take his rightful place in the land."
He turned and strode dramatically out of the cottage and was quickly followed by his men. He stopped at the end of the garden and pointed his wand at the dark sky. "MORSMODRE," he yelled, sending the Dark Mark into the air above. This was the trigger for a series of Dark Marks, sent by Death Eaters placed strategically around the country, into the evening air.
The boy whimpered pitifully and looked at the still forms of his parents on the kitchen floor. Then he cried out and flung himself down at the side of his mother, calling to her and shaking her, but there was no response.
That night, most of the magical community in the country saw the Dark Mark hanging in the sky and knew that something terrible had happened. That night, the magical community trembled.
The next day, Professor Dumbledore sat with his team as Cornelius Fudge burst into the office holding a copy of the 'Daily Prophet'. He strode quickly to the desk and flung the paper onto it. "Have you seen this Albus?"
"Yes Cornelius, I'm afraid I have. A terrible business," answered Dumbledore.
"My office has been besieged all morning," said the agitated minister, "and the queue of owls outside my window stretched back for over a mile! Everybody's in a panic, and Rita Skeeter hasn't helped with this article on the front page. She's got everybody in turmoil with her predictions of doom."
"Cool down, Cornelius, and take a seat," said the headmaster. "Have you heard how that poor woman and child are?"
"The boy wasn't hurt, physically, but I don't think he'll ever get what he saw out of his head. His mother, poor woman, is alive but in a terrible state. The doctors aren't sure if she'll ever recover - they think that her mind was broken by the torture she suffered. The boy is staying with his mother's parents now."
Everyone stared glumly at the floor, thinking of the terrible things that had occurred last night. Then Fudge, now much calmer, whispered, "We've got to give them something, Albus. We've got to give everybody some hope that the Dark Side can be beaten. They haven't heard anything from the Anima Summas lately, nor how their quests are progressing. Can we tell them something, anything that will ease the panic?"
"Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny are down in the library now, doing research on the latest lead they've uncovered. The path to the solution of the second quest is proving to be very difficult and mind-bending and I think that's how it's meant to be, the way to enlightenment is never easy. But they're working at it, Cornelius; those four are doing their best and won't give up until they find what they're looking for."
At that moment, Dobby came into the office. "I'm sorry to interrupt, Headmaster sir; that lady reporter's downstairs. She wants to see you urgently."
"Rita bloody Skeeter," growled Fudge ominously.
"Show her up please Dobby," said Dumbledore.
Whatever Rita Skeeter expected in Dumbledore's office, it certainly wasn't eleven hostile-looking faces staring at her as she entered. "What possessed you to write that scare-mongering article, Miss Skeeter?" said Fudge.
"Uh minister," she muttered. She seemed quite taken aback with the hostility as if she had no idea as to it's cause, then she looked sheepishly at Fudge. "Look. I only reported things as I saw them. That terrible episode last night affected me badly, you know, and I just wrote the piece the way I felt at the time. I'm sorry if it caused any problems, but well, that's why I'm here now. I want to put things right. I didn't realise the effect my article would have until early this morning when the office was inundated with people and owls." She turned to Dumbledore. "Professor, I'd like to interview the Anima Summas if that's possible. I want to remind our readers that all is not doom and gloom, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. What do you think?"
"That's the most sensible thing I've heard you say in a long time," said Fudge as he looked expectantly at the headmaster.
Dumbledore looked at Sirius and raised his eyebrows questioningly. Sirius cleared his throat. "Well they have to get used to the attention. Harry knew this, of course, right from the start when he agreed to go public. And it'll give them a break from all the work they're doing. I've no objections, Professor."
Dumbledore nodded and turned back to Fudge and the reporter. "I'll speak to the four of them shortly, and ask them to give you your interview. But I think it will have the best impact on the whole wizarding community if they make a public appearance to give the interview, right here in Hogsmeade. We'll all go to The Three Broomsticks for lunch - say in about an hour - and you can do your interview then."
"Thank you Professor," said Rita, looking very relieved.
Ron stretched his arms above his head and yawned loudly as he walked out into the school grounds. "It's great to get away from those maps for a bit. They're driving me bonkers!"
"And we've only looked through half of them," said Ginny. "I can't believe the Romans built so many roads in Wales."
The four friends walked in the middle of the group, which included their protectors, Dumbledore, McGonagall and Snape. As they neared Hogsmeade, they could see a crowd of people waiting at the start of the main street, looking in their direction.
"Are you ready for this?" Sirius asked the four. "It looks like you've got a reception committee. Rita Skeeter must have told everybody in the village that you're coming, and judging by the size of that crowd there's quite a few from outside as well."
