Chapter 6 : Christmas at the Burrow
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CHRISTMAS AT THE BURROW
'What happened?' said the wizard sharply. 'Did someone hex you?'
It was Lamplough, the Hit Wizard who'd guarded Harry his first night in the spare office. Harry saw that Lamplough's wand was drawn.
'No, I ... was looking for Mr Weasley. I heard -- I thought --'
Lamplough frowned. He took Harry by the chin, tilted his head back and peered into his eyes.
'What's up, Lamplough?' said a voice behind Harry, the same voice that seconds earlier had been conversing with Lucius Malfoy.
Harry glanced over his shoulder. Mr Malfoy and a sharp-featured wizard who must have been Riversedge were walking towards him and Lamplough. When Mr Malfoy spotted Harry, his eyes narrowed.
Before Lamplough could answer, Harry said brightly, 'I thought I recognised your voice! Why didn't you tell me you were a wizard? I could've given you Sickles for the Knight Bus.'
'What?' said Riversedge.
'That's the man I met on Christmas Eve,' Harry said to Lamplough. 'You see, I told you it wasn't a Dark wizard. It was him!'
It was difficult to say who looked more appalled at this, Riversedge or Lucius Malfoy. In one quick movement, Lamplough thrust Harry into the passage he'd come out of and levelled his wand at the pair of them. Riversedge seized Mr Malfoy by the back of his robes and threw him bodily at Lamplough, knocking them both to the floor. He yanked out his own wand and started muttering a spell, which Harry identified at once as the Curse of the Slithering Death.
Wand in hand, Harry stepped out of the side passage and launched into the counter-curse, as though he was back in the Dark Arts classroom practising with Professor Millarca. The two incantations wound simultaneously to an end. As Harry had correctly performed the counter, nothing happened. Riversedge stared at him, flabbergasted, then lifted his wand again.
'Expelli-' Harry began.
'STUPEFY!' bellowed Lucius Malfoy.
A blinding flash of crimson light filled the corridor, followed by a dull thump. When Harry's eyes cleared, he saw Riversedge lying in a crumpled heap at the base of the wall, which he had hit with such force that the oak panelling had cracked. Lamplough went cautiously over to examine him.
After a couple of minutes, he straightened up and said quietly to Mr Malfoy, 'You've killed him.'
'That was the Curse of the Crawling Death he was casting!' said Mr Malfoy. His face was white and Harry had the impression that the fear in his voice was not entirely feigned. 'If he'd managed to finish --'
'What do you mean, the Curse of the Crawling Death?' said Lamplough suspiciously.
'I was at Doyle's Rift,' said Mr Malfoy. 'Under Imperius, of course, but I will never forget ... when I heard him I couldn't believe it ... I -- lost control ...'
Lucius Malfoy let his wand drop and put his hands over his face. None of what he'd said meant a thing to Harry, but Lamplough's expression went grim. He sent a silver arrow shooting up the corridor, no doubt summoning reinforcements.
Harry gazed down at Riversedge's body, a sick feeling in his stomach. He had hoped that identifying Riversedge as the man he'd spoken with might lead to an investigation, and the truth of Riversedge's involvement with Voldemort would be discovered. He hadn't intended for him to die ...
'Harry, what's happened?' said an anxious voice.
Harry raised his head. Mr Weasley was at his side.
'I was looking for you,' Harry said, 'but I couldn't find Agnes Hammersmith's office.'
'Agnes who?' said Mr Weasley.
'Agnes Hammersmith,' said Harry. 'Those wizards you were supposed to be meeting with said you'd gone to see her.'
'Those wizards I -- Harry, what are you talking about?'
Before Harry could explain further, he and Mr Weasley were distracted by Lamplough, who was speaking animatedly to Ormesby.
