Book Four and Three Quarters
by Maeve "Mab" Roberts

~

< >Harry tried to think of a time when he'd been anticipating getting into trouble as much as he was now, and couldn't. Snape had simply led them in silence to Dumbledore's study, without having said a word, and now he, Ron and Hermione stood outside the door too apprehensive to say anything.

< >Finally it swung open to reveal a solemn looking Dumbledore, and a rather angrier looking Sirius and Snape. Harry, Hermione and Ron immediately launched into an account of the journey, relating every detail in case Dumbledore felt it necessary to ask Snape to concoct them a truth potion as he had done for Barty Couch (they didn't want to trust Snape to make them any kind of potion given the look on his face at the moment) - missing out only Percy's confidential aliases.

< >"It was my fault," added Ron tonelessly, when they'd finished. "I made them come with me. It was stupid. I don't even know why I wanted to go so much… It just seemed like something really important. Like something depended on it… and… I…" He floundered helplessly, and shrugged at Dumbledore. "I dunno," he finished, quite unhelpfully. Dumbledore looked at him gravely.

< >"You were correct, Ron: it was stupid," he said. "But," he added, as Snape nodded sanctimoniously in the corner, "I'm not sure it was entirely your fault. There have been cases of people being lured into situations like you describe, and you say yourself you don't have any clear idea of why you wanted to go there… Tell me more about this figure you saw."

< >Harry repeated what he had told them earlier.

< > "And he tried to cast a spell on you?" enquired Dumbledore.

< >Harry, who had already told him that he had three times now, just nodded.

< >"Well what was it?" demanded Sirius. "What did he say?"

< >"He said - what was it… Illuviate, I think. I might be - " Harry stopped talking as Dumbledore, Snape and Sirius all exchanged a rather startled look with each other.

< >"He said what?" demanded Sirius.

< >"Illuviate…" repeated Harry, wondering why they looked so worried all of a sudden. "Why? What's it mean?"

< >"Nothing," said Sirius shortly. "I think the Headmaster was right. I think Voldemort may have tried to lure you down there… Maybe you all ought to go up to the hospital wing, Harry. Yes; I think you should."

< >Dumbledore nodded. "An extremely good idea," he said. "Well, Harry, Ron, Hermione: I think we'll just leave it there… We'll put this down to a mixture of curiosity and being led astray, but - no more wandering off, is that clear? I had asked you to find some less dangerous way to occupy yourselves before. We cannot constantly be looking out for you: we have dangerous enough work of our own to do. You were lucky Professor Snape found you when you did - although I guess from the looks on your faces you'd disagree with me there… well, well. Bed, I think. And hot chocolate. Go and ask Madam Pomfrey to make you some, and we will see you in the morning. Now," he said, turning to Sirius and Severus, obviously drawing Harry and the others' audience to a close, "I trust you'll join me for a drink? Let me see…" He conjured three steaming cups of hot chocolate out of the air and took one with relish. "Ah," he said, taking a deep sip. "Marvelous. Do help yourselves."

< >Sirius, after one final and doubtful look at Harry, took one of the remaining cups and thanked Dumbledore. Snape, however, seemed to decline.

< >"I'm going to bed," he announced haughtily. "Goodnight."

< >"Goodnight, Severus," answered Dumbledore, dipping a pink-iced biscuit that hadn't been there a minute ago into his cocoa. "If you're going back to your rooms, I wonder if you'd be good enough to see that our accident-prone trio here find their way to the hospital without disappearing off down any more mysterious holes?"

< >"Certainly," replied Snape grimly. He stalked through the door, and Harry, Ron and Hermione trailed after him miserably. As soon as he had closed it tight behind him, Snape whirled round to them furiously.

< >"It's obvious that Dumbledore has allowed his misplaced favouritism to get the better of him," he snarled. "And his sense of judgement is therefore somewhat marred by it. But," he leant his face down very close to Harry's, "If I ever, ever catch you somewhere you shouldn't be again, or doing something you shouldn't do, or saying something you shouldn't be saying, then I'll have you out of this school as quick as THAT!" He snapped his long fingers so suddenly that Harry nearly stumbled back in shock.

