The Hundred Acre Wood
Disclaimer: See chapter 1, still the same, I still own nothing.
Author: written by DracaDelirus, typed and posted by Arwen of Evenstar
Warnings: Language and mention of extreme child abuse, refers to rape. Please don't read this fanfic if this will distress you. I don't want to offend. My apologies in advance to anyone I might upset.
Timeline: Late Saturday afternoon August 3rd, 1991 then past midnight.
Chapter 45 – Far to go
"My beautiful buffet! NO! NO! NO! STOP! STOP! STOP!" Petunia Dursley cried in alarm when the mêlée broke out. In answer to her plea, a barrage of sugared plums sailed past her head. One of them neatly knocking the flowery hat right off the head of the unfortunate Garden Club member standing beside her with a resounding 'SPAT!'
"Sweetums! STOP! You'll ruin your beautiful suit!"
The commotion drew the attention of everyone in the Garden with food and feathers flying fast and furious. If they were not participating, they were trying to stop it - the Order of the Phoenix doing their best to extricate the Weasley children and Luna Lovegood without resorting to magic. Minerva McGonagall, who regrettably had been closing in on Dudley Dursley at the onset of the fight, was hit with more than her fair share of the gloppy missiles. The result was not pretty.
After being nailed in the back of the head with a pepper stuffed with tuna salad, Remus Lupin abandoned his half-hearted search of the flowerbeds in favour of helping to squelch the uprising, because it was at least something proactive to do, and all this inactivity was killing him. His attempts to gain entrance to the house to look for Harry had been futile, and he'd found no trace of Tonk's missing bag in the Garden despite sending out several whispered 'Accio' spells. Although each time he did so, he got the curious feeling that there was something more than plants in the beds. Perhaps Xenophilius Lovegood was right and the garden was infested with a pernicious variety of Umgubular Slashkilters.
In the midst of the commotion a short skinny dark haired boy of eleven, dressed in all black, was spotted breaking away from the group of children and fleeing at full speed through the crowd towards the rose arbour. At a signal from Mad-Eye Moody, Bill and Charlie Weasley took off after the child. However, they lost him when he disappeared inside a long silver car parked at the curb. The car speeded off before they could reach it and their spells to jinx the motor fell short. At that point, Rubeus Hagrid, who had been standing guard at the perimeter of Number Six, took up the chase. His long legs enabling him, despite his size, to outpace the Weasley brothers as if they were only out for a leisurely jog.
The few reporters still milling about snapping photos of the incongruous flowers to illustrate their news articles, were treated to an unexpected photo op featuring the prim and proper members of the Elite Garden Club of Little Whinging caught in the middle of a food fight of monumental proportions. The most notable snap was that of the chairwoman of the club, one Petunia Dursley, flinging herself through mid-air into the path of a toppling tower of sticky buns in order to protect a chubby cheeked blond boy from what the reporters could only guess was even further pudding pudgery. Lamentably, in the process she took out several other club members who were trying to drag their sons away from the plentiful ammo.
Most of the reporters were already re-penning their articles from headlines of 'Glorious Garden Gala Gobsmacks Guests' to ones of "Deranged Dursley Dangerously Downs Dozens" and then hurrying off to make the late edition. Xenophilius Lovegood editor of the Quibbler, having gathered more than enough material for several articles, took his happy pudding-spattered daughter and left the property heading north until they came to a secluded spot in a park several blocks away. The Lovegood's then used a discarded cola can to portkey home.
Nevertheless, it wasn't until an authoritative voice reverberated throughout garden calling for an immediate cease fire did the turmoil finally start to die down. After the Weasley parents rounded up their rowdy brood they ordered them to return to the Burrow forthwith, the two oldest Weasley offspring shepherding the five youngest away from the fete and towards Mrs Figg's floo. Petunia Dursley's high pitched orders for 'the horrible horrible children' to 'never come play with her impressionable baby angel again' followed them down the pavement.
Dudley Dursley watched them all leave his garden with smug delight knowing he had orchestrated the entire exodus (plus one), and as of yet remained blameless. As long as his gang kept their mouths shut, and Boy did what he told him to do, this might work out for him after all!
Blocks away Boy was doing his best to follow Cousin's not-so-clear-cut orders to the best of his ability.
Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound!
The pounding of his heart was drowning out the sound of his bare feet rhythmically slapping on the hot pavement.
Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound!
Over the roar in his ears, he could hear the sounds of shouting coming from behind him. However the pounding was so loud that he couldn't hear what words the sounds were forming. Normally Boy would assume any shouting was being directed at him, immediately stop what he was doing, and prepare for punishment. However this time Cousin had outdid his self. The last words Boy had heard clearly was Ma'am screaming 'Stop! You'll ruin your beautiful suit!' This time he knew without a doubt that she wasn't shouting at him. He didn't have a suit. Let alone a beautiful one. He followed his last set of instructions which Cousin said overrode all the others - he didn't stop for anyone or anything.
Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound!
Up down Up down Up down… it was all he was concentrating on - keeping his feet running. And run he must. It was an order.
Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound!
