Keith Lewis Keith Lewis 4 1595 2003-05-03T08:09:00Z 2003-08-02T10:18:00Z 17 10720 61105 509 122 75041 9.2720
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Ifor led the group around the western flank of Fan-y-Big, heading towards the gap through the mountains. At first, it turned out to be a very gentle and enjoyable climb and Hermione pointed out a lone hawk, a Merlin, streaking like a flash of lightening towards the ground to claim the breakfast that he'd spotted during his frenzied hovering high above. Ron, to the amusement of everybody, pinched his nose with his fingers as he hurriedly passed a large flock of sheep grazing in a lush field below them.
As they grew ever nearer to the gap, the ground started to rise more steeply, and towards the top they had to clamber up on all fours, breathing heavily. Finally, they collapsed onto some level ground right in front of the gap, their chests heaving.
"Ifor," said Sirius in between his gasps for air. "If you think that's an easy climb, what do you call difficult?"
Ifor, who stood with his leg raised on a rock looking out over the countryside, and breathing only slightly heavier than normal, just laughed. "You townies should get out more - take in the beauty of the countryside and expend a bit of energy. It'll do you good in the long run, you know."
It was five minutes before their breathing returned to something like normal, and they were able to stand and take in the splendour of the mountainous country around them.
"Well this is it," said Ifor. "The gap, and you're all standing on the old Roman road. I've done all I can to help, so the rest is up to you. I hope you find whatever it is you're looking for, but don't forget what I said about that old legend. I'll leave you now; a farmer's work waits for no one but the farmer. Oh, if you don't finish your search today, or if it's late when you do, you're all welcome to stay with us tonight. We'll be glad to have you."
After shaking hands with everyone and hugging Ceri, Ifor started back down the steep trail to the bottom of the mountain, making amazingly fast progress. "What a character he is, Ceri," said Sirius. "I could sit and listen to his tales all night."
"Uh, you did Sirius," she replied, "we all did. And yes, my cousin certainly is one amazing Welshman."
They turned and walked over to Hermione when she called them over to where she was standing, right in the middle of the gap. She looked up at the steep cliffs on either side and then down at the ground. "You can see some of the old cobbles the Romans used to build the road," she said, bending down to feel the stones, worn smooth but also chipped in places by the hooves of the cattle that had been driven over the road for hundreds of years in the past.
Nadine walked to the furthest end of the gap and looked out over the countryside on the other side of the mountains. "This place is so beautiful," she said as she looked down at the lakes and wild meadows below her. "It reminds me a lot of my home - don't you think so, Charlie?"
Charlie walked up alongside Nadine and put his arm around her waist. "Very much so, Nadine. It's lovely," he replied, savouring the slight weight of her body as she leaned back into him.
"Hey come on, you two lovebirds," called Remus from the other end of the gap. "Time to get down to some work. We've got to decide what we do next."
"Well that's easy Professor, we follow the road," said Ron as he started to stride out through the gap towards Charlie and Nadine. He'd walked past them and was starting to pick up a fair old pace when he suddenly stopped, finally realising that he was walking all on his own.
He turned back to see everybody laughing. "Come on back up here Ron," shouted Ginny.
Ron looked puzzled as he once more rejoined the group. "What's the matter? Why didn't you follow me?"
"Uh Ron," said Ceri. "Before we do that, don't you think it'd be a good idea to decide which way to go first?"
"But that's the way I went Ceri," he replied. "Pontius said follow the road through the gap, so I went through the gap. What's the problem with that?"
"Ron," said Hermione. "Didn't you stop to think which way through the gap Pontius meant? Look, if he came here from Stonehenge, he'd have approached from the East, and the first place he'd have come to was the large Roman settlement in Caerwent - that's over on the Eastern side of Wales. From there, he'd have probably followed the main Roman route into the Southern plains of Wales, and then up into the valleys just North of what is now the capital - Cardiff. From there he'd have passed through the valleys and up into the mountains north of the valley towns of Merthyr and Aberdare, and from there he'd have come straight up this Roman road to the gap. Now that means that he would have approached from the South - and the direction you started to go in was to the South. Entirely the wrong way."
Ron stuck out his chin and glared at Hermione, pointing his finger at her. "And what makes you so sure he came that way, little miss know-it-all? Don't forget, the Bristol Channel bridges weren't there in Pontius' time, and he'd have had to go up the right-hand bank of the River Severn until he came to a place narrow enough to cross over into Wales. And that's nearly up as far as what is now Gloucester. And if you remember your maps, this part of Wales is directly across from that spot. He could easily have ignored the main Roman road to the South and cut straight across country to those camps and forts we saw close to Trecastle. The distance would have been a lot shorter than your route, and if Dark Wizards were on his tail, he'd have wanted to keep off the main highways, wouldn't he?"
Hermione looked shamefaced at her friend, accepting the logic of his argument. "I… I'm sorry Ron; I shouldn't have jumped at you like that. Pontius may well have come the way you say; it does make very good sense." She reached out and put her hand on Ron's arm, looking pleadingly into his eyes. "Forgive me?"
Ron's stern look quickly turned into a smile. "'Course I do, Hermione."
"That leaves us with a big problem," said Ginny. "Which way do we go? South or North?"
Everyone in the group shrugged their shoulders helplessly, but then Harry grinned and said hurriedly, "Well we don't know, but I know a man who might be able to help. Hang on, I'll be back in a few minutes." Harry closed his eyes and transformed into his golden eagle Animagus form. He bent his legs and launched himself into the clear air, hovered for a moment and then soared quickly back down along the side of the mountain, heading in the direction they had just come from.
"My word," said Professor Flitwick. "I didn't know that Harry's an Animagus. When did this happen?"
"Not long before Christmas last year, Filius," said Sirius. "But Professor Dumbledore wants to keep it quiet for now; he thinks it might help in the fight with the Dark Side."
Harry flashed down the mountainside, flying low over the flock of sheep they'd passed on the way up the mountain. They scattered in alarm at the sight of the big bird of prey, trying to gain the cover of the hedges that enclosed their field. Harry's extra keen eagle eyesight quickly spotted Ifor as he moved down the rough track, and flew over his head as he came into a perfect landing about ten yards in front of the wide-eyed farmer. Ifor's eyes grew even wider as he saw the huge bird shimmer, leaving a grinning Harry in its place.
Ifor found his voice after a few moments and his face contorted in a look of agonised anguish. "That's bloody cruel Harry. I've just witnessed the most amazing sight of my life, and I can't tell anybody about it. If I tell this story down at the pub, my mates will think I've lost my marbles."
Harry grinned. "But you can still tell Bethan, Iolo and Rhian."
Ifor brightened. "Yes I can, can't I? But I warn you that when you visit us next, or if you come back tonight, the kids will want a demonstration."
"No problem Ifor, and I can give them a ride on my back if they want."
"Oh, they'll want Harry - make no mistake about that!"
"Ifor, we've got a problem and I'm hoping you can help. We don't know whether to follow the Roman road to the North or to the South. I thought that if you've got any idea where your old abandoned village is, it would help us decide."
Ifor thought for a few moments, scratching his chin, and then said, "I don't know where the village is, but the old people said it was about eight miles or so away from Llanmad, in roughly that direction." He raised his arm and pointed to the West, slightly South of West. "Does that help?"
"Not really, Ifor, that's right in between the two directions we could go."
