In the Eye of the Beholder
Chapter Two - North By Northwest
By Aaran St Vines
A few of you read my stories with younger children. This chapter contains frank but barely graphic discussions of common experiences for teenaged young ladies that similarly aged young men do not undergo. Please check it out ahead of time. Thanks for reading and reviewing.
Chapter Two - North By Northwest
My gratitude goes to my two writing coaches, kokopelli and ebdarcy.
Thanks also go to Jbern, who helped me think through several issues.
Previously, Harry traveled with his aunt into the West Counties to visit the many shops at the huge Clark Village discount center in Somerset. Afraid of driving on the M highways again, Petunia drove back home across country. On a deserted stretch of road Harry saw a Dark Mark cast into the sky above a distant farmhouse and went to help. He found a Death Eater attack in progress and helped a classmate from Hogwarts fight them off. It was Millicent Bulstrode, and she was the lone survivor from her family. Death Eaters seemed to keep coming, and both of them were wounded. In desperation Harry rigged a sling under his Firebolt and flew the badly hurt Millicent off towards Hogwarts, a destination of last resort. Millicent's face was smashed and Harry put it in stasis. To communicate, Harry mongered a spell to let them speak through their eyes.
I look back now and realize that night was one of the five worst nights of my life - up to that point. It was tediously boring and laced with the fear of discovery by Death Eaters and Muggles. Millicent woke several times in the night and I stopped to give her more pain potion. She was going through it at the prescribed rate -- taking some roughly once every three hours. I only had one dose left as dawn broke and she'd need it soon.
I felt like I'd been dropped from the backside of a Hippogriff. Every breath reminded me that I had several cracked ribs. I'd tried a Bone- Mending spell on my broken left arm but I'd muffed it. It wasn't set right and it throbbed continuously - joining with the other pains in my own personal symphony of suffering. Occasionally the stings and twinges from the many places on my back and face where I'd caught splinters during the fight in the farmyard would divert my attention from the more serious injuries. My broken leg in stasis was numb, but it hurt a bit, too, where the stasis ended. But enough about my injuries. I knew I didn't hurt as badly as Millicent did, and I took care not to wince in pain when she looked my way.
I figured out later that my Firebolt and I made somewhere between twenty-five and thirty miles an hour with Millicent in the sling underneath. It was a plodding, jerky ride. My racing broom did not like the new sling arrangement one bit, but I had no other choice. I had Apparated once before, but I'd also read somewhere that it took at least two very powerful wizards to Apparate anyone larger than a child. Bill Weasley and Mad-Eye Moody, both strong wizards, had Apparated Hermione's dad together on the day the Granger family was attacked. Mr. Granger made it all right, but he had a splitting headache the rest of the day.
Portkey manufacturing was a less than a slim possibility. I knew the incantation, Portus, but this was one of those spells where the intent behind the spell involved multi-dimensional mechanics that made my head hurt. I didn't know how to arrange the different elements in my mind before casting those two syllables, or even what all the different factors were. I knew I had to set the location, but do I use coordinates, the name of the location, or a visualization of the location? Did I need to know about wards? Since Hogwarts was my intended destination, its wards might have some effect even if I was aiming for just outside the front gate. I also needed an activator. How do I configure whether to activate at a set time, or would it be best to activate on command? Then, I'd also need to set it for the number of people going and what about power? Hw do I know I have enough power to make it work even if I knew all those things that I don't know? Portkeys were definitely out.
If Dobby were here I could send him for help, but a master has to be in the same house, or at least on the same property to call his house-elf. Dobby went to great extremes and it still took him nearly a month to find me back before my second year. Though Dobby was probably already looking, I couldn't wait for him to stumble on me.
So my poor Firebolt was slugging along, balking at the demands I made on it, and Millicent and I were both hurting from the bumpy ride; she had the worst of it, of course. Thank goodness she slept a good part of the way.
Hermione had taught me the Point Me spell, Designo Aquilonius, for the Triwizard Tournament, and I remembered reading about a mapping spell somewhere. I even thought I remembered the Latin word for map: tabula. That is the word I learned later, but it refers to a "map," not to "mapping," as in making a map or to map something. Somehow the grammatical error didn't stop me.
I called up my Spell Monger' Spell Analysis Tool, and cast into it the Point Me spell. Then, breaking the rules of Mongering, I brought up a small slug of raw magic from my core and imbued it with the variable pointing elements of the Point Me, but not the fixed north indicator that always pointed in that exact direction. Here is where I really broke the rules. I didn't know the mapping spell or charm so I couldn't cast it for analysis. Since that wasn't an option, I just imagined what I wanted it to be and hooked it onto the pointing part of the first spell in the raw slug of magic. Then I compressed it and packaged it, assigning it the incantation, Designo Tabula, which would be followed by the city or location I was aiming for. Later when I had time to think about it, I realized that the fact that this spell worked proved that the words of an incantation don't really matter.
