Chapter 14 : Within the Compass of a Curse
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Arthur’s tutoring continued. Transfiguration was fun and less risky since anything transfigured eventually changed itself back. He looked forward more and more to his afternoon lessons. They were much quieter than his day school ones and he found concentration to be much easier during the private lessons and consequently harder at his regular school. Roger frequently asked how his afternoon lessons were going. Arthur made up stories about how difficult and exacting his tutor was since he got the feeling Roger was a little jealous as his friend didn’t like school much in general. Arthur had less time for his friends now, it seemed. Most days it felt like he had twice as much schoolwork as before.
By the calendar, Lupin was absent from his lessons when the next full moon came around and at the next one after that. Arthur sometimes came home to an empty house during these times, when his dad had an appointment, which happened more and more lately.
One day like this, as the weather was finally turning to spring, he came home and made himself a snack and played with his handheld for a while, wishing Roger was off for the rest of the day as well so they could play games. The house seemed too quiet when he was in it all alone.
Arthur set his crumb-strewn plate aside on the floor before the couch and thought about working on the assignments he had been given today in school. He was supposed to research bats for a report. He changed the chip in his handheld to the one with his library account. Too bad his tutor wasn’t a vampire, he thought idly, one could ask a vampire what it would be like to BE a bat.
A pop! broke the silence. Arthur looked up at the cloaked figure that had appeared in the living room, facing the hearth. The figure turned suddenly and Arthur looked upon the pale, intent visage of Licia’s father.
“What do you want?” Arthur asked smartly as he crossed his legs with extra casualness.
The man laughed. Arthur jerked to jump aside as he saw, too late, the wand swinging around to aim at him.
Arthur woke up in a strange place. He was lying on the grey painted floor of a high ceilinged, grey room. The fancy trim along the walls and windows were also painted grey as was the mantelpiece. The room felt chilled even though the day was bright outside.
He stood up, a little groggy from whatever had knocked him out. His hand rested on sharp little bits of something as he pushed himself to his feet. It was his mobile, or what was left of it. It looked like a boot heel had crushed it utterly. This made Arthur angry; he had had to save up two presents--birthday and a Christmas--to get Elsa to buy him the titanium-etched model. He brushed his hand on his jeans and went to the window. The view from it was of a grand estate bordered by hedges and straight stone paths. Arthur, without thinking, rested his hand on the window ledge.
Seconds later, he opened his eyes from being blasted across the floor, his hand stinging painfully. Rubbing his hand and arm, he forced the tears of pain back down and supposed maybe he should just sit and wait for whatever.
What felt like hours, but probably wasn’t based on the sunlight, Arthur wondered what time it was. His only clock was on his mobile. He felt in his pocket though, realizing that he still had that watch thing his dad had given him for Christmas. He shook his head in frustration that it really didn’t tell the time. He almost didn’t pull it out just because it would bother him more to look at the strange thing and still not know the time. Curious, though, where he dad might be, he finally did pull it out.
He stared at the watch hands. His father’s was at Home. His own was on Mortal Peril. Arthur’s heart began racing; he had been sitting here idly, thinking that was the best option, now he knew better. He re-stashed the watch and paced the walls of the room, careful not to touch anything, careful to walk quietly in case someone was listening for him to be moving around.
He stopped, heart still thumping at the thought that there didn’t seem to be an obvious escape since the room had no door and he didn’t see any sign of a hidden one. He tried a Lumos spell. It didn’t work. He tried it a few more times and swore under his breath when it continued to fail. They had suppressed his magic again somehow, he thought. He leaned on the mantel in frustration and pounded his head. Then he jumped back as though shocked because the hearth had not attacked back as the window had.
Arthur looked inside the fireplace. It was clean, unused. His father had explained how the Floo network worked, so it didn’t seem possible to get out that way magically from any random fireplace, but it was an exit to the room. He crouched inside it, forcing himself to touch the damper handle, exhaling broadly when he wasn’t hurt by it. The whole thing was huge, much larger than a normal Muggle one. Biting his lip, but moving quickly, he carefully cranked the handle over. It was long, because the damper was wide and heavy. As it cracked open, he used one hand to move it directly so as to be as quiet as possible.
