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Chapter 14 ~ Voldemort Plays Santa
The Hogwarts Express chugged its way through the wintry, snow-covered countryside. Rick was sitting next to Hermione in a compartment with Harry and Ron. Thanks to Rick’s Wizard Repelling Charm, no one had noticed Rick and Hermione dancing together after supper at the Yule Ball the previous night. Although they had gone to the ball together, and although all sorts of rumours regarding Rick were rife, pairing him with Hermione – amongst others (including Tonks), no one but Rick and Hermione knew of their relationship – and they intended to keep it that way. Harry and Ron were absorbed in a magical parchment they had created, which allowed them to simulate complex Quidditch moves. They were working on some new strategies for their next match, which would be against Ravenclaw. Rick surreptitiously slid his hand under Hermione’s thick woollen cloak and took her hand in his. They had been quietly comparing notes on their Empathetic Magic experiment. Since the evening in the Room of Requirement, Hermione had tried summoning Rick thirty-five times. Rick had detected every one of them, and accurately identified the time and the location from which she had summoned him. “A perfect score,” whispered Hermione, impressed, squeezing Rick’s hand. “Do you think it depends upon proximity?” she asked softly. “I’m not sure,” Rick whispered back. “Probably not. I know – let’s try it over the holidays, while you’re at home with your parents and I’m at the Burrow. We may as well use our separation for something useful,” sighed Rick, sadly. Neither of them was looking forward to being apart.
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When they reached King's Cross station, Rick and Hermione waited until Harry and Ron had left the compartment before embracing and sharing a goodbye kiss. The magical bond between them had become surprisingly strong and they were both finding it very difficult and painful to part – even for such a short time. Rick joined Harry, Ron and Ginny on the platform as Hermione exited to find her parents. Mad-Eye Moody, replete in bowler hat, pulled rakishly over his magical eye was there to meet them, along with Fred and George. A tall, slender dark-haired witch, by the name of Griselda, was the fourth member of the protection squad. Moody ushered them into what looked like an ordinary London cab, complete with cabbie – obviously another member of the Order. Inside it was very spacious and Mad-Eye assured them that it was heavily warded, making it virtually impregnable to both physical and magical attacks. Rick found himself sitting opposite Mad-Eye for the short journey to Diagon Alley, where they would have a chance to do their Christmas shopping, before flooing to the Burrow. Rick did not enjoy Mad-Eye’s inquisitive questions or suspicious looks. A quick tour of his mind revealed that Mad-Eye – paranoid to a fault – was not about to trust Rick on anyone else’s say so – not even Dumbledore’s. ‘Guilty until proven innocent’, seemed to be Mad-Eye’s motto, thought Rick. Their shopping spree in Diagon Alley was not much of a spree. They moved together in an escorted group, which limited the number of shops they could visit. Rick made most of his purchases in Flourish and Blotts. It was easy to know if a book would be suitable for someone when you could speed read it first. Rick bought ‘The Greatest Grand Masters of Wizard Chess’ for Ron; ‘Potent Spells for Powerful Wizards’ for Harry; ‘A Theoretical Appreciation of the Animagus Transformation’ for Hermione; ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Enchanting the Wizard of your Dreams but Were Too Afraid to Ask Your Mother’ for Ginny; ‘Muggle Machines – Doing Things the Hard Way’ for Mr. Weasley; ‘Gilderoy Lockhart – a Self Appreciation’ by Gilderoy Lockhart for Mrs. Weasley; and a year’s subscription to PlayWizard for Fred and George. Ginny was not very happy at having her shopping time curtailed after less than a hour, when Mad-Eye Moody shepherded them up a small side-alley and then through a series of narrow alleyways until they arrived at what appeared to be a dead-end. Mad-Eye stationed himself at the entrance to the alleyway while Griselda beat out a rhythmic tattoo with her wand on the brickwork, causing a small green door to appear. She ushered them through the door and into a dark empty room, with a fireplace in one corner. Griselda took a strange-looking golden-coloured device from her cloak. It looked a little like a double pocket watch – except that the twin dials had far too many hands, and in place of the usual numbers, were strange hieroglyphics. “I’m opening up a secure floo connection to the Burrow,” she explained to the curious students, as she manipulated the hands on the left dial. “For security reasons, the Burrow has been disconnected from the floo network. When they get my signal, they’ll open the connection at their end and you’ll be able to go.” The hands on the right dial suddenly began dancing about. “Right!” said Griselda, throwing some floo powder into the fireplace, which flared up with green flames. “Off you go, and be quick about it. Just jump into the fireplace. There’s no need to say anything, this is a dedicated connection.” Ginny jumped in first, and immediately disappeared. Ron and Harry followed her. Finally it was Rick’s turn. The twins, who had their own digs somewhere off Diagon Alley, remained behind with Griselda and Mad-Eye. Rick didn’t enjoy his first experience of flooing. I’d rather Apparate, any day, he thought to himself. He came stumbling out of the Weasley’s fireplace, struggling to keep his feet, just as Mrs. Weasley was releasing Harry from a fond embrace. Rick felt a little awkward, but Mrs. Weasley welcomed him warmly and proceeded to dust him off in a motherly fashion, as if he were just one more of her own brood.
