Thank you very much, those who reviewed.
No, I'm not one of those people who think Voldemort is shaped by his childhood. In canon, he is a straight-up child psychopath, already a criminal at age 11. There are certainly are people like that; I've met one myself, but when I met him, it was before his 12th birthday. I remember because his mother told me that the police were just waiting for his 12th birthday so they could charge him with a myriad of offences, including drug-dealing. Such people can show signs of it from infancy and they can appear in otherwise ordinary or unlikely families - the genetic lottery again. They also can be violent. The one I met was: he later murdered a child.
I'm extremely sorry about the lateness of this chapter. I needed some time out for a random bout of depression. You know how it is. Mostly gone now, so without further ado, I present...
CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY: STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU
In which Amy Benson has more to say, if mostly indirectly, and Petunia and Sholto go on a road trip.
At this juncture, Amy had hysterics, just in case the day hadn't been trying enough. At a panicked glance from Petunia, Sholto sighed gustily and used his wand to cast a Muffliato spell. Even so, the staff and the other customers in the tea shop gave them a good many sideways looks. Petunia feared they might intervene, but early training held - they averted their eyes, and pretended that no person in the room was showing anything like (shudder) emotion.
Petunia tried to calm Amy down, but it wasn't easy: the surfacing of her old memories had agitated her, and she sat there, quite literally trembling. Rather to Petunia's surprise, the boys - seated on either side of her - were more successful. They were able to get her to drink some tea, and quickly direct her attention away from Voldemort. Petunia was reluctantly impressed with their sang froid. Practice with their grandfather, no doubt.
"This isn't working," Sholto said in an aside to Petunia, while the boys dealt with Amy. "It isn't as if we don't know dear old Voldie is a nasty bit of goods - is it? - because we absolutely do; so I really don't see the point of it."
"We have to find out where he's hiding," Petunia pointed out.
"I very much doubt he's hiding in a bloody cave," said Sholto, in a bored voice. "Too many chilblains, you know, not to mention dreary. And for that matter, we're just not that much of a threat to him, cousin, nor do I think he's at all frightened of any of us. Well, with the possible exception of Dumbledore, I suppose. He may have hidden something there at one point, but I'd say it's long gone now."
"Well, then, where else is he?" Petunia wanted to know.
Sholto shrugged. "Let someone who knows what they're doing do the searching, why don't you?"
Sholto snorted, and gave her a malign look. "I make no claims in that direction whatsoever, Petunia, and you'd be wise to do the same."
"Now you've done it," said Dudley, in a clinical tone. He was patting Amy's hand as he spoke.
"Done what?" Sholto asked, in a resigned voice.
"You've got her dander up," said Harry, who was patting Amy's other hand.
"What the hell does that idiotic phrase mean, and where did you hear it?" Sholto wanted to know.
"Ishmael," said Harry. "It means she's pissed."
"Drunk?" Sholto said, confused. "Really?"
"No, no, not drunk; in Yank it means angry."
"Does it ever," Dudley agreed. "The Professor does it, too. He never, ever learns. Don't know why, he should have by now, wouldn't you think?"
"The only thing he ever learns is potions," said Harry, "and I think that about sums it up."
"You spend entirely too much time listening to that wretched bird, take my word for it," said Sholto. "And why should she be angry about me pointing out her very obvious limitations?"
The boys just looked at him.
After a pause, Dudley said: "Never thought you were that stupid, Sholto."
"No one has ever accused me of stupidity before, hatchling, I do assure you."
"But they have accused you of not being very wise," said Dudley, "Haven't they?"
"Now there's an undoubted leveler," Sholto said to Petunia in an aside, sounding rather amused than not. "Yes, I must admit to that one. But I don't believe they're right."
"They are," said Harry. "Actually."
Sholto looked at Petunia: "Translation, if you please?"
"I haven't the slightest notion," Petunia said, though she did. "Ask them."
Sholto gave the boys a inquiring look.
"You're being condescending," said Dudley. "The entirely unlamented first husband used to do it all the time."
