[Hangs head in shame] Yes, I know this is very late. All I can say is that the random got specific. I also got stuck in the middle of this chapter and could not seem to write myself out of it. Eventually, I had to cut most of the chapter and simply start again. Very sorry.
CHAPTER 141: BEAT THE DEVIL
In which Tobias' second sight helps out, but Amy's memories aren't as useful; Cressy's taste in hidey-holes proves to be very Muggle-oriented.
Tobias looked startled, then apologetic: "I doan think I can, lad - not on the paper."
"You could do her a carving, couldn't you?" Dudley asked him. "You've got some more of those wooden panels around, haven't you?
Tobias thought on the matter for a moment or so and then admitted that he did.
"Well, then, we'll go and collect some for you," Harry said. "In your bedroom or the studio?" The studio was a small space adjoining Tobias' bedroom; originally a dressing room, it now mostly held his carving equipment and works in progress. He had moved it there from the outbuildings, as they proved too cold in the winter. Well, that was Petunia's conclusion, at least. It appeared that Tobias felt complaining about anything was infra dig, and he simply endured instead. Petunia had to rely upon information from the family dragons or Pompey if something concerning him needed correction. Apparently Pompey decided, after having noted Tobias' blue fingers, that an indoor studio was a necessity, and he simply informed Petunia of what he had done after it was arranged. He managed to suggest to her - without saying it openly - that she was remiss in not noticing it herself. Petunia had agreed with this conclusion. She was well aware that her head house elf was guilt tripping her to get his way, but this insight made her feel no better about it.
After considerable rumination, Tobias evidently felt that the studio was a better bet, and the boys were off. In the meantime, he sat down with Amy at the dining room table, and began to talk to her. Tobias was in the general way a very shy man, but when he was doing what the boys called a consultation, he was all business. He questioned her minutely about what she wanted to know, or in this case, remember.
Petunia ordered tea, and she and Mr. Crouch sat down at the table with them, and watched while Tobias, in his laborious handwriting, noted down Amy's responses. Amy obviously felt that Tobias, in contrast with the spruce and urbane Mr. Crouch, was rather uncouth, but she did co-operate, to Petunia's relief. Tobias' matter-of-factness helped there. It did not seem to occur to him that she might not.
The boys returned with a number of panels of varying sizes: "We figured you should choose," they said to their grandfather, who nodded. He set the pile on the table and indicated to Amy that she should select one.
Sighing, Amy stood up and sorted through them and finally pointed to a basswood panel.
Tobias sat up and nodded. "Take it into your hands," he said. "Does it feel right?"
With an air of politely humouring a lunatic, Amy did as he asked, but after holding it for a minute, she said, with a shrug: "It doesn't feel like anything but wood."
Tobias was not discouraged. "Handle each one, then, carefully, until you feel something different," he said. "Front and back, if you please, and go as slow as you like."
Amy opened her mouth to object, but Tobias, as if sensing an incipient mutiny, gave her a commanding look. In the grip of his gift, he always looked remarkably like an Old Testament prophet in full career - or so Petunia thought - and faced with this, Amy swallowed any resentment she may have felt, and did as she was told.
She shuffled rapidly through the panels, as if she were hurrying to get it over with. But when she came to the second-to-last one, Amy stopped, surprise animating her features, as she ran her hand over it. "This one does feel odd," she admitted. "Like it's...buzzing."
Tobias picked up the panel, and inspected it. "Quaking aspen," he said. "Good. The buzzing means it's ready to be doing some talking."
"Wood doesn't talk," Amy objected.
He gave her a look, and he said: "It does talk; and if you're listening in the right way you'll hear what it says ." Amy gave him an exasperated glance, but said nothing more.
Tobias got out his carving knives, which the boys had also brought along from his studio. At this sight, Amy drew back fearfully. Tobias noticed this, and said: "Doan be afraid; I only use them on the wood." Amy did not look particularly persuaded by this reassurance, and she shuffled her chair farther away from him.