As they entered the main street, the crowds strained to get a good look at the four youngsters, and the reason for their great interest was soon made plain as they shouted their encouragement.
"Are you going after 'You Know Who'?"
"Are you going to protect the village?"
"When are you going to get 'You Know Who'?"
They entered The Three Broomsticks to find the place crowded with people, all wanting to speak to Harry and his friends. Madam Rosmerta came to their rescue and herded them over to three large tables at the far end of the room where they found the waiting Rita Skeeter. Madam Rosmerta made sure that the people kept their distance from the group, but they still watched with interest, waiting for the interview to start.
As soon as they were all settled into their seats, Rita put some parchment on the table and placed her enchanted quill on top of it. It stood up and poised itself above the parchment ready to faithfully write everything that was said. Professor Dumbledore stood and turned to the watching people. "Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny have agreed to give Miss Skeeter a public interview this afternoon, and it would be appreciated if you will remain quiet during this time, but I'm sure they will answer some of your own questions afterwards. Miss Skeeter, if you're ready?"
Rita nodded at the headmaster and looked across at the four youngsters facing her. "Our readers have shown considerable interest in you four since the story of your first quest and the arrival of the Anima Summas appeared in the 'Daily Prophet'. There's a lot I want to ask on their behalf, but perhaps the most burning question on everyone's lips is when will you be ready to face 'You Know You'. Harry?"
Harry looked a bit nervous but answered confidently, "The spirit of the Light has told us that we have to complete three quests before we are strong enough to face Voldemort." A gasp went up from the watching crowd at the sound of the dreaded name. "You know about the first one, and we're working on the second one now."
"Yes, but how long will it be before you are ready?"
"That we don't know," Harry replied. "I only wish we did. No one knows more than the four of us how urgent it is, especially after the terrible thing that happened last night. The only thing I can say is that we're going as fast as we can, but it's very complicated and difficult trying to unravel all the twists and turns of the quest."
Rita smiled at Harry. "I think we all appreciate that, Harry, especially after reading the details of your ordeal in France. Why do you think the way is so complicated and difficult? After all, you are the sons and daughters of the Light and you'd expect the Light to make things easier for you."
"I think I can answer that," said Hermione, as her three friends looked at her with puzzled interest. "I haven't spoken to the others about this yet, but I've had a feeling about it for a little while now. The spirit told us that we need to grow and develop, and I believe that one of the reasons that the quests are so tortuous is to help us with that process. Over the last six months we've learned and experienced things at an ever-increasing pace, and I think the Light is pushing us down this route to ensure that our minds and bodies are ready to receive the ancient knowledge and power that we find."
Everyone looked at Hermione with respect as they saw the logic of her reasoning. Professor Dumbledore nodded and smiled; he had known this all along, but was pleased to see that Hermione had worked it out for herself. He knew then that the destiny of the world could not have been placed in better hands.
"I know you haven't received the full powers of the Anima Summas yet," said Rita, "but what advantages do you think that you'll have to allow you to defeat 'You Know Who'?"
"At this stage it's impossible to say," said Harry. "But there's one very big advantage we already have, and we had it right from the start. Voldemort has to rely on fear to get his support, if his minions don't do what he wants he either tortures or kills them. But the support that I… we have is based on love and friendship. To me, that's the biggest advantage we have over the Dark Side."
Rita nodded. "Can you tell me anything about the quest you are working on?"
Ginny answered, "I'm afraid not. We don't want to give the Dark Side any information about where our path lies, it would be too dangerous."
Harry nodded and continued, "Voldemort has started attacking the magical community, but make no mistake that us four are his main target. He went after us in France and even here at Hogwarts. He knows that we are the main threat to his plans to dominate the world. So we're constantly looking over our shoulders for the next attack."
"I understand and respect what you both say so I won't pursue that any further. A lot of our readers would like to know how you managed to reverse the killing curse on little Clare Bryant, and whether you can use your powers to save a lot of people in the coming conflict."
Hermione looked at Harry and sent her thoughts to him. He nodded his agreement for her to answer. "That's difficult to answer. We… Harry and I… believe that we were able to save Clare because we were so quickly on the scene after she was hit. But not only that - Clare is young and innocent. I can't begin to explain the processes that were involved in saving her, we don't fully understand them ourselves, but we think that the older and more experienced the victim is, the more difficult it is to save him or her, and our new powers were stretched to the limit with Clare. So the only answer we've got is that we don't think we could help at the present time. But in the future… well we just don't know."
"Talking about the future, what are your plans when it's all over - and we've got to believe that you will defeat the Dark Side in the end, we can't think that… well, will you get married?"
