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Chapter 6 : Into the Crypts
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They proceeded driving, passing several German columns and campsites, while trying to keep a reasonable distance. Dumbledore’s concealment charm had held up well, but it was still a very strange feeling for the men to be that perilously close to their enemies. There was no conversation during this ride, as the tension thickened the closer they got to their objective. The soldiers kept their eyes glued on the horizon while Dumbledore glanced through the Gringott’s Guide to Egyptian Curse Breaking. Every once in a while a German truck would come a little too close for comfort, but aside from that the journey was otherwise uneventful.
In the late afternoon, they arrived at the spot indicated on the map. After hiding the truck as best they could, they crouched behind a dune and peered down into the valley below, where German soldiers were hard at work digging up two separate crypts. They couldn’t help but feel humbled by the thousands of years of ancient history spread out before them. “We’ll wait here until nightfall, and then we move,” decided Dumbledore.
They spent the next several hours in stillness and complete silence, until the sun descended beneath the dunes and the cold desert night set in again. On Dumbledore’s signal, they gradually and stealthily crawled their way into the site below. Fortunately, it appeared that the Germans, overconfident in the security of their position, had neglected to post sentries. Fairly certain that they had not been noticed, Dumbledore led the way towards the less exposed of the two crypts, surmising that this was likely to be the one that held the scepter.
Dumbledore withdrew his wand as he cautiously probed around the entrance to the crypt. He used a wind charm to remove the deep layers of dust and sand that had accumulated on the ancient limestone, until the original door and inscriptions were visible. He quickly concluded that it was magically sealed, and that a simple “Alohomora” spell would not be sufficient. As a master of ancient runes, he quickly translated the large and intricate hieroglyphic inscriptions on the walls. “It requires blood, sweat and tears to enter,” he said, “Somebody please cut me.”
“That’s preposterous,” objected Evans, who was feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the overall situation.
Dumbledore held firm, “We are on magical grounds now, if we are to survive, you must be prepared to do exactly as I instruct, regardless of the danger it places me in.”
Reluctantly, Evans pulled out his field knife and drew some blood from Dumbledore’s hand, which he allowed to drip onto the door. After the day’s exertions in the heat, there was no difficulty in summoning sweat. Seeing no other options, Dumbledore then forced himself to think about Arianna, until he had finally shed a tear. When all three had been contributed, the massive stone door slowly swung open, making a low, rumbling noise.
Dumbledore led the way as they walked single file into the pitch dark crypt. As they made their initial entrance, they could not even see their own hands in front of their faces, and they were haunted by the faint sound of creatures, not sure if they were real or imagined.
“Lumos!” exclaimed Dumbledore, as his wand illuminated their immediate vicinity.
Evans lit his Army issued torch for additional light as Bromhead, Reynolds, and MacDonald fell in line and followed close behind, nervously wielding their rifles.
They were in a large anteroom whose walls were covered in colorful ancient murals depicting Egyptian gods and goddesses fighting a massive battle. A heavy aura of mystery filled the air as they cautiously made their way towards a very narrow corridor. As they methodically walked across the room, they heard some uncomfortable crunches as they trod over the centuries old bones of those who had previously broken into the tomb. They were afraid and disgusted; and yet they pressed on, trusting Dumbledore.
Dumbledore guided them as they crowded into the narrow corridor and they struggled to breathe in the foul smelling air that had been stagnant for many centuries. They carefully placed one foot in front of the other as their footsteps sank into the soft sand beneath them, feeling very tense, as if danger could be sprung at any moment. As Dumbledore carefully trod, he felt his right foot not sink naturally into the sand the way his other footsteps had as he had probably stepped on a different surface. Sensing something was amiss, he shouted, “Get down, quickly!”
As a group, they dove and hit the ground in unison as a massive volley of arrows went whizzing by, mere centimeters above their heads.
“A classic trap, and one which I should have anticipated,” Dumbledore said calmly as he stood up and continued walking. The men slowly stood up and followed, not sure how many more “classic traps” they could endure.
