Keith Lewis Keith Lewis 4 1771 2003-05-21T18:05:00Z 2003-08-04T11:29:00Z 20 11458 65314 544 130 80210 9.2720
The Bottom of the Earth
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.
Sirius and Charlie sat eating a late breakfast in the Great Hall, while Nadine and Ceri were at the other end of the table, talking animatedly. After they returned from Egypt and had given Dumbledore their report on what happened, they'd just had time to grab a late supper before the protectors and the four friends sank wearily into their beds, and inevitably, they'd all got up late that morning.
"Sirius," said Charlie, "I'm sorry about the way Bill acted in Hermopolis. I hope you didn't get too mad at him."
"Why should I get mad at Bill?" he replied. "Ceri's a free agent Charlie. She can do whatever she likes."
"I know Sirius, but I thought that you… well you know…"
"No I don't know Charlie. Look, I've got to see Dumbledore about some spying reports. I'll see you later."
Charlie shook his head as he watched Sirius walk out of the Great Hall. 'I wish he'd loosen up a bit,' he thought. He looked over at his girlfriend and Ceri, made to go to join them, and then changed his mind. He got up and made his way towards the owlery to send a note to his parents - he wanted to tell them that their latest excursion had ended safely.
"So what did he say?" asked an exasperated Nadine. She'd spent almost the entire breakfast trying to find out what she and Bill had been up to while they waited for Harry and the others to reappear.
"Not a lot," said Ceri in an offhand manner. "He just asked me if I'd like to go out on a date with him sometime."
"What?" shouted Nadine, looking around to see if anyone had heard. "And what did you say?"
Ceri grinned slyly at her friend. "Not a lot."
"Come on Ceri!" Nadine was now nearly pulling her hair out. "You can't tell me that - you must have given him some sort of reply."
Ceri looked askance at Nadine. "Why are you so interested?"
"You know why! Sirius must have felt terrible watching you two flirting."
"I was not flirting! Bill might have been, but I wasn't."
"Ah! So you said no then."
"I didn't say that!" Ceri grinned at Nadine, and felt a bit guilty at stringing her along. "All right Nadine, I said no."
"And a good job too!" exclaimed the French girl. "So what did he say when you said no?"
"Nadine!" Ceri hissed. "Enough!"
"So there's nothing going on, or is likely to go on, between you?"
"Of course not. Bill's a lot of fun, but he is a bit of a lad with the women - or at least that's what Charlie told me. And anyway, I've finished with all that - I told you before."
"Hmmm," said Nadine, a smile finally lighting up her face.
Later that morning, Ceri met up with Sirius in the school grounds to do their security checks along the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Whenever they were at the school, they made a point of making frequent, but irregular, checks ever since the attack at the beginning of last summer. They reached the edge of the forest and transformed into their animagus forms - they found it much quicker to cover the ground that way, and they could make use of their ultra sensitive hearing.
After an hour's search, they met back up and transformed. "Not a sign of anything," said Ceri.
"Me neither," said Sirius, and started walking back up to the school. Ceri ran to catch up with him and looked at his unsmiling face.
"Anything wrong?" she asked.
"Nothing," was the terse reply.
"Come on Sirius, I think I know you better than that - something's bothering you."
Sirius stopped and turned to face her. "Look Ceri… I… Did you and …" He let out a sigh and continued walking back up to the school.
Ceri had a wry smile on her face as she followed - she had a pretty good idea what was bothering him, but she didn't feel it was her place to drag it out of him.
Up in Gryffindor common room, Harry and Hermione sat across a table from Ron and Ginny. Between them was the parchment on which Ginny had written down everything that Seshat had told them.
"What do you think Hermione?" asked Ron. "You've been the one to decipher cryptic messages up to now. Any idea what it means?"
"Well she told us quite a few things," said Hermione. "We have to go where the Hunter went - through somewhere called the Duat which is underneath a place called Rostau. And it looks like we've got to find the place where he died and went to heaven. And it seems that his consort - presumably that means his wife - was with him."
"And she said that we'd meet their spirits at the beginning of the journey - so it looks like we'll get some help," said Harry.
"But look at this," said Ginny. "She said it was a dread journey - that sounds awfully like our trip through the Labyrinth."
"Yes," said Ron, "and she also said that the trip will fill us with fear, and we'll come up against some ancient forces that we won't be able to understand. I wonder what she meant by that?"
"But at least we'll get some protection from those spells she talked about, if we can find them," said Harry.
"So let's look at it logically," said Hermione. "First, we've got to find those spells, and Seshat told us they're written in the tombs of the dead. And she also told us to start looking for them at the Hunter's tomb."
"And that brings us back full circle to the Hunter," said Ron. "Who the bloody hell is he anyway?"
"Ron!" gasped Hermione. "I swear you language is getting worse by the day."
"Sorry," he said sheepishly. "But why can't they just come out and tell us in plain English what we've got to do?"
"You know why Ron," she replied. "We've talked about it before."
"All right," said Ginny, stepping in to stop another acid remark that seemed to be on the tip of her brother's tongue. "So we can't do anything until we've found out who the Hunter is. I suggest we concentrate on that, and leave the rest of the message until we've solved that bit."
"I don't know about that Ginny," said Hermione. "I think we might have to find out more about the Duat and Rostau before we can even begin to work out who the Hunter is."
"So where do we start?" asked Harry.
The four looked at each other for a few moments and then they all said together, "Professor Dumbledore's books."
They all started laughing, but Harry, Hermione and Ginny stopped as they saw the look that suddenly came over Ron's face. From where he was sitting, he was facing the common room portrait hole, and he was staring at it with eyes wide, mouth slightly agape, and a pink flush that began to spread through his cheeks.
"What's the matter Ron?" asked Harry. But when he turned towards the portrait hole to see what he was staring at, he knew exactly what the matter was. Standing there, looking quite nervous, was a tall girl, almost as tall as Ron. Her long white hair framed a face of exquisite beauty, with startling green eyes, a cute nose, full sensuous lips and clear, fair complexion.
"Margot!" he exclaimed at the same time as Hermione. The two rushed across the room to greet the beautiful French girl, wondering why she was here, and how she'd managed to get into the common room.
"I'm sorry to intrude on you like this," she said tentatively. "A boy called Neville gave the password to let me in. I hope you don't mind."
"Of course we don't mind Margot," said Harry, smiling. "It's great to see you again."
"Margot! Your accent!" exclaimed Hermione. "Or should I say your lack of one. Your English is perfect - how did you manage that?"
"I have to thank my grandfather for that," she replied. "He's an excellent teacher."
"So why are you here, Margot?" asked Harry. "The last time we saw you it was to give us a message. Does this mean you've got another message for us?"
"Yes Harry, I have to tell you about a dream I had but it's also for your mentor. Do you know who that is?"
"That's our headmaster, Professor Dumbledore," he replied. "We'll take you up to see him in a moment, but let me introduce you to my friends first."
Ginny got up from her chair and walked across to Margot, grinning as she held out her hand. "I'm Ginny. I've heard a lot about you Margot."
"Pleased to meet you Ginny," said Margot, smiling as she held the redhead's hand. She looked across the room and saw that Ron was still sitting at the table, looking at her with a far-away expression on his face.
"Come on over and meet Margot, Ron," urged Hermione.
Ron stood up quickly from his chair, sending it crashing to the floor behind him, and then started to walk across the room, not taking his eyes from the vision of beauty before him. He reached the end of the table and somehow managed to catch his foot on the leg; he stumbled, but saved himself from falling, then straightened and continued over to the others, his face now bright red.
Harry, Hermione and Ginny stared at him, wondering what had come over him - they knew he wasn't prone to such awkwardness. Margot raised a hand to her mouth, trying to hide the tinkling laughter, but couldn't quite manage it. She looked at Ron with kind, warm eyes as he came up to her.
"I saw you last Easter," she said, holding out her hand, "flying off to fight those terrible men. You were very brave."
"Uh, I was?" said Ron as he took her hand in the gentlest of grips, looking at it as if he was afraid it would break if he applied too much pressure.
"Yes, you were," she replied
Ron looked back up into Margot's eyes and suddenly felt weak at the knees. He just stared into the mesmerising eyes, seemingly incapable of stringing two words together to say to her.