Ifor thought again for a few moments, thinking aloud, "The village must be to the North West of Pen-y-Fan, that's the highest mountain in Southern Britain, so let's see." He closed his eyes, deep in thought, trying to visualise the terrain of the area. "I know that the old Drovers' road to the South goes directly South, following the high ridges of the mountains to the West. And there's no easy way over them for at least eight miles. So your way can't be to the South, Harry. I don't know where the Roman road leads to the North, of course, but I do know that there's far easier access to the West just at the bottom of these mountains. I think it's definitely North."
Harry grinned and shook Ifor's hand. "Thanks Ifor, I just knew you'd be able to help. See you soon, I hope." Harry again transformed and soared into the air, flapping his wings to gain height as he flew back to the gap. Ifor turned and watched him go, scratching his head in amazement.
"North it is," said Harry after he'd transformed back. He proceeded to tell the group what Ifor had said to him, and they all looked a lot happier than they had a few minutes previously.
Sirius and Ceri led the way down the rough track, the four friends just behind, and the remainder of the group bringing up the rear. There was no room for anyone to patrol the flanks, the ground rising steeply to their left and falling, precipitously in places, to their right. After a short while, the path started to rise up the side of the mountain, avoiding some dangerous-looking cliffs, then levelled off along the cliff top and back down again on the other side. Half an hour later, they reached the bottom of the mountain where the path started to swing around to the left, but it soon became indistinct as the group entered a flattish area of meadowland.
Sirius called a halt and gestured for the four youngsters to join him. "The road seems to have disappeared," he said. He pointed to the dry stone walling a little further down the valley. "I think the farmers must have used the cobbles to build those walls. I'm not sure which way we should go."
"Can you help Harry?" asked Ginny. "Perhaps you can fly up and look for any signs of the road reappearing up ahead."
"Good idea, Ginny", he replied, and quickly transformed and rose majestically into the air. At first he couldn't see anything, but then he flew a little higher and gazed at the road up to the point where the group now stood. He scoured the area in front of them for any sign of the road reappearing, and could just make out a slight difference in the colour of the grass in several places, about the width of a pathway. He flew further and in about another three hundred yards saw the unmistakable signs of the roadway just before it led into an area of woodland. He flew back to the group and transformed.
"I could just make out the outlines of the road," he said pointing straight ahead. "It enters some woods about three hundred yards or so further on."
The group continued on their way and soon came to the woodland where they once more picked up the trail. They walked through the dappled shade of the trees, savouring the heady aroma of earth and decaying leaves. "I just love oak trees," said Hermione as she gazed up at the spreading branches above. "They're so proud and regal."
"I don't know about that," said Ron. "But it makes a change being able to walk under a tree without it trying to bash your brains out." Ron, of course, had had more than one unfortunate experience with the Whomping Willow at Hogwarts.
For the next three hours they made fairly slow progress, and Harry had to fly above the ground several times to find the faint outlines of the road. They walked though lovely wooded glades, across steep-sided valleys through which sparkling streams flowed, and up gently sloping grassy mounds as the road led to the West and across the foothills of the mountains rising to their left. They soon entered an area of rough terrain, with no fields or meadows near, which suggested that they were now in a fairly remote part of the countryside. The old Roman road now became more distinct, with many of the original cobbles in place. Further progress was halted, however, when Ron let out a loud shout of anguish, "How much further? Do you realise that we haven't eaten for six full hours! If we go on much longer, I'll have to start eating the grass, and then you can look out - you know what it does to the sheep! I refuse to walk one inch more until I take on some fuel."
He sat down on a flat rock and folded his arms, a look of determination on his face. Everyone laughed at his antics but they all knew that beneath the amusing comments lay a grim reality - Ron and his food just cannot be kept apart for too long.
Everyone enjoyed the delicious picnic that Bethan had prepared for them that morning, and when they'd finished, Ron was pleased to see that there was plenty left for later. When they set off shortly afterwards, they saw that the road started to shift to the South, heading back up into the mountains and some of the roughest terrain they had so far encountered. They passed an old ruined farmstead, long abandoned, and after another hour saw them standing, quite breathless, on a curious flat-topped hill surrounded by much higher mountains. Everything was quiet, not the twitter of birds, not the bleat of sheep, not the screech of hawks, just their heavy breathing following the steep climb up to that point.
After a few minutes they walked across the flat hill, still following the old Roman road, and soon came to the edge, where the road wound in zigzag fashion down to the bottom. At the base of the hill, they followed the road around to the right and around a sharp spur that jutted from the mountainside. Sirius and Ceri pulled up sharply as they led the way around the spur of rock. There, up ahead, they were faced with high cliffs surrounding a circular valley, and the road led right into it. Ceri, who had been following their progress on the contour map, looked closely at it and then up into the valley.
"This place is called Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad," said Ceri. "It's a hanging glacial valley scooped out by retreating glaciers after the last ice age."
They continued along the old road into the valley, and looked up at the craggy cliffs as they reached the centre. The ground was littered with loose rocks and terminal moraine left by the melting glacier. The going became tough as they approached the far side of the valley, the road skirting the base of the cliffs, and then swinging back towards the centre for about twenty yards before it suddenly stopped.
They looked around, trying to pick up the trail, but there was no sign of it anywhere. Nadine, however, had not moved since reaching the end of the old road. She stood still, her head to one side, and her pretty face screwed up in deep concentration.
Charlie rushed over to her and caught around her shoulders. "Nadine, what's wrong?" he asked gently.
"It's this place," she replied, opening her eyes to look at Charlie. "I can feel the vibrations, and they're not very nice."
"Perhaps this is the place," said Professor Flitwick. "Perhaps the road ended because it's reached its destination - the old Roman fort."
Everyone looked towards the rough ground at the spot where the road ended. "Nothing," said Harry. "I can't see anything that looks like an old fort."
Remus looked around at the cliffs. "This place is a sort of natural amphitheatre. I wonder if that's what attracted the Romans when they built their secret fort."
"Split up into pairs," said Sirius, "and look all around the valley floor. There's bound to be some indication of the fort around here somewhere. But watch out for potholes - the map says this is limestone country and there's probably a lot of caves right under our feet."
They examined the valley floor carefully, but after an hour of searching could find nothing. They all met back at the place where the road ended and took stock. "Not a thing," said Sirius. "Ifor said that the old villagers destroyed the fort brick-by-brick, and they must have done a pretty good job of it - I couldn't even see any bricks lying about."
"They may be here, Sirius," said Ceri, "but with all this rock and debris lying about it's no wonder we can't find anything. Nadine, are those vibrations stronger in any one place?"
"Not really Ceri," she replied, "but I suppose they do seem a bit stronger in the area beyond where the road ends."
"Of course!" exclaimed Ginny. "It worked before so why not now? Harry, fly up and see if you can see the outline of anything."
"Ok, Ginny. Want to come and help me?"
"Yes!" shouted Ginny and walked over to Harry, waiting for him to transform. "Give me some parchment and a quill, Hermione. If I spot anything I can draw the outline and some landmarks so we can find it when we get back down." She climbed onto the eagle's back and leaned forward, placing her arms around his neck. Harry pushed off from the ground and flew high into the air, above the line of cliffs surrounding the valley.
Harry hovered high above the spot where the road came to an end and looked down. Ginny leaned over to one side and also gazed closely at the ground. "See it Harry? I can just make out a rectangular shape about fifty yards long and twenty yards wide. And there's the faint outline of what must have been four round turrets at the corners."
Harry nodded his head and waited for Ginny to finish drawing in the outline on the parchment. "Ok Harry, I've finished."