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Rick loved the Burrow. It was a homely, higgledy-piggledy triumph of magic over gravity and the laws of physics. Mrs. Weasley took to Rick immediately (without any deliberate charm offensive on his part). With her nest depleted – only Ron and Ginny lived at home now – she was more than happy to have another young wizard to brood over, and Rick found himself enjoying being mothered. Rick was sleeping in Percy’s old room. Harry, as usual, had been squeezed in with Ron. “Hey, Rick, have you ever played wizard chess?” asked Ron, when they were sitting in the kitchen, drinking hot chocolate. Rick shook his head. Ron decided that it was time to initiate Rick into the cerebral pleasures of his favourite game. Ron won the first few games, but he became rather alarmed at the way that Rick was improving with every game. Rick managed to win the fifth game. He suspected that one (or more) of his benefactors from the spirit realm must have been a grand master of the game. Ron was a brilliant player, but Rick was very soon more than a match for him – without cheating (it would have been easy for him to read Ron’s mind to discover his intended game plan). Rick would have won most of the time, had he really tried; however, he decided it wasn’t worth risking his tentative friendship with Ron. So they ended up winning about the same number of games. “How the hell did you manage to pick it up so fast, mate?” asked Ron, in astonishment. “I’ve never seen anyone learn this game so fast! It’s a bit of a new experience for me – losing at wizard chess.” “Err, sorry, Ron,” said Rick apologetically. “S’OK,” said Ron. “It’s good to have some serious competition for once. I haven’t had to play this hard since my first year at Hogwarts, when I had to beat a giant chess set that McGonagall had enchanted to protect the Sorcerer's Stone. But my game hasn’t improved much in the last few years, to be honest. I kind of ran out of serious competition – until now, that is!” “Well, I think your game’s been improving,” said Rick. “It’s only because mine’s been improving too, that I’m able to keep winning my fair share of games.” “You know, you’re one of the few wizard chess players I know, who doesn’t mind talking about their strategies and explaining them. That’s really helping me a lot. I suppose you noticed that I’ve been using some your own strategies against you. The thing that really flaws me, though, is the number of moves you can think ahead – it seems almost limitless.” “Yeah, I guess I’ve got a good memory,” said Rick modestly. In fact, he had a perfect memory. He figured it probably came from Rowena Ravenclaw, along with her gift of speed reading. It gave him a huge advantage at wizard chess.
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Rick explained to Ron and Ginny at the start of the holiday that Professor Dumbledore had asked him to give Harry some private one-on-one training in duelling. Rick was worried that they might feel left out and resentful. But in fact, they both realised that Harry’s talent and power exceeded their own, and if they joined in, they would be slowing him down. They understood that Harry needed all the help he could get, and neither wanted to hold him back. Rick found himself having to analyse the process by which he became aware of the spells he used. They just seemed to appear in his mind when he needed them. He remembered the time in Defence Against the Dark Arts, when Draco was about to fling the Furnunculus Curse at Hermione. He needed something to stop it, and somehow the knowledge that he could cast a spell which would send the curse rebounding back to its caster, suddenly appeared in his mind. He could identify the incantation associated with a spell if he wanted to, but in fact, he didn’t seem to need to say it, or even know it. He just had to concentrate on achieving the effect of the spell, and it was cast. Rick was fascinated by the way magic worked. Through his vast – and fast – reading, and his own contemplation, he had concluded that both the incantation and the use of a wand were merely aids. He reasoned that the fact that witches and wizards had uttered a certain incantation, century after century, in order to cast a certain spell, imbued the incantation with a certain energy, which was why correct pronunciation was important. It also gave the caster confidence, that the spell, correctly performed, would work – because it had worked before, when performed in the same way. But since Rick lacked neither magical energy nor confidence in his magical ability, the incantation seemed unnecessary. The function of the wand, he concluded, was to focus and magnify the magical energy of the witch or wizard. That was why Mr. Ollivander’s art of matching the wand to the witch or wizard was so important. It had to resonate