"He was a flatulent bore, too, if there ever was one - on that and numerous other subjects," added Harry.
"I'll take your word for it," Sholto said. "Though I can say no one in my life has ever accused me of being boring. Flatulence, on the other hand, I decline to even think about."
"And a good many other wizards do it, too," said Dudley. "I see you're not an exception."
Sholto frowned. Petunia knew that he viewed wizards as a group with considerable disdain, so this comment obviously hit home.
"I'm not condescending to her because she's a witch," he explained. "I'm condescending to her because she's not a very good one."
"Oh, is that why you're doing it?" said Harry, in a sarcastic tone. "We should ask Nesta and Darsie for their opinion, perhaps."
The smirk fell off Sholto's face abruptly. "Have you been eavesdropping, then, hatchling?" he asked, in a sharp tone.
"Maybe," the smirk transferred itself to Harry's face this time.
Sholto looked thunderous, and Petunia felt it prudent not to ask why. Instead, she quickly turned the subject, leaning forward over the table, and asking: "Amy, what happened next?"
Amy gulped down some tea, and started to tremble again.
"Please," said Petunia, reaching out to take her hand. "Please try to remember."
"We went back to Wool's," she finally muttered. "An awful trip. I had hysterics the whole long way. Riddle and Dennis were fighting as soon as the teacher's eye was off them. A nightmare."
"Did you tell the staff what happened?"
"I did," Amy said, with a nod. "But they didn't believe the part about the lake. Or the drowned corpses. The nurse said that I was 'self-dramatizing' whatever the hell that means. But she had no explanation for my night terrors. I had them every night."
"Do you remember where the picnic ground was, Amy?"
Amy, who had calmed down considerably, shook her head. "I don't know. I've looked and looked, but things change. They tear down buildings or change them, and then I'm not sure. It's difficult. I don't want to remember, you see."
"I certainly do see."
Amy said, rubbing her arms as if she were cold: "I tried looking for the cave from the water, and that didn't work, either. Sometimes the cliffs looked similar, but there was no cave."
Petunia exchanged glances with Sholto. He shrugged.
"We do need some help, Amy," Petunia said. "And I think you could provide it, if you would."
"Why should I?" Amy muttered into her wad of tissue. "No one's ever helped me."
"Help us, and we will get you your revenge," Petunia said. "Against Tom Riddle. It won't be money, but you'll get your satisfaction, I promise you."
Amy stared at her. "Why would that matter to you?"
"He's threatening us, too," Petunia said.
"I'm loathe to interrupt you," said Sholto in a tone that suggested just the opposite, "but I rather suspect we should be going."
He motioned with his chin to the windows of the tea shop. There seemed to be people assembling outside.
"The fireplace?" Petunia asked, after the space of a heartbeat.
"It is attached to the floo system," Sholto said. "Surprise, surprise. I checked on the way in." Which I never even thought of doing, dammit. This is embarrassing.
"This is a wizarding establishment? I wouldn't have thought so." She felt surprisingly calm.
"Not now, but I think it was one once."
"Have you any floo powder?"
"Enough for five?"
"Enough for three, at least," said Sholto. "That should be enough." He handed the small bag of powder over to the boys. "You two take the lady to the Leaky Cauldron. Quickly, now!" He looked at Petunia. "You and I will have to take the long road, in this case."
"Mum...!" Dudley started in.
But Petunia wasn't having any. She pushed him toward the fireplace. "Go, right now, all three of you, and no arguments! We'll be along, just behind you."
The windows began to rattle ominously, and though it was daylight, it looked dark outside. The boys glanced at them, at the windows, and at each other; then they sprinted for the fireplace, dragging Amy along with them. There was a flash of smoke, and they disappeared.
The window frames were now buckling; someone outside was battering them - probably with spells, Petunia thought. The rest of the customers were cowering in the back corner.
"We'll need to have good timing," Sholto said. "Me first, then you. When the windows shatter, be prepared to go. I'll damn well leave you here if you're not."