< >"OK," he said, feeling that it was too late at night to be picking a fight with Snape when all he really wanted to be doing was sleeping. Snape straightened up, apparently satisfied.

< >"You can find your own way to the hospital wing," he snapped. "But I'll be expecting you back in your dormitories by two o'clock."

< >He marched off, back straight as a poker, and Harry and the others stared after him in a mixture of shock and apprehension before Hermione had the sense to look at her watch.

< >"Harry!" she screamed. "It's ten to two! We've only got ten minutes before we get expelled!" and she took off in a whirl of black robes, leaving the other two to follow her as best they could.

~

< >The next day, after breakfast, they returned to their common room and talked about the previous night. It had started to rain: the weather deepened the depression that had stared to form after the incident with Snape, and all three were in a rather dejected mood as they sat curled up on the comfy Gryffindor sofas.

< >"What I want to know is," said Hermione, frowning, "What does Illuviate mean? Why did Dumbledore and Sirius and Snape go all funny when we told them about it?"

< >Ron shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "Never heard of it before. Let's go and - oof!"

< >The 'oof' was caused by something small and feathery cannoning into his stomach with such a force that he was almost knocked onto the floor by it.

< >"What…?" he began, taken by surprise. An affectionate chirruping from somewhere around his midriff made him look down; still bewildered, he made a grab at whatever it was making a noise and held his hand up to the light.

< >"Pig!" he exclaimed. Pigwidgeon nestled a fluffy head against his palm and Ron dropped him as it tickled. "What are you doing here?" he demanded, grabbing the owl back again before he tried to attach himself to Harry or Hermione, and examining him carefully. He took a small note from the little bird's leg.

< >"What is it?" enquired Harry curiously.

< >Ron's face had turned slightly pink at the edges. "Nothing," he said quickly, and stuffed it into his pocket. "Just a note from mum, that's all. Dumbledore or… er… I think it might have been Snape sent her an owl about… about the other night and she was a bit - er - worried about us. Let's go and look in the library, shall we?" he added brightly, changing the subject and causing Harry and Hermione to stare at him in astonishment. "To see if we can find out what Illuviate means," he explained.

< >"You?" exclaimed Hermione, still staring at him. "You? Want to go to the library?"

< >"Well, yeah - it won't get us expelled," replied Ron, deliberately misunderstanding her. Standing up, he tucked Pigwidgeon into his shirt pocket and set off, leaving Harry to shake his head with a shared puzzlement at Hermione. Whatever had been in Ron's mum's letter, he thought that it must have been extremely embarrassing if Ron wanted to go to the library instead of sharing it with them. But Hermione was looking after Ron with a glint in her eye: it suddenly occurred to Harry that she might think she'd managed to convert him into a book-lover and, giggling at the idea, he followed his best friend. Perhaps the library could be quite interesting after all.

~

< >They caught up with Ron just before the library doors, and he was looking like he regretted his suggestion. As they made their way to the chairs by the restricted books section, he kept darting his eyes left and right as though looking for and escape route: but there was none, and he sunk down into a chair and played with Pig instead.

< >"Are you going to help?" enquired Hermione, arms already laden with a great stack of books. "Or are you going to show us your letter? Is it really from your mother… or is it from pink-fluffy-Percy? Or a purple-fluffy-someone else?"

< >"No," said Ron shortly. "To both questions."

< >Hermione put the books down and produced a folded piece of paper from her pocket. She seemed to skim through the words: his face suddenly alarmed, Ron made a snatch for it - but Hermione was too quick for him.

< >"Hermione!" exclaimed Ron. "How did you get that?"

< >"Harry wasn't the only one Fred and George taught how to pickpocket," she replied coyly. "Let's see now… Ooh, dear, Ron - you were right - your mother was a bit - er - worried about you, wasn't she? Tut tut…"

< >Ron let out a resigned sigh. "OK then," he said, holding out his hand. "Stop reading it… give me the letter and I'll read some books."

< >Hermione handed it over, and smirked. She dumped the books she had been carrying into Ron's hand - Harry was sure she'd chosen the heaviest she could find.