"Ron!" hissed Ginny. "Let go of Margot's hand."
Ron looked down and quickly took his hand away and let it drop to his side.
Harry and Hermione grinned at each other, recognising the telltale signs that Ron was completely smitten by Margot. They glanced at Margot and were pleased to see her still looking at Ron, the smile still playing around her lips.
"We'd better go up to the headmaster's office," said Ginny, looking at her brother in an odd sort of way.
"You four go on ahead," said Harry. "I'll find Sirius and the others - I think they'd better hear what Margot has to say."
A little later, Harry, Sirius, Ceri, Remus, Charlie and Nadine walked into the headmaster's office, where they found the four teenagers sitting to one side of Dumbledore's desk. The headmaster, McGonagall, Snape and Flitwick were already there, and Hermione was just finishing the introductions. As they took their seats, Hermione introduced Margot to the latest arrivals - Margot looked a bit nervous, she wasn't used to being in a room with so many people.
"Professor Dumbledore," said Harry. "Margot's had a dream that she needs to tell us about."
Dumbledore nodded and looked at Margot. "This dream was about the Anima Summas?"
"Well it wasn't about them sir," said Margo quietly. "But I was told to tell them and their mentor about it, and you'd know what to do. You are their mentor Professor?"
"Yes, I suppose I am," he replied.
"Well it was a strange and terrible dream…" Margot told them what she had seen, and the feelings of dread she'd had. She shuddered as she finished her story and Ron, who was sitting next to her, leaned over and squeezed her hand, a look of sympathy on his face. Margot turned and smiled at him, grateful for his support.
As he heard the first part of the dream, Dumbledore's face took on a grim expression. He looked across at Remus and Snape, who also wore the same grim expression. When she'd finished, Snape was the first to speak. "I can see that you and Lupin are thinking the same thing as me Headmaster," he said.
"Yes I'm afraid so Severus," he replied.
"But do you think it's possible?" asked Remus, looking quite ill.
"It certainly seems to fit," said Snape.
"Would you three mind telling the rest of us what this is all about?" said Sirius impatiently.
Dumbledore raised his hand in acknowledgment and nodded. "The vivid descriptions that Margot told us about in the first part of her dream can only mean one thing. Voldemort has found the fabled book of the Dark Arts - the Necronomicon."
Snape and Remus nodded grimly as the rest let out a gasp, apart from the five youngsters who looked confused.
"Harry," said Dumbledore gently. "For your benefit and that of your four friends, this is something that is not taught in wizarding schools. It remains as a specialised subject in Wizarding University, studied only by those specialising in Defence Against the Dark Arts. The Necronomicon is said to be the most evil book ever written, and is supposed to contain the most evil and unimaginable spells and magical procedures."
"But Headmaster," said Flitwick, "surely the book, and what people think it contains, is purely a myth?"
"I'm afraid not," he replied. "Certainly there has been no sign of it for hundreds of years, and we all thought that it was destroyed or lost forever, but I don't think there can be any doubt about it - Voldemort wouldn't be so ecstatic unless it was a very powerful and evil book."
"What about the second part of the dream?" asked Harry. "What's so significant about the bottom of the Earth?"
"Ah, if only we knew that," replied Dumbledore. "But Voldemort wouldn't be in such a place unless he was looking for something. I think he's on a quest of his own, but for what - that's the question. If it's connected with the Necronomicon, it can only mean great danger for us all - but I fear we may not know what it is until he finds it and starts to use it against us. Have you heard any whispers Severus?"
"Well I did hear that he hadn't been seen for some time, and a few of the people who normally attend the meetings I go to haven't been there for the last couple of times. But other than that, nothing."
"Where do you think the bottom of the Earth is?" asked Ceri. "I've never heard of a place referred to by that before."
"It sounds as if it's some sort of desert area," said Sirius, "but I haven't got a clue other than that. But there's one thing I know, he's got to be stopped somehow. If what he's after is as dangerous to us as you say Headmaster, we've got to try to prevent him getting it."
"I agree Sirius," said Dumbledore, "although I don't think that you are the ones who should do it. But before we decide that, we've got to find out where that place is." Dumbledore grinned and looked at Hermione. "No doubt someone will find out where it is. And when that someone does, we can decide what best to do." Then he looked towards the young French girl. "What are your plans Margot? Are you going back to France?"
"Yes Professor Dumbledore," she replied. "I can't stay long I'm afraid."
"But you'll have lunch with us before you go? It should be ready in about an hour."
"Oh I'd love to Professor," she replied, "but I'm expected back at Rennes-le-Chateau."
Ron's face fell, and he said quickly, "But you haven't had anything to eat or drink. Surely you can have a cup of tea or something before you go?"
"Why thank you Ron," she replied. "I should have enough time for that."
"Harry," said Dumbledore, "why don't you and the others take Margot up to Gryffindor common room. It'll be more comfortable there, and you can get better acquainted before she has to leave. I've a feeling, somehow, that we'll be seeing a lot more of her in the future."
A little later, the five youngsters sat around the fire in the common room drinking tea and talking about Rennes-le-Chateau and the quests. All too soon, Margot got up from her chair. "I have to go back now, but it's been great speaking to you all."
"When will you be coming back Margot?" asked Ron tentatively.
Margot grinned. "I don't know Ron. It all depends on whether I get any more dreams and messages about your quest."
"Well make sure you get plenty of sleep then," he said with a grin.
Margot smiled at Ron and enigmatically raised an eyebrow. Then she turned to the others. "I hope I'll see you all again soon."
She walked towards the portrait hole, but before going out she turned back and looked at Ron. "À bientôt, mon petit chevalier rouge." Then she was gone.
"What?" said Ron. "What did she say Hermione?"
Hermione grinned as she translated. "She said, 'see you soon, my little red knight.'"
A grin slowly spread over Ron's face. "Do you think she likes me then?"
"Well I don't know about that," said Ginny grinning. "But you made it painfully obvious that you're completely smitten with Margot."
Hermione put her hand on Ron's arm. "I think she does Ron. She did say MY little red knight."
"Yes she did, didn't she? She's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen," he said quietly. "I think she's even more beautiful than Seshat."
Harry rolled his eyes. "On no, here we go again. Ron - next time you see her, come right out and ask her if she likes you. I don't know if I can stand you moping around the place all the time wondering what she thinks about you."
Ron looked indignantly at Harry. "And I suppose you'd do that if you were in my position?"
Harry just wrinkled his nose and shrugged.
"Hey come on," said Ginny, "we'd better go and get some of Dumbledore's books on Egypt. We've still got a lot of research to do."
"Hang on Ginny," said Hermione. "You're forgetting that we've got something more urgent to look for first. Professor Dumbledore made it quite clear that he expects me to find where the bottom of the Earth is, and by his tone, he seems very worried about what 'You Know Who' is up to."
"Where are we going to find out about it though?" asked Harry. "I can't even begin to think where we can look."
"Well I suppose we can start by looking at the geography books in the Muggle section of the library," said Ginny, looking at her friends hopefully.
"Not more books!" exclaimed Ron.
"Come on Ron," said Harry. "It'll help to take your mind off Margot."
"I don't want to take my mind off her Harry," he said dreamily, but jumped as Ginny slapped him hard on his arm.
"Get real Ron," she said. "We've got work to do."
It was just before dinner that evening, and Ron leant back in his chair at the library table rubbing his eyes wearily. "That's the last one, and not a hint about the bottom of the Earth."
"This is hopeless," said Harry. "We've checked all the geography books - where do we look next?"
Hermione and Ginny shook their heads in resignation. "I felt sure we'd find something," said Hermione.
"We'd better get down to dinner," said Ginny. "Perhaps we'll think of something later."
They felt a lot better after they'd eaten their dinner, but try as they might, they couldn't think where to look for the bottom of the Earth.
"I think we can take a break," said Harry. "Let's just lounge around for the rest of the night. Maybe we'll think of something in the morning after a good night's sleep."
"Good idea Harry," said Ron. "Come on, I'll give you a game of wizarding chess."
"Well I'm going to get an early night," said Ginny. "I'm so tired. What about you, Hermione?"
Hermione thought for a few moments and then brightened. "I haven't looked at the books about the Dead Sea Scrolls my parents sent me for my birthday yet. I think I'll have a browse and see if I can find out who The Liar is."