Harry and Hermione looked deeply into each other's eyes and smiled. Harry had a pink tinge to his face as he spoke, "We're reluctant to think so far ahead at the moment, and we haven't really spoken about that, we're still very young, you know. But if everything works out right, I can't think of anything else I'd want to do."
Hermione squeezed his hand, letting the glow of happiness she then felt flow into his mind.
"Well that will certainly be the wedding of the year," said Rita grinning. 'What a scoop!' she thought to herself. "What about you, Ginny? You've attracted a lot of attention from some of our younger male readers. They're quite taken with you."
It was Ginny's turn to blush prettily. "I… I don't know," she stammered. "What will be will be, I suppose."
"What about you, Ron? Our younger female readers are frantic to know more about you. Harry's already spoken for, but you aren't. You won't believe the number of owls we get every day wanting to know how you can be contacted."
Ron looked at Rita, staring at her with disbelief. "Me? I… I don't know. I didn't realise." His three friends sat grinning at Ron's obvious discomfort, but he quickly recovered and grinned slyly. "But I can give you my address if you want."
Everybody laughed, and that signalled the end of the interview. Dumbledore again stood up and addressed the crowd. "We're about to have lunch now, so you can speak to the four youngsters afterwards if you wish. I'd also like to announce that you may, if you so desire, owl them at Hogwarts but only up until school starts back after the summer holidays. They won't be able to reply themselves but I've arranged for two of their friends to handle their mail and answer any concerns you may have or any information you may want." He then gestured to Madam Rosmerta to serve lunch and the crowd, respecting their privacy, sat back at their tables or walked back out into the street to tell their friends what had been said. A lot of them were still worried, but were content that the forces of Light were still alive and kicking and seeking a solution to their problems.
"So, you two didn't know you had lots of admirers did you?" asked Harry as he sat at the large table in the school library. They were feeling pleasantly full after their lunch at The Three Broomsticks and were chatting before getting down to the task of searching the maps.
"I think she was exaggerating," said Ginny. "I can't see how anybody would fancy us just by looking at one photograph in the newspaper."
"Speak for yourself Ginny," said Ron, flattening his mop of red hair with his hand. "If a load of girls fancy me then I'm not going to complain."
"You were joking weren't you Ron?" asked Hermione. "When you offered to give Rita Skeeter your address?"
Ron grinned slyly. "Yes of course I was, Hermione." Hermione frowned, not sure whether to believe him.
Ginny looked dreamily towards the large window in the library. "I don't think I'll ever meet a boy that I'd really, really like. And I don't know if one would ever really like me that way, anyway. After today, if I did meet someone I wouldn't know if he was attracted to me as a person, or whether it was just because I'm famous."
Hermione squeezed her friend's shoulder. "Don't put yourself down, Ginny. There are lots of boys who'd want to go out with you - Ginny the person."
"Ah, the price of fame," said Ron grinning at his sister. Harry looked at his friend with compassion and understanding, knowing exactly how she felt. After all, he'd been there not so long ago himself.
"Come on," said Ginny, feeling a bit embarrassed. "We've still got half these maps to look at."
They scoured the maps for the rest of the day, until just four remained. They were feeling very tired and their eyes were starting to burn with fatigue. "I think that's enough for one day," said Harry. "We can look at the remaining four in the morning."
"I hope we find something tomorrow," said Hermione as they walked up to Gryffindor Tower. "I just don't know what we'll do if we don't."
After breakfast the next morning, they went back to the library, full of hope that they'd find the gap. They'd briefly glanced at the four maps the previous night and saw that they showed quite a few old Roman roads.
Two hours later, the four poured over the map that Harry was looking at, the others having finished with theirs. It was the Landranger Ordnance Survey Map 160, covering the mountainous area of the Central Brecon Beacons.
"This is an interesting area," said Ginny as she pointed to the section of the map she was studying "There's quite a long section of Roman road leading from the village of Trecastle up into the surrounding hills, and it leads to quite a large area of Roman camps and an old Roman fort." After a few minutes she shook her head. "But there's nothing marked on it for the gap, and the road seems to follow the contour lines around the hills rather than through them."
"There's a lot of tracks marked going up through and between the mountains," said Harry, "but none of them are marked as Roman roads, they seem to be just tracks."
After another hour they'd covered the whole map but had found nothing about the gap. They sat looking at each other forlornly, feeling very depressed and none of them knowing what to suggest next. They were roused from their thoughts when the library door opened and little Clare Bryant rushed in, followed by Colin Creevey, Sirius and Ceri. Clare immediately pounced on Hermione and Harry, hugging them both in turn.