Arthur looked up through the opening. Daylight sliced in at the very top. It looked narrow up there, but it was wide enough down here. Roger’s athletic club had a climbing wall with a seam climb that Arthur had done a few times. This looked even easier. Arthur tightened his shoe laces snugly before he hefted himself past the damper. Spider webs filled his face as he did so and he had to blow his nose onto his sleeve to keep from sneezing. But the climb, where he bolstered his feet across from his back, or across from each other depending upon his muscles at any given moment, was rather easy given his grippy trainer treads. Near the top though, it became very narrow and now he could see that the chimney cap was cement with only fist-sized holes in the sides.
On a desperate hunch, he tried the Lumos spell again. This time it worked. Arthur laughed lightly in relief and backed down a meter. Bricks into what? he wondered. Brittle? He made up a spell like the ones Lupin had been showing him substituting words as he pointed. With a low whoosh, the top of the chimney disappeared. Quickly, Arthur climbed up, pausing only to set the peanut brittle stacked at the edges aside so as to avoid knocking it off as he exited.
He had to hang all the way down on his fingertips to reach his toes to the peak of the roof. The very top was tar with black slate for the rest of it. Arthur almost lost his balance and had to use the side of the chimney to lower himself gingerly to sit on the pinnacle. He exhaled and looked around himself. The rest of the large house blocked the view behind him. He could hear something like pounding occasionally. It was a long way to the ground and he had to hurry.
His jumper had been snagged a few times on the way up. He tugged at one of the loose threads, then with more excitement, pulled it out. Holding it at arms length, he incanted,“Engorgous.” The thread transfigured into a thick hairy yellow rope. Arthur quickly cancelled it and pulled more thread from the edge of this jumper. He tied four long strands together and repeated the spell. Climbing carefully over the slate, he looped the rope around the chimney and knotted it securely. All transfigurations had their own cancel times and Lupin had insisted that only experience would teach one how long that would be. With a deep, nervous breath Arthur bundled his end of the rope and used it to lower himself to the edge of the roof. The room he had been in was just below him. He shifted to avoid passing the windows and gripped the rope tightly, hoping desperately that the spell didn’t fade while he was in mid air.
As silently as possible, Arthur padded his way down the wall. By the time he was nearing the ground floor, his hands were cramping with the effort of holding him up. He had to resist jumping the remainder since it would be too loud. Finally, his foot touched ground. He canceled the spell, causing the rope to shrink up to the roof, and ran for it.
Arthur loped past the last of the hedges and into the woods. He wanted a straight route out of there and he didn’t care which direction. Eventually, fatigue made him slow his pace. He passed a low crumbled wall in the middle of the woods. It curved slightly and Arthur, elated that this might be the property line, sped up.
After a distance, Arthur heard chopping noises and slowed down. A man with an old wheelbarrow was using an ax to split logs before tossing them into the barrow. His bulky arms handled the task with practiced ease. Arthur thought of asking the man which way to the nearest town, but as he stepped out to hail him, he noticed the man couldn’t straighten completely. He seemed to be a hunchback, which Arthur had never seen for real. As well, he was wearing homespun clothes with no decent hems at the waist or sleeve. Arthur ducked back behind the tree to consider things.
While he hid there, trying to piece things together, a girl’s voice sounded. “Memphis, Father asks that you watch for a boy who might be coming this way.” Arthur swallowed hard; it was Licia. “He says to chop off his legs and come fetch us if you see him,” she went on. The man grunted, in a way that could have been assent. “Actually, that isn’t exactly what he said, but it sounds better to me,” she added matter-of-factly. The man grunted again and the ax struck wood, making Arthur jump severely and almost whimper. “Stupid boy,” she said. “He can’t get out, but since he’s a Muggle-Mudblood he doesn’t understand these things.” He heard her stepping away then stop. For a panicked moment, Arthur was afraid she had turned because she had caught sight of him. Instead, she said, “Oh, yes. Memphis, Father wanted me to tell you that within the hour he would release the giant spiders so you should be in your hut by then.”
