Many thanks to those who reviewed.
This fic is now into its sixth year. Sob.
I had to reread the entire story to get the thread of the plot (such as it is) back again. I had forgotten a good deal; and surprised myself by quite enjoying it. I see very clearly that I can't plot for toffee, though, even with an outline. That's because I follow March hares out the window...which I'm about to do again in this chapter. Yes, Iscariot, you're right. A shaggy dog story it is, and alas, I'm not allergic to this particular dog. It is fleabitten, though. Sigh. So, without further ado:
CHAPTER 142: I GET KNOCKED DOWN (BUT I GET UP AGAIN)
In which it's the Deathly Hallows of the Peverell brothers versus the Horcruxes of Tom Riddle. In other words, Death v. Half-Life.
To her frustration, Petunia found that the map was not exactly representative. There was no longtitude nor latitude marked on it and Mr. Crouch warned her that if a location had been made unplottable, as this appeared to be, the map was not reliable. While she pondered this unwelcome news, and Sholto scowled, the rest of the party were occupied in trying to calm Amy, who was currently engaged in a full-blown panic attack.
Sholto glanced at them, huffed a little, and conjured up a chair. "Let her sit down, for Merlin's sake!"
Amy sank into the chair, and Mr. Crouch managed to calm down enough himself to produce a calming spell for her. She began to cry, but it beat bouts of hysteria, at least in Petunia's opinion. Especially when you were trying to concentrate on something else at the time.
Once Amy had calmed down a little, Tobias and Petunia sat with her while the rest of the party did a thorough search of the premises. To judge by the reaction of Mr. Crouch and Sholto, a good portion of Cressy's stash was the equal of the material they had found in the Puddleborough Bank, just of a different type. Petunia was thus not surprised when they produced one of those magical 'it-holds-everything' bags and began filling it.
"I thought you wanted get back to the Manor?" she said to Sholto, noting his pleasure in a very shady-looking artifact. "Sometime this century, I believe you said."
"Don't be commonplace, Petunia," said Sholto, cheerfully, slinging the artifact into the bag. "It ill becomes you."
Petunia gritted her teeth. "I think that we should get Amy home as soon as possible. She needs a healer."
"The hell she does," muttered Sholto, "At best she needs a good, stiff drink. Give her one, and quit complaining."
"I don't have any alcohol with me," Petunia said, stiffly.
Sholto looked pointedly at Mr. Crouch, and the latter, looking somewhat shame-faced, produced a flask from his robe, and handed it to Petunia. Petunia marveled yet again at all the things that went on in her household that she didn't have a clue about, and took the flask from him without comment. When she opened it, the aroma indicated that it was very good quality Scotch whiskey.
Amy protested that she never drank hard liquor, to which Petunia wearily replied that in this case it was medicinal. Amy reluctantly agreed with this assessment, and sipped it distastefully. Her face cleared as she did so. The quality was evidently good indeed, and as she put it, it 'warmed her up.' It also relaxed her, to the point that she fell asleep in her chair, much to Petunia's relief.
Tobias, however, thoroughly disapproved of this form of self-help. "Mayhap she has my problem, did'ye ever think of that?"
No, Petunia hadn't thought of it, but now that he had pointed it out, it seemed only too probable. She felt like beating her head against the nearest wall. Seeing her expression, Dudley got out his wand and cast a spell on Amy, of a variety that she did not recognize.
"What was that, Dudley?" she asked, startled.
He bit his lip. "Just something Harry and I worked up," he said. "For Granda, really, just in case, but it should work on Amy as well."
Tobias, Petunia noticed, looked surprised. Dudley turned bright red. Harry grinned and nudged him.
"Pretty damn smart, isn't he? He must get it from you."
"Harry...!" cried Dudley.
"Developed it himself, he did," Harry said, ignoring this interjection. "I helped just a little. It's a spell to negate the effect of alcohol."
At first Petunia feared this disclosure would hurt Tobias' feelings, but then he was never particularly predictable, was he? To her relief, he seemed both touched and proud at his grandsons' efforts on his behalf. "Reet smart they both are!" he said, smiling broadly, and hugged them both. Dudley turned even redder.
"I didn't know you were practicing spell development, Dudley," Petunia said. What else is going on that I don't know about? I must not be paying attention. A lot.
"The Professor was giving a course in it for extra credits," Dudley muttered.
