Keith Lewis Normal Keith Lewis 5 1603 2003-05-28T09:41:00Z 2003-08-25T18:44:00Z 21 11359 64751 539 129 79518 9.2720 Chapter 8
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.
Harry and Ron took their usual seats at the back of the Divination classroom and waited for Professor Trelawney to appear, wondering what goodies were in store for them today. They didn't have long to wait before the professor swept into the room and sat at her desk. She looked up at the students with an air of mystery about her, and then reached into her robes and pulled out a pack of cards.
"The Tarot," she said. "One of the most popular tools of Divination. The origins of the ancient art of the Tarot are wrapped in a shroud of mystery, and one can only speculate how it came into being. But it remains one of the most reliable windows into the future. Today, I want to introduce you to the basic concepts, but first a demonstration. Harry, come down to the front and shuffle the pack of cards please."
"Oh no," breathed Harry as Ron sat silently laughing beside him. "Here we go again."
Harry walked to the front of the class and picked up the cards, gave them a quick shuffle, and handed them back to the professor.
"Sit back down Harry. I'll deal the cards in front of me and we'll see what lies ahead for you."
Professor Trelawney started to deal the cards face down onto her table, then placed the unused cards to one side and began to turn over each card. She looked up at the students as she uttered each of the card values.
"The Magician - that must be you Harry. Ohhh - The Devil - we all know who that is. Next, the Hanged Man - that signifies a sacrifice." She turned over the next card and looked up at Harry with a look of sympathy on her face. "Death." She turned over another card. "Judgment. Oh this is too much, I must stop now."
Trelawney had a haunted look on her face as she stood and addressed Harry. "There is great danger ahead of you dear boy. You must be very careful for there will surely be a death in the times ahead."
The class was silent as the students looked at the professor with eyes wide. Lavender and Parvati turned and cast sympathetic glances at Harry.
"This is a very powerful message," continued the professor. "Please take great care. Class dismissed, I have to rest now."
After the professor had left the classroom, Ron started laughing and turned to Harry. "Hey Harry, that was …" Ron stopped as he saw the tortured look on Harry's face. "Y…You don't believe all that do you Harry?" he asked.
"She's been right before Ron."
"Come on Harry, she predicts that you'll die at least twice a month, but you're still here aren't you?"
"But that's just it Ron. She didn't say that I would be the one to die; she said that there'd be a death. That could mean any of us - me, you, Hermione, Ginny, Sirius or any one of the others."
"I don't like all this waiting John," said Katie as she and John Ballot sat outside one of the large tents one evening, erected on the canyon floor beneath the cave that had been dubbed 'The Cave of Spells' by the task force. "We're nearly into December, and I hope we're not going to be stuck here all over Christmas!"
"I know, Katie. I wish something would happen too," he replied. "It's frustrating just sitting around knowing they've got their hands full back in the U.K."
"Yes, but Oliver said that Dave Henson thinks that the increased Death Eater activity there is a ploy to draw some of us away from Qumran, making it easier for 'You Know Who' to get his hands on those spells."
"He's probably right Katie, but it doesn't make the waiting any easier, especially during the days - all that heat makes me too lethargic. Give me crisp and fresh mountain air any time!"
Katie laughed. "Well I can certainly get used to the lack of rain John. Oh, Oliver's back from his meeting."
They looked back down the canyon to see Oliver, a broad grin on his face, approaching them. Dave Henson had called a meeting of team leaders that evening to discuss their defensive strategy. The task force had been increased to ten teams, but even so, the topography of the canyon and surrounding terrain made it easy for a small group of Death Eaters to remain hidden.
Oliver called his team over to Katie and John's campfire and started his briefing. "We've worked out the places in the canyon that will be the most effective, defensively. We're going to use a lot of Whammos at the canyon entrance and beyond, and also along the top of these cliffs - one of the other teams are placing some above the cave site already. We'll still be guarding the Cave of Spells along with team five - we'll be using four alternating shifts of six hours."
He grinned as his team members groaned. "But now the good news. First, Dave's going to rig up a shower area in one of the caves, and second, because of the debilitating heat of this place, each team will get two days leave back in the U.K. - that's two days off every month, although I hope this thing doesn't go on that long. We'll be the first team to get a break - we're going back home first thing in the morning."
He again grinned at the excited buzz of conversation. They'd been stuck in the heat of the desert for a few weeks now, and this would be their first bit of relief.
"But it won't be all rest," he continued. "While we're there, we've got to help with the logistics of the operation - that means getting together water and food and the other things we need for a long stay in this place. I've got to go to Scotland to see about getting extra supplies of Whammos - it seems that they're running a bit short of them back at HQ."
Oliver and Katie sat slightly apart from the rest of the team later that night. He was pleased that his news had lifted the spirits of his Aurors, and he watched, smiling, as they sat around the campfire arguing good-naturedly about who would have won the Quidditch first division title if it hadn't been cancelled.
He turned to Katie, watching the light from the campfire play over her lovely face. He held his breath as he watched the little flickers of red and yellow dance in her beautiful blue eyes. Katie watched him staring at her through the corner of her eye, and her lips curled up in a shy grin as she turned towards him. "What?"
"Uh, I… I… I wanted to ask you Katie." Oliver looked uncomfortably at the ground, annoyed with himself that he'd been caught staring. "Would you like to come to Scotland with me tomorrow? I'll need some help to bring the Whammos back to HQ, and… well, we could see Professor Dumbledore at Hogwarts - ask him if he knows who your real father is."
"Oh I'd love to Oliver!" she exclaimed. "But are you sure we'll have enough time?"
"Of course we will," he replied. "I'll send an owl asking if we can see him, and it shouldn't take too long."
Katie reached out and put her hand on his arm. "Thank you Oliver. I really appreciate this."
"It's the least I can do Katie," he said as he glanced down, looking at the hand that seemed to send electric shocks all through his body. He looked back up at Katie, his mind in turmoil as he wrestled with his thoughts. 'Come on Oliver,' he thought, 'bite the bullet and tell her how you feel about her… But what if she doesn't feel the same way about me?'
They both jumped as they heard a loud explosion above their heads. They ducked instinctively as they looked towards the top of the cliff above the Cave of Spells, and saw the bright yellow light of one of the Whammos that had been triggered.
Oliver shouted to his team, "Quick, get tight against the cliff face, we'll be out of the line of fire there."
The canyon quickly became a hive of activity as most of the teams ran to take up their defensive positions, while Dave led two others towards the rocky and perilous path that wound up to the top of the cliff.
Voldemort stood looking down at the large contingent of Aurors in the canyon below, and hissed in frustration as he turned and glared at the yellow-streaked Wormtail. "You stupid, useless, clumsy rat!"
Wormtail shrank from the wrath of the Dark Lord as he swatted ineffectually at his robes, trying to brush off the yellow glow that lit him up for all to see.
"My Lord," said Lucius, a note of urgency in his voice, "there's too many of them for us to take. We'd better get out of here before they reach the top of the cliff."
"Come on," said Voldemort. "We'll apparate back. Then I'm going to teach them a lesson they'll never forget! We're going back to Scotland, Lucius, and I want you to organise a major attack - pick out a suitable target - but this time, I'll be leading it. It's about time they saw the awesome power of Lord Voldemort!"
Dave Henson peered cautiously over the top of the cliff and looked all around the rocky ground. "It seems to be all clear," he whispered to the two team-leaders at his side. "Come on, get your teams up here and start looking around for any signs - and make sure they deactivate the Whammos first."
An hour later, Dave called his team leaders together at the base of the cave back down in the canyon. "They were here, all right," he said, "but there's no sign of them now. They probably thought better about attacking when they saw how many they were up against."
"Do you think we'd better postpone our two days leave?" asked Oliver.
"No Oliver," Dave replied, "we need to get those supplies here fairly quickly, and I don't think they'll be back any time soon. We've given the Dark Lord a lot to think about, so I doubt if he'll just rush in here like that again."
Lord Voldemort stood on a hill overlooking the small town of Rocky Hollow. It was a pretty little town, nestling in a small valley in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Voldemort was impervious to the beauty of the area however; his eyes gleamed only with the fanatical anticipation at what he was about to do. He placed his hand on the inert Disc of Gates that hung around his neck and looked at the leader of his American followers as they stood along the ridge, waiting to witness his demonstration of power.