< >"Have fun," she said.

~

< >Eight and a half hours later and not one reference to 'Illuviate' had been found. Hermione was still ploughing through the rapidly diminishing pile of books on their table, but Ron and Harry had long since given up trying and were attempting to train Pigwidgeon to understand the word 'shhh' - without, it must be said, much success.

< >"Ooh," said Hermione suddenly, making Harry look up at her quickly and Ron let go of Pigwidgeon in surprise.

< >"What is it?" he asked worriedly, staring at the expression on her face. Hermione had turned almost pink with excitement.

< >"I've just remembered… Illuviate… where we might find out what it means."

< >"Where?" said both Harry and Ron, at once.

< >"It's this book - " began Hermione.

< > "Impossible. We must've looked at every single book in the library," grouched Ron. "I haven't worked that hard since we tried to get Buckbeak off. And it's meant to be a holiday," he added.

< >"Well, I was doing some homework last year - " carried on Hermione, ignoring him.

< >"Well, that makes a pleasant change," said Ron.

< >" - And I thought I'd do a bit of extra research - "

< >"Even more unusual."

< >" - and I spent all my lunch break in the restricted books section of the library - "

< >"Oh, really? Now, why doesn't that surp- "

< >"And I couldn't find what I wanted." Hermione flung an evil glare at Ron, evidently tired of his interruptions. "So I asked Professor McGonagall if she knew where I could find another version of some spell or other - I can't remember what it was now - and she told me that Professor Trelawny had something that might be what I needed. So I borrowed this book called 'Alternative Spells' - it's like a big dictionary, full of all these old spells and curses that people don't use very often any more. I bet Illuviate would be in there."

< >They set off up the huge staircase that led to Professor Trelawny's quaint little study. Harry had the sinking feeling that they were only going to get into more trouble: but Hermione was oddly confident - even cheerful - at the prospect.

< >"Oh, no, we'll be fine," she said breezily when he voiced his concern. Hermione had always shown an uncharacteristic lack of regard for Professor Trelawny, considering she was a teacher, and Harry hoped it hadn't developed into a foolhardiness that was going to lead them even further astray. Maybe, he thought in a sudden panic, maybe she had been 'lured' towards Trelawny's room as Ron had been to the dungeons: maybe she was leading them into a trap. Maybe she was…

< >"Here we are," said Hermione. She pushed open the trap door and disappeared: Harry and Ron followed doubtfully. Reaching carefully on tiptoe to the top of one of the narrow shelves, Hermione selected a monstrous looking volume that was at least the size of Dobby and Harry looked at it with dislike. But Hermione did not seem to notice. She busied herself with the book, and Harry and Ron flopped down into the pastel-shaded beanbags that Professor Trelawny had spread around the small room, preparing themselves for a long wait. The combination of Hermione and a book usually required a lot of patience from anyone who happened to be with her at the time, and they occupied themselves by making little paper aeroplanes out of spare scraps of paper on Professor Trelawny's desk and flinging them at each other. Hermione spared them one superior look before settling down and ignoring them.

< >"This is interesting," said Hermione in an odd voice, finally looking up from the pages of the huge book.

< >"Bound to be," mumbled Ron. "What is?"

< >"Well," continued Hermione, ignoring Ron's cynical mutter, "You'll never guess what Illuviate is another version of!"

< >As she didn't seem inclined to tell them immediately, Ron snatched the book from her hands. "Let's see," he said. Harry peered over his shoulder, and read.

< >Below "Illuminatus - (obsolete) a strong spelle to make ye darke ways light - see also 'Lumos,'" at the top of the page there was a very brief line that contained three words.

< >"Illuviate," it read. "See 'Fragmento'."

< >Hermione was looking at them triumphantly, obviously expecting them to share her excitement. Harry had the feeling that he and Ron were missing out on something.

< >"Er - what?" he asked. Hermione gave an impatient sigh, and retrieved the book from Ron. She stabbed at the entry with her finger.

< >"This!" she exclaimed. "See Fragmento. Well?" She looked at the other two expectantly, and they both shook their heads, still as mystified as they had been before.