Back on the ground, Ginny and Harry, closely followed by the others, walked over to the area of ground where they'd spotted the outline of the fort. Ginny looked at the parchment and then at the ground, and walked over to a spot about twenty yards away. "This is where we saw one of the circular turret shapes," she said, and proceeded to build a mound of loose stones at the spot. She and Harry did the same at the other three corners, and then they stood back, visualising what the old fort must have looked like before it was destroyed.
"I can see some of the bricks now," said Sirius as he poked around the ground with his foot at the place where one of the walls once stood. "Unless you know exactly where to look, you'd never spot them; they blend in so well with the natural rocks. No wonder these old ruins haven't been discovered up until now."
"See if you can feel anything stronger Nadine," said Charlie. "The four corners may be a good place to start."
Nadine walked over to the nearest corner and stood where Ginny had piled the rocks as a marker. After a few moments she shook her head and walked over to the next one. She gasped out loud as she closed her eyes. "It's here," she said in a strangled voice. "It's terrible - so dark and evil."
"But Pontius wasn't evil," Ron muttered to his three friends as they walked over to Nadine. "He was on the side of the Light. How can anything evil be here?"
The four friends looked at each other ominously and then started to examine the circular piece of ground where one of the turrets must have stood. With the protectors watching, they soon cleared away the loose rocks and bricks that covered the spot and stared at a small depression in the ground, where loose earth, fed by the many flash floods that must have occurred over the years, had accumulated. Ron picked up a flat rock from the ground and started to clear away the earth, and before long his rock hit something solid. He paused, looking up at the others, before redoubling his efforts and quickly revealed a man-made cover stone about six inches below the level of the surrounding ground. They could just make out some faded markings on the stone and Hermione bent close to examine them more closely.
"It's a Latin inscription," she said. "It's not very clear but I think it reads…" She paused as she traced the outline of the writing with her finger, muttering to herself, "N…E…X L…U…X. I can just make out two words - death and light." She looked up at her three friends. "I think it says 'Death to the Light'."
"Move over Hermione," said Sirius as he, Remus and Charlie approached. They scraped around the edges of the cover to reveal its outline and then inserted several long shards of rock, trying to lever it up. The stone soon started to wobble and the three men lifted it carefully and placed it to the side.
Nadine suddenly let out a gasp and staggered back, clutching Charlie's arm for support and comfort. "It's so strong now," she muttered in a trembling voice.
The four youngsters stepped cautiously forward and looked dubiously at the hole, and the stone steps that could now be seen spiralling into the darkness below.
'Listen well, for the wrath of the Watcher at the Gate is terrible. Cover yourself with the protective aura of a powerful talisman of evil, for he must know that you are worthy to seek his presence. The Disc of Gates is such a talisman and it will serve to keep you safe as well as heightening the power to open the Gate.
Recite the incantations as they are written here, in the manner thus prescribed. Prepare the rituals without erring, and in the proper places and times render the power that will open the Gate. Shudder at what you will see; know that the countenance of the Watcher must be revered above all else. Reap the wild harvest that will be your reward.
May the Ancient Ones ever be merciful unto thee! May you escape the jaws of the Seeker of Souls, and turn it thus on those who would seek to thwart the coming of destiny.'
Voldemort looked up from the Necronomicon and stared, unseeing, into his future with relish. His mind was full of the words of the evil book, and his thirst to learn more was almost tangible. 'The Seeker of Souls,' he thought to himself. 'I must find out more about this.'
Voldemort now knew how to protect himself against the Nephilim, but he couldn't find anything in the book to allow him to control them. He took the decision to take his chances with the Ancient Ones; to his way of thinking, the rewards would far out-way the risks. He returned to reading the Necronomicon, looking for more information about the Seeker of Souls.
Meanwhile, Lucius and the other three Death Eaters had finished scouring the temple for the artefacts needed to open up the gate to the Dark Realm, but had found nothing. Lucius led them outside and looked at the adjacent buildings. "Wormtail, you and Travis search the building on the right; Crabbe and I'll take the one on the left."
Lucius and Crabbe walked up to the building, which was a lot smaller than the Temple of the Gates, although it had the same strange markings above the entranceway. He went into the gloomy place and raised his wand high, looking around at the dust-covered objects that stood against the walls of the small chamber. He counted three stone chests of varying sizes and each bearing the markings of the strange script above the door, although the markings on each of the three chests were slightly different. There was a very large one about ten feet square, a smaller one about seven feet long and four feet wide, and the third was only two feet square.
"This looks interesting Crabbe," said Lucius. "Help me get the biggest one open."
The two Dark Wizards had to put all their strength into raising the lid of the first stone chest, but as soon as they levered it open just a fraction, the lid raised itself under its own strange power. They looked inside and saw, neatly stacked in columns, the black material they were looking for. The chest was completely full of the inky black substance. They then opened the middle-sized chest and saw the four torch holders - the same ones that were shown in the frescos.
Lucius and Crabbe grinned at each other as they approached the last chest, which they easily opened. Their grins soon disappeared from their faces when they saw what lay inside. On a black velvet cushion, they could see a disc-shaped indentation, where the third object of their search once lay. But it lay there no longer. They searched around the room with great care, but they could find no sign of the disc. Fearing the worst, they walked back to the Temple of Gates, calling out for Wormtail and Travis to join them.
"Lammashta," Voldemort breathed quietly. "The Seeker of Souls is Lammashta, the she-demon." He had just finished reading the spell that would call her from the Dark Realm and unleash her terrible fury on an unsuspecting world, albeit for a short time. But it would be enough.
He looked up as Lucius and the others walked back into the temple. "Well?" he asked.
"My Lord," said Lucius, "we have found the place where the ritual objects are kept, and have found the black substance and the torch holders. But the disc is no longer here. We opened its container and saw the place where it rested, but there was no sign of it anywhere."
All four Death Eaters cringed as Voldemort let out a bellow of rage and anguish, his fury echoing around the circular temple. After he regained his composure, he turned back to the others. "That is the most important object in the ritual - the Disc of Gates, the talisman of evil that would boost the power to open the Gate and serve to protect us. We must find it!"
Crabbe spent a few minutes deep in thought, and then a few more building the courage to speak when Voldemort was in such a foul mood. "My Lord, you may not need the Disc of Gates."
Voldemort glowered at Crabbe and hissed, "Spit it out, Crabbe, what are you thinking?"
"I was thinking, my Lord, that we already have a talisman of evil - the Necronomicon. It could well serve the same function as the Disc of Gates."
"Hmmm. You may be right, Crabbe," said Voldemort pensively. Then he seemed to come to a decision and said forcefully, "Right. All of you - prepare for the ritual. We will use the Necronomicon to channel the power and to protect us. I will teach you the words that you must say in the ritual just before we start."
He turned back and looked up at the black altar at the centre of the chamber. "One hour - just one hour and I will hold the fate of the world in my hands."
"You kids stay here," said Sirius. "Remus, let's check this out first, I don't want them walking into any nasty Dark Arts booby traps down there."
"Wait a minute," said Harry as he held Sirius back. "It's just as dangerous for you two as it is for us, and we can do the ancient protection spell to cover us." Harry stretched his hand out for Hermione to join with him and called his two friends to come closer.
Harry and Hermione held their arms above their heads and said, "DADEX MER."
A beam of silvery-blue light shot from their upraised hands and met about two feet above their heads, where it cascaded down to cover the four friends in an emerald green shimmering light. Still keeping their arms raised, Harry and Hermione, closely followed by Ron and Ginny, slowly walked down the stone steps, branching to the right as the steps spiralled around a central stone column. Ron and Ginny lit their wands as they became engulfed in the darkness, and they soon reached the bottom of the stairs where they found themselves standing in a small antechamber, which was completely devoid of any furnishings.