Rocky Hollow had a population of only one hundred and fifty souls, some magical, but mostly Muggle, and neither faction had any idea that their worst nightmare stood on the hill above them.
The Dark Lord reached into his robes and pulled out the Necronomicon. He turned the pages until he came to the spell that had fascinated him ever since he'd read it back in his cave. He wasn't entirely sure what would happen when he unleashed the evil on the town, only that it would be swift, clinical and thoroughly nasty. Before unleashing the spell, he turned to his chief lieutenant. "Have they been placed where I told you?"
"Yes my Lord," he replied. "Exactly where you told me, and the enchantments have been activated." In the dead of night, he and three of his Death Eaters had captured an unfortunate wizard and cut off his hands just before killing him. Then they'd placed the hands at both ends of the town and, after an hour-long ritual, had empowered the grisly appendages with an evil spell, given to them by Voldemort. Now they watched in fascination, eager to see the fruits of their endeavours.
Voldemort closed his eyes and felt the power build, using the techniques he'd read in the Necronomicon. When he was ready, he raised his wand and pointed it towards the outskirts of the town, on the right-hand side where one of the hands had been placed. "DUG GAZ," he yelled. Then he pointed his wand at the left-hand side of the town and yelled the same spell. Then he stood back and watched with satisfaction as the evil consumed the hapless inhabitants.
It was as if a pair of giant hands squeezed the town flat between their awesome palms. One minute the town was there, the next it wasn't. All that remained was a flat pile of rubble, smoking and shimmering with the heat that had been generated.
Voldemort put back his head and laughed at the sky. "Tell all my followers in this country," he shouted at the watching Death Eaters. "Tell them what you have seen here today. Tell them that the time is approaching when they will be the ones to hold power in this land."
Then he was gone. Back to the site where he'd take the Portkey to the tip of Cornwall, where Lucius Malfoy patiently awaited his arrival.
There was very little that the American Aurors could do when they arrived at the smoking pile of debris that was once the town of Rocky Hollow. There were no bodies to retrieve - they'd all been reduced to ashes in the terrible power of the evil spell. They looked around the site with a feeling of helplessness - all they could do now was make their report to their superiors in Washington, with the observation that if the town had been protected by Whammos, some of the people might have had enough warning to escape before the town had been destroyed.
"My Lord," said Lucius, bowing to the Dark Lord as he materialised at the Portkey site. "Did all go well in America?"
"Better than my wildest dreams Lucius," he replied. "Just wait until I get the spells that will activate the Disc of Gates - no one will be able to withstand my power. Take me to the village."
Lucius led his master over a low ridge and down through a small rocky valley. The valley soon broadened out onto a narrow band of sandy beach, the sand washed to a spotless white by the receding tide. An evil chuckle escaped his throat as Voldemort looked at the sand, the sand that would soon be stained red with the blood of his next victims.
"Is everything ready Lucius?" he asked.
"Yes my Lord, fifty Death Eaters are waiting for your signal to drive the village people down onto the beach, and another fifty are covering the far side just around the headland so that no one can escape that way."
Voldemort grunted in satisfaction as they walked around a rocky promontory. Thirty Death Eaters stood to attention as they approached and walked through their ranks, looking towards the pretty little fishing village in the distance. Portpollridge looked an idyllic holiday spot as the single row of whitewashed cottages sparkled in the early December sunshine. There were only fifty people living in the village, almost all of them Muggles.
Voldemort led his force a bit closer and raised his wand, letting loose the Dark Mark into the sky that was the signal for the attack to begin. Soon, they could hear and see the yellow explosions as the Whammos were activated by the line of fifty Death Eaters, who walked towards the village from the landward side. Voldemort smiled evilly as he saw about forty people, the vast majority looking confused and bewildered as they were led by several anxious wizards and witches, run down onto the beach in front of the cottages.
The terrified group turned in their direction and started running, but stopped when they saw the Dark Lord and his followers approach. They about-turned and started running in the opposite direction, but again pulled up short as they saw another line of black-robed figures. They looked back at the village and were thrown into utter confusion when they saw the line of fifty bright-yellow wizards blocking their only remaining means of escape.
The three wizards and five witches, two of them children, in the group of villagers did the only thing that they could under the circumstances. One of the witches clutched the two children and apparated away, leaving the remaining five to give what protection they could to the Muggles. They told their terrified friends to keep low to the ground as they started firing spells at the three lines of Death Eaters. They saw seven of the black-cloaked figures fall, but their token resistance lasted only for a few minutes. They were the first to go as Voldemort nonchalantly sent volley after volley of the killing curse at them.
Then the three lines of Death Eaters closed on the cringing Muggles and mercilessly sent the killing curses that ended their earthly existence.
When it was all over Voldemort walked back up the beach with Lucius. "Let that be a warning to them - perhaps now they'll think twice about standing in the way of my destiny. Come Lucius, back to my cave - I want to study the Necronomicon more closely now that I've seen the awesome power of the spells in its pages. And I want you to summon the inner circle - I want them to work on a strategy to get past the Aurors guarding the spells at Qumran."
Oliver and Katie walked into the main building at divisional headquarters on Salisbury Plain, leaving the rest of the team to gather the supplies together. He'd told them that when they'd finished the task, they could visit their friends and families before meeting up again tomorrow evening.
"Are you sure about this Katie?" asked Oliver as they approached the fireplace that would take them, via the Floo network, into the headmaster's office at Hogwarts.
"I've never been so sure of anything in my life," she replied, determined to succeed in her search for her biological father.
Five minutes later, they emerged from the fireplace in the headmaster's office to see Professor Dumbledore grinning at them. "Oliver, Katie - it's good to see you both again."
"It's nice to be back Professor," said Oliver as he and Katie were ushered to a pair of seats in front of the headmaster's desk.
"You've been doing some excellent work out in the field," said Dumbledore. "Alastor Moody's been keeping me up to date on your exploits. But I must admit I was rather intrigued when I had your owl. What do you want to see me about?"
"Well it's Katie that wants to speak to you Headmaster. Uh, do you want me to leave now Katie?"
"Of course I don't Oliver. I want you to stay. This is difficult for me Professor, but… I've been wondering about my father. I suppose you know that I was adopted when I was a baby. My parents told me about my mother, and that she was killed a long time ago. But they won't tell me anything about my father, except that he was at Hogwarts with my mother. I've really wanted to find him for some time now Professor - do you know who he is?"
Dumbledore scratched his chin, deep in thought, as he saw the pleading look in Katie's eyes. He spoke gently, "Katie, you must understand my position. It's really not my place to tell you who your biological father is - that decision must rest with your adoptive parents."
"But Professor, they won't tell me anything despite all my pleas to them. But… can you tell me if you know who he is?"
Dumbledore sighed. "Yes Katie, I do know. I was on the teaching staff when it happened, but your biological grandparents on your mother's side made us swear never to reveal the identity of your father. You see, they warned that they'd cause a lot of trouble back then, threatening to blacken the name of the school and urging parents to take their children away from what they perceived to be a den of iniquity. We had no choice but to agree to their demands, and we were compelled to swear to keep your father's identity a secret. Now you may argue that that is no longer valid, since your grandparents passed away some time ago, but I am morally bound not to reveal his identity against the wishes of your adoptive parents. Does that make sense to you Katie?"
"I suppose so Professor, but isn't there something you can do? Could you speak to them on my behalf?"
Dumbledore pondered for a few moments. "All right Katie, I'll do what I can. The work that you're doing deserves no less than all the support I can give you on this. I'll speak to your parents, but I can't promise you that I'll be able to change their minds. All I will promise is that I'll do my best."
"Thank you Professor," Katie smiled, but not without a small tear in her eye. "Can you… can you tell me if he's all right? Is he well?"
Dumbledore smiled in turn. "Yes Katie, he's well. But don't ask me any more about him. You do know, of course, that he doesn't even know he has a daughter?"
"I know sir, and that's one of the things that makes it so difficult for me. Surely he has a right to know about me, the same as I have a right to know about him?"