'... noticed him acting funny right after he passed Riversedge's door. Stood still for nearly five minutes as if he was in a trance, then suddenly started running ... There was a mad look in his eye -- I reckoned I'd better stop him before he did himself harm. That snapped him out of it, but he didn't seem to remember what he'd been doing. Then Riversedge came along. Potter recognised his voice: Riversedge was the man he'd met on Christmas Eve. When he said that, Riversedge attacked. He tried to cast the Curse of the Crawling Death on us --'
'The Curse of the Slithering Death,' Harry corrected him, but no one paid any attention -- except for Lucius Malfoy, who shot Harry a swift but genuinely terrified look.
Mr Weasley looked at Riversedge's body, then back at Ormesby, whose lips were curved in a satisfied smile.
'I see,' said Mr Weasley coldly. 'I trust there will be no objections now to Harry coming home with me?'
'Once we've taken his statement,' said Ormesby.
A Hit Wizard led Harry off to a side room, where he gave his version of recent events as a charmed quill took down his words.
'... Mr Malfoy called it the Crawling Death. It's the one that goes Corpus Colubrifer --'
'Don't say it!' yelped the Hit Wizard, flinging himself across the table to press a hand over Harry's mouth.
'It wouldn't have worked without a wand,' Harry pointed out.
'Yes, yes,' said the wizard edgily. 'Sign this, please.'
Mr Weasley was waiting outside. He went with Harry to the spare office to collect his things. They headed back to the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office, Mr Weasley floating the trunk along the corridors whilst Harry carried the bottle with the holly sprigs, which had begun putting out tiny rootlets.
Mr Weasley kept his Floo powder in a battered Muggle drinks can. He shook out a handful and tossed it into the fire; moments later, Harry emerged gratefully into the welcoming warmth of the Weasleys' kitchen. Mrs Weasley was slumped disconsolately at the scrubbed wooden table as the last of the washing-up from lunch finished itself in the sink. When she caught sight of Harry, she leapt up with a shriek.
'Harry -- what --?'
Mr Weasley stepped out of the fireplace with the trunk.
'Molly, look after Harry,' he said. 'Murdock Riversedge was just killed by Magical Law Enforcement trying to murder him. It was Riversedge who attacked him on Christmas Eve, Ormesby's been using as Harry as bait flush him out. I've got to get back to the Ministry ...'
Mr Weasley ducked into the fireplace and disappeared.
'Murdock Riversedge tried to murder you?' said an astonished voice.
Fred and George, drawn by their mother's cry, had come hurrying down to the kitchen.
'I -- yeah,' said Harry, 'I was looking for your dad --'
Without further ado, Fred nipped into the fireplace after Mr Weasley, yelling, 'The Ministry of Magic!'
'Oh, Harry,' said Mrs Weasley, steering him to a chair. 'Sit down, you look awful.'
George joined his mother at the kitchen table, where he made a great show of taking Harry's pulse and feeling his forehead.
'He does look awful,' George opined. 'Bring him up to our room, he can have Fred's bed.'
George's tight grip on Harry's arm told him it would be best to go along with this suggestion. Once Harry was tucked up in bed, Mrs Weasley went downstairs again, promising to make him a mug of hot, sweet tea.
'Why'd Fred go rushing off?' Harry asked George when she was out of earshot.
'Riversedge was the witness who saw Percy leaving the Department of Magical Law Enforcement the night Watchett was killed,' said George. 'He must've been lying because he murdered Watchett himself, we should've thought of that sooner. If we can convince the Ministry, the charges will be dropped and Percy can come home. Fred's gone to help Dad. He's listening to us, by the way -- he and I used the Gemini Charm to swap the hearing in our left ears so we could stay in contact. We may need you to provide a bit of supporting evidence if Fudge decides to be stubborn --'
Next second, the door flew open and Ron came bursting in.
'I thought I heard your voice,' he said accusingly to Harry. 'What're you doing here, why didn't you come up and see me --'
'Ron, shut up, or I'll put a silencing spell on you,' George said through gritted teeth.
'Come here, I'll tell you what happened,' said Harry hastily.
Ron sat on the bed and Harry explained the situation in a hurried whisper. They waited in tense silence as George kept them updated on what was transpiring at the Ministry.
