Chapter 33 : 'Mirage'
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His thoughts were very much a disarray of faint and unlikely recent memories. He had vague albeit painful recollections of having suffered severe burns despite the fact that his skin showed no evidence of injury. He was, however, certain that he had seen his mother once again; perhaps in a dream, perhaps not. ‘But what was he doing in an unknown location in the middle of the night? Was he not supposed to be at the Order’s Headquarters?’ he wondered, trying to piece the puzzle together.
Deep in these thoughts he wandered the streets without a set direction. After taking a few turns he finally saw a plaque in a street corner which indicated he was in ‘Fulham Road.’ An underground sign, not far away, confirmed to him that he was in fact in London. At least that was something! Both the people who had given him refuge happened to live in the capital. Since he had no idea how he had landed there in the first place, that discovery was comforting. ‘But what was he to do next?’
He could always go back to Grimmauld Place but he knew full well that he had been only tolerated there under Potter’s auspices. At that moment in time, he had absolutely no clue as to whether Harry had managed to get away from Hogwarts safe and sound or not, assuming of course that Ginny’s theories had been correct and he had been trapped in the castle in the first place. If Potter had come to harm, this could have important repercussions as far as he was concerned. It wouldn’t take a genius to work out that the Order, who had shown him enough hostility as it were, wouldn’t take kindly to his failure to help the person they saw as his benefactor. This train of thought brought back to his consciousness the fact that he had been captured at Malfoy Manor whilst trying to enlist the aid of a house elf. Beyond that point, everything was a blur.
Memory gaps aside, his other possibility was the priest. He could perhaps Apparate, if only he had the strength.. Walk? He knew Father Sean’s address but he was going to need a map and the shops weren’t yet open. Besides, the forty days of sanctuary were over. He wouldn’t be safe there.
He continued to ramble. The road he was roaming was packed with what looked like upmarket retail outlets and restaurants; anything from antiques to specialised furnishings, all of which were closed. He had no idea what time it was but the lack of traffic indicated that the city wasn’t going to come alive anytime soon. He suddenly felt very hungry and rather cold, even though it was summer. He carried on walking for lack of a better plan. When he had almost resigned himself to having to wait until God knew when for the London tube to open, he spotted several people coming in and out of some sort of eatery. The awning at the front indicated that this was a 24 hour brasserie by the name of ‘Vingt Quatre.’ He remembered Harry having given him some Muggle money when Hermione’s father had dropped him at Bow Road. Without hesitation, he proceeded inside and grabbed a table. A few minutes later, a waitress appeared and presented him with a breakfast menu. He started perusing it at once: full English, healthy breakfast, American special, deluxe muesli, eggs Benedictine, various omelettes and finally scrambled eggs with Beluga caviar. The later was the option that appealed to him the most. He hadn’t had anything he considered remotely special for months!
“Would you like to order a drink while you wait?” the server enquired.
“Umm… what are the options?”
“We are fully licensed, so you do have a choice of soft beverages, which include a large selection of speciality teas and coffees or you may wish to opt for a glass of wine or a quarter bottle of champagne, say. The scrambled eggs and Beluga dish comes with a special offer if you chose the champagne,” she added tentatively.
Draco thought it was about time he got an opportunity to indulge himself a little and decided on the champagne. It was only when the time came for him to settle the bill that he finally remembered having been captured by Umbridge and his lackeys and, to his horror, realised that she had confiscated the Muggle money found in his jacket. He had to think and fast. The only excuse that he could come up with is to make a fuss and complain that his wallet had been stolen.
To this end, he rose from his seat and started pulling stuff out of his pockets in an exaggerated fashion. He then announced to the waitress that he had been robbed in the restaurant and demanded that something be done about it.
“I’m terribly sorry, sir, but I doubt very much that anyone would have been bold enough to do so in front of numerous customers and members of staff…”
“Well, quite simply, this will just not do!” he vehemently protested.
“Okay, I’ll get the manager and see what can be done. Do you have any alternative means of payment, a credit card perhaps?”
“Everything was in my wallet, as I said,” he told her, angrily enunciating every syllable.
The manager tried to pacify him best he could but firmly maintained that they could not accept liability for lost or stolen property, even in the event that the incident had happened in their premises.