He was past being winded, past being conscious of how very much every part of him still hurt pushing himself like this, but not past being terrified by what he was attempting to do.
Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound!
He ran as if Misses' dog Ripper was biting at his heels.
Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound!
He pumped his arms and tried to ignore his bundle thumping into his tender back, and his dangling shoes tap dancing on his sore chest with every step.
Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound!
Even with all the adrenalin flowing through his veins he was oddly calmed by the fact that he was running so fast that everything beyond the end of his nose was a blur. Nothing within his line of sight was clear. He was sure that if any neighbour were to by chance look out their window that they couldn't possibly see him either. Luckily it didn't dawn on him that this new super power was really caused by the lack of wearing his father's glasses – lucky because since it didn't dawn on him, it didn't dawn on the corrective collar he wore either. In this case ignorance was indeed bliss.
Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound!
Boy had no real plan other than to follow the flash of orange and black stripes that he kept glimpsing in front of him. The only person Boy knew who had fur those colours was his friend Tigger. That could only mean that the feeling he had had back in his cupboard, that his friends were near, was real! And if his friends were near than so was the Wood!
Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound!
That must be where Tigger was heading. If only he could reach the Wood too, he would be safe. However, never having had the opportunity to run flat out before, Boy hadn't realized how much energy it would take. He tried desperately to catch up with Tigger, but years of malnutrition were taking their toll and the effects of Miss Tonk's wondrous potions were starting to wear thin.
Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound! Pound!
Then right before his eyes the faraway splash of orange colour separated into two Tiggers and bobbing in between was a small spot of pink and a medium sized blob of mustard yellow. The double Tiggers was confusing but the others two could only be Piglet and Pooh! No other bear could possibly have fur that colour, and who but Piglet would be that bright of a pink? And there – just ahead of them three larger brown blobs too! Could one of them be Kanga? But who were the others? He wished he could stop long enough to put the glasses on. Then he would know for sure. But he couldn't stop. He had to run! He had to keep going!
Pound! Pound! Pound! …Pound! Pound! …Pound!
'No… something isn't right about that…' Boy thought to himself and his feet started to slow.
Pound! Pound! … Pound! …
'…I'm just supposed to run as fast as I can, for as long as I can.'
Pound! … Pound! …
'Then I'm supposed to take the bus to London…'
'…what… what's a bus?'
Confusion and exhaustion overtook Boy slowing his feet to a complete stop. Not able to take even one more step he put his head down, hands on his knees, while the sweat dripped off his dirty nose sizzling when it hit the sun baked pavement. By the time he quit panting enough to look up again, he could no longer see any of his friends from the Woods ahead of him. He also had no idea where he was, other than he was standing in the middle of a flat black dry river bed.
He swallowed hard with disappointment. He had run so far yet he sincerely doubted that he was in London already. The Family was always gone much longer than this when they travelled there in Master's car, and Master's car was sure to go faster than Boy's feet. Also, Cousin's instructions were to take a bus to get there, that clearly meant Cousin didn't think he couldn't get there on foot alone.
Squinting to either side in the bright hot light of the sun he saw that this river's banks was lined with house after house which all looked identical to The Family's, rather than the cattails that he and his friends liked to use to make poohsticks. Besides, there weren't nearly enough trees! In the middle of The Hundred Acre Wood was a stand of six tall pines where the Heffalump trap was, and through the middle ran a river filled with clear clean water and its bed was soft with sparkling silt.
He was not in the Woods, and since in Boy's mind London and Hogwarts were one and the same place, and clearly he wasn't there either, that only left 'The Neighbourhood' for where he might possibly be.
Boy started to panic and the bile rose in his throat turning into dry heaves. Had he been running in a big circle? Cousin had ordered him to run 'away' not 'back'! When the collar didn't tighten to signify he had disobeyed the order, his panic subsided slightly. However, now that his head was clearing, he felt very exposed and he knew he couldn't stay where he was. Stopped still like he was, someone was very likely to see him even if he was blurry!
He looked behind him to where the noise was coming from and saw a huge metal machine bearing down on him.
'OH NO SOMETHING'S COMING! Where can I hide? Where? THERE!'
Boy leapt into a small tributary running between two of the houses lining the wide black river. He hid just seconds before a long silver car with black tinted windows rolled up tight, zoomed past his hiding place. The close call made him nervous enough, but it was the gigantic bearded man clutching a pink parasol chugging after the car, shouting for it to "'old up there!" which had Boy shaking with terror.
This world beyond the garden fence had far too much shouting in it!
Boy hunkered down in the shelter of the narrow shadowy corridor. It was the first time he felt safe enough since leaving his cupboard that he could take stock of his predicament. This was his second brush with that same man almost seeing him. A third time he might not be so lucky so he decided to wait it out and make sure the man wasn't coming back before he set out again. As he had no clear next objective to fulfil at the moment the collar didn't object.
When he had first escaped he had looked back over his shoulder as he rounded the corner of the deserted house, to make sure that Master wasn't following him through the broken fence board, and had almost run smack into the back of that same tree-tall man. The man had been watching the fight unfold in the garden next door with a great deal of interest. There was only one man in the entire world that Boy could think of who could possibly be that huge and scary who would take that amount of notice in the goings on of The Family - Mr Dumbledore White!