"Feel it?" asked Ron as he pulled his cloak tighter around himself to ward off the chilly evil feelings in the place. They all nodded and walked slowly over to an iron door, which was set into the wall opposite the stairs. As they approached, the feelings of an evil presence became stronger.
"I think whatever's causing these feelings is in there," said Harry nodding towards the door. Ron tentatively reached out and touched the door lightly with his hand, but then drew it back sharply as if it had been scalded.
"I don't think it's in the room behind the door Harry," he said. "I think it's in the door itself."
Harry and Hermione nodded to each other and then slowly dropped their arms to end the protection spell. Hermione reached out and quickly brushed her fingers over the door. "Ron's right," she said. "It's definitely in the door. And it feels like a Dark Arts sealing spell."
Ginny pointed her wand at the door and yelled, "ALOHOMORA." The door didn't budge. Harry then tried the unlocking spell, using all the power he could muster, but the door still refused to open. Like Ginny's, the beam from his spell was enveloped by an undulating dark green light and was then stifled out of existence.
Hermione whispered, "It's going to take something special to open this door. Hold my hand, Harry."
Harry grinned and held her hand. They pointed their other hands at the door and yelled, "KHEWEW, KHETI."
The silvery blue beam struck the iron door and the dark green light reappeared, shimmering excitedly as it attempted to nullify the spell, but then quickly flowed down the door and disappeared into the ground as it failed in its vain attempt.
"Try it now Ginny," said Hermione.
This time, Ginny's unlocking spell had the desired effect, and the door slowly started to creak open.
"Ughh," they all said as the stale air, tinged with an indefinable stench, rushed over them. "That door must have been airtight," said Ron.
Ron was the first to slowly enter the small chamber, but soon came to a halt as he stared, wide-eyed, at something inside the room. Ginny walked up alongside him and let out a loud screech, covering her mouth with her hands. Harry and Hermione quickly followed and stared at the cause of their friends' shock, drawing in a deep breath as they looked at the grinning skeleton sitting at a stone table that stood at the centre of the small room.
"Are you kids ok?" shouted Sirius.
"We're ok Sirius," Hermione shouted back. "I think we've found poor old Pontius Aurigula."
The skeleton sitting hunched over the table still held a long, sharp piece of rock in his bony right hand, and they saw that he'd scratched several columns of writing on the stone table, his only method of telling anyone who found him what had happened. Harry and Ron eased the skeleton back, and they saw that the writing trailed off towards the bottom of the table. They carried Pontius' remains over to the stone bed in the corner of the room, where they reverently laid it to rest on its back
"Hold your wands over the table," said Hermione as she pulled some parchment and a quill from her robes. "I'll see if I can translate what he's written."
Hermione saw that the writing was in Latin, in the same style as the message they'd found at the Shrine of Mercury. She studied the ancient text for a few minutes and then started writing, talking aloud as she translated the message.
'I, Pontius Aurigula, write this and fear it is the last duty I perform in the cause of the Light. The Dark Wizards have found me at last, and sealed me in what will soon become my tomb after they attacked the fort and killed all the Legionaries. My life's work - the glorious history of my mentor, Mercury, has been taken from me and the Dark Ones gloated with evil sadism at my method of execution. I have little time left to me here, and the air will soon turn foul. So I will tell you, and I pray that you are sons and daughters of the Light, where your path lies.'
Hermione wiped a tear from her eye as she paused briefly. Then, with a sigh, she continued.
'The times have become very dark of late, and the power of the evil ones is building. I pray for the coming of the Anima Summas so that the evil can be struck down, as it was in times long past. I have little hope that this message will be found, but if it is, seek out the Anima Summas if they exist in your time, and tell them what is said here.
Seek out the original scribe, the inventor of writing and learning. Seek out the new abode of Mercury and Hermes. That beloved Spirit of the Light will impart great knowledge to aid you in your dread task. Find the scribe in the ancient land, go to …'
"Where Hermione?" asked Ron. "Where've we got to go to find the scribe?"
"That's all he's written," whispered Hermione. "Pontius must have been overcome by the bad air and died shortly afterwards, before he could finish his message."
"Poor Pontius," squeaked Ginny, tears streaming down her face. "He didn't think of himself. The last thing he did was to try to guide others to the Light."
Harry put his arm around Ginny's shoulder. "There's nothing more for us here; let's leave Pontius in peace. We'll put the cover stone back in place and cover it with earth and rocks again so that no one will disturb him."
They walked sadly back up to their protectors and told them what they had found, and after covering all signs of their excavations, they all walked back down the old Roman road and out of Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad. As they walked, the four friends talked quietly among themselves. They found it hard to shake off the sombre mood that had settled on them. They knew that Pontius couldn't help them any more and they now had to find a new path to follow. Even the rumblings in Ron's stomach went unnoticed as they followed behind Sirius and Ceri.
"What I don't understand," said Ginny, "is why that evil spell was still in place. Surely Merlin and Morgana would have come to this place and opened the door?"
"We'll never know the answer to that Ginny," said Hermione. "But perhaps they didn't have to come here. Perhaps their path to the three seats of ancient knowledge lay elsewhere. Remember what I said in The Three Broomsticks? Maybe our path is longer and harder because we're so young; our strengths are being built up gradually. It may well be that Merlin and Morgana, because they were older and more experienced, didn't need to go through what we're going through."
"Did you notice that Pontius referred to the Anima Summas in a time long before his?" asked Ron.
"Yes," replied Harry, "but our next task is to find out who the original scribe was and where the ancient land is. Any ideas Hermione?"
"Not at the moment Harry, but it isn't a lot to go on. If only poor Pontius had remained conscious for five more minutes, he'd have told us where the ancient land is."
"URU NECRONOMICON…ME NECRONOMICON…KALAG NECRONOMICON."
Voldemort stood on the top step reading from the Necronomicon, which lay on the black altar, his wand extended over it. He was chanting the ritual spells to prepare the Necronomicon as the vessel of power and protection in the 'Opening of the Gate' ceremony that was to follow. A torch holder, filled with the mysterious black substance, stood at each corner at the base of the altar, flaming with magical light. A Death Eater stood by the side of each of the torch holders.
Voldemort looked up at the temple walls with satisfaction as he saw some of the pieces of black material start to spark into life. He watched as his helpers knelt onto the ground and raised their arms, chanting the strange words he had taught them earlier. He looked back down at the Necronomicon and chanted the words of the ritual. Green light burst from the end of his wand and covered the fabled Dark Arts book on the altar. The black material now glowed and pulsed with the green light.
The Dark Lord spoke the final words of the ceremony as he pointed his wand at the book before him, "SA KAPU… GEN KURUM."
Green light started to stream down from the walls onto the Necronomicon, where it gathered for a few moments before sending a beam of green power towards the fresco at the far end of the temple.
Voldemort frowned with disappointment when he saw that the beam of light was not as intense as that depicted in the fresco. He looked down at Crabbe in anger, but then jerked his head back up as he sensed that something was happening. The beam had stopped midway between the altar and the fresco and a small black hole started to form in the air at the place where the light was concentrated. Slowly, ever so slowly, a small area of white light started to expand at the centre of the hole, extending outwards to consume the blackness. Then it was finished, the gate had been opened - but not in the same way as shown in the fresco, the intensity of the light was much less.