Her footsteps on the dead twigs faded. Arthur hit his head back against the tree behind him a few times before he forced himself to stop. He had not left their property. Could not, she said. He peered around the tree where she had gone. He could just make out part of the house though the tree branches, much, much closer than it should have been. With careful footsteps Arthur went back where he came from, immediately away from the house.
When he reached the crumbling wall again, he stopped. It was curving towards him from this side now. He stepped over it and turned. Still it curved towards him. “Effing effing effing,” Arthur muttered. It was an infinite loop. How the hell had they done that? He estimated fifteen minutes had passed getting here, so he was running out of time. The property wasn’t really that large and how long would it take the giant spiders to patrol it anyway? He wondered if spiders could smell, in which case they could track him like dogs. He shook his head and wandered a bit along the wall since it was the farthest point from the house he could get at any time.
A small dead tree caught his eye. He broke it free and cleaned it of branches. It was just taller than himself and pretty heavy, maybe oak. He felt better carrying it, even though magic had really gotten him this far. Arthur meandered slowly, thinking madly of what to do. He needed the Malfoy Manor cheat book, right now. What would it say? he wondered to amuse himself. The daughter looks nice but she’s a black widow--Don’t be deceived. The gamekeeper is a hunchback who can’t talk and is very good with an ax--Don’t trust him--he is an obedient servant of the Evil Master. Arthur shook his head, laughing and crying a little at the notion that this wasn’t a screwed up video game but his real life at this moment.
A rustle of leaves behind him, made him turn as ice filled his veins. He felt vaguely nauseous with fear. Remembering the old video game Return of the King, one of the first goggle games with its gratuitous use of direction tricks, Arthur looked up, just as a huge form descended on a thick thread from the tree above him. With a shout of surprise he jumped aside, keeping his makeshift staff between himself and a spider as big as the neighbor’s Opel. He glanced around himself, remembering the plural in Licia’s statement. Another one stepped toward him from the left, crossing the forest floor like a long-legged animatron. The closer one kicked a spiked leg across the staff, almost knocking it away. Arthur re-gripped it and forced himself to relax and focus. The one on his left stopped as though to give the other first dibs.
Arthur raised his hand and tried a heating charm since he was pretty good at that. It was one of the few he had learned the first few days that were really useful in everyday life. The leg came across again much harder, knocking the staff away as it advanced with an unearthly squealing. Heat was apparently just pissing it off. In response to the noise the other was moving in rapidly as well. Arthur raised both hands and with a shout he incanted freezing spells at both of them. He exhaled weakly when they both stopped. The larger one continued to move forward slowly, creakily. Arthur stepped back to avoid it. Frost was forming on the smaller one’s front.
Arthur, thinking with his gut, picked up his staff and swung it hard. The thick carapace of the thing cracked, brittle from the cold. A sigh went out as the body of the thing deflated slightly. The other one was recovering faster and it surged at him. He incanted another freezing spell and swung the staff again. The horrible beast fell straight to the ground, lowered from its propping legs.
Arthur staggered away from them. He managed to find the crumbling wall again and followed it for twenty meters or so, his mind churning madly. He sobbed once and stopped, as stress and fear overtook him. He had dropped the staff at some point but couldn’t remember at all when or where. Sitting on a slightly better section of the wall, he put his head in his hands and tried to still the shaking in his limbs. His dad’s stories, including giant spiders, were taking on stark new meaning in light of his own inability to cope. The wind blew past, rattling the deadfall. Arthur jumped but no other unnatural beasts appeared. He almost retched when he considered that there might have been only two because they were a breeding pair.
He hefted himself to his unsteady legs and looked along the wall as it curved through the forest. He stepped to the other side and watched it flip the other way. He straddled it and stared at its perfectly straight self. It wasn’t natural, he thought; the rest of the world was here. A bird twittered at him as he moved his head from side to side. Arthur raised his eyes. It took a minute to trace the myriad of branches, but finally he could see it: the height at which the branches disappeared suddenly rather than arching across the wall. The trees at the edge looked a little unnaturally twisted as well, as though the magic disturbed their growth.