Thankfully, Boy's lightning fast reflexes made it possible for him to turn in mid-zig and zag back behind the house again to re-emerge unseen on the far side. However, all the fancy manoeuvring boy had to do around, over, under, and through several other gardens and obstacles, to put a safe distance between himself and Mr White before he could start running in earnest, was what ultimately put him too far behind to ever catch up with Tigger.
Now that he had lost track of where his friends from the Wood were, Boy had no idea what direction to go next. On one hand it seemed unwise to go back the way he came. If he did, he was sure to run into the terrifying Mr White. And Mr White would return him promptly to Master. Master in turn would undoubtedly blame him for what Cousin did to Ma'am's Fete. Boy shuddered at what that would mean. He did have to agree that it would be rightfully just for Master to punish him this time, for Cousin only destroyed the buffet to help him out, only... Boy wasn't quite ready to be fertilizer - not after coming this far. On the other hand, ahead lay the frightening unknown and perhaps an even more grisly death, or worse – prison!
One was a certainty, the other only a possibility. Given those options, there really was only one thing he could do. Besides, he sighed resignedly, it really wasn't his choice to make - he had to do what Cousin told him to do – go to London. Since he hadn't found London yet, or even a bus (whatever that was), he had to keep going forward.
Boy gathered his courage, stood up, took a deep breath, and squared his shoulders. As he plunged deeper into the shaded tunnel headed for the bright spot at the other end, he mentally warned anything that may be lurking there with an 'Okay...'
"...here I come! OW! Get your feet out of the way Fred!" Ron yelled as he tripped over his brother as he came out of the Burrow's floo into the cosy kitchen bathed in the late afternoon sunlight.
"Watch your own feet, and I'm not Fred you twit." George snorted pushing him off his foot.
"Take that back! I'm not a twit!" As Ron lunged to tackle George, Bill intercepted him.
"Ronny, Ronny, Ronny, when will you ever learn?" Bill asked shaking his head at his youngest brother. "You're our baby brother. To us you'll always be the twit, just like Percy here is the prat. You might as well learn to live with it. These little pet nicknames are just our way of showing we care."
"Hey!" Percy, who had previously been ignoring his brothers, all of a sudden started paying attention to the conversation when he heard his name mentioned.
"Maybe, but that doesn't mean I have to like it! So what does that make you – the mighty Mugwump?" Ron asked grumpily, flopping down in a chair and putting his chin on the table in front of him.
"The oldest," Bill teased with a slight smile. When Ron didn't respond in kind he raised an eyebrow at his sulky brother and then nodded at his other siblings indicating they should sit down at the table too. He and Charlie had a little surrogate parenting to do.
When they were all gathered and quieted down Bill started out seriously, "You all really disappointed Dad and Mum today at the Fete."
The kids hung their heads in shame. Bill and Charlie were NEVER this serious with them. They really were in BIG trouble this time. And that could only mean one thing – nothing but longs hours, degnoming the garden ahead to fill up the rest of their summer. No more pick-up Quidditch matches in the orchard for them!
"None of it was my fault! It was entirely those two! They caused the trouble!" Percy burst out, unwilling to give up even a minute of study time to atone for what he considered to be his brother's sins. He pointed an accusatory finger at the twins who just made identical innocent shrugs in response as if they had no idea about what he was talking.
"We didn't cause any trouble," they chorused.
"Dad asked us to help create diversions," George reminded him with a superior tone.
"Not that kind and you know it!"
"The kind wasn't specified. Besides we asked Professor Snape for permission," Fred smirked.
"But he didn't know what he was agreeing too!"
"Says him! I heard him deny it myself!"
"Shuddit Percy! You were the worst one of all!" Charlie chastised him. "You were in charge and not only did you not let us know when the two boys we were there to rescue first showed up, you physically attacked one of them. Then all of you ganging up on him, terrified him to the point he ran away from us. Hagrid is still out looking and who knows how long it will take to find him. I hear he is very good at hiding."
"But he hit me first! All I did was to call him 'little one' just as Mum asked, and he fair to broke my nose when I did!" Percy howled at the injustice of the allegation.
"Doesn't matter," Bill said firmly with Charlie nodding in agreement. "You're the older one, we trusted you to help."
"That's right Percy," Fred said knowingly. "Mum said you were supposed to be kind…"
"…and compassionate," George finished up with smirk.
As Percy pouted at being called to task by his brothers, Ginny picked up on the one fact about the mission they hadn't been told about and which Charlie had inadvertently let slip. It interested her very much because the only one she knew of whom needed rescuing from that house was her friend Christopher Robin.
"Charlie… what did you mean when you said we were there to 'rescue' them? I thought Daddy and Mummy just said they wanted to meet those two boys. Was there a third one in that house who needed rescuing? Maybe locked behind the green door in the hall? A little boy with light brown hair and wearing blue shorts?"
The twins and Ron rolled their eyes at the question, making Ginny flush with anger. She thought they understood!
