Chapter 14 : Hedwig Returns
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Harry peeled off his wet shirt, threw it down on the floor and then began his search for a clean shirt. He found one that he remembered stuffing under his bed the day Hermione had arrived and another at the bottom of his trunk that was several sizes too small for him.
Neither were clean enough to wear in company.
He opened his wardrobe and rummaged through the junk inside until he pulled out an ancient looking Polo shirt that Dudley had grown out of years ago.
Harry held up the creased, musty smelling shirt and pulled a face before throwing it back into the wardrobe.
He turned and looked down at the shirt he had discarded, thinking he’d probably have to put that one back on again.
He sat down and wondered if Moody had found anything out yet. He was sorely tempted to go straight to the Burrow and demand his own answers. So what if he didn’t wait for his actual birthday?
In the quiet solitude of his bedroom, Harry actually began to seriously consider this.
Dumbledore had admitted to him that the protections were already down. All that remained were the secrecy wards.
He wondered what would happen if he did leave early. Would the Death Eaters come here to Privet Drive or could they track him to the Burrow. He certainly wouldn’t want to endanger the Weasleys. On balance, Harry thought it was unlikely that Voldemort could track his actual movements.
So, if the Death Eaters came calling it would be his Aunt and Uncle who would remain to face them.
Harry kicked his shirt with annoyance. As much as he couldn’t care less about the Dursleys, or anyone else at that moment, he couldn’t leave them to Voldemort. Deep down, Harry suspected his lack of feeling was only a temporary effect. He concluded that his conscience was clearly unaffected.
Harry snorted and began again, going through several scenarios that had two common factors. The first was that he invariably left immediately and secondly that he took with him some as yet unknown notion about what to do once he did get away.
Giving up, he stretched down and picked up his original shirt and held it out at arm’s length. From the weight of the shirt, Harry wondered how many glasses of water Hermione had actually thrown at him. The shirt was more damp rather than wet, but he knew that having lost his body-heat, the shirt would now be very uncomfortable to put back on again.
Thinking he’d better get it over with, Harry pulled the shirt back on. Once his initial shuddering was over with, he struggled to straighten his sleeves.
Just as he was contorting himself reaching behind to pull the back of his shirt down, Harry heard a flutter of wings at his window.
Hedwig landed on his bed and Harry sat down to stroke her. Hedwig immediately tried to peck at his arm.
“What’s up?” Harry asked, seeing that Hedwig was in an agitated state.
“You look exhausted,” said Harry.
Hedwig caught hold of his shirt sleeve and tugged.
“What is it?”
There was another flurry of wings and Pig dived in through the window.
Harry looked up, wondering what was going on but Hedwig hooted to get his attention back.
Hedwig spread her wings and took off, landing by the window board and looking back at Harry. She immediately took off again, this time landing on his trunk.
Harry got up from his bed and knelt down beside Hedwig. The owl was now pecking furiously at the trunk lid.
He reached out and Hedwig stepped onto his forearm.
Harry lifted her up and then lifted the trunk lid open.
Hedwig hooted again as Harry reached inside and lifted out his precious Firebolt.
“You want me to follow?”
Hedwig took off again for the window.
“Just a minute, Hedwig,” called Harry. “You’re exhausted. I don’t know how far you’re flown to get back here, but you need to rest a while.”
Hedwig ruffled her feathers indignantly at him.
“At least drink some water?” pleaded Harry, reaching up and bringing down her bowl.
Hedwig drank gratefully and Harry began to think what he needed to do. He pulled on his travelling cloak and stuffed his invisibility cloak into one of the deep pockets before transferring his wand from his back pocket to somewhere more secure for a night flight.
Harry turned hearing the padding of someone hurrying up the stairs.
“Harry? What are you doing?” asked Hermione.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted looking up at her. Hermione had a very wary look on her face, as if her worst suspicions had come true.
“Hedwig wants to show me something.”