"Hello Clare, Colin, what are you doing here?" asked Harry.
"Professor McGonagall just arrived with them," said Sirius. "They've agreed to answer that load of mail you had for your birthday, and piles more that we can expect after the interview yesterday."
They grinned at Clare and Colin. "Are you sure you don't mind doing this?" asked Harry.
"Of course we don't Harry," said Clare. "It's great to be getting involved in your quests, even if we can't come with you." She said the latter part with a hint of regret.
"And I've got some great photos we can include with some of the replies," said Colin.
"Have you found anything yet?" asked Ceri as she looked at the map on the table.
"That was the last one Ceri," said Ron, "and we haven't found anything."
Ceri suddenly stooped over the map and looked at it intently. After a few moments she jabbed a finger towards the centre of the map and exclaimed, "I don't believe it!"
"What?" asked Sirius as he and the others leaned over to see where she was pointing.
"The little village that my ancestors came from, and where the Muggle part of my family are still living. It's right there, just beneath these high mountains - Llanmad (see note at end of chapter)."
"That's a coincidence Ceri," said Hermione looking thoughtfully at the map.
"And that's not the only coincidence," said Sirius. "No one ever took you to the place where you lived with your parents Harry, did they?"
"No Sirius, they didn't," he replied looking puzzled.
"Well Godric's Hollow is right here," he pointed to the map. "The name isn't shown on the map, but it's right here, and it's only about three miles from Llanmad. You see that tiny valley surrounded by all those contour lies? Well that's where Godric's Hollow is."
They all looked at the map, and Harry's mind was in a whirl of conflicting emotions.
"This is too much of a coincidence don't you think?" asked Hermione. "I really think we should check out this area. Look here… and here; there are quite a few paths and bridleways going through the mountains. Perhaps one of them was a Roman road that's been covered over or something."
Sirius rubbed his chin, deep in thought. He looked at Harry. "Do you want to go there, Harry? I know how painful it's going to be for you, seeing the place where your parents…. Well, you know."
"Died Sirius? Yes it will be painful. But it's also the place where they lived. And where I lived as well. Yes, I want to go there. And Hermione's right. We need to check out the area; it's the only thing we've got left anyway."
Ceri looked at Sirius with a determined glint in her eyes. "I want to visit my relatives, Sirius - there in Llanmad. We should be able to take some time out don't you think?"
"Of course we can, Ceri. And we'll all go, as long as you don't mind. I don't want to split up our protection."
"Right, and thanks. Well we'd better go down to the Great Hall for lunch, they'll be waiting to start."
"Colin and Clare are going to spend two days a week at Hogwarts to answer your fan mail," Dumbledore said over lunch. "So before you go winging your way into the wilds of Wales I suggest you spend a little bit of time with them to make sure they know what they should and shouldn't say. And Professor McGonagall and I will give them some guidance as well when you're not here."
"Thank you, Professor," said Harry.
A little while later, they were ready to continue their quest and the four friends and their protectors walked into Hogsmeade to Apparate to Godric's Hollow.
Harry looked sadly at the ruins of the little cottage where he'd spent the first year of his life. It stood alone in a small depression in the ground, surrounded by trees. Hermione stood next to him, gripping his hand, and Ron, Ginny and Sirius stood a little way to their left. The rest of the group stood respectfully behind, all of them feeling sympathy for what Harry must be going through. The cottage was badly damaged by Voldemort during his attack and it had fallen into an even worse state of disrepair over the last fifteen years.
Harry walked into the debris, looking up at the eaves where the roof had finally collapsed under the onslaught of the rain and gales that intermittently battered this part of the country from October to March each year. He whispered, "I don't even know which was my room."
Hermione gripped his hand hard, feeling the terrible hurt that flowed through his mind as he couldn't help but visualise the events that happened fifteen years ago. He had tears in his eyes when he finally turned around. "Come on Hermione, let's go. There's nothing here any more." Hermione suppressed a sob with great difficulty as they walked back over to the group.
Sirius walked over and placed his hand on Harry's shoulder. "Are you ok, Harry?" he asked softly.
Harry nodded and forced a weak smile. "Thanks for bringing me Sirius."
Ceri, feeling Harry's emotions, stood to one side, quietly crying at his grief and also her own grief as the poignant moment brought back her own sad memories.
Nadine cleared her throat. "I think it might be a good idea to visit Ceri's relatives now. It's only a couple of miles away isn't it Ceri?"
Ceri wiped her eyes and smiled. "Yes Nadine, I have a cousin that I write to quite often. He lives a few hundred yards from the edge of Llanmad."
