The Restricted Section
Cormac remained at Hogwarts to investigate for a while longer and his continued presence made them believe he hadn't located the ring yet. October passed into November but still they hadn't come close to figuring out what the dragon ring did. Cedric wasn't one to give up easily though and every day, he spent every free minute he had in the library looking for information on the dragon ring. Free time, however, became sparser and sparser as classes became more demanding. They were now finally doing actual magic but that did not reduce their work load, on the contrary, because on top of all their essays, they were now tasked with practising spells as well in their free time. For Rick, that was not an issue. He loved practising spells and thanks to the mysterious person still handing in his homework, he had loads of free time to do that. Rigel and Terri were managing as well but Cedric was still struggling with the actual magic. It got to the point where he even got extra homework to practise. He didn't complain though and still found time to look for the dragon ring. Rick had already suggested to forget the whole thing, bored with not finding anything but Cedric dismissed the idea, determined to find the answer. He was so immersed in it that he even forgot to head for classes in time and Rick, Rigel and Terri had to go and collect him from the library. One day near the end of November, when it was Rick's turn to collect Cedric at the end of the break to head for Defence Against the Dark Arts, he found his nerdy friend seated at a small table in a dark corner near the end of the library, but he wasn't alone. Atia Rydell and her friend Maeve Domville, were standing around his table intimidating Cedric.
"What are you researching anyway?" Atia was taunting him. "Why are you looking up dragons? First years don't learn about dragons, do they?" She asked her friend rhetorically. Cedric reddened and began to stutter and Rick thought that was a good time to interrupt.
"He's looking for your family resemblance but he should have gotten a book on trolls, really." Atia turned to face him. She had a strange look on her face, like she was genuinely shocked by what he had said.
"And what do you know about my family?" She asked menacingly.
"Only that if they look anything like you, even trolls start look attractive." Rydell narrowed her eyes.
"You better watch your back, O'Connell." She growled before she stalked off, her friend in tow.
"You shouldn't have said that to her, Rydell isn't one to forget an insult soon." Rick shrugged.
"She doesn't scare me." He said, somewhat more bravely than he felt. Atia Rydell was a third year, a Slytherin and genuinely malevolent. She probably already knew more dark spells than all the other students and probably wouldn't hesitate to use them. "Did you find anything yet?" He asked his friend, already expecting a negative answer.
"No, but you're welcome to help." Cedric quipped, knowing Rick was loathe to even open a book, let alone read it.
"No thanks." Rick replied with a grin.
"You should try, it would help with your homework." Cedric suggested, turning more serious.
"I do just fine with my homework, thank you." Rick replied.
"I'm just going to have to take your word on that then." Cedric said, sounding a bit disappointed. "Why is it that you don't want to do your homework with us?" He asked suddenly. Rick was caught off guard for a moment. Cedric hadn't brought the subject up for weeks now and he didn't understand why Cedric would bring it up suddenly. He shrugged.
"I just find it easier to do it by myself, that's all." He lied. Cedric, Terri and Rigel still didn't know he wasn't doing his own homework and he wanted to keep it that way. They would only disapprove if they knew.
"Right." Cedric replied but Rick could tell he didn't believe him. He felt this conversation was getting a little too uncomfortable and he needed to change the topic.
"Anything in that book about a dragon ring?" He asked, pointing to the book Cedric was currently reading. His friend sighed in defeat.
"No, there doesn't seem to be. It just talks about dragon eggs and how to tell which species they are." He closed the book rather forcefully. "What I'd really like to do, is take a look in there." Cedric said, indicating a section of the library that seemed to be closed off.
"What's in there?" Rick asked.
"The Restricted Section." Cedric replied. "It's full of books on dark magic and cursed spells and objects but you need a specially signed note from a teacher to get in and I don't think they'll give one to a first year."
"Why wait for permission?" Rick asked. "Just use Rigel's invisibility cloak and go look."
"But that's against the rules." Cedric replied, slightly alarmed.
"Only if you get caught?" Rick winked but Cedric shook his head.
"Thanks for the suggestion but I'm not that desperate yet." Rick shrugged.
"Have it your way." He replied. "Come on, we'll be late for Defence Against the Dark Arts." Cedric put away the book he'd been perusing and together, they made their way to the third floor.