With purpose now he walked along the wall jumping from one side of it to the other, looking for just the right tree. When he found it, it was two trees growing very close together. He started up the pine and then leapt to the trunk of the very large tree beside it. The large tree was much too wide to shimmy from the bottom, but big enough to have long branches, including one across the barrier. The ground looked very far away as he hoisted himself to the next set of branches and looked out. Like a transparency being lowered, the world beyond changed, and Arthur felt victorious just to see it. He shimmied out on the higher branch, way out, far enough that it bowed downward under his weight.
With shaking hands he transferred his weight to a smaller tree on the other side, releasing the other branch slowly so as to not attract anyone who might be nearby. He paused a minute to quell his shaking hands before climbing carefully down. He jumped the last two meters, jarring his feet when they struck the ground. Quickly, he walked directly away from where he knew the wall must be, although it wasn’t visible from this side.
Arthur walked a long time, until the sun set and the evening grew colder. He reached a gravel road finally and caught his breath and rubbed his arms for warmth as he looked one way then the other down the narrow road. He had lost all track of direction. He pulled out the watch; his hand now said Traveling which made him sigh audibly. Picking at random, he turned to the left, the hand swung to Mortal Peril and he almost dropped the thing. He spun around and walked quickly in the other direction. It swung back to the much more neutral reading almost immediately. Shaking, Arthur closed it and put it back in his pocket.
After a kilometer or so, the gravel road led at an angle to a blacktop one. The gravel one had been straight, so Arthur followed along the larger road in the direction most away from the one of mortal peril. He didn’t like to walk on the left with his back to traffic, but he really wanted to get a ride if possible. He walked for five minutes before a car passed him, a red one, going very fast. He watched its taillights disappear around a bend. The next car stopped. It was grey and a little old and large. Arthur walked up to it carefully. The passenger had lowered the left hand window, and Arthur could see a full head of grey hair near the window.
“Need help, young man?” the old woman asked.
Arthur, paranoid now beyond anything he could have imagined, decided that a ride was not in his best interest. “Do you have a mobile I can borrow?” he asked. If they were wizards, they wouldn’t. A discussion ensued inside the car. “I got separated from my dad on a walk in the woods and I should ring him,” Arthur explained.
The woman gave him a nice, wrinkled-eye smile and handed an old clunky phone out of the window. Arthur took it gratefully. “Do you know what the nearest town ahead is?” Arthur asked as he keyed in his home number.
“Evesbury,” the old man leaned over and answered. “About three klicks down the road. Nice little pub there.” He waved to indicate ahead of them.
Arthur put the boxy phone to his ear and listened as the phone rang without being answered. The service finally picked up, and Arthur pressed 1 to leave a message. “Yeah, Dad. I’m, uh, walking about three kilometers from Evesbury. I’ll be waiting at the pub there. Sorry,” he finished a little breathlessly. Tears were overtaking him again as he tried to get a handle on his rampant emotions.
As he handed the phone back, the woman said kindly, “Get in the car, dear. We’ll give you a ride.”
Arthur considered that the hour he would spend walking would leave him far more exposed to a search by dark things and people than the short ride with a pair of old, clearly Muggle, strangers. “Thank you,” he said. The doors unlocked and he got in.
The old man pulled back onto the road very slowly. As they rolled down the road, Arthur said, “My dad is going to be really worried.”
“Yes, but young men like you are want to make parents worry,” the woman said. “He’ll get over it. Ourselves, we only have daughters. Three of them. All of them married with such beautiful children of their own.”
Arthur leaned back and listened with joyous emotion to this batty old lady nattering on about utterly normal family things. After a few short minutes, the car slowed and pulled into a small car park beside a historic looking pub. The other few buildings in the town were completely dark. Arthur stepped out.
“Thank you so much,” he said.
“Good luck dear,” the woman said as the man nodded. “Hopefully you won’t be grounded too badly,” she said.