Voldemort stared intently at the light and he could just make out a shadowy form undulating in the background. The form slowly took on more definition until its features could be discerned. It was the same as the creature on top of the pillar in the centre of Irem. He was huge, about ten feet tall, and his face was reminiscent of a Neanderthal, but slightly more refined. His pointed ears extended for about six inches, and he was naked from the waist up; his bottom half remained hidden behind the portal.
Voldemort opened his mouth to utter a greeting, but stopped as he heard a loud, resounding voice that reached directly into his mind. He looked down at his helpers but they showed no sign of having heard anything.
"Who summons the guardian of the gate? Who dares to commune with the gods of the Dark Realm. Speak quickly, for my time is short."
"I am Lord Voldemort, the greatest Dark Wizard on Earth. I seek help in defeating the Light and subjecting humanity to the rule of the Dark. The Necronomicon is my evil talisman and helped me contact you."
"That is why I cannot now enter your realm. The Necronomicon is not strong enough and only allows us to speak across the divide. Only the Disc of Gates can allow us entry so that we can take our revenge.
"The Disc of Gates is no longer here; it has gone from its chest in the place of Dark Arts relics."
"I will tell you where you can retrieve the Disc of Gates, but first I must tell you about the past, how it came to be lost to us. Many ages ago, we ruled your earthly realm from our seat of power in the City of Pillars where you now stand. Then the light spawned two powerful wizards to challenge our supremacy. There was a fearsome battle in the desert near the city, and the Anima Summas of that time banished us back to our realm of darkness. But the seeds were sown. The legacy of our teachings lived on in the Dark Arts of your wizarding world. And that is why you stand here before me now.
The Disc of Gates was stolen by the Anima Summas and sealed in a barren tomb, sure that it would no longer see the light of day. But they were wrong. I can tell you where it is hidden and also the tablet of ancient dark spells that will activate its awesome power, for they were buried in two separate places. For it is not only the instrument of opening the junction between our two realms, it is also a powerful weapon that can be used against the Anima Summas and the wizards of Light. It can destroy the body, but it can also capture the soul and transport it to the Realm of Dark to be used to feed the ancient ones for eternity. But it has been long since we have had fresh souls on which to feed. Only rarely is a Dark Wizard strong and knowledgeable enough to summon one of our servants - the She Devil - to hunt for fresh souls.
"But if the She Devil can be summoned, why can't you?"
"The She Devil does not have our awesome powers. No human can possess the strength to summon the Nephilim, only the Disc of Gates can do that.
"Will you tell me where I can retrieve the Disc of Gates and the Tablet of Spells?"
"I can, and I can also give you the spells that you will need to break through the protections set by the Anima Summas.
I know the general area where the treasures were sealed, but not their exact locations, but I can also provide you with a spell that will tell you when you are close to them. But for all this there is a price. I will make with you a pact. In return, you must bring terror to the land, you must build the fears of the followers of the Light - their souls will be far more interesting to feed on when we come to claim them. And then, when you have defeated the Anima Summas, you will use the Disc of Gates to open the way for our return. Do you agree?"
Voldemort thought quickly. He didn't like the arrogance of the Guardian of the Gate, nor his lack of respect when he addressed the Dark Lord, and suspected that his fellow Nephilim were no better. But he had to get his hands on the Disc of Gates and the spells. They would allow him to achieve his destiny. And then, when he had achieved it; that would be the time to worry about the Nephilim. That would be the time to consider whether to honour the pact. "I agree, Guardian of the Gate."
"Good. Write down the things I will tell you now, for they are very complex."
Voldemort signalled to Lucius to bring him parchment and quill. "While I await my writing materials, there are two questions I would like to ask you." The Guardian nodded his assent. "What is the black substance that is used in the ritual?"
"That is not of your world. It is only found in the Dark Realm. There is a similar substance in your realm, but it is only for the Light. If used, it would corrupt the Dark."
"And what has happened to Abdul Alhazred? How did he get to your realm?"
The Guardian laughed evilly. "He discovered the spells and rituals at an ancient site, and used them to come here. But he was selfish; he did not want any of his kind to follow, so he omitted the spells from the Necronomicon and destroyed the tablets that held the knowledge. He is still here, kept alive by the dark aura of our realm. But he is now quite mad. He thinks he is one of us, but we tolerate him purely for our own amusement."
Lucius handed the parchment and quill to Voldemort and retreated quickly back to the foot of the altar.
"As part of the pact, I want you to contact me and tell me of your progress. Agreed?"
"Then listen carefully and make no mistakes when you write it down…."
They had just finished the excellent dinner provided by Bethan that evening, and were sitting comfortably around the kitchen table drinking coffee. Harry was listening to Ifor's amusing account of his efforts to retrieve a sheep that had fallen into a ditch that day when he felt a tug on his sleeve. He turned around to see Iolo and Rhian looking up at him nervously. "Harry," said Iolo, "we were wondering - can we see you change into an eagle?"
The imploring look on little Rhian's face dispelled any thoughts of refusing, so he got up from his seat. "Come on then, let's go out to the back garden. Want to give me a hand?" he asked his three friends.
Hermione, Ron and Ginny followed them out into the garden, which stretched up for about a hundred yards towards the wooded slopes of the mountains behind the farmhouse. They looked to make sure that there were none of the locals around, and then walked into the middle of the garden.
"Ready?" Harry asked the two little ones. He closed his eyes and concentrated, then transformed into his golden eagle form. Iolo just stood still, eyes wide, staring at the beautiful bird as Harry spread his impressive wings. Rhian's reaction was completely opposite to that of her brother as she jumped up and down, giggling excitedly and clapping her hands.
"Can I have a ride?" the little girl asked as she ran up to Harry.
He looked at Ginny and nodded. The red head went up to Rhian and lifted her slight body onto Harry's back. She then climbed up behind her and held her around the waist. "Hold onto Harry's feathers just at the bottom of his neck," she whispered into her ear.
Harry kicked off from the ground, and looked around to make sure no one was watching before soaring up towards the line of trees at the base of the mountain. He skimmed low over the trees, scattering a small herd of deer as he flew over a clearing in the forest. After another ten minutes he glided slowly back to the garden and landed.
After he'd transformed back, the excited little girl ran up to Harry and hugged him around the waist. "Thank you uncle Harry. Can I have another ride please?"
"Uh, it's getting a bit too dark now Rhian. But I promise you can have a ride next time we visit. You too Iolo."
They went back into the farmhouse where they found everyone sitting in the lounge, talking about what they'd found in the mountains that day.
"So the legends were right," said Ifor, "but where do you go from here?"
"We really don't know," said Hermione despondently. "Our only real lead is still Hermes and where he lived before Mount Olympus. But we've read all the books at the school - I just wish there were more there."
"I think I can help you there, Hermione," said Bethan. "There's a little town not far from here that's famous for being the book capital of the world. They hold conventions there every summer, it's only just finished, and people come here from all over the world to browse through the books, some of them quite old and rare, that they put on display outside all the little bookshops. I was there last year and spent all day browsing through the books - I love reading, you see. Anyway, I remember one little shop that seemed to specialise on the esoteric writings of a number of philosophical traditions."
"Esoteric?" asked Ron.
"That means mysterious, obscure, arcane, secret," said Hermione. "Go on Bethan."
"Well there were a lot of old books and tracts there about the Hermetic tradition. I saw one book called…now what was it… oh yes, The Corpus Hermeticum. This formed the basis of the Hermetic school of thought that swept throughout Europe during the Renaissance. I remember that it's split into two main parts, philosophy and alchemy. Perhaps you can find something in one of the books in that little shop - I can give you the directions."
Hermione turned excitedly towards Sirius and Ceri. "Can we?"