< >"It means to shatter!" screeched Hermione. "Don't you ever pay attention in any of your lessons? Don't you ever read any of the text books?"

< >Ron, commendably, held his tongue. Harry wondered why: and then noticed that his friend was eyeing up various objects in the room with a rather vicious expression, as though contemplating their suitability for something.

< >"Try it out now," said Ron. "Try it on… Look, try it on one of her teacups. The pink one that she made Neville super-glue back together last year, see?"

< >"Oh, I couldn't!" said Hermione, looking at Ron in surprise. "It's still the holidays. We aren't allowed to use magic. And it's a curse! What would Dumbledore say?"

< >"Oh, he won't mind," snapped Ron, waving an impatient hand at her. "Come on! I want to see if it works."

< >Hermione snapped the book shut with a loud clang, and clouds of dust billowed out, enveloping Harry and Ron and making them cough.

< >"No," she said. "You've got me into enough trouble as it is. We shouldn't be up here in Professor Trelawny's study, and we didn't find anything useful. I'm going to go and see Crookshanks. I can't believe you aren't taking this seriously - don't you see - whoever was down there was trying to kill us!" She deposited the large volume on Ron's lap, making him sink even further into his beanbag, and strode off. Ron looked after her in astonishment.

< >"Well," he said, struggling out from underneath the book and lifting a few pages experimentally. "It's not as if it was all my fault. She suggested coming here in the first place!" He shook his head. "Girls," he muttered.

~

< >They had been nearly a month at Hogwarts now. Harry sighed. He never thought he'd hear himself say this, but he almost missed the lessons - the bustle of the huge crowds of people - and, most of all, he missed Quidditch. Since the fiasco with the secret tunnel (and with the exception of the small excursion to Professor Trelawny's attic), he, Ron and Hermione had kept a decidedly low profile, especially from Snape. Hermione had refused to do anything even remotely exciting, and kept reminding them of the Illuviate curse - something Harry and Ron would rather have forgotten. The result of this was that they spent most of their time skulking in the Gryffindor common room, and Harry was bored with it.

< >"Let's do something…" he said, one afternoon. Ron rolled over on the couch where he'd been lounging.

< >"Like what?" he asked lazily.

< >"Nothing dangerous," said Hermione at once. "Nothing that's going to get us expelled." It seemed that she had taken Snape's threat very seriously.

< >Harry waved an impatient hand in the air. "No, no… nothing like that," he said. "What about a game of Quidditch? Ron - your mum's forwarded all our stuff here, hasn't she? Well - she'll have sent my Firebolt, then. Come on - let's go and have a game. And I could do with visiting Hedwig, too," he added as an afterthought.

< >"Fine." Ron stood up, stretching, and yawned loudly. "I'd like to see Pig. And you can get that ginger thing of yours, Hermione."

< >Hermione looked as though she were about to pick up on the ginger comment, when her face suddenly lit up.

< >"Herbert!" she exclaimed. "Ron! You haven't seen Herbert!"

< >Harry hid a smile as he saw a flicker of jealousy cross Ron's face at the mention of another male name, but when Hermione explained he was a parrot he brightened considerably.

< >"OK then," he said. "Off we go."

~
In the end, they decided not to bother with the Quidditch game. It would be dark in less than two hours: Harry had no desire to play by light of the moon, round and bright though it would be, and instead they spent an enjoyable hour or so with the birds before realising that they had not yet eaten any lunch.

< >"Let's go and see Dobby," said Hermione, placing Herbert gently on top of Hedwig's empty cage and leaving the two owls and the parrot to fly around as they left the owlery. "And Winky. I wonder how she is?"

< >The last time they had seen Winky she had been drowning her sorrows of newfound freedom in a bottle of something: Harry thought that Dumbledore had probably done his best to rectify the situation, and hoped that the little elf was happy. As they descended the stairs leading from the tower, they peered about them curiously. There was an odd lack of people - even for the holidays.

< >"Where is everyone?" asked Ron. "I'd expect at least Filch to be lurking around somewhere ready to shout at us. But I haven't even seen Mrs Norris: or Peeves. Is there something going on I don't know about?"