"Haven't you done enough reading today?" asked Ron, grinning.
"I won't even bother to answer that," she replied as she walked up to her dorm.
Hermione pulled the books out of her trunk and settled down on her bed to read, grinning to herself as she contemplated several hours of uninterrupted pleasure. She'd been intrigued about The Liar ever since the spirit of Jesus had mentioned it.
She picked up one of the books and thumbed through it, getting a feel for its style and presentation. Then she looked in the index at the back of the book, wondering if there was any reference to The Liar, and surprisingly she found it. She quickly turned to the page and began to read, first noting that it was the author's commentary on one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. After ten minutes, Hermione put down the book and stared up at the ceiling. 'I would never have thought it possible,' she thought, again going over in her head what the author had written.
'The Liar, the opponent of the Church of James and the apostles of Jesus, is mentioned many times in the scrolls, although not by name, but after a while it becomes fairly clear to whom they are referring. James, the brother of Jesus, took over the leadership of his teachings, and established a church in Jerusalem. The apostles supported him, but The Liar had his own agenda. He continually derided the newly established church, and threw scorn on the teachings of The Torah upon which Jesus had based his own teachings.
'It is also surprising that The Liar never once showed remorse or offered any apology for the atrocities he carried out against the Jews before he was converted to Christianity. One can only speculate on his true motives, but it is true that without his input, Christianity would most probably have died following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans after the Jewish uprising in the first century.
'So The Liar was the one who brought Christianity to the world, albeit not the same version of Christianity taught by Jesus. For this, St. Paul has to be commended, but I leave it to you, the reader, to reach your own conclusions on the matter.'
Hermione looked back down at the book, and started to rifle through the pages, stopping every now and again to read a fragment of scroll translation and the author's commentary. After she'd read one item, her brow creased in thought, and she read it again, together with the author's comments…
'He will deliver all the captives from the power of the Dark one, and from the power of all the spirits destined to him. Allied with him will be all the righteous divine helpers who will wrest the evil object of power from the followers of the darkness' - 'This passage has consistently baffled the scholars, since no one can identify who 'HE' is, and it has now been cast onto the scrap heap of those sayings that are regarded as mere fantasy.'
"I wonder…" Hermione muttered to herself, and then turned and picked up the parchment and quill that was always on her bedside table and wrote down the item.
She put the book down and looked at the next one, hoping to find more about the enigmatic passage. She looked at the introduction to get a flavour of what was in the book and started to read. After two minutes, she sat bolt upright, her eyes almost popping out of her head. "Ahhhh," she cried, and still clutching the book, picked up her notes and rushed out onto the landing outside her dormitory.
"I've found something," she shouted down to Harry and Ron and then rushed into Ginny's dorm.
The two boys, their unfinished chess game forgotten, stared at Hermione as she rushed down the spiral staircase, dragging a sleepy-eyed Ginny behind her.
"What a piece of luck," she said breathlessly as the two girls sat down. "Listen to this. It's part of the introduction to one of the books my parents sent me for my birthday." She opened the book and started to read…
'The Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the religious sect called the Essenes, who once occupied the now ruined buildings at Qumran in a remote part of the Judaean Desert. The famous scrolls were discovered in a cave by a Bedouin shepherd in 1947, and since then, more scrolls have been unearthed in a number of other caves that riddle the cliffs standing alongside the northern edge of the Dead Sea. The scrolls were sealed within earthenware jars, and preserved by the arid conditions and unique atmosphere of the area. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth, almost a quarter of a mile below sea level…'
"There it is! The bottom of the Earth!" Hermione looked at the others excitedly. "And listen to this other item I found in one of the other books…"
She read out the enigmatic text and looked expectantly at Harry and her two friends. "What do you think?"
Ron and Ginny looked baffled, but Harry said, "I think we'd better see Dumbledore straight away. I think it speaks about the Anima Summas, and the evil object of power must be what Voldemort is looking for. He's got to be stopped."
"I agree Harry," said Hermione. "Come on, let's go."
"One moment Hermione," said Harry as he walked up to her. He put his arms around her waist and pulled her close, kissing her tenderly on the lips. "You've done it again. Always on hand to solve a problem when it looks like we're beaten - you're amazing."
Hermione blushed prettily, then put her hand behind her back and caught Harry's hand, pulling him towards the portrait hole.
"I'm sorry, but I absolutely forbid it," said Dumbledore as he looked at the four youngsters sitting in front of his desk. "And I'm sure that Sirius and the others will agree with me. It's far too dangerous to go charging off into such a hostile place with Voldemort and his Death Eaters roaming about."
"But Professor," said Harry, looking pleadingly at the headmaster, "Voldemort is obviously looking for this evil object of power, whatever that is, and you said yourself that once he gets his hands on it, none of us will be safe. And Margot's message said we've got to do something about it."
"No Harry, Margot said we'll know what to do, not that we've got to do it ourselves. Look, you can't be deflected from your task now. It's just as important that you complete your quest as it is for Voldemort to be prevented from finding this object. And what's more, it's equally important that you continue with your education as well. I'll get onto the minister straight away and tell him about this. I'm certain he'll send some of his best Aurors to the Dead Sea area to stop Voldemort."
"Yes Professor," said Harry a bit dejectedly.
"Can we borrow some more of your books on Egypt Professor?" asked Ginny. "We've got to try to find out what Seshat told us in Hermopolis."
"Of course, Ginny. You can take whatever you think will be useful."
"It's too late to start reading these books," said Harry as they walked back up to their common room. "We'll start tomorrow after afternoon classes."
"Come in Oliver," shouted Arnold Wise as he heard a knock on his office door. He looked up as Oliver walked in and gestured him to the seat in front of his desk. "How are things going?" he asked.
"Quite well commander," answered Oliver, "although we haven't seen any action since I took over as team leader. Our last two shouts turned out to be false alarms."
"Yes, teams all around the country are reporting something similar. It looks like the magical community is getting a bit jumpy, but we don't want to discourage their reports - it's better to be safe than sorry. Oliver, minister Fudge has been in touch with divisional headquarters. It seems that something big is going down with 'You Know Who', and he's asked for five of our best teams to go on a mission. I'd like you to represent our group, but I want you to know that it's likely to be very dangerous. I'm not ordering you to be part of this thing, so if you want to refuse I'll quite understand."
"What's it about sir?"
"Professor Dumbledore from Hogwarts has had information that 'You Know Who' is on some sort of quest to find an evil object of great power, although he doesn't know what it is. He knows that he's searching in the desert around the Dead Sea in Israel, and there's a lot of agitation coming from the top that if he finds it, it could mean the end of us all. We've been asked to stop him by any means necessary. What do you say?"
"I'm honoured that you've chosen my team, commander, and I'll be happy to go." Oliver hesitated. "But since it involves 'You Know Who' I think it's only fair to talk to my team first - some of them have got wives and kids so it's only fair that they be given the chance to give this one a miss."
"Of course Oliver, I wouldn't have it any other way. Come back and see me within the next two hours, I need an answer quickly because of the urgency attached to the mission."
One hour later, Oliver walked into the group commander's office. "We'll do it sir," he said, "but four of the team have asked, reluctantly I'll add, to cry off this one. All four of them have got young babies, so I quite understand their position."
"I thought we'd have a few cry off," said Wise, "so I've already lined up some replacements to bring your team up to strength. I've got ten volunteers from our best Aurors in the other four teams, so you can take your pick. Now down to business - you'll have to Apparate to divisional headquarters in about an hour to meet the other four teams on the mission and get your detailed instructions, but in the meantime, I've managed to get hold of a map of the Dead Sea area." He took out a folded sheet of paper from his desk drawer and spread it out on the table. "Come and have a look."
Oliver and the commander leaned over the map, which showed the outline of the Dead Sea, with three places marked on the west bank - Mesada to the south, Ein Gedi in the middle and Qumran at the north-western end.
"Have we got any idea where 'You Know Who' is?" asked Oliver.
"None, I'm afraid, but from the descriptions in the seer's visions, it's most likely on the north-western side, the desert's pretty harsh and rugged around there. I imagine that you'll concentrate your search in that area."
"Who'll be commanding the task force sir?"