with each individual’s magical energy. Rick knew that both Professor Dumbledore and Voldemort could do wandless magic. They both have such extraordinary magical power, that they can perform magic without needing a wand to magnify it, thought Rick, and it’s exactly the same for me. That’s why I can do wandless magic. Harry was also a very powerful wizard, and Rick decided to find out if he, too, was capable of wandless magic. He explained his theory about wandless magic to Harry. “Well I’ve certainly done some unintentional wandless magic,” said Harry, with a grin. “Like blowing up my awful Aunt Marge – so I know I can do it. I just hope I don’t need to get that angry, to make it work for me.” They decided to go back to basics and started with Wingardium Leviosa. It took quite a bit of effort, but Harry eventually mastered it, without his wand. This gave him the confidence to progress to more difficult spells. They went on to Banishing and Summoning Charms. Harry was soon able to do these without his wand as well, although not with the same power as when he was using it. He even managed the Immobilising Curses Impedimenta and Immobulus with some success. Rick was also teaching Harry some of the unusual spells that he had discovered. Harry was a serious and focused student. He treated these practice sessions with Rick as if his life depended upon it – and indeed it might, some day. After a lot of effort, he mastered the Virga Evanesco spell, which made an opponent’s wand simply disappear. They got through several of Fred and George’s fake wands in their practice. It was an excellent defensive spell. An opponent without a wand was virtually useless. They spent a whole session working on the Somes Leviosa charm, which causes the caster to fly up in air. It was very useful in duelling. The tricky part was coming down where you wanted to – and, slowing down before you hit the ground. The first couple of times Rick had to help Harry avoid a crash landing. However, after a lot of practice, Harry became really good at it, and was even able to cast spells ‘in flight’. The pair of them had a lot fun flinging themselves about in mock duels. Rick taught Harry the Lumos Prorsus spell, which shoots a straight beam of light out from the end of the wand. This allowed them to ‘curse’ each other harmlessly, using the spell for target practice. With his athletic agility and Seeker’s reflexes Harry was more than a match for Rick in their mock battles. Rick also taught Harry the Reflecting Shield, which he had used so successfully to protect Hermione from Draco’s Furnunculus curse, and later against the morning attack by Draco and his gang. This was a tricky one to practice. Rick had to put a Deflecting Shield up, around himself, for protection from his own curses which came flying back at him, as Harry mastered the Reflecting Shield. Harry was really enjoying these training sessions with Rick. But more than that, he was gaining confidence. It seemed to him that his magical power was growing stronger – and he was right. Rick noticed it as well, although it wasn’t something that he’d deliberately done – because he didn’t know how to do it. Rick thought it must be the great witches and wizards of the Light, to whom he was connected. Perhaps they were using him as a conduit to transfer power to Harry. “Harry, I think we should keep all of this a secret,” said Rick. “Your ability to do wandless magic – and the other spells – particularly the Reflecting Shield – could be a real bonus for you in a tight situation – especially if your opponents aren’t expecting it. It’s OK if Ron and Hermione – and Professor Dumbledore – know. In fact, it would probably be best if they did, but I wouldn’t let it get any further.” “Yeah,” agreed Harry, “you’re probably right – the element of surprise, and all that.” Harry was silent for a few moments. There was something that had been increasingly troubling him. Finally he said, “You know, Rick, I really don’t buy your story about how you learned all these unusual spells from this mysterious teacher of yours in New Zealand.” “Err, why not?” asked Rick. “Well, for one thing,” replied Harry, “I’ve read lots of books on spells – especially combat spells. None of these spells of yours – like the Reflecting Shield – are in any of them. And also, these are really difficult spells; you need a lot of magical energy to perform them – it’s not just a matter of knowing how to cast the spells and doing them correctly, you need to use a lot of power or they won’t work. “Umm, well, yeah, you’re right, Harry. But you do have the power. That’s why Professor Dumbledore asked me to teach you, and why I didn’t want Ron and Ginny joining us.” “Yeah, but I don’t have nearly as much power as you Rick. I mean, you’re probably even more powerful than Dumbledore – and Voldemort. Where did you get all