The first thing he noticed was the sky. The
greyish blue expanse was streaked with the gauzy pink that signals dawn,
and from his vantage point he could see the soft pricks of light penetrating
the horizon. He was standing on a hill, and the vast green countryside
stretched unbroken on every side. There were no roads, no buildings. Just
an unending green plain that seemed to vanish into the horizon. Dimly,
he was aware of his bare feet on the dewy grass and the cool breeze that
cut through his flimsy pajama bottoms. The strange detachment that comes
with dreams made him unconcerned.
A loud flapping sound came from behind him,
and he turned in time to see two large black ravens settle onto the branches
of a gnarled tree that seemed to be growing out of the hill. They gazed
at him and clicked black talons on the branch. Then the larger of the
two snapped its beak at Ron, and he was struck with the notion that he
was meant to answer back. He stayed silent, and the two birds moved suddenly,
stretching enormous black wings and lifting into the air. They flew directly
at him and he threw his arms up to protect his head from their razor sharp
talons when…he realized that the birds had not attacked him. In fact,
he wasn’t even on the hill anymore.
He was standing in front of a large doorway,
flanked on either side by columns. A soft yellow glow spilled over the
top step, and his ears picked up the quiet murmuring of voices. He climbed
the wide stone staircase and gazed up at the words Aquae Sulis
carved into the grand archway as he passed through. An immense courtyard
stretched before him. The long open corridors that ran along side the
open area were lined with pillars and the walls were decorated with colorful
scenes. Following the low murmuring, Ron made his way across the grassy
expanse until he reached the very back of the yard. He could hear the
voices more distinctly now, and entered an open doorway on his right.
He found a passageway, dimly lit with torches and it took a moment for
his eyes to adjust to the darkness. The passageway had several twists
and turns, the last being so unexpected that Ron stepped out of the passage
without even knowing it. The bright sunlight was blinding and he blinked
trying to clear the spots from his eyes. Slowly, his surroundings came
into focus and he realized with a start that he wasn’t alone.
It was a smaller version of the courtyard with
the same decorated walls and columns, only this one had a large pool in
the center of the room. And the pool was full of women. He blinked.
They were five or six of them, in cotton shifts,
splashing in the water and laughing. Several of them were busy washing
their hair and he watched a brunette dive under the water to rinse the
suds free. No one had noticed him yet, and he wondered if he was visible
to them. It didn’t seem right to just stand there and stare and he was
considering leaving when the brunette re-surfaced. Ron watched as her
gleaming head broke the surface of the water and as she stood, she turned
to look directly at him. She smiled and he realized with a start that
it was Hermione. He blinked again.
She climbed the steps of the pool and walked
toward him. He opened his mouth to speak, but she placed a wet finger
against his lips and whispered, "Shhh…" She smiled again and reached down
to take his hand. He followed mutely as she led him onto a balcony overlooking
an open yard. She leaned over to him and her lips brushed his ear as she
whispered, "Look." He followed the line of her pointed finger to a large
statue with a gorgon’s head. The carved mane seemed to glimmer in the
sunlight, and as he watched, the stone tendrils began to blaze like fire.
He was staring into the impassive stone eyes and felt himself begin to
spin, as the fiery mane burned higher and higher. He threw out his hands
to break his fall and felt not the stone of the railing but his tangled
The mattress released its hold on the coverlet
and Ron fell out of his bed, landing hard on the floor with his sheets
wrapped around his waist. Harry threw open his bed-curtains and looked
over at Ron’s bed.
"Ron?" he called. "Where are you?"
"I’m here." Ron muttered, "On the ruddy floor."
Harry looked down at him, and broke out laughing.
"What…what are you doing down there?" he managed.
Ron grimaced. "I fell out of my bed, you git.
What does it look like?" He untangled the twisted sheets and stood up.
"Oh, think it’s funny, do you?" Harry tried to speak, but was seized by
another fit of giggles. Instead, he simply nodded. Ron snorted. "I…I was
Still grinning, Harry said, "It must have been
Ron nodded. "Yeah." He climbed back into bed
and said, "I’ll tell you about it in the morning. G’night." He could still
hear Harry chuckling to himself as he climbed back into his own bed.
By the time dawn broke through the window next
to his four-poster, Ron had reconsidered telling Harry anything at all.
He had tossed and turned all the rest of the night, unable to stop the
images from his dream re-occurring every time he shut his eyes. It was-disturbing.
He heaved himself out from under the duvet and into the morning chill,
determined to put it out of his mind completely.
In the six years he’d been at Hogwarts, Ron
reflected, there had been only one History of Magic class that he’d managed
to stay awake all through, and that had been in his second year. His head
was propped on the stack of textbooks in front of him, and he was no longer
even making an effort to pretend that he was paying attention. The entire
class, with the exception of Hermione, looked as though it had been hit
with a stunning charm. Ron propped himself up on his elbow to get a better
view of the curly head sitting in front of him. How could she pay attention
to this stuff? Her quill was scratching rapidly across the surface of
her parchment, and it looked like she was recording every word Professor
Binns uttered. Unbelievable. He watched her hair fly about as she furiously
scribbled. Her hair was kind of cool, he thought. It had a personality.