'Right, Dad and Fred're waiting to talk to Cornelius Fudge ... Ormesby's there as well ... Dad wants them to hunt down Riversedge's accomplices, he thinks they may know what's become of Percy ... now Fred's asking about Riversedge and the murder charge ... Fudge's waffling as usual, but I expect he'll come round ...'
At last George gave a huge sigh of relief.
'The charges are being dropped. They're coming back to The Burrow to tell Mum.' He hesitated, then said, 'Mind, Fudge is only doing it to humour us. Ormesby says Percy's probably dead -- the wizards who attacked Azkaban killed him to stop the investigation. Dad believes it, too, he's really upset.'
Ron looked stricken. 'They couldn't find Percy in Azkaban ... Harry, you don't think --'
'Of course not,' said Harry firmly.
George strode out the room and clattered down the staircase. Ron and Harry scrambled after him. In the kitchen, Mrs Weasley sat crying as Mr Weasley held her hands. Ginny stood by, wearing an extremely miserable expression. Fred hovered over the pair of them, looking both distressed and put out.
'He could have got away, George and I'll start looking for him right now --'
'Fred, as much as I'd like to believe that, I've seen the state of the prisoners in Azkaban,' said Mr Weasley. 'If those Dark wizards got to Percy's cell, he'd be a sitting duck. The best we can hope for is that they were driven off by the Dementors and Percy was moved to a different location because of it. It may be some time before we know for certain -- a full-scale search of Azkaban won't be possible until the Dementors have calmed down -- and if he's dead, it's not likely his body will ever be found.'
'It's not knowing that's the worst,' said Mrs Weasley emptily. 'I could bear it if Percy was dead, if only I knew.'
George gave Fred an agonised look. Fred shook his head, looking alarmed. George took a deep breath.
'Mum ...' he said.
Harry could see Fred reaching for his wand.
'Why don't you check your clock?' he said.
All the Weasleys wheeled about to stare at Harry.
'Your clock with the hands -- if it shows he's in prison, you'll know the Dementors moved him. If it shows he's travelling or something, maybe he did get away during the attack.'
Mr and Mrs Weasley moved as one for the cellar stairs, Harry and the young Weasleys close behind them. The clock was in a far corner facing the wall. Mrs Weasley drew her wand, spun the clock around and said, 'Lumos.'
The hand with Percy's name on it was pointing to 'in hiding'.
Ron let out a great whoop, seized Ginny about the waist and swung her around as she squealed with delight. Mrs Weasley was crying again, this time with happiness. Mr Weasley hugged her tightly. George and Harry exchanged relieved grins.
'I knew it!' said Fred triumphantly. 'Don't worry, Mum, George and I'll find him! We know loads of places Percy might go if he was on the run.'
'You'll do nothing of the sort,' said Mr Weasley sternly. 'Riversedge had accomplices, if Percy escaped they'll be looking for him. The last thing we need is the two of you blundering into a gang of Dark wizards. It's Magical Law Enforcement's job to find Percy -- until they do, I'm forbidding either one of you to leave The Burrow.'
'We're seventeen years old, you can't forbid us to do anything,' said Fred angrily.
Mr Weasley's voice was deadly quiet. 'Perhaps not. But I can ask Ormesby to put you both under house arrest, and I'll do it if I have to.'
'Dad's right, Fred,' said George suddenly. Fred turned his outraged gaze on his brother, but before he could speak George went on, 'Best it's not us who find Percy, some git like Lucius Malfoy might say we'd been hiding him. We can make a list of places for the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol to check. In fact, we should stay inside all day tomorrow, with plenty of witnesses.'
The meaningful tone in which George said 'witnesses' finally got through to Fred.
'I suppose you're right,' he said grudgingly.
'That's very sensible of you, boys,' said Mr Weasley in relief.