“Harry, you can’t just fly off!”
“I think I should,” said Harry, checking his trunk in case he had forgotten something.
“But it’s so late. Why not wait a few minutes for Moody?”
Harry looked at his watch and shook his head no.
“He won’t be here for over an hour, Hermione.”
“I’m coming too, then.”
“How? You can’t Apparate because I’ve no idea where Hedwig has come from.”
“How will you let us know if there’s trouble, Harry?”
“Pig can fly with us and bring you back a message. How about that?”
“It might take him half the night to get back here,” Hermione pointed out. “Hedwig’s been gone days!”
“I’d better get going, then.”
Hermione grabbed his arm, looking quite alarmed.
“Please,” she said in a stressed voice. “I know what this is, Harry. You’re just looking for an excuse; any excuse. You just hate the idea of something more bad happening that you can’t do anything about.”
“Perhaps,” he admitted, the truth of her words preventing him from wrenching his arm away.
“You showed me what a friend you were to me, Harry. Now let me help you. Accept it. They’re gone. Hedwig won’t be taking you anywhere except away from the very place you need to be. Let’s wait for Moody and the Order to turn up.”
“Hermione, please,” Harry said gently.
“Harry, you’re not yourself,” she said, changing tack. “You said so yourself. Please reconsider.”
“Tell Mad-Eye what happened. I think he’ll have a fair idea what we can expect to happen around here when the wards fail completely.”
“You’re expecting an attack? Here?”
“Yes, kind of.”
“So, you’re happy to leave your Aunt and Uncle unprotected?”
“I’m not that bothered about them. Although, I’m not entirely comfortable about leaving you here.”
“What do you think will happen at Midnight, then?”
“Midnight? Nothing will happen at Midnight, Hermione. The wards will last until the hour of my birth. These are blood protections.”
“So, what time were you born?”
“I’ve no idea, but I’m guessing it was sometime after twelve.”
“But, how can you know that?”
“Why not use Mrs Figg’s Floo connection to contact the Burrow?” suggested Harry. “Get them to come over early if you’re worried.”
“Floo connection? Mrs Figg doesn’t have a Floo Network connection. If she did I’d insist you come with me to call them.”
“Ron said he needed to Floo back from there.”
“Why? He’s been Apparating everywhere lately.”
“But he hasn’t passed his test,” said Harry, wondering why Ron would lie but realising he had wanted to get away from him.
“You don’t have your test either, Harry,” Hermione reminded him.
Hermione followed Harry downstairs, all the while voicing her concerns. Harry didn’t stop to argue with her, especially as he knew she was probably right. The sensible thing to do would be to wait.
Finally Harry stepped out into the back garden and mounted his broom.
“This is because you’re still angry with me, isn’t it?”
“No, Hermione. I’m not angry. I’m,” he said before pausing to consider what emotions he was feeling. “I’m not anything,” he admitted with a shrug.
Hermione was very red in the face now and toying with her wand. Perhaps she was considering a last resort to keep him there?
“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he promised.
Hermione sniffed and angrily wiped away a tear. Harry hesitated, knowing that he ought to be feeling something other than relief at the prospect of getting away.
“I’ll send Pig back with a message as soon as we get there. If there are too many of them, I’ll Apparate straight back.”
Harry looked up to his open bedroom window where Hedwig was readying herself for flight.
He nodded and she took off at once. Diving down to below head height, she then climbed skilfully up into the night sky.
Harry kicked off in eager pursuit with Pig following on behind after he’d done a couple of laps around Hermione.
He climbed high above the rooftops and spotted Hedwig heading in a Westerly direction. He dived down, matching her speed.
“Come on, hop aboard!” he shouted, taking one hand off the Firebolt. Hedwig didn’t respond at once, clearly wary of trying to land on a flying broom.