Draco pretended to reluctantly accept this. The manager offered to let him use the telephone in order for him to get a friend or relative to bail him out so to speak. But who should he ring? Of course it had to be a Muggle or someone who at least owned a phone. He knew Hermione had one also but he had never memorised the number as this had been stored in Harry’s mobile, which he now recalled had subsequently been confiscated by the Ministry. He ought to cut his losses and contact Father Sean but this was something he could hardly dare do. His immediate predicament was his inability to pay the £75 he had incurred by way of consuming a single breakfast meal. He very much doubted that down to earth Father McKenna would approve of his excesses. Still, he had little choice.
Hermione was abruptly awoken by a frantic knock on her bedroom door.
“It’s me, Harry. I need your help,” he started.
She opened the door in her pyjamas, dark circles under her eyes.
“Harry!” she exclaimed. Her expression denoted both tiredness and annoyance. “What’s up now?”
“Look… can I come in?”
“Alright, but also bear in mind the commotion you caused the last time that you came to our bedroom.” The ‘our’ referred to the fact that Hermione shared a room with Ginny whilst at Grimmauld Place.
Harry remembered the incident in question well. Lupin had found him outside the girls’ room and it all culminated with Molly accusing him of sleeping with Ginny. ‘If only!’ he thought for a split second. However, on this occasion, he didn’t have the time to dwell or reminisce.
“Hermione, listen, this is hard to explain, I don’t have the time right now but I need your phone, p l e a s e.”
“My phone? Harry, what on earth is the matter?” she enquired, comprehension eluding her.
“I’ve just had a dream, well sort of… a vision perhaps… It’s to do with Malfoy. Don’t ask me why exactly because I’m not sure myself, but I just have this very strong feeling that I need to contact Father Sean,” he attempted to explain.
“Father Sean? To begin with I don’t have his number,” she contended.
“But you have internet connection. I’ll just have to ‘google’his church. I’m sure his private landline will be listed.”
“For one thing, my mobile doesn’t work here, as you very well know.”
“I’ll go outside,” he counter-argued. It was clear that he was not about to give up.
At that point Ginny lazily opened her eyes.
“Gin, it’s okay, I’ll explain later. I just need Hermione’s phone.”
Ginny gave him a look as startled as Hermione’s had been.
“Harry, it’s the middle of the night. It would be really rude to wake him up just because of some stupid dream,” Hermione tried to dissuade him.
“Trust me, I’m pretty sure this is important. I told you about the locks of hair from Snape, didn’t I? Well, Narcissa’s been trying to tell me something all night. Okay, maybe I sort of invoked her but anyhow, that’s what she wants me to do, contact the priest!”
“So she’s a real ghost then? Ginny asked, her eyes full of curiosity.
“I haven’t the time to enter into a debate about ghosts but yes, I did kind of see her, although I don’t actually think that she’s like Nick and the others. My guess is that she’s stuck in between planes or something, but that’s far too philosophical to worry about right now. So, Hermione, please, the phone!” he commanded.
Hermione raised her eyebrows and gave Ginny a knowing look but caved in.
Harry hurried down the stairs and into the breezy air of the very early morning. He looked at his watch. It was just gone half past four. Hermione was right when it came to social etiquette but that was not his top priority right then. Malfoy had been captured. He himself had urged Snape to get in touch with Father Sean. There had to have been something in what Narcissa had attempted to tell him.
The internet connection was slow when compared with a normal computer but he got there in the end. Without further ado, he dialled.
Father McKenna answered in a tone that was cordial on the surface but could be interpreted as edgy, although not ‘per se’ sleepy.
“Father, it’s me, Harry…”
“Are you okay? I’ve been worried about you…” He paused for a brief second. Well, your girlfriend mentioned to Draco that you might have run into problems.”
“I’m absolutely fine, please don’t worry about me. You don’t happen have heard from Draco at all, have you? I mean, in the last couple of days or so…” Harry enquired without going into ‘ins’ and ‘outs.’
“Funnily enough, I just got a call from him. He says he’s in Fulham Road. I was going to go to pick him up,”
“Oh, great, thanks!” Harry stopped in his tracks for a minute. He didn’t know if Father McKenna knew that Draco had disappeared and he didn’t want to cause any further disquiet, although he realised that the fact that he was calling in the middle of the night implied that something was amiss. “Actually,” he continued, “I was going to be in the vicinity today anyhow. I can go and meet him myself instead, if you wish, saves you the trip. By the way, where is he exactly?”