The Professor was the name the boys usually used to refer to their father, having tried out several other sobriquets, such as Himself, That Man, The Donor, The Bat, McNasty, The Grease Machine, and several others that had to be spelled with asterisks, depending upon how they happened to be getting along with him at the time. Or not. Petunia would tolerate them calling Snape the Professor, but she would not have them calling him unpleasant names in front of their grandfather. "In private, if you please," she said, and usually they remembered to edit the conversation when Tobias was present. Luckily, they were fond enough of him to tolerate his profound admiration of his son.
"We both took it," said Harry. "Not voluntarily, of course."
"Oh, of course not."
"The Professor was so busy carping about my laziness, he forgot about harassing Dudley, who actually learned something."
"These things happen," said Dudley, shrugging.
"Do they ever," said Harry. "Dud shows a real talent for it, in fact. Himself doesn't acknowledge that, because why would he? He never has anything good to say about either of us."
Petunia glanced apprehensively at Tobias, and noted that he was chatting in low tones (so as not to disturb Amy) to Algy. Reassured, she said: "And what good do you have to say about him?"
"Tit for tat," muttered Harry.
"He must be a good teacher, though, if Dudley learned something."
"He isn't, but Hermione is. Dud reviewed the material with her."
Petunia suddenly wondered what advice Snape had given Dudley about Ron Weasley. Whatever it was, it seemed to be working, because he and Hermione were still an item, and it seemed, closer than ever. And am I jealous about that? Yes, I most certainly am. I claim I want the boys to be closer to their father, but the fact is that I really don't, and the boys damn well know it.
At this point, Sholto distracted her by saying: "That will have to do for today; it's getting dark, and I imagine that the night watchman will be along soon. We'll leave the rest for later."
Mr. Crouch then retrieved his flask, though without meeting Petunia's eyes. Petunia didn't deceive herself; he was probably much more afraid of her telling Winky - make that Calpurnia - about it than he was of her own reaction. Petunia wondered if she should do just that, and wished that even such mundane decisions were easier for her. If she had ever been any good at predicting consequences, though, she concluded that she would never have married Vernon Dursley.
They decided that it was easier to transport Amy in her semi-comatose state, and they took the shortest route home given that fact. It was just at sundown when they arrived; the windows of the Manor were lit up, and looked very welcoming, or so Petunia thought. She was tired, hungry, and more than a little exasperated, Sholto-the-wizard being nearly as annoying as Sholto-the-dragon, which was saying quite a lot.
The latter was in an upbeat mood, whistling as he worked, which in this case was transporting both Amy and the bag of Cressy's stash. This took considerable balancing and a great deal of magical skill, but Sholto appeared to have little trouble with it, Petunia noted sourly.
Petunia was therefore very relieved to see Pompey on the top step of the Manor as they approached the front door. He observed the party with a resigned eye, and promptly took charge. Hallelujah, amen, house elves are the housewife's friend.
Petunia summoned Titus, Mad-Eye Moody and Aberforth to the Manor as soon as she could, but didn't bother Snape, Sirius or Dumbledore with an invitation. She was not sure why. Something tells me I shouldn't. I don't know whether it's my magic, weariness with their attitudes, or just sheer spite. We are about to find out. Sirius and chaos are a pair. Snape would undoubtedly be useful, but he'd make me work like a slave for any help, and what's more he'd tell Dumbledore immediately. And the Headmaster? I think something's gone wrong there. I just don't know what it is.
Luckily Titus and Moody were available, and Aberforth had not yet begun to drink for the night, and so they agreed to join the party for a quick meal. Petunia was filling them in on the excursion to Middle Wallop, when she noticed that Sholto had disappeared from the table.
"Sholto?" said Harry, when asked. "He's buggered off, but I don't know where he went."
They discovered Sholto in the library, engaged in unloading his magical carry-all. He was spreading the swag on the library table, making comments on it as he did so. The rest of the party settled down to watching him in an idle sort of way and chatting among themselves; Petunia did not pay a lot of attention until she heard him whistle suddenly.
"Look at this!" he cried.
She looked over and saw him showing a book to a fascinated Mr. Crouch. "What is it?"
Sholto's eyes were glittering with triumph. "I've been looking for this book everywhere. I thought Riddle had managed to suppress every extant copy, and that it was impossible to find one. I reckoned without my dear old auntie's utter unscrupulousness. Wonder where she got it? And whether he knew that she had it? Those searches of the Manor rather suggest that he did."