Harry slowed a little more and Hedwig landed awkwardly. Harry expected her to sit on the broom handle but instead she nestled herself on his thigh. He cradled her with his right arm and was about to speed up when Pig arrived and attempted to land as well.
Harry gently caught the tiny owl and stuffed him into an inside pocket.
“Hold tight,” said Harry, leaning forward and willing his Firebolt onwards.
About an hour later Hedwig began pecking his arm urgently and Harry slowed. Harry’s face was stinging with cold, but he had been determined to get there as quickly as possible. Through Hedwig’s directions, given as pecks telling him to turn left or right, they had followed a Motorway and flown over several landmarks including a couple of tall spires in small towns.
Harry would have preferred to go around and avoid the more populated areas, but he didn’t want to risk Hedwig becoming disoriented.
They were now approaching what looked like a small village.
Hedwig directed them past the high street and on to a remote farm estate. Harry stopped behind a group of tall trees and looked over the tall brick boundary wall. He could see a large building that was mostly in shadow. The lights flickered and Harry guessed this place did not have electricity.
He turned slowly and flew back to the village, ignoring Hedwig’s protests.
“It’s okay, we’re not leaving,” he assured her in a whisper. “I want to send Pig back with a message.”
They landed at the outskirts on the far side of the village in complete silence. They were at a bend in the main road, but the road that led to the village was overgrown and the traffic markings gave no indication that there was a turning at all.
Looking around at the tall trees, Harry wondered if passing traffic could have any idea they were passing by a village. Perhaps the village occupants would prefer that.
Harry stepped off his broom and stretched while Hedwig flew over and landed on top one of two posts. He realised that these posts had once supported the sign proclaiming the name of the village, but it had gone now.
“Lumos,” whispered Harry, holding his cloak over his wand to stop too much light giving them away.
After a little searching, Harry finally found the old sign amongst some of the longer grass by the tree line.
The sign read, “Welcome to Hobb’s Weir. No through road.”
“They don’t seem very welcoming now, do they?” said Harry getting some paper out of a pocket and hastily scribbling a note.
“Time now 0:15 am. We’ve just arrived at a Village called Hobb’s Weir travelling due west. There is an estate on the far side of the village that we’ll investigate now. No sign of trouble but they’ve gone to some lengths to hide entrance from passing Muggles.
“See you later,
Harry sealed the message and handed it to Pig.
“Now listen,” he said seriously. “Get this message to Hermione as soon as possible. If you can’t find her then any member of the Order will do. Watch out for yourself, okay?”
Pig flew off at once and they watched until he disappeared from view.
Something large flew overhead them, heading in Pig’s direction.
“What was that?” asked Harry in alarm, looking up. He had only seen a dark outline for the briefest of moments.
“It looked like an eagle.”
Before he finished speaking, Hedwig had flown off after Pig.
Harry reached for his Firebolt and took off. By the time he’d got to the treetops, the birds were out of sight. He was about to follow when he stopped himself. He would only be guessing their direction and in any event Hedwig had brought him here for a reason.
A little reluctantly, he flew back down towards the village. He found somewhere to hide his Firebolt and donned his invisibility cloak before walking down the main street of the village towards the estate.
This way he’d be able to assess any threat in the village. If there was trouble and he needed to escape he intended to summon his Firebolt to him.
He walked past several unlit electric lamp posts. Clearly this was until recently a Muggle residence. Ahead, lanterns hung from the building entrances lit his way.
Most of the buildings looked very old and some had thatched roofs.
He passed a corner-shop that looked like it had stopped trading some time ago. There was only one building that had any lights on inside. As he approached, Harry realised it was the local pub.
Curious, he crossed over the road to look into the windows.
Considering the late hour, he was surprised to see that the lounge bar was full. Every seat was occupied but no-one was making a sound. It seemed hardly normal for a public house.
Harry frowned to himself and stretched to see further.
Then he realised that none of the tables had glasses on them, although some had empty dishes.