They trooped back up the stairs. Mr Weasley returned to the Ministry to tell them that Percy was alive. Mrs Weasley began bustling around the kitchen, looking cheerier than Harry had seen her all Christmas. Harry sank weakly into a chair. At last, at long last, all the Weasleys knew that Percy was OK. Even better, now that he was no longer wanted by the Ministry, Percy could come out of hiding and rejoin his family.
Although next day was New Year's, Mr Weasley left for the Ministry as normal, bringing Charlie (who, to his younger brothers' disgruntlement, was being allowed to take part in the search for Percy) along with him. As soon as they were gone, Fred put on Harry's Invisibility Cloak and slipped out the house.
Under instructions from Fred and George, Harry stayed in bed all morning, saying he didn't feel well. This provided George with an excuse to dash up and down the staircase every fifteen minutes, checking up on the 'invalid' Harry and changing the letter on his jumper each trip.
In truth Harry wasn't feeling all that well. He'd had nightmares about Cedric Diggory again, this time mixed up with Riversedge's killing. Ron thought the showdown with Riversedge was the coolest thing he'd ever heard of, and had made Harry describe it in excruciating detail last night before bed. Harry knew he shouldn't waste sympathy on Riversedge after everything he'd put the Weasley's through, but he couldn't help feeling a sickening stab of guilt whenever he recalled Riversedge's dead eyes staring up at him.
Harry's condition wasn't helped by the Gemini Charm that George had cast to impersonate his brother. George seemed to flicker continually between himself and Fred. Merely looking at him gave Harry a terrible headache.
'But it's only because you know I'm me,' George told him. 'Anyone else would look at the letter on my jumper and see what they expected to see. Reckon you've got a bit of a fever,' he added loudly for Ron's benefit. 'I'll send Fred up with a damp flannel for your forehead.'
Fred got back just before lunchtime so that both twins could put on an appearance in the kitchen.
'Percy and I've worked out his story,' he told Harry in an undertone, 'and he knows how to pick locks now. That suspicious bastard Ormesby will probably make him do it ...'
With Fred's return, George stopped flickering, but this did little to relieve the pounding in Harry's head. Out of bed, Harry felt unaccountably cold. He wore two jumpers down to the kitchen and still couldn't keep from shivering. Mrs Weasley took one look at him and sent him directly back upstairs.
Harry ended up sleeping in Ron's room for most of the day. When he woke it was dark. Mr and Mrs Weasley were standing in the doorway talking in low voices.
'... but I'm sure it's just a bout of flu,' Mrs Weasley was saying.
'No doubt you're right, Molly,' said Mr Weasley, 'but if he's not better in a couple of days, we're taking him to St Mungo's. Honestly, Ormesby should be up on charges of endangering an underage wizard, he was only questioning me about that file to get me away from Harry. Mayfair and Drummond were waiting at my office -- sent him off on a wild goose chase after a witch who didn't exist, hoping whoever attacked him on Christmas Eve would have another go. And when Nigella was showing him and Ron around ... if anything had happened to either one of them, I'd never have forgiven myself ...'
Harry opened his eyes and reached for the goblet of water on the bedside table.
'Harry?' said Mrs Weasley.
'Did you find Percy?' he croaked.
Mrs Weasley glanced at her husband.
'No, dear,' she said, 'but the Ministry searched Mr Riversedge's flat. They found some of the things from the British Museum, which means he was involved in the robbery, too. They'll be rounding up his friends for questioning -- perhaps one of them will know something about Percy.'
As dreadful as Harry felt, he was grateful to have fallen ill at The Burrow rather than at number four. Aunt Petunia left tins of soup outside the door of his room when he was feeling poorly and forbade him to come out when the rest of the family were around. Mrs Weasley, on the other hand, cooked Harry light, nourishing meals -- toast and orange juice for breakfast, fresh chicken broth and pumpkin juice for lunch, weak tea and a coddled egg for dinner -- and dosed him with potions that weren't nearly as horrible as Madam Pomfrey's.