that amazing power? And where did you get all these spells? It wasn’t really from some mysterious teacher, now was it?” “OK,” sighed Rick. “No, it wasn’t from some mysterious teacher. But, I can’t tell you the source of my power and the spells. I’m sorry, Harry, but I can’t.” “Why not?” asked Harry, becoming annoyed and frustrated at Rick’s unrelenting secrecy. “Professor Dumbledore told me not to tell anyone. He said that, strategically, it’s an advantage if our enemies don’t know,” explained Rick. “It’s the same as you keeping your ability for wandless magic – and the other spells – secret. The best way to keep things a secret from our enemies is not to tell anyone – not even people on our side. People can be captured and tortured, put under a spell, given a truth potion or simply be tricked. But what they don’t know, they can’t divulge.” “Yeah, I guess Dumbledore’s right,” agreed Harry, grudgingly. “It does make sense. But, Rick, if you’ve got so much power, why can’t you just go after Voldemort and kill him? I remember one time, you said you didn’t think you could kill him – but how can that be? You’re so powerful. Why can’t you just kill the evil monster? Then this whole awful nightmare would be over.” “I can’t explain it to you Harry,” said Rick, apologetically. “I don’t actually understand it all that well myself. But I am certain, now, that I can’t kill him. It’s nothing to do with the Prophecy – it’s because of something about me. But Professor Dumbledore seems to believe in the Prophecy. If he believes you’re the one who’s going to have to kill Voldemort, then it’s probably true. He knows so much more than any of us.” “Yeah,” sighed Harry. “And he keeps it all secret. He only tells you what he wants you to know. I’m sure there are still lots of things about my destiny he’s hiding from me. So is he the only one who really knows all about you then?” asked Harry. “Err, yeah, Dumbledore knows everything ...” replied Rick, evasively. “And Hermione, maybe?” suggested Harry with a knowing grin. “That witch has the instincts of a bloodhound,” sighed Rick. “You have no idea how she kept at me. She’s even got a Rick Godfry dossier, where she’s been recording everything about me. In the end, I caved in. It was just too hard to hide stuff from her. It wasn’t a question of if – only of when she would finally uncover the truth.” “Don’t worry,” laughed Harry. “I know exactly what Hermione’s like. She has to know everything, and once she sets her mind on finding something out, she doesn’t give up – she’s a bloodhound alright – and a damn good one too! But it’s more than that, isn’t Rick? There’s something going on between the two of you, isn’t there?” “Err ... yeah,” conceded Rick, nervously. “But it’s meant to be ... err, a secret. For one thing, we weren’t too sure how you and Ron would take it. Err ... does it bother you, Harry?” “No, I’m OK with it, I think. I guess Hermione is more like a sister to me than anything else. I really care about her an awful lot, you know. Maybe even more than a lot of brothers care about their sisters. Just make sure that Hermione doesn’t get hurt, Rick – that’s all – otherwise, you’ll have both me and Ron to answer to.” “Thanks for the warning, mate,” said Rick, nervously. “I think I’d already figured that one out. It’s just lucky for me that Ron’s developed an interest in Padma.” “Yeah, Ron sure fancies her, alright,” said Harry. “Not that he’d admit it. Have you noticed how distracted he gets when she’s around? I’m just glad she’s not on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team. Ron wouldn’t even notice the Quaffle if Padma were flying around in front of him. We’d be slaughtered,” laughed Harry. “Yeah, I noticed,” said Rick, grinning. “You’d have to be blind not to. But nothing’s going to happen there unless Padma takes the initiative. Ron is the most clueless git in the world when it comes to girls. He’s terrified of making the first move, in case he’s rejected. Not that he would be. It’s obvious Padma likes him. I mean she couldn’t have made it any more obvious – inviting him to the ball and all.” “Right,” agreed Harry. “They were together the whole evening. Padma kept asking him to dance, and Ron didn’t refuse – not once. Funny, that – and I thought he hated dancing. Looks like he changed his mind,” smirked Harry. “Err, Harry,” said Rick tentatively, “I couldn’t help noticing that you seemed pretty, err ... interested in Ginny, that night at the ball. You like her, don’t you?” “Don’t even go there, Rick!” said Harry, harshly, his good humour vanishing. “I don’t like girls – any girls – do you understand? For me, to like a girl, is to hand her a death warrant. The only kiss I have to offer is the kiss of death. If Voldemort suspected that I liked someone, she’d immediately become a target. So, no, I do not like Ginny ... I ... can’t.”