"I don't see why not," said Sirius. "But how are we going to get there? We can't just Apparate into the town you know."
"There's a bus that runs every hour," said Ifor. "You can catch it by the bus stop at the bottom of the lane about a mile away."
Ron suddenly shot up from his seat. "Yes! Can we go by bus? I've never been on a Muggle bus before. Dad's going to be so jealous when I tell him about it."
"But we haven't got any Muggle money," said Remus. "How are we going to pay, and for that matter, how are we going to pay for any books we find?"
"Don't worry about that," said Ifor. "We can lend you the money. You can give it back to us when you visit us next."
"I'm sure that the headmaster will only be too pleased to fund the purchase of some new books for the Muggle section," said Professor Flitwick. "From what Bethan said, they'll be a valuable addition to the school library."
"Well as long as you don't mind Ifor," said Sirius. "But don't be surprised if an owl brings the money back to you."
"That was bloody amazing!" said Ron as he watched the little bus pull away from the main bus station in Hay-on-Wye. "It's a lot smoother than the Knight Bus - I bet Ernie Prang would like a go at driving it."
The group walked out of the station and stood at the side of the main road, looking at the winding streets that made up the town. "I think it's this way," said Hermione. "Down the street on the left."
They walked down the street, passing many little bookshops before they came to the one that Bethan had told them about. "You four go inside and we'll stay out here," said Ceri as she looked around for any sign of Death Eaters.
The bell above the shop door tinkled as Hermione walked inside, quickly followed by the other three. She stopped and looked around the old bookshop, a glazed look in her eyes. "It's like Santa's grotto in here," she breathed. "Look at all these old books!"
Her three friends grinned, but wondered how they would ever get her back out of the place. "Perhaps you should ask the owner if he has a spare room for you to sleep in Hermione," said Ron.
"Humph. I can think of far worse places to be Ron Weasley," she replied. "Come on, let's ask the owner where the books on Hermes are."
She walked up to the counter in the middle of the shop and approached an aging little man, who was bent over reading a magazine. "Yes my dear," he said. "Can I help you?"
"We're looking for the section on Hermetic Philosophy," she said.
"Ah, studying the old traditions of esoteric thought at school are you?" he said, pointing towards the back of the shop. "Admirable, I must say. There's a large bookcase down the far end. Walk straight through, then turn right and then left again. You can't miss it."
They followed the old man's directions and soon stood in front of a very large bookcase, its shelves crammed from top to bottom with some very old-looking books. Harry, Ron and Ginny stood behind Hermione as she browsed the titles, every so often pulling a book from a shelf and handing it to her friends. After half an hour, Hermione turned round. "That's it I think."
"Can we go now, Hermione?" asked Ron, who was struggling to balance the pile of books he was holding. "My arms are killing me!"
Harry and Ginny were faring no better, their arms were full of books too. "This is going to cost a fortune," said Harry. "I hope Dumbledore's in a good mood when you tell him how much you've spent."
"It's all in a good cause Harry," she replied. "The headmaster won't mind, I'm sure."
After she'd paid the very large bill, they joined the others outside the shop and spread the load of books between them. They then walked towards the outskirts of the town and found a sheltered spot in among some trees to Apparate back to Hogsmeade.
Hermione had been correct in her assessment of Professor Dumbledore's reaction to the amount of money she'd spent on the books. He chuckled with some amusement as he thought of the strategies he could use to squeeze extra funding out of Cornelius Fudge. The next day, he sent Hagrid to Gringotts bank in Diagon Alley to change some wizard cash into Muggle money, and send it by owl back to Ifor in Llanmad.
That evening, Sirius, Charlie, Ceri and Nadine sat at a table in The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade, taking a welcome break from their travels throughout Europe. There was no such break for the four youngsters, however. Hermione had bullied them into spending the day at the school library, making a start on reading the large pile of books they'd purchased. She knew that it might be quite a while before they found anything useful in the old tracts.
"So what's happening with you and Sirius?" asked Nadine as she and Ceri sat watching Sirius and Charlie as they played wizarding darts.
"Nothing Nadine," she replied. "He hasn't said anything, but I think Sirius is struggling a little. He's been a bit distant ever since Fudge cleared his name publicly. I know it might sound a bit odd, but I think that he'd become used to living on the edge, having to remain hidden from the wizarding world, and now that he's a free man again, I think he's finding it hard to adjust to being 'normal'."
"Hmmm. You could be right, Ceri. Sixteen years a prisoner and then a fugitive is a long time. And he did lose the best part of his youth. I really feel for him."
"He keeps up a good front," said Ceri, "but he can't fool me all the time. We've rarely been out of each other's company lately, and I can't help but pick up on some of his emotions."
"And what about your emotions, Ceri? Have you had any change of heart in starting a relationship? You seemed to be wavering when we spoke back in France."
"I don't know, Nadine. I really don't. Sometimes I… well for instance, when we took a break for lunch on the old Roman road the day before yesterday, I looked at him and saw him standing on his own, just staring blankly at the ground. I felt his confused emotions, and that's when I knew that all wasn't well with him. I felt then… I felt like going up to him and holding him close, wanting to sooth away his inner struggle, if only for just a moment. But at other times, I feel that I just don't want to get involved. Can you understand what I'm trying to say?"
Nadine grinned. "I think that Sirius isn't the only one who's confused. You seem to be fighting a battle of your own, Ceri. I felt the same way as you when I first met Charlie - exactly the same way. And look at us now - I wouldn't change it for the world. But it takes time to sort out your thoughts and feelings. Just give it time, Ceri. I'm sure that things will work out right for you both."
"You're assuming that Sirius has feelings for me, Nadine. I think he may have been interested to start with, but I did make it clear that I didn't want anything like that to get in the way of our professional relationship. I don't think he sees me in the same way any more. I think he just sees me now as a good friend. Nothing more."
"I wouldn't be so sure, Ceri. I've seen the way he looks at you sometimes, and believe me, I don't think he sees you as just a friend at times like that."
They were interrupted when Madam Rosmerta brought over their dinner, and Sirius and Charlie sat down, arguing good naturedly over which one had actually won their darts match. It wasn't always clear who the winner was in wizarding darts.
Back in the school library, things were not going well.
"This is bloody terrible," said Ron with disgust. "Can't they write proper English?"
"Ron," said Hermione patiently. "These are very old books, and the English is a bit archaic. That's how they wrote back in those days. You just have to be patient and read a lot slower than you would a Quidditch book."
"At this rate we'll be months reading all these books," said Ginny. "And we've got to go to Diagon Alley tomorrow. School starts back in a few days don't forget."
"Have any of you found anything interesting yet?" asked Harry.
"Interesting!" exclaimed Ron. "This is the driest, most boring stuff I've ever read!"
Hermione looked askance at Ron. "It's all interesting Harry. But I haven't found anything that can help us yet."
"Well that's it," said Ron, closing his book with a loud slam. "Dinner time. We can call it a night, I think."
"Well you might," said Hermione, "but I'm coming straight back up after dinner. What about you two?"
"I'm with Ron," said Harry. "My eyes are stinging after all that reading."
"I'll come back here with you Hermione," said Ginny. "But I don't know if I'll get much reading done. I'm finding it very difficult to understand what they're saying, so I find I've got to read a passage about three times before I even get the gist of it."
"Thanks Ginny," said Hermione rising from her seat, and then looking across at the two boys. "Well come on then! I wouldn't want to be accused of keeping you starved."