As they reached the end of the corridor, there was a sudden burst of activity as a creature jumped out in front of them. They spun around in panic, wondering what type of creature was confronting them, until it finally took a seat in front of them, revealing a lion like form with a human head.
“A bloody sphinx, you have got to be joking!” Evans exclaimed in shock and disbelief.
“Yes, they do exist, and they’re quite dangerous,” Dumbledore calmly assured him.
The sphinx sat down in from of them and began to speak, “In order to pass any further you must provide the correct answer to my riddle. If you fail to do so, I will be forced to kill all of you.”
There was a nervous silence as the men anticipated her riddle, hoping it would not be too difficult, and placing to trust in Dumbledore to figure it out.
The sphinx began, “I can be kept after I am given away; what am I?”
Trying desperately to think clearly, the men huddled together to confer. “That sounds like the clap,” MacDonald thought out loud.
Bromhead gave him a swift elbow to the stomach, “You stupid git! Are you trying to get us killed?”
“I’m talking about a round of applause; it keeps spreading joy after you give one, what did you think I meant?” MacDonald responded.
Evans shook his head, “No, it has to be something more eccentric than that, keep thinking.”
Dumbledore was deep in contemplation and had not heard any of this. When he was confident in his answer, he spoke up. “A promise, you can keep a promise after you give one.”
A thick tension filled the air and heartbeats raced as they waited in suspense for the sphinx’s response. Finally the sphinx spoke, “You are correct, at long last I am free,” and with that, she disappeared.
Breathing a deep sigh of relief, they continued their slow, cautious walk. “That didn’t seem too difficult, I don’t know why the Nazis couldn’t figure that one out,” Reynolds observed.
“Well if they were smart they probably wouldn’t have been Nazis in the first place,” Evans nervously joked, trying desperately to maintain his nerve.
They pressed on until they reached a small room and the path did not continue any further. At the front of the room was a fairly large rectangular box of stone, which they assumed must contain the scepter. Keeping on the alert, Dumbledore methodically performed tracing charms and scanned the box for curses, finding none. When he assured the others it was safe, they carefully lifted the heavy stone lid from the box and set it aside, making a loud scraping noise in the process. With the box now open, they gathered round to peer inside, not knowing what to expect. Their eyes were met with amazement as the found an ornate gold scepter, still shining brightly despite being thousands of years old. It was encrusted with the largest ruby any of them had ever seen, which was about the size of a tennis ball.
Dumbledore warned them, “Stand back, there may be further protections at work.”
He carefully balanced his weight, taking extra care to cause as little disturbances as possible, as he gingerly slid one hand underneath the scepter and timidly began to lift it up. He exhaled deeply when he finally safely removed the scepter, and he couldn’t help but feel that the whole thing was a bit anticlimactic.
Dumbledore turned around to display the scepter, as everybody in the group felt a deep sigh of relief and began to let their guard down just a little bit. They began to laugh and slap each other on the back when they were interrupted by a slight rumbling noise that seemed to be coming from the ceiling.
“What the hell was that?” exclaimed MacDonald.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” said Evans, trying to reassure himself.
The rumbling continued as a previously unnoticed trap door in the ceiling began to slide open. They were completely shocked when from out of the door, a viscous, six foot tall scorpion suddenly feel into the room.
“Get behind me!” Dumbledore yelled as he reached for his wand! Before he could act, the scorpion violently thrust its venomous tail in his direction, scoring a direct hit. The poison rushing through his body, Dumbledore collapsed to the ground as he quickly faded from consciousness.
The soldiers ran for cover, their bodies acting instinctively before their minds could process everything, as the scorpion thrashed about wildly in every direction.
“Somebody shoot it!” Bromhead called out, as he wildly fired some rifle shots in the air, which did nothing more than kick up a large cloud of dust as they ricocheted off the walls.