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Christmas morning arrived at the Burrow and they were joined by Fred and George for the traditional feast and fun. Percy, of course, was persona non grata, and wouldn’t dare show his face at the Burrow. The two older Weasleys, Bill and Charlie were not coming home this year, so it was just the eight of them. After they had opened their presents, Fred and George entertained them with some of their new inventions. “And here is the latest and greatest addition to our popular line of Culinary Magical Confectionary,” announced George, as they sat around a large table. “The healthy alternative,” boasted Fred, “for the magical children –” “– of the health conscious witch and wizard, our Fabulous Fruity Frogs,” finished George. “What do you say Fred, shall we give young Rick here, the great good fortune to sample our latest flavours?” “Christmas cometh but once a year, George, my heart overfloweth with good tidings to all men. Yes, agreed, let’s allow him the incredible privilege of an exclusive pre-release tasting. Now, Rick, my boy, we do hope that you appreciate how amazingly fortunate you are. This,” said Fred, removing a small orange coloured frog from his robes, and placing it on the table, “is our new Tangelo Toad.” “And this,” added George, placing a bright yellow frog next to it on the table, “is our Banana Newt.” Rick looked at the two frogs in amusement, as they hopped about the table. He guessed that Fred and George were hoping that, as a newcomer to Hogwarts, he was ignorant of their prodigious reputation as practical jokers. A quick glace at Fred’s mind, however, was enough to convince him, that he definitely didn’t want to eat either of the frogs. “Err ... I’m not all that hungry,” said Rick. “Yeah ... I think I’d better save my appetite for the delicious smelling Christmas dinner your mother’s cooking up in the kitchen. Umm ... maybe someone else would like one ... Ginny? Ron? Harry? ... You’re most welcome —” But they all quickly shook their head and protested that they weren’t the least bit hungry either. “You really know how to destroy a budding entrepreneur’s confidence,” said George feigning hurt and rejection. “Yes,” added an equally depressed sounding Fred. “This rebuff, may be the fatal blow that consigns Weasley' Wizarding Wheezes to the scrapheap of commercial history. And on Christmas Day and all,” he added, pretending to choke down a sob. Rick was so impressed with their performance that he decided to play along. “Alright, alright, please don’t throw yourselves from the attic, guys. I’d never forgive myself. So, umm, which one should I try first, do you think?” “The Tangelo Toad,” said Fred. “No, no, eat my Banana Newt,” pleaded George. “Tangelo Toad,” insisted Fred. “Banana Newt,” begged George. The twins started really hamming it up. They got down on their knees, with palms pressed together, beseeching Rick to try their frog first. With perfect aim and timing, Rick Banished the two frogs into their open mouths. They didn’t stand a chance. It looked as if the frogs had just up and jumped straight down their throats. On the floor where the twins had been kneeling only moments before, there were now two very large toads: one orange and the other bright yellow. “Yiddup,” said the orange toad. “Yiddup,” replied the yellow one. The four Hogwarts students were rolling around the floor in hysterics. “I wonder how long those things last for?” laughed Ron, struggling to control himself. “They might have to eat mashed flies for Christmas Dinner, instead of roast turkey – what a crying shame!” “Hey, let’s go out and have a snowball fight before the meal,” said Harry. Ginny had gone to help her mother, and Fred and George were hopping morosely around the lounge, so it was just Harry, Ron, and Rick for the snowball fight. But when they got outside, they noticed something strange. There was a large bird flying back and forth just beyond the hedge at the end of the garden. “It looks like a post owl,” said Ron. “But for some reason, it doesn’t seem to be able to fly beyond the Ward line. That’s strange, because post owls can normally cross it without a problem.” As they approached it, they saw that it wasn’t an owl, but a large, powerful black hawk. Attached to one of its legs was an envelope. With the cruel talons of its other leg, it gripped a large metal ring. As they climbed over the hedge, it approached them and dropped the envelope and the ring at Harry’s feet, before flying away. “Don’t touch the ring!” warned Ron. “There must be something dangerous about it. That must be what was preventing the hawk from flying past the Ward line.” Harry opened the envelope, which was addressed to him. As he silently read from the parchment, the blood drained from his face and his hands began trembling. Finally, he read aloud to his friends, in a shaking voice. “Harry Potter, I am holding Hermione Granger, captive. Please accept the brass ring which accompanies this message, as a Christmas present from me. It is a Portkey, which will transport you to her. If you wish to see your friend again - alive, come immediately. In case you are in any doubt as to the authenticity of my claim, you will find, affixed to the bottom of this message, a lock of her hair. Come immediately – without delay! The next message will include one of her fingers; the next, one of her hands; followed by an arm, a leg ... and so on. The final letter, should you forsake your friend, will contain her heart. Lord Voldemort.” Harry dropped the parchment and made a lunge for the