Voldemort walked slowly down from the altar towards his waiting servants, deep in thought as he read yet again what the Guardian had told him to write down. He didn't recognise the language used in the spells he'd been given, but had written them down phonetically as well so that he'd remember how to pronounce them.
"Well done Crabbe," he said as he reached the bottom of the steps. "It was a stroke of genius to suggest using the Necronomicon as the talisman. You will be amply rewarded when we are in full control."
He then told his servants what the Guardian had said about the Disc of Gates and the ancient spells needed to use it. He breathed deeply, visualising his coming triumph. "No one will be able to stand in my way when I have the Disc of Gates, not the Anima Summas, not Dumbledore, no one. And that time is soon approaching. Lucius, we will now return to my cave, where I want to study these ancient spells and commit them to memory. Then I want you to select ten of our best Death Eaters to accompany us five to find the Disc of Gates and the Tablet of Spells. It may take weeks and weeks to find the places where they are hidden out in the barren desert, so get them to prepare enough supplies to last us.
"And then, before we leave on our journey, I want you to arrange a meeting with my chief lieutenant in America. I want the both of you to arrange for a campaign of terror in both countries. Avery, Nott and Goyle can handle things this end while we're away. I don't want anything major to happen until I have the Disc of Gates, but I want the wizarding communities to shake with fear."
He led the four Death Eaters out of the Temple of Gates and back to the place where they would be transported to the surface. He strode along the ancient avenues with great vigour and purpose; sure in the knowledge that the time of the Dark Side was at hand, sure that his destiny was about to be met when he would establish a new world order and lead it into a great Dark future.
"Welcome students new and old. Welcome to a new school year at Hogwarts." The sorting ceremony had been completed, as had the feast, and Professor Dumbledore was just starting his welcome speech to the student body. He had decided to leave his announcements until after the students had eaten - he didn't want to ruin their appetite.
"First, let me tell our newest students about the standing rules of the school. The Forbidden Forest is still forbidden to all students, and Mr Filtch will still frown on after-hours exploration of the school corridors. Now as you all know, the return of Lord Voldemort has made the times we live in very dangerous and unstable. It is no longer safe anywhere in the wizarding world, and even this school was attacked earlier in the year. It is with deep regret, therefore, that I have to make the following announcements."
As Dumbledore paused to take a sip of water, the sound of whispering filled the Great Hall as the students speculated on what was to come.
"The inter-school Quidditch match with Salem has had to be cancelled for this year. America, as well as this country, now find themselves in troubled times. I have also felt it prudent to cancel all house Quidditch matches for the year; it is now unsafe for large groups of students to remain exposed outside the school building. When the weather permits, small groups of students, accompanied by Sirius Black, Ceri Jones and some of the professors, will be allowed outside. Your head of house will arrange a suitable schedule. Finally, I'm afraid that like last year, visits to Hogsmeade will be forbidden."
Dumbledore waited patiently while the groans and agonised whispers of the students died down.
"But on a lighter note, some of the professors and I are working on a plan to construct an indoor area so that we can hold some events inside. I'll let you all know when our plans are finalised. I sincerely hope that I will be able to review my decisions in a far better light next year. I know you will all want to join me in wishing the Anima Summas and their helpers god speed in their attempts to make the world a far better place in which to live. Now it is time for bed. Goodnight everyone."
Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny were mobbed as the students of all houses made their way to their common rooms - except for Slytherin, of course. They all wanted to know how their quest was progressing and when they would confront 'You Know Who'.
In the Gryffindor common room, the four were brought up to date on their fan mail. "There've been simply hundreds and hundreds of messages for you all," said Clare Bryant. "Perhaps tomorrow Colin and I can tell you what some of them said and what we've told them in reply. There were a few rude ones though," she said coyly, "especially for Ron and Ginny."
"What did they say?" asked Ron, his interest piqued.
Colin Creevey looked a bit embarrassed as he glanced at Ginny, Hermione and Clare. "Uh, I'll tell you later Ron. Some of them were a bit… well… personal shall we say."
"Fred and George aren't going to be too pleased," said Ginny. "They were hoping to open a joke shop in Hogsmeade next week, but they won't be able to now, not with Hogsmeade visits banned. I'll send them an owl in the morning."
The next morning after breakfast, Clare and Colin dragged the four up to the room where Harry had practiced his Animagus transformation - Professor McGonagall had allowed them to use it as their base of operations. They were stunned at the piles of letters neatly stacked on a large table in the middle of the room.
Colin walked over and pointed to the letters. "These are for Harry," he said pointing to a large pile on the far end of the table. "These are for Hermione," he pointed to a pile roughly the same size as Harry's. "These are Ginny's," he pointed to a slightly larger pile.
"And these are all Ron's," said Clare as she gestured towards the largest pile on the table.
"Have you answered all these?" asked Hermione.
"Yes," said Colin. "Well, except for just a few. We showed them to Professor McGonagall because we didn't really know what to say in reply, but she just laughed, went red and said that we'd better show them to you."
"There aren't any of those for Harry and Hermione," said Clare, "but there's five for Ginny and about twenty for Ron."
"Come on then," said Ron, "let's have a look at them."
"Uh, I'd better show them to you Ron," said Colin looking slightly flustered. "You show Ginny's letters Clare."
Ron sat at the table, and Harry pulled up a chair next to him, while Ginny and Hermione sat at the other end of the table to look at Ginny's five letters. Colin picked the first letter off the pile and opened it, glancing at the contents before passing it to Ron.
The first thing that both Ron and Harry noticed was the waft of perfume that struck their senses. Harry grinned as Ron slowly read the letter.
I saw your photo in our wizarding newspaper the other day and I just haven't been able to get you out of my mind ever since.
You're so brave and strong to be helping the Anima Summas save the world, and all my friends are talking about you.
Do you think we could get together sometime soon? I'd just love to run my hands through all that red hair. Please write soon.
Your adoring admirer
Ron glanced at the address at the top of the letter. "Phew, maybe it's true what they say about California girls."
Harry laughed. "What are you going to tell her, Ron? It's a long way to go for a date, don't you think?"
Ron's reply was drowned out by a loud shout from the other end of the table. They looked to see a red-faced Ginny and a grinning, but equally red-faced Hermione. "Well! What a bloody nerve!" shouted Ginny.
"What was in that letter Ginny?" asked Harry.
"Never you mind Harry," said Ginny as she crumpled up the letter and stuffed it into her pocket.
Harry turned back to see that Ron was reading the next letter. He had an odd sort of expression on his face as he muttered, "Is that physically possible?"
Ron and Ginny continued to open their x-rated letters and when they'd finished, told Clare and Colin what to say in reply. Ginny had to spell some of the words she wanted to include in her replies; Clare, still being very young and innocent, had never heard them spoken before.
Classes started that afternoon and it couldn't have been a worse start to the school year - double Potions with the Slytherins. Everybody was surprised, however, when Snape allowed Harry and Hermione to sit together, albeit at the front of the class. He also allowed Ron to sit next to Neville. But if the Gryffindors thought that Snape had mellowed during the summer, they were in for one big surprise.
"During your first five years we covered most of the simpler Potions and brewing methods," said Snape darkly. "Your sixth year classes will be difficult and if you had problems before, you can expect a lot more this year." He paused as he looked towards the Gryffindor end of the room and skewered Ron and Neville with one of his deadly stares. "So some of you had better inject a healthy dose of intelligence into your feeble brain cells."
This had the Slytherins in stitches, most of them pointing and gesturing towards Neville and Ron in particular.