Professor Lloyd announced they would be starting to learn about dark creatures in the magical world and how to defeat them. Rick prepared himself for a boring lecture but as professor Lloyd talked about the different dark creatures they would be seeing, Rick got an idea. He nudged Cedric when Lloyd wasn't looking.
"What if we tried a different source to find out something about the ring?" Rick whispered to him.
"What do you mean?" Cedric asked, keeping his voice down as well. Rick nodded to the front of the class where professor Lloyd was introducing today's class, Bundimuns. Cedric caught on to Rick's idea.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" He asked worried.
"It's worth a try." Rick answered. He was tired of waiting for Cedric to find something. If Lloyd knew something, it would be far faster to ask him than work their way through hundreds of books in the library. Cedric did not look entirely sure but nodded anyway. At the end of their Defence Against the Dark Arts class, Rick, Rigel, Terri and Cedric waited until everyone else had left before approaching professor Lloyd's desk.
"Professor, we have a question."
"You have a question, Mr. O'Connell?" Professor Lloyd sounded astonished. "Well, I suppose there's a first time for everything. What is it?"
"I was wondering if you could tell us something about a Dragon ring?"
"A Dragon ring? Why would you want to know about that? Moreover, how do you know about that?"
"We may have overheard Mr. Cormac talking about it." Rick admitted. "Can you tell us about it? What does it do?"
"What it does is none of your concern." Lloyd answered sternly. "Leave the matter to the teachers and professionals, you four first years need not concern yourselves with it." The professor's tone made it clear that the conversation was over.
"We will, professor." Cedric answered quickly, tugging on Rick's arm to get him to come along and the four friends left.
"Well, that was useless." Rigel said as soon as they were out of Lloyd's earshot.
"I agree. " Terri added. "Clearly, they don't want us to know anything about the dragon ring."
"Obviously because it's dangerous. What if a student tries to use it?" Cedric said.
"I could definitely see someone like Atia Rydell planning to do just that." Rigel remarked.
"Exactly, and who knows what they would plan to do with it." Rick said, thinking of the Serpent Brotherhood attacking muggles and muggleborns. "We need to know what we're dealing with. Cedric, you said something about the Restricted Section?"
"I told you, we're not allowed in there." Cedric remarked, looking worried at what Rick was planning.
"But the information we need is in there, right?"
"I only said it might be, it might be in there." Cedric tried to backpaddle.
"Right, but we'll only know for sure if we take a look." Rick concluded.
"I don't know, I'd much rather keep looking in the part where we are allowed. I haven't gone through all the books, it may just be a question of time." Cedric tried to change their minds.
"And in that time, someone may get hurt when whoever has the ring decides to use it. We need to find out as soon as possible. Come on, Cedric, where's your Gryffindor spirit?" Rick admonished him. He turned to Rigel. "What do you think, Rigel? Are you in?"
"Secretly trespassing in the restricted section? Of course I am." Rigel assented with a mischievous grin.
"Terri?" Rick turned to his other friend.
"Bring it on." She replied with a wicked smile.
"Three to one." Rick counted. "What do you think, Cedric? We'll have a better chance if you come along, no one knows the library like you do." Rick tried to convince their friend. Cedric seemed to weigh his chances for a few seconds but then nodded in agreement. "Excellent." Rick said. "We'll go tonight."
"Tonight? Really?" Cedric stammered. "You sure you don't want to think on it some more?" Rick threw him an exasperated look and Cedric fell silent.
That evening, the four friends occupied themselves at one of the tables in the common room, waiting for the other students to go to bed. Rigel had hidden his invisibility cloak under his robes and as soon as the last Gryffindors went to bed, the four friends made their way to the portrait hole. Rigel threw his cloak over the four of them and slowly, they made their way to the library. Twice they were forced to a halt. Once, by Peeves who was making mischief with the armours, putting helmets on backwards and switching arms with legs and vice versa. The four friends stayed quiet until the poltergeist had had enough and wandered off elsewhere. The second time, they were forced to stop by professor Griffiths, who was patrolling the corridor. He walked straight past them and they waited until his footsteps died down before proceeding again. When they reached their destination, Rick unlocked the library doors and threw off the cloak as soon as they were inside and had made sure it was abandoned.
"Come on, the restricted section's this way." Rick said to the others and as silently as they could, they made their way over to it.
