Chapter 20 : Unexpected Guests
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Harry was soon dressed, using clothes he found in a bedroom that was mysteriously vacant. This led him to ponder anew the real reason he had been stuck in a slightly less logical room on the lower floor. Looking himself over in the mirror, he thought he was fairly impressive, in a set of emerald dress robes and a cotton undershirt with ruffles. Very stylish, he thought to himself. He turned to a dresser before the mirror. On it lay a book. He cautiously reached toward it. Hesitatingly, he prodded the cover, then slowly opened it.
On its pages was a messy scrawl in a language Harry did not recognize. He assumed it was the Irish tongue, since the address on it was placed in Ireland. He looked through the diary, unashamed as he couldn't read a single word that was written. There was an entry for every single day, and sometimes twice a day. He skipped to the back, and found several blank pages. Flipping to the last page written on, he spotted a smaller, much tidier writing.
If anyone finds this, beware of the house, and what you find in it. There is great danger for those who wander without caution. Beware the dangerous, and most of all, beware the innocent.
Harry stared at it. A warning. Someone had left a warning. But for whom? He couldn't assume it was meant for himself. After all, who could have anticipated his arrival here? The innocent... That sounded like a clue. Who, or what, around here seemed innocent? Well, he thought, pretty much the whole place seemed very friendly. Great. It looked like he had a whole mansion to worry about now.
A knock on the door interrupted his musings. “Hello?” he called, and the door opened, admitting...Hermione. He dropped the book on the dresser in surprise. She looked absolutely stunning in sky blue robes, her hair done up in a fancy french bun. She looked at him, and her jaw dropped. The expression, he was sure, mirrored his.
“Harry,” she said at last, “you look...smashing.” Her eyes told him quite clearly that that was a drastic understatement.
“You don't look too bad yourself,” he said, and could have kicked himself for the comment. It didn't do her justice at all.
His thoughts must have shown on his face, because she smiled, rendering him momentarily speechless. He stared like an idiot, until she turned and said, “Well, hadn't we best be off? We wouldn't wish to be late.”
“Of course,” he said, coming back to himself. “Not late.”
She smirked, and held out her arm. He hooked his through hers, put the book at the back of his mind, and together, they walked out of the room and descended the staircase, where Narcissa stood waiting with the butler.
“About time,” she said. “I was bored out of my wits.”
“How long did I take?” Harry asked Hermione softly, frowning. She smiled gently.
“Only fifteen minutes.” She glanced at him askance. “You looked like you were busy. By the way, what book were you reading? If it required such heavy thinking, it must be good for you.”
Harry scowled humorously, eliciting a laugh from her, before saying, “It was a diary of sorts. Malcom's.”
She waited, and when he didn't say anything more, she said, “And? Anything interesting?”
Harry said nonchalantly, “I couldn't read it. Irish.” Leaning in slightly, he whispered quickly, “Most of it, anyway.”
“Most of it?” she muttered in reply, her eyes searching his. He nodded, and she pursed her lips, thoughtful.
Balm, who didn't hear this last, said absently, “Odd you should find that book up there. Which room, may I ask?” Harry told him, and he frowned. “I'll have to retrieve it. Master would not wish to lose such an item.”
He turned and said, “If you'll follow me,” and walked off. He passed through a door leading off the hall, which opened into a parlor. As they sped through, Harry had only a moment to gawk at the fine furniture adorning the room. In a cabinet with glass doors, there was what looked like a golden tea set, and delicate knickknacks. Then they passed through to a dining room, which sported a very long table covered in plates and silverware. Harry stared in awe. Never had he seen anything like this besides Hogwarts, and Hogwarts had had golden plates. These looked like the average well-made china.
“Please,” said Balm blandly, bowing, “have a seat. Make yourselves comfortable. The food should be ready soon.”
He left, and Harry swiftly stepped to the table, pulling out a chair for Hermione. She beamed at him, and sat. He pulled up a chair for himself and sat down, looking along the table. Narcissa sat a couple of chairs down from them, examining the table with a grudging respect.
“I must say,” she murmured, lifting a crystal goblet and peering at it, “they've done well for themselves. Very well indeed.”
“Yeah,” muttered Harry. “I'm amazed at all this. Almost as good as Hogwarts.”
“Almost,” said Narcissa with a delicate sneer, “but not quite.”
Hermione threw the older witch a dirty look and said in an undertone, “House-elves and their damned service.”
Harry looked at her sharply. “If they show any sign of house elves,” he warned, “not one word!”
She gave him an irritated glance. “What do you take me for,” she asked, “a bickering bessom?”
He twisted his mouth. “The truth?” he asked. “You can be.”