Algy peered at the book, and said with a nod: "She stole it. From him. It's the only copy left."
"Stole it? From Voldemort?" Sholto looked sceptical.
"Cressy said that she needed it," Algy said simply. "And that she knew how to get it. She always told me that he wasn't as smart as he imagined."
Sholto hefted the book in his hand. "Fair point. Do you know how she did it?"
"Yes," Algy said. "But I'm not telling you. Why should I? You've only bad things to say about Cressy."
Petunia was surprised when Sholto didn't lose his temper. "I might change my mind," he said, looked at Algy. Algy refused to look back.
Petunia judged this a good time to intervene, and came over to inspect the book in question over Sholto's shoulder. It was bound in cracked black leather, and looked old and decrepit. "I can't see a title," she said, glancing at Mr. Crouch.
He traced a line of half-erased print on the cover, and read out: "Magic Most Evile, Part Two" by Godelot."
"Who's that?" she asked.
Sholto gave her an impatient look. "Godelot was an early medieval Dark wizard," he said.
"And?" Petunia said. "What else? That doesn't tell me a whole lot."
"Dodgy," Dudley interjected, glumly.
"True, hatchling, very dodgy indeed," Sholto said.
Moody was much less insouciant on the subject than Sholto was. "That's a book with an illicitus periculo on it!" he cried. "You shouldn't have even opened it!"
Sholto rolled his eyes, and then looked a Petunia. "It never fails to amaze me, cousin, how very little you supervise your offspring."
Petunia managed to ignore this. Just barely. "What's an illicitus periculo?" she asked Moody.
"Most dangerous books are restricted," Moody said, glowering at Sholto. "A few - and this is one of them - are absolutely forbidden - to touch, to read, or to use, for that matter. It should be turned into the Aurors at once!"
Sholto ignored him. "How is it that he's even heard of Godelot?" he asked Petunia, meaning Dudley.
"We got into the Restricted Section of the Hogwarts Library," said Harry, as if this were an everyday activity, and only to be expected.
"Oh, well, then that explains it," said Sholto, giving him an exasperated look. "Though I'd be a lot more careful if I were you. Remember what happened to Cato Mayhew?" Bold words, considering that he himself's now in possession of a book that's utterly forbidden.
"Voldemort wasn't there!" Harry protested, looking toward his aunt for support, but on this occasion, Petunia let him down. "What were you lot doing in the Restricted Section?" she demanded with a glare, hands on hips. If Snape finds out about this, I'll never hear the end of it. And Sholto just might tell him, because being a dragon he enjoys fireworks of all kinds.
Harry tried to look guileless; alas, he didn't succeed. Dudley saved him the trouble: "We were looking for information on horcruxes."
"Just the two of you?" Petunia was suspicious.
Dudley sighed, and ignored frantic hand signals from Harry to say nothing: "And Hermione, too."
"Well, no big surprise," Petunia said. "Did she find the book?"
"Books are Hermione's department," Harry said, with a shrug. "This one was called Magick Moste Evile. Charming title, isn't it? It wasn't much help, though, I have to say. It referred to horcruxes, but didn't say much about them."
"Lovely," Petunia said. To Sholto and Mr. Crouch she said, "And you? Have either of you read that book?"
Both of them looked suddenly blank. Petunia took that to be a 'yes.'
She then turned to Moody and Aberforth. Moody shook his head, and Aberforth looked blank. A 'no' and a 'yes' that time.
She raised her brows. "Is Harry accurate, then?"
Mr. Crouch coughed, and looked away, and Aberforth continued to look blank, but shame was an unknown emotion to the likes of Sholto. "Yes, he is," he said. "It doesn't get into details of how to make, or how to destroy, a horcrux, though it does mention them."
"And this is the book in question?"
"No, it isn't. This is the sequel. Most wizard sources claim it to be apocryphal. In this case, not this time." He flipped open the book, and he and Mr. Crouch started to read the index. Moody bristled, but Petunia shook her head at him. To her surprise, he remained silent.
"Are horcruxes in there?" Harry wanted to know.
"Yes," Sholto was triumphant.
The rest of the party now crowded around them, craning their necks to see the book's contents. "And not only horcruxes," Sholto said; "Hallows as well, I see. In fact, especially the Elder Wand, which belonged to Godelot. He claimed said Wand as a co-author of the books."
