By Niels van Eekelen

--Chapter Four--

The Binding Spell

Hermione went through what had used to be the gate to the castle, and ran back to the camping site as fast as she could. Not to go to sleep, now, but she had an idea for a spell that might just help her survive the night. All that she needed was her books.

Running as she was, Hermione made a much better time on her way back to the tents than she had on her way to the Castle. With a bang, Hermione knocked over some folding chairs that someone had left standing outside in the dark. Hermione hurt her knee, and she stood rubbing the painful spot for a moment, but she was more worried about all the noise the falling chairs had caused. When there was no immediate reaction from any of the tents, Hermione quietly sneaked back into the Granger tent.

Inside, Hermione's Mum and Dad breathed easily, regularly. They were still soundly asleep, and Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. Her pyjamas were dirty enough from falling over in the castle that there was no getting around the fact that she'd gone outside that night, but that was a worry for the morning.

As silently as she could, Hermione crawled over to her suitcase on her hands and knees. No, she realised when she was about to open it ... her Encyclopaedia Abracadabria was lying next to her sleeping bag. She leafed though the pages, looking for the entry about the Scottish banshee. Hermione had to turn the page quickly when the entry about an ancient sleeping spell suddenly started snoring loudly. Ah, there was the Scottish banshee. Hermione reread the entry, but like the first time she'd read it, it didn't tell how to subdue the creature. Hermione had a sneaking suspicion that was to keep inexperienced people from trying. She sighed and took out her wand. There was no going back now.

Hermione touched the end of her wand to the banshee entry and her face scrunched in concentration. 'Elaboratus.' The point where her wand touched the parchment lit up briefly, and then the page began rippling and the text began moving around on the parchment. 'Yes!' Hermione whispered enthusiastically. 'It worked!'

When the words settled, there were over three full pages of text about the Scottish banshee, and even a full colour moving illustration. Hermione skimmed through the text until she found what she was looking for. 'Hmm,' she commented when she did. So there was a binding spell to subdue the banshee. Hermione even thought that she would be able to do it. The spell didn't look too complicated. The trick was to ignore the banshee's song long enough to finish the spell, and the Encyclopeadia was still of little assistance in that department.

Well, it couldn't be helped. Hermione shrugged and quietly crept out of the tent again. Under the stars, Hermione stopped for a second. She had the creepiest feeling that someone was watching her, but she dismissed it as nerves and hurried back to the Castle of Despair as fast as she could. Nearer to the castle, Hermione slowed down to catch her breath. It wouldn't do to find the banshee and be gasping for air too hard to be able to pronounce the spell. Again Hermione had that feeling that she was being watched, but she shrugged it off. As dangerous as the banshee was, its glow would have been a dead giveaway if it was watching Hermione, and the castle looked perfectly dark from the outside. In a scary way. Hermione swallowed hard and went inside.

It seemed that there were a lot more corridors and hallways than she remembered, Hermione thought as she turned about the hundredth corner. She paused for a moment, standing perfectly still and holding her breath so as best to listen. A few times, now, Hermione had heard the banshee's cry in the distance. Vague enough that she hadn't had any more of those dreadful waking dreams, only a very uncomfortable feeling, but clear enough that Hermione had been able to make a good guess at the direction the cry came from. Unfortunately, the cursed thing kept floating through the castle, and Hermione was becoming more and more convinced that it wasn't bothering with stairways and corridors like she was ... or for that matter, with doors! Still, Hermione knew that she was bound to run into the banshee sooner rather than later. It was, after all, supposed to search out intruders in the castle. It wouldn't ignore her, no matter how much it was enjoying its rewon freedom.

There it was again! ... Hermione frowned in concentration ... It sounded like the cry was coming from above, a little off to Hermione's back and left. She'd passed the main stairway just two minutes ago. Hermione hurriedly ran back through the hallway.

By the time she'd reached the top of the stairs, Hermione was huffing and puffing. She halted again for a moment, to get her breath back and to listen again ... The cry of the banshee was still there. A little further away (horizontally speaking) than before, but still nearby. A shiver ran down Hermione's back and her mouth felt uncomfortably dry. She was finally getting close, but she didn't feel relieved. Her wand was in her hand, and she was clasping it so tightly she was afraid it might crack.