"Dave Henson from the Midlands division. He's a good man, I knew him when we were at the ministry together. He's a good choice since he knows this area quite well and he spent a few seasons excavating around Qumran just after he left Hogwarts."
They pored over the map for a little while longer, Oliver trying to commit the main features of the north-western section to memory.
"You'd better get your team together Oliver," said Wise as he reached over to shake Oliver's hand. "I know you'll do just fine, but make sure you come back in one piece. Good luck."
Oliver walked out of the office looking pensive, his mind full of conflicting thoughts and emotions. He was elated that he'd get a chance to make a significant contribution in the conflict, but he feared for the safety of his team and especially for Katie. It was a bit daunting to know that they'd probably meet up with the darkest wizard of the age.
Fifteen minutes later, he'd finished briefing his team on what he knew of the task and instructed them to Apparate to divisional headquarters, a magically hidden group of buildings in the middle of Salisbury Plain. They materialised at their designated point and looked around to see a lot of activity going on around them.
A tall, middle-aged wizard walked up to the group. "Oliver Wood?"
Oliver stepped forward and held out his hand. "I'm Dave Henson," said the man as he shook Oliver's hand. "I'll be commanding the task force to the Dead Sea area."
"Pleased to meet you," said Oliver, who then introduced the rest of his team.
"You'd better follow me. The last team is due to arrive shortly and we'll get the briefing under way."
They chatted as they walked across the grass to one of the buildings that stood a little apart from the main headquarters. "How do you feel about this Oliver? Call me Dave, by the way."
"A bit mixed Dave," replied Oliver. "Glad to have a chance to make a difference in this conflict, but I know it's going to be very dangerous with 'You Know Who' out there."
Dave Henson grinned. "That's just about what everybody feels that I've spoken to."
They entered the building and joined three other teams sitting in front of a raised dais, a map of the Dead Sea area hanging on the wall behind. Oliver noted that the map was a more detailed version of the one he and Arnold Wise had looked at a little earlier. Photographs of the Dead Sea area were pinned to the wall, surrounding the map. The last team to arrive soon filed into the room and took their seats and Henson walked to the front and stepped up onto the dais to begin his briefing.
"Welcome everybody. I've met you all so I'll get straight down to business. First, I'm sure you're all aware that the task on which we're about to embark is very dangerous."
Oliver glanced at Katie, who sat next to him, and gave her a reassuring grin. Dave then proceeded to brief the team on their mission and the desolate terrain in which they'd soon find themselves.
"I'll assign each team to search an area around the north-western end of the Dead Sea, using the old ruins at Qumran as a central point. If the team leaders will step up to the map, I'll allocate each of you one of the sections I've marked on the map. We'll keep in touch by using these Muggle devices." He handed a small radio communicator to each of the team leaders as they gathered around the map. "If you see any Death Eaters, then 'You Know Who' won't be far away. Your orders are to keep yourselves under cover and contact me by radio. We won't attack until all five teams are together. Right, the rest of you come up and take a closer look at the map and these pictures of the general area. Our Portkeys, one for each team, will be activated in half an hour, and don't forget to collect the plastic water tanks that are stacked outside the building - we're going to need them in that heat. Good luck everybody."
Dave called the five team-leaders over as the rest of the Aurors gathered around the map and photographs. "I don't want any heroics out there," he told them quietly. "If you spot him, call me straight away. For all we know, by the time we find him he'll already have got to this device he's after. So caution is the name of the game - understood?"
All five team-leaders nodded gravely, then went back to join their teams.
Half an hour later, the group of one hundred Aurors materialised in a small wadi, a short distance from the stark and crumbling ruins that once housed the religious sect of the Essenes at Qumran. The first thing that struck them was the stifling heat, something that the photographs they'd looked at couldn't convey.
"Woo," said Katie. "I think we're in for an uncomfortable time here, and not a bath or shower in sight! But doesn't the air taste a bit strange?"
Oliver grinned. "That's because the Dead Sea area has ten times the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere than any other place on Earth. Dave told me back at headquarters." He turned and called to his team to Apparate to their designated area just to the south of the ruins.
"I've found something about the Duat. It's right here in this book," said Ron. The four were sitting around their accustomed table in the library, reading the books on Egypt that they'd borrowed from Dumbledore.
"I've got something too," said Ginny excitedly. "It's about Rostau - and the Duat."
"Read it out Ginny," said Hermione.
"What about me?" said Ron, looking aggrieved. "I've found something too you know."
"Ladies first Ron," said Harry, grinning at his friend. "Ginny?"
"Well I won't read it word for word, but it says here that the Duat is in the sky. It's a place where the spirits of the dead go, up among the stars. And Rostau is the ancient Egyptian name for the Giza Plateau - where the pyramids and the sphinx are."
Harry's forehead creased as he looked at Ginny, confused. "That doesn't make any sense Ginny. Seshat said that the Duat is beneath Rostau - underneath the Giza Plateau, so how can it be in the sky?"
Hermione had a knowing smile on her face. "Didn't you take in anything from those books on Hermetic Philosophy? It's the same as the last part of the message that Margot gave us back at The Burrow - it's as plain as the nose on your face. One of the main tenets of Alchemy is 'as above, so below'. 'As above, so below' - the re-creation of heaven on Earth. The Egyptians must have tried to re-create the Duat beneath the Giza Plateau - it's obvious."
"It might be to you Hermione," said Ron doubtfully, "but it's not to me. And anyway, how can they build the sky underneath the ground?"
"That I don't know Ron. Let's keep reading and we might find out more."
Some time later, the four walked down to the Great Hall for dinner, chatting about what they had - and hadn't - found.
"Well at least we know about the Duat now," said Harry. "But it sounds a pretty weird place."
"If those books are to be believed, it certainly is," said Ginny. "An underground network of chambers and tunnels that the spirit of the dead Pharaoh had to negotiate to reach his place in the stars above."
"But nobody has found anything there," said Ron. "If such an elaborate network is underneath Giza, surely it would have been found by the archaeologists a long time ago."
"Not if it was a magical place Ron," said Hermione. "Don't forget, no one's found the secret chamber under Rennes-le-Chateau either - except us, of course."
"So how do we get inside?" asked Ginny.
"I've no idea," said Hermione. "But don't forget, we've got a lot to find out before we get to that stage. First of all, we've got to find out about the Hunter. And there's nothing in the books I've read so far about that!"
"So I suppose it's more reading then," said Ron, looking dejected.
"I'm afraid so Ron," said Harry, looking equally dejected.
The four friends took a break from their research the next evening. Sirius, Ceri and Charlie had, for quite a while now, been badgering Harry and Hermione to try to perfect their Zapparate talent, so they finally agreed to devote the rest of the evening before dinner to doing just that. The protectors knew that if they could perfect the technique, it would provide a very effective safety net if any Death Eaters managed to get past their cover. They all walked down towards the lake in the school grounds, where Ron and Ginny stood to one side, Harry and Hermione about forty yards away with the protectors standing behind them.
Harry and Hermione joined hands, making sure the rings were touching, and closed their eyes. Hermione sent her thoughts to Harry, 'Remember what we did last time, when it nearly worked. Try to send soothing thoughts across to me when we visualise getting to Ron and Ginny, and I'll do the same to you.'
They both concentrated on sending each other relaxing thoughts at the same time as visualising Ron and Ginny. Then they tried to ease themselves over towards their friends. Again, they felt the same strange feeling as they had before - a feeling of being in two places at the same time. After a few moments they opened their eyes, but were disappointed to find that they hadn't moved from their original positions.
"You're almost there!" shouted Ginny. "Like the last time, you both appeared beside us for the briefest of moments."
"That's right," said Nadine. "You sort of blinked out where you're standing now and the next instant you were with Ron and Ginny, but only for an instant."
"Have another go," said Ceri. "I'm sure you'll be able to master it."
Again, Harry and Hermione went through the same routine, with exactly the same results. They tried it three more times, but could still only manage to arrive and stay at their friends' side for an instant.
"We're missing something here," said Hermione thoughtfully as the group gathered around the pair. "There's some vital ingredient to all this that we're not doing. Something we did when we managed to Zapparate to Dumbledore, that we're not doing now. But what?"
She looked at Harry pleadingly. "Think Harry. Try to remember what we did exactly."