"No Ginny, just the two boys you saw. Dudley was the blond boy in that god awful maroon suit, and little one wore black jeans and t-shirt and had dark hair," Charlie answered her, completely missing the admission that she knew what the inside of the house looked like.
"He makes up for being little with his big fat fists!" Percy muttered under his breath as his nose started to bleed again. Bill popped his nose back into joint and cleaned him up with a 'Tergeo' spell, and only wished he could pop his personality back into place so easily.
"None others? Might you have overlooked one if he was about my size?" she asked in a small disappointed voice. She was so sure!
"Sorry Sis, it's just the two of them. And considering everything, that is two boys too many in that house in my book," Charlie said cryptically.
"You got that right! If I ever see them again it will be way too soon. Percy spoke up, still indignant.
"Did you forget? They're wizards too. Since Professor McGonagall was there, they are sure to be at Hogwarts come September as first years," Fred pointed out to irritate his brother further.
"Then I hope they're sorted to Gryffindor."
"Gryffindor?" George hooted. "If you don't like them so much why not wish them on Slytherin?"
"Because if they are in Gryffindor I can make them shape up!" Percy said haughtily polishing his Prefect badge on his sleeve.
Ron snorted with laughter that anyone, first year or not, would take his up-tight brother Percy seriously. He certainly didn't intend too.
Bill and Charlie exchanges looks. If this is how their siblings were feeling about it, they wouldn't like the news they were about to break to them at all.
"You may be seeing them a bit sooner than September…" Bill started.
"NO! I won't go to anymore Fetes if I have to dress in this suit again!" Ron quit laughing as he tried to shrug off the tight jacket and only succeeded in tearing a seam doing so and tangling up his arms until it acted like a straitjacket. "ARRRGH! I CAN'T GET IT OFF! HELP!"
The twins helped him out by flipping him upside down and bouncing him up and down by the ankles until the clothing fell off. Job done they dropped him on his head.
"Thanks," Ron growled at the pair grinning down on him.
"Anytime!" they chorused.
"C'mon guys! We're trying to discuss something serious here, and you aren't making it any easier!" Charlie resorted to pleading as he pulled Ron to his feet. But it was Bill's look of disappointment that made them finally quit clowning around.
"Sorry Bill, Sorry Charlie, but Ronnikins did ask for help," they shrugged.
"That's okay, we understand – you are just normally helpful guys. So now we're asking for your help, and from all of rest of you too, or rather Dad and Mum are asking."
"It's not another Fete is it?" Ron asked suspiciously.
"No Ron, it's not another Fete. I would say we've worn out our welcome for those. What we are trying to tell you is the Dad and Mum are going to try and bring those boys home with them tonight."
"Home? Tonight? You mean… here? To the Burrow?" Percy squealed like a stuck pig, his voice getting high and squeaky, setting off the twin's laughter again.
"Yes here," Bill confirmed, making the twins quit just as quickly as they started.
"Don't they have enough kids already?" they asked curious as to what would possibly motivate their parents to commit such an impulsive act.
"A better question is – where are they going to put them?" Percy added.
"Ah, good of you to ask," Bill grinned while tugging on his earring, a nervous habit that made Percy wish he had not asked the question. "Mum was thinking that temporarily they could share your room."
"My room?" Percy looked shocked. "Why not put them in Ron's? He's their age!"
"Er… right you are, and while we could stash a camp bed in Ron's for one, there isn't room for two. So Dad was thinking you could two could switch since yours is large enough for three. Just er… temporarily of course, until they can come up with the funds to enlarge the house again."
"I don't want Ron's room! He's a slob and his room stinks! Why not have him switch with the twins? Their room is even larger than mine!"
"They considered that, but Dad thought it best not to in case they forgot to deactivate any of their booby-traps," Charlie admitted.
The twins grinned and nodded approvingly at each other. Ha! They knew it had been a good idea to set those up when they first did it!
"Why not Bill's room then? You and him are hardly ever home! It's big enough for the two of you, so it should be big enough for the two of them."
"They thought of that, but Great Auntie Muriel has been threatening to visit again and Mum wants to keep it ready in case she does. She can't walk up all the flights it would take to get to any of the others."
"Why not the attic above Ron's room then? Why can't one of those boys sleep in Ron's and the other sleep up there? Maybe that 'little one' – he's small, he'd fit," Percy persisted, not wanting to be accommodating if he didn't absolutely have to, while at the same time finding a way to keep as much distance between him and the elven-year-olds as he could.
"The ghoul is up there, besides – Mum wouldn't think of putting little one in the attic considering everything that…" Bill stopping short of explaining wasn't lost on his very observant siblings.
"Considering everything that what?" Ron asked for all of them.
"Remember when Mum told you that the Dursleys weren't very comfortable around magic, and that they suspected the boys living with them might have been mistreated because of it? Do you know what that means?"
"Kind of…" Ron admitted soberly. His older brothers nodded that they did too, thinking of a friend of theirs from the village that used to get knocked about until their own dad paid the boy's father a visit late one night along with his friend from the Ministry - Kingsley Shacklebolt. Their friend was a lot happier after that. Ginny was the only one who didn't nod.