“We can’t it’s too fast!” called out Evans as he tucked himself and rolled hard to his left, narrowly avoiding the scorpion’s tail. Thinking quickly as he rolled back and forth, an idea came to him. “Reynolds, you worked on a farm, can’t you rope it or something?”
“That’s absolutely mental but it just might work,” shouted Reynolds, as he dove behind the stone table, hoping its minimal protection would buy him enough time to prepare his rope.
The others ran around, continuing to dodge the scorpion’s wild movements. With a powerful swing of its tail, the scorpion knocked out a portion of the wall, sending rubble flying, the force of which knocked MacDonald to the ground. Sensing vulnerability, the beast slowed down and crept towards him, preparing to attack its prey. Unfortunately for the scorpion, this was the opportunity that Reynolds needed. As it closed in on MacDonald, Reynolds snuck up behind, slinging a lasso around its neck. It thrashed about, attempting to free itself, which only increased Reynolds’ grip. Bromhead rolled underneath the frantically flailing scorpion and then quickly stood up, sticking it with a bayonet in its midsection. Grievously wounded, the scorpion’s movements became weaker and weaker until it collapsed on the ground. With the creature now cornered, Evans carefully approached it and fired several shots from his revolver at point blank range until the movements ceased altogether.
“Next time we fight a giant scorpion, let’s not use me as the bloody bait!” exclaimed MacDonald, as he got up and dusted himself off.
Evans took a deep breath, and complimented the others on their outstanding teamwork before rushing to check on Dumbledore. “He’s still breathing,” said Evans as he crouched down close to Dumbledore, “But he needs help, let’s grab the scepter and get him out of here!”
As the men rushed to Dumbledore’s side, they soon heard the echoing of a large number of footsteps in the corridor, which gradually became louder as they drew nearer.
“Sounds like we’re about to have company!” exclaimed Bromhead, as he rushed towards the entrance to have a look. He quickly noticed a large group of German soldiers with what appeared to be a wizard at its head rapidly approaching their position. When they noticed him, he attempted to open fire with his rifle, but he watched helplessly as the bullets deflected harmlessly off a shield charm cast by the wizard.
“Expiliarmus!” cried the wizard, and Bromhead’s rifle flew out of his hands as he fell backwards. Reynolds and MacDonald charged forward and were hit with body-bind curses. Evans, who had been attempting to hide Dumbledore, was kicked to the ground before he could react and soon found German rifles pointed at his face.
Meisterberger scanned the scene. After noticing that the door of the crypt was open, he had awoken the troops and followed the intruders inside, and they had led him straight to his goal. “You fools have simplified my task,” he said as he grabbed the scepter and cradled it in his arms. While satisfied with the result, he was flummoxed how a small group of British soldiers had managed to make it past the enchantments. Finally noticing the unconscious Dumbledore, he asked, “Who is this man?”
“He’s our commanding officer, obviously he’s a bit older,” answered Evans in an obvious fib.
Meisterberger kicked Evans angrily. “Do not lie to me! How did this man get past the enchantments?”
Evans thought quickly, “The British Museum sent him here; he’s a scholar of Egypt.”
Meisterberger was deeply suspicious, but it seemed to be a plausible explanation. He ordered the troops to tie up the prisoners, leaving two behind as guards. “We must now complete our mission,” he told the troops. He shot a sinister glace towards Evans, “I will deal with the prisoners later, and it will not be pleasant,” he snarled. He spit on the ground for emphasis as he turned and walked away with the troops following close behind.
As the footsteps faded away in the corridor, Evans assessed the situation. There were four of them, plus the unconscious Dumbledore, being watched over by two armed guards. If they could somehow manage to untie themselves, the scales would be in their favour. As the effects of the curse they had endured wore off, Evans shared a knowing glance with Reynolds; their plan was in motion.
Of the many skills Will Reynolds had acquired growing up in the wild and unforgiving environment of the Australian outback, one of them was a thorough knowledge of knots, every type of them. Intently concentrating and painfully straining his wrists, he soon managed to undo his bounds. Remaining still so as not to alert the guards, he whispered to MacDonald, “Do you think the guards know English?”
