Summer vacation plans had not really been made by anyone, so it came as a total surprise when Harry walked in and told the kids, having a ‘return from Hell’ party that he was inviting everyone to a trip in South America, more precisely, along the Amazon river.
'Wow! Cool! How are we getting there?' asked a stunned Draco. 'Are we flying?'
'Part of the trip will include flying.'
'I did not know there were flying carpets large enough to take us all across the pond.'
'Who said we are using flying carpets, Neville?'
'That we could, but I want you to live a new experience.'
Even Bill and Charley Weasley were a bit lost. A new experience? Apparation was not feasible over such a vast distance according to what they had learned. So what new trick had Harry figured out?
'When are we leaving?'
'Tomorrow morning, Denis. Get your suitcases ready. You can share suitcases, since clothes will be minimal once we embark on the Amazonian segment of the trip. What you need are: two pairs of shorts, two pairs of socks, two pairs of sandals, two pairs of t-shirts, and that is it. Underwear would be useless given the humidity and heat of the river. Also, add a bottle of sunblock and a couple of mosquito repellent bottles, and I will supply magical medicine so we will be safe from tropical diseases. The way I see things, a suitcase for five will be sufficient. You will find your suitcases in your dorms. Scoot! I want every suitcase ready by four. I will inspect each one before moving them to the pile near the door.'
The children quickly ran up to their dorms or ported to the Longbottom manor to do what Harry asked. Well before the fatidic inspection time, everyone was back downstairs, aligned like trees on a lane, and waiting for Harry’s inspection of luggage. Harry, well aware that patience was not their strength, quickly moved upstairs and checked each suitcase for contents, adding an item here and there, and removing some, mostly play-stations and other useless things.
'Play-stations would not survive the humid environment of the Amazon,' he explained. 'Anyway, you will have enough to watch and enjoy not to be bored.'
Once done, he ported the suitcases to the front door of the Malfoy manor, and then apparated to the Longbottom Manor to do the same check. Things went well and he then apparated in the garden of the Weasley.
'Charley, Bill, Fred, George? You there?' Harry called from the garden.
'What are you doing here, you prick?' hollered a red-faced Ronald Weasley, earning himself a dual slap in the face from Fred and George, and a thunderous yell from Charley and Bill to keep his mouth shut if he wanted to keep the worthless appendage stored within its confines safe. Ginevra began to act like a demurred damsel in the hope of attracting Harry’s attention, earning snickers from the twins, whom both knew how fake that attitude was.
'Ginny is hitting on the wrong horse! Ginny is hitting on the wrong horse!' the two began chanting, infuriating her.
'What do you two jokers know about things like that?'
'We know...' began George.
'That we...' added Fred.
'Stand a better...
'Chance with our dicks...
'Than you with your three...'
'Holes, little sister...'
'Because Harry is into boys!' completed the twins in tandem.
Ginny punched the two bigger brothers in the stomach, almost decking them in her rage.
Harry watched the exchange and added, trying to nail the coffin close, 'Had I been into girls, lady, your attitude would have made me change my interest. You would be the sole female of the species, I would prefer it eradicated than let you near me.'
Ginny tried to hit Harry, but never even got close as the twins took her out with a powerful immobilis totalus.
'Thanks. I am beginning to wonder if the females of your family do not share a death wish.'
'Us too.' the four brothers commented.
'So, what brings you here?' asked Charley.
'I am here to verify you have prepared your luggage. I know the two elders have travel experience and know to keep things to a minimum, but Fred and George are on their first trip. I do not want them to bring the kitchen sink!'
'Why did we not think of that, Forge?'
'Probably because it is our first trip, Gred.'
'Funny talk apart, you two are the same size and should share a common suitcase. Where we are going is the paradise of minimalism when it comes to clothes. And do me a favor: no trick stuff please: humor is not as universal as one might think. If you end up a shrunken head for acting dumbly, I will supply the container to bring it back, nothing else! As for Charley, please abstain from taking sweaters. This is not a trip to the Romanian Dragon Reserve. We will probably meet some, but I will handle them, not you. So, light cotton shirts, pants, socks and sandals, two of each. Also include mosquito repellents and sunblock. I will supply magical medicine.'
'I think I need to check on my brothers’ and my luggage. We were taking crates, and from what you said, we went way overboard,' Charley commented. 'Come on guys. Harry knows where he is taking us better than we do.'
Harry was shocked at the size of the crates taken by the Weasleys. He created four suitcases, and helped them fill each properly. Once everything was lodged and properly packed, the boys looked at the small luggage and whistled.