large brass ring, but before he could reach it, Rick had blasted it to pieces. Nothing remained, but a shallow depression in the ground, where it had been. “Why the hell did you that?” yelled Harry, turning furiously upon Rick. “To stop you walking straight into Voldemort’s trap!” replied Rick, steadily. “And what about Hermione?” demanded Harry. “That lock of hair is hers, I know it! Voldemort’s got her, and he’s going to, to ... mutilate her, and then kill her; and you’ve just destroyed my only chance of saving her! I have to save her – can’t you understand. He took her because she’s my friend! He took her because of me! She’s going to die now – all because of me – and you’ve take away my only chance of saving her!” “Harry,” said Rick, trying desperately to master the tumult of his own emotions. He felt like his heart was being crushed. “Are you really that stupid? I know you feel responsible for Hermione being taken, but use your brain! What did you think would be awaiting you at the Portkey destination? Hermione? No! Think again. Not Hermione – but Voldemort! Hermione is almost certainly being held somewhere else, far away from where the Portkey would have taken you. Taking that Portkey would have done nothing to save Hermione. It would have done nothing at all – but to have lost Harry Potter.” “Rick’s right,” agreed Ron, struggling to control his emotions. “You won’t save Hermione by walking into Voldemort’s trap.” “But we have to do something!” screamed Harry in desperation. “We have to find her and rescue her.” “Harry,” said Rick. “I think I know how to find Hermione; and if it’s possible to rescue her, I have the best chance of succeeding. But I can’t do it, if I have to worry about you doing something stupid, like walking right into Voldemort’s trap. You are the one he’s really after. If he gets you, then the game is up. Voldemort will win and everyone on our side – not just Hermione – everyone, will perish. I’ll do absolutely everything in my power to save Hermione. But you have to promise to stay here at the Burrow, or wherever Dumbledore wants you to go, and let me get on with finding Hermione. I need your promise, so that I don’t have to worry about you. Will you give me a Wizard’s Oath, Harry?” “But how will you find her?” demanded Harry. “How will —” “Harry, there’s no time to explain. Please, just give me your oath.” “He’s right Harry,” said Ron urgently. There’s no time to waste. I know you feel responsible for what’s happened to Hermione, and that it’s your responsibility to rescue her. But Rick’s right. He has best chance of succeeding. There seems to be some kind of special link between Rick and Hermione. How else could he have found her in the dungeon with Malfoy that night? He’s probably the only one who can find her, and he’s probably the only one powerful enough to get her back. The only thing keeping Hermione alive right now, is you, Harry. Vol ... Voldemort wants you! Hermione is valuable to him only as long as you remain out of his reach. If you rush off and get yourself captured, then Hermione will be of no further use to him – she’ll be dead. Please, Harry, for Hermione’s sake, please promise!” “Alright,” sighed Harry, “I give you a Wizard’s Oath that I’ll stay here at the Burrow, or wherever Dumbledore says. Good luck,” he added, shaking Rick’s hand sombrely. “Just bring her back to us.” “Yeah, good luck, mate,” said Ron, his voice filled with emotion, as he too shook Rick’s hand. “Please bring her back to us – unharmed.” “I’ll do everything possible, believe me,” said Rick. “Contact Dumbledore immediately, tell him everything. Goodbye!” Ron and Harry stared at empty space – Rick had simply vanished.
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Rick Apparated to Hermione’s house. He found her parents seated together on a couch, looking very worried. They gasped in surprise when Rick materialised before them in their lounge room. “Who are you?” demanded Mr. Granger, recovering from the shock. “I’m a friend of your daughter Hermione, from school.” said Rick. “Do you know what’s happened to Hermione?” cried her mother. “We were opening our Christmas presents this morning. There was a small present wrapped in green paper, without a card under the Christmas tree. All that was written on it was Hermione. It looked like it might be a book. It was, I think. But when Hermione removed the wrapping paper and touched it, she just disappeared into thin air. We haven’t seen her since.” “At first we thought it must have been some magical practical joke,” said her father. “Hermione often talks about the things Ron Weasley’s brothers get up to. But she’s been gone almost two hours, and she’d know how worried we’d be by now. We are becoming very concerned that whatever took her away from us was not some friendly prank, but something more sinister.” “Err ... Mr. and Mrs. Granger, err....” Rick was about to tell them that Hermione had been taken captive, but he couldn’t bring himself to tell them the truth. It would fill them with dread and despair. There was absolutely nothing they could do to help her; it would be kinder not to tell them the truth. “I, err ... I think I know where she might be. Please don’t worry; everything will be alright. Err ... try to stay calm. You will be hearing from Hermione soon – I’m sure of it,” said Rick, trying to sound reassuring. In fact, he wasn’t sure of anything at that moment. He knew Hermione’s parents would have lots of questions – questions that he couldn’t answer – or wouldn’t want to answer, so he took the easy way out – he Disapparated.