Hermione crossed a room, moving slowly and silently, but as she did she could hear the banshee moving further away. She decided she'd have to sacrifice stealth for speed and ran to the door at the other end of the room.

And suddenly, Hermione could see the banshee. It was floating halfway through a wall a dozen metres away, and the sight of its cloud-like, glowing form burnt terror right into Hermione's eyes. It's not real fear you're feeling, she told herself, it's only the banshee's effect. It can't hurt you if you remember that. But it didn't do her any good.

Hermione raised her wand and pointed it at the banshee. Her best chance was to perform the binding spell before it noticed her. 'Dor ...' She had to do it now. 'Dormions ...'

The banshee stopped its motion away from Hermione. She had never felt so scared in her life. She didn't stand a chance. Why had Hermione ever thought anything she tried would make a difference? The banshee's death's head-face appeared out of nowhere on the side of its cloud facing Hermione.

She was only five-and-a-half years old, and from her point of view, the drop from the climbing frame seemed endless. Hermione was sitting on the highest bar on the contraption, her legs bungling down on either side of it, and she could see the other children standing safely on the ground deep below her. She was going to fall. She had done so before, after all.

Hermione shook her head, shrugging off the illusion. No, she wasn't home ... she was in Scotland, at the Castle of Despair ... and she was thirteen, not five ...

'Dormions,' Hermione started over in a determined voice, 'Dormions monstro ...'

By the time Hermione got on the Hogwarts Express, that odd little train on which you could never tell in which direction you were going no matter how much attention you put into looking out of the windows, to get to Hogwarts for her third year there, the trip should have been familiar and comfortable. But Hermione had a bad feeling about it. She was sitting in a compartment with Ron and Harry, Ron's sister Ginny, his brothers Fred, George and Percy,Seamus Finnigan, Parvati Patil, Neville Longbottom and most of the other kids in Gryffindor, right down to Colin Creevy, and then there was Professor Lupin. It seemed a bit odd, Hermione thought, that they were all sitting the single compartment, but it didn't seem particularly crowded in there.

Aside from the many people in the compartment, everything felt strangely familiar to Hermione. But not familiar in the should-be-comforting way of having been on the Hogwarts Express often enough sense, but familiar I-know-that-bad-things-are-gonna-happen sense. Hermione, feeling suddenly afraid, tried to get up, but Ron and Harry, on either side of her, pulled her back down onto her seat.

'You can't get away this time, Miss Granger,' Professor Lupin said, almost sounding pitying. 'There's simply no escape.' Malfoy snickered.

And then the door to the compartment opened, and in the open doorway stood the horrible, hooded figure of a Dementor, an inhuman guard of the wizard prison of Azkaban. Hermione shivered. Dementors were enough to scare anybody, but they had an even stronger effect on Harry, and Hermione had always had an eery curiosity to know what it felt like when Harry saw a Dementor. (Though that didn't make any sense, since Hermione saw a Dementor for the first time this day on the Hogwarts Express.)

Now, she found out. A feeling of despair, purer than any other feeling she had ever felt, settled in Hermione as blackness engulfed her. There were images, things Hermione saw, but later she would never be able to remember what they were. In all truth, Hermione was glad of it. She might not be able to remember what it was she had seen, she knew that it had been absolutely terrifying.

'Yo, Granger! I'm gonna tell that you went to the castle in the middle of the night! You're gonna be in big trouble. Not to mention that you're going to make a bad fall! Ha ha!'

Hermione found herself lying on the cold stone floor, hugging her knees against her chest. She was crying, and so tired ... It was hard to keep her eyes open, and Hermione wondered why she was even bothering to try. She could just lie here forever, until she died, and it wouldn't matter at all. It wouldn't make any difference.

But vaguely, Hermione recalled that just a minute before, she had been in one of the waking dreams caused by the banshee's cry. Something had helped her break free ... Not that it mattered much. There was no escape for her this time. Still, Hermione found the strength somewhere to lift her head and open her eyes.