'Wow!' said the twins. 'Talk about packing, and all that without even a shrinking spell!'
'You still carry more than I ever did when I toured the world. I had no luggage at all. By the way, for those who wave wands, pack them in a wrist wand-holder. They must be invisible at all times.'
'Okay.' Charley and Bill replied, showing their invisible wand-holder.
'We leave from the Malfoy Manor at seven. Use the floo network to bring your stuff. I will provide appropriate apparel once everyone is present.'
With that, Harry glided to the Malfoy Manor, to join the others for a quick evening meal before walking out and sliding under his favorite pine tree as a red fox for the night.
At six in the morning, the children were up doing their morning exercises when the Weasleys joined them.
'Told you they would be up doing all those exercises, Charley!' said Fred.
'I would not be surprised if they were up before the sun too!' added George.
'I can not believe my eyes!' exclaimed Charley, as he watched little Toby, four, run on water as if it was solid ground.
'And I did not believe Draco when he said the children at the manors were practicing wand-less, word-less magic well before some could talk,' said Bill, as he pointed at Mica, one and a half, gently running after the others, a foot above ground!
'Breakfast in thirty minutes! Wash up!' hollered Harry, which immediately created a stampede to the fish pool, where everyone took a head dive in the icy water, scaring the trouts to apoplexy. Quite a few kids came out of the water basin carrying a trout in their hands!
'See Harry! I caught my breakfast!' Denis said, as the trout he held tried to escape her fate.
'Bring it to the house elves, Denis, and wash your hands in the bathroom near the kitchen. They will gut it and cook it for you. We do not have the time to teach you how to properly filet a fish this morning, even with magic.'
'I wonder how come there is so many left after each morning?' asked Sirius, as he watched the procession of children walk to the kitchen, each holding a fish.
'Magic, that is how. I just import fingerlings from the rivers around the British Islands, and grow them to adulthood during the night, so the kids have a fresh provision of fish to catch in the morning,' replied Harry, smirking.
'I should have known.'
'Yes, you should, cousin!' commented Lady Narcissa Malfoy. 'Have you forgotten the importance of High Elves in establishing and maintaining balance in life on this planet?'
'That face tells me he had!' Frank Longbottom told Narcissa.
'What can I say? Politics can swallow a man whole!'
'Maybe you need to take a vacation then?' Dowager Longbottom told Sirius. 'You take politics too seriously.'
'I wish, but I promised Harry no adult would be with them except the Weasleys curse-breaker and dragon-handlers. Even without them, I trust Harry to protect the children.'
'Dully noted.' Alice said, as she watched the children eat quietly, all six hundred and fifty of them. 'They are more disciplined than an army in a campaign.'
As seven came close, Harry stood at the end of the table and called attention to himself.
'Stand up. I will dress you for the trip!'
Every child and adult stood, and Harry waved his right hand, covering all the nude kids with travel dress, in the form of three-piece silk suits, and a little pocketbook.
'Each pocketbook contains one hundred pounds, a mundane money, your passport, and your visa for Brazil. For now they are sealed zipped tight; once we need them the zipper will unseal letting you access the papers. We are traveling to Buenos Aires using mundane transportation, namely an Airbus A-380 specifically reserved for us which I rented from British Airways. To get to Heathrow airport, we will be riding comfortable busses, in convoy. The busses are arriving in front of the Manor. There are twelve busses, with fifty-five seats each. Keep with your friends. The luggage is already labeled to the owners contents, but to ease follow-up, each suitcase is also numbered. You have a tag tied to your wrist that matches the tag on your suitcase. For now, magic will match you to your suitcase, but once we leave the manor, you are to keep watch on your suitcase. The best way to do so is to share watch, and keep the luggage between you at all times. Weasleys, since you are older you will be in charge of monitoring a bus each. Keep count of your passengers and keep them grouped at all times! Heathrow is huge and it is easy to get lost in it. Ah yes, no magic on the bus, however tempting it may be. The mundanes may be aware of magic, but some still react rather strongly when it is rubbed in their face, and the drivers are, for the most part, mundanes.'
As Harry signaled the children to move to the front hall, a bell was heard.
