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Chapter 2: Attempts Four, Five and Six
Attempts Four, Five and Six
When they had returned and settled in to their home a few days later, Molly was astonished to find her eldest son at home announcing cheerily that he was leaving for his Great-Aunt's as she had asked.
"Wait - what - without nagging? And bribery? Or forces or threats or hexes?" If Charlie and several of his overly cheery siblings hadn't been watching her, Molly might have needed to sit down with a cold cloth lain across her forehead, it was such an unexpected and unique occurrence for one of Charlie to have obeyed her so easily.
“Yes, Mum. I’ll see you when I get back from the Home.”
And so, with no further ado, Charlie Apparated to the windy hill atop which the Vulture’s Nest squatted. He barrelled up the long path with unfading determination, the semi-formulated plan running through his mind. Turning up to his great-aunt's house unannounced was certainly risky, but would hopefully give him the advantage in this endeavour of removal.
After rapping hard on the door for several minutes, Muriel's house-elf appeared on the doorstep looking harassed. "You can't see Missus now, Wheezy, she's sleeping."
Charlie grinned. "Makes my job a bit easier, then." He shouldered past Bitsy and hurried into the gloomy foyer, not stopping until he reached the top landing which his mother had often complained about Muriel sleeping on. It was there he paused, turning his head until he caught the faint strains of a rumbling snore emitting from the closed-off room on the left.
Cracking his knuckles, Charlie couldn't help his grin from widening across so it fair split his face. The rest of the family had nothing on him; this plan was genius, if a little unconventional.
Pushing the door open, he let it swing to halfway before creeping inside, squinting in the gloom of dark curtains obscuring midday sun. With silent dragon-tamer's tread, he crept towards the swaddled figure lying in perfect pharaoh-esque position, pausing for only a second as he hovered over her and debated the fastest method of extraction. Never once did a thought of Bitsy cross his mind -- at least, not until he had hauled his great-aunt up and turned to the door with her fast-awakening body slung over his shoulder.
"Master Wheezy will not hurt Mistress," the old elf croaked menacingly, eyes blazing and as steady as one fifty years her junior. "Master Wheezy will put Mistress back on bed and leave again, unless Master Wheezy wants to get no inheritance."
Charlie hesitated. Bitsy was looking rather more vicious and happy to be of service to his great-aunt than all the family her out to be.
On the other hand, what harm could she do? He was carrying her mistress; she wouldn't want to hurt them, and really, she was just a tiny elf.
“Sorry, no can do,” he called, beginning to run with bent knees and leaping over Bitsy’s outstretched hand with some difficulty. It was a good thing that he was used to rocky scree, because as he began to stumble down the stairs, it wouldn’t have been a poor comparison to compare Muriel’s steps to a slippery slope.
On his back, the Vulture herself was beginning to scrabble, squawking and making a nuisance of herself as Charlie arrived on the fourth floor. Only four more flights to go!
However, upon entering the next staircase, Charlie was faced with Bitsy Apparating in front of him and demanding, once again, for him to put down Muriel. Once again, he ignored her.
And this time, he deeply regretted it.
Before he had time to even blink, Muriel had been lifted off his shoulders and Charlie was tumbling through space to land splat-bang on the flattened and grimy carpet sitting at the foot of the stairs, the breath knocked clean out of his lungs and muscles frozen. Bitsy stood above him with her mistress stood behind, the both of them training their hawk-like stares to Charlie as he struggled to move his muscles – any muscles. He didn’t succeed, not even in glaring at them as Muriel began to chuckle.
“Why thank you, my dear, that was most impressive. Now please arrange a pot of tea while I levitate my body-bound great-nephew Charles into a fireplace… you deserve any ash that the Floo system has to offer, boy. Back in my day…”
Charlie was forced to listen to her ramblings as he was humiliatingly levitated through the musty air into one of his great-aunt’s lesser-used rooms and propped up against a table while she slowly started a fire and warmed herself in front of it, cackling madly when he wood creaked beneath him. Eventually, she pulled a small pouch of emerald powder from somewhere within her kirtle and tossed a meagre sprinkling on the fire which would carry Charlie to the Burrow very slowly indeed.
The journey from table to fire to home was not long enough for Charlie in his humiliated state, Great-Auntie Muriel’s parting words ringing in his fiery ears: “How much better would your mother like me to be taken care of?” His family had not changed their positions much in the twenty minutes or so that he was gone for, and the twins were unfortunately the first to find him, their feet swept out from beneath them when he shot out of the grate.
“Oi, what was – oh.”
“Charlie! Nice to see you again so soon, buddy!”
“I see you succeeded in removing the Vulture from her nest.”
They both began to slow-clap him from their positions on the floor, and Molly bustled over to find out what the fuss was on about before spying her son lying stiff as a board with his head in the fireplace.