Harry thought for a few moments as he tried to remember what exactly they had done. "Well we were talking about Margot's message and we decided we had to get to Dumbledore quickly. Then we held hands and the rings touched, and we were there. I can't think of anything else we did or thought about."
"I wonder if that's it," said Remus suddenly. "I wonder if you have to have a strong desire to be someplace because of some urgent need. You had an urgent need to speak to the headmaster because you wanted to unravel the message. Perhaps that's it."
"Hmm. You could be right," said Harry. "What do you think Hermione?"
"It makes sense," she replied. "But how are we going to practice it without having some urgent need to get to Ron and Ginny?"
Ginny grinned and glanced at her brother. "Go and throw yourself in the lake Ron. That'll give them an urgent need to get to you to stop you drowning."
"Very funny," said Ron, pulling a face at his sister. "That won't work anyway - Harry knows I can swim. Why don't you throw yourself in?"
"I don't think so Ron," said Harry, glancing at Ginny. "It's a bit too cold to go swimming in the lake."
"Yes you're right," said Charlie looking thoughtfully at the pair, "but Ginny's made a very good point. What can we do that'll give you an urgent reason to reach one of us? What if one of us walks into the Forbidden Forest and gets lost or something? Do you think that might work?"
Hermione looked at Charlie dubiously and shook her head. "But we'd know it was a put-up job, so it wouldn't be the same."
"Help! Harry, Hermione come quick! There's something wrong with Sirius!" shouted Ceri.
The pair turned around to see Ceri waving at them frantically over by the Quidditch pitch, leaning over the prone figure of Sirius.
"Quick Hermione," hissed Harry. "Join hands!"
The next instant, Harry and Hermione materialised beside Ceri, and they both knelt down anxiously at Sirius' side. He opened his eyes and grinned. "Well now we know, don't we? You've got to have a very good reason to Zapparate."
"Sirius!" exclaimed Harry and Hermione together.
"That was a terrible thing to do," said Hermione, looking indignantly at Harry's godfather.
"We thought you were badly hurt, or worse!" shouted Harry, punching his godfather painfully on his arm.
They all stood, Sirius massaging his arm ruefully, as the rest came running up, grinning. "Sorry about that," said Charlie, "but we had to do something to solve the problem."
"You were all in on this weren't you!" exclaimed Hermione.
"Afraid so," said Ron. "But it wasn't easy distracting you both to give Ceri and Sirius enough time to get as far away as possible."
Harry looked at his friend with narrowed eyes. "You can be a devious sod on times Ron."
"Thanks for the compliment Harry," he said, grinning.
"Well at least we know we can do it if the need arises," said Hermione. "But what we don't know is whether we can take Ron and Ginny with us. If the four of us find ourselves in a bit of a pickle, can we save them as well as ourselves?"
"I don't see why not," said Ceri. "After all, we can Apparate other people by holding on to them, so why can't you Zapparate the same way?"
"I suppose so," said Hermione, "but we won't know for sure until the need arises and I'm not sure I want to take that chance. Can you think of any way we can try it?"
"Well it's pointless trying to do what we just did, you'll be waiting for it," said Sirius. "And to be honest, I really can't think what we can do that'll make you take Ron and Ginny with you. I'm afraid we'll just have to trust that you can do it."
"I think we've done enough for tonight," said Remus. "Come on, it's time for dinner."
As they all walked into the Great Hall, Colin and Clare pounced on Harry and Hermione. "We've had a load of mail for you both today Harry," said Colin. "Can you spare us a minute?"
"We want to know what to say to everybody when we reply," said Clare. "Nearly everybody wants to know how soon you'll be able to defeat 'You Know Who', and we really need you to give us some idea."
Harry glanced at Hermione, a worried expression on his face. "All you can say for the moment," said Hermione carefully, "is that we're working as hard as we can on the second quest, and we've made a lot of progress. But we really can't say when we'll be ready - just tell them to keep faith with us, and to never forget that the Light is on our side."
"Is that ok?" asked Harry.
Colin and Clare grinned. "I think so. Thanks Hermione," said Colin as he and the pretty second year walked back to their seats at the Gryffindor table.
"How much longer must we search this hell hole!" shouted Voldemort as he led his Death Eaters across the barren desert to the next grid on the map. "We've been over a month and there hasn't been the slightest hint that the Disc is near."
His mood over their month or so of searching hadn't really got worse, but it hadn't improved either. Patience certainly wasn't one of Lord Voldemort's virtues, but then neither was any of the other accepted virtues. They had covered the majority of the area on their map, and were now almost in sight of the ruins of Qumran. The cliffs that stood some way back from the Dead Sea had steadily come into sight over the past few days, and the stretch of desert to be covered between them and the sea was becoming narrower.
Voldemort stopped and raised his wand, muttering the spell that would illuminate his wand if the artefacts were close by. He gasped in frustration yet again as the tip of his wand remained inert. Lucius crossed out the grid on the map and then ran to catch up with his master as he moved to the next point, over towards the cliffs.
Two miles away, at the base of the cliffs, Oliver strained his eyes as he looked out over the desert towards the Dead Sea. He quickly waved to his team to drop to the ground when he thought he saw something moving in the distance. He called Katie and John Ballot to join him and they dropped to the rough ground at his side, just behind a slight rise. They were glad of the little bit of excitement after searching fruitlessly for almost a week.
"I think there's something moving out there," he said. "About two miles away, towards the sea just south of that funny little rock sticking out of the desert floor."
John and Katie shielded their eyes from the sun's glare and peered intently at the spot that Oliver had indicated. "There's definitely something out there," said John as he tried to make out any details in the shimmering heat haze that covered the desert in the distance.
After a few minutes, Katie said, "I think there're about ten, no wait a minute… there's more, about fifteen figures dressed in black walking towards our position."
"Well it can't be any of our group," said John. "That's our search area, and in any case, they're dressed in black robes. I think it might be 'You Know Who' and his men, Oliver."
"I agree John," said Oliver as he raised his little radio to his mouth and pressed the 'transmit' button. "Come in commander," he said, releasing the button.
After a few moments, Dave Henson's voice, sounding strange amid the crackling of the radio, answered, "Is that you Oliver?"
"Yes Dave. We've got about fifteen black-cloaked figures walking towards our position. They're about two miles away out in the desert."
"Give me a fix on your position Oliver. I'll get in touch with the other teams and we'll be with you in a few minutes."
Five minutes later, Dave Henson and Oliver looked out over the desert where Voldemort and his men could now be clearly seen. They'd stopped and were gathered around the Dark Lord, who had his wand raised in the air. After a few moments, the group started moving again, but this time towards the north in the direction of the Qumran ruins.
"We'll just track them for the time being," said Dave. "We'll be heading into a lot of rough ground a bit further north and there should be plenty of cover."
Fifteen minutes later, with the ruins of Qumran now in plain sight, Dave called a halt when he saw Voldemort go through the same strange ritual as before, raising his wand in the air. This time however, he saw the group moving about excitedly as a faint dark green light appeared at the tip of the wand. He saw Voldemort turn slowly around in a circle, as if he was trying to sense a direction. Then he turned towards the cliffs and started striding with great purpose towards them.
Dave called Oliver and the other team leaders to his side. "They're up to something. I think 'You Know Who' has got a fix on what he's looking for - look at the way they're striding over to the cliffs. If they keep in that direction, they'll get to the cliff face about half a mile in front of our present position."
"They're probably heading towards the gap in the cliffs, "said Oliver. "It leads into a winding canyon that cuts into the plateau - we checked it out two days ago."
"Can you remember the terrain around that gap?" asked Dave. "If we move quickly we can set up an ambush."
"There's a fairly shallow wadi running just this side of the gap, and continues on into the canyon for about a hundred yards. If we can get there before them, we can get into the canyon undetected - there're loads of places in there where we can hide."
"Good work Oliver," said Dave. He turned to the other team leaders. "We'll follow Oliver and his team into the wadi and move along it into the canyon. We'd better get a move on, but for goodness sake, make sure everybody keeps out of sight."
Oliver and Dave led the group, running quickly along the shallow depression at the base of the cliffs. They reached the wadi and quickly jumped down into it, moving into the narrow winding canyon. Dave and Oliver peered cautiously over the top of the wadi and were relieved to see that Voldemort and his group were still about half a mile away from the canyon entrance.