"I won't disagree with you Katie. Look, I'll try for as long and hard as I can to persuade your parents. I'll send you an owl when I have something decisive to tell you."
"Thank you Professor," said Katie, now filled with hope after the greatest wizard alive had pledged his support.
"Do you two want to stay for lunch?"
Oliver looked at his watch. "We'd better not, Professor, but thanks anyway. We've got to see Fred and George about getting more supplies of Whammos for our operation at Qumran. They must be rushed off their feet these days."
"Yes they are," replied Dumbledore, "but they've got some top class help now - I won't say from whom, but I dare say you'll have a pleasant surprise when you get to their shop."
The three were interrupted when a loud whoosh came from the fireplace at the back of the office. Dumbledore walked over to see a head bearing the grim expression of 'Mad Eye' Moody looking at him from the blue flames.
"Albus," he said, sounding very agitated, "bad news I'm afraid. I've just had two very disconcerting reports. A town in America has been completely destroyed along with all 150 inhabitants. The Aurors who investigated said they'd seen nothing like it before. There wasn't even a body left to identify - they've never seen such devastating destruction. Do you think that 'You Know Who' has managed to get that ancient weapon of his to work?"
"No Alastor, I don't. The activation spells are still safe. But it sounds like he's got his hands on some very powerful Dark Magic."
"You can say that again. The other report is from Cornwall. Voldemort and a large group of Death Eaters killed just over forty people in a small fishing village this morning. One of the witches managed to escape with two children, and she was in no doubt that the man himself led the attack. What's he up to Albus?"
"I wish I knew, Alastor. Maybe he's venting his anger because he can't get his hands on those spells."
"I've got to go now. Speak to you later."
"Wait a minute Alastor, I've got two of your…" He stopped when he saw the head disappear and the flames die down to nothing.
"Always in a rush," he muttered as he walked back to his two former pupils.
"If we've got enough time," said Oliver, "we're hoping to pay him a quick visit before we go back to Qumran tomorrow night. We have to go now Professor, thanks for all your help."
"You two make sure you take good care of yourselves," said Dumbledore as the two young Aurors walked out of his office.
"Oliver - Katie," shouted Harry as he saw them just about to walk out the main entrance. "What are you two doing here? I thought you were out in the desert somewhere."
Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny ran up to the pair, smiling. "It's great to see you again," said Harry.
"Great to see you four too," said Oliver. "We had a bit of business with the headmaster, and we're just off to see Fred and George about some supplies of their Whammos."
"You two are looking good," said Hermione. "Feeding you well are they?"
"It's all the training," replied Katie. "And not to mention the desert heat - if we spend much longer in that hell hole, I swear I'll melt away to nothing."
"Well you look pretty all right to me," said Ginny with a smirk. "Doesn't she Oliver?"
"Uh… well I suppose she does Ginny. Look, I'm sorry to rush away like this, but we need to see your brothers as soon as possible."
"Come to see us next time you're here," Harry shouted after the pair as they made a swift exit in the direction of Hogsmeade.
Oliver and Katie stood outside Zonko's old shop in Hogsmeade, grinning as they looked up at the sign over the door - 'Weasleys Wizard Wheezes'. They could hear a lot of noise coming from inside the shop and opened the door cautiously, peeping inside.
"Angelina, Alicia, Lee!" shouted Katie as she saw their three friends working away like beavers at a large table in the middle of the room. She and Oliver ran over as the three turned around in surprise.
"Katie, Oliver - where the hell did you come from?" shouted Lee as the five friends hugged each other in greeting.
"And where did you three come from?" said Oliver.
"We've been working here ever since Fred and George started getting orders for Whammos from the ministry," answered Alicia.
"Where's Fred and George?" asked Katie.
"Here we are!" They turned to see the two beaming faces of their former Quidditch team mates emerge from a room at the back of the shop.
"Do you two want a job?" asked George expectantly.
"We've already got one George," said Oliver, grinning. "That's why we're here. We've got a little thing going in the desert out by the Dead Sea, and we're running short of Whammos. We need some more supplies desperately. 'You Know Who' paid us a little visit last night, and we're running a bit short.
Angelina gasped. "You two be very careful. We've been thinking about you since we heard those reports."
"We've got a bit of a problem," said Fred, his smile fading. "Oh, we'll give you as many Whammos as we can spare, but we've just received a huge order from America. I don't know how we'll be able to make enough to keep both countries supplied."
"You'll have to expand," said Oliver. "You need to get bigger premises and more staff. Have you got any ideas?"
"Only getting help from the school," said George. "We've asked Dumbledore if we can employ some of the seventh years part time on the weekends, but he hasn't given us an answer yet. And we've been trying to find out who owns the Shrieking Shack; that'd be a great place to use - its reputation would keep out any prying eyes."
"Why don't you advertise for help in the Daily Prophet?" asked Katie.
"We can't do that Katie," answered Fred. "We're trying to keep as low a profile as possible. If the Death Eaters find out where the Whammos are being manufactured they'll soon be here in force. No, we only want people we know and trust."
"Well you'd better think of something soon, these little devices save lives you know," said Oliver.
George had a pained expression on his face. "We know that Oliver. But we'll think of something. But first, how about a spot of lunch, you're welcome to join us. We've just set the table in the back room."
"Thanks George, we'd like that," answered Katie, glancing at Oliver and smiling.
Oliver walked into the back room with Fred, George and Lee, but Angelina and Alicia held Katie back. "Come on, tell us all about it!" demanded Alicia.
"All about what?" Katie answered.
"Now don't go all coy and secretive with us Katie. We're your oldest friends, remember?" said Angelina.
"But I don't know what you mean."
"Katie Bell, you tell me the look on Oliver's face doesn't have 'smitten' written all over it," said Alicia in a low conspiratorial voice.
"What?" exclaimed Katie. "There's nothing going on between us Alicia."
"Well listen to me girl," said Angelina. "If there's not now, there soon will be. You listen to us - we've seen that look before. And come to think about it, you've been looking at Oliver a bit strangely as well. Come on Katie, you can tell us."
"But there's nothing. I'll admit that I have caught him looking at me a bit oddly, but he hasn't said anything to me. And the way I feel about him, well, when someone saves your life a few times, I suppose you've got to have a certain amount of respect for him, haven't you?"
"You listen to me," said Alicia. "The way you look at him has got nothing to do with respect, believe me."
Meanwhile, the boys sat at the table and started tucking in to the ample piles of food. "So Oliver," said Fred, "how long have you and Katie been an item?"
"What!" exclaimed Oliver. "We're not an item Fred, we're just colleagues, fellow Aurors."
"Pull the other one Oliver," said George. "It's perfectly clear what she thinks about you from the look on her face."
Oliver had an odd expression on his face. "Do you really think so George?"
"Oliver - you're bloody useless," said Lee grinning. "You've got one of the most beautiful girls living in your pocket almost, and you mean to tell me you haven't done anything about it?"
"Well we've been a bit busy Lee," said Oliver, looking abashed.
"Busy? Busy my arse!" exclaimed Fred. "You'd better pull your finger out Oliver, or some big hunk of an Auror will snatch her right from under your nose!"
"What are you three talking about?" asked Alicia as she and the other two girls sat at the table.
"Oh you know, this and that," said George making eyes in the direction of Oliver and Katie, who both kept their heads down, both looking slightly flushed, and both deep in thought about the same thing - Katie wondering if Oliver would tell her how he felt about her and Oliver wondering whether he'd be able to pluck up the courage to say it.
"Is that so?" said Angelina with a knowing look.
"I hope you two are not thinking about dashing off," said Fred. "You can spend the night here with us - you're going to have to wait for us to get your Whammos ready anyway. We'll have a great time, we can go down the Three Broomsticks tonight."
Oliver took a nervous glance at Katie, who smiled at him nervously. "Thanks Fred," he mumbled quietly. "I don't suppose we've got a lot of choice have we?"
"No you haven't," said George grinning.
Oliver groaned inwardly, steeling himself for the night of ragging that lay ahead.
Professor Dumbledore shrugged his shoulders resignedly as Harry and the other three walked into his office. They saw the reason for his odd gesture sitting at his desk - Cornelius Fudge wore a grim expression on his face as they sat at the seats next to him.