“Oh dear, I see my Aunt hasn’t forgotten how to use her wand, then…”
“Or how to be evil, apparently.”
“Shush, Fred!” Molly bent over Charlie, her hands on her hips and shaking her head as she pulled out her wand to un-jinx him. “You’d better have a good story to go along with this, dear.”
He groaned, shaking his arms and attempting to shuffle forwards as his muscles were released from the iron grip of the body-bind curse, and scowling at the numerous gingers standing around with wide eyes. “Well, I was just getting her to agree to go to the home and we were on our way, but then that bloody house-elf got in the way and she eventually levitated me into her fireplace. There, story told.”
Molly shrewdly contemplated her grumpy son for a moment. “Did you reason with her before or after taking her to the home?”
There was a pause in which Charlie turned red. “… not exactly.”
“Right.” She turned to her other children who were now assembled about their brother with reactions ranging from hysterical laughter (in the case of Ginny) to worried concern (from Percy). “From now on, none of you are allowed to physically force your great-aunt into the old witches’ home, you hear me? Verbal persuasion ONLY.”
They all nodded, and immediately, Percy turned to his mother and asked, "Can I please try to move her next, Mother?"
"By all means," Molly said cheerily, "I do plan to send you all after her one by one until you get her to move into the old people's home. Although you may want to leave it a for a while, Percy, until she's quite a bit more infirm."
"But, Mum, what happens if none of us manage it?" Charlie groaned, still trying to work out a painful kink in his neck.
Molly shook her spatula at him threateningly. "Well we'll start over, won't we?"
And no more was said on the matter. Percy didn't quite forget his mission, but as Head Boy with a large number of NEWTs to take, he was otherwise engaged for the best part of the year. Then when he began his work at the Ministry, Autumn 1993 began to absolutely fly by... until he was deployed to the tricky Tournament at Hogwarts, where there was just no head space for anything other than mad planning and calming international relations.
In fact, it wasn't until he saw Ron moping at the Yule Ball in an old set of dress robes he could swear looked very familiar (hadn't Muriel's second husband worn them the night before he died? He was only four when it happened, so perhaps he was remembering wrongly) that he began to consider paying the promised visit to his great-aunt. Christmas could be the perfect time; if he took her a worthy present, the old Scrooge might feel softened towards his pleas and persuasive arguments.
Or maybe... and Percy began to feel rather ingenious here, such was his intelligent plan... he didn't have to soften her up and get her out all in one visit, did he? He could resume correspondence with her, visit her with presents or food, and eventually bring this up as a passing topic of conversation.
Percy considered the matter closed in his mind once he had given himself two months to complete this particular task.
He decided to begin immediately with a long and rambling letter to Muriel - her favourite kind - about the drama of the Tournament this time around. She had probably seen several in her time, so it might make her happy to be able to explain why they were so much better in her day.
He received an illegibly fancy reply within the week and took this as an invitation to visit with a nice set of Yule Ball goblets that had been on sale for her Christmas present. It had actually been Fred and George who pilfered them and sold them to unsuspecting officials through their friends, but Percy was quite happily in the dark about that specific detail.
It was Boxing Day when he actually made it to the Nest because Christmas Day had been filled with jumpers, treacle tart, and spiked punch and he just hadn't been able to squeeze Muriel in. However, since he knew she just wanted to find details to criticise him on, it didn’t matter too much if he was a little late – she had probably been out with Batty Bagshot wolfing stuffed turkey and spiced wine.
“Oi, who’s that? I’ve got no valuable presents for you to steal!” were Muriel’s first barked words to Percy as he knocked on the front door.
“Merry Christmas to you too, Auntie!” he called, putting on a cheerful tone that no self-respecting robber would use. There was a pause and then shuffling behind the snow-laden door, before it was cracked open by a grumpy-looking Bitsy who grudgingly allowed Percy to squeeze in before slamming it.
“What’re you here for, Percival? I haven’t bought presents for you all, your mother has gone far too overboard in her need to procreate. I stopped after five, you know.”
Percy winced at her blunt description. “I stopped by to bring you a Christmas present, Auntie, from the Yule Ball itself. I do know how you’re… something of a… historic expert.”
“Well that I am, Percival. A century on this earth, I’ve had; I’ve lived through three wars, five children, fifteen Ministers and two marriages. If that doesn’t teach you history, I don’t know what does!” She had swelled with pride from her situation hunched in the doorway to the living room, and Percy nodded emphatically before being led into the marginally less breezy living room.
The next half-hour passed in much the same manner. Percy would flatter his Great-Aunt, Muriel would talk about herself before noticing something about him that needed criticising, and he would direct the attention back to her. It was more than a little smarmy, but highly effective; when he asked to be excused at the end of the conversation, she seemed almost smug about the fact that he wasn’t attempting to force her into Ogden’s Witches and Wizards Home for the Elderly.