Tobias scowled a little at that. "You come right over here," he said imperiously, and motioned to the place beside his chair. "Sit if you so please, it's no nevermind to me, but you have to be as close on as possible, if this reading is to come out proper. It's no like a common one after all, we're asking a question."
Amy looked around the room for an ally, and found exactly none, even Petunia avoiding her eyes. She sighed again, brought her chair over, and sat down.
Tobias merely nodded at this, and began to carve the surface. He worked much slower than he usually did, Petunia noted, as if he was afraid to miss any nuance. Occasionally, he had Amy inspect the work, but otherwise, he seemed to be in his own world.
Petunia marveled yet again at his sheer skill and the way the design took shape under his fingers. In the centre of the slab he carved a large, coiled snake, sitting on a nest. Instead of eggs, the nest contained each of the horcruxes, carefully rendered. The Angel Raphael from Sholto's reading made a reappearance in the background, something - an infant? - cradled in his arms. He looked even more like Harry than last time, in Petunia's opinion.
In one corner, Tobias carved a hut in the woods, a large impressive house looming over it in the background; beside it, what was undoubtedly a version of Wool's Orphanage. Next, he traced out what appeared to be - from the description of it in Cato's diaries - the Chamber of Secrets at Hogwarts, and bordering it, a forest scene. Petunia was certain that the latter was not a place she recognized, however; it was obviously not the Forbidden Forest. Beside that, he carved a cemetery, a scene that Petunia did recognize and one which made her blood freeze in her veins: it was the graveyard at Little Hangleton. Harry made a sound under his breath as he studied it, which she caught. It was a low, almost toneless wail of pure distress. Dudley gripped his brother's arm, whether in comfort or to prevent him from bolting, Petunia could not determine. Perhaps it was both.
Below the nest, Tobias added a beautiful manor-house, nestled in a valley, and right beside it, a ramshackle, half-ruined castle. At first Petunia thought they might be a before-and-after portrait of the same place, but upon careful inspection, the second one was quite different. It was very distinctive, and of a considerably earlier vintage than the manor-house, with three high square towers (a fourth was in ruins), and a crumbling bailey. It was also perched on a bleak hillside, with a winding road leading up to what looked like a bridge leading over the gorge and on to the entrance. A sullen sea surrounded it on three sides, and lowering clouds made the scene even bleaker.
Tobias then finished the edges of the piece with a frame featuring gamboling snakes, a basilisk in each corner, and - they were unmistakable - a battered diary and a porcelain snuff-box with the Riddle crest on it placed in cartouches on either side. He had even carved "R.I.P" below each cartouche, which made Dudley snort when he saw it. When Harry inspected it, however, he wasn't able to summon anything approaching a smile, nor sound effects.
When Tobias finished the border, he looked up at Petunia in an inquiring way. She said nothing, and merely pointed to the Angel. Tobias hesitated and then armed himself with his sharpest and most delicate knife. With it he began to carve what the Angel was holding. At first it looked like an embroidered rug, looped over one arm; but after some further embellishments, Petunia recognized the Deathly Hallow belonging to Ignotus Peverell - the Cloak. Next was the Elder Wand, the runes on it rendered with the most exquisite detail, the Angel holding it upright in his other hand. The remaining hand was held out, palm upward, and on it lay the Resurrection Stone.
The Angel wore a hooded robe, and on either side of him Tobias carved two dragons, too small to be anything but sports. One dragon wore a cloak secured by three small shiny brooches; the other had a flat disk in his outstretched hand.
"Sholto," Petunia said, staring at this tableau. "Do you still have the compass?"
"I do so," said Sholto, his hand straying betrayingly to his pocket. "Laura-Anne told me to hold on to it, no matter what."
"Very good advice, I'd say. Algy, do you still have the brooches?"