'Ah, the busses are there.' Harry snapped his fingers and the suitcases joined their owners. The children aligned themselves, the first of each five taking the group suitcase, and leading the other four to the nearest bus. Quickly, the first bus filled, and fred took a seat across the driver’s, whom closed and locked the luggage compartment under the bus, before climbing aboard and closing the door. The next bus was then filled in a similar manner. Twenty minutes later, the last bus, half full, was closed up, and the busses followed it to Heathrow. The progress was slow because of the horrendous morning traffic of London, but the children were quiet, watching through the windows the passing of the scenery, and commenting on what they were seeing. Some had never been on a coach, and other had never been outside of magical enclaves so were fascinated by everything mundane. The drivers, whom had been readying themselves for a sound storm, were taken aback by the discipline the youths showed during the hour-long trip to Heathrow. The only moment noise rose was when a huge aircraft flew over them, heading for the runway, barely fife hundred feet above their head. Questions fused from everyone as to how that thing could stay in the air without flapping the wings!
The arrival of the twelve coaches at the same time at the embarkment wing of Heathrow saturated the busboys and their luggage containers. Luckily, the children dutifully aligned their suitcases on the trolleys and stood behind them with their flight number proudly displayed. Harry told the busboys they needed to register to BOAC and to lead them there. The busboys obliged and the long train of trolleys followed by the children aligned in twin rows made their way to the BOAC registration desk, shocking the usual customers by walking in step like a regiment of the Royal Guards.
Harry then presented his ticket and had it registered, explaining to the five behind him what to do. Shortly, BOAC realized it needed to up its game if it was to register the children within a decent amount of time so additional wickets were opened and staff called from their rest period. Ten wickets saw the children divide themselves neatly and sixty align themselves religiously to register themselves for the special flight that morning. An hour later, luggage dutifully labeled, and on its way under the airport concourse to its destination, the children moved to watch the tarmac’s activity while they waited for their flight to be called. Whistles flew as the children compared the size of airplanes to the size of the men or the trucks that serviced them. Again, the how can these things get off the ground question surfaced.
Thirty minutes before departure time, the loudspeakers called for all passengers for BOAC flight 2102 destined for Buenos Aires were called to the embarkment salon at gat E102. The children aligned themselves and walked calmly to gate E102, took out their boarding pass and showed them to the security attendant. A short walk later, they reached the boarding salon, and waited another ten minutes as they saw a huge aircraft being joined to their building by a suspension bridge. Once the clicking sounds stopped, the door was opened, and another attendant again asked to see their boarding pass. As Harry had explained the necessity of every step to them, the children graciously cooperated. Once past the attendant, they boarded the airplane and the top flap of their ticket was removed by the hostess, and were told to head to their assigned seats. Things worked nicely, surprising the company personnel, more used to rowdy kids than to disciplined ones.
The last in, Harry walked the length of the aircraft, reassuring those showing nervousness and then gained his own seat, in the front. Meanwhile the embarkment hostess counted the tickets, compared it with the registered passengers, and slipped the packet in a sealed envelope to deliver it to the gate cerberus. Once that was done she closed the door, locked it, and phoned the crew that all was done her end. As soon as the door closed, the bridge operator folded it back into its locked position, and the plane’s luggage compartment was also closed and locked. Turbines turned on, getting the plane ready to start its engines, and activating on-board ventilation. Shortly, the last electrical connections were removed and the plane backed away from the terminal.
Meanwhile, the crew explained safety measures, such as the seat belts, the breathing masks, and other aspects of security. The captain came on the on-board speakers and identified himself, as well as telling them they were fifth in line for take-off. The children on the left side of the aircraft had a good view of the runway and could see one aircraft after another getting airborne from their taxiway as they made their way to the end of the runway. Finally, it was their turn. The sudden rise of the reactors’ noise told them the plane was readying for its run: suddenly, a powerful pressure on their backs told them they were on their way! As the plane rotated for its lift-off, the children saw the ground drop below them, houses and cars becoming ever smaller, people seemingly immobile. The noise of the wheels being pulled in the wheels wells unnerved some, while most were too engrossed in the view they could see as the plane continued to climb and begin to turn toward the Atlantic Ocean. Popping ears told them they had reached 10,000 feet, but they still were climbing fast. The captain informed them their cruising altitude would be 43,000 feet and that they would reach that altitude in fifteen minutes, moving at 549 knots. Shortly, the Seat Belt light turned off. The staff distributed glasses of juices to help ease the ears of their young passengers, then a quick cookie and milk bite to occupy them.
'Harry?' asked Denis, 'How are we getting there?'
'We are flying mostly south-east, as you probably noticed. They are taking the southern grand arc route. Most of our flying will be over water. From what I get, it is eighteen hours. So, once you are bored contemplating the clouds, try to sleep. Lunch will be served, and so will dinner, along with some additional snacks.'