Arthur gave a chuckle as he slid off the seat and closed the heavy creaking door. “I’ll take it, just to get home again.”
“That’s the attitude, dear,” she said through the open window. The car lumbered away. Arthur watched the taillights, the right one flickering occasionally, as they disappeared over a rise. By the yellow light outside the entryway, Arthur pulled the twigs and leaves off of his jumper and out of his hair, which he then combed as best he could with his fingers.
Keeping his head down, he stepped inside. The rush of warm moist air, carrying the scent of brew and food struck him when he stepped in. Everyone was clustered in the bar area watching something on the television. Arthur headed for the unoccupied room on the left. After a little deliberation he took the far table near the fire exit and the back hallway. He liked the thought of having some place to hide if he needed to.
Arthur kept a fifty pound note in his shoe for emergencies. Since this was one, he took his trainer off and pulled it out from under the insert before putting his shoe back on. He thought he should have it out in case he looked too pathetic to pay when he ordered. His hands were filthy, so when the large-bellied man came out from behind the bar and asked him what he wanted, he hid them under the table. Arthur was famished so he ordered a cola and a fish and chips, and asked where the toilet was. The man pointed down the nearby hallway with his thumb as he gave Arthur a disturbingly narrowed-eye look.
Quickly, Arthur thanked the man and headed off, since the man’s scrutiny was making him nervous. Relieved and clean he returned to his table, realizing now that he had left his pound note on the table when he went. He wasn’t used to real money. His bancchip was in his wallet in his knapsack at home and since it only worked with his fingerprint, he thought nothing of leaving it lying around. Paper money anyone could use. It seemed like a dumb way to carry money, given that.
Arthur leaned back and relaxed a little. His cola came and when the man walked away, shaking his head about something, Arthur checked his watch again. His dad’s hand said Traveling while his said Dinner. “Loads better than mortal peril,” Arthur breathed to himself as he put it back away. He sipped his drink. The man flipped the switch on the deep fryer behind the bar and Arthur realized it would be a time for his food.
A while later, when he was halfway through slowly sipping his drink, Arthur heard a voice from the entryway that chilled him to his bones and prodded painfully on his sore nerves. Without forethought, he jumped down the back hallway and pressed back against the wall so he couldn’t be seen from most of the room. The door to the pub creaked open, and he realized he had left his glass on the table. Arthur Accioed it over, spilling its contents on his hand when it arrived. He sucked the remainder down and set it on the floor beside him and listened.
“Evenin’ Mr. Malfoy,” the bartend said in a familiar, hearty greeting.
“Fredrick, my dear man,” Draco Malfoy’s voice rang out in a friendly way. “You haven’t seen a young man come in here alone, have you?”
Arthur held his breath and prepared to launch himself out the fire exit.
“Can’t say that I have, Mr. Malfoy,” the man answered in a mystified voice, startling Arthur. “Who should I be on the lookout for?” he asked in a gossipy way. “I can let you know if anyone has seen him.”
“A guest of my daughter’s got lost while playing a game in the forest. A brown haired, ordinary-looking boy by the name of Arthur,” Malfoy explained in such a normal voice that had Arthur not known better he would have easily believed him.
“I’ll be sure and ring you up, Mr. Malfoy, if he shows himself,” the bartend assured in an equally deceiving voice.
Malfoy drawled on. “It has gotten rather late and I had hoped he had perhaps seen the lights of the road and come in here. Well, perhaps we shall go look elsewhere, although we have gotten rather thirsty searching.”
The deep fryer dinged. Arthur heard its contents being dumped out into a basket. “Carl, your fish and chips are up,” the bartend said loudly, sternly.
“Wha? Oh,” A man’s voice said from the far part of the pub. Arthur, utterly confused, heard footsteps approach the bar and retreat.
“What would ya’ like, sir?” The bartend asked in a servile tone.
“A gin and tonic, perhaps,” Malfoy said in a bored tone. Arthur thought that by the way he talked, his head was moving around a lot. He pictured him searching the pub for him. A woman’s voice said, “A Pimms.” Arthur hadn’t seen who he assumed must be the wife. Tempted as he was to get a look, he wasn’t THAT tempted. He stretched his neck to each side and waited.