< >Harry shrugged. He was about to respond when something odd caught his eye: bending down, he snatched a scrap of paper up from the floor and looked at it curiously. He was sure that neither he nor the other two had dropped it; and, since Filch was fanatical about the state of the corridor, and they hadn't seen anyone else around for ages he wasn't really sure who had. The side he was looking at was blank: idly, he flicked it over - and then dropped it in shock.

< >"Harry!" exclaimed Hermione. "What's wrong? What is it?"

< >Harry was standing, shaking, staring at the small piece of paper where it lay harmlessly on the floor. Hermione glanced at Ron and, obviously deciding that Harry was beyond speech, his best friend stooped to pick it up, wondering why on earth Harry was behaving so oddly. He hoped it wasn't another letter from Snape…

< >"Oh no…" said Ron, as he saw it. Hermione snatched it from him.

< >"What are you - Oh," she finished in a dismayed whisper. "One of those."

< >Because, scrawled crudely onto the paper in what looked like red ink was a sign that the three of them had seen once before, at the Quidditch World Cup, sparkling in the air. Harry knew who had made it then: what he didn't know was who the creator of this one was. He hoped with all his heart that it wasn't anyone he knew in Hogwarts - but, the more he hoped, the less likely the possibility seemed.

< >It was a Dark Mark.

< >"Oh - oh," Hermione was whimpering. "Who - why - what shall we…"

< >Harry didn't hesitate. He knew where they had to go: Dumbledore's study. Quickly. Snatching the paper from Ron's hand he sped back up along the corridor to Dumbledore's study: he didn't stop for breath, or for Ron and Hermione to catch up with him, or even for Peeves, who flew straight at him, bombarding him with the last remnants of the Christmas cake. Harry strode forwards without seeing him, and Peeves was forced out of the way with one last disappointed chunk of marzipan aimed at Harry's left ear. It missed, and fell on top of Mrs. Norris. Peeves rapidly disappeared as Filch miraculously materialised out of nowhere to attack the poltergeist with one of his brooms, and Harry arrived outside the Headmaster's door just as a maniacal cackle announced Filch's victory.

< >"Professor Dumbledore?" he called, knocking so hard on the wooden door that his knuckles popped. He ignored them. "Professor!"

< >"Harry?" said Dumbledore, through the door. "Come in. Oh, no; wait a moment: I seem to have barricaded myself in… Hang on there a minute. What can I do for you?" There were noises of violent upheaval as Dumbledore apparently rearranged the furniture in his study. In spite of himself, Harry couldn't help but grin at the image.

< >"I have something to tell you, Professor - it's urgent." Harry had to raise his voice above the noises of something scraping across the floor.

< >"Fire away," said Dumbledore, cheerfully. "I'll be through in a minute - ah, nearly…"

< >"We were just going to the - well, we were going… somewhere, when we found this piece of paper. And it's got a - it's got a Dark Mark on it."

< >There was a pause. Then: "Harry," came Dumbledore's voice, urgently, "Listen to me carefully. I know that what I'm about to suggest may well sound ludicrous - but I'm afraid we have no options left now. Voldemort is coming: you must hide. Use the secret way you discovered last week: I will meet you there as soon as I may. Hurry. Now."

< >With a quick glance at his companions, who each nodded, Harry turned and led the way quickly back down the corridor to the portrait of the little goblin. Touching it quickly with his wand, he wasted no time in diving through and down the narrow, dark tunnel that led to the dungeons: with a flick of his wand, he murmured a quick Lumos, before Hermione could shout at him for using magic when he wasn't supposed to.

< >But nothing happened.

< >"Lumos!" he repeated, louder this time, and shaking his wand harder. "Lumos!"

< >"Lumos!" added Ron helpfully, joining in. Still nothing. "Why don't you try, Hermione?" he asked hopefully, knowing from bitter experience that Hermione often had a lot more luck than they did when it came to spells.

< >"No," said Hermione. "If - if you can't do it, then I won't be able to."