Hidden safely away around the first bend in the canyon, Dave deployed his team among the crumbling rocks at the base of the canyon walls, three teams on one side, and two on the other. Then they settled down to wait for Voldemort and his followers to appear.
They didn't have long to wait, and ducked down behind their cover when they heard the loud laughter of the Dark Lord just around the other side of the bend.
"It won't be long now," said Voldemort excitedly to his men. "In a few moments I will hold the most powerful object in the world!"
He led his Death Eaters around the bend in the canyon and looked up at the stark crumbling walls of rock. He held up his hand to halt the procession and again turned his wand to both sides, looking intently at the green light at its tip.
"Straight ahead," he said and started walking quickly up the narrow canyon. They'd only gone about a hundred yards when they were met by a furious barrage of stunning spells. Five of the Death Eaters dropped unconscious to the ground immediately, quickly followed by two more.
"Aggghhh," shouted Voldemort as he saw the ranks of ministry Aurors on both sides of the canyon. He quickly took stock of their hopeless position and raised his wand in the air, shouting words in a strange language.
Oliver never really knew what happened next. Like the rest of the Aurors in the canyon, his vision was completely obscured by a deathly black light. It was as if day had suddenly been turned into night, except that there were no moon or stars to see by. "What the hell?" shouted Dave Henson as he instinctively dropped to the ground behind a rock.
It was five minutes before any of them started to see again, the black light slowly lifting to be replaced by the late afternoon sunshine. Dave looked at the spot where the Death Eaters had been standing, but all that remained were the seven black-cloaked figures they'd stunned a few minutes ago. Of Voldemort and the rest there was no sign. He looked into the shadowy depths of the canyon but could detect no sign of movement. The Dark lord had escaped.
"What was that?" asked Oliver as he walked up to his commander's side. "Did you hear that strange spell he used?"
"I've never heard or seen anything like it before," said Dave. "He's obviously got hold of some pretty powerful dark magic to be able to do that." He turned to the rest of the group. "Gather around me please."
He waited until everyone came close. "Is everyone all right?" All five team-leaders checked their team and nodded to the commander.
"I think it's fairly certain that he's gone further into the canyon - that's the way he was headed when we attacked. Oliver, assign five of your people to secure the prisoners and guard them, the rest of you follow me."
They moved cautiously up the canyon, Oliver's team to the fore, spread around both sides to take what cover there was in the shade of the cliffs.
A short distance away, Voldemort watched the Aurors as they passed below him. He and the rest of his men were hiding in one of the many caves that dotted the cliff face. They had climbed up to it over a wedge-shaped jumble of rock that had fallen in times past from the top of the cliff, almost covering the entrance to the dark cavern. When he saw the Aurors walk around the next bend in the canyon and safely out of sight, he again raised his wand and spoke the searching spell. The dark green light now glowed brightly at its tip.
"It's close, very close," he hissed. He turned and walked to the back of the cave, where he saw a narrow cleft in the rock wall. He squeezed his thin body part way into the cleft and stretched his wand into the gloom beyond. The green light suddenly burst into a very bright, almost blinding, red.
"It's here!" he exclaimed, squeezing through the cleft and entering a small cave, which was enclosed on all sides by rock that seemed a lot darker than the rock in the first cave.
Lucius, Wormtail, Travis and Crabbe quickly followed at the Dark Lord's command and started examining the walls and floor in the light from their wands. Wormtail walked to the middle of the cave and held his wand low to examine the floor at the centre. He suddenly jumped back, his wand flying from his hand, staring fearfully at the ground.
"What was that, Wormtail?" asked Voldemort.
"There's something there, my Lord," he said, a tremor in his voice, pointing at the spot in the centre of the cave floor. "I had a terrible feeling when I bent and held my wand close to it - I can't really describe what it was like, just a sort of feeling of dread."
"Check it out Travis," said Voldemort quietly.
Travis cautiously bent down and held his illuminated wand over the centre of the cave floor. Like Wormtail before him, Travis suddenly jumped back, staring at the spot with fear in his eyes.
"Out, all of you," hissed Voldemort. "I'll deal with this myself." The Death Eaters gratefully squeezed out of the dreaded place and back to the connecting cave where they kept watch on the canyon floor below, happy to let their master deal with whatever horror lay in wait.
Voldemort knelt on the ground, close to the place that had caused his followers so much fear, and started brushing away the dust and dirt from the area. Soon, a circular white cover stone was exposed, covered in a strange script the likes of which, Voldemort had never seen before. It glowed with an eerie silvery light, and he felt something of the dread that his men had felt earlier. He quickly got to his feet and looked down at the strange stone.
Voldemort pulled out the parchment from his robes, the parchment on which he'd written the special spells given to him by the Guardian of the Gate. He studied them for a few moments, going over the correct pronunciations in his head until he was sure he had it right. Then he stood at a spot furthest from the centre of the cave, close to the cleft, and raised his wand, aiming it at the cover stone. He cleared his mind and concentrated hard, willing his power to build, reaching into the very depths of his being. He lifted his head in elation as he felt the raw power surge through his mind. He opened his mouth and spoke the spell as he pushed the raw power into his wand.
"KU KUR - GAZ NURUM."
A dense black light flashed from Voldemort's wand and hit the cover stone. He watched in fascination as a dark glow began to build, surrounding a circular patch of about one foot in diameter on the ground. Then he recoiled as a terrible screeching filled the small space, and a silvery blue light began to dance over the dark glow. He moved quickly back through the cleft into the first cave and walked over to Lucius and the others.
"I have set in motion the ancient spell that will crush the thing that guards the Disc of Gates," he said. "It may take some time, but in the end it will prevail and the disc will be mine."
They could all now hear the screeching and wailing from the next cave, and covered their ears. Lucius and the others cowered on the dusty floor of the cave, while Voldemort raised his head and laughed, a demented laugh. After a few minutes, the terrible sounds stopped, to be replaced by a deep pulsing noise that was almost beyond their hearing limit.
"The first battle has been won," said Voldemort. "The next will take several hours to complete. Keep a watch below in case any of the Aurors come this way - I don't want to be disturbed now that my hour of triumph is so near."
Darkness had fallen over the desert as the sun finally set, bringing relief to the sweat-covered Aurors camped at the far end of the canyon. Dave Henson sat with his five team-leaders discussing their next actions. They had failed, in the few remaining hours of daylight after their ambush, to find any trace of Voldemort and his Death Eaters.
"Perhaps he's given up and gone back to his cave," said one of the men.
"I don't think so," said Dave. "He's spent a long time searching for this thing, whatever it is, and now he's come close he won't be giving up that easily."
"He might have gone back out into the desert," said one of the other team-leaders, "waiting until we give up the search before he comes back."
"That's a possibility, but I don't think so. What about you Oliver? What would you do if you were in the Dark Lord's shoes?"
Oliver thought for a few moments. "He'd most probably use the time when we were blinded to get around the next bend in the canyon and look for a good hiding place. These cliff walls are riddled with caves."
Dave nodded. "That's my assessment as well." He turned to one of his team leaders. "Jerry, take your team down to the other end of the canyon and join up with Oliver's five Aurors. Make sure you're well hidden, and post guards at all times. I don't want him creeping back into the desert in the dark. Use some Whammos just in case. The rest of us will move back down towards your position at first light, and we'll search every cave we come across."
Jerry nodded and walked over to his team. Soon they were walking cautiously back along the canyon towards the gap in the cliff wall. They arrived half an hour later and were relieved to see that Oliver's five Aurors were still there guarding the prisoners. They soon placed the Whammos along the ground about fifty yards back up the canyon, and settled down, some to sleep and some to keep watch.
Only a hundred yards or so back up the canyon, Voldemort waited for the low pulsing to stop. They'd seen, in the dim light given off by the stars, the team of Aurors passing below them a few hours ago and knew that their exit from the canyon was blocked.