They walked slowly through the beautiful countryside in the gentle warmth of the late afternoon, deep in their own thoughts as they made their way through the narrow lanes flanked by hedges and trees. Hermione pointed out the wildlife she saw, trying to lift the mood. "There's a pair of buzzards circling over to the left, and look there - there's a red kite! We're lucky to see one this far south." She stopped and pointed to the high hedge on the right hand side of the lane. "There's a badger set there; you can see the runs leading out from the hole."
Ginny took up Hermione's efforts. "Did you know that there are nearly four times as many sheep than people living in Wales? There're over eleven million of them here."
"I read about that too, Ginny," said Ron. "But why don't you tell them the full facts? Did you know that the average sheep eats so much grass that it farts its own weight in methane every day? Now if the average sheep weighs about thirty-five pounds, that's 172,000 tons of greenhouse gasses a day! So in a year it's nearly sixty-three million tons they fart into the air! And that's only in a small country like Wales. No wonder we've got global warming and holes in the ozone layer."
"Ron!" they all shouted as they chuckled at his flair for amusing facts. But it served to lift the mood, and they were in far better humour as they approached the large sprawling farmhouse where Ceri's cousin lived.
As they passed a small junction in the lane that led to the right, Ron stood staring up at the old and rusty signpost, scratching his head. "How the hell do you pronounce these names? What's that one, Cl…Clanfr… oh, I don't know."
Ceri laughed. "It's Llanfrynach, Ron. In Welsh, double 'L' is treated as a single letter and it's pronounced like no other letter in English. You have to stick the tip of your tongue up into the roof of your mouth and just blow air over it. And CH is another case in point, it's pronounced, well there's no other way to describe it, like you're trying to clear your throat. Try it."
"Cl… Cl… Oh I give up," said Ron.
"It takes a bit of practice to get it right, Ron," she said laughing.
"Does your cousin know you're a witch Ceri?" asked Professor Flitwick.
"Oh yes," she replied. "The Muggle side of the family are well aware of what we are. I just hope they won't be overwhelmed or put out by all of us descending on them."
They walked through the gate at the front of the farmyard and along the rough track that led to the house. Two sheepdogs raced from the barn and sniffed enquiringly at their feet, looking up at their faces nervously. Nadine smiled and extended her hand, palm upwards, towards one of the dogs. "Come and say hello then," she said to the dog.
The dog sniffed at her hand and then slowly began to lick it, her tail wagging faster and faster. "There's a good girl," said Nadine. "We're friends now, aren't we?"
Ceri tentatively knocked at the door and stood back waiting, unsure of her reception. The door opened and a little boy, about ten-years-old, opened it, his eyes widening at the large number of strangers standing there. He turned his head back towards the inside of the house and shouted, "Mam! Mam! There's a load of people at the door. Come quick." He turned back to the door, eyeing the strangers suspiciously.
A dark-haired woman, closely followed by a little girl, walked up and gently eased her son to one side as she opened the door wider. "Hello, can I help you?"
Ceri smiled at her cousin's wife. "Is Ifor at home? I'm Ceri Jones, his cousin from America."
"Oh duw, duw," she said looking flustered. "Ifor!" she shouted over towards the barn.
They turned and saw a strapping red-faced man in his mid-thirties come out of the barn, wiping his hands on an old piece of cloth. He looked at the people standing at the door and then squinted as he saw Ceri standing beside his wife. He came closer, walking slowly over to the group. "Ceri? Is it you?"
"Yes. Hello, Ifor. How are you?"
He walked quickly over to Ceri and grabbed her around the waist, lifting her into the air and twirling her round and round. "I thought I recognised you from the last photo you sent," he said. "It's great to meet you in the flesh at last."
He put the grinning Ceri back onto the ground and held her at arms length, looking closely at her. "Why didn't warn us you were coming? We'd have had something ready for you to eat."
"Uh, it was a spur-of-the-moment thing Ifor. I hope you don't mind me dropping in like this, and with all my friends as well?"
"No, no of course I don't mind. I didn't even know you were in the country." He turned to his wife. "This is Bethan, my wife, and that's Iolo, my son. Oh and that pretty little bundle behind Iolo is Rhian, my six-year-old daughter. Come and meet your Auntie Ceri, you two."
The little girl was the first to approach Ceri, rushing from behind her brother and holding out her hand for it to be shaken. "Hello. I'm Rhian. Dad's told us about you. You're a witch, aren't you?"
Ceri laughed as she took the proffered hand and gently shook it. "Hello Rhian. You've grown since the last photo I saw of you. And yes, I'm a witch."
Rhian looked at the rest of Ceri's group. "Are these all witches and wizards?"