“Oh shut it,” she snapped, and turned away. He smiled in spite of himself, and occupied himself with an interestingly painted plate.
A few moments later, he heard voices. Wonder who this is, he thought. Could it be other guests? Soon, he could make out words.
“Hurry,” came a shockingly familiar voice. “Or you might miss the pudding.”
“Oh, mum, what's your rush?” demanded another familiar voice. A young man. “Dinner isn't started yet, and pudding comes after! And you know I'm on a special diet! Don't talk to me about bloody pudding!”
“Don't talk to me that way, young man,” the woman's voice snapped as the pair drew nearer the dining room, “and you've always enjoyed pudding!”
“Pudding is fine, mum, but my diet...” said the boy. And anyway, I know the truth, why you are really so eager to get to this dinner. You fancy that bloke, Sir Boykotte!”
“Diddy!” exclaimed the woman, sounding severely affronted, not to mention embarrassed. “Watch your tongue!”
“Well, it's true...” muttered the man. Suddenly, the door swung open. It was placed at such a spot that when the woman and man walked in, the woman being closer and having her head turned to her companion, she didn't see Harry and his friends. But Harry didn't need to see her face to know who she was. He gasped.
The woman, by now taking a seat, turned irritatedly at the sound. Her eyes widened, and her hand flew to her mouth. “You!” she whispered.
“Hello to you too, Aunt Petunia,” Harry replied, his voice surprisingly expressionless. “I hope you are well?”
“What...what are you doing here?” she asked, rather than answering his question. “We weren't supposed to see each other again. Ever!”
“That was when Voldemort was alive,” he said patiently. She blinked.
“He-he's dead?” she asked. “You brought him to justice?”
“Yes,” sighed Harry. “I killed him.”
“That makes you a murderer,” she said. “But that's a good thing, I suppose. Given...given what that man did.” Her eyes glittered with tears, and she looked down, blinking rapidly.
“Aunt,” asked Harry hesitantly. She looked up, her eyes sharp.
“Were you ever...sad...that my mother died?” asked Harry.
She sniffed. “A bit, yes,” she admitted, clearly reluctant. “But I got over it quickly. Nasty habits, she had. Doing all that hocus pocus. Magic.” She frowned in disapproval.
“Why do you hate magic so much?” asked Harry suddenly. Petunia's head snapped toward him. “Why?” she asked. “Why? It's unnatural, that's why. Stop asking questions.”
Harry narrowed his eyes. “I won't stop asking questions,” he said evenly, “because I've wanted answers for years. And now, I'm going to get them.”
She glared at him, but he continued, “I think I know the real reason you hated her so. You were jealous.”
“JEALOUS!” she screeched, her eyes bulging in an alarming manner, but he continued.
“Jealous,” he said, “that she had talents that you couldn't find in yourself, no matter how hard you tried.”
“What makes you think I wanted to be like her?” snapped the woman angrily.
“Easy,” said Harry. “You sent letters to Dumbledore. Mum and Snape read them. And you got all huffy when they asked. There was no need to be ashamed of it. Magic isn't bad.”
She stared at him. “How do you know about the letters?” she asked quietly. “How?”
“Never mind how I know,” he said. “It's enough that I do. And now, it's time to put our differences behind us. If you won't, fine. But I think Dudley will.” He glanced at the muscled young man, who nodded slightly. Petunia looked at her son, then back at Harry.
“You can't expect me to like you,” she said nastily. “But I suppose I can try to get along.”
“That will do for starters.” Harry sat back. Petunia huffed and stared at her own plate. Dudley toyed with a fork.
There were footsteps, then Boykotte entered. “Ah,” he said, glancing around. “All of my guests are present. Good.” he saw Petunia throw an icy look at Harry, then asked, “Do you know each other then?”
“Know each other?” echoed Harry. “I lived with them before. Haven't seen them in a while. Imagine the surprise in seeing them here tonight.”
Malcom smiled. “Quite so. A great shock, I would assume.” He glanced around, then said, “Dinner is on the way, by the way. I do hope you brought your appetites with you.”
“I'm on a diet,” blurted Dudley, flushing as Malcom appraised him.
“If I may be so bold, young man,” commented Boykotte, “you look very well shaped. There should be no concern for yourself here.”
“Still,” Dudley muttered. “I'd prefer sticking to my plan.”
“It is your choice, of course,” responded Malcom, “but when you see the delicious dishes prepared for you this evening, I daresay you'll find it all rather difficult to resist.”
“I'll be going then,” said Dudley, and he stood. Harry had to admire his determination. But just then, a door opened, and a tray was rolled in by Balm. Laden with covered dishes, the tray exuded a mouth-watering aroma.