The banshee was still there, of course. But Hermione could no longer see its monstrous face, that was turned away from her now. Something had distracted it. Someone.

Suddenly, Hermione's eyes snapped wide open. Behind the banshee, she could see Melvin Cracker. Melvin Cracker, in the Castle of despair in the dead of night, frozen on the spot with fear and despair as the banshee sang him a sour song. Had he followed Hermione there? Of course! That would explain why she'd had that creepy feeling of being watched while she returned to the Castle after looking up the spell. The spell! In a rush, everything was coming back to Hermione.

Despite all the despair she was still feeling, Hermione felt that no matter how much she disliked Melvin, she had to try to save him. And with the binding spell, Hermione knew that it wasn't impossible. She focussed on that as she slowly got back to her feet. Remarkably, Hermione was still holding on to her wand. She pointed it at the Scottish banshee. She could do this, Hermione told herself. She could do it. Melvin started sobbing loudly.

'Dormions Monstrum,' Hermione started, and a grey glow shot from her wand to the banshee. '... Silencius Bestium ...' The banshee was glowing grey itself, now, and it had noticed Hermione's attempt to bind it. Its face appeared on her side of the banshee's cloud-like body again. Behind it, Melvin Cracker collapsed to the floor. '... Morpheus Vos Maestrum Est!' And the banshee screamed. Hermione started, afraid that she had done something wrong, but it was a scream of the banshee's own despair, and it held no power over her. The scream faded out, and the banshee's cloud-like body coalesced into a smaller, unmoving solid form.

To her surprise, Hermione realised that she'd done it. She'd saved the Muggles who would be coming to see the Castle of Despair in the morning. She'd even saved Melvin, though the boy had only tried to get Hermione into trouble for it. So, Hermione thought, she should be feeling quite pleased with herself. That spell had been strong enough that only sixth or seventh year students at Hogwarts might learn it at Hogwarts. And on top of that, Hermione felt that she had proven to herself that she actually was quite brave, and that maybe the Sorting Hat had just judged her better than she'd judged herself when it put her in Gryffindor. Plenty of reasons to be happy.

And Hermione would be happy. In the morning. Right now, she was too tired. If she could just get some rest ...

A second later, Hermione was asleep.

Hermione's sleep was calm and restfully, unplagued by any bad dreams ... or any dreams at all, for that matter. She was just too tired to have any. Hermione lost all track of time, and thus had no idea how late it was when a hand on her shoulder gently shook her awake.

''kay, Mum,' she muttered sleepily without opening her eyes. ''ll be righ' there.'

The hand, however, didn't listen to her, and kept shaking her. Now a voice was gently saying her name, as well. Hermione groaned. She was lying so comfortably here, with the sun shining on her face. Wait a minute ... that wasn't really true ... Hermione was lying very uncomfortably on a cold, hard surface. Stone ... Stone floor, the castle! Suddenly jerked wide awake, Hermione opened her eyes and sat straight up. The sun shone straight into her eyes, and as Hermione raised a hand to shield them, she was startled at how late it was. Mum and Dad! They must be so worried!

'There, there, Miss Granger, are you all right?' someone said nearby, and Hermione looked aside to see the man who'd shaken her awake sitting kneeled on the ground next to her.

'Mr Weasley!' Hermione exclaimed. 'What ...' She looked around, and saw at least half a dozen more wizards in Ministry robes scurrying around the hall. The banshee nor Melvin Cracker were anywhere to be seen. 'What are you doing here?' she wondered curiously.

Mr Weasley chuckled merrily. 'Why are we here?' he repeated. 'Well, Hermione, just to clean up the mess, since you already did the real work for us.' Seeing that Hermione still didn't quite understand, Mr Weasley continued. 'You see, a witch on Watcher duty at the Ministry sensed the binding spell for the Scottish banshee being performed here at Loch Leigh ... Powerful bit of magic, that, I'm impressed that you could handle it ... Anyway, we all thought that it was just Mr McAroni calming the banshee down after a particularly wild mood. The creature throws fits sometimes, you know. Nothing we can do about those in advance. So I took a group of wizards and witches to clean up the castle, to make sure the banshee's song hadn't contaminated any rooms all over again like before we first restored the castle. And instead of Mr McAroni, we found you and Henry McNuggett, both asleep. You can imagine our surprise.'