As a result, Harry was well enough two days later to go sprinting down the staircase with Ron when Mrs Weasley answered a knock at the door and let out a loud scream. Harry and Ron reached the hall to find her with arms flung around Percy, sobbing. An older man stood beside them. He bore a strong resemblance to Percy apart from his hair, which was brown instead of red. This was Mrs Weasley's cousin Andrew -- a Muggle accountant, Ron told Harry in hushed tones.
George was dispatched to fetch Mr Weasley and Charlie from the Ministry. The rest of them sat round the table to hear Percy's story.
Late Christmas Eve, Percy had heard a great commotion in the corridors outside his cell. The Dementor that was guarding him went away; once his mind was free of its influence, Percy picked the lock on his door. Following the noise, he caught sight of a pair of wizards in the passage ahead of him. One was supporting the other, who seemed to have been overwhelmed by the Dementors' power. Percy trailed the two of them out the fortress, where several more wizards were fighting a pitched battle with what looked like every Dementor on the island. Spotting an abandoned broomstick, Percy snatched it up and flew off.
Upon reaching the mainland he had hidden himself, terrified of being sent back to Azkaban, not daring to contact his family. Eventually he got the notion of going to their Muggle cousin for help. As Mr Weasley had spoken with Andrew the previous day to ask if he'd heard from Percy, he was able to tell Percy about Riversedge, and gave him a lift to The Burrow.
It was a good story, Harry thought. Fred and George had done a sterling job concocting it. But would it satisfy the Ministry?
Mr Weasley turned up shortly afterwards to bring Percy to the Ministry to give his statement. Fred tagged along; from George's distracted expression Harry could tell he was using the Gemini Charm to listen in. When George began giving Harry odd looks, Harry was afraid something had gone wrong, but the Ministry evidently accepted Percy's tale at face value, for about an hour later he and Fred returned to The Burrow.
As Fred clambered out of the fireplace, he too gave Harry a very strange look before hurrying up the staircase with George. Mrs Weasley went back to fussing over Percy; Harry and Ron followed Fred and George to their room.
'What happened?' said Harry. 'The Ministry believed Percy, didn't they?'
'Oh ... yeah,' said Fred. 'Dad thinks Lucius Malfoy might still try to make some trouble, but --'
'He'd better not!' said Harry fiercely. 'If he tries anything, you tell him I'll tell the Ministry that he hexed Riversedge after I'd done the counter-curse.'
'What are you talking about?' said Fred.
'Mr Malfoy said he hexed Riversedge to stop him finishing that Crawling Death Curse,' said Harry, 'but he'd already finished it. I worked the counter, that's why it didn't do anything. I bet he killed Riversedge on purpose to shut him up. I heard them talking in Riversedge's office -- Riversedge said he'd take Lucius Malfoy down with him if he was caught.'
The three Weasleys gaped at Harry.
'Why didn't you say something before?' said George in astonishment.
'Didn't think of it,' shrugged Harry. 'And I don't expect anyone would've believed me if I had done. I mean, with all those donations to good causes Mr Malfoy's made --'
'Like Fudge's election fund,' muttered Ron.
'Exactly,' said Harry.
'At any rate, Ormesby believed Percy,' said Fred. 'Fudge didn't, exactly, but he thought Percy was hallucinating, not lying. Ormesby wanted a description of the attackers. As they were wearing masks, Percy couldn't tell him much, but he did get a good view of two of the Patronuses. With the ones the prisoners saw, Ormesby reckoned there had to be at least four or five wizards involved -- said it would've been a mad thing to try with any less than seven.'
'Fudge didn't like that, he wants to close the case,' said George, 'and a couple of Riversedge's friends did a bunk before they could be interrogated. Fudge is claiming it was them who attacked Azkaban -- Percy and the other prisoners had been around the Dementors so long it made them see things that weren't there. At first he tried to say that the attackers could have conjured up more than one Patronus apiece. But Ormesby said --'
Here Fred and George gave Harry their most peculiar looks yet.
'-- Ormesby said that maybe Dumbledore could cast two Patronus Charms at once without dropping dead from magic loss, but he doubted anybody else could -- and not even Merlin himself could have managed three.'