Father Sean’reply was that he had a telephone number. It was a landline as far as Harry could make out.
So, what was going on exactly? Had Draco been captured and released, had he escaped or had he been playing silly games all along?
In any event he dialled the number.
“Vingt Quatre Brasserie, good morning,” a female voice saluted.
“Good morning. Do you have a Mr Malfoy with you by any chance? My name is Harry, Harry Potter.”
“Just one second.”
The phone went silent and Harry realised that he had been put on hold.
“Harry?” Draco answered surprised, “can you come to meet me?”
“What are you doing in a restaurant in the middle of the night? What the hell is going on?”
“Long story. Look, I’ll tell you all about it. My wallet has been stolen,” Draco said loudly enough to ensure that the staff heard him.
“Your wallet? What the…?”
“As I said, I’ll tell you all about it.” His tone sounded irritated.
“All right, on my way, Malfoy, but this story better be good!” Harry sharply warned him. “And credible!” he added as an afterthought. “Now, what’s the actual address?”
Harry sighed and prepared himself to Apparate.
‘Trust Draco to find himself in what he realised now it was a rather upmarket café before dawn’, Harry thought. So, had Narcissa’s ghost taken the trouble to wake him up so that he could come and pay her spoilt little brat’s bill?’ He hoped for Draco’s sake that there was more to it than that, because if that were not the case he didn’t know for how long he would be able to keep his temper in check.
Harry strolled into the restaurant and saw Malfoy waving at him with a casual smile as he walked towards the counter.
“Oh, thanks so much, mate. Sorry about this.”
He appeared more interested in catching the attention of the lady at the till than Harry’s. He now addressed her: “My friend here has agreed to settle my account on this occasion,” he volunteered. “I still think that you ought to keep a better eye on people who are robbing your customers, though,” he added, continuing with the tirade.
Harry, without much of an option, put his credit card forward.
“Would you like a receipt, sir?”
The attendant promptly provided him with the printout. Harry looked at it almost distractedly.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “There is an error here. I think you have pressed one zero too many. Easy mistake to make, I’m sure.”
The young lady adjusted her glasses and took a look. “Mistake, sir? Where?”
Harry’s finger pointed towards the figure.
“Umm… £75 plus service charge, I don’t see…” She offered him a breakfast menu so that he could check for himself.
Harry’s rage was now rising to breaking point. Still, he didn’t want to make a spectacle of himself. He forced a fake smile and beckoned Draco to follow him.
Ginny had gone back to sleep immediately after Harry’s speedy visit, but that didn’t last long. Shortly afterwards, she woke up a little agitated. Her mind was tired and the thoughts in her subconscious convoluted; Malfoy’s suspected capture, Narcissa’s ghost, Harry’s new apartment, the missing cloak, Lily’s wand, Percy…
Something had to be done. Time was running out.
Once on the street, Harry cast the ‘Muffliato’ charm. His eyes were now incandescent.
“Malfoy, do you want me to punch you hard or would you rather I hex you to oblibion?”
Harry’s gaze was penetrating, murderous.
“Harry,” Draco protested almost timidly.
“Don’t you Harry me!”
“I was tortured because I tried to save your neck, you know!” Malfoy spat out. There was real intensity both in his voice and body language.
“Please expand on that one because from where I stand it looks as if you decided to take a look at London la-nuit, spend the money I gave you for emergencies and go on an extravagant binge you knew you couldn’t pay for, worrying us all silly to boot!”
“It was nothing like that!” Draco yelled.
“Okay, I’m listening,” Harry replied twiddling his thumbs in a comedic acting manner.
Draco was now truly hyperventilating. He related what he remembered about Malfoy Manor and the Ministry.
“I’m going to need proof of that, as you can well imagine. Either I get into your mind, by force if need be, or Veritaserum. Your call, Malfoy.”
“You just have to be so dramatic all the time, don’t you? I put my neck on the line to try to get you out of Hogwarts, and this is how you repay the favour?”
“Okay, how did you escape though?” Harry challenged him.
“I’m not actually sure. My memory is somewhat patchy,” Draco answered sincerely.
“Convenient! And now Umbridge has my phone and the cloak. This is just brilliant!”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for any of it to happen. She tortured me!” he yelled.
“And what did you tell her?”