The flight continued unperturbed, with only a minor shake-up as the A-380 climbed to 49,000 feet to fly over a thunderstorm, which dispensed a light show worthy of Mother Nature’s best, while the plane shook from downdrafts and an occasional lightning strike. The landing at Buenos Aires went perfectly. The children were then divided in six groups of slightly over one hundred each and transfered on board of a fleet of Embraer ERJ-170 aircrafts to fly to Macapa, a town at the mouth of the Amazon with an airfield suited for regional jets. Another six hours of flying over Brazil brought the fleet to its final destination. Once everyone was off the aircrafts, the luggage recovered and other issues solved, the children were led to school busses, the well-known Yellow Coffins (which described the busses perfectly, since, on some, you could see the road through the floor!), and driven to the port where they boarded a flat-bottom boat for the beginning of their trip up the Amazon. Distributing the kids carefully, Harry explained the basics:
'First, the Amazon is not the Thames: there are sharks moving deep up-river. Second, there are also alligators and other predatory fishes, such as the well-known Piranha, to name one. So, no diving overboard! Now, concerning the crew: I hired them personally, so they know about magic, but they are mundanes. Respect them, and they will respect you. Rule number two: do not all move on the same side of the boat at the same time. It could capsize. I have added a virtual fin at its bottom to help maintaining stability, but, much like an airplane flies in the air, a boat flies in water, which means no massive mass displacement. You might think you do not represent much, but at 80 pounds average, that adds up quickly, to well around twenty-six tons! As you noticed, too, there are life-rafts, and life-boats: these are not to play with. Each cabin has life jackets fitted for your weight and size, as well as some along the decks. These are color-coded for weight. Captain? Anything to add?'
'Not really. We will be leaving port in twenty minutes, once the tide reaches its peak and turns idle. This will give us a maximum of water under the keel while reducing turbulence when we leave the shelter of the wave-breakers. The gangway is being pulled in as we speak. The bosom will blow the horn once we are untied and are on our way.'
A few of the older boys snickered at the name of the officer’s station, but most ignored it.
A short twenty minutes later, the boat blew his fog horn three times, and those on the port side saw the deck crew pull in the thick ropes that the dockers had untied from the dick heads that lined the docks. The engines began turning the propellers, who bit in the muddy, almost thick waters of the Amazon, and the trip was on!
The flat-bottom boat engaged itself in the main stream, slowly gaining its way up the river. Some turbulence was met an hour off, as the tide turned, but otherwise nothing much occurred. Twenty hours and three hundred nautical miles into the trip, Santarem profiled itself but the boat did not dock there.
'So much mud!' exclaimed Draco.
'The problem with the Amazon is that it is so filled with silt you can not tell when you can walk and when you can float on it!' said the captain, surprising the boy with his sardonic comment.
'Where are we going exactly?' wondered Neville.
'That is what I wish I knew. The boat was rented by one named Harry Potter, and the trip paid in full for all of you, but only he knows where we are going. All he said is ‘go up river, you will be told when the orders change.'
'Typical of the King of Magic...' Draco replied.
The trip continued on, until the first rapids as the boat neared the head of the Amazon.
'We can not go further...' said the captain, as he pointed toward the stormy whitewater that pushed against his ship, whose engines barely managed to hold it in place.
'You think. Wingardium Leviosa!' exclaimed Harry, which brought the boat out of the water, barely an inch above the roaring rolls.
'Nice, but now the propellers are not pushing.'
'First, stop the engines before they burn themselves out, and I will bring us forward.'
The captain realized that his engines were spinning way beyond their normal rotation speed and had the pressure reduced to idle. 'Now what?'
'Now? Simple: Locomotor mortis!'
'You know Latin? Good. That will spare me explaining what is happening.'
'You think? I did not understand anything from the moment you uttered that Wingardium whatever! But I admit it seems to work, since we are moving upriver again.'
'That, we are. This is the first rapids of the Amazon, we still have two more to cross...'
'But some are falls!?'
'So? Do you think the levitation spell is limited to a few inches? All is a question of will and focus. That is also true for the locomotion spell. By the way, I could have said abacadraba and the result would have been the same, or used the same spell twice, or said nothing.'
The trip resumed and at the end of the day the third rapids were in view. Rapids was an understatement: the white waters were interspersed with falls of several dozen feet, that sprayed everything on the deck as the boat reached their lips. Once above the last fall and the rapids passed, Harry guided the captain to a narrower riverbed on the right side of the boat.
'That is the Upper Mourano River. It is narrow and rather steep, Captain. All I ask of you is to keep us in the middle of the stream. We still have about one thousand nautical miles to go before we reach our destination, so something around two and a half days of traveling.'
'Are you aware the Upper Mourano is the home of the Kachinakan tribe, young man? They have as yet to allow a single missionary in their lands! For that matter, they are head hunters, and cannibals!'