Harry didn't know what to say to this. Remembering his fall from his broomstick, he could well believe that conjuring multiple Patronuses might prove fatal. He had no idea how he'd survived the experience, though, and under the circumstances there was no one he could ask.
In the days that followed, neither the Ministry nor Lucius Malfoy made any more difficulties for Percy and the Weasleys. It came out that one of the wizards who vanished had an owl for a Patronus, which was thought likely to be the 'partridge' seen by the prisoners. The other's father was a Death Eater who had died in Azkaban a number of years earlier.
Three of the people the Ministry did question confessed to giving Riversedge confidential information to leak to the Daily Prophet. They had all wished to see Fudge removed as Minister, although each had a different notion of who was to be put in his place. None of them knew anything about Azkaban or the museum or, apparently, Voldemort. Fudge was convinced that the whole thing had been a conspiracy to take over the Ministry masterminded by a group of Young Turks with Death Eater ties, which meant Percy was off the hook.
Percy's condition, however, left much to be desired. To Harry he seemed not a whit less ill and miserable than he had been in the shack on the Grimsby shore. He passed the time moping in his room, scarcely speaking to anyone. Mr and Mrs Weasley were growing seriously concerned.
On Saturday morning, Mrs Weasley decided that a trip to Diagon Alley would be just the thing to take Percy out of himself, and bullied the rest of the family into accompanying them. Harry might have been allowed to beg off, but he wanted to stop by Ollivanders. Breaking the sprigs of holly off his wand had left three rough patches, which he wished to have smoothed out if possible.
The Weasleys left Harry at Ollivanders before heading on to Gringotts, making him promise not to leave the shop until they came back for him. Mr Ollivander emerged from the back almost immediately the bell rang. Harry showed him his wand and asked if it could be mended.
Mr Ollivander surveyed the wand intently, turning it from side to side. 'Very odd indeed ... what precisely was the cause of this, Mr Potter?'
'Dunno,' said Harry. Telling Mr Ollivander that the wand had sprouted might lead to questions he didn't want to answer. 'I was looking at my wand a couple of days ago and I noticed those spots.'
Mr Ollivander fixed Harry with his moon-like eyes. 'If you have any idea at all, it would be best if you share it. Certain techniques ought not be used to repair certain types of damage, as they can make it worse ... or destroy the wand altogether. I assure you that anything you say to me will be kept in the strictest of confidence.'
'Would you swear not to tell anyone?' said Harry. He recalled the oaths Fred and George had demanded of him behind the mirror. 'By the Skull Horse and the Hounds of Noon?'
'By the Skull Horse and the Hounds of a Noon, I so swear,' said Mr Ollivander.
His voice sounded deeper than normal, echoing weirdly in the gloom of the shop. A gust of chill air stirred the hairs on the back of Harry's neck.
'Right,' said Harry. 'May the Hounds trample you and the Horse bring you down -- no, sorry, it's the other way around --'
'In any case, I've sworn,' said Mr Ollivander mildly.
'My wand grew bits of holly,' said Harry. 'The spots are where I broke them off.'
'And what had you been doing with your wand, to make it grow holly?'
'I don't know,' said Harry. 'It was fine when I stowed it in my pocket. I didn't realise anything was the matter until the leaves pricked me.'
Mr Ollivander turned the wand over again, regarding it thoughtfully
'There is only one thing I know of that will cause a wand to put out shoots,' he said. 'When a wizard drains out his life through his wand, a bit of that life may remain within it, making the wand living wood once more ...'
'Drains out his life?' said Harry. 'What -- how --?'
'By casting so many or such powerful spells that all of his magic is used up, and he dies,' said Mr Ollivander.
Harry felt a cold shiver run down his spine. Not even Merlin himself could have managed three ...
'Yeah,' he said quietly. 'That's what I did ... but I don't understand why I didn't stay dead ...'
Disclaimer: All characters and concepts from the Harry Potter series copyright J K Rowling.
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