"I asked the headmaster to call you here," said Fudge. "I need to know how you're getting on with your quest. I suppose you've heard about the two terrible attacks both here and in the United States, and, well, both our ministries are under a lot of pressure to get some answers quickly. And the only real answer is the Anima Summas. Can you tell me how it's going?"
"We're making progress minister," Hermione answered. "We know where the second repository of ancient knowledge is, but we've still got to find the spells that'll give us protection and we've also got to find out how we get into the place."
Fudge smiled weakly at the four. "Please don't think that I'm putting any undue pressure on you, I know how difficult it must be for you all, but I just needed to get a feel for the progress you're making."
"Yes sir," said Harry. "We're spending all our spare time on the research, I only wish we could have more." He looked at Dumbledore pointedly.
"Will that be all Cornelius?" asked Dumbledore.
"Yes I think so Albus," he replied. "Thank you all for sparing me your time."
Dumbledore held out his hand to stop the four friends walking out of the room as the minister stepped back into the fireplace and vanished in a whoosh of blue flame.
"Sit down for a moment," he said. "Harry, I know how anxious you are to press on with this - we're all very anxious. But I know what I'm saying when I tell you that your studies are just as important as your research."
"I know Professor, and I'm sorry if I seemed a bit rude, but Fudge made me feel as if I'm responsible for all these attacks."
"Don't blame him too much Harry, but he's under a lot of pressure as well - more than you could know. He understands what you four have to do, but he has to be seen to be doing something; he's got a lot of worried people on his back."
"It's the same in all the mail we've been getting," said Ron. "Clare and Colin are starting to get very worried after reading all the pleas for us to finish our quests and get 'You Know Who'."
"I know Ron," Dumbledore replied. "I've already taken the decision to take those two kids off the job, and employ two witches who'll be better placed to handle all the doom and gloom."
"I think they'll be relieved Professor," said Ginny. "They enjoyed it before all the attacks started, but now I think it's getting to them."
It was the middle of December before the owl arrived from Hermione's parents, bearing a copy of the book about Edgar Cayce's visions. A note of apology was enclosed, explaining that the delay was due to her parents having great difficulty in getting their hands on the book.
The four rushed up to the common room and watched as Hermione quickly scanned through the pages, looking for a reference to the Secret Chamber. "This is terribly difficult to read," she said. "It's just a long list of readings given by Cayce, and there's thousands and thousands of them. Now let's see, they're grouped under a lot of main headings. Ancient Mysteries - there should be something about it there."
Hermione turned to the page and starting looking down the long list of readings. "Here's something. It says 'For the entity's tomb then was a part of the Hall of Records, which has not yet been uncovered. It lies between - or along that entrance from the Sphinx to the temple - or the pyramid; in a pyramid, of course, of its own.'
She looked up at the others. "It seems to suggest that the Hall of Records is somewhere between the Sphinx and the pyramid - but which of the three pyramids?"
"That doesn't tell us a hell of a lot more than we know already," said Ron.
"I'm sorry," said Hermione quietly. "I thought we'd find a lot more about it in this book."
Harry reached over and squeezed her hand. "It's not your fault Hermione. We've got to follow up on anything that seems useful. We'll just have to keep reading Dumbledore's books on Egypt."
Over the days leading up to the Christmas holidays, all their professors began to notice that the four weren't their usual selves during classes. At their weekly staff meeting, the professors made their concerns known to the headmaster.
"I was expecting something like this," he said worriedly. "The pressure of the second quest is calling to them, and it's beginning to prove a big distraction."
"I haven't seen Hermione like this," said McGonagall. "Even when she was in the depths of despair over Harry, she still managed to be attentive in class. But now…"
"What can we do to help them Headmaster?" asked Flitwick.
"I don't think there's anything we can do for the moment," Dumbledore replied. "Christmas will be on us shortly, and I know that they intend using the time to do their research. We can only hope that they find something over the holiday period that will lift their spirits. For now, just keep an eye on things, and Severus, don't be too hard on them during their Potions classes."
"I won't Headmaster," he said. "I've already eased off on them, difficult though it has been."
The other professors grinned at the pained expression on Snape's face.
Margot tossed and turned in her bed, her sleep invaded by the vivid and disturbing dream. She thrashed about, her head rolling from side to side as she dreamt…
'The Dark Lord touched the strange object hanging on his chest. He looked up and stared with evil intent at Margot. 'The Disc of Gates,' he said, 'I have it in my possession. Now I will rule the world.' The scene changed to a dark and dusty cave. Voldemort cackled with glee as he reached down into a hole in the floor and stared at the objects he retrieved. Another shift in scene. The Dark Lord held the Disc of Gates above his head, the black central crystal glowing with an evil light. His eyes held a maniacal glint as he stared at something before him, but which remained hidden from Margot in the dream. He uttered several strange words and a powerful black light shot from the Disc and the Dark Lord laughed as he shouted a single word - Die!'
Margot woke in a bath of sweat, looking towards her bedroom window that let in the light of early dawn. She shuddered at the memory of her dream, but she didn't need to write anything down, it was firmly fixed in her mind. She quickly jumped out of bed, put on her dressing gown, and rushed across the landing to her grandfather's bedroom.
"Grandfather!" she said as she walked hastily into his bedroom, sat on the bed and gently shook him until he woke up. "Grandfather, I've had another vision about 'You Know Who'. I've got to get to Hogwarts straight away."
"Slowly Margot," he said, blinking the sleep from his eyes. "What did you see?"
Margot told him about the vision and the urgency that was manifest throughout the dream. "So you see, I've got to tell Harry and the others."
Jules nodded. "Come on Margot, you'd better get dressed. I'll tell your mother and father about the dream and then set up the Portkey for you."
Harry and Ron walked down the spiral staircase from their dormitory to the common room that morning, feeling tired after the night of reading some of Dumbledore's books. Harry bumped into Ron's back as the red-haired boy suddenly stopped dead in his tracks.
"Ron, get a move on," said Harry as he looked at Ron. Then he followed Ron's stare to the table in the middle of the common room, where Margot was sitting patiently.
"Margot!" shouted Ron as he leapt down the remaining stairs, running over to stand beside the beautiful French girl.
"Good morning Ron," she said sweetly, smiling up at his stunned face.
"What are you doing here Margot?" asked Harry. "And how did you get in?"
"Hello Harry. You should change your password more often - I used the same one as my last visit."
"Margot!" yelled Hermione and Ginny as they came down the stairs, quickly walking over to greet the girl. Ginny smirked as she saw the look of utter captivation on her brother's face.
"You've had another vision haven't you?" asked Harry. She nodded, the smile fading from her face.
"Do you need to see Professor Dumbledore as well?" asked Hermione.
"I don't know. I think so," she replied.
"Come on then, we'll take you to his office," said Harry.
As they walked down the corridor, Ron sidled up besides Margot and whispered as he leaned close to her. "Margot? Why did you call me your little red knight the last time you were here?"
Margot turned her head and looked deeply into Ron's eyes, sending shivers of delight down his spine. "Because that's how I see you Ron."
Ron took a deep breath. "Does that mean you like me then?"
"Of course I like you Ron. I like Harry, Hermione and Ginny too. I think you're all very nice people."
"Oh," said Ron, the smile vanishing from his face. Margot turned and walked on ahead, hiding the sly grin that played around her sensuous lips. She could tell that Ron really liked her, of course, and she didn't quite know why she was teasing him. She really liked the tall red-haired boy, and thought that it must be some sort of feminine instinct coming to the fore, perhaps some flaw in her character that hadn't had the opportunity to surface before. 'I really must try not to do that again,' she thought.
"Margot!" Harry shouted. She jumped and looked back at Harry and the others waiting at the gargoyle that led up to the headmaster's office. She'd been so engrossed in her thoughts that she'd walked right past.
"Hmmm, it seems that your dream relates to an event from the past - that's Voldemort holding the Disc of Gates - and to two events in the future, or at least a possible future. He's retrieving the ancient spells that will activate the Disc and finally using it's power to cause death and destruction. We know that the spells are safe for the moment, but the underlying message of urgency in your dream suggests that they won't be safe for much longer."
"We've got to do something Professor," said Harry. "We can't let him get his hands on those spells."