"I would expect no less," Petunia said through gritted teeth.
Sholto snorted, and turned into a dragon. Some of the customers screamed. Well, this isn't the sort of thing you might expect to get free with your cream teas, I suppose.
In the space of second, she transformed into a cat and leapt on Sholto's back, digging her claws in and holding on for dear life. He didn't even flinch.
The windows shattered into thousands of pieces and the glass flew everywhere. It bounced off Sholto's hide, and Petunia flattened herself to his neck, head down, as much as she could. The wizards outside were coming in, so Sholto laid down - literally - a covering fire, and then they broke out to the right.
The wizards were surprised, at least at first. Once he cleared the cafe, Sholto was aloft within seconds. He hit the wizards with another round of fire, and climbed higher. After their first shock, they began to pepper him with spells. Petunia yowled as one of them nearly clipped her.
"Shut the hell up," muttered Sholto in her ear. "I'm trying to concentrate."
He was incredibly nimble in the air, Petunia had to admit, and dodged every spell, though some came scarily close. Finally they rose out of range, and Petunia saw with relief that the wizards on the ground were dispersing.
"Don't get too relieved," Sholto said. "They're going for their brooms."
He was right, but they had just enough time to reach the rooftops of the adjacent section of London. The wizards zoomed past on their brooms a couple of minutes later, hot on their trail. They took no immediate notice of a man and woman sitting on a rooftop balcony, reading the newspapers.
"Are they past?" Petunia whispered from behind "The News of the World", a rag she generally despised. Sholto was sheltering behind "The Daily Star" and looking vaguely disgusted. "Muggles!" he muttered. He rose and stuffed the newspapers out of sight. "We need to get out of here right now; they'll twig to it in a minute."
There was a door off the balcony, but it was locked. Petunia remembered her unlocking spells, and they were through and into the house - just in time. Miraculously, it appeared to be empty.
"Down the stairs!" Sholto cried. "They're coming back!"
Petunia had locked the balcony door, but she could hear someone jiggering it. "This isn't ideal," muttered Sholto, "but here goes." He apparated.
But the wizards were down the stairs in a second, and Petunia, startled, made a mistake and transformed instead of apparated. By some incredible piece of luck, if they saw her, they didn't make the connection. Or so she thought. They rattled past her further down the staircase, bringing up clouds of dust that helped her ease into the shadows.
"They've apparated!" one wizard said, his voice disappointed.
"It appears so..." another voice chimed in, one that Petunia didn't recognize. She dived under an old sofa on the landing. "But there's only one apparation trail and there were two of them..."
Petunia knew what that meant; she bolted for the balcony door, which they had left open. She transformed in a thrice, but that left her vulnerable. A spell flew past her nose, and another singed her hair as she prepared to apparate.
She couldn't. Anti-Apparition Jinx, dammit!
The wizards - there were at least five of them, she noted - were crowding through the door, with triumphant expressions. Petunia gave them a backward glance, transformed again - back to a cat - and jumped off the balcony.
She slid down the roof, loose tiles in her path flying up behind her. Once I fall off this house, I'm going to make one hell of a splat.
But the roof ended just a yard or so from another one, and Petunia made the jump. So did the wizards just behind her. They peppered her with spells, but nothing hit; she was moving too fast. That won't last forever.
Petunia kept jumping and dodging until it became almost automatic. And then the jump was long, and she was tiring; she missed it.
She fell headlong. A tangle of awnings and clotheslines covered in laundered washing slowed the fall, until she landed in a heap on another balcony close to the ground. She was winded but knew she had no time to linger. She leapt from the balcony to the ground.
When she turned around, Petunia saw a surprising sight: a great crowd of cats in the interior courtyard of what looked like an abandoned house. Big cats. Little cats. Tabbies, Siamese, British blues, Persians, shorthairs, Sphinxes, Maine Coons, and an enormous cat Petunia judged to be a Norwegian Forest variety, crossed with, she was willing to bet, a Kneazle. It was sitting on a platform above the rest of the crowd. They all stared at her silently.