He’d seen it get excited right along with her- it sort of flew around
her face of its own accord when she got riled. In his dream, though, it
had been wet from the pool and much more like it had been at the ball
in fourth year, all sleek around her face. He reckoned he liked that,
Actually, he didn’t know if "like" was the
word for it at all. It made him feel strange, as though that Hermione
was completely separate from the Hermione he knew. Maybe he preferred
her like this, bushy-haired and caught in the throes of compulsive note-taking.
It was a little bit… safer. He wondered what she thought about him. Did
she think about him? As if she was aware of the direction his thoughts
were heading, she turned around briefly and caught his eye.
Ron looked away quickly, but he could feel
the heat rising in his cheeks. She’d caught him staring at her. Now she
must think- Ron cringed mentally. This never would have happened if it
hadn’t been for that stupid dream.
Hermione was trying to concentrate on Binns’
lecture on curse tablets, but she could feel Ron’s eyes on the back of
her head. Did she have something stuck in her hair? It was possible- her
hair was a lot like velcro. She ran a hand over the back of her head.
He’d been staring at her for ages, and it was distracting. Maybe he’d
fallen asleep with his eyes open again. It was too much for her- she turned
in her chair to check. His eyes met hers for a brief, shocked moment,
and then darted away. She watched color wash his cheeks. Startled, she
turned back to her notes. What did that mean? She turned her attention
back to Professor Binns’ reedy voice.
"…usually carved into pieces of lead, which
Muggles used as a means to appeal to their gods. The tablets were then
thrown into a series of pools believed to be sacred. This belief in the
sanctity of the hot springs was not entirely incorrect, for the area was
and still is one of strong magical energy. The region had once figured
prominently in the mysticism of the Druidae, a culture of wizard-intelligentsia
who practiced a unique form of tree-magic, finding particular importance
in the oak, rowan, and hazel trees. From the Greek "drus", meaning "an
oak" and "wid", or "to know", the name literally means "oak knowledge".
The Druidae’s magic was uniquely earth-related, and most settlements were
specially aligned according to magical calculations. A place of great
magical energy existed in areas where these lines crossed, and the area
that the aforementioned Muggle temple and sacred bath rests on is just
such a place."
The ancient wizard paused a moment, and shuffled
through his notes. Hermione was surprisingly intrigued. He was talking
about the ancient Roman Baths in Bath. It was a Muggle tourist attraction
now, and she had been startled to learn of its magical history. This lecture
was actually…interesting. She hated to admit it, but sometimes it was
hard even for her to stay awake in History of Magic. Professor Binns was
really knowledgeable, but he was just so boring! His lectures were usually
filled with a mind-numbing list of dates and names about goblin rebellions
and the like. Hermione wondered for a moment if Binns had a secret fancy
for goblins, and she had to bite her tongue to keep from giggling. She
turned to look at the table behind her, where Ron sat with Harry. It appeared
that Harry had given up any pretense of actually listening and sat with
his forehead resting on the table in front of him. Ron was grinning at
her. He pointed at Harry and mouthed, "Lazy git." She grinned back at
him, and righted herself in the chair. Binns had already started speaking
again, and she’d missed a bit.
"…combining the four elements; earth, air,
fire, and water." Apparently, she’d missed quite a lot because she had
no idea what Binns was referring to. "The head itself was changed from
a feminine depiction to a masculine form, but the inherent meaning remains
the same." Hermione was about to raise her hand when the bell signaling
the end of class rang through the halls. She would have to run to the
library after supper to fill in the gaps in her notes. She was still gathering
her parchment and quills into her bag when Ron and Harry approached her.
"Good lecture, eh Harry?" Ron said, punching
him on the arm.
"Yeah. Brilliant." Harry replied, sleepily. His face brightened. " Supper,
The flames were dancing solemnly in the grate,
casting strange, licking shadows on the hearthrug. Ron stared at them
sleepily, curled up in an overstuffed chair in the common room. The shadows
on the hearthrug ebbed and crept, as if they were trying to reach him.
It reminded him of the stone creature in his dream; if he sat still perhaps
the tentacles of flame would send him to the vertigo the Gorgon had tried
to suck him into. He started in his chair as the portrait hole opened
with a tremendous bang.
Hermione was climbing through, her face excited
and her cheeks pink. He regarded her through half open eyes. She was just
coming back from the library, he deduced. She not only had her book bag,
but that uplifted look she got from a good session in the book stacks.
She was heading toward him, her expression changing to one of deep purpose.
Uh-oh. He sat up straighter in his chair. That was the House-Elf look.