His nostril quivering, Dudley slowly sat back down. “Well,” he murmured, eying the tray eagerly, “I suppose a bite or two couldn't hurt.”
“That's the spirit, my boy,” said Malcom. He winked as he caught Harry's eyes. Harry smiled in response.
They settled into the food. There was roast duck, beef stew, clam chowder, and other various meats and seafoods. There were also boiled vegetables, and fresh baked bread, and wine and pumpkin juice. Narcissa stared at this last.
“What...is...this?” she demanded, holding up a pitcher of the liquid. Malcom looked at her carefully.
“An exotic drink,” he replied casually. “One that is not found in many places. I am very well connected, you see.”
“Rubbish!” she snapped. “You're one of them, aren't you?”
“Who?” asked Malcom mildly. He picked up his glass of wine and looked through it at Petunia. “Who, may I ask?”
“You're a wizard!” she shrieked. “Only wizards carry this. I've seen my sister with it.”
“Sister?” inquired Boykotte, raising his eyebrow slightly. “Who would that be, I wonder.”
“Lily,” hissed Harry's aunt. “Lily Potter. His mother. She was a freak too.” She glanced at Harry. Malcom's gaze flitted to Harry and back to Petunia.
“I see,” was all he said. He looked at Harry, and winked slightly. Then he turned back to Petunia. “My dear woman,” he said and Petunia's pale cheeks reddened, “I can assure that I have no idea what you are talking about. When I was introduced to this drink, they told me it was the juice of a rare fruit grown on a plantation in southern France. They said that if I was willing to pay a reasonable price, I could enjoy the beverage as often as I liked. I have grown quite fond of it, so I continue to purchase it. Of course, if you don't find it to your liking, you could always sample my selection of wine. It is very expansive, something I pride myself in.”
Petunia sniffed, looking distastefully at the juice before her. “I think I'll have wine,” she said. “Red.”
Boykotte nodded to Balm, who stood nearby. “Red wine, if you will,” he said, and Balm left.
Petunia cast Harry a nasty look. “Freakish drinks,” she muttered. “I'll have none of it.”
Harry sighed, and sipped at his own pumpkin juice. He was by now feeling rather full, so he pushed his plate away. Malcom looked around at his guests, before turning to Petunia.
“If I may inquire,” he asked politely, “what does your husband do for a living?”
“Drill company,” she answered curtly. Harry suddenly noticed, for the first time, that the fact that Vernon wasn't with them was a very strange thing.
“Where is he?” asked Harry suspiciously. “Why isn't he with you?”
“I don't see how it is any of your business.” She looked down at her plate.
“Tell me,” insisted Harry quietly. “Is he okay?”
“Don't ask questions!” she barked, and he glared back at her.
“He was my uncle,” he said, “and even if he treated me horribly as a child, that doesn't mean-”
“Don't talk about Vernon like that!” she snarled. “You were always so ungrateful...”
“Yeah,” replied Harry darkly, “and I had quite a lot to be thankful for, didn't I?”
She opened her mouth to respond, but Dudley said quickly, “Harry, Daddy's dead. He...he got burned.”
Harry gaped at his cousin, while his aunt threw the boy a deathly glare. “How dare you discuss family business with him!” she demanded. “You're lucky we aren't at home...”
“Yeah,” retorted Dudley rudely, “or I'd be sleeping in ashes!”
“Ashes?” Harry repeated, looking at Petunia. She glanced at him, and he peered into her eyes. In desperation to understand, his mind reached out...
Suddenly, he saw Uncle Vernon shoving his wife and son toward the door, while a roaring sounded around them. They stumbled for freedom, and the great bulky man attempted to follow, but the ceiling broke above him. A beam fell and crashed onto him, pinning Vernon's mass to the floor.
“Help!” he shouted, and Dudley rushed forward. He tugged with a strain that would have exhausted another person, but Dudley persisted with a determination that awed Harry.
“Ah, blast it,” moaned Vernon, before looking up at his son. “Hurry!” a chunk of ceiling dropped beside Dudley. Dudley let out a yelp of fear, but kept pushing and pulling at the rubble trapping his father. Vernon paled beneath the soot streaking his face as he studied the ceiling. Apparently, there was little time.
“GO!” he bellowed, trying to heave himself free, but failing. Dudley hesitated, his face a picture of agony. “Don't make me die in vain!” roared the boy's father.
Dudley wailed, then turned and ran, shoving his mother toward the door...
Harry suddenly jerked, coming back to himself. Petunia was looking at him with a piercing glare. “Don't,” she whispered in a fury, “ever...do...that...to...me...AGAIN! Mind-reading freak! This is what I was talking about! You're unnatural!”