At first she wondered if she'd hit her head on the way down and was hallucinating; and then she gasped as she recognized the party she had just crashed. It was the Cat's Parliament. Arbella Figg had once told her about it; Petunia had listened to the story politely and just put it down to Arabella's occasional dottiness. But no, now she'd landed right in the middle of it.
The Cat's Parliament was a four-times-a-year gathering - occurring as close as possible to each equinox - where wizarding familiars met to compare notes. "All my cats go to it," Arabella had told her sourly. "I objected, of course, and they took polite note of that and went anyway. If you ask me, I think they're forming a bloody union." They were not alone, for though it was called the Cat's Parliament, it covered all familiars. Owls were perched everywhere - on the clotheslines, the balconies, and the telephone wires. They, too, were staring. At her.
There was a commotion from above; the wizards were still in hot pursuit. She wasted no time in diving into the crowd of cats on the ground. The owls, disturbed by the wizards' progress downwards, were angered by the intrusion, and began to attack them with gusto. There were occasional yelps when their claws or beaks hit home.
Petunia surfaced in the crowd only to realize that a tiny cat was pushing her through the horde of felines. It was the size of nothing, she thought, but seemed utterly determined to push her forward. Petunia was startled when she recognized the cat suddenly- it was Tortie, Titus' familiar, whom she had last seen on his shoulder at Regent's Park. When the diminutive cat realized that Petunia had identified her, she stopped pushing her and led her skillfully through the now roiling, yowling crowd, pulling her by one of her ears to guide her when she deemed it necessary, though she often had to reach up to do so.
She dove into what appeared to be a ditch at the edge of the interior courtyard, and Petunia followed her. It was a ditch, but dry, and eventually led out to an equally dry riverbed, a couple of blocks away. Petunia transformed, and then checked for the anti-apparation spell. It had dissipated. She seized Tortie in her arms and apparated.
She landed outside the Manor. Tortie struggled hard to get down, but Petunia was not having any. She cradled the little cat in her arms as she went forward. Don't go-I may need you yet.
She entered the house, Tortie now on her shoulder, and heard raised voices; she sighed. So what else is new?
Something was new, however, because the argument did not involve either Severus Snape or Sirius Black.
"...you just bloody well left her there?" Harry was shouting. "And you didn't go back? You arsehole!"
"Show us where!" Dudley cried. "Right now!"
"I certainly will not," that was Sholto; his voice was calm. "For one thing, there's no point - she's undoubtedly not there now. And weren't you two just scolding me this very day for being condescending toward her? Well, I stopped; and so should you. Practice what you preach, hatchlings."
"Are you mad?" Harry was furious.
"To take you at your word, yes, I suppose I was," Sholto said, not giving an inch. "You didn't mean it, did you? I could think her incompetent with your goodwill, but I just couldn't say so."
Dudley and Harry then proceeded to call Sholto several names that Petunia had fondly imagined that they've never heard before and didn't know about. Wrong again. She judged that the argument was going to turn into an angry spell-casting bout in less than a minute, so she opened the door to the library.
"Mum!" Dudley embraced her, as did Harry. "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," she said, hugging them back, and trying hard not to cling. "No problem at all."
"No thanks to you," Harry said, glowering at Sholto over her shoulder.
"Where's Amy?" Petunia asked.
"She's in the kitchen, Pompey took charge of her," Dudley said.
"Go fetch her, if you would - both of you. If she's having something to eat, wait for her to finish."
The boys felt that they would very much prefer to berate their cousin some more, but Petunia shoo'd them firmly from the room. That left Sholto.
"Well, see that, I was right," Sholto said smirking.
Petunia studied him. "Do you usually leave someone behind?" she asked.
"Whenever I can," Sholto assured her.
"Is that so? You didn't leave Glum behind, did you?"
"I had a use for him." And the unspoken tag to that is: I have no use for you.
They contemplated each other in silence for a moment, and then Sholto said: "It was a near-run thing, wasn't it?"
Petunia smiled a little. "Yes, it was," she admitted.