"However," continued Snape, "I will start today with one of the more simple sixth year potions procedures. In the past, you have brewed your potions simply by lighting the burner underneath your cauldron and letting it bubble away until it was finished. But during your final two years you will be brewing potions that require a variable amount of heat. Do you know what that is… Longbottom?"
Snape jabbed his finger at Neville and glared at him, as poor Neville jumped and sat stiffly in his seat. "I … uh ….I …" said Neville, too nervous to answer coherently.
"I thought not," said Snape grinning slyly. "Five points from Gryffindor. It means, Longbottom, that you have to control the temperature of the potions through several phases of the brewing procedure." He turned and looked at the class in general. "You will have to learn how to control the flame with your wands, using a number of charms that I am about to give you. Now watch carefully."
He lit the burner on his desk and pulled his wand from his cloak. He looked up at the class as he pointed his wand at the flame. "I will start by giving you four of the more common charms to control the heat of the flame. The first one diminishes the heat."
He turned his attention back to the flame and said, "TEPESCO."
A light blue beam shot from his wand and covered the flame, which decreased in size and power. "That charm serves to cool the flame. ADAUGEO."
This time the flame grew brighter and more powerful. "And that one serves to make the flame hotter. Now the next charm is used in conjunction with the first two to give you more control over the degree by which the heat is increased or decreased. Watch closely. TEPESCO SENSIM," he said softly.
The flame gradually grew cooler, ever so slowly. "ADAUGEO SENSIM," Snape shouted and the flame gradually, but rapidly, became hotter and more powerful.
"Can you tell me what just happened… Potter?"
"Uh… the louder you say the charm, SENSIM, the faster the increase or decrease in heat, and conversely, the quieter you say it, the slower the effect."
"Hmmm, that's quite correct Potter," said Snape looking slightly disappointed. "And when the heat reaches the desired temperature, you simply end the charm in the normal way. Now the last charm I'll give you today will send the flame to its highest power and heat. Watch … MAXIME."
This time, Snape's flame roared to its highest heat and power. "Have you all got that? Right, now we'll see if you've learnt anything. Longbottom, come to the front of the class."
Neville again jumped and groaned as he got up from his seat. "Go on, Neville," whispered Ron, "you can do it."
"Listen carefully Longbottom," said Snape as he started chopping up some potions ingredients. "I'll do the difficult part of this potion. All you have to do is brew it in the correct manner." He put the chopped ingredients into the cauldron and poured some foul-smelling liquid on top of them. "Firstly, you have to apply a very small amount of heat for one hour precisely. Then you have to very slowly increase the heat for fifteen minutes until the flame is white hot. Then you have to apply the maximum heat for ten minutes, and finally gradually reduce the heat to nothing for the next five minutes. Got it?"
Neville looked nervously at Snape and nodded. Snape grinned evilly. "If you do this correctly, then after one and a half hours the room will be filled with the most delicate of aromas, and it will fill your classmates with a sense of well-being, which will last the rest of the day. If you brew the potion incorrectly, the most disgusting smell will fill the room and will remain in everyone's nostrils for the remainder of the day - and they certainly won't have a feeling of well-being." He gestured impatiently to a very apprehensive Neville. "Begin."
Neville began well, lighting the flame on the burner and reducing it to its lowest level. Then he sat back down and looked at his watch to time the first part of the brew. After an hour he went back to the cauldron on Snape's desk and tried to remember what the professor had said. He pointed his wand at the flame and said, "ADAUGEO SENSIM." The flame and heat began to slowly increase and after ten minutes it was white hot. Neville then shouted, 'MAXIME' and sent the flame to its highest level. Neville stood beside the cauldron looking at his watch and after fifteen minutes, he pointed his wand at the flame and said quite loudly, "TEPESCO SENSIM."
After a further five minutes, the flame went out and Neville went back to his seat and waited nervously for something to happen. Hermione had spotted Neville's error and whispered to Harry and Ron to get ready to make a quick dash from the room. Snape had also spotted the mistake and was now standing by the door with his hand on the doorknob. Suddenly, thick brown smoke started to rise from the cauldron and drift towards the sitting students.
"Uugggghhhh," said the Slytherins in the front row as the smoke drifted over their heads. They turned towards Neville and started shouting abuse of the most hurtful kind. By this time, Harry, Ron and Hermione had reached the door, which stood open after Snape had stepped outside. The Gryffindors, who had been passed the warning to make a quick exit, quickly followed them. Most of them got outside before the potion affected them, but the Slytherins were not so lucky. Every one of them glared with malevolence at the Gryffindors, ineffectually holding their noses to try to stop the stink that would live there for the rest of the day.
Snape allowed all the students to pass except for Neville. He handed him a piece of parchment and quickly pushed him back into the classroom shouting, "You made this mess so you can clear it up. The instructions are on that piece of parchment. If this room is not useable after half an hour, you can expect a long detention. Fifteen points from Gryffindor!"
Fred and George sat in The Three Broomsticks that evening staring despondently into their mugs of Butterbeer. They had received Ginny's owl that morning about the Hogsmeade ban and were now trying to decide what to do.
"Zonko must have known that something like this would happen when he sold us his shop," said George. "I thought it was so cheep because he was nearly broke after the ban last year."
"We sunk all our money into that shop," said Fred, "and it looks like we'll have to close it before it even opens. The sooner Harry and Hermione get 'You Know Who' the better!"
"We'll have to look for jobs until things get back to normal," sighed George.
Five minutes later, Fred sat bolt upright in his seat, a spark of inspiration in his eye. "Maybe not, George." He looked at his brother intensely. "If Mohammed can't go to the mountain, then perhaps the mountain should go to Mohammed."
George looked at his brother as if he'd gone mad. "What's Mohammed got to do with it? And who the hell is Mohammed anyway?"
"It's just a thing that Muggles say, George," he replied. "Dad told me about it a couple of weeks ago - he thought it was very profound. And how right he is!"
"Care to explain what you've got in mind?" asked George.
"It's simple George. If the students can't come to our shop in Hogsmeade, then we'll just have to go to the students in Hogwarts. What do you think?"
George looked with narrowed eyes at Fred. "Brilliant Fred. We can use the tunnel in Honeydukes sweetshop and get into Hogwarts that way. Ginny'll give us the latest password to the Gryffindor common room and we can creep in there after all the students have finished dinner. We can take some samples of our latest jokes and a list of the older ones."
"Yes," said Fred, "we can take orders from the students and deliver them the next evening. And by then, the word would have got out to the other houses, and you can bet your life that they won't want to miss out on all the fun. I wouldn't be surprised if Ginny'll have the other passwords ready so that we can go to the common rooms of all the other houses."
"I don't know about the Slytherins Fred. They wouldn't want to buy from us of all people. But there again, I don't know if I'd want to sell anything to them either."
"When it comes to business George, you've got to swallow your pride. Let's see what happens shall we? If we get their password we'll go. Right?"
"I suppose so," said George dubiously.
"Come on then," said Fred. "Let's get back to the shop and send an owl to Ginny. The sooner we get started on this the better."
Author's Note -Please take a few moments to leave a review. Many thanks to those who've reviewed so far. Some questions on the review board :
Will the rings stop them kissing etc? - No, they just act like a brake when they try to engage 5th gear!
Is the fic anything to do with 15th May? - No - at least I don't think so.
Was I bored to death? - Of course I wasn't Haley - keep the reviews coming.
There are a few images on my picture board of the places relating to this chapter - feel free to take a look.
- Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad - entrance to the hanging valley
- Hay on Wye - the book capital of the world
Coming soon - Chapter 5 - Camp Merlin.