"You're joking, Sholto," Petunia said.
"Actually," Mr. Crouch was apologetic, "he isn't. Godelet believed that the Elder Wand was sentient, and described as his "moste wicked and subtle friend... who knowes ways of magick moste evile".
And this is the magical object whispering in Dumbledore's ear at present. That does explain a lot.
"When was this?" Harry asked.
"Godelot lived in the middle of the first millennium," said Mr. Crouch, "before the founding of Hogwarts and a century after the previous appearance of the wand in history, when it was owned by Emeric the Evil and then taken by Egbert the Egregious. He died after being locked in his own cellar by his son Hereward, who had taken the Elder Wand from him."
"What, his sentient mate didn't help him when that happened?" Petunia was sarcastic, but then wizards and their ways tended to have that effect on her.
"It doesn't work in that fashion, Petunia," Sholto said, with a smirk. "The Elder Wand goes to the person strong enough to hold it. If at some point Godelet wasn't strong enough, then the Wand transfers its - affections, I guess you could call it - to the person who is."
Petunia glanced at him. "How long does the Elder Wand usually stay with a wizard?" she asked.
Sholto didn't respond, but Mr. Crouch answered the bell. "It depends on how strong the wizard in question is," he said. "The Wand is attracted by power. It stayed with Godelet about twenty years. Godelet was reasonably discreet about his ownership, too. That helped."
"And when did Dumbledore acquire it?" was Petunia's next question.
"When he defeated Grindelwald in 1945," Mr. Crouch said.
Petunia drummed her fingers on the table. "Quite some time ago, then," she said.
"Quite," said Sholto, without expression.
"You tried to steal it yourself," Petunia said to him, "didn't you?"
"Not I, it was merely an experiment," Sholto answered, avoiding her eyes. That's a lie, I'm guessing. He wanted to have a good look at it at least. It's famous, after all.
"Too strong for you?" Petunia couldn't help herself.
Sholto gave her a scowl that made him look suddenly very much more like his dragon incarnation than his wizard one, but it was Mr. Crouch that answered: "It's true that it's a very strong, very unruly Wand. Usually the wand choses the wizard, but in the case of the Elder Wand, the wizard also has to defeat the previous owner. In the case of Godelet, it was his son, Hereward - Godelet's discretion did not extend to his own family, unfortunately for him. That's always a danger. A subsequent wizard owner was defeated by his mother, who took the Wand."
"His mother?" The boys said it together.
Petunia smiled. "You'll obviously have to watch me with your Cloak, Harry," she said. Her nephew did not appear to be similarily amused.
"The Resurrection Stone and the Invisibility Cloak don't seem to have the same malign effect on their owners," Mr. Crouch said, giving her a reproving look. "They passed down in the same families for generations. But the Wand - usually wands are burnt or broken when their owners die. There's a reason behind it - it prevents a wand from becoming too powerful, because when they do interact with their witches or wizards over too long a time, that can be the result. They learn."
"Shades of the Moonfleet," Petunia said. "And this one has passed from wizard to wizard, bringing all the knowledge it has accumulated along the way with it?"
Mr. Crouch nodded. "And remember, its owners have often been volatile, violent, ambitious wizards."
"Oh, I'm not forgetting that," Petunia said. "What does this book have to say?"
"Not a whole lot," Sholto said, in suddenly disappointed tones.
"Oh?" Petunia tried to conceal her relief.
"It's in Latin, for starters," Sholto looked at Mr. Crouch. The latter took the book and cast a spell on it. He and Sholto peered at the result. They didn't seem pleased with it.
"What's wrong?" Sholto wanted to know.
Mr. Crouch sighed. "It's archaic Latin, from what I can see, with an admixture of Anglo-Saxon, Celt, and some other local dialects - Cornish, for one, I think. I'll need some time with it."
Petunia could tell that Sholto wasn't happy with this notion, but he managed to suppress his irritation, and said: "Very well; let's start now."
Mr. Crouch, who'd had a long day, was briefly mutinous; but there was blood in Sholto's eye, so he sat down with the book and got to work.
Petunia went over and sat down beside Aberforth, and motioned for Titus to sit down on his other side. Alberforth ignored Titus, and gave her a skeptical look. "Is there something you want?" he asked.
"Some information would be a good start," Petunia said mildly. "And I think that perhaps you could give me some."
