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Chapter 3: Lumos Maxima
Lysander appears to be looking for an excuse to leave as we trail behind Sprout and the TARDIS Team (I needed something to refer to them collectively) and I’m pretty sure I know why: At some point, Sprout’s going to realise that none of them are who they say they are, and we’re going to be in trouble for bringing Muggles into the castle. Even now, the Doctor is trying valiantly to scan his surroundings with his screwdriver without being noticed by Sprout, and every time the buzzing noise goes off, Lysander tenses, reminding me of a rabbit preparing to flee.
Luckily for us, and for the TARDIS Team, Sprout leaves once we reach the library, and Madam Chetterley comes out to meet us.
“So here’s the deal,” I begin, speaking very fast and very quietly, “This guy is the Doctor, and he knows what’s in the library and he’s going to help us. But he’s actually a Muggle, and an alien, and you’re going to have to keep that on the down low. I just thought you should be aware that he can’t actually see the library.”
“You brought a Muggle into Hogwarts?” Madam Chetterley whispers in astonishment. “Erica! You could be expelled for this!”
“For the last time, I’m not a Muggle,” the Doctor says impatiently. “I’m a Time Lord. I travel through time and space in a little blue box that’s bigger on the inside and I’d like to see you try that.”
“Yeah, all right, he’s not a Muggle,” I concede. “But he’s not a wizard and he can’t see the library. I just thought you should know.”
Madam Chetterley looks bewildered. I can’t blame her. I probably shouldn’t have word-vomited all that at the same time.
“Now we’ve got that out of the way,” the Doctor continues, “You have an infestation of Vashta Nerada in your library. That’s what’s been eating things. They’re a carnivorous swarm that live in shadows, and they’ve been known to spawn in books before. They’re also invisible. Sort of. They’re invisible in the shadows, but if there’s a shadow and you can’t see what’s casting it, that’s a swarm of Vashta Nerada. In short, stay out of the shadows.”
“How can we get rid of them?” Madam Chetterley asks, all business again.
“You can’t. Not completely. Not when there’s enough of them, they’ll destroy everything in their path.”
“So what are we going to do about my library?”
“Their weakness is light. But they can overpower any form of natural or electric light, if there are enough of them. How do you light your library?”
“Windows and candles.”
“Not enough. Too many shadows. Even to just go in there in the middle of the day.”
“So it’s not safe for the students?”
“No, they’d be eaten alive. You’re lucky nobody’s been killed yet. You’ll need a way to seal off the library from the rest of the school, in case the swarm spreads.”
Madam Chetterley is silent for a long time, and I get the feeling she’s not thinking about how to seal off the library. She’s trying to process the idea of sealing off the library.
I turn to the Doctor. “We brought you here so you could get rid of this carnivorous swarm and get our library back. And you tell us the only thing we can do is seal it off for all eternity? That library’s over a thousand years old—”
“So am I,” the Doctor says.
“Whatever,” I snap, beyond questioning the nonsense he’s spilling. “You’re just going to leave it to those things? There are scrolls in there that date back to the beginning of the Roman Empire, letters from the Founders of Hogwarts—”
“History never dies, Erica. It’s always there, somewhere. As long as someone remembers it.”
“Who do you think you are, Albus Dumbledore?” Lysander mutters. If the Doctor heard him, he doesn’t show it.
And then, suddenly, I remember something. Something I read in a very old spellbook.
“I have an idea!” I yell, and without waiting for a response I pull open the library door.
“No, Erica, don’t go in there!” the Doctor yells after me.
“Ericaaaaa!” Lysander wails. “If you get eaten I’ll have to write up our Transfiguration paper by myself, and I’ll fail it! You don’t want that on your hands!”
I ignore them both (but Lysander’s comment did make me hesitate for a nanosecond) before igniting my wand tip and hurrying towards the 16th century spellbook collection. Shadows, shadows, shadows. Stay out of the shadows. I leap on tiptoe back and forth, reach the shelf where it’s tucked away and stare.
Bugger. The floor between me and the book is covered in shadows.
Wait a minute.
“Accio Guide to Spellwork, 1545!”
I could have done that from outside, but oh well. Remembering my safe path, I bolt back outside. Madam Chetterley and Lysander look relieved to see me in one piece, but the Doctor is livid.
“Do you have any idea what you’re dealing with? You could have died in there. You. Are. So. Stupid. Why does nobody ever listen to me?”
“Shut up,” Amy tells him, and the Doctor does.
“Thank you,” I say, nodding at Amy, and open the book. “I noticed something when I was reading this last year, and I just remembered it. You said those Vashta things can’t stand light, right? But they can overpower electric and natural light. What about magic light?”
For the benefit of the TARDIS Team, I explain, “We have two spells for just creating light, Lumos and Lumos Maxima. And here, in this spellbook…” I flick through the stiff, crumbling pages with reckless abandon – “Look. Lumos Maxima: A spell to ward off Darkness.” That’s weird wording, don’t you think? I just thought it was typical Elizabethan language, but why is ‘darkness’ capitalised? Again, possibly normal Elizabethan language, but maybe not. So I found this. Accio Chronicles of Darkness!”