“I didn’t tell her anything! I just passed out as it happened.” In reality, Draco couldn’t be sure that this had been the case, but since he truly had no recollection of spilling the beans, he thought he better leave it as that.
In conscience, Harry considered reiterating to Draco that he was left with no choice but entering his mind. However, it was imperative that he found out what Umbridge had become privy to. As he was aware of his own limitations when it came to Legilimency, he realised that giving Malfoy prior warning could put him on guard and potentially allow him to block certain information, so he just went ahead with it.
The fact that Draco was completely worn out played to Harry’s advantage. He managed to get into his thoughts and, indeed, his recollection of events prior to his surfacing in central London were not awfully coherent. Either that or the Ministry had tampered with his mind.
“You’ve done it, again, haven’t you? Did nobody ever teach you manners, Potter?” Draco cried out.
“Very well. It’s possible that you are telling me the truth but there are a lot of missing links here. Missing links that neither of us can afford if we are to stay alive. Believe me when I say that I’m not completely unsympathetic. Still, I don’t get what possessed you to order a breakfast like that. Do you just have no sense of perspective at all?”
“I never expected someone with your sort of wealth to be worried about a silly bill. Besides, I thought I had money on me at the time,” Malfoy argued.
“So you’re charging me expenses for your troubles? I see... In that case, I may start considering charging you rent!”
They both quieted down for a few moments. The pressing question now was what to do next. They ought Father Sean some kind of explanation, if nothing else to put his mind at rest.
“Are you fit to Apparate, you think?” Harry asked.
Draco shrugged unsure.
“Okay, we’ll do it together, just in case,” Harry offered extending his hand
Within seconds they found themselves outside Father McKenna’s apartment. As they approached the front door, it began to dawn on Harry that perhaps they should have gone to Grimmauld Place first to reassure the Order that everything was well, relatively speaking, that Malfoy hadn’t run away and that he was, for now, safe. Still, he had told his friends that Draco had finally surfaced in the middle of London and he was sure that Hermione would inform the others.
Harry rang the bell. Father Sean had been expecting them although no formal arrangements had been made to that effect. He saluted the boys cordially but something in his expression denoted concern and a hint of irritation. He invited them in and offered to make some tea.
Whilst he was in the kitchen, Harry’s and Draco’s eyes met almost furtively as if telepathically asking one another how much was prudent to reveal. Harry broke the silence by whispering to Malfoy that if there were going to try to engage the priest’s help it was only fair that they fill him in fully, minus perhaps the small matter of the price of Draco’s breakfast. Harry gave his companion a look fierce enough to make him understand that he would not tolerate this sort of antic ever again.
“Very well, what’s been happening with you two?” Father Sean asked once everyone was settled around the small table in the living room. “You had me worried sick, the pair of you.”
Harry looked downwards, somehow ashamed to make eye contact. After all, the whole chain of events had started with his stupid idea of retrieving Snape’s book. He had put himself at risk and he had failed to obtain what he had been looking for. Granted, he had now a good idea as to what one of the Horcruxes might be, but of course this information was not for public consumption or discussion. Since he had been the one who had caused the events to be set in motion, he was the one to reply first.
“Well, I went back to our old school to retrieve a book I thought I needed in order to help a friend.”
Malfoy rolled his eyes.
Harry didn’t go into the concrete details but succinctly explained that he had been trapped in a supposedly secret room and that he had eventually found a way out.
Draco, eager to portray himself in the best possible light, pointed out that they had decided that a house elf could help and had volunteered, placing himself in grave danger, to go and fetch one from his family home.
Father Sean was all ears. It was still hard for him to take in that such an alien world existed. At the mention of house elves, he unwittingly frowned but refrained from slowing the conversation down by enquiring about these creatures for the time being.
Draco proceeded with his account of events, essentially narrating his capture, how he had been tortured and eventually been mysteriously freed, probably by some kind of magical intervention.
Father Sean didn’t know whether he was more angry than appalled or the other way round. The notion of torture, in particular when the victim had barely left childhood was something that made his blood boil.
“Do you see why it’s so important that we get all the help we can get?” Harry pleaded. “This is a truly horrific regime. They will stop at nothing!”
The priest closed his eyes momentarily and then uttered humbly: “I just don’t know, how, I mean what … I, of all people, can do.”
Harry replied by explaining, best he knew how, his experience with what he thought had been Draco’s mother’s ghost.