In the middle of the room, an old man suddenly burst into tears and covered his face with his hands. Then Harry saw the Dementors. One was floating behind the bar and another was gliding between the tables.
Harry drew back.
He couldn’t risk discovery just yet, but he vowed to return later and help these people if he could. It was only as he left the far side of the village, having seen no other sign of activity at all, that he wondered why he hadn’t felt the presence of the Dementors at all.
Harry walked right up to the heavy iron gate at the entrance of the estate and peered inside. There was a gravel road with wide grass verges that went right up to the building.
From this side he could see that the structure was actually a large farmhouse which had been joined to various utility buildings and barns to form a courtyard.
He stepped back from the gate, careful not to even touch the railings. If this was a wizard home there would be charms to keep out uninvited guests. He remembered Mr Weasley about the charms he had needed to deal with on the Malfoy estate gates. Those gates actually attempted to grab unwelcome guests and impale them upon the railing spikes.
Harry had chosen the spot he would Apparate to, just beside the open courtyard entrance and concealed in shadow.
He concentrated and tried to Disapparate, but found he couldn’t. Clearly this was a wizard place and one with anti-apparition measures as well.
Thankful that he’d discovered this early, Harry began to walk around the boundary intending to find a place to climb over.
Then he heard voices approaching from behind.
Instinctively, Harry crouched down into the shadows even though he was wearing his invisibility cloak.
The heavy iron gate swung open unassisted, protesting with a loud note as metal scraped against bare metal.
Two figures were approaching the open gate and Harry decided he would follow them through before the gate closed again.
“See sense, Jack,” one was saying.
“That jumped up son of a worm has no right to give me orders!”
“You need to be more careful. He got old Carmichael killed because he spoke up for himself, didn’t he? While the Dark Lord favours Mr Pettigrew, he can give whatever orders he pleases.”
“Mister Pettigrew,” said Jack contemptuously. “I still remember when he burst into tears and then tried to get Black to beat me up; just because I shouted at him for ruining my Potions homework.”
“That was years ago. Just let it go.”
“Wormtail isn’t letting anything go, is he? Why d’you think he always gets us to do his clearing up? He hasn’t got the stomach to do his own dirty work, that’s why!”
The gate closed behind them with another jarring note.
“I expect Mister Pettigrew will find another excuse to exclude us from tonight’s events too,” grumbled Jack as they headed towards the courtyard entrance.
“Personally, I’d be glad to stay away.”
“Why? A bit of excitement would do you the world of good.”
“What exactly to do imagine will happen? That place will be swarming with Order Members and Ministry people.”
“Yeah! I can’t wait to see their reactions.”
“I suspect they will rather quickly stop reacting and start killing, actually.”
“Oh, come on! The Order’s no threat now Dumbledore is rotting.”
“I don’t agree.”
“Don’t let Mister Pettigrew hear you say that,” teased Jack, his voice echoing slightly as they walked under the archway. “Mister Pettigrew says they’re all washed up. Mister Pettigrew says-”
“Yes, very funny,” said the other dryly.
“Anyway,” continued Jack. “I heard Carmichael got it for a different reason.”
The other wizard remained silent.
“I heard Carmichael asking how it could be that the Dark Lord was so unwell just recently.”
Harry pricked up his ears. Voldemort had been ill?
“I’d rather not hear this, Jack. You’d best keep such ridiculous thoughts to yourself. What ever it was, the Dark Lord has cured himself now, hasn’t he?”
“Yeah, it seems so. But what could it have been, though? I mean, he defeated death, didn’t he?”
“I’m sure it was nothing serious, Jack.”
“Liar! Pettigrew was petrified he wasn’t going to recover. They were all scared.”
“Mr Pettigrew being an acknowledged expert in medical matters?”
“Mister Pettigrew being an acknowledged coward, more like!” said Jack with a loud laugh which his companion didn’t share. “Oh, lighten up, will you?”