"Yes they are," she replied. "You're not afraid of them are you?"
"No. Dad said that you were a very nice lady, so if they are your friends, they must be nice too."
"Come in, all of you," said Bethan. "What must you think of me keeping you here standing at the door. I'll put the kettle on so we can have a nice cup of tea."
Everyone walked into the large kitchen, typical of country farmhouses in Wales, and sat around or to the side of the table. It took a little while for Iolo to approach the group but he was soon captivated, together with his little sister, by Professor Flitwick who did some amazing charms for their amusement.
"Again! Again! Professor Fitick," shouted Rhian as Flitwick made his finger glow red as he put it on the end of her nose.
After finishing their tea, Ifor looked at Ceri. "You'll all stay for dinner, won't you? And you can all stay the night if you wish. I know that you have ways of fitting into tents and things."
"We can't impose on you," said Sirius. "The tea was lovely, but if you saw the amount of food Ron eats, you wouldn't ask - believe me."
"No I insist," said Ifor. "We've got plenty of food in the freezer. And anyway, we don't get to see one of our relatives from America very often, so I won't take no for an answer. You're staying."
"Thanks Ifor," said Ceri. "We really do appreciate it."
"While Bethan makes the dinner, we can go into the lounge and have a little chat over a few cans of beer."
"I'll help Bethan with the dinner," said Nadine. "The rest of you go on in."
Ifor produced several packs of the best Felinfoel ale from his large fridge and handed them around. "You kids had better dilute this stuff with some pop, I think," he said as he produced four glasses and a large bottle of lemonade. He then filled two glasses with lemonade for his own two children.
Ceri and Ifor talked incessantly, swapping news of their families. The others listened with interest, not wanting to interrupt. After a while, Ifor asked, "So. What brings you all to this neck of the woods? I know Ceri wanted to visit, but something tells me that there's more to it than just a family visit."
Ceri looked at Sirius and nodded. Sirius told Ifor that they were on a quest relating to the wizarding world, but he didn't go into any great detail about it.
Hermione, however, couldn't pass up the opportunity to probe a little bit. "We've got to find a place called The Gap," she said. "An old Roman road is supposed to run through it but we can't find it anywhere on the maps of Wales we've looked at."
"And no wonder too," said Ifor. "It's only known locally as The Gap."
Everybody sat stunned. "You've heard about it?" said Hermione, her excitement rising.
"Yes. It's only a few miles from here; it's an oddly shaped gap running between the flanks of two mountains up in The Beacons. There's an old Drovers' road running through it. Hundreds of years ago the farmers used to drive their cattle up the mountainside, through the gap, and down the other side to the towns in the South Wales Valleys. Now legend has it that the Romans originally built the road, and they were the ones who made the gap through the mountains. But I think it's far too big for it to have been fashioned that way. I thing it's just a natural feature that the Romans made use of."
"Can you take us there?" asked Harry.
"Of course," he replied. "I'll take you up first thing in the morning if you wish. But first you'd better let me tell you about the other legend connected with The Gap."
Everybody leaned close, waiting. Ifor grinned widely - he was in his element.
"The old people in the village used to tell stories about the road through the gap leading to an old fort. Y Gaer, it was called - that's Welsh for 'The Fort'. Now this fort was said to have been built by the Romans, but after they left when the Roman Empire fell, people started to see and hear some very strange things there." He paused, staring around at his captivated audience. "And the feelings they had were not good feelings. They tell of great evil lurking in the very stones of the fort." He again paused. "Well!" he said loudly, making everybody jump, "the people back in those days were very superstitious, and they gave the fort a wide birth. But they were still afraid that something bad would happen in their community, so one day they all went up to the fort, the whole village, and destroyed it completely, making sure that not a brick was left standing. But that didn't stop the feelings of great evil coming from the place where the fort once stood. So they abandoned the village and moved miles away to this very spot - the village of Llanmad - and never once returned to the old place. Now, if the legends are true, this all happened a very long time ago and over the years the place where the old fort stood has been long forgotten. No one knows where it is today, and you won't find anything on any map I know of. So if you come across it, be very careful and remember the legend."
"So if you take us up to the gap, we should be able to follow the road to the old fort?" asked Hermione.
"Well I don't know about that," replied Ifor. "The old road peters out after a while and no one knows where it leads from there. Over the years, the farmers built their field enclosures from the rocks lying on the slopes of the mountains and also, no doubt, from the bricks and cobbles from the old Roman road itself. So I wouldn't get your hopes up too much."
"Come on you lot," shouted Bethan from the kitchen. "Dinner's ready."