"What are you thinking about Ginny-girl?" Charlie asked gently noticing the puzzled look on her face. He sat down beside his little sister and put his arm around her comfortingly. The conversation must be upsetting her, he thought.
"Why would anyone not like magic Charlie? It's so wonderful!"
"Yes it is Ginny, but there are a few muggles who are afraid of it, so much so that their fear overtakes their reason and it makes them do violent things to try and get rid of it. That is one reason our two worlds separated."
"But could they ever? I mean... magic is in nature, and nature is everywhere around us. How could they ever get rid of it all? Could it even be done?" Ginny shuddered at the thought of a world devoid of magic. It would be like snuffing out the sun and stuffing all the stars in the heaven into a big box and shutting the lid – nothing would be left but darkness.
"I honestly don't think it could Ginny, so you have nothing to worry about. But it doesn't mean that someone still wouldn't try if they were very afraid of it. And when some people try to do things and fail, they get angry. And when people get angry then tend to hurt things or people they shouldn't – even ones they love. That's why Dad and Mum want to bring those boys here - to protect them. Because it's beginning to look more and more as if there is a lot of anger in that house, and that little one took the brunt of the ill treatment," Charlie explained.
"Which might be why little one reacted the way he did when you approached him Percy. We heard he is rather shy," Bill pointed out, and tugged on his earring in frustration when Percy still didn't seem won over. "Look - Dad and Mum are afraid that the situation is going from bad to worse for both of the boys. So let's just all give Dudley and little one the benefit of the doubt – and do what we can to make them feel welcome and safe. Okay everyone? Can you do that for Dad and Mum?"
The twins, Ginny, and Ron exchanged looks and nodded their agreement. Percy stayed quiet on the subject until Ron elbowed him then he jumped up in protest.
"Okay, okay, I'll move. But only temporarily!"
"Duly noted," Bill replied dryly, staring his brother down until he was sure Percy was feeling more ashamed at being uncooperative and unwelcoming now, than he was feeling wronged from being attacked earlier.
"Can we at least call him something besides 'little one'? That didn't work out so well for me," Percy whinged rubbing his nose.
"NO!" Bill and Charlie both answered in unison, making all but Percy break out in gales of laughter.
"C'mon Ron and Perce! We'll help you pack!" Fred offered racing his brother George for the stairs.
"STAY OUT OF MY ROOM! I'LL DO IT MYSELF!" Percy squealed and ran after them.
"What about you Ron? Don't you want to protect your things too? You never know how long it might take to find everything again if you leave the packing to the twins," Charlie teased. Ron just continued to sit with his chin on the table looking depressed, just as he'd been doing most of the time since they came home. The threat of the twin's onslaught didn't budge him at all.
"What's got you all gloom and doom?" Bill asked scooting his chair around the edge of the table. "Here you're getting the opportunity to make a couple of new friends, and you're looking like you did the time Fred and George buried your teddy bear in the garden and told you he died."
"Might as well take me out and bury me with my teddy, because when Dad finds out I lost it he will anyway..." Ron mumbled morosely, making Ginny burst out in sobs when she heard the dire prediction.
"I'm sorry Ron! It's my fault! Daddy can bury me!"
"Dad's not going to bury either one of you. Now what are you talking about Ginny? What's your fault?" Charlie asked squeezing in a one armed hug until her sobs quieted to hiccups.
"I-I… I lost it at the Fete!"
"What did you lose?"
"Ronald Bilius Weasley! You lost the pin? Is it true?" Bill and Charlie chorused in disbelief. When Ron nodded miserably, they added "We told you to be careful with it!"
"What? Her, you hug – me, you point fingers at? You heard her – she's the one who lost it!" Ron wasn't sure why Ginny wanted to take the rap for it, but who was he to stop her? For a girl, she could be more stubborn than the rest of them put together.
"Ron!" Charlie chastised him after Ginny's sobs picked up again and he pulled her onto his lap. "There, there - Ron wasn't supposed to have worn it to the muggles' garden to begin with. So why do you think it was your fault?"
"I-I found it in the pudding, so I put it in my pocket. I was going to give it back, but when he wouldn't help me get into the house to look for the door - I got mad so I didn't. The next time I thought about it, it wasn't there anymore. I had a hole in the corner… see?" she paused to demonstrate with wiggly fingers through the cloth. "Anyway it fell out! And now its losted forever at that horrible angry house and it's my fault!" she wailed bursting into tears.
"It's okay Gin, Bill and I are going back to Little Whinging as soon as everything is settled here. We'll see if we can find it," Charlie assured her.
"Thanks Charlie! That's ruddy decent of you!" Ron said perking up immediately.
"No promises Ron, but we'll do what we can," Bill agreed. "However, if we find it, and you better hope we do, you best not lose it again. It is a very special pin."
"That's what Dad said too – because it belonged to him and before that to his dad, and before that to his dad's dad, and before that…"
"No Ron it's more than that. It's also an unregistered portkey."