< >"Why isn't it working?" asked Harry. "What's happened? I don't get it… D'you think it's Voldemort, putting a blocking curse on us or something? Just try it, Hermione. It might be only me and Ron."

< >But Hermione wouldn't. They carried on in darkness, stumbling over everything that lay in their way, Ron furious with Hermione for not trying to help them and Hermione sulking as a result of this. Harry, who was in front, was grateful for the silence this situation provided: at least, with both of them refusing to talk to each other, he thought, they weren't bickering in their usual manner. He soon reached the door to the first dungeon, and they stopped.

< >"Do you think it's safe?" whispered Hermione. "I mean - if none of our wands are working, and You-Know-Who could be anywhere…"

< >"If we had some light," announced Ron - and Harry could tell from his tone of voice that he was glaring at Hermione in the dark - "Then we could have a look at the Marauder's Map and find out where he is. Didn't Lupin say it never lies, Harry? It would show him up, wouldn't it?" His voice had grown excited.

< >Harry agreed with him.

< >"Oh… OK," said Hermione finally. "Lumos. There. See. Nothing happened." Nothing had. Harry sighed.

< >"We'll have to risk it," he sighed. "Dumbledore said it was safe, so… Here goes." He pushed at the door, and it swung open noisily. Harry felt his way forwards cautiously, remembering the long flight of steps they had nearly missed the first time they'd come down here.

< >"OK," he whispered, as he located them with a groping toes. "The stairs start here… Come on… What was that?"

< >A noise like something getting dragged along the floor had made him stop still where he stood, and stare back into the dark behind them, but now there was silence once more. Harry blinked.

< >"I dunno," said Ron, puzzled. "Maybe we just left the door open, and there's a draught…"

< >"Down here in a dungeon?" retorted Hermione. "I don't think so. How many windy dungeons have you ever been in? How many prisoners have you ever heard of that died of exposure?"

< >"Oh, OK, whatever," snapped Ron. "It was just a suggestion. You think of a better one."

< >But Hermione was to be deprived of the chance to take Ron up on his offer, because at that moment a loud explosion caused them all to leap high into the air in shock. They lost all hesitation in carrying on further into the dark: hurtling down the stone steps, the three of them half-ran, half-fell downwards until at last they reached level ground. Harry sat up from where he'd fallen awkwardly: he felt around in the dark for his glasses, patting the floor with his hands and praying that they weren't broken.

< >"Oi!" came Hermione's startled voice, and Harry withdrew his hand hurriedly. That obviously hadn't been his glasses… Hermione sounded indignant. "Was that you, Ron?"

< >"No it was not!" replied Ron angrily. "I'm over here trying to work out which way is up. I'm nowhere near you. What were you yelping about anyway?"

< >"Nothing," muttered Hermione. Harry was, for the first time since they'd gone down the tunnel, glad it was dark enough to hide his face as he blushed furiously. Finally, he found his glasses, and stood up.

< >"What do you think that noise was?" he asked, slowly. He couldn't shake off the feeling that someone - or something - was behind them, following them. He wished that he could see. His only consolation was that if he, Ron and Hermione couldn't then neither would his pursuers.

< >"Not sure," admitted Ron. "But whoever made it…" Although he didn't finish his sentence, his implication hang heavily in the air, and Harry shuddered.

< >"Yeah," he said. "We'd better carry on, hadn't we…" They set off again, Hermione keeping a tight grip on his robes and Ron behind her, padding quietly into the blackness. None of them spoke. They were all listening intently to whatever might be heard - which, at the moment, was a dense silence. And then, ever so softly, there was the unmistakable pattering of feet, growing louder by the second.

< >Harry tensed in the dark, the hairs rising along the back of his neck, and his instinct fully alert now. Half to his surprise, he no longer felt scared: he was simply aware that he and his friends weren't alone - and that something had to be done about it. Silently, he tapped at Ron to get his attention.

< >"What is it?" asked Ron, loudly.

< >Then: "Duck!" screamed Hermione, startling Ron into obeying her - which was just as well as something whistled through the dark horizontally, slicing cleanly through the air where Ron's neck had been just a few seconds ago.


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