Everyone managed to squeeze around the large kitchen table for dinner, with Iolo, who was quite taken with Flitwick, squeezing up next to the little professor. Rhian squeezed in next to Ceri.
"This soup is heavenly," breathed Ron as he made short work of the first course. "Is there any more please? And what's it called?"
"It's called cawl Ron," said Bethan. "It's a Welsh speciality made from chunky vegetables and medallions of lamb. And there's plenty more if you want it, but I really don't think you'll have any room for the main course if you have any more."
"You don't know Ron," said Harry smiling. "I swear that his stomach's twice the size of a normal person's."
After dinner, everyone went back into the lounge and spent a very pleasant evening, with Professor Flitwick, Nadine and Charlie keeping the two young kids amused and the rest listening spellbound to Ifor, who was in his element telling them about the local legends of the area. It was past eleven before Bethan managed to halt his oratory and get everyone to bed.
"Right," said Ifor. "We'll start out at the crack of dawn in the morning. Are you sure you're all up to a bit of climbing?"
"It's not too difficult a climb up to the gap is it Ifor?" asked Charlie.
"Oh no, nothing difficult. But I know a short way up along the right flank of Fan-y-Big, and it can get a bit steep in parts."
Early the following morning, after a very large breakfast, the group, led by Ifor, set out along the country lane that led to the base of The Beacons Mountains. They had said their goodbyes to Bethan, Iolo and a tearful Rhian, promising to visit again as soon as they were able.
After half an hour of walking along the lane, the road suddenly petered out, and Ifor called a halt. He pulled an Ordnance Survey map from his coat pocket and handed it to Sirius. "This might come in handy," he said. "It's a contour map of the Central Beacons and we're…. Just here." He pointed to a place on the left-hand side of the map. "I'm afraid I haven't got a spare compass, but I'm sure you have your own way of finding directions. The fine weather looks set for the day, so you shouldn't have any problems, but don't treat these mountains lightly. Even in summer, thick mists can come down without any warning, and quite a few people have lost their lives here, mainly because they weren't prepared for the changing conditions. Oh and don't be surprised if you see a few soldiers wandering about up there. There's an army training camp about ten miles away and they often drop their squaddies into the Beacons by helicopter, and let them fend for themselves until they find their way out."
He pointed up into the mountains. "There's the gap."
They looked into the distance at the place that had taken so much effort to find, and saw a curiously shaped square notch cut into the place where the flanks of two mountains, Fan-y-Big on the left and Cribyn on the right, met.
"The old road runs through the gap to the other side," said Ifor, "and you can just see parts of the road on this side of the gap, running down to the right."
"So that's the old Roman road," said Hermione softly. "I hope it leads us to some answers."
Voldemort, with Lucius at his side and Wormtail, Travis and Crabbe following behind, approached the Temple of the Gates in Irem. The petrified body of Findus Plonger still stood where he had been placed outside the entrance. Voldemort stopped and walked up to the grizzly remains and looked directly into Plonger's hideously contorted face. "Remember not to look at Plonger's face, unless you want to end up a gibbering idiot like Prink. You must be surrounded by the highest countenance of the Dark to look into such madness and survive."
The other four shuddered and followed Voldemort into the temple, being careful to keep their eyes averted from their one-time colleague. The pathetic body of Prink still lay where he'd been struck down, on the left just inside the entrance. The Dark Lord stood at the base of the inky black altar in the centre of the temple and looked around at the walls of the circular chamber. "Do you see these flecks of black material embedded in the pink marble walls?" he asked his watching followers. "They are made from a substance not of this earth, a substance brought here by The Nephilim when they built this temple. This is the substance that channels the magical energy that opens the gateway to the Dark Realm."
He looked with intense interest at the five large frescos on the walls of the chamber, two to the left, two to the right and one in between, directly opposite the entrance on the far side of the altar.
"Crabbe, come and stand beside me," said Voldemort, and waited for the large bull of a man to join him. "I have brought you here because of your knowledge of Dark Arts ritual. I want you to help me unravel the meaning of these frescos. They depict the ritual used to raise the Ancient Ones from the Dark Realm and with them at my side, no one can stand in my way, not even the Anima Summas. There is more information in the Necronomicon about the words that are needed for the ritual." He patted the side of his black robe where he carried the fabled book inside a leather pouch.
"Yes my Lord," said Crabbe. "Can I read what the Necronomicon says?"
"No Crabbe, that is for my eyes only. I will tell you what you need to know. But first we need to work out what these frescos tell us."