Ron paled at that announcement, "It's-it's a what?"
"It's a portkey. When Great-great-great Granddad left for Hogwarts the first time… Charlie was it three greats or two?"
Charlie shrugged, "Does it matter?"
"Guess not, anyway a few greats back in time, during one of the Goblin rebellions, our great-whatever-plus one Grandfather, made the pin into a portkey and gave it to his son so he would always have a way to escape to somewhere safe if caught in a dangerous situation."
"Where would it take him? Here to the Burrow?"
Bill laughed. "No Ron, the Burrow didn't even exist back then, and during the Goblin rebellions our ancestors had no way of knowing where a safe place would be at any given moment. Unlike normal portkeys which take you to a place, our Gramps got very clever and wove a 'love locator' spell into it to take his son to a person."
"I don't think I've ever heard of one of those." Ginny was enraptured. She loved romantic tales.
"How the portkey works is that if his son was ever in mortal danger all he had to do was hold the pin tight in his hand over his heart, and ask it for love's safekeeping. The portkey would then take him to someone who loved him whoever and wherever that person might be, so they could protect him. That long ago portkeys didn't have to be registered with the Ministry so this one is 'off the radar' to quote the muggles. I heard tale from Grandfather Septimus that the spell on it is even strong enough to break through the protections around Hogwarts. Although I doubt he was ever in mortal danger while he went to school there to try it."
"Wow…" Ron gasped, his eyes growing round with wonder. "And… and Dad trusted me with something like that?"
"Yeah he did, little Bro. When I was a first year I thought he was going to give it to me. When he didn't, I asked about it and he said he'd had a very strong premonition that he needed to save it for you, and asked if I didn't mind. You were only two at the time, but even I could see you were going to end up in more trouble than I ever would, so I agreed."
"And I only had it for two days and I lost it already. I'm no better than a muggle-born," Ron wailed miserably covering his eyes with his hands so he didn't have to see the pity on his older brother's faces.
George and Fred, on their way back downstairs to see what was keeping their little brother, had stopped on the landing at hearing voices. They had been eavesdropping ever since, and now looked at each other and silently agreed with Ron's self-assessment. But they also empathized with him. It was hard being one of the youngest in the family but at least they had each other. Ron didn't have anyone, he was a poor little singly.
"We tell you what Ronnikins– before we leave for Hogwarts, we'll teach you a few spells so your classmates won't leave you in the dust," they burst into the group offering.
Ron spread the fingers of one hand wide and peered out at them. As if anything could replace the pin… but…
"Like… I dunno…" Fred searched his brain for something he thought would be easy-peasy "…like how to turn Scabbers the rat yellow?"
"Really? That would be ruddy brilliant!" Ron grinned from ear-to-ear, the pin forgotten he thought about how he could impress his future classmates on the train with that trick.
"Really! It's the least we can do… to make up for the rest," George said with a mock bow in his direction.
"What do you mean 'to make up for the rest'? The rest of what?" Ron asked suspiciously.
"Er… nothing. Hey… you weren't too attached to those Quidditch posters were you?"
"MY POSTERS! NOOOOOOOOooooooooo…" Ron yelled as pushed his brothers out of the way and took the stairs two at a time.
"You didn't!" Bill shook his head at the twins, as Ron's feet could be heard pounding their way up several flights of stairs to the top floor.
"No. But it did get him to…" George started.
"… take an interest in the packing," Fred finished.
"Didn't it?" they both grinned evilly before following Ron to 'help' some more.
"Boys, boys, boys," Charlie laughed. "Speaking of which… you just got rid of Charlie and me, are you going to be alright with the house filling up with two more boys again?" he asked Ginny, who was still snuggled on his lap.
"I suppose… I just wish…"
"What do you wish?" he asked when she didn't continue.
"I just wish there could be three coming… one more for me to play with too. Only one with brown hair, wearing blue shorts. I'd even share my room with him."
"Oh Ginny," Charlie laughed lightly while at the same time trying not to be dismissive of her feelings, "don't you think two more is quite enough for now? I'm sure they will play with you as well as Ron. Besides, where would we find another boy to borrow on such short notice?"
"I don't know Charlie… if he wasn't in the house, then maybe he's in the Woods?" she guessed making Charlie laugh again at her wild imagination and give her another hug. He was glad she'd found a new friend at the Fete in Luna Lovegood. Maybe with someone real to play with she would stop making up imaginary friends.
However Charlie shouldn't have laughed so hard as Ginny wasn't that far off – maybe just a block or two at most.
Boy lay flat on the ground under one of the big metal cars that dotted the landscape in front of the random house that lined the black river of tar. He ran his tongue along his teeth to unstick them from his lips. He was thirsty from all the running and hiding he had been doing for the past few hours. However Ma'am had forbidden him from drinking any water today. He just needed to make it a few more hours.
Inching out enough to squint up into the sky he estimated that it wouldn't be long before the sun started to set. Boy knew he couldn't stay where he was, because cars such as the one he was currently hiding under tended to move frequently, as proven by the last one he took refuge under which suddenly roared to life and began backing out of the drive. He managed to roll out of the way in time but he needed to find a safe place to hole up before that happened again.