"I know Harry," said Dumbledore softly, "but we're doing all we can for now. I'll get in touch with Fudge, of course, and he'll warn his task force guarding the spells, but apart from that, there's not much more we can do."
"If only we had more time to do our research," said Hermione. "I know that we'll be able to use the Christmas holidays, but if we don't find anything our research time will be cut short again by our classes."
"I know Hermione," said Dumbledore with a note of sympathy in his voice, "but we've already agreed that you mustn't neglect your studies. They're very important to your ongoing development."
"Uh, perhaps I can help, Professor." The four friends and the headmaster looked at Margot for a few moments.
"How can you help, Margot?" asked Dumbledore, staring at the girl quizzically.
"Well I can't help personally, but I can ask my grandfather if he'll help with their learning. You may have wondered how I lost my strong French accent so quickly and suddenly acquired a good working knowledge of the English language. Well it was my grandfather who did that. You see he has access to certain ancient spells that can accelerate the learning process. That, added to the fact that he's a first class teacher anyway, will reduce the time you need to spend on your lessons and increase the time for your research. If you like, I can ask my grandfather if he'll help, but I'm sure he will."
"That sounds very interesting Margot," said Dumbledore. "May I ask how your grandfather came to be in possession of these spells?"
"I'm sorry Professor, but I can't tell you. You'll have to ask my grandfather."
"Very well. Please ask him Margot, it sounds like the ideal solution to our dilemma. But you four will still have to attend some of the classes as well. You can't neglect the practical aspects of your tuition. For example, you'll still have to attend a certain number of Potions lessons." The headmaster smiled at the loud groans that came from the four teens.
Harry looked at Margot suddenly. "Margot, why don't you join us here at Hogwarts? You're starting to get a lot of messages about our quest and Voldemort's activities, so wouldn't it be best if you stayed here? I'm sure that the Headmaster can arrange for a transfer from Beauxbatons?"
He looked at Dumbledore enquiringly, but before the headmaster could answer, Margot said quickly, "I don't go to Beauxbatons Harry. I get my tuition at home, from my grandfather. You see, good Divination professors are few and far between, and my parents felt that my grandfather would nurture my capabilities as a seer far better than at Wizarding School. Don't get me wrong - I'd love to come here and help with your quest, but I don't think the time is right."
"But if your grandfather comes here Margot," Ron cut in quickly and hopefully, "you'll have to come as well won't you? Otherwise you'll fall behind with your lessons."
"I suppose so…" she replied.
"Margot, if your grandfather agrees to help," said Dumbledore, "then you're most welcome to stay with us here. You can sleep in either Hermione's or Ginny's dormitory."
"I'd like that Professor," said Margot grinning.
What happened next was completely unexpected, and completely out of character for the normally tongue-tied Ron when it came to girls. He drew himself up in his chair, took a deep breath, and launched into an initially stuttering, but then high-speed tirade.
"Margot… I… well…. Uh… well since you're now, or will be very shortly, an honorary student at Hogwarts, would you… do you think… oh bugger it, will-you-come-to-the-Yule-ball-with-me?" The last nine words came out as one long word.
Harry and Hermione stared at their friend open-mouthed, not believing what they'd just heard. Ginny, meanwhile, gasped, "Bloody hell! Sorry Professor."
Ron, meanwhile, sat with his eyes screwed shut, wearing a pained expression as if he were waiting for a blow to strike him. Margot, meanwhile, stared at Ron, a sly smile on her face. Dumbledore just sat looking at the youngsters, an amused expression on his face and a twinkle in his eye. For Ron, it seemed that time had suddenly stood still. He slowly opened one eye, and looked at Margot.
"Why do you want me to go to the Yule ball with you Ron?" she asked, but the next instant mentally admonished herself for again teasing Ron.
"Why?" he asked. "Well because I… well I…"
Margot mercifully spared his embarrassment. "Yes, I'd love to go with you. But I'll have to ask my parents first. And is it all right with you Professor?"
"Of course Margot, as Ron said, when you're here with us you'll be treated as a Hogwarts student. We'd love to have you."
For the next three days, Ron walked around the school in a daze. Hermione finally stopped badgering him to help with their research, giving it up as a lost cause until after the Yule ball.
Finally, the day of the Yule ball arrived and the female population of the school, as usual, acted as if they'd been let loose. This time, however, Ron didn't bother to comment on their antics, he didn't even notice them. If fact, he indulged in a few antics of his own.
"Do you think she really likes me Harry?"
"Well she did agree to go to the ball with you Ron."
"But when I asked her if she liked me, she said she did, but she said it as if she didn't like me THAT way."
"Ron! Stop worrying. Loosen up a bit or you're going to be awkward around her, and I'm sure she wouldn't like you stamping all over her feet when you dance."
"How close should I hold her? Do you think it'll be a bit forward if I hold her too close?"
"Ron. Just play it by ear. Follow her lead if you're not sure."
"Harry, I've never felt like this before. I'm afraid I'll make a fool of myself in front of her."
"Ron! If you carry on like this, you're quite likely to make a fool of yourself. Now stop worrying. Just be your normal self and everything should be ok. And you won't have long to wait now, the ball starts in just under an hour."
"Harry, Ron," Ginny called as she popped her head through the portrait hole. "Come on, Dumbledore wants to see us."
The four walked into the headmaster's office and saw two people sitting and talking to him. They immediately recognised Margot, and assumed that the second was her grandfather.
"Ah here they are," said Dumbledore. "I believe you've all met?"
"We haven't met Margot's grand…" Hermione stared as the man turned in his seat, astonished at who sat before her. She continued, "… master." Her voice dropping in volume as she recognised the grand master of the Priory of Sion.
"Hello again. I'm Jules Denarnaud, Margot's grandfather, and it's ok, Professor Dumbledore knows who I am."
"Grand master," said Harry quietly, "we didn't know you were Margot's grandfather."
Jules smiled at the four astonished youngsters. "I was glad to hear that you found the secret. It took great courage and intelligence to do what you did that day. I'm proud of you, and I'm glad that Margot has found some friends of her own age at last. And I'll be seeing a lot more of you after Christmas. Professor Dumbledore has asked me to help with your studies. "
"That's great, grand master, we'll get a lot more time for our research now. Uh, what do we call you? We can't refer to you as grand master can we?"
"Uh no. Just call me Professor Denarnaud."
They looked at Margot then, and saw that she was dressed ready for the ball, her dark green robes matching her vivid green eyes perfectly. Ron stared with open admiration.
"Stop drooling Ron," whispered Ginny. "You're making me feel embarrassed."
"Jules," said Dumbledore. "You can join me and the other professors at the top table if you wish. Since you're here you might as well enjoy the occasion."
"Thank you Albus, I'd be glad to."
Ron felt ten feet tall as he led Margot into the Great Hall. He grinned at the envious stares of the boys who had already taken their seats at the many small dining tables spread around the outside of the room. Seamus Finnegan, who was with Parvati, called Harry, Hermione, Ron and Margot over to their table and they were soon followed by Ginny and Neville. After introducing Margot, they all settled down to eat the sumptuous banquet that appeared before them.
Soon, the ball was under way and everybody had a great time - except for Ron. Whenever he tried to speak to Margot, or ask her to dance, another boy would rush in and ask her to dance. Margot didn't intentionally try to upset Ron - she was simply overwhelmed by all the attention she was getting - she hadn't known anything like it before. There seemed to be a queue of boys waiting to ask her to dance, and on more than one occasion Harry had to drag Ron back by his robes to stop him having a go at them.
Margot looked shocked when Hermione, who was dancing close to her with Harry, whispered in her ear that she hadn't given Ron much of a look in. She made a point of refusing all offers from the other boys after that, and made eyes at Ron, silently urging him to ask her to dance. Ron, however, had worked himself into a monumental sulk and Harry, contemplating the end of a beautiful but brief friendship between Ron and Margot, had to drag him to his feet and push him towards the French girl.
He stood in front of her, a scowl on his face, but finally asked her to dance after Harry kicked him in the shin. It happened to be a very slow number, but they didn't dance very close together.
Margot had a worried frown on her face. "Have I upset you Ron?"
"Upset me? No, not at all, I just love to see you dancing with all the other boys."