Aberforth didn't bother to ask her what sort of information she had in mind; he simply looked back at her, without saying anything. That's a warning signal.
"About your brother, I mean."
"Well, I didn't imagine you were looking for information about me, somehow," Aberforth said. Here comes the old sibling rivalry again. I can now see now why other people were so irritated by me when I indulged in it.
She decided to ignore it. "He's had that wand quite a long time."
"Yes." said Aberforth. "I know Albus spreads it about that I'm illiterate, but I can add and subtract."
"Over fifty years, I make it," said Petunia.
"I see you can do maths, too. It's not a common quality for wizards. Or witches."
Petutnia wondered for a moment if Aberforth had been taking thrawn lessons from Sholto, and briefly considered losing her temper. Catching a warning glance from Titus, however, she changed her tactics.
"Do you think he's controlling the wand or the wand is controlling him?" she asked bluntly.
Aberforth gave her the blank look again.
At this point, Titus intervened. "Has he done any uncharacteristic things recently?" he asked in a mild tone.
Aberforth laughed. "No," he said. "Not uncharacteristic at all."
"It must a problem for him," Titus said. "That wand is a terribly dangerous thing to keep in his possession, and he knows it; but it's even more dangerous to let out of his control."
Aberforth shrugged. "He wanted power, and now see where it's got him; between a rock and a hard place."
"Could he destroy the wand himself?" Petunia asked. "Or would it fight back if he tried?" I have some notion of how to destroy horcruxes, but none at all regarding the Hallows.
This time, she saw that she had managed to startle Aberforth.
He said slowly: "I don't know. I can't say that I've ever even thought about it. Crouch would be the man to ask about that."
"I would," said Petunia delicately, "except that Mr. Crouch can often be a little...confused. At times, that is. And he and the Headmaster are friends, aren't they?"
"I doubt it," said Aberforth. "And you underestimate Crouch's loyalty to you, I think."
Petunia had never thought of Mr. Crouch in just those terms, and felt a little confused. "But he wouldn't see it like that, would he?"
This time Aberforth looked her straight in the eyes. "He might."
Petunia was about to argue this when Titus gave her an unmistakable 'move-along' look.
She said, changing tack again: "You knew Grindelwald, didn't you? When he was young? You told me that."
"I definitely should have kept my mouth shut," Aberforth said. Petunia remembered that he was trying to comfort her at the time, and felt guilty. Not guilty enough to stop this particular line of questioning, however.
"Did he have the wand when you knew him?"
"No, not then. He stole it, much later, from a wandmaker called Gregorovitch. Famous wandmaker, I might add. Gregorovitch was lucky the first time; Grindelwald didn't bother to kill him when he took it. He wasn't so lucky the second time, however; he was dealing with Riddle then. When Riddle didn't find it, he AK'd him."
"When was this?" Petunia asked, startled.
"Recently," muttered Aberforth. Petunia merely looked at him.
"Late last month, then," Aberforth said, shrugging. "It was all over The Prophet."
"I never read that rag."
"That's a mistake. It's seldom accurate, and it's a Ministry mouthpiece without any doubt, but if you can see through the nonsense, you can learn things."
"I own its only competition," Petunia pointed out. "Did Riddle learn something from Gregorovitch before he killed him?"
"Undoubtedly," Aberforth said. "He found out that Grindelwald stole it. And of course, he knows that Albus defeated Grindelwald. Easy deduction from there, I'd think."
"Can Riddle count?"
"Oh, yes. He can count; there's no doubt of that, because he's always been a greedy bastard. Money and power, that's what he's interested in. I will say this for Albus, he's never been interested in money." Which leaves power.
"Is he strong enough to defeat your brother? Voldemort, I mean."
"Possibly. He's really strong, but not very subtle, and Albus knows all the tricks in the books, and outside them, too. Riddle does have this advantage: he can kill Albus, but Albus can't kill him."
"And what about you?" Petunia asked.
"What do you mean, what about me?"
"You survived a duel with both your brother and Grindelwald, didn't you?" Petunia pointed out. "You must be very good indeed."
Aberforth didn't answer. He got to his feet, very slowly, and then turning to Titus, said: "You, sir, are a brave man."
Turning back to Petunia, he said: "I'm going to go home and get drunk now. Whatever you've got in mind, I'm not interested."
He lumbered out of the room without a backward glance.