He had long since given up trying to find Tigger and the rest of his woodland friends, and instead had been following an aerial path marked by Hedwig and Mercury. Each time he had to hide, he had stayed hidden where he was until he spotted one of them circling high in the air above him, then he would try to head in whichever direction he thought they were flying. Sometimes it took him right, sometimes left, sometimes back the way he came. He was so lost that even if he tried to return to The Family's house now to throw himself on Master's mercy, he wouldn't be able too.
Just then he saw a winged shadow racing across the ground in front of him. He carefully inched out again. Good, no one was around. High above, two shadows passed in front of the sun. They were both there that time, flying in unison. He watched until they became mere dots in the sky, admiring their grace. Wishing he could fly, he headed out again, following on foot.
There were several more close calls with cars, and a few times when two 'neighbours' (people whom he feared almost as much as he did 'the police') who were out for a walk almost saw him, before he spotted the tip of a tall pine tree in the distance. Other than when Master would bring one home at Christmas for Ma'am and Cousin to decorate, the only place that Boy knew of where pines grew were in the Wood.
'I have to be getting close!' he breathed excitedly. His heartbeat quicken with his pace as the sun sank even lower in the sky.
As he moved closer and closer, darting from bush to fence, fence to car, car to bush, the tip of the tree slowly grew into an entire limb, the limb into a miniature tree above the rooftops. The miniature tree blossomed into a full size tree when he rounded the last curve of the black river. The pine stood in the middle of a flat green space dotted with other trees and surrounded by a low ornate iron fence. What looked to be a small stream ran along one edge.
'The Woods! I made it!'
The blast of a horn from a car coming up hurriedly from behind got Boy's sore feet to scrambling over the fence and out of the way. Dropping down to the ground he lay still and close to the fence to make as little of a silhouette as possible. When he felt the danger was passed he sat up and looked around.
The Woods were vast indeed, MUCH larger than Ma'am garden. But all in all he thought them rather disappointing especially after all he had done to get here. In his dreams the trees of the Woods were tall and thick, good for climbing and finding hunny. Other than the one lone pine, the trees here were rather short and sparse. He didn't think any of them would give him much protection. The river through the Woods had always been clear and swift, the silt in the bottom soft between his toes, with banks that overflowed with sweet water. This river was a shallow, and filled with stagnant water tinged green with algae. In its murky depths he could see bits of litter poking up from it bed. He didn't relish the thought of drinking the water from it, but if that was all he could come up with it - it was better than dying of thirst. His stomach roiled in protest at even the suggestion he would consider it.
Boy wandered around the perimeter first keeping hidden as much as he could by the bushes and benches as he went. None of the trees looked like the ones where Owl and Piglet made their home, and he saw no sign of Pooh's house either. Eeyore's boggy place had been reduced to a low space where a thistle patch grew. And most dismal sight of all was that Roo's large sandy pit where they would play for hours was now confined to a small square patch with the sand held in place by wooden sides painted yellow.
The only thing left to investigate was the tall structure in the centre which lay past the enormous pie plate with handles, that spun around and around, and beyond the triangle structures with the ropes of chain that someone had hung from the top bar so that they dangled down in pairs to be joined at the bottom by rubber slings. Passing by them now, Boy shook his head in wonderment - it still wasn't a very efficient way to hang clothesline. There used to be one of those contraptions in Ma'am's back garden. As Ma'am never did the laundry, and Boy wasn't allowed out during the day to hang the wash so he did it in the basement, Boy didn't see the point in it being there. Apparently neither had Master, because after Cousin broke the rubber sling by trying to sit on it, the triangle contraption disappeared to be replaced by a bird bath.
When Boy reached the tall structure he could see it was a series of ladders and ropes jumbled up together in a climbing pile with a long tunnel running underneath it all. Peering in one end of the tunnel and then other, Boy's hope crumpled. It wasn't the entrance to Rabbit's home. None of his friends were here. Now it was official. He was so lost no one knew where he was. Not even him. However, to be absolutely honest when he calmed down enough to think about that fact - it was rather thrilling!
Being 'thrilled' was a hitherto unknown feeling for Boy, and one for which the collar had received no previous input from the slave's master on the appropriate level of punishment to administer when it was experienced. It waited, and when no correction was forthcoming for it to learn, it allowed the situation to continue.
There had never been a time that Boy could think about, except that one episode when he almost made it up the chimney undetected, that someone in The Family didn't know exactly where he was. Now, he wasn't sure himself! But he was fairly sure he wasn't where he thought, or where Master had wanted him to stay, and especially not where Cousin told him to be. To get anywhere other than here, it was obvious that he still had far, far to go.
But he just couldn't go another step until he rested.
Boy took another appraising glance at the entrance to the dark tunnel. From what he could see – the tunnel wasn't that big inside, but then neither was his little cupboard under the stairs. It wasn't very inviting either. With the hard rounded plastic sides of the pipe forming the tunnel there would be no place to lie down flat. However, with it being so uncomfortable, Master would probably approve of the choice despite it having a second exit which normally wouldn't have been allowed. As night was falling fast Boy knew he didn't have time to look for anything smaller, tighter, rougher, danker, and more closed in. He sighed, this would have to do for now.