Sholto nodded. "I thought so."
Another pause, and then Petunia said: "You panicked, didn't you?"
"I did, yes," Sholto said, and without his usual snide inflection. His face was expressionless, and definitely without his unusual smirk. "You did, too, didn't you?"
"Can't deny it," said Petunia, with a shrug, "but then again, shit happens."
She thought Sholto would never stop laughing at that one. "Wherever did you hear that revolting expression?," he asked her. "No, don't bother; I know it was our resident mafioso, yet again. If you don't stop listening to him soon, cousin of mine, you're going to sound like a moll in a bad movie."
"It's very possible," Petunia conceded, just to keep the peace. She did wonder if Sholto's admission was truthful or not; but then she considered the unlikelihood that he would ever say something just to make her feel better, and decided it must be.
At that point the boys arrived with Amy, who seemed rather flustered, apparently from her first encounter with a house-elf. "Where is this place?" she asked Petunia rather plaintively.
"This is Mayhew Manor - we live here," Petunia said, as if that explained it all. "Not to worry about the things that seem odd; no one here is going to hurt you."
"You're sure?" Amy was now clutching her arm.
"She met Nesta and Darsie in the kitchen," said Harry in undervoice.
"The dragons are members of the family," said Petunia. "Literally."
Amy gave her a look which indicated that she believed Petunia was quite definitely barmy. You're right, actually. I used to be a respectable suburban matron, too. Not of late years, however.
"Remember I told you that we need your help to bring down Tom Riddle?" Petunia asked her, and Amy nodded.
"Good," Petunia smiled. "Now we're going to find out where he's hiding."
"How?" Harry wanted to know.
"I'll show you," Petunia said.
She found a large piece of paper in the library desk, and brought it over to the table. She handed a charcoal pencil to Amy and asked her to draw a map of the vicinity of the cave. Amy have obviously done this before, because she managed it with considerable speed. The map was crude, but the labels she wrote on it did give some indication of the locations of various things - the cave, the picnic area, and the cricket pitch. Then she drew a large house, apparently the ruined estate in whose grounds they had camped. As a parting flourish, she wrote an arrow indicating north and south.
Unfortunately, Amy's sense of geography did not extend further. She did not remember any adjacent town which might have located the area. They went different places each time, she said, depending on the funds of the orphanage at the time. This time there hadn't been any nearby town or village.
It was at this frustrating juncture that Mr. Crouch and Tobias came into to the room to see what was afoot.
They weren't surprised to see Amy, because they knew by experience that strange people appeared at the Manor all the time. But they were surprised to hear what they were doing - or to be more exact, trying to do.
"If she can't remember it, why don't you try Legilimency?" Mr. Crouch wanted to know.
But Legilimency involved Snape and Snape involved Dumbledore. Which meant if the idea came to nothing, as Petunia's ideas had a tendency, in her view, to do, she would have to bear the usual disdain - openly expressed by her irritating co-parent; indirectly so by the Headmaster. I shouldn't care about that, should I? But I do. It always puts me in a bad position vis a vis Snape; he'll use any ammunition available, too.
Mr. Crouch was waiting patiently. "I can do it, if you wish," he said.
Petunia didn't know why she was surprised. Mr. Crouch, when he could remember where and who he was, had a host of useful skills; why not Legilimency?
"Have you done it recently?" she faltered.
To her relief, he was not offended. "I have a certificate for it upstairs," he said, with a simple dignity that shamed her not a little. "As a practitioner, too - I'll show you. I used it in my position with the Ministry."
"I believe you," Petunia assured him. "But Amy here is a Muggle, and may it be difficult for her to tolerate."
This was soon seen to be an understatement. Amy wept so miserably that Mr. Crouch shook his head over going further. "The memories are terribly upsetting to her, and the technique brings them to the surface," he said to Petunia. "It simply won't work, or so I think."
Petunia felt her heart sink, and as she considered her next step, she heard Harry say in the background: "Grandda? Do you think you could do a reading for Amy?"