'So? Why should I worry about their diet? As for their bad temper, who can blame them, given what they have to eat? Missionaries! They might as well eat arsenic-laced meat! Anyway, missionaries are the cause of the destruction of thousands of tribes world-wide. Who do they think they are, to go preach peace while gutting those that do not follow their instructions? Missionaries are the bane of diversity. But you do have a point.' Harry snapped his fingers and a gentle shimmer enveloped the boat from the keel to the magpie nest. 'There. No arrow or whatever will be able to hit anybody.'
The progress, which was accompanied by a very silent forest, as birds and animals quieted down in the face of what they thought was a huge predator, twisted along the Upper Mourano, revealing, at the curve of a meander, a freshly abandoned village, whose fires still smoked, or pirogues hidden deep within the overhanging roots of huge trees. An occasional family froze in place, in the hopes of escaping the eyes of the flying predator. Adults, children, babies stilled, their eyes following the passage of the monster.
'See, guys? I told you you would fit nicely here! Everyone is nude as a jay bird.'
'But why those bones across their noses, or that strange thing through their chin, or that disgusting plate that stretches them beyond use?'
'Neville, these are their jewels.'
'They should focus on their family jewels!'
'Draco, the damn missionaries would love nothing less, you know. Circumcision is just such a focus. Note that these people also focus on that, with these dick cages that they tie around their dick. That they do not circumcise is a miracle.'
'Why not respect what they receive?' Melvin asked.
'And how many occidentals do? They torture their children, they eat so much they need a sonar to find their joystick, they eat trash, drink toxins, and breath sulfuric oxide with their cars’ partial combustion of petrol. One can not ask others do what one does not.'
'Captain, according to my homing sense, we need to take to the left and hold. After the next curve is a stream that will bring us to a cliff face over which the river falls. We will anchor there for the night.'
'As you wish.'
The sun was setting over the nearby Andes when the boat anchored itself to trees for the night. The beautiful colors of the forest disappeared in darkness, the night so black you could not see your own hand in front of your face. Cries of pain and despair could be heard below as hunters hunted, prey fell, and sometimes escaped. Above the mast, the huge cliff cast a foreboding shadow, its basaltic face slick and polished.
'Where are we?' Draco asked as he eyed the imposing figure the cliff made.
'At the edge of a plateau that rises two thousand feet straight up. The plateau is our destination. Tomorrow, I will bring the boat up along its edge and to the final docking place where we will begin exploring the plateau. Head to bed. I want the elevation to follow the rise of the sun tomorrow.'
As the first rays of the sun pinked the sky, the ropes were untied from the trees, and pulled on-board by the crew. Once every rope was rolled in place, Harry reached the helm and looked at the cliff. Suddenly, the boat rose solemnly along its edges, revealing details as yet to ever be seen by human eyes. Long striates of granite marked the basaltic face, a structure unseen anywhere else in the world.
'Funny, I have never seen that before?' Draco noted questioningly.
'And you will never see it anywhere else either. That plateau was risen from the Amazon basin by my ancestor Elrond before he left to the Higher Elves Dimension so as to shield species that were so rare even at that time they earned the Higher Elves’ protection. That is whom we will be visiting.'
'A zoological park?' Neville asked.
'Yes, but also a botanical garden. You will see here plants never seen here since humanity emerged.'
'I can not wait!'
'You are not the only one, Neville,' Charley exclaimed. 'I heard rumors about a dragon living in those mountains, but no one has ever found one, or a nest!'
'There is a rumor about a temple...'
'There is a temple, Bill. It is protected by the High Magic of Elves. You may be a good curse-breaker, but remember, you are our children, and we have more knowledge in our little toe than you in all your books.'
'Will we visit it?'
'That and the dragons. Ah, we have reached the lip of the plateau. And here is the docking. That it has held against the weathering so long is a testament to the magic of Elrond! Look at it: not even a crack, no moss, or fern, nothing has grown on it and the docks are in perfect order. I will bring the boat up river, and let the water push us against the dock. Captain, ready your crew to tie us to the dick heads.'
The boat gently settled up-river, and was pressured against the dock; the bridge crew jumped off the deck and caught the ropes thrown by others to quickly tie the boat to the steel ties. Once everything was secured, the gangplank was lowered and the children moved off the boat to look around the dock.
'Where will we sleep?'
'In the boat Draco, where else? Okay, get your brooms, we are going flying to do a preliminary exploration. For today, we fly together. I want to make sure nothing untoward has evolved in the plateau since Elrond isolated it from the surroundings.'