"Yes, Petunia, of course I've still got them," Algy gave her a wide-eyed gaze of blinking innocence. Petunia knew that this meant he probably wasn't telling her something - or perhaps lying, which the spell had forced him to do in the past. No longer, but this habit was proving hard to break.
"All three?" She gave him a stern look in return.
"Yes, certainly I do, all three," Algy looked aggrieved at her tone.
"That's good," Petunia said, sighing, "because I have a distinct feeling that we may need all of them."
"No shit," Petunia heard Harry mutter. She was damned if she was going to take time out to police his vocabulary at this juncture, so she felt it wiser to pretend to a certain strategic deafness. Not to mention my own backsliding in that area.
Now she turned to Amy. "Do you recognize anything here?"
Amy, trembling more than a little, pointed to the ruined castle. "That I remember," she cried. "That's where we picnicked! That day!"
But when Petunia questioned her in more detail, she found that Amy couldn't recall the location, nor any name which might have helped trace it. They had occupied the grounds, she said, but even then the place itself had been deserted and shut up.
"Where is it, Tobias, do you know?" Petunia asked anxiously.
He didn't, which he indicated by a shake of his head; but Mr. Crouch did. "That's Caer Hiraeth," he said.
"Caer Hiraeth!" Sholto said, giving him a narrow look. "Isn't that just a myth?"
Mr. Crouch was not used to being contradicted, and he frowned at Sholto. "It's no myth - I've been there myself. Not recently, of course."
"Not recently?" Sholto was openly sceptical. "When was it then?"
Mr. Crouch's face took on a hauteur that Petunia thought that she hadn't seen there since before he'd been brutally crucio'd by his unpleasant offspring.
"A long time ago," he said shortly.
"Can you take us there now, Mr. Crouch?" Petunia asked.
Mr. Crouch turned pale. "No, I can't," he said. "The Ministry wanted to stop the trade in various dark magic items, and closed it down. To seal the deal, they made it unplottable. No one can find it now."
Sholto opened his mouth to contest this - even as a wizard, he never knew the meaning the word discretion, Petunia noted with exasperation - when Algy chipped in with: "Caer Hireath is on the coast. Cressy told me so. She went there once with her father."
Petunia's brows rose. "Do you remember why, Algy?"
Algy nodded. "The house used to belong to a famous wizarding family, I think. It was named after the Welsh stronghold originally owned by the family back when they were Muggles. They had great loads of wizarding artifacts stored there, and they had to sell them - bit by bit - to pay the bills when they fell on hard times. Cressy said her father knew the owner well and wanted to buy certain things. You had to make an appointment first, though, because he didn't live there anymore, and didn't want the Ministry to interfere in their sales."
Petunia said as gently as she could, hoping that Algy wouldn't snap out of his unusual fit of co-operation: "Did Cressy tell you what they bought there?"
"Oh, yes!" Algy said. "She said it was books, mostly. And maps. You had to meet the owner in London first; he didn't want any breaches in security, and he had to take you there."
Petunia tried hard not to react visibly to this information. "Are the things she bought still here, then?"
"I don't know for sure," Algy admitted. ""Cressy did show me where they were, back in the day. I can't say I've checked for them lately, though, so I can't say whether they're still there. She may have moved them."
"In the library?" Petunia asked.
For the first time, Algy looked a bit shifty. "Well...no. If Cressy had something in her possession that wouldn't have looked quite good in a raid, she had a special place for it."
"A raid?" Dudley asked.
"A raid by the Aurors," Algy said, by way of explanation.
"And was she frequently raided by the Aurors?" Harry asked him, bemused.
"Oh, yes," Algy said cheerfully. "Quite often, in fact. It used to make her laugh and laugh, you know, because they never found a thing. Of course, she had spies of her own in the Ministry, and in the Aurors' Office, too, so she always had plenty of notice."
"That's handy," said Dudley. "What were they looking for? If you don't mind me asking, that is."