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In the days leading up to Christmas, Rick and Hermione had continued their Empathetic Magic experiment, as planned, to see if it worked over long distances. It did. Rick had felt Hermione summon him, several times a day. Not only that, but he could sense the direction from which the summons was coming. In theory, by Apparating to various distant locations, he should eventually be able to get a fix on where she was. To his immense relief, Rick could sense Hermione summoning him. However, her summonses were sporadic – and worryingly, they were very, very weak. But, at least, he knew she was still alive. During their experiments, Hermione’s summonses had always been very clear. No matter what he was doing at the time, he had always sensed it, the moment she summoned him. But now, he had to concentrate extremely hard to catch a very occasional and very weak summons. That was why he hadn’t been aware of her summonses after she’d been abducted by Voldemort’s Portkey. She must have been summoning him from the moment of her capture. But why are her summonses so damn weak? he asked himself, fretfully. Rick didn’t know, and he didn’t want to think about it – it was too distressing. Rick finally pinned Hermione’s location down, to somewhere west of Arisaig. But Arisaig was on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands, which put Hermione’s location somewhere out in the Atlantic Ocean – that didn’t make any sense at all. Then, Hermione’s summonses stopped completely. Rick was beside himself with worry and anxiety. He was also frozen to the bone. It was a bitterly cold Christmas Day in Arisaig. Rick decided to Apparate to Hogwarts.
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Ron had already spoken with Professor Dumbledore through a secure floo connection from the Burrow, so he already knew what had happened to Hermione. He praised Rick for his quick thinking in destroying the Portkey. He agreed completely. It would have taken Harry to Voldemort – and his doom – not to Hermione. The Headmaster conjured up some hot tea and crumpets to help Rick warm up. Then he listened attentively, while Rick explained about his Empathetic Magic link with Hermione, and how he had attempted to use it to find her. “She’s being held somewhere west of Arisaig, but there’s nothing west of Arisaig – except the Atlantic Ocean. It doesn’t make any sense. Do you have any idea where she could be, Professor?” asked Rick despondently. “Azkaban,” said Dumbledore with a sad sigh. “They must be holding Miss Granger at Azkaban. It’s about thirty miles west of Arisaig. There are no longer any prisoners at Azkaban. Voldemort’s forces took over the island, when the Dementors decided to throw in their lot with him. I had been expecting it for some time. He has a lot more to offer, by way of satisfying their abominable craving for human souls, than our side. The remaining Death Eaters, who had not escaped in the previous breakout, were released. Voldemort gave the other prisoners, criminals mostly, as gifts, to the Dementors – to feast upon their souls. They were then killed by Death Eaters, and their bodies disposed of.” “Voldemort has no use for a prison ... because he takes no prisoners. He is merely using Azkaban as a holding pen for his Dementors – until he’s ready to deploy them in a full scale offensive. As far as we know, there are no Death Eaters – or anyone else on Azkaban – just Dementors. Several hundred of the foul creatures.” “Well, there’s a prisoner there now – Hermione,” said Rick. “Yes,” sighed Dumbledore, helplessly, shaking his head sadly from side-to-side. “It is no surprise that her summonses were so weak, and then finally stopped. She is the only one on the island. Her emotions are all that those loathsome Dementors have to feed upon. I am very surprised that she managed to keep summoning you for as long as she did.” “Yes, it’s very lucky,” said Rick. “Otherwise, I’d never have located her. I’ll Apparate straight to Azkaban. I should be able to project a magical map once I get there – it won’t be hard to find her. Then I’ll Disapparate us both out ... easy.” “No,” sighed Professor Dumbledore, sadly, shaking his head. “Unfortunately, it’s not easy. It’s true that you can Apparate in and out of Azkaban. It’s also true that you are able to Apparate others with you. But the Wards protecting Azkaban will prevent you Apparating Miss Granger out. Unlike you, she is not immune to Wards.” “What if I could turn into a hippogriff or a winged horse, or something like that?” asked Rick. “Some of the witches and wizards whose powers I received must have been Animagi. I could fly Hermione out on my back.” “You are correct,” replied Dumbledore. “There are many noted Animagi amongst them. However, before you go rushing off to Azkaban to rescue Miss Granger, there is something to which you are going to have to give very serious consideration,” said the Headmaster, in a very grave and serious tone. “I appreciate that Miss Granger is in grave