“Are you sure about that, Peacake? You aren’t going to consider a duty done and abandon me again? Not that it would be entirely your fault if such an event occurred, since you’ve had such a terrible example to follow, Percival.”
“No, don’t worry, I’ll be returning!” Percy called from the end of the path with as much festive cheer as he could muster from his exhausted mind. Talking Muriel’s ancient language appeared to rot your ability to converse normally.
This situation did not get much better in the next four or five times that Percy visited his great-aunt. She was becoming fonder of him, even going so far as to have Bitsy prepare some lumpy-looking tea for them to share the latest time he visited.
It was Percy's sixth time visiting Muriel when he decided to broach the subject of the care home, seeing as it was now early February and the time he had given himself for getting her in there had pretty much run out.
This knowledge did not make it any easier to act relaxed and like the perfect great-nephew around Muriel, though, and during almost an hour's conversation and strangely thick tea, Percy's Great-Aunt asked him why he was impersonating a leaf through his nervous shakes approximately eight times. Eventually, he explained their situation for fear of blurting out a version she would find more wrath-inducing than the measured truth he was going to give her.
"Well, it's just that all the family are very worried for you becoming... infirm, and that if your elf dies unexpectedly, there'll be nobody to look after you, but I don't think that you should go there until you think it's completely necessary!"
"Oh, I see exactly what you're getting at, Percival," Muriel assured him, leaning forward to pat his knee with a claw-like hand and evil gleam in her eye. "But you don't need to worry your ugly little head. I won't breathe a word to dear Molly that you'd rather I stayed out of that old madhouse with your inheritance."
Percy froze. "Inheri --?"
"It's no wonder she's sending you all after me, but you are good for coming even when you didn't want to shut me up like the others." She sniffed. "William and Charles seemed rather eager to throw away their portions of inheritance, anyway!"
"Oh -- er -- I'd rather you stayed out and away from there anyway, Auntie."
She appeared to be ignoring him, mumbling under her breath instead. "Oh yes, we'll save your inheritance, but won't it be good for Molly if this...? Yes, yes."
"What'll be good for Mum?" Percy asked loudly, clanking cup in saucer for added effect.
"If you take me to see this O’Sullivan man's madhouse," she said happily.
Bewildered didn't even begin to cover Percy's confusion, not least because she’d got the owner’s name rather wrong. "But... really? Why?"
"Just fetch me my coat, Percival, and I will explain to Bitsy about our arrangements."
Percy began searching through the coat-rack in the hallway before realising that they were all Muriel's coats and all in varying shades of purple velvet. He extracted his hand feeling foolish and shook off some of the strange blue sparkles that he had picked up from one of the pockets, before grabbing the first coat from the top of the pile and returning to Great-Aunt Muriel with it.
"Is this alright, Auntie?"
"No, it's not," she scolded, "where are my hat and scarf and stick? I've been on this earth for over a century, you know! I've..."
"Sorry, Auntie. Shall I ask Bitsy to do it instead because she knows what you want?"
"Yes, yes, just get on with it.”
In Percy’s estimation, it was a miracle that they made it to the Home unscathed at all. Muriel had decided to bring her reinforced walking stick (dangerous), wear her vision-enhancing and detail-catching spectacles (very dangerous) and then Apparated them there herself (potentially fatal).
They landed hard, Percy being forced to stumble around until he pitched forwards and almost cracked his glasses on the frosty grass. Muriel whacked him with her stick until he picked himself up and gave her someone to lean on. "Hurry up, Percival, I can't see a darned thing in this mist!"
They slowly moved towards the hulking shadow that was all Percy could see through his water- and mist-ridden glasses. When Muriel paused fairly near to the house, he got to unhook them from his ears and swipe them clean; upon wearing them again, Ogden's swam pleasantly into view.
Percy's first thought was that he couldn't see why his great-aunt was protesting against being sent to live here. It was a rather large and grand house with a distinctly French air and multiple extensions quite blatantly kept in place by magic only. In fact, he was just wondering how much it would cost for him to stay in a little tower with a nice view of the flutterby-bush-ridden flowerbeds when Muriel turned back around and glared at him.
"Lovely. Now let's leave."
"Wait - leave?!"
"Yes. It's rather untidy around here, isn't it?"
Percy gaped. From the perfectly translucent stream to the identically trimmed rose bushes, one thing the grounds of the Old Witches and Wizards Home weren't was untidy.
"Yes. Now close your mouth before you catch a fairy in it."
Percy did as she said whilst shaking his head. It was no use arguing with Muriel. But... she was a fool to take one look at it and not want to live here; he'd be a fool not to try to persuade her otherwise while they were still so close.
"Wait, Auntie, can't we just get in a bit closer? See around it?" Her frosty look demanded an explanation from him. "Mother and Father might, er, need to come here soon too. Work has worn them out."