The flock of children taking off the dock surprised the crew members. The organization of the flight was arranged to shelter the youngest riders while giving them the best view they could safely get. The oldest created a protective sphere that gave to the youngsters the impression of total freedom of action while they would have to cross three protective shells before finding themselves out of the cocoon.
Harry led the outer shell, while Draco held the rear and Neville the bottom, with Charley at the top and Fred and George the sides, with Bill in the middle to keep an eye on the children and intercept anyone showing issues.
The group moved up river, which, in itself, surprised them. Where did all that water come from? As they reached the middle of the plateau, they got their answer: a huge fountain, rising several hundred feet up in the air and located in the middle of a lake that emptied into the river supplied the water.
'Wow! That thing must be at least a thousand feet up!' exclaimed George.
'And it can cut you in ribbons. Keep the kids away from it,' ordered Harry. 'Now, Bill, you wanted to see the Temple? Kindly look at the furthest edge of the lake. You will see a water pool, with a group of fountains arranged in a ‘star of David’ arrangement. That is where the star’s arrangement comes from. In the middle is the keystone. Stay outside of the double triangle, as it marks the boundaries of the wards protecting the keystone. I will dive from six thousand feet, at a vertical and at full speed, to pull up at the last second. Wronsky did not invent that feint, Elrond did, and at breakneck speed to boot. Watch!'
Harry rose to eight thousand feet, becoming invisible to the naked eyes, and carefully aimed for the cross-hair he could see from that height. Then he began diving, increasing speed to well beyond the speed of sound, and finally pulled up barely a broom length from the tiles, landing by jumping off the broom to a crouching position as his feet touched the tile, which sank an entire five and a half feet into the ground, leaving only Harry’s hair sticking above ground. As he eyed the area, Harry saw the double bladed scythe swipe at ankle and head height had he been standing on the flagstone.
'Elrond was into the grandiose parody!' Harry stated, as the flagstone he stood on rose up, locking the magic out of the circuit. The glistening wards fell as the last click was heard. 'You can come down guys. That part is now safe.'
'Only that part?' asked a shaking Bill. 'I have never seen this kind of ward before!'
'Legends are always based on facts, Bill. You should know better!'
Harry led them along a white gravel pathway to the door of the Temple. He pointed out that, had they bypassed the star lock, they would have been unable to even step on the pathway, and, had they managed to do so, the ground was rife with spikes waiting for an unfortunate shish kebab to get skewered. The steps themselves, silvery in color, were triggers to a profusion of arrows, poisoned needles and other unsavory projectiles of demise. The door had a knocker, all in silver, which portrayed a wolf’s head, mouth agape.
'The werewolf’s bite. Let me see. To knock, I need to grab the tongue quickly enough for it to only bite its own tongue... Here goes!'
Harry, faster than a striking cobra, extended his right hand into the mouth, grabbed the tongue and pulled it out, hard! As the mouth clapped close, a bone-chilling howl could be heard, and the door lock opened.
'Trap two bypassed. The door is open. Guys, stay behind me. The next one is unique. And be totally quiet.'
The door opened wide, and Harry, followed by the adult Weasleys, walked in. At the far end of the Temple’s transept was a golden dragon of mammoth proportions. It eyed Harry with red, malicious eyes. Harry eyed it with the same attitude. The dragon began whispering, hissing, and Harry listened carefully.
'Test one: My firssst opensss doorsss; my sssecond is hard; my whole holdsss up what cannot otherwissse.'
'Mmmm... Key... stone... keyssstone that holdsss up an arch.'
'You passs. Second tessst: I am a number that is neither an integer nor a fraction.'
'An irrational number.'
'You are sssmart. Lassst tessst. I fly, yet I should only crawl. Whom am I?'
'The Quetzalcoalt, or flying sssnake, your ancessstor, Dragon.'
'You pass, youngssster. How can I ssserve you?'
'I am here to explore what my ancessstor, Elrond, left for me.'
'You are of hisss line?'
'I am. I now bear the crown of magic.' With that, Harry displayed the crown, proving his point.
'My lord! What an honor! The Quetzalcoalt are few, but will gladly meet with the family that gave them their wingsss! Whom are thossse with you?'
'Friendsss. They are under my protection and no harm ssshall come to them.'
'Asss you command, my Lord. Follow me. The Quetzalcoalt are in their nessst.'
'How come there are few?'
'The weather hasss changed and they are lesss likely to hatch an egg nowadaysss. There are about half of an half of what once roamed the plateau.'