Father Sean shook his head and closed his eyes for a brief moment, deep in thought. After only a few seconds, he promised them to give the matter a thought.
Now, a more pressing issue, especially in light of Harry’s imminent move from Headquarters, was to establish where was best for Draco to stay from then on.
The first rays of sunlight made their way through a pair of spartan looking brown curtains. They hanged from the window of a small living area in an apartment above a music shop in a street located between Charing Cross and Knockturn Alley. Nothing there was grand, or cozy, or cheerful even; merely functional. The place exuded a certain air of stillness about it. Only the numerous pieces of parchment that reigned atop the office desk were at all ruffled. It was almost as if nobody had inhabited the rest of the flat for a very long time.
Its only resident woke up to the sound of a loud knock on the main wooden door. The young man briskly proceeded to cover his pyjamas with a dressing gown and, without hesitation, headed for his wand. He had, of course ensured that his place of abode was sufficiently magically protected, but nobody could ever be careful enough.
“Who is it?” he demanded.
“Your mother, you silly boy,” she sniffled.
Percy froze momentarily. His hopes of buying a little thinking time by asking her to tap her wand against the door knob went out in smoke. She did as he requested and simply passed the test. Asking for further proof would have been indeed the only sensible route for him to take. Still, his thoughts were spinning with surprise and uncertainty.
The Dark Lord had commanded a while back that he contacted her and mended bridges. Although he was by no means a procrastinator, he never managed to pluck sufficient courage to put the plan into action. What was he afraid of exactly? Betraying his family? The family he had cut all ties with so long back?
That morning, of all days, after the fiasco with the Malfoy boy’s miraculous escape from the Ministry, the opportunity had come knocking at this door, quite literally. He had no option but to let her in and see what that was all about. It certainly crossed his mind that she might very well have been there attempting to obtain information for the Order or even Potter himself. He would just have to play his cards with care.
At the yells of “Percy, please, don’t do this to your mother?” and more door thumping, he finally, slowly and with meticulous caution, opened the door.
The plump ginger haired witch glanced at the whole place very quickly as if trying to take in her surroundings in just one single glimpse.
Without uttering any words, Percy beckoned her to sit down. Instead of taking notice, she charged forward towards him and forced an unrequited embrace on him which he merely made an attempt at politely tolerating.
“I can’t be long, mother,” he warned her impatiently, “it’s almost time for me to go to work.”
As anyone would have expected from Molly given the circumstances, she started to sob and to tell him that all she really wanted was for them all to be a family again and kept asking what had they actually done to deserve such treatment from him.
“Mother, what treatment? I’ve been busy at the Ministry, that’s all. In times like these, one must put the wizarding community’s interests above one’s own. There is no problem as far as I’m concerned. In fact how is everybody?” he asked trying to sound affable.
She told him the sad news about Fleur and her unborn child.
He had heard about that from other sources, of course. His only reaction was to gulp, whether involuntarily or not.
“How about everyone else?” he pressed on.
“Fine, we are all fine, well healthwise that is. For the rest, well in danger as much as anyone. That’s what it’s important that we make amends, you see, before it’s too late!”
“You’ll be safe as long as you disassociate yourselves from that Harry Potter. He’s a fraudster you know. Is he still seeing Ginny?”
There was no hesitation in her response but she sounded angry. “No, of course not. In fact, it was him who finished with her at the end of last term, well after Dumbledore… As far as we are aware he’s gone off on some quest or other all by himself. So much for us having been like a family to him all these years!” she pretended to protest.
“So, you are telling me the truth? He’s on the run by himself? How about Ron and Hermione? I must say this sounds a little hard to believe,” he argued.
“To be honest, I think that kid is blinded by notions of revenge. I thought I knew him but now, I don’t know,” she lamented, close to tears again, “I doubt he ever cared for anyone in view of him having abandoned us and suddenly like that.”
“Well, good riddance! You’re much safer without him. I take the Order is still meeting though?”
“Well, if any of them are, none of our family. We have had enough loses for one year to fight our own war. That’s the Ministry’s job, is it not?”
“You couldn’t be more right, mother. Now, I really need to go, if you don’t mind.”
This time, there were no good-byes, no cuddles and no tears. For a few moments, there was only complete darkness and when this subsided, both Molly Weasley and Harry Potter’s cloak had gone.