'Who's Mr McAroni?' Hermione asked.

'He's another Ministry employee,' explained Mr Weasley. 'He was supposed to relieve Henry last week.' He shook his head disapprovingly, and even a little angrily. 'The banshee is kept trapped in its room, you see, Hermione, but stand guard over it for too long, and its song will still grab hold of you. Because McAroni never showed, Henry fell victim to the song, and the banshee managed to escape.'

'Do you have any idea what happened to Mr McAroni, Mr Weasley?' Hermione tried to get to her feet, but she was stiff and unsteady from lying on the hard stone floor too long, and Mr Weasley had to help her up.

'He overslept.' Mr Weasley was obviusly disgusted with the man.

'Overslept?' Hermione asked astonishedly. 'For a whole week?'

Mr Weasley nodded his agreement. 'I know,' he said. 'Scandalous, isn't it? Rest assured that that wizard won't find himself in an important position again anytime soon.'

Hermione suddenly remembered something, and she looked to the floor, hesitant to speak.

Mr Weasley noticed it. 'Something wrong, Hermione?' he asked.

'Am I in trouble?' Hermione asked in a small voice.

'What on earth for?' Mr Weasley wondered, surprised. Then he seemed to realise what Hermione meant, and it was his turn to look away, a sheepish look on his face. 'Oh. You mean for using magic during the summer holidays. Actually, the Ministry would like to keep this little mishap quiet as much as you do, Hermione. The banshee should never have been able to escape. It's just that the entire Ministry has been so busy with the Quidditch World Cup ... all that fuss ... If the press finds out about this, we're all done for.'

'So ...' Hermione said hopefully, 'If I won't tell anyone, you won't either?'

Mr Weasley looked at her and nodded. Hermione smiled relievedly. She hadn't realised how afraid she'd been that she'd get expelled from Hogwarts or something until now.

Now there was only one problem left.

'Um, Mr Weasley,' Hermione said, 'I really should be going back now. My parents must be terribly worried.'

Mr Weasley clapped a hand on her shoulder. 'I'll walk you there. But don't worry, I sent someone to tell your father and mother that you're all right. It's the least we could do, because you did save us a lot of trouble.'

As they walked out of the Castle of Despair, something else occurred to Hermione. 'Mr Weasley?' she asked. 'Whatever happened to Melvin Cracker?'

'The Muggle boy? I brought him back to his tent myself. Mighty interesting things, those Muggle tents. Pity I don't have more time. We had to put a memory charm on the boy, of course. He won't remember anything about little witches and monsters.' Hermione grimaced in disappointment. It was perhaps a bit cruel of her to think so, but Melvin had completely deserved learning a lesson and being put in his place. 'But,' Ron's father continued, and Hermione thought she saw him suppress a smile, 'it appears that the boy was so frightened by the vision the banshee's song made him see that he wet himself. We had to cover everything up, of course, so I invented the story that I fished him up out of the water of the lake, and let him explain to his mother why he'd gone swimming in the middle of the night.

Hermione nearly laughed out loud. That story would be all over the camp site in the morning, and the humiliation was exactly what Melvin deserved.

This was certainly turning out to be the most interesting vacation Hermione had ever had. She wanted to write Ron and Harry and tell them everything as soon as she got back to the tent, but she decided to wait until she saw them again. The boys would never believe any of it from a piece of parchment. Even more than before, Hermione couldn't wait for the Quidditch World Cup and the beginning of the new year at Hogwarts after that.

--The End--

Story written by Niels van Eekelen. © Copyright 2004 Telltale Productions.

Harry Potter and the world of muggles, witches and wizards © Copyright 2004 J.K. Rowling, used with gratitude if not permission.