'A quarter of their original numbersss, then. That is about two hundred left. Barely enough to sssussstain a population and that isss becaussse they are magical. Were they not, genetic drift would have dessstroyed them. What elssse can you tell me about life on the plateau, Guardian?'
'There isss a tribe of humansss that live deep near the mountainsss. They have been quiet, and their numbersss has not risen significantly, mossstly because they practice self-eating. They eat the weak, the old, the deformed, of which their numbersss have risssen over time. That they are not magical may explain why it isss ssso. They look sssignificantly different from your friendsss. They are ssshorter, carry themssselvesss differently, and have a rather flatter face...'
'That is the ancessstral looksss of my friends, the Neanderthalsss. I never thought they made it to this landmasss.'
'They did not. It wasss your ancessstor that brought them here to protect them from extinction.'
After an hour of twisting and turning in the Temple, the group exited at the rear through a portal that led them to a beautiful garden, where fruit trees were in full production.
'Here we are. The garden of Hesssperidesss, where applesss are of sssolid gold, to tempt the greedy to the Fall'
'I know. None of usss are interesssted in gold sssince we can create it on demand.' Proving his point, Harry created a galleon out of thin air, and threw it on the flagstone floor, to a resounding ding.
'Point, youngssster. Follow me. I mussst introduce you to the Elder.'
The dragon led them through the garden, toward a stone that shone in the sun, and on which lay a long thick snake with wings folded to cover his head from direct sunlight while leaving the rest of his body to bask in the heat.
'Whom do you bring to usss, Guardian?'
'The Guardian of Magic, ssson of the sssonsss of the sssonsss of the True Giver of the Gift. He hasss proven hisss claim.'
'That isss sssurprisssing. He mussst be really remarkable to earn sssuch recommendationsss from you, Guardian.'
'He isss and more.'
Harry stepped forward, crown well seated on his head. This was not the time for modesty, but to impress and lay claim to his heritage.
'Good morning. May I find you in good health, Sssnake of the Sssky,' thus revealing to all whom could speak the language he knew of the true meaning of Quetzalcoalt.
'Sssame to you, Guardian of Life and Magic. Whom accompaniesss you?'
'Friendsss. They came here to find knowledge and long lossst life so they can ssspread it to other fertile groundsss. I, myssself, have come to tell you magic will be ressstored in full under my tutelage. I do not plan to ssseek refuge in another plane, like my ancessstor. Thisss is my world, and I will sssee to itsss protection firssst hand, while offering to thossse of you that wisssh it, sssafe passage to the other reality created by my ancessstor. It hasss huge expensssesss of wildernesss for you to inhabit if you ssso wisssh.'
'I will call on the Council to extend your offer.'
'Isss the library ssstill functional?'
'Yesss, my Lord. It isss as dry asss ever.'
'Fine. Will you delegate sssomeone to guide my friend to it, pleassse?'
Turning to Bill, Harry told him 'Follow the snake I will point you to. It will bring you to the library. Once you are done and wish to come back, just open the door and it will guide you to the exit of the Temple. Once out, fly to the ship. Do not forget to eat. Magic needs resources, especially for you.'
A distinctive red snake with long, diaphane wings, slithered and led Bill away.
'Next, I need to asssk for sssomeone to accompany thisss youngssster. He isss one interesssted in flowering and plantsss. He will take sssamplesss to grow them in hisss garden to ssseed them around the world at a later time.'
Neville was pointed to a blue and green Quetzalcoalt and followed it out in the garden first, then outside the Temple.
'I asssked for two more to go with your friend. The plateau isss unsssafe, essspecially with the humansss that ssseem to eat anything that cannot essscape them or isss inattentive to hisss environment, which ssseemsss the cassse with your friend.'
'Now, lassst, I have transssfered by magic the language of sssnakesss to my friend Charley. He hasss been fassscinated by dragonsss sssince he wasss a little one, and he worksss in protected areasss to help your children sssurvive. Whom, amongssst you, know bessst the hissstory of your ssspeciesss and itsss relationsss with dragon-kind?'
'That would be my ssson. He hasss been delving into the booksss for untold yearsss, sssometimesss forgetting to eat.'
A silver Quetzalcoalt crawled up to Charley and flicked his tongue at him.
'He sssmelsss of our children and burnsss done to him by them, but alssso of love for them. I will help.'
'Charley, here is your guide to the history of dragons. Enjoy. And do come to eat, once in a while.'
The two left the garden, leaving the rest of the children behind.