Harry looked at Hermione. “My uncle,” he said quietly, horrified by what he had seen. “My uncle...died in a dragon attack.” She gasped. Harry turned to his aunt again.
“That's why you're here, isn't it?” he asked. “To escape the chaos.”
“My husband, my home, my new life,” she said sadly. “All ruined. Destroyed.” Her eyes found his.
She shook in renewed rage. “Because of your kind!” she hissed. Abruptly, she stood.
“Come, Duddykins,” she said imperiously. “I've had my fill. We're going to our room.”
“Have a drink first, won't you?” said Balm as he reentered the room, carrying some glasses and a dusty wine bottle. He poured a drink, then handed it to her.
“Thank you,” she said stiffly. Dudley reached out for his. At her protest, he said wearily, “Oh, quiet, mum. I could use a drink, after what just happened.” His face crumpled, and Harry's heart ached for him. Uncle Vernon had been a troublesome git, but he had treated his son like...well, a son.
The two walked out, and after a few seconds, Harry heard a small thump, then a much louder thump. Balm walked out, presumably to investigate. Harry started to rise, but stopped at a gesture from Boykotte. He looked questioningly at the man.
“At ease, Harry,” Malcom said. He looked at the door, then said, “Balm will handle it.” he faced Harry and said, “That was your relatives collapsing, Harry. The wine was dosed with a Sleeping Draught.”
“Then you are a wizard,” murmured Hermione. “Of course you told them you weren't. That's the best way.”
“Exactly,” concurred the older wizard. “And they needed to be unconscious through the conversation we're about to have.”
“What conversation?” asked Harry immediately. “What do you mean?”
Malcom sighed and folded his napkin. “I know of the dragon, Harry. It is currently sitting in the basement. I didn't tell you before because...well, it wasn't the time. I wanted to see what you were about first. And I still don't know, but there is nothing you can do now without my say-so.”
“Is that a threat?” asked Narcissa quietly. “Because I warn you,” she raised her eyes to meet Boykotte's, “we are quite prepared to handle you.”
“Oh, there's no need for violence, young lady,” chuckled Malcom. “I am merely saying that things needn't get out of hand. It will do no good.” He looked at Harry again. “What, pray tell, are you doing here, Harry?” he asked. “With things in this state, it's hardly wise to tote about a dragon so openly.”
“We were....taking it somewhere,” said Harry. “We know what we are doing.”
“Illegal activities, eh?” mused Boykotte, his eyes on Harry's. “Well, you aren't the first.”
“Not illegal – er, not exactly,” Harry quickly amended himself. “It's going to be a big help to the current situation.”
“How so?” inquired Malcom, leaning forward, his eyes gleaming. Harry shook his head. “I'm sorry,” he said, “but I can't tell you that.”
Malcom sighed. “Fair enough,” he muttered. “Well, down there it shall stay until your departure.”
“I think I'll go see it,” said Harry. He started to stand again, and again was motioned down. Malcom looked at him.
“I'm afraid you can't see the dragon tonight, Harry,” the head of house told him. “Tomorrow, certainly, but not tonight.”
Harry frowned, but said nothing. He had a feeling it would do no good. They finished the rest of the meal peaceably, and when they were going back upstairs, Harry stopped Hermione.
“Come see me in an hour,” he whispered. “And tell Narcissa.”
“Harry,” said Hermione sternly, her eyes narrowed, “what are you planning in that thick skull of yours?”
“You should know, Mione,” he said softly. “I think you've figured it out already.”
She bit her lip, and Harry knew she had guessed. “Harry, you can't,” she pleaded. “You can't wait until tomorrow, at least?”
“I need to do this,” said Harry firmly. “I need some outside thoughts.”
She stared at him, then slumped. “It seems I can't move you,” she sighed. “Fine. I'll pass on the message.”
“Thank you,” he whispered, then kissed her. “Good night,” he said louder, for the butler's benefit, before turning away and heading to the room he had been in before. He thought as he walked, trying to figure things out. So many things didn't make sense, but one thing was for certain...
Tonight, he would talk to Dominion.
for the next chapter.....
“Trouble,” murmured Harry. “I'm not searching out trouble, but knowing me, I'll still be found.”
“Precisely,” she sighed. “Now shouldn't we proceed? Should that butler find us here, it will arouse suspicion.”
Harry nodded absentmindedly, grabbing the diary and tossing it to Hermione. Her eyes widened in understanding. “Last entry,” he told her. She flipped through and began reading.
“Harry,” she gasped, “did I not tell you? That man isn't to be trusted!”
“Don't be jumping to conclusions, Mione,” he said softly. “It's just a clue.”
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