Past the Cerberus
Harry hurried down to Greenhouse Four, patting his pockets to check for the Cloak and his wand as he went. Yes, his wand was in his pocket and the handle was easily accessible – yes, the invisibility cloak was in the pocket of his under-robes. He dodged around Professor Babbling as he exited the Hall, sprinting down the grounds towards the Greenhouse at the edge of the forest. He had to slow as he approached, gasping for breath – he really needed to do more exercise than just Quidditch, he thought to himself.
“Neville!” he shouted, pulling the door open. “Neville, it happened!”
Neville was the only person in the Greenhouse – he was sitting in a corner, trimming what appeared to be a miniature oak tree. The round-faced boy blinked. “What happened?”
“Adams is going for the Draughts.”
Neville carefully set down the tiny pair of clippers. “Well then, I guess we’d better get going. Help me lift this tree, will you?”
Harry swished and flicked, and together he and Neville levitated the tree and its weighty pot up to the top of a nearby cupboard. “What kind of plant is that, anyway?” he asked. “Doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever heard of.”
“It’s an oak tree,” Neville said as they exited the Greenhouse and began to jog up to the castle. “It’s just trimmed regularly, so it never grows very large – but it looks like a full sized one. It’s called bonsai, and you can do it with lots of trees. Professor Sprout showed me how.”
“So, Adams is going for it?” Neville asked. “How’d you find out? I thought that you and Ron had to revise tonight. Were the girls watching?”
Harry shook his head as they entered the Hall. “No, we heard Fred and George talking about it. I’m not sure how they knew, actually, I should ask them about it…”
“Maybe they set up a detection spell on the door to tell them if anyone went through,” Neville suggested. “I can’t think why they would, though…”
“Look, there’s Ron and the girls,” Harry said, speeding up. “Ron!”
“Harry,” Hermione said, turning to face him and Neville. “back me up. We should tell Professor McGonagall and Professor Flitwick.”
“No!” said Ron. “What would they do? Adams is already inside, and by the time we get them and come back, he’ll already be out!”
“You’re both right,” Harry snapped before Hermione could open her mouth to argue. “One of us should go fetch Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, and Professor Flitwick. All of them.”
There was a moment of silence, then both Ron and Ginny said, “I’ll go,” at the same time. They glanced at each other, then Ginny continued.
“We don’t know what kind of obstacles are beyond that door,” she said, calmly. “Maybe there’s some difficult piece of spellwork that only Hermione can do,” she nodded to Hermione, “or an exotic plant that Neville knows all about. Harry’s the best at flying, and Ron, you’re the best at chess – Professor McGonagall loves chess, so I’m sure that her thing has something to do with it.”
“Don’t be silly, Ginny,” Ron said. “Chess? It’s more likely we’ll need your history knowledge. You’re the best with monsters, too, so…”
“We do already know how to get past Chnoudotos, Ron,” Harry said. “I guess there could be some more, but…”
“Flip a knut,” Harry suggested.
“Oh, I know that one,” Ron said, “but goblin coins aren’t like muggle ones, they just have the Gringotts seal on both sides.”
“Why is this so complicated?” Neville demanded. “Look, let’s just all go, and I’m sure the professors have something to tell them if anyone goes in. They’ll be along in a bit, I bet.”
“Fine,” Harry said. “Can we go in now? Good.” He reached out and swung open the door.
They all began singing as they entered the Cerberus’s room. “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream!” Hermione and Harry sang.
“Charms and jinxes are quite simple, hexes can give you a pimple,” Neville, Ron, and Ginny began, in a completely different tone. The two tunes clashed horrible, and Choudotos began to growled.
“What on earth was that?” Ron demanded as they leapt outside the corridor again. “Was that supposed to be a song?”
“Yes Ron, it’s quite common among muggles,” Hermione snapped. “What was that?”