When the exit door in front of Arthur cracked open, he jumped but wasn’t certain what to do as the pub was hostile and the toilet was a dead end. Eyes peering in went wide as they met his. Arthur let go of his breath as he recognized Tonks and she winked at him. She slipped in the door by converting to a wisp of smoke with a hand still attached to keep the door from falling closed. She resolidified and incanted something as she waved her wand in a box at the opening to the hallway then pushed the exit door wide. Arthur leapt forward as his father stepped inside.
“Shh,” Tonks said, ever so quietly.
Harry had his arms so fiercely tight around Arthur that he couldn’t breath. He pulled Arthur farther down the hallway and re-hugged him. The stress of the day came out of Arthur then and his dad’s jacket was soon damp where his face pressed.
“Shhh,” Harry said faintly in his ear as he stroked his back. “It’s all right.” He pushed Arthur to arms-length and looked him over closely. Arthur dried his eyes with his fingers in a late bid for some pride, but his dad’s eyes were all concern and affection with no hint of derision.
Tonks made a small noise to attract their attention. Harry stepped over, and Arthur, since he could keep his father between himself and danger, followed. “I want to pin them, but we have to draw them away from the Muggles. Arthur, can you take a seat there?” She pointed at the very seat he had been using. “We’ll have you covered, don’t worry,” she whispered.
Arthur picked up his glass and with a quick glance at the bar to be certain no one was looking his way, dashed to his seat. He tried to sit calmly against the chairback, pretending to sip from his empty glass. Tonks transformed into smoke and slithered off low to the wall. His father gave him a reassuring smile with a hint of pride. Arthur dropped his eyes to steady himself before looking up and over at the bar.
Draco Malfoy sat clinking the ice in his glass in an annoyed manner. He glanced around and froze when he saw Arthur, who pretended to take a sip from his glass calmly. Grabbing his wife’s arm, Malfoy slid from his stool and over toward Arthur. His face, which had looked distressed, now looked crafty and cocky.
“Well, Mr. Potter,” he said smoothly as he reached into his coat.
“Yes?” Harry said as he stepped in front of the table. Arthur had to lean way to the side to see the blonde man’s reaction.
Malfoy stopped and blinked in surprise. “Well, Harry, my old dear friend,” he said in a sickened voice.
Arthur realized the rest of the pub had fallen totally silent. He could not see farther than the bar itself though, to see why. Tonks rose up behind the tall blonde pair and shouted something with her wand out. Cords appeared around them binding them together. They struggled in vain and then stopped as they couldn’t seem to breath. Tonks stepped before them. “Relax and they will ease enough for you to continue living,” she said helpfully.
Mr. Malfoy sucked in a gasping breath and glared at her. Arthur stood up and came around beside his father, who put an arm around him. The rest of the pub snoozed in their chairs, Arthur now saw. Tonks hooked some kind of tether to the Malfoys as more figures Apparated and took hold of them before they all disappeared.
“Come on, Arthur,” Harry said. “Let’s get you home.”
“Mr. Potter,” the bartend said as he stepped over to them, ignoring his sleeping customers. He wiped his hand on his apron and held it out. As Harry shook it, the man said, “’Tis an honor, sir.” He gestured at Arthur. “When that lad came in here, I thought, why ain’t he the image o’ the famous ‘Arry Potter? Kept an eye on ‘im for ya’.”
“Thank you,” Harry said sincerely, pulling Arthur a little closer.
“Are you a wizard?” Arthur asked the man.
The man blushed and scuffed his foot on the floor. “Nah, I’m just a Squib. My mum, rest her soul, was though. She was a maid at the Malfoy place for a lot o’ years. Not very good ones, I ‘ave to say. Be good to ‘ave ‘em away ag’in. Hope the Aurors are takin’ ‘em for a good long while.” He glanced behind him. “They’ll be wakin’ soon--best get goin.’”
“Thank you again,” Harry said.
“Thank you, sir,” the man said forcefully.
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