“Hitler is a ponce!” MacDonald called out rather loudly. When that earned nothing more than a brief quizzical glance from the guards, he concluded, “No, I don’t think they do.”
“Hold still, I’m going to untie you,” Reynolds told MacDonald, as he slid over, still pretending to be tied up himself.
Yearning to cause a distraction, Evans strained to remember the one year of German he had taken in school. “Guten Tag,” he called out to the guards, who curiously approached him.
Evans began to engage them in conversation, hoping the others would act quickly because his limited German would not hold up for long. With the guards now fully engrossed in talking to Evans, the still tied up Bromhead slid forward and tripped them up with a swift leg sweep. The stunned guards were then immediately tackled by Reynolds and MacDonald, who had snuck up behind them, and were knocked out after a few quick blows.
“That was brilliant lads, now let’s save this old codger,” said Evans. As they untied him, he retrieved Dumbledore’s bag, which had been confiscated by the guards and rushed to Dumbledore’s side, while the others tied up the guards. Hastily rifling through the cluttered bag, he found a small white box which he assumed must be the wizard equivalent of a first aid kit. He tried several different vials which seemed to be healing potions but to no effect. Finally, he found a small bag labeled “bezoars, for emergency use only.” Deciding that this definitely qualified as an emergency, Evans grabbed one of the small round objects and placed it inside Dumbledore’s mouth.
Dumbledore’s eyes opened wide as he snapped to attention and exclaimed, “I’ll have three chocolate frogs and a butterbeer!” He was clearly still a bit delirious from the effects of the poison.
Evans propped the slowly recovering Dumbledore up against the wall and quickly formulated a plan. “Bromhead, take their uniforms,” he said, pointing to the guards. “We’ll go in as Germans; pretend we’re taking the others as prisoners to the other crypt.”
“And then we jump them!” MacDonald added excitedly.
“And remember, they don’t know Dumbledore’s a wizard, so we can use that to our advantage,” said Evans, amazed that Dumbledore somehow still had his wand.
Evans quickly changed into the German uniform as he helped Dumbledore walk through the crypt. When they were outside once more, they surveyed the scene. The other crypt, a few hundred yards away, seemed to be bustling with activity. There were two guards posted at the entrance, and the rest of the German force seemed to be inside. With the uniform and weapons they had taken from the guards, Evans and Bromhead approached the entrance, leading Reynolds and MacDonald at gunpoint. Dumbledore, who was quickly recovering and now able to support himself, trailed behind unnoticed.
The guards asked a few questions in German that Evans couldn’t quite understand, but before they had time to react, MacDonald and Reynolds had jumped the first guard while a stunning spell from Dumbledore took care of the other one. They dragged the unconscious guards around the corner and took their uniforms, so that all four soldiers were now dressed as Germans. Dumbledore informed them that he could sneak in after them with a concealment charm.
As Evans led the way into the crypt, it was obvious that they were not alone inside. Noticing a stairwell that led up to a balcony, he decided this was a wiser path to take. The men walked up the stairs and out onto the small balcony, and found themselves looking down on a massive room with rows upon rows of sarcophaguses that seemed to belong to ancient warriors. Far away from them at the front of the room, there was a large throne facing the army of mummies. Meisterberger was standing in front of the throne, holding the scepter, and appeared to be beginning some sort of incantation. There was a German Colonel and three of four others who appeared to be wizards standing next to him, and a few hundred soldiers gathered around them. Dark clouds of trepidation hung over the room as one could almost feel the mummies stirring, buzzing with the anticipation that they may soon be returning to the land of the living.
“We don’t have much time, that scepter must be destroyed,” a very concerned Dumbledore informed them. Deciding to try the most obvious option first, he aimed his wand in that direction and cast, “Accio scepter!”