It wasn't until dawn that the pulsing stopped, signalling that the fight between the Light and Dark spells was over. Voldemort squeezed through the cleft and looked inside the second cave. He saw that the stone cover lay to one side of the cave, and the writing on its face was blackened and smouldering. He walked cautiously over to the dark hole in the centre of the floor and held his illuminated wand to peer inside. His eyes grew wide when he saw the object resting at the bottom of the small chamber, and he quickly knelt down, put his hand into the hole, and felt the Disc of Gates. He lifted it carefully and held it up in front of his eyes.
He hissed as he studied the Disc. It looked exactly as it had been painted in the temple at Irem - a disc-shaped piece of black substance, with a black crystal in the middle, and attached to it were thin chains made of the same black substance. He pulled the chains over his head and let the Disc rest on the top half of his chest.
The elation in Voldemort's eyes was plain to see as he went back to his followers in the other cave. "I have it!" he exclaimed. "Now we need to find the spells that will activate it." He lifted his wand again and said the seeking spell, although this time the words were slightly different. He hoped that the place where the spells were hidden was close by. He grunted with satisfaction when the tip of his wand glowed with the same dark green light as before.
"It's close," he said. "Within four hundred yards of where we stand." He turned and noted the direction that caused the green light to glow slightly more brightly. "It's further up the canyon, probably in one of the other caves. Come on, we'll try to get there before the rest of the Aurors show up."
He led his remaining eight Death Eaters out of the cave and down to the rocky ground of the canyon floor, being careful to remain hidden from the Aurors that were stationed at the canyon opening behind a buttress of rock that stood out from the cliff. He sent Travis on ahead and then walked quickly behind. Travis stopped at the next bend and peered around its ragged edge. He held up his hand and walked back to the group, whispering quietly to the Dark Lord, "My Lord, There are about seventy Aurors searching the caves and canyon floor up ahead, and they're coming this way."
Voldemort slapped his thigh in frustration. "We'll go back into the desert and find a place to hide until they give up the search," he said. "Then we'll come back and get the spells. Apparate to those ruins just to the north of here and look for a suitable place."
A few seconds later, the Aurors had the canyon completely to themselves, but they still searched for the Dark Lord. Oliver's team had been assigned to search a group of caves in the right-hand cliff, and he now stood at the apex of a pile of rocks, looking up at a cave about six feet above his head.
"John, Katie, will you come here please?"
The two scrambled up the loose rock and stood just below Oliver. "John, if you scramble up and stand on my shoulders, you should be able to lift yourself into that cave. You can follow John, Katie, and then help him to lift me up." He bent down to allow John Ballot to climb onto his back, and then step up onto his shoulders. Oliver shakily stood up and braced himself against the cliff wall. John reached up and put his hands onto the floor of the cave and heaved himself up. Oliver helped by grabbing the soles of his shoes and pushing until the Auror managed to drag himself into the cave. Katie soon followed, and then she and John reached down and grasped Oliver's hands, supporting him as he scrambled up the crumbly rock.
They stood slightly out of breath, looking into the depths of the cave that stretched darkly back into the cliff. Oliver walked into the cave, his wand raised to provide light, with Katie and John following closely behind. After about thirty yards, the cave became a lot narrower and the ceiling dropped down to just below head height. Oliver stopped and held his wand in front of him, then stooped and moved into the narrow corridor that stretched further into the rock, telling the other two to wait.
The sand and dust was thick around his feet as he stepped slowly down the tunnel. After he'd gone ten yards or so, it came to an abrupt end, and he stood facing bare rock. He turned and started his way back, but noticed, low to the ground on his left hand side, a dark and narrow opening, which had been hidden by the protruding rock wall when he'd entered. He bent down and held his wand into the opening and saw that it led, via a low connecting tunnel of about five feet in length, into a larger space beyond, but he couldn't make out any further details. He called for the other two to join him and showed them what he'd found.
"I'll crawl through and see what's in there," he said. "You grab my feet and get ready to pull me back out if I shout."
He got down on the floor and eased himself slowly into the tunnel, using his elbows to pull himself forward. He soon reached the end of the tunnel and cautiously peered inside. He saw a fairly small and roughly circular cave, and noted that it was completely empty. Suddenly, he stiffened and shouted for Katie and John to drag him back out.
"What's wrong Oliver, did you see any Death Eaters in there?" asked John. Oliver looked shaken as he slowly stood up and took a deep breath.
Katie put her hand on his shoulder, looking concerned. "What is it Oliver?"
"In there," he said slowly shaking his head, brushing the dust and sand from his robes. "It's nothing but an empty cave, but when I started to look around, I had the most urgent feeling to get out of there. It's difficult to explain, but I think there're some very strange forces at work in there. We'd better get Dave Henson to take a look, I think. He's done some excavating around this area and he might have come across something like this before."
They walked back to the cave entrance and looked out into the canyon below. Oliver called to one of his team who was keeping watch below the cave and asked him to fetch the commander, who had been with one of the other teams searching some caves further down towards the canyon entrance.
"What do you think it is?" asked John. "Could it be what 'You Know Who's been looking for?"
"I don't know John," Oliver replied, "but whatever it is, I haven't felt anything like it before."
They waited for half an hour before they saw the commander and the Auror walking up the canyon towards their position. Dave scrambled up and stood below the cave. "Sorry I took so long Oliver," he said. "One of the teams found something in one of the caves back there." He shook his head grimly. "I think we might be too late; they found an empty chamber in the cave floor with a smouldering stone laid to one side. It had some sort of charred ancient-looking script written on it. I think the Dark Lord's found what he came for."
Oliver frowned with disappointment. "There's something odd back in this cave Dave. I'd like you to take a look and see what you make of it."
They helped the commander to scramble up into the cave and they led him into the narrow tunnel at the rear. Oliver pointed to the low connecting tunnel. "When I went in there, I had the strangest feeling, and an urge to get out. I'll go back in first - I know what to expect now."
Oliver crawled through the tunnel and pulled himself into the cave, standing to one side of the entrance to allow the commander to follow. He breathed deeply as he fought the feeling to flee from the cave, and then helped Dave to his feet as he entered.
"I see what you mean," said Dave as he looked at Oliver nervously. "There's ancient magic at work here - no doubt about it. Let's look towards the middle of the floor; that's where they found the chamber in the other cave, and there might be something similar here."
They both fought to control their fear as they knelt on the floor and began to clear away the sand and dust to reveal the rock beneath. After a few minutes, Oliver felt a strange sensation in his hand as he cleared away the sand at the centre of the cave floor. He steeled himself and quickly brushed more sand away to reveal a white-coloured circular stone, contrasting with the reddish-brown rock that made up the rest of the cave. He bent down and blew away the remaining dust and then stood back up.
"Look at this Dave," he said, a tremor in his voice, looking down at the glowing silvery script on the stone.
"It's almost exactly like the stone in the other cave," said Dave, "except that it hasn't been burned. The strange script looks to be the same as well. But this one hasn't been touched for a very long time"
"Could there be two things he's looking for?" asked Oliver.
"Could be, and if that's the case you can bet he won't be very far away."
"Any idea what that writing says?" asked Oliver.
Dave shook his head. "I've seen nothing like it before."
The commander walked back over to the tunnel and knelt down. "John," he shouted. "Bill Perry has the magical camera. Send one of the team to get it please - he's taking photos at the cave where we found the other chamber."
John shouted his assent and quickly walked back to the cave entrance. A little while later, John appeared through the low tunnel and Dave took the camera from his outstretched hand.
"I'll take a few pictures of this stone and script, maybe someone back at the ministry can decipher it." After a few minutes, Dave straightened. "I'll Portkey back to headquarters and get these developed. I'll make my report and come back here as soon as I can, hopefully with more men. I'm placing you in charge of the task force while I'm away Oliver. I want you to bring everybody back to this cave and set up defensive positions around it on both sides of the canyon. I don't want 'You Know Who' getting anywhere near this thing. Bring the rest of your team up into the cave and make sure no one gets past you."
They crawled out of the chamber and walked back out towards the entrance of the main cave. Dave shook hands with Oliver and then quickly went down to the canyon floor to speak briefly with the other team-leaders. One hour later, he stood in the divisional commander's office on Salisbury Plain, watching him and several other wizards looking closely at the magical pictures he'd developed.
"I thought I knew just about all the scripts from antiquity," said an elderly white-haired wizard, shaking his head slowly. "But this has got me completely baffled. I haven't seen anything quite like this before."