peril at this very moment; and that any attempt to rescue her must be immediate – time is not on her side. I also understand that there is a great bond of affection between the two of you. However, Rick, you also need to consider why you are here – in this world. You were sent here for a purpose. To help secure the victory of the Light over the forces of Evil. You have already had some notable successes here at Hogwarts. However, the battle is not yet won – far from it. To be perfectly honest, the odds are still heavily against us. You are our only hope of victory. If you were to perish in your attempt to rescue Miss Granger, our cause would almost certainly be lost.” “But why would I perish?” asked Rick. “What do I have to fear from Azkaban?” “Dementors,” replied the Headmaster. “For all your powers and magical abilities, I can think of nothing that will protect you from the terrible effects of Dementors. Rick, by now you must have understood the nature of your magical endowments. You are not omnipotent. You cannot do anything and everything you wish. Your magical abilities are limited to those of the great witches and wizards who chose to give you their powers. None of them had any magic that would have made them immune to the dreadful effects of Dementors. None of them had any magic which can defeat or destroy a Dementor.” “If you go to Azkaban,” continued Dumbledore, “you will, I fear, be as badly affected by the Dementors as any other witch or wizard. Making yourself invisible will not help – the Dementors will sense your presence, and find you. Disillusionment Charms, Shields, none of them works against Dementors. The Patronus Charm is the only magic that works against them.” “Surely I will be able to cast a powerful Patronus Charm,” said Rick. “Yes, I am sure you will,” replied the Headmaster. “However, it is one thing to repel a handful of Dementors with a Patronus Charm. It is quite another, to hold off several hundred of them, attacking in unison – determined to suck out your soul. A Patronus, no matter how powerful, would not be able to keep that many Dementors at bay for very long. The Dementors are under orders, I imagine, not to suck out Miss Granger’s soul – yet. But anyone else, straying onto their island, would be fair game. As soon as they detect you, they will immediately come after you – to suck out your soul – make no mistake about it.” “Do not underestimate the difficulties you would face, Rick,” said Dumbledore, gravely. “If you go to Azkaban, you will not only be putting your own life in grave danger, you will also be putting the very destiny of Wizardkind at great peril. I shall not try to tell you what you should do, it is a most difficult decision to make, but it is your decision. You must choose between love – and duty.” Rick felt completely conflicted. He knew he was here in this world for a purpose – a great purpose. If he perished in Azkaban, the Dark would almost certainly triumph over the Light. All the hopes and hard work of the great witches and wizards of the Light, who had sent him here, would be lost. Thousands would die in this world. All the Squibs and Muggle-born witches and wizards would be tortured and exterminated. Voldemort would also unleash his Evil upon the Muggle world. How can I risk all that, for one person? Rick asked himself. But try as he might, Rick could not leave Hermione to her fate in Azkaban. He just couldn’t do it. She was a part of him. He could not abandon her. He would rather die, than live without her. If it was only his life he was risking, the choice would be simple. But it was far more than his life at stake – and yet he knew, he would take the risk. It was not a matter of weighing up the odds or of trading off the possible gains and losses in some mathematical equation. It was an emotional imperative – he simply could not abandon Hermione. “Professor Dumbledore,” replied Rick, eventually. “I’m truly sorry to disappoint you, but I am going to attempt to rescue Hermione. I know it’s selfish to risk the lives of so many good people, for the life of just one – but I can’t help myself. That one life is precious to me, beyond all others – including my own. The bond of love between us is so strong, that I cannot think of myself as separate from Hermione. I cannot imagine living without her. I must try to save her. Please forgive me, sir, please try to understand....” “I do understand,” sighed Dumbledore, in resignation. “I had very little doubt what your decision would be. But please, promise me one thing, Rick. If you find yourself being overwhelmed by the Dementors, you will Disapparate away from Azkaban immediately – even though it means leaving Miss Granger behind. You will have to judge it very carefully, because once they take hold of your mind – and your emotions, you will lose the power to act. Then it will be too late – and you will be lost; Miss Granger will be lost. We will all be lost.”
~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~~~
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