"Where do we start?" Terri asked as she took in the numerous bookshelves.
"Try looking under 'D' for dragon ring?" Rigel suggested.
"This was a bad idea." Cedric remarked.
"Be positive, Ced." Rick quieted him. "Let's split up. Terri, Rigel, you go look over there while Cedric and I start over here." Terri and Rigel nodded and sped off to the other side of the restricted section. "Come on , Cedric, the sooner we find something, the sooner we can get back to bed." Rick encouraged his friend. Cedric calmed down somewhat and set to work, going over the backs of the books looking for anything indicating the dragon ring. As he too began perusing the books, Rick began to understand why they were restricted. These books taught the most darkest of magic, books on the most foulest of poisons, books on how best to torture your victims, books on dark objects. They leafed through these but there was never any mention about the ring they were looking for.
"Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh!" A blood-curdling scream resonated through the library and Rick's heart almost stopped. He rushed to the other side where Rigel and Terri were, Cedric hot on his heels.
"Anyone hurt?" Rick asked when they found their friends, looking unharmed but startled.
"Sorry, it was the book, I opened it and it started to scream." Terri answered, a little disturbed.
"That scream won't have gone unnoticed, we need to get out of here fast." Rigel implored them. The others nodded. Terri put back the screaming book where she'd found it but just as they were about to head back, the library door opened and they heard fast footsteps coming their way.
"Where's the cloak?" Cedric inquired anxiously. Rigel bit his lip.
"I took it off and left it in there." He said with a nod to the non-restricted part of the library, where madame Whifferdill was making her way to them. Rick's heart sank to his shoes. Without the invisibility cloak, they were sitting ducks.
"Run." Rick whispered to his friends. They ran towards the end of the library, hoping from the bottom of their hearts that there would be another way out. There wasn't.
"Split up." Rick whispered. "We try to get around her and make a dash for the exit. Try to get to the cloak on the way." His three friends nodded and Cedric and Rigel went left as he and Terri ran right. If they could get around Whifferdill hiding behind the bookcases, they could get to the library and the cloak and they had a chance to get back to the common room undetected. Rick and Terri slowly made their way to the front, going from bookcase to bookcase. There was a tense moment when Whifferdill shone a light between the rows of bookcases right where they were hiding, causing the two of them to hold their breath but thankfully, she moved on. They were near the front row of the Restricted Section when Rick chanced a glance around the bookcase to see where Whifferdill was. He couldn't see her. He tried to figure out where she'd gone off to when suddenly, he saw the light of her wand moving along one of the bookcases on the other side, right towards where Rigel and Cedric were hiding. If she got to the end of that row, she would certainly catch them.
"She's moving towards Rigel and Cedric." Rick whispered to Terri.
"Poor Cedric, he must be having kittens right about now." Terri said. "He's never cost Gryffindor any points." Rick knew Terri was right, their friend would feel incredibly guilty if he lost Gryffindor points, not to mention it would be unfair as he was against this whole endeavour in the first place.
"Stay put." He told Terri and without an explanation, Rick broke cover and dashed down the corridor.
"Hey! Stop!" He heard Whifferdill call but Rick didn't stop, he needed to get her away from his friends. He only hoped she would follow him. He ran down the library, through the door down the corridor and up the stairs, taking two steps at a time. He looked behind him to see if she was following him but just then, a spell bounced off the step where his left foot had just been and his question was answered. Rick sped up, he couldn't lead her back to the Gryffindor common room so he turned off on the third floor, hoping to lose her there. He didn't really know where he was going, he just wanted to put as much distance between him and Whifferdill as possible. He rounded a corner and came to a skidding halt when he saw the corridor was not abandoned. Someone was standing not ten feet away from him and luckily, hadn't spotted Rick yet as his back was turned to him. Rick knew Whifferdill wasn't far behind him so he quickly dove behind a tapestry to hide. Not ten seconds later, the matron rounded the corner as well. For a middle-aged woman, she was surprisingly fast, Rick thought.