“Will you please keep your voice down?”
“Pettigrew isn’t here, is he?”
“You’d better hope not. However, he may have left an informant here.”
“Which one do we do first,” said the companion, not answering Jack.
“The one in the larger barn. I don’t see why he needs to be secured before we move him, though. I mean, what does Mister Pettigrew expect him to do?”
They changed direction and headed for a large doorway in the corner of the courtyard. Jack opened the door and Harry immediately saw two boots lit by soft lamplight.
Jack swore loudly as they both withdrew their wands and stepped over the unconscious guard.
“He can’t have got loose from those chains,” whispered the companion. “He probably just got lucky and threw something.”
Harry gently pulled the door closed after him, not wanting to draw attention to the goings on in the barn.
The floor of the barn was covered with a thick mat of straw. He carefully stepped over the unmoving guard noting the thick mass of blood where his head should have been. Harry almost tripped over the anvil that he had been hit with.
As he considered who might be strong enough to throw something as heavy as an anvil several feet across a large barn, Jack silently signalled to his companion who nodded. The prisoner must be concealed amongst some bails of hay at the back of the barn.
Jack made to advance but the companion waved for him to stop while he went for reinforcements.
This was sensible, but not something Harry could allow.
Jack crouched behind a small stack of bales as his companion turned to leave. The moment Jack’s head had turned, Harry threw off his cloak and stunned the companion. The red glow momentarily lit up the barn.
“What the?” was all Jack managed to say before a massive fist came at him from a narrow gap between the bales he was hiding behind.
Harry ran forward as the bales tumbled away to reveal a familiar figure.
“Alright, ‘Arry?” said Hagrid as cheerfully as if they had met in his Pumpkin patch.
“What are you doing here?”
Hagrid raised a manacled arm in answer.
“They got me as I was leaving the Three Broomsticks. I know I wasn’t supposed to leave the school grounds alone, but I felt like some company. It’s been really quiet since Grawpy went.”
“Did they charm these manacles, Hagrid?” asked Harry.
“Nah, they used rivets. Good ones, too,” he observed.
Harry knew that charmed manacles might be more difficult for him to remove, but an experienced wizard would probably know the counter-charm to release themselves whereas Muggle rivets might be more of a challenge.
Harry concentrated and touched the steel manacle at Hagrid’s wrist. Hagrid jumped as if receiving an electric shock but the bracelet fell away.
“I think we should try and get away as quietly as possible. My cloak should cover most of us, but it’s a good job it’s dark.”
“Right. Harry, how come you’re here? Not on yer own, are ye?”
“Hedwig must have found you. She directed me here. To be honest, I was half hoping to find someone else.”
“Clever owl, that one. Anyway, you’d best use the cloak and get out of here.”
“You’re coming too,” Harry reminded him.
“Sorry, Harry. Can’t. You’d best be off. I’ll follow in a bit.”
“Hagrid?” Harry asked suspiciously. “Why can’t you come now?”
“Oh, I’ll follow you. I just need to check there aren’t any other prisoners.”
“Right. Sorry, I didn’t think,” said Harry, knowing that once again his lack of consideration had almost allowed him to leave straight away. “Where do you think we should look first?”
“Harry, is this sensible? I mean, I got the impression they took me with the very idea of getting to you.”
“Yes, Hagrid, I think that’s almost right.”
“So, how about you Disapparating to bring help? You know I can’t.”
“I’m not going anywhere while there might be more prisoners. I’d feel terrible if I left someone else here. I know that is what I ought to feel, anyway. That’s final, Hagrid.”
Hagrid scowled down at Harry and Harry scowled right back.
Finally, Hagrid said, “Alright, but you’re to give me your word that at the first sign of trouble, you’re to-”
“No, Hagrid. I gave my word to Dumbledore like that and look what happened. That’s never happening again. We’re in this together.”