Nothing happened. Of course it wouldn’t be that simple.
“Can’t you just zap it or something?” MacDonald asked eagerly.
“Deep ancient magic is protecting that scepter, we need to find another way,” answered Dumbledore.
Completely bereft of any other ideas, Evans tried thinking outside the box, “The Egyptians didn’t know about rifles, did they?”
Dumbledore paused; he never would have considered that option, but now that he thought about it, it just might work. This was Muggle ingenuity at its finest.
“Something that small, from this distance, that’s nearly impossible,” said Bromhead dismissively.
Reynolds, the most accurate shooter in the group, then spoke up, “It’s not impossible, I used to shoot wombats in the canyon back home, and those aren’t much bigger than that.”
“Remind me to never go anywhere without an Aussie,” remarked MacDonald in amazement.
Seeing no harm in trying, Dumbledore and Evans agreed to let Reynolds take the shot. Reynolds breathed deeply as he calmly lined up the sights of the captured German rifle. It was a difficult shot, but not an impossible one. He could hear his own heartbeat pounding in his ears as he took careful aim, the others remaining completely silent so as not to distract him. Shooting wombats in the Outback was one thing, but the stakes were just a little bit higher here.
Aiming for the large ruby in the center of the scepter, he finally squeezed the trigger. For a brief moment, everything hung in the balance as they waited for the result. The whole world seemed to stand still as the fate of their mission, and even the war as a whole, seemed to rest on the success or failure of this one shot. The tension was thick enough to be cut with a knife as everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Finally, after an instant that felt like an eternity, the ruby shattered into thousands of fragments as the bullet found its mark.
Chaos erupted as the stunned Meisterberger frantically searched for an intruder. He and the other wizards were shooting curses in every possible direction, not sure what they were aiming at, but hoping to hit something. Following the lead of their magical colleagues, the German soldiers loudly and confusedly fired their weapons in no particular direction.
“Great shot Reynolds!” shouted Evans as they rapidly descended the stairwell, blending in nicely in their German uniforms, and firing their rifles in the air to contribute to the general confusion.
With a great leap, Meisterberger suddenly appeared at the foot of the stairs, blocking their path, as Dumbledore chose that moment to reveal himself.
“I knew it, the old man was a wizard!” shouted Meisterberger. “Avada Kedavra!” he exclaimed, shooting green light from his wand.
In one complex motion, Dumbledore made a jump resembling a pirouette as he deftly dodged the killing curse and responded with a stunning spell of his own. The red light from Dumbledore’s wand hit Meisterberger square in the chest, driving him backwards and knocking him out.
Dumbledore stepped over his unconscious foe as a mighty low rumbling noise began to be heard. The base of the walls began to shake and massive cracks opened up in the roof, causing large quantities of dust and dirt to come raining down.
“What’s happening?” Evans asked him urgently, his face as white as a ghost.
“It appears to be something of a magical self destruction system if you will. It must have been a safeguard installed by the Pharaoh many years ago. The crypt can sense the conflict within and it’s collapsing for its own protection,” explained Dumbledore.
Heeding Dumbledore’s warning, they asked no more questions and ran for their lives. Dumbledore took up a position near the exit and cast a shield charm as his comrades scurried out the door.
“Come on!” they shouted, as a large stone door began to lower itself. Realizing that the rest of the group had made it out, Dumbledore broke off the shield charm and ran as fast as he could, sliding and tumbling underneath the massive door just before it slammed shut with a mighty crash.
With a series of loud and fiery explosions, the tomb behind them collapsed on itself, emitting the full fury of a very ancient magic. Without looking back, they kept running over the steep gradient of a nearby sand dune until they collapsed behind its protection, exhausted and out of breath. The air of the calm desert night provided a much needed respite from the chaos they had just been a part of.
Dumbledore took a moment to glance back on the destruction of the now abandoned site, knowing that his mission was successful, and Grindelwald had just suffered a major setback. The war was far from over, but the first blow had been struck.
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