“A wizarding song,” Ginny said, running her fingers through her hair. “It’s about the different kinds of spells. But if we’re going to sing that dog to sleep, we need to agree on a song. Clearly you two don’t know ‘Charms and Jinxes’…”
“Do you know ‘Merlin’s Hymn’?” Neville suggested.
“No, how about ‘All God’s Creatures’?” asked Harry.
Ron paused for a moment. “Surely you know ‘the Ballad of Earth and Sky’.”
“No, we don’t,” Hermione said. “Have you heard ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb”?”
“’The Fires of Master Dee’?”
“’Puff the Magic Dragon’?”
“Look, it’s clear that we don’t share any songs,” Hermione finally said. “I think the only thing is for Harry and I to sing one of ours, and then you three will jump down before us.”
“Fine,” Ron said. “Let’s try this again.”
They stepped into Choudotos’ lair once more, and Harry and Hermione began singing ‘Row Your Boat’ again. The enormous dog quieted immediately, staring at them. They continued singing, and after a minute or so all six of the Cerberus’s eyes had closed, and it slept. Harry and Hermione continued singing while Ron opened the trapdoor, and then they all leapt down it together.
After a moment of falling, some force caught them, and they slowed to a stop on a cold stone floor. Harry glanced around curiously, noticing some potted plants. “What’re those, Neville?” he asked, pointing them out.
Neville stepped closer to one of them, then suddenly jerked back. “Mandrakes!” he cried. “Look for any that aren’t potted!”
They turned, but saw nothing. “Adams must have gotten them all,” Hermione finally said. “Let’s move on.” One of the walls was soon found to have a door, a door with an empty pot where there should have been a doorknob. They stared at it.
“So much for Adams doing the work for us,” Ron said morosely.
“Okay, I think that we’re supposed to put a mandrake into the door’s pot,” Neville said after a moment of though. “But as soon as I pull one out it’ll start to scream. There aren’t any enchanted earmuffs around, so… Hermione, can you cast a Silencing spell?” She shook her head. “Then we’ll have to just dig our fingers into our ears as best as we can. I’ll pick the youngest one I can find – that and covering our ears will hopefully reduce it to only knocking us out, if the ear covering isn’t good enough.”
The round-faced boy walked around the edge of the room, inspecting the leaves sprouting from each pot, until he found one that seemed to satisfy him. He levitated the pot closer to the door, then told the group to cover their ears.
Harry covered his along with everyone else, but realized that there was a problem, just too late – Neville couldn’t cover his own ears. “Wait!” he shouted, but of course no one but Neville could hear him. Neville pulled up the Mandrake anyway, revealing what seemed to be a screeching wooden creature…
His eyes turned upwards and he began to fall…
Towards the door, plopping the Mandrake into the soil just before his eyes closed.
“Neville!” Hermione cried, dropping down besides his body and pressing her ear to his chest. After a moment, she sighed in relief. “He’s just unconscious. He’ll be fine, I think.”
“Good,” everyone else said, relieved. After a moment, Ginny snickered. “Are you going to stay like that?”
Hermione blushed and stood. “So, the door should be open now.” And indeed, the door had swung open.
“Neville will be fine here until we come back for him,” Harry said, pulling his body over to a wall to lean up against it. “Or until a professor comes, I guess. Let’s go through to the next room.”
The next room was small and square. The door was plain iron, with a small keyhole, and there was a blank painter’s canvas standing next to it. An elaborate iron key floated in mid-air next to the door.
“That seems pretty simple,” Ginny said, walking up to the floating key. “I’m not sure what the canvas is for, but clearly this is the key to the door.” She grabbed the key, but her hand went right through. “Wait, what?”
“It’s a glamour,” Hermione said, furrowing her brow. “I guess we’re supposed to conjure a key that looks like that?”
“Conjuration is way above our level, there’s no way we could do that,” Harry said despondently.
Suddenly, there was a clang from the direction of the canvas. They turned to see Ron, standing there with a quill in his hand, and a small metal stick-figure lying on the ground.
“What did you do, Ron?” Ginny demanded.