"Do you know of anyone who might recognise it Angus?" asked the divisional commander.
"Not really," he replied. "The only person I can think of who might be able to help is Albus Dumbledore. He's got a lot of academic connections around the world, so he might be able to think of someone."
"Right. Dave, you and Angus go to Hogwarts and speak to Professor Dumbledore, and take the photographs with you. I don't have to tell you how important it is that we get this script translated as quickly as we can. Use the Floo Network - the chimney's in the outer office."
"Angus!" exclaimed Dumbledore as his old friend stepped out of the fireplace into his office at Hogwarts. "I haven't seen you for… how long is it?"
"Too long Albus," said Angus, smiling as he shook the headmaster's hand warmly. "This is Dave Henson," he said turning to introduce the middle-aged wizard who followed him from the fireplace. "He's the commander of the task force in the Dead Sea area and he's found something."
"Just a moment," said Dumbledore as he shook Dave's hand. "I'll get my team up here, I want them to hear what you have to say."
Ten minutes later, Dumbledore and his team sat around the table as Dave told them what had happened in the canyon. He spread the photographs on the table and everyone gathered round to scrutinise the strange script, and the images of the smouldering cover stone that had been opened.
Dumbledore looked grimly at the others in the room. "It's obvious that Voldemort's already got his hands on something, and it looks as if there's a second artefact buried under this stone. He's most probably after that as well - have you seen anything of him since your first encounter?"
Dave shook his head. "No Professor, but I've got a hundred Aurors guarding the second cave. I doubt that even he'll want to take them on - he's probably waiting out in the desert somewhere, waiting for us to leave the canyon after we find no trace of him."
"Do you recognise this script Albus?" asked Angus, looking at one of the photos.
Dumbledore shook his head. "To be honest Angus, if you can't recognise it then no one can. But I wonder…"
Dumbledore toyed with his beard as he studied the strange writing once more, then he looked up. "Charlie, would you mind calling Harry and the other three here please? I'd like them to take a look at it."
Charlie nodded and walked out of the office. Not long after, Harry and the other three stood looking at the photographs on the table.
"It's just mumbo jumbo to me," said Ron, shaking his head. His three friends nodded their agreement with his initial assessment of the script.
Hermione was puzzled as she stared at the glowing silvery writing. She didn't know why, but she had the strangest feeling that she should know what the writing meant. She held out her hand to Harry and he instinctively held it in his own. She sent her thoughts and feelings to him, trying to convey the odd feelings she had about the photos. They looked into each other's eyes, searching for something buried deep within their minds. Then they had it.
"Stand back please," said Harry as he and Hermione held their hands over the magical image of the script. "SHAJ." They said the ancient spell together.
The others in the room watched in fascination as a silvery blue light fell from their outstretched hands and covered the magical photograph. Then a strange thing occurred. The glowing silvery script rose from the photograph and shimmered in the air above. Slowly the script changed, moving and rearranging itself. Then it moved back down onto the photograph, but this time glowing with a blue light.
Angus gasped as he looked at the altered writing. "Hieroglyphics!" he exclaimed. "It's changed into ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics!"
Dumbledore smiled to himself. He'd earlier had a feeling that the incomprehensible script hid something else - and he'd had the distinct feeling that only the Anima Summas could reveal it.
"What does it say?" asked Ginny.
Dumbledore and Angus bent over the altered image and between them translated the message on the stone cover.
'BEWARE - THIS SMALL CHAMBER CONTAINS THE SPELLS THAT WILL ACTIVATE THE DREADED DISC OF GATES USED BY THE DARK SIDE MANY EONS AGO. THE DISC OF GATES HAS BEEN HIDDEN IN ANOTHER PLACE, KEPT SEPARATE FROM THESE SPELLS, FOR ONCE JOINED AND WIELDED BY ONE IN POSSESSION OF THE DARK POWER, THE FREEDOM OF ALL MEN WILL CEASE. IN THAT ANCIENT CONFLICT, MANY, MANY YEARS LONG PAST, THE LIGHT WAS ALL BUT EXTINGUISHED, BUT GREAT FORTUNE ALLOWED THE ANIMA SUMMAS OF THAT TIME TO CAPTURE THE DISC AND ITS SPELLS AND HIDE THEM - FOR THEY COULD NOT BE DESTROYED.
WHEN THE DARK SIDE GAINED KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR RESTING PLACE DURING THE CURRENT CONFLICT, WE REMOVED THEM AND BURIED THEM HERE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE EARTH TO REST FOR ALL TIME. ONLY THE ANCIENT NEPHILIM POSSESS THE KNOWLEDGE AND POWER TO RETRIEVE THE DISC AND THESE SPELLS BUT THEY HAVE LONG SINCE BEEN BANISHED TO THEIR UNEARTHLY REALM
YOU ARE STRONG AND KNOWING OF THE TRUE LIGHT TO BE ABLE TO READ THIS WARNING. BE SURE TO COVER THE CHAMBER AND LEAVE. TELL NO ONE WHAT YOU HAVE FOUND. IF THE NEPHILIM RETURN TO THIS REALM AND RETRIEVE THE DISC AND SPELLS, ALL HOPE WILL BE LOST.
WE ARE THE SERVANTS OF THE LIGHT
WE ARE THE ANIMA SUMMAS OF THIS TIME.'
Everyone sat enthralled as they listened to the message from across the ages, but were stunned by what it contained.
"The Nephilim! I don't believe it," said Remus, looking at Snape who appeared shaken.
"It can't be," said Snape quietly. "They are only a myth."
"It seems not, I'm afraid," said Dumbledore. "It appears that the Dark Realm and its evil inhabitants hinted at during our studies into the theoretical contents of the Necronomicon are only too real."
"You know what this means don't you?" said Remus. "The message says that only the Nephilim have the knowledge and power to retrieve the Disc and spells. They've found a way to come back!"
"I don't think so Remus," said Dumbledore thoughtfully. "But what I think it does mean is that Voldemort has found a way of contacting them. That's what Margot probably saw in her dream - Voldemort just after he'd contacted the Nephilim. How else would he be able to retrieve the Disc of Gates? This is bad, very bad. If he gets his hands on the spells as well as the Disc, he'll have awesome powers at his disposal. And I dread to think of the consequences if he finds a way to bring the Nephilim here from their Dark Realm. He has to be stopped."
Harry and Hermione felt a terrible sense of dread as they listened to Dumbledore, but they also felt a sense of awe and a strange elation. They were looking at a message written by their counterparts who lived a very long time ago.
"Do you think the Anima Summas who hid those things were Merlin and Morgana?" asked Harry.
"I don't know Harry," answered Hermione. "But the writing is ancient Egyptian. They may be two others - back in the time of the Pharaohs, or even earlier."
Harry looked determined as he spoke, "We've got to go there. We've got to stop Voldemort getting his hands on those spells. The Anima Summas hid them, and the Anima Summas have to protect them from the Dark Side. We've got to go."
"No Harry," said Dumbledore. "What you have to do is carry on with your quests. Now, more than ever, you and Hermione have to reach your full powers. I don't think you'll be able to stop him until you do."
"But Professor," said Harry, his face full of anguish, "that could take ages - you know how difficult it's been for us so far. We can't afford the time."
"You've got to trust me on this," said Dumbledore. "Nothing can deflect you from finishing what you've started." He turned to Angus and Dave. "Can you increase your forces around the cave?"
"We've got no choice," said Dave. "After listening to that message, it has to be our top priority to stop anyone getting anywhere near. When we get back, I'll request reinforcements."
"Please do that," said Dumbledore, "and I'll get in touch with Cornelius Fudge to make him aware of these developments. Harry, Hermione, we'll do everything in our power to protect those spells. You concentrate on completing your tasks. All right? "
"Yes Professor," said Harry and Hermione together.
Author's Note -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. To answer a couple of points on the review board : There are a few images of some places related to this chapter on my picture board - feel free to take a look.
Salisbury Plain - the wizarding buildings are on the right by the line of trees, hidden by wards.
Qumran - the Ruined buildings of the Essenes.
Qumran - The canyon where all the action takes place, with the Dead Sea in the distance.
Qumran - One of the caves with the canyon running below.
Qumran - Inside one of the caves.
Coming soon - Chapter 8 - The Hunter.