"Work?" She snorted and pushed her hat a little higher. "Your parents don't know what work is! Back in my day, we worked -"
Percy knew good and well that Muriel had never lifted a finger in her life but also recognised that letting her ramble while they were still here was probably his best chance at manoeuvring her into a suitably picturesque spot which she might find more moving than this current view.
So while she gave a soliloquy, Percy grabbed his great-aunt's arm and slowly guided her towards the house amidst a storm of nodding and agreeing noises to keep her amiable and distracted. It wasn’t as hard a task to stay unnoticed as he had anticipated; Muriel did love the sound of her own voice, and Percy was not giving off signs of interruption. It wasn’t until she was required to step down off the turf onto a smooth gravel path surrounding the house that she seemed to realise what Percy had done.
"Boy, why have you brought me here?" she snapped after a very pregnant pause where Percy prayed to everyone and everything he knew.
“Well, I just wanted to have a look inside, you know…” he trailed off feebly. Muriel glared before poking her head forwards to have a sneak peek inside, frowning at the view of plump sofas and newspapers slowly floating around.
“What does that sign say, Percival?” she barked, waving her reinforced walking stick at a small plaque below the window. Percy squinted, slowly reading out loud,
“All house elves welcome in the elf lounge. Care not mandatory unless we say so! - See, Auntie, Bitsy would love it here. She’d have a special lounge.”
“I can’t have her slacking off with the other ridiculous softies,” Muriel sniffed, lifting her nose in the air imperiously and raising her upper arm that Percy was still, unfortunately, attached to. That was all the warning he got before she whisked them back to The Nest.
Within thirty seconds, he’d been booted out the door with unconcealed threats of what would happen to him if he should not visit again, and why he would never be taking her to ‘that ridiculous kennel’ again.
Fred and George's mocking and crowing was just as loud and heavy when he told them, which could have been predicted. Percy counted himself lucky that it only lasted for two weeks in the light of the upcoming Second Task and that if he couldn't get Great-Aunt Muriel into the care home, then those two certainly had a flobberworm's chance with a chimera with her.
What Percy didn't see was the pair of them discussing tactics for several weeks, but eventually forgetting that they had a duty to their family. They were focused on the Tournament, the winnings from Harry, inventing, the DA, bringing down Umbridge...
They ended up visiting the Vulture's Nest just a few weeks after escaping Hogwarts for the last time, their entire stock of fireworks used up and struggling to obtain the all-important ashwinder egg powder that was needed for the multiple explosions in some of them. Dr Filibuster didn't use that special ingredient in his fireworks, but as Fred said, "that's why we'll be better." It hadn't taken long to come to the conclusion that the only building they could legally access that was dilapidated enough was the Nest.
With their minds on any other dubious substances they might be able to pilfer in their Great-Aunt’s home along the way, it wasn’t until the pair had been invited in by Bitsy and granted an audience with Muriel herself before either realised exactly how this might look.
“I thought Ronald would be next to arrive,” Muriel told them, “but you do look about the same age as your brother. Molly has had far too many children, you all blend into one by now. Oh, are these battenbergs or shortbreads?”
“What do you mean - ”
“ – you thought Ron was the next to arrive?”
“Are we not good enough for you, Auntie?”
“And those,” George grinned as he swiped a cake finger, “are definitely some rather tasty battenbergs.”
Muriel glared at him, fixing a beady-eyed stare on the crumbs flying from his fingertips. “You think I’ll fall for that one? I know perfectly well that your mother is sending each of her children after me, as though I’m a naughty child to be hounded.” She jabbed a finger in the twins’ direction. “Back in my day – ”
“I’m sorry, I’m going to have to stop you there,” Fred interrupted. “I just really need to visit your facilities, if you know what I mean.”
“Of course I know what you mean! But I haven’t dismissed you – come back – Frederick!”
“Oh, so you can tell us apart, then,” George observed, earning himself a needling stare, and shutting up after that. This left Muriel ample time to discourse about the hardships of her life and why nobody ever visited her any more until George was ready to tear his hair out. Weasley-patented fireworks or not, this torture was surely not worth the galleons they’d rake in otherwise.
In fact, it was a whopping twenty-six minutes later when Fred re-appeared with a sombre face and a bulging rucksack sat awkwardly on his shoulders. George took one look at his face and stood up, offering hasty excuses to Muriel, ignoring her protests, and swiftly exiting the Nest after the worst attempt to persuade her out of her house yet.
A/N: Hey everyone! This wasn’t quite as immediate an update as I’d hoped, but between the awesome Common Room activities, dodgy internet, and RL, I’m just glad I managed to get this out here at all – it’s all for Lily (aiedail) :D
So happy birthday 'Quoth the Raven' and so, so much love and hugs to Lily!~TGK