"You there, stop!" Rick could hear hurried footsteps trying to get away, followed by a hard thud and he knew what had happened. Whoever had been out there had been caught by Whifferdill's leg-lock curse. "What do you think you were trying to do, roaming the castle in the middle of the night?" He heard her admonish the perpetrator. "Professor Selwyn will hear about this." Whifferdill marched her captive away and as they passed the tapestry where he was hiding, Rick caught a glimpse of Zacharias Mordaunt and grinned. He couldn't believe his luck, he'd escaped and Livius's cousin had been caught in his stead. He would have been happier to see Livius himself caught but his cousin was close enough. When their footsteps died down and he was sure they were gone, Rick wanted to head back to the common room to see if the others made it back safely when a noise stopped him in his tracks.
"Mordaunt was caught." Someone whispered in a low, deep voice.
"Who cares?" A distinctly female voice answered. "The idiot better not say anything or there'll be hell to pay. Let's go." Rick held his breath as he heard footsteps approach and tried to catch a glimpse of who Mordaunt's accomplices were. As they tiptoed passed his tapestry, Rick could make out Atia Rydell, her friend Maeve Domville and her two ogres Zayne and Treville by the moonlight coming through the windows. He wondered if he should make a noise or something to get Whifferdill's attention so they could get caught too but he quickly decided against it. Whifferdill was probably halfway across the castle by now and Rydell and her mates wouldn't hesitate to maim him if they had the chance and disappear before anyone would come to investigate the noise. He waited another few minutes until they'd gone to come out of his hiding place. He wondered why Rydell and her mates would be out after hours and what they had been doing. He tried to orientate himself and found that he was in the charms corridor just in front of professor Griffiths's office. He looked up and down the corridor, there weren't any places to hide except the tapestry where he had been hiding so why hadn't Whifferdill caught them as well? The only logical explanation that came to mind was that they had been in Griffiths' office when Whifferdill caught Mordaunt but what would the Slytherins be doing in Griffiths's office in the middle of the night when the professor wasn't there? All the reasons he could come up with in his head were all nefarious. Whatever it was, Rick decided he'd had enough adventure for one night and he hightailed it back to the Gryffindor common room, where to his relief, his friends were waiting for him.
"Did you get caught?" Rigel asked him and Rick shook his head.
"Nope, thanks to Atia Rydell and her friends." He replied.
"Rydell?" his three friends replied simultaneously in surprise.
"She and her friends were searching through professor Griffiths' office. Their lookout got caught instead of me." Rick explained.
"But why would they be going through professor Griffiths' office?" Terri asked. Rick shrugged.
"Beats me but it can't be good."
"You don't suppose they were looking for evidence, do you?" Cedric asked.
"Evidence of what?" Rick asked, not sure what Cedric was referring to.
"Well, what if they found out Griffiths wasn't at Hogwarts the night Doge was killed and they're trying to find evidence to frame Griffiths?" Cedric offered. The other three regarded him, thinking.
"Don't be silly. How are they going to find evidence in Griffiths' office? They probably just made a bad test and were trying to alter it." Rigel said.
"I don't know, they could have been looking for the ring?" Cedric suggested.
"We already established Griffiths didn't have anything to do with the ring." Rick said, exasperated by Cedric's persistence.
"So he said." Cedric replied.
"Why don't you go an ask him about it again then?" Rick said, a little annoyed Cedric was so eager to accuse Griffiths. He was by far the most fun teacher they had, he never gave any homework and they could always count on him to favour their house. Cedric didn't reply. Rick knew he would rather skip a class than confront Griffiths about the matter again.
"Do you think we should tell professor Griffiths someone broke into his office?" Cedric tried a different approach.
"And confess we were up after hours and get detention again? I don't think so." Rick rebuffed the idea.
"But what if they stole something or did something?" Cedric argued.
"Then we'll hear about it tomorrow and we can decide what to do then." Rick replied. "Now, I for one am beat and I'm going to bed." He ignored Cedric's still dubious look and heaved himself out of the arm chair.
"I second that." Terri said and she joined him. "That was very brave what you did tonight, you know, leading Whifferdill away from Rigel and Cedric." Terri said out of earshot as they walked up the stairs to the dormitory. Rick shrugged.
"I couldn't let Cedric and Rigel take the credit, I have a reputation to uphold." He replied jokingly. "Besides, it's better one of us gets caught than all of us, right?" Terri smirked.
"Or maybe you felt sorry about Cedric getting caught." She stated knowingly. Rick narrowed his eyes at her.
"Maybe." He conceded.