'For now, I suggest you stay in the garden. Tomorrow, I will go with you to explore the plateau, and remind the humans to whom they own their survival. I have to talk to the Elder and the Guardian Dragon for the rest of the day, and see what I can do to improve their fate. So... run around. Be careful of the eggs, please. Quetzalcoalt are rare and eggs precious. If one hisses at you, it is to warn you of danger either to yourself or to their precious eggs. Abide by the hiss.'
The children looked at Harry with awe and nodded. Shortly they were busy swimming in the pool, diving from overhanging branches, and otherwise enjoying themselves while staying away from the nests, found in the deep, tall grass that grew at the far end of the pool.
Meanwhile, the Dragon and the Elder Quetzalcoalt talked with Harry, telling him of the history of the plateau and what had transpired over the last fifty thousand years. Apparently, Quetzalcoalt had tried expanding beyond the plateau, meeting with the natives of the forest below, and reaching out to them, only to be feared and deified, which did not suit them very much, especially since they were frequently used against their will in human sacrifices. The arrival of the white men marked their retreat to the plateau, as they noticed these were far more aggressive than the natives, if a little less inclined to human sacrifices.
Days passed and then weeks. Finally came the time to undertake the trip back home. Charley had thousands of scrolls of notes with copies of documents taken from the library to sustain his thesis on the origins of dragons. Bill had similarly found thousands of new wards and how to both set them and disable them, thus enriching his personal library of knowledge. With the help of many would-be herbalists, Neville had collected hundreds of plants, sealed into proper carrying devices, and documented them, their life cycle, and their environment, along with thousands of others he had chosen not to sample, planning on a return trip the next summer. Draco had spent his time with his namesake, inviting him for a visit at the Malfoy Manor, unbeknown to Lady Malfoy, that goes without saying!
Harry, on the other hand, had met with the Neanderthals and put his foot down. That they ate each other was none of his business, but his people were out of the food plate if they wanted to survive as a tribe. Incinerating the few stubborn jerks that did not take his orders kindly from the inside out so they exploded spectacularly put an end to any velleity of resistance. He took in with him a dozen children of their tribe to create another tribe off the plateau and healed the gene pool of those he left behind, adding stabilizing genetic anchors where variance seemed to be more common. He explained what he had done, while healing those whom, while carriers, did not show signs of their genetic defects.
'Are you not afraid they will be considered circus freaks?' asked Neville.
'They better not or those that do will meet one pissed-off freak: Me!'
'Given your temper, my friend, just tell me beforehand. I want to buy a bushel of popcorn and create a comfortable chair so I can watch the show!'
'Is everyone aboard?' asked Harry, pulling a tongue at Neville.
'Only missing is Charley...' reported the bosom, whom had the check-list on hand.
'Adults! They complain about children but who is late for his own funeral? An adult! Charley!' thundered across the plateau, freaking out the birds, 'Report to the ship this instant!'
Charley apparated, carrying his last crate of precious notes. 'I was shrinking the last crate when you called! I almost burned my notes out of fright.'
'Do you have everything?'
'Yes. Let me shrink this last one and add it to my belt and I am done.'
'Finally. Get to it.'
Charley quickly shrank the crate, placed in in a slot on his left shoulder bandolier, and let out a calming breath. 'Done.'
'If these were cartridges, you would do a passing imitation of a guerrilla member.'
'I feel like one too.'
Harry untied the boat from the dock with a simple glance, and lifted it up out of the water, before guiding it over the edge of the plateau and down to the stream below. For some unknown reason the natives below had grown over their fears of the boat and greeted them with a hail of arrows, which rebounded on the magical shield Harry had wisely put back in place, much frustrating the Kachinakan. Harry guided the boat at a much faster clip downriver than what had been allowed up, and less than a day later, they had left the Upper Mourano and begun their trip down the Amazon. The speed was also considerably faster, as the boat, no longer fighting the current, was carried down with it. A week-long trip was brought down to three days. The regional jets were waiting for them and the children gladly met civilization for the first time in two months. A rush to get sweet drinks, hot dogs and hamburgers at the airport delayed the boarding by an hour, much to the laughter of Harry and the frustration of Charley and Bill.
The trip to Buenos Aires was spent resting, as the children knew their trip was far from over. Once at the airport and customs passed (bypassed!), magic hiding all contraband, the children boarded the flight to London and took a well-deserved nap before lunch was served. The trip was mostly calm, with a bit of rough weather in the lower atmosphere as the plane climbed up to its 44,000 feet flight altitude. The arrival at Heathrow, late at night, found most children deeply asleep, so Harry and the adults made discreet use of magic to port them aboard the busses with their luggage. An hour later, the arrival at Malfoy Manor was subdued, and the children slept together in the foyer, in a giant nest. Tomorrow would be a new adventure.