Too tired, hungry, and thirsty to do any more, Boy crawled in to the tunnel head first until he reached the centre where he curled up in a ball without even bothering to spread out his blanket. Clutching his bundle to his chest he squeezed his arms around it. His precious items were all that stood between him and the unknown dangers that lay ahead. But tired as he was, his eyes remained alert and wide open.
If he fell asleep, would he wake up in the middle of a nightmare of this not being true? Even though he had been following Cousin's direct orders when he escaped, the only danger he was really worried about at that moment was it still being some sort of cruel trick. If so, that would mean his VERY angry master would be out there somewhere tracking him down, and when he did – it would NOT be good to be him. Spasms of pain shot through him at the memory. Boy closed his eyes and fervently launched into his protective mantra.
'Please don't find me, please don't find me, please don't find me. I don't exist, I don't exist, I don't exist...'
Sometime later a small noise roused him from his uneasy slumber. At first he startled awake and then froze. Was someone out there? After a considerable wait to make sure it was safe he crept slowly to the end and peered out. A soft rain was pelting the earth. The clouds obscured the moon and stars so it was impossible to tell what time it was but Boy felt as if he had been in the pipe for hours. Surely, it must be past midnight by now!
Tentatively sticking out his tongue a drop of water hit the parched surface. Sweet! When the collar didn't contradict his time estimate Boy greedily held up his hands to catch as much as possible, drinking with delight. Scrambling back inside he tore open the bundle and dumped everything onto the blanket, retrieving the chipped pitcher and the plastic bucket from the heap which he place just outside the second tunnel entrance, on the far side away from the fence where no one would easily spot them.
Boy grinned to himself. First water to drink, and if the rain kept up, by morning he would have enough clean water to wash off some of the accumulated dirt. Things were finally starting to go his way! He was just turning to go back inside when he heard another sound. This time it was not the rain. It sounded more like footsteps. Boy went into his statue imitation. After holding his breath for what seemed like forever, Boy finally whispered into the deepening night.
"Rabbit? Tigger? Pooh? Is that you? Is anyone out there?"
The only response was the howling of a Jagular from somewhere nearby. Boy empathized with the lonely sound and had to resist the sudden temptation to howl back. But making noise was still forbidden so instead he ducked silently back into the tunnel.
Crawling to the centre he wrapped the blanket around his shoulders against the damp air, and gathered the rest of his possessions into a neat pile so he wouldn't lose any of them. His stomach growled when he came to the apples. The whole one was okay for a while yet. It was just a little bruised so he sat it aside, but the half-eaten one had turned brown and dry from being carried in the pack on his back in the heat of the day. Curling up into ball, with the book under his head for a pillow, he held the dried fruit in his hand and contemplated whether or not his master would think he had earned the right to eat it. He was so hungry he hoped so, but truthfully it was a tossup.
Boy had done everything that he had been ordered too, however the results were dubious. Why he had almost been spotted more times during the few hours since his escape than during the rest of his life put together! There were four people in particular he had to keep hiding from, the unimaginably tall and scary Mr Dumbledore White, the persistent Mr Black who was still dogging his every move, and a man and woman with red hair who seemed to be everywhere at the same time. He had to admit he had been so panicked he had been careless. Master never rewarded carelessness.
He was about to drop the apple on the ground when Ma'am's voice sounded in Boy's head as clear as if she was there in the tunnel with him, scolding him to 'waste not want not'. Ma'am normally said that after Boy did something such as burn the toast, and Master then normally followed it up with the announcement that he was to have no food the rest of the day to make restitution. However, the next voice Boy heard was Small's squeaky voice telling him that when someone went to all the trouble of doing something for you it was only polite to let them go ahead and do it. He supposed that applied to the half-eaten apple too. Cousin had gone to all the trouble of giving it to him, and to not eat it now would not only be a waste of food such as what Ma'am was constantly harping about, but it would also be impolite. Coincidentally, both things Master had rules against Boy doing.
Boy grinned to himself as he started to nibble on the dried fruit. How his fortune had changed in a few short hours! Yesterday he would have sworn that by now he would have been rose fertilizer after a long horrible night in the playroom with Master. But here he was, on his own for the first time ever, and he was no longer thirsty or hungry! How in the world did that happen?
Thinking about it, he decided everything started to change the moment the pin slid under the door into his little cupboard. Maybe it was lucky like Cousin said. He felt through his things, until he came to the pin. Unlike the little silver knife which was cool to the touch, the metal of the golden pin was warm. Boy fingered the intricate carvings of the animals on the surface as he snuggled down. It was curious, for not only did just holding the pin make him feel safe – somehow it made him feel surrounded by love, just as his story book and blanket had always done.
Sighing contentedly (another unfamiliar emotion for which the collar had not corrective action), Boy clutched the pin tightly to his chest and finally drifted off into a sound sleep.
Tomorrow was soon enough to worry about how to find a bus.