“I just drew a stick figure,” Ron said, pointing at the canvas, “and it fell off. Look.” He picked up the metal figure from the ground.
“That’s it!” Hermione exclaimed. “Ginny, draw the key on the canvas!”
Ginny gave her a skeptical look, but she sketched out the floating key on the white paper. As soon as she finished, it began to slide down the canvas, and she caught it as it fell. “That’s… weird.” But when she inserted it into the iron door’s keyhole, the door and key both faded away, leaving the way into the next room clear.
“Never mind, let’s just keep moving,” Harry said, stepping through.
The next room was large and dim. The only light came from a small white globe floating in the center, but that was enough to make out the huge troll that was making its way around the edge of the room. It was at least two feet taller than the one that Harry and Ron had fought on Halloween, and rather than a crude log, it held a long metal rod with a huge stone rock on the end as a club.
Ginny said, very very quietly, “Eep,” and fainted dead away. Hermione didn’t look too good either.
“Hermione try and wake Ginny up,” Harry ordered, taking charge as Ron looked the troll up and down and glanced around the room. “Ron, what do you think?”
“I think that this troll’s club is too heavy to levitate like the one on Halloween,” he said, furrowing his brow as though planning out a move in a chess game. “We might be able to get it together, but it’s far from certain. I think that a better move is to use one of those.” Ron pointed to a sword that hung on the wall.
Harry hadn’t noticed, since they were set into the wall a little and were the same flat grey, but there were swords set all along the walls of the room. “That troll will notice us soon,” he said warningly. “What do you mean, use the swords?”
“They’re light enough for use to levitate and manipulate, right?” Ron said, and Harry nodded. “But they’re only up and down, so we can’t stab the troll in any vulnerable places like that. Its skull is too thick, and the only other place we could get is its shoulders.”
“So we make it laugh,” Ron said with a smirk. “Tickling charms. Make it laugh hard enough to open its mouth, and then drop a sword or too in there. Maybe it won’t kill it, but it’ll be confused enough for us to get by.”
Harry considered this for a moment, then grinned fiercely. “Let’s do it. I’ll tickle, you drop. Rictusempra!” He cast at the troll, which began to giggle uncontrollably, a noise which was simply wrong coming from something as ugly as that. Ron levitated a sword from its place on the wall and held it near the trolls head until, finally, the big beast threw its head back and began laughing, big, booming laughs with its mouth wide open. Ron quickly dropped a sword in, and the troll stopped laughing instantly, instead making a confused sort of “glump?” noise.
Harry and Ron helped Hermione carry Ginny around the trolls back and through the door as the troll tried to figure out what it had in its mouth. Harry managed to swing the door closed before he began laughing uncontrollably himself, Ron joining him moments later.
After a few minutes, they calmed down, and knelt next to Hermione over Ginny. “So, is she okay?”
“She’s fine,” Hermione said, after a moment. “She’s been really stressed out lately, and I guess that was just the last straw. I think we should let her rest, but one of us should stay behind to make sure she’s okay.”
“I’ll do that,” Ron said instantly. “She’s my sister, after all.”
Hermione nodded, standing, and she and Harry turned to look down what seemed to be a long corridor. There was a small sign on the floor, saying He who would find Life must walk alone.
“What do you suppose that means?” Harry asked.
Hermione bit her lip. “I think it means that only one person can go in at a time.”
“Then we’ve already lost,” Harry said. “Adams is in there, and no one else can enter…”
“Maybe it means one person from any group,” Hermione suggested. “In which case one of us could go in.”
“Let’s just both try it,” Harry said. They began walking down the corridor, but the door at the end didn’t seem to be getting any closer.
Hermione stopped after a few minutes and looked back. “Harry,” she said, grabbing his arm.
“What?” he asked, turning. “Oh.” They hadn’t moved at all – the sign was still only a few feet behind.
After a moment, Hermione said, “Try going alone, Harry.”
So Harry walked, and in only a few minutes was at the door. “I guess Hermione was right,” he said to himself, and stepped through.