Crabbe and Voldemort studied the frescos for a few minutes and then Crabbe nodded to himself. "I think I know what order these scenes are in, my Lord. The first one is on the far left side. It shows five Dark Arts priests standing at the base of the black altar looking at something that's been placed on top of it. One of the priests is holding a wand to one of the four tall torch holders that are spaced around the altar. I think the torches are filled with that black substance you told us about earlier. This is obviously the set-up phase of the ritual."
Voldemort nodded his agreement and gestured for Crabbe to continue. "The next one is the second fresco on the left. It looks as if this is the ritualistic phase that builds the mood and atmosphere before enacting the final phase of the ritual. There's a priest standing beside each of the four torches, which are now casting magical light onto the chamber walls. See that some of the black pieces of material are now sparkling. The fifth priest, obviously the high priest, is standing at the top of the steps that lead up to the altar, and he's reading from a Dark Arts book while holding a wand over the object on the altar."
"I agree with your assessment so far, Crabbe," said Voldemort. "And I can now begin to see where the words in the Necronomicon fit in with the frescos. Carry on."
"The third in the series is the fresco on the far right side. The four priests at the bottom of the altar are now kneeling in supplication, their arms raised above their heads. Judging by the shapes of their mouths, they seem to be chanting. The one at the top has stopped reading and there's a green magical beam going from his wand to the object on the altar. This must be the final phase of the ritual, and the start of the process to open the gate. See how the dark material in the wall is starting to pulse with green light."
"Yes. The words in the Necronomicon are making a lot more sense now," said Voldemort.
"The fourth one," continued Crabbe, "is the other fresco on the right and the gate is starting to open. You can see that the green lights streaming from the black substance on the wall are converging onto the object on the altar, and then through it as a single intense beam of green light onto the back wall. There's a small black circular hole beginning to appear and there's a tiny white dot of light at the centre. All the priests are now on their knees, looking at the hole with their arms raised. And the final depiction is, of course, the fresco on the back of the wall opposite the altar, the place where the black hole started to appear. The black hole has now been replaced with a bright circular light and you can just make out some shadowy shapes within it. The priests are still kneeling, but their heads are bowed and their arms are raised in supplication and worship. This is the culmination of the ritual, the gate has been opened and the Ancient Ones are starting to come through from the Dark Realm."
"Excellent, Crabbe," said Voldemort with satisfaction. "Everything I read in the Necronomicon is now falling in place." His look of satisfaction suddenly changed as he thought for a few moments. "But there are two things that are bothering me. No, three things. Firstly, I don't like the way those Dark Arts priests are behaving. They seem to be treating the Ancient Ones as their gods and masters. I refuse to do that. I'll have to do some more reading to try to find a way of controlling them, of bringing them around to my way of thinking. The other two problems I see are the objects depicted in the frescos. The black substance that is placed in the torches - there has to be some of that here somewhere, and we'll have to find it here in Irem. And what's that object sitting on the altar? It's the focus of the ritual, but there's nothing about it in the Necronomicon. What do you think it is Crabbe?"
Crabbe walked closer to the frescos and looked up at them, trying to make out what the object on the altar was. "Wormtail, Travis - come and lift me up so that I can get closer," he said.
The two lifted Crabbe up, not without great difficulty, so that his eyes were level with the object on the altar. He stared at it intently. After a few moments he told Wormtail and Travis to set him back down and walked over to Voldemort. "It's not easy to make out, my Lord, but it appears to be a disc-shaped piece of that black substance, with a glowing black crystal in the middle. There seem to be thin chains attached to the top half of it as if it was meant to be worn around someone's neck."
"Well they've got to be here in the city somewhere," said Voldemort. "I want you all to start searching, beginning with this temple. These items, and the torch holders I suspect, will all be stored together in some sort of sacred Dark Arts place. I'll stay here to try to find more information about the Nephilim in the Necronomicon, and you start the search."
As the four Death Eaters began to examine the temple walls and floor, Voldemort raised his head and hissed, "We will not leave this place until we find what we came for. I will not be stopped now!"
Author's Note - Llanmad - I've taken a leaf out of Dylan Thomas' book here. If you've read 'Under Milk Wood', you'll know that the setting for that book is a West Wales village called Llareggub - a village as fictitious as mine, of course. If you're still in the dark, just reverse the letters!
Please take a few moments to leave a review - I really do need to know what you think of this chapter. Many thanks to those who've reviewed so far. There are a few images on my picture board of the places relating to this chapter - feel free to take a look.
- Roman Road - Sarn Helen. A typical Roman Road in the general area of The Gap.
- The Gap and Roman Road - The Gap between the mountains and the Roman Road leading to the right.
Coming soon - Chapter 4 - Pontius Aurigula