"Ron, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. Please understand, this is the first dance I've ever been to and I suppose I got carried away with all the attention I was getting."
"Well it's not every day that a strange and very beautiful girl makes an appearance at Hogwarts. What did you expect?"
"You think I'm beautiful Ron?"
"Of course I do," he said quickly, still in a stomp. "You're the most beautiful girl I've ever seen, and when I get a chance to show you off, you're suddenly off dancing with everybody in sight."
Ron melted when Margot's lips twisted into that sensuous and thoroughly irresistible smile of hers. He pulled her a bit closer to him, close enough for her to whisper in his ear, "And do you think I'm strange too?"
"No Margot, of course I don't. I meant strange as in stranger not as in odd."
"Well I'm glad to hear it. Uh Ron, I think the music's stopped."
Ron suddenly stopped dancing and looked around to see that the other couples were walking back to their seats. He led Margot across the dance floor, but groaned when he heard a familiar voice behind him.
"Well what have we here? What's a beautiful girl like you doing with a loser like Weasley?"
Ron and Margot turned around to see the sneering face of Draco Malfoy. "Why don't you introduce us Weasley?"
"He's not a loser," said Margot quietly. "He's the bravest boy I know."
"Bog off Malfoy," said Ron. "I wouldn't introduce a rat to you."
Draco ignored Ron's remark and stared at Margot, his eyes travelling from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. "Why don't you come over to my table, you'll have a much better time with me."
Margot frowned with distaste and Ron, with a calm but deadly voice said, "I don't want to spoil the night by bashing you Malfoy, but one more remark like that and I won't have any choice in the matter."
Draco sneered, but thought better about saying anything more. He turned on his heel and walked back to his table.
"Who was that horrible boy?" asked Margot.
"That was Draco Malfoy, his father's 'You Know Who's right hand man. He's a nasty piece of work and a Slytherin. You'd best keep out of his way Margot."
"What was that all about?" asked Harry as they sat back down.
"Just Draco being his usual objectionable self," said Ron.
The rest of the night went off without a hitch and all too soon, Margot's grandfather came to collect her to take the Portkey back to Rennes-le-Chateau. The four went down into the school grounds to see them off, but before going Margot leaned close and whispered in Ron's ear, "Bon soir, mon petit chevalier rouge". Then she kissed him lightly on the cheek before walking over to her grandfather.
Ron held his hand to the spot on his cheek where she'd kissed him, and stared at the empty space where Margot had stood only moments before. His three friends grinned as they observed his reaction.
"Thoroughly smitten," said Ginny, shaking her head.
"Head over heels," said Hermione, also shaking her head.
"But it was nearly a very different story," said Harry. "Ron - if you react like that again she may not be so forgiving."
"React? What do you mean Harry?"
"That dirty great pout you had earlier!"
"Hmmm. That was a bit stupid of me wasn't it! She's a wonderful girl Harry. Do you really think she likes me?"
Harry and the two girls lifted their eyes to the dark sky and groaned.
Charlie was in one of his philosophical moods as he, Nadine, Sirius and Ceri sat in the Great Hall after dinner drinking coffee. All the students and professors had left, so they had the place to themselves.
"What drives a man like 'You Know Who' to be so evil?" he asked the others.
"The need for absolute power," suggested Sirius.
"The need to control everything around him," said Ceri.
"Insanity?" asked Nadine.
"Well I think it's basically a sexual thing," said Charlie, drawing gasps from Ceri and Nadine.
Sirius just grinned and raised his eyebrows. "Care to explain that one Charlie?"
"Well think about it. If the anthropologists are right, the Neanderthals and other pre-human species were driven by it. Every male wanted to be top dog, and they'd resort to violence to achieve their goal. And to what end? To make sure he built up his harem with the most attractive females so that he could produce offspring in his own image - that's a sexual thing."
"Well I suppose so," said Ceri. "But what's that got to do with 'You Know Who'?"
"He's doing the exact same thing as the alpha males of pre-history! But instead of building up a harem, he's replaced it with a lust for power - he wants to be top dog and he resorts to violence to get it. It's still basically a sexual thing!"
"Come on Charlie," said Sirius, grinning. "You mean to tell me that 'You Know Who' is as he is because of his hormones?"
"Don't laugh Sirius. I really think that's the case. So you could say that after thousands and thousands of years of evolution, 'You Know Who' and people like him simple haven't evolved. They're still acting like Neanderthals, unable to control their primal urges. I sometimes think that the theory of evolution is flawed, especially when you see so many people driven by such prehistoric urges."
Nadine had a sly grin on her pretty face as she tapped her boyfriend on the arm. "So you wouldn't class yourself with such people Charlie?"
"Certainly not Nadine!"
"So does that mean you haven't got strong sexual urges?" she asked, her eyebrows raised, waiting for a response. Ceri and Sirius tried to hide their grins as they waited for Charlie to answer.
"That's different Nadine!" he exclaimed.
"Why is it different Charlie?" she asked sweetly, unwilling to let him off the hook.
Charlie's expression changed when he saw the others looking at him with some amusement. "You're a very naughty girl Nadine," he said, breaking into a grin. "Come with me and you decide if I've evolved beyond the primal stages."
Nadine squealed as Charlie caught hold of her hand and dragged her towards the doorway.
"Where are you going?" Ceri called after them.
"We're going to study evolution I think Ceri," Nadine shouted back.
"They're funny aren't they," said Sirius.
"Nadine can twist him round her little finger when she feels the need," she replied. "But it's great to see them together - they're so much in love."
"Hmm talking about love," said Sirius, causing Ceri to glance at him sharply. "I've been meaning to ask you something."
"Yeeesssss?" she asked slowly.
"What went on between you and Bill back in Hermopolis?"
Ceri stiffened, not expecting Sirius to say that. "Why do you want to know Sirius?"
"I'm… well… just interested."
"Are you now. Well what if I told you that he asked me to go on a date with him?"
"Yes, he did."
"And what did you say?"
'Uh oh,' thought Ceri. 'There's a bit of déjà vu going on here.'
"Sirius Black, what I do with my personal life is my own business, and what I said or didn't say to Bill is none of yours."
Sirius held up his hands as if to ward off an alley cat. "Ok, ok. Don't get your knickers in a twist. I only tried to show a bit of interest."
"So I'll ask you again. Why are you so interested in what Bill and I got up to in Egypt?"
Sirius didn't answer for a while; then he got up and started to walk towards the doorway. Half way across the hall he stopped and turned back to Ceri. "Because I am!" he said vehemently, turning once again and walking quickly out of the room.
Ceri grinned at Sirius' retreating form. 'Well at least he's getting it off his chest,' she thought to herself.
The night air had turned quite cool in the canyon near Qumran. Most of Oliver's team sat outside around the campfire, quietly singing a medley of Christmas Carols, but Oliver and Katie sat on the bunk in his tent, something that they'd done more and more often since returning from Hogsmeade several days ago.
It was Christmas Eve, and the team felt a bit melancholy having to spend it in the desert. They thought about their families back in the U.K. and wished they were with them, but to their credit, they tried to generate a seasonal atmosphere in their little corner of the dead zone.
Katie sighed as she listened to the singing, and looked at Oliver who once again seemed to be mentally struggling with something. They'd both been given a lot to think about after their visit to their friends, and both had been urged to do something about their obvious attraction for each other. As is the way of things, however, Oliver wasn't convinced that Katie felt the same way as he did. Katie, on the other hand, felt sure that Oliver had feelings for her, and the last few nights had been an agony of anticipation for her, waiting for Oliver to say something, anything that would give her the initiative to take things further.
On this night of all nights, Katie hoped that Oliver would make a move, but it was approaching the time when everyone retired for the night, and still he'd said nothing. She was almost at the end of her tether, and started to think of ways to move things along, when Oliver took a deep breath and turned towards her.
"Katie. I… I've done a lot of thinking lately."
"About… well, about…" He let out a long sigh of frustration as he struggled to find the right words.
"About us Oliver?"
"Well… I… "
Katie reached out her arms and hooked her hands behind Oliver's head. Then she slowly drew him towards her, their eyes locked together all the while. Katie paused when their lips were no more than an inch apart, savouring the moment. Then she gently brushed her lips against Oliver's, a fleeting touch that sent shivers of pleasure all through his body. She drew back once more, looked deeply into his eyes, and finally crushed her lips against his, breathing deeply with the passion of the moment.