"Anything they could find," Algy said. "Cressy was sure the Death Eaters were behind the raids. And behind them, of course, was Voldemort. He never forgave nor forgot, you see. Once Cressy's father died, he tried to recruit her again. He thought he'd be successful if Cassius or Cato weren't around, as if Cressy didn't have a mind of her own."
"That's one bloke who doesn't learn by experience," said Harry.
"No, he didn't," Algy agreed. "Every time she turned him down, and she did so pretty often, he'd make her life difficult for a bit. Not that she minded, really; she used to say that it made things a bit more interesting."
"I suppose that's the positive way of looking at it," Petunia said. Cressy had never much impressed her as a positive personality, but then she had known her only in extreme old age, which, she supposed, might well have made a difference. "Can you show us where she kept these things, Algy? I thought her most valuable items were in the Puddleborough Bank."
"The research was in the bank, yes; most of it, anyway," Algy agreed. "Cressy kept these things separately."
"Buried them in the garden, did she?" This from Dudley.
"Well...not exactly there, either," was Algy's response. "I'll show you, if you like. Now that the spells Cressy put on me don't work anymore, I actually can."
Petunia promptly accepted this invitation before Algy had an opportunity to change his mind. He led them out of the Manor dining room and out the front door, the whole party straggling out behind him. It consisted of Petunia and the boys, Mr. Crouch, Sholto, Amy and Tobias.
Once they had gathered on the front step, he said brightly to Petunia: "We'll have to apparate."
"Where to, Algy?" Petunia wanted to know.
"Middle Wallop," Algy said, gesturing with his claw in the general direction of south.
"Where the hell is Middle Wallop, and why on earth are we supposed to believe she would she go there?" asked Sholto, for once expressing the opinion of the majority of the group.
"It's between Nether Wallop and Over Wallop," said Algy, with an air of exaggerated patience, "and we'll go there to visit a place that Cressy hid things."
"Oh, yes, of course," Sholto said. He didn't roll his eyes, but there was an eye roll in his voice anyway. "As good a reason as any."
"Why there?" Harry asked.
"She liked the name," said Algy.
This did not elicit a response, beyond a muffled laugh from Dudley.
Algy bristled a little: "It had to be random, she said."
After they arrived at Middle Wallop, Petunia saw Cressy's point. It was the most utterly random place imaginable. There was an airfield nearby, so it had more amenities than might have been expected, given its size. Including, of all things, a storage locker facility, used mostly by the Armed Forces personnel. And Cressy, having successfully stowed extremely dangerous magical material at her local Muggle bank, had decided it would do well enough for her father's purchases.
The storage units were located in a series of large, older buildings, that had been adapted from another usage, Petunia thought, probably agricultural. There was only one rather elderly caretaker to be seen, and he seemed surprised when the party - Algy was disguised by a 'notice-me-not' spell or three - presented themselves at the reception desk, and asked to see the storage unit of the late Cressida Mayhew. They were here, Petunia said, in her best business-like tone, to inspect it as part of the settlement of her estate. The man seemed perplexed at their sudden appearance, and peered at Petunia's identification for rather a long time. Too long for Sholto, who grew rather impatient; he hit him dead-on with a Confundus charm. The caretaker sat down with a thump, and watched with bemusement while Algy selected a key from the board behind the desk.
"Was that really necessary?" Petunia whispered, annoyed.
"I want to get back to the Manor sometime this century," Sholto hissed back.
Algy palmed the key, and led them out into the main building. It was maze of passages, and the units did not appear to have any labels or numbers. Petunia realized that in the ordinary course of business the caretaker had to escort you to your unit, and hoped Algy knew where he was going.
The little sport dragon seemed to have no concerns on that score. He led them confidently along corridor after corridor until he stopped in front of a slab-like, iron-bound door. The key slid into the lock without difficulties, but Algy needed help from both the boys and Tobias to turn it. The heavy door gave a scream of protest as it creaked open.