That was the Polyjuice Potion, Invisibility Cloak fetching, Rita Skeeter
look. He knew that flight was impossible, but he couldn’t help glancing
around for a means of escape. It was too late. Hermione was now standing
right in front of him.
"I’m so glad you’re still awake." Her face
was alight with excitement. "Ron, I really need to talk with you. Where’s
Harry?" She scanned the common room for a glimpse of the black haired
boy. "Is he already gone up to bed?"
"I think so," Ron said warily.
"Good." There was satisfaction in her voice.
"I don’t want him to overhear us."
Ron’s stomach did a pitch and roll. She wanted
a private conversation with him? About what? The several times she had
caught him staring today flashed through his mind quickly, but would she
look that excited about telling him off? She had pulled a nearby chair
very close to his and settled herself in it before he could think of a
"Do you remember Professor Binns’ lecture today?"
Hermione’s voice sounded urgent. Mouth dry, Ron nodded. She was
going to tell him off for staring. Bloody Hell. "Do you remember when
he was talking about the baths at Aquae Sulis?"
"What?" She was going on about the lesson?
"The baths at Aquae Sulis," she said, a bit
impatiently. "I missed a bit of the lecture, so I went to the library
to look it up, and you’ll never guess what I found out." Ron was now looking
at her blankly, unable to get a grasp on what was happening. "You weren’t
paying any attention at all, were you? It’s a very powerful magical place
and I’ve just figured out why!"
Hermione was completely off her rocker. It
was the only explanation that made sense. Either that or she was torturing
him in some esoteric female method he didn’t understand.
"Er…okay." He ventured, hoping that it was
a safe response. It wasn’t.
"Ron! I’m trying to tell you something really
important! This could really help Harry." Her brown eyes beseeched him
to pay attention. He sighed.
"All right, all right. I’m listening."
Hermione lowered her voice and leaned closer.
"There’s a spell I just read about. Two or more people must perform it
for another, and it renders the recipient of the spell untouchable to
his enemies. I mean, his enemies won’t be able to physically touch
him. Spells and curses and things would still work, but it’s better than
nothing. Remember how painful it was for Quirrell to touch Harry back
in first year? How his mother’s sacrifice made him painful to touch or
be close to?" Ron nodded. "Well, ever since the end of fourth year-" she
stumbled a bit. Ron understood why- they rarely talked about what had
happened at the end of the Triwizard tournament. Voldemort had used Harry’s
blood in a ritual that restored him to full power, and Harry had lost
the natural protection from Voldemort that his mother’s death had given
Ron’s mouth fell open. "Well, why hasn’t Dumbledore
done that for Harry already?" he hissed, indignantly.
"Because it’s not that easy, Ron!" Hermione’s
voice was earnest. "There are a whole lot of circumstances that make the
spell nearly impossible to complete. It’s all tied to the elemental magic
at Aquae Sulis." She fumbled in her bag for a book, and thrust it into
his hands. It was a tattered calfskin volume titled Advanced Proxy
Spells: Theory and Criticism.
"They mentioned it in another book about magical
places, so I looked it up in there." She stabbed her finger at the worn
book. "The spell has to be performed in the inner courtyard at Aquae Sulis
on Samhain, because the conjunction of the elements is most powerful on
"We can do that," Ron whispered excitedly.
He wasn’t sure how they were going to get there, but if that was the only
"That’s the least of it," said Hermione, answering
his unspoken question. "It’s a very complicated spell and it’s only been
completed successfully a handful of times. Not just any two people can
perform the spell for another- they have to be best friends. Not just
casual chums, either. The people who execute the spell have to be willing
to die for the person. It says," and she grabbed the book from him and
opened it to a marked page, " ‘Only those whose loyalty and love are absolute
can successfully cast this complex and dangerous proxy spell.’ "
"Dangerous?" said Ron. He should have known.
"Well…" said Hermione, reluctantly. "There
have been some recorded deaths, but they aren’t very specific about that.
Can you imagine, though?" her voice was excited. "Voldemort won’t be expecting
it at all. It could really help Harry- it might be the difference between…"
Again, her voice faltered. Ron felt a nearly overwhelming urge to touch
her. He knew her fear all too well. Voldemort was coming for Harry. They
both knew it was only a matter of time. Dumbledore couldn’t protect him
forever, and every day there were new sightings of the Dark Mark. Muggle
killings had started again over the summer. Ron felt a cold clenching
in his chest.
"What do we have to do?" He asked, firmly.
Hermione smiled tremulously, and he couldn’t resist any longer. He put
his hand over hers and squeezed gently.
Continued in Part
Authors’ Notes: What will Hermione and Ron have to do to cast this
powerful spell? How will they get to the crumbling temple of Aquae Sulis,
located hundreds of miles away from Hogwarts in the south of England?
And most importantly, how are they going to hide it from Harry? Stay tuned,