"Oliver, have you got…. Oh sorry."
They broke apart to see John Ballot move quickly out of the tent. They looked at each other once more and started laughing.
"It'll be all over the camp in five minutes flat," said Oliver.
"You don't mind do you Oliver?"
"Do I hell!" This time it was Oliver's turn to take the initiative, pulling Katie tightly against his body, savouring the delicate aroma of her perfume. He kissed her forehead, then her eyes, her nose, and finally her lips. Katie gave in to the wonderful feelings that were released throughout her body, lost in the depths of Oliver's passionate kiss.
They felt a cool breeze wash over their fevered skin, opened their eyes, and looked towards the tent flap, which was being held open by two of his team. The rest, together with Dave Henson, started clapping and cheering, bringing a bright red flush to both their faces.
"We thought you'd never get together," said a grinning Dave Henson. "Do you know we'd even started taking bets on when you'd both finally see the light? This calls for a small celebration, especially since it's Christmas Eve. Come on out here, we've got a couple of bottles of wine to crack open - I've been saving them for a special occasion."
The blushing pair walked out of the tent to see about eighty Aurors, the full complement of the four teams not on duty that night, grinning at them and calling out words of encouragement and congratulations, interspersed with some less than flattering comments. The rest of the night certainly wasn't silent, and neither was it cold and frosty, and everyone did their level best to extract the maximum amount of enjoyment from the little gathering, spurred on by the knowledge that there probably wouldn't be many such nights in the dark times that lay ahead.
The gathering in the Great Hall was larger than it normally was to eat Christmas dinner. Apart from Dumbledore, McGonagall and Snape, the ranks were swelled by the four friends, their protectors, Fred, George, Lee, Angelina and Alicia and the ten seventh year students who'd elected to work over Christmas at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes to earn some extra cash.
Twenty-seven witches and wizards eagerly awaited the arrival of the banquet as they talked animatedly among themselves. Dumbledore smiled as he looked forward to one of the best Christmas days at the school for a long time.
An hour later, they all sat slumped in their chairs, completely full and unable to move. The table was liberally strewn with half-empty bottles of the delicious wine sent over by Nadine's brother for the occasion. "This is the best wine I've ever tasted," said Ceri as she sat talking to Nadine. "You'll have to thank your brother for us Nadine."
"Yes I will. He was hoping to visit today, but he cried off at the last minute. He didn't say why, but I've got a feeling he's met someone. I could spot the tell-tale signs when I spoke to him the other day."
"Lucky girl," said Charlie. "Demont's a great bloke. Pity he missed this though, he'd have enjoyed himself."
"What are you four going to do this afternoon?" asked Sirius as he looked across the table at Harry and the others.
"We're going to do some more reading Sirius," he replied.
"What, on Christmas day?"
"Well I don't suppose Voldemort will be celebrating Christmas," replied Harry. "You can bet your life he'll be working on a plan to get at those spells, and we haven't got any time to lose."
That dampened the mood of the gathering somewhat as they looked at Harry and his three friends with some sympathy. Fred, however, decided to lighten things up a bit when he leaned close and spoke in a low and conspiratorial voice, "Before we go back to the shops, George and I are planning to leave our calling card."
"What are you two up to now?" asked Remus, grinning.
George looked around to make sure that Snape wasn't trying to listen in on the conversation. "We're going down to the Slytherin dungeon - we want to try out a new prank. We've put a magical timer on it so that it won't work until the first day of the school term, and we've got a few of our seventh year helpers to take notes of all the effects it produces. Pity Fred and I won't be here to see it ourselves though."
"So what's going to happen?" asked Ginny, smiling in anticipation.
Fred tapped the side of his nose and glanced slyly up the table at Snape. "That's a secret for now. Just keep your eyes open when you come down for breakfast on the first day of term."
Everyone looked up as they heard the sound of fluttering wings. Through the windows high up in the Great Hall several owls, struggling under the weight of the packages they carried, swooped down and one by one dropped their heavy packages in front of Hermione. They quickly flew back out and up to the Owlery, hoping that the other owls hadn't eaten all the special Christmas treats.
"It's from Mum and Dad!" exclaimed Hermione excitedly. "I thought they'd forgotten to get me a present this Christmas." She quickly ripped open the packages and gazed hungrily at the piles of books that were uncovered.
Harry, Ron and Ginny looked at the titles. "Books on Egypt," said Ron with a pained look on his face. "Hermione, you've got books about Egypt for Christmas?"
"Yes - brilliant isn't it!"
"But we've got loads of those from Professor Dumbledore," said Ginny.
"Ah, but not ones like these Ginny," she replied. "I made a list of the ones in the headmaster's office and sent it to my parents. I asked them to get as many books as they could that weren't on the list - my Christmas present!"
Harry smiled at his girlfriend's shining face and leaned close to kiss her tenderly on her forehead. She glanced at Harry and smiled, then she grabbed his hand and pulled him from his seat. "Come on you lot, let's get started on these."
"Can't we stay a bit longer?" groaned Ron.
"No Ron, now come on! The sooner we find the Hunter the better."
The four spent the remainder of the Christmas holiday in the common room, reading Hermione's new books. Some of them contained material they'd not seen in Dumbledore's books, mainly about the newest archaeological discoveries and the latest theories about the many aspects of the ancient land and its enigmatic ancient inhabitants.
However, they could find nothing about the Hunter. However hard they tried, however many books they read, there was no reference to him at all. On the last day of the school holiday, they started to get despondent.
"Where the hell is he?" asked Ron. "Do you think we misheard what Seshat said? Perhaps she said the Hurter, or the Punter or something."
"No Ron," said Hermione. "I remember everything she said, it's engrained in my memory. And Ginny wrote it down as well - no she definitely said the Hunter."
"This is crazy," said Harry. "Perhaps we should look at the sections on Egyptian religious mythology more closely, Seshat's message was a bit weird so it must be there somewhere."
"I've read everything I can find on that Harry," said Hermione. "But there's nothing there about the Hunter."
"Well I give up," said Ron. "We're just going round in circles and getting nowhere."
"We can't give up Ron," said Harry. "There's got to be something about the Hunter somewhere - Seshat wouldn't give us something that's impossible to find. Look," he said turning to the others. "Let's get an early night for a change. School starts back tomorrow."
They went to their dormitories with heavy hearts that night, but in the morning they felt better, buoyed by the knowledge that the prank planted by Fred and George was due to be triggered that morning.
They walked down to breakfast early, and told as many non-Slytherins as they could that something was going to happen. The Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables were full, the students glancing at the door between mouthfuls of bacon and egg, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Slytherins.
"Where the hell are they?" asked Ron after fifteen minutes of waiting. "You don't think they've made them disappear do you?"
Ginny grinned. "I don't think so Ron. Those two wouldn't do anything that couldn't be seen and appreciated."
The professors at the top table had also noticed the non-arrival of the Slytherin students. Dumbledore got up and walked along the table to Snape. "Severus, what's happened to your students this morning? They're usually among the first to arrive for breakfast."
"I don't know Headmaster. I'd better go and see what's wrong."
A buzz went up from the room as they saw Professor Snape stride imperiously from the Great Hall. "It won't be long now," said Harry.
After ten minutes, the Slytherins had still not put in an appearance. And neither had Snape. Another excited buzz went up as Dumbledore himself got up and walked out of the room, heading in the direction of the dungeons.
"I hope he doesn't disappear as well," said Hermione anxiously.
A few minutes later, three of the seventh years staggered into the room, each holding a parchment and quill. They were laughing so much they could hardly walk. "They're coming!" one of them managed to squeak.
Every head in the room turned towards the doorway, eager to see what had caused such mirth. The headmaster and Snape stood just outside the door and seemed to be arguing - the students became very quiet as they tried to hear what was being said.
"But Headmaster," said Snape pleadingly, "you can't expect them to go in there in that state?"
"I can Severus. They need to have a good breakfast before classes start this morning. Now I know it might be a bit embarrassing for them, but their need for sustenance far outweighs that."