They passed through into a stone-walled room, which was very gloomy and dusty. There was a barred window tucked under the roof, but it let in only a limited amount of light. Petunia lit her wand and looked around her.
She had expected the room to have the usual untidy jumble of items, but to her surprise, it was scrupulously neat, and lined with wooden cupboards, and it had a large wooden table in the middle of the room.
Algy trotted over to the nearest cupboard, but he did not try to open it manually. Instead, he cast several spells, these ones audible, though he did not, Petunia thought, use English. Welsh, perhaps; but not the modern variety.
Inside the cupboard, there were books, stacked every which way. From their bindings, Petunia could tell that they were old, and from sheer intuiton, that they were the type of books Aurors would find interesting, if perhaps not illegal. Then she spotted one bound in lurid red leather and tastefully decorated with dancing black skeletons. Let me amend that: some look *definitely* illegal.
But the books were not what Algy was looking for: he sighed, shut the cupboard, and tried the next one. "It's been some time," he said to Petunia in an apologetic tone. "I'm not absolutely sure of the interior layout, not anymore."
All the cupboards on that side of the room proved to be full of books. Algy was undaunted; he moved on to the next bank of cupboards on the next wall. These ones had drawers inside, which when Algy pulled them out, proved to be storage for maps. "Ah, here they are!" he exclaimed happily, drawing one out and spreading it on the table.
Everyone crowded around to look. The first map was of wizarding Europe, and was drawn in a way that fascinated Petunia, with three-dimensional representations of the various landmarks. Only wizarding communities were marked, and Britain on the map was too small for many details. Disappointed, they went on to the next, which was a world map version; and the next, which proved more useful. It was a full scale map of Britain itself, and Eire, with numerous wizarding locations carefully marked.
Sholto now leaned forward and placed his compass on the map. Suddenly the map darkened, and a spot in the middle of Britain shone through the gloom. In large red letters, it said: "You Are Here."
"As if we couldn't live without that information," muttered Harry. Petunia suspected that he was upset by the smallness of the room and the number of people in it. When they lived at Privet Drive, Vernon had punished him by locking him in the cupboard under stairs, and he still suffered from the occasional bout of claustrophobia.
His brother rolled his eyes, and whispered: "Zip it!" Petunia gave them both a reproving look, and then turned back to the map. Sholto was moving the compass along an illuminated line from the north of Britain to the south. Various locations lit up as the compass rolled over them. Some of the names Petunia recognized, or had heard of; some were unknown to her, but they seemed to be places of importance to wizards.
In the south of Britain, another label lit up, in green letters this time: "Caer Hiraeth. Magical books, maps, documents, and ephemera. A rendevous point will be provided. Bring wands. Wholesale pricing. Cash only."
Sholto said, in obvious digust: "It's a damned advertisement!"
Petunia bit back a smile. "Indeed - that's exactly what it is," she said. I would have been ready to swear that wizards had no notion of the concept of wholesale pricing. Evidently, I'd have been wrong.
She glanced over her shoulder and discovered their guest, gazing around the room, distressed and looking like she could use a stiff drink. I know how that feels, none better. Welcome to the world of wizards.
"Amy?" Petunia said. "Can you come here for a minute? Please look at this and tell me whether you can see what the map says."
Amy moved forward to peer at it. She was silent for a full minute. "I'm not sure," she faltered. "Can you enlarge it?"
Sholto rotated the compass and the image became larger. The three-dimensional quality of it seemed to concern Amy, for she looked at it from all sides.
"I don't know," she said. "I've always been convinced that I'd know the place again, because I keep seeing it in my nightmares. In great detail, too. But now, looking at it - I'm just not sure."
Petunia nodded at Sholto, and he enlarged the image still further. The details became clearer, the colour sharper. Amy gave a great gasp and began to hyperventilate. "That's it!" she choked out. "That's it!"