Harry raised his wand and put and end to their discussion by saying, “Nox!” All the lanterns went out at once and Harry gently pushed open the barn door.
“Y’know? One of these days you’re goin’ to have to teach me how to do stuff like that.”
They searched the stables first but found the building to be completely empty. Harry wasn’t too surprised since it, and all of the other outbuildings that formed the courtyard, had no lanterns at all.
“I recon we should try the house,” whispered Hagrid before they went outside again.
Harry looked through the door up at the two storey farmhouse. Lanterns were lit in almost every room.
“Which door should we try?” asked Harry. “There’s one in each corner and one by the archway.”
“Not the centre one,” said Hagrid adamantly.
Harry nodded in agreement. If there was someone keeping watch, they’d be just inside there.
“Let’s go for the closest,” said Harry quietly. “I’d like to check upstairs first. Unless you think there’s a cellar?”
“Nah. This was a Muggle place. They’d have windows or vents down low.”
They slipped outside and followed the wall around until they got to the door. Harry tried the handle but found it was locked.
“Alohomora!” whispered Harry and the lock clicked open. They entered quickly and closed the door behind them.
Inside there was a circular staircase. The winders were worn stone and pegs were provided instead of handrails or ropes.
“I’d best stay down here,” said Hagrid. “That looks a bit narrow. This must have been a servant’s staircase at one time.”
“Okay. I won’t be long.”
“Put your cloak on,” ordered Hagrid.
Harry didn’t argue, and pulled his invisibility cloak over his head. He then began to climb the winding stair. Before he had got far, Hagrid called, “Don’t forget to search the attic too.”
Harry knew he meant to be quiet, but the bare stone walls and steps seemed to amplify Hagrid’s voice.
He went past the first level and climbed on up to the attic as Hagrid had suggested. There he found a narrow corridor that led from one end of the old farmhouse to the other. The roof was filled with small plain looking rooms that he assumed were originally servants bedrooms. They were all empty.
Harry descended at the far end and followed a slightly wider corridor.
This part of the house was clearly occupied, so he moved more cautiously than before. He was about to check the first room when he heard someone climbing the stairs. The corridor was too narrow for him to try and stay out of their way, so Harry hurried towards the servant’s staircase. He didn’t dare chance entering one of the rooms.
He got to the shadows of the staircase and turned to watch. As he fought to control his breathing, the lanterns along the corridor grew lighter. Then Harry saw an elderly looking witch enter the corridor from the far end. She was levitating a tray before her.
She came to a halt and as the tray hovered in front of her she took a phial from her pocket and deftly shook a few drops into the bowls on the tray. She then stirred the potion into the food wearing a truly evil sneer.
When she was done she returned the phial to her pocket and raised her wand.
She was about to unlock a door when suddenly she turned to look directly at Harry. He dived down, forgetting for a moment that he was wearing an invisibility cloak. Had she seen him? Perhaps a foot had been uncovered?
The witch did not, however, come and investigate further. He heard her unlock a door, mutter something to the occupants. A moment later she had re-locked the door and the lanterns grew dimmer again.
Harry looked up just in time to see her enter the far staircase.
He hurried along to approximately where she had stopped. Unfortunately there were several locked doors on both sides that the witch could have opened.
Harry listened at each but heard nothing.
Then he heard raised voices from somewhere below.
“Where are those two idiots?”
There was nothing else for it. The alarm was about to be raised and they would be discovered anyway.
Harry pointed his wand at the first lock.
The door clicked unlocked and swung inwards. There was nothing inside but a soiled mattress.
He unlocked the next door, and then the next. All were empty.
Harry fought to remain calm even though he was sure either he or Hagrid would be discovered any moment. The fourth door opened to reveal movement just visible in the darkness.
“We must feed.”
Harry and Hagrid search the old farmhouse for more prisoners but eventually they have to fight their way out. Harry returns to find a fight raging in Privet Drive.
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