Snape's shoulders sagged. "Well if you insist Headmaster." He turned and shouted towards the corridor leading into the dungeons, "Come on you lot. Quickly now, the sooner you get it over with the better."
Dumbledore and Snape walked back to the top table and took their seats. Every head pointed towards the doorway, and there was a deathly hush in the room. Then a gasp went up from the students sitting at the far end of the table nearest the door - they had seen the first Slytherin student, Draco Malfoy, about to enter. As he walked in, closely followed by Crabbe and Goyle, a gasp went up from everyone in the room.
"Bloody hell!" exclaimed Ron, just before he collapsed to the floor in fits of laughter. "Malfoy's turned into an angel!"
The sight that greeted the sitting students was probably the funniest they'd ever seen in their lives. All the Slytherins wore shining white clothes, glowing white halos over their heads, large silvery wings on their backs, and pretty little fairy wands in their hands, the sparkling stems ending in a pretty, white star which gave off showers of sparkling magical light. As Ron had remarked, they were dressed exactly like angels, or at least like they were portrayed in most paintings they'd seen.
The Slytherin girls looked quite pretty in their long flowing white gowns, but the cause of most of the mirth was the apparel of the boys, who weren't dressed quite the same as the girls. There were no long flowing gowns for them - oh no, Fred and George were far too devious for that! As Ginny said later, the boys looked just as much like ballet dancers as they did angels - and female ballet dancers at that. Malfoy's frilly little dress wobbled seductively atop his pretty white tights as he walked to his table, but although his appearance was angelic, his face most certainly wasn't. The dark scowl he wore on his angry face would have been better placed on a Death Eater rather than on an angel.
Perhaps the sight that caused the greatest hilarity among the students was that of Crabbe and Goyle, who moved with a far from graceful gait as they walked to their seats. Their wands were quite pretty though.
After their initial astonishment and the period of laughter that followed, Remus and Sirius spoke in glowing terms about the two perpetrators of the prank.
"Quite clever really Mooney," said Sirius.
"Very much so Padfoot," he replied. "Who but Fred and George would give angelic personas to that lot - the antithesis of the Slytherin psyche. Very clever, I must say."
"Hey Snape," Sirius shouted to the other end of the table. "It looks like you've got a load of reformed characters on your hands. How are you going to cope with that? You'd better get some counselling sessions started pretty soon, or you'll end up with a load of schizophrenics."
"Sirius!" Ceri whispered. "Don't tease him like that. You can see he's not very happy."
"Ceri," said Remus. "Snape's never very happy."
Nadine sat laughing, hanging onto Charlie's arm to prevent herself toppling to the floor. "Your brothers are brilliant Charlie, I've never seen anything like this before. It would never be allowed to happen at Beauxbatons."
"Albus," whispered McGonagall. "If I didn't know better, I'd say that Fred and George were behind this."
"So would I Minerva," he replied. "And don't forget they were here for Christmas dinner. But don't put that thought into Severus' head, he'll want to close their weekend shop, and at the moment, that's one of the main things keeping up the spirits of the student body."
Word soon got around that Fred and George were behind the prank, and it certainly did them no harm in a business sense. They could rest assured that their next weekend would be very busy indeed.
"I just had a word with one of their seventh year helpers," said Ginny as the four walked out into the hallway, ready to go to their first class of the term. "They'll stay dressed like that for about two hours."
"I wonder if Professor Sinistra will cope with it," said Hermione. "Did you see the way she was laughing up at the top table? I thought she'd explode."
"Pity she didn't," said Ron. "At least we wouldn't have a boring old Astronomy lesson first thing this morning."
"When's Margot and her grandfather coming Ron?"
"They'll be here sometime this afternoon thank goodness. I hope that accelerated learning thing will work, we'll only have to spend one day a week in classes if it does."
Hermione groaned. "I know it's the best thing, but I hate having to miss all those classes."
"Come on," said Harry, "we'd better get up to the Astronomy tower. We've only got ten minutes before the class starts."
They waved to Ginny as she joined her fifth year classmates on their way to her Potions class. "I wouldn't like to be in Ginny's shoes this morning," said Harry as they walked up the stairs. "Snape'll be in a filthy mood so she'd better watch out."
They continued on their way up to the Astronomy tower, little realising that they'd soon get the big breakthrough they'd been striving for over the holidays.
They walked into the classroom to see Professor Sinistra sitting at her desk, chuckling to herself.
"This lesson might not be so bad after all," whispered Ron as he saw the surly-looking Slytherins sitting at the far end of the room.
"Good morning everybody," said the Professor. "I hope you're all refreshed after the holiday? Because this morning, we'll be covering a fresh topic - the mythology of the stellar constellations."
Hermione stuck her hand in the air. "Professor, how can the stars be mythical? I mean, they're up there aren't they?"
"Quite so, Hermione. What we'll be studying is the role the stars played in ancient times, when our distant ancestors tried to make sense of them by finding all sorts of strange pattern in the heavens - patterns to which they attributed the characteristics of their gods." He looked at the Slytherin end of the room with a smirk on her face. "But we won't be looking for angels or fairies in the stars this morning."
The Gryffindor once again doubled up with laughter, drawing evil glares from the unfortunate Slytherins.
The professor visibly shook herself, and made a valiant effort to wipe the big grin off her face but for most of the class, she just couldn't resist making comments about angels and fairies. Ron had been right; it was probably the best Astronomy lesson the Gryffindors had ever attended.
"Right," said Sinistra, unfurling a large star chart and hanging it on the wall at the front of the class. "This chart shows the main constellations in the Northern hemisphere. Now what would you say was the most prominent one, let's see - Harry?"
"Uh, the Great Bear professor. It's directly over head all throughout the year, and it points to the Pole star."
"Very good, Harry. But I wouldn't say that was quite the most prominent one. Let's see, who shall I ask next - Fairy? Uh sorry, Crabbe?"
Again more laughter. "I don't know. I've never taken much notice of the stars," said the surly Crabbe.
"Hmm, typical," whispered the professor. "Hermione?"
"Orion, professor. Although it's low down in the Southern sky, its distinctive shape makes it one of the most recognisable constellations in the night sky."
"Excellent Hermione, I quite agree with you. Now does anyone know anything about the mythology of Orion?" Everyone shook their heads.
"No? Right, I'd better tell you then. Many ancient cultures attributed its mythology to the constellation of Orion. According to Greek mythology, the stars in this region of the sky are labelled Orion, in honour of a great hunter, son of Neptune and the nymph Eurayle. Uh, yes Hermione?
At the word 'hunter' the three friends sat bolt upright, and Hermione immediately stuck her hand in the air. "Did you say the Hunter, Professor?"
"Yes Hermione, the constellation's known as Orion the Hunter. Why do you ask?"
"Did the ancient Egyptians place any significance in Orion?"
"Oh yes, Hermione," replied the professor. "Orion played a big part in their ancient religion. It was associated with the god Osiris, who is said to have ascended to the stars in the constellation of Orion. And his wife, Isis, is also there as his companion. She's associated with the Dog Star, the brightest star in the sky, Sirius, in the constellation of Canis Major. She follows Orion in their eternal dance through the heavens."
"That's weird," whispered Harry. "Sirius, the Dog Star - Sirius' animagus form is a dog. Do you think there's any connection?"
"I don't know Harry," she whispered back.
Later at lunch, Hermione and the other three huddled together talking about their discovery. Ginny was thrilled that they'd found out who the Hunter was, and from such an unexpected source. It lifted the gloom that had settled on her after a most horrendous Potions class that morning.
"Well we've found out who the Hunter is at last - the god Osiris," said Hermione. "And I know there's plenty about him and Isis in most of the books we've read."
"Don't tell me we've got to read them again?" asked Ron.
"Of course Ron. We know what we're looking for now. Remember what Seshat told us - start with the tomb of the Hunter. We've got to find out where the tomb of Osiris is - and that's just for starters!"
Author's Note -Sorry for the delay in posting - I'm having problems with my computer and Internet link. Please take a few moments to leave a review - I really do need to know what you think of this chapter. Many thanks to those who've reviewed so far. There aren't any images for this chapter, but there will be for the next one.
Coming soon - Chapter 9 - The Seers' Curse.