“Why, for the love of Merlin, did you not think of that before you went charging into the library?” Lysander asks, exasperated.
“Because I’m a Muggleborn. Anyway, this is kind of like a conspiracy theory book—”
“Mum has a copy of that!” Lysander says excitedly.
“Of course she does, she’s your mum. It’s all about these creatures called the Darkness. For centuries wizards have believed that there exists, in the shadows, some invisible creature, and that invisible creature is behind mysterious disappearances they can’t explain themselves. Of course, it’s a theory that’s been rubbished everywhere…but what if the Darkness that this book talks about is the Vashta Nerada? Then that spellbook says “A spell to ward off Darkness. A spell to ward off Vashta Nerada.”
Lysander blinks. “Sorting Hat knew what it was doing with you, didn’t it?”
“Took you seven years to work that one out?”
“One problem. One very big problem,” the Doctor interrupts. “What if it’s not?”
“Then let’s find out,” I say, making for the library again. Lysander, looking alarmed, reaches out and pulls me back.
“Sorry,” he says quickly, “But you might die, so I had to stop you.”
“We need something for the Vashta Nerada to eat instead of us,” I muse. “Accio chicken!”
Madam Chetterley purses her lips. “I shouldn’t be letting you do that.”
“It’s life and death, it doesn’t matter,” I reply, reaching up and catching the handful of chicken drumsticks that are flying towards me. “Ew, gross, they’re all raw and…gross.”
Armed with chicken, wands and a sonic screwdriver, we enter the library.
“There are still shadows,” the Doctor notes, “But we can see what’s casting them. Erica, throw a bit of chicken into that one.”
I do so, and in moments it’s reduced to a glistening bone. I can’t help but feel disappointed; I thought Lumos Maxima would be a miracle cure.
“Vashta Nerada die in the light,” the Doctor continues. “If you keep this lit, day in, day out, the population might reduce. They’re only dangerous in large numbers, when there’s a swarm of them. Or they could just…hide in the shadows, biding their time.”
I’m not much of a fan of that scenario, to be honest. “Lumos,” I mutter, and the end of my wand ignites. I crouch down, carefully aiming the light into the shadow. It retreats, and the Doctor buzzes it with his sonic screwdriver.
“You’re either killing them or driving them back,” he says. “But I suppose you can’t just sit here all day moving the light to reach the shadows, can you? We need some kind of bulb…something that can store and use whatever energy you’re making, something I’ve never come across before…Yes!” He leaps to his feet, spins in a circle and runs out of the library. Bewildered, we follow him.
“You get used to it after a while,” Amy tells me. “There’s an awful lot of running.”
“I…can’t…run,” Lysander puffs. “Asthma…”
Madam Chetterley and I stop, and the Doctor yells over his shoulder, “I’ll be back soon! Don’t go anywhere.”
“Oi!” I yell. “You need a wizard with you or you won’t be able to get back!”
“Then hurry up!”
Casting an apologetic look at Lysander, I take to my heels, catch up with the Doctor and point him in the direction of the shortcut into Hogsmeade. Inspired by a passage that opened up during the war, some enterprising senior student set it up to lead straight into the Hog’s Head from an out-of-the-way corridor on the fourth floor. Rumour has it he collected a commission from old Aberforth Dumbledore for the extra (illegal) customers he brought through before he left Hogwarts and Aberforth died. He left a legacy though, in the form of the password that lets you through.
I prod the tapestry on the wall with my wand and whisper, “Teddy’s awesome.”
“Teddy? Who’s Teddy?” The Doctor asks as I lead them through into the passageway.
“The guy who made this passage. No idea who he is, but apparently he’s awesome.”
“So what’s the deal with your school?” Amy asks conversationally.
“It’s a school of magic. We come here for seven years and…learn magic.”
“What kind of magic?”
“Uhm, Charms, that’s wandwork, Transfiguration, that’s more wandwork, Potions, that’s mixing stuff together to make stuff that does stuff, Defence Against the Dark Arts, that’s fighting evil stuff—”
“That sounds cool,” the Doctor interjects.
“And academic stuff like History of Magic, Ancient Runes, even Muggle Studies because most wizards don’t know the first thing about Muggles.”
“So what’s your favourite?”
“History of Magic.”
“You’re kidding.” Amy frowns. “You have all these awesome, magicky subjects, and your favourite’s history?”
“This coming from the girl who travels through time,” Rory comments.
“It’s the only way to make history interesting. What?” she asks defensively, glaring at Rory. “You failed history at school.”
“Yeah, and then I died, and came back as a plastic Roman, and lived through the last two thousand years of human history.”
“Do you travel in time?” Amy asks me suddenly.
“No. We used to have things called Time Turners, but they were all destroyed in the last Wizarding War and time travel’s been out of the question since then.”
“If they were destroyed,” The Doctor begins, “Why didn’t you just make new ones? Or did you forget how you made them?”
“I don’t know! I’m a Muggleborn!”
“What does that mean?”
“Means my parents are Muggles. Don’t know how I turned out magic and believe me, I’ve been trying to find out for the last seven years.”