We were still near Millicent's family home in the West Counties. That meant Birmingham wasn't due north, but rather north and west to some degree. It was the first big city in our route to Hogwarts. I cast the standard Point Me spell and held it until I fixed a particular point of light in the distance as due north. I then cast Designo Tabula Birmingham and my wand turned to the west of that first fixed point. I sought out a light to steer by in that direction and put my wand back in my jacket pocket.
Birmingham. As the lights of the city appeared, I steered toward the less populous west side. All through that night I would fly around smaller towns and other lit areas. It was tedious and nerve-wracking. The fear of being spotted by Muggles or worse, Death Eaters, gave me just enough adrenalin and frayed nerve endings to stay awake. The hundred and twenty miles or so to Birmingham should have taken about four to four and a half hours at that speed, but I was only just north of the city and back riding along dispersed wooded areas as the sky lightened to the east.
During the night I reviewed my escape options. Because of the uproar over the dementors in Little Whinging last August I decided the Death Eaters would know about the small town, though not my actual address. I felt Diagon Alley was out too, because it would be too obvious. I'd not paid enough attention to directions to Grimmauld Place or St. Mungo's to go straight to them. Likewise I didn't even know in which part of southern England to find Ottery St. Catchpole; I'd been too excited to pay attention flying in the car that night four years before. Hogwarts was the only place I had a clue about finding, and there only because I'd looked at that map at the Clark Village Information Desk the day before.
I never found out the name of the village, but I landed in a wooded area about a quarter mile east of the Spar petrol station on its outskirts. Millicent had been awake for ten minutes or so and she was shifting around. At first she simply seemed uncomfortable, but then a panicked look came on her face that I had to ignore as I frantically looked for a place to land and settle her. I couldn't maintain eye contact, so I used my voice to tell her I was trying to find a place to set down. In the growing light I was continually scanning from side to side, looking for Death Eaters, Muggles, and anyone else that shouldn't see us. Every turn of my head reminded me about my ribs.
I needed drugs -- as in painkillers, you daft prats, not recreational narcotics.
We landed in a small clearing surrounded by dense trees. It was only about thirty feet from the road leading to the Spar station. I removed the ropes binding Millicent to the board and levitated her over toward a small mound of earth for support. I hit the mound with Cushioning and Warming charms and placed her there as gently as I could. Millicent was leaning against the hill with her head elevated.
I hadn't used my eye-speak with her in nearly three hours so I hoped it hadn't disengaged or whatever it did to deactivate. I looked into her eyes and concentrated. "How do you feel?"
It didn't work. I never gave that mongered eye-speak spell an incantation when I mangled it together the day before, so in desperation I just took a deep breath and willed it to happen. Wordlessly, wandlessly, heck, even non-commonsensically, it worked.
"How do you feel?"
She smiled wanly at me and I knew she hurt much more than I did. "I've felt better." she thought to me in a grouchy tone, not unlike how she'd always spoken to me. Her eyes widened and she changed her non-verbal tone as she continued, Sorry, Potter. How are you? You look dead on your feet? Are we near Hogwarts yet?"
Her "are-we-there-yet" question reminded me of Dudley on a trip when he was excited about where we were going, or angry to be in the car. "I'm fine, just tired. I hate to tell you, but we are only about a quarter of the way to school, if that much. There's a Muggle store not too far from here where I plan on grabbing us some food and water, and some medicine, er, Muggle potions for pain. I only have one more dose of pain potion for you."
I popped the cork on the vial and conjured another straw. She took it down through the corner of her mouth carefully, but I could tell she was eager for it.
I moved to engage her eyes again. "That's the last of it, so we'll need something else for your pain, and I could use something too. I know about Muggle potions and can buy us something that will work. Is there anything else you need? I have enough Muggle money to what we need to get us through the day.
Her forehead turned red and she thought to me, "I need feminine supplies. Now you're going to make fun of me."
I was still receiving both her intended words, and any other thoughts while looking into her eyes. I redoubled my efforts to be careful about what I thought to her. However, I didn't know what she meant. "Uh, excuse my ignorance, but what exactly are feminine supplies?"
Her brows pointed in anger and she shouted her thoughts at me, "Very funny, Potter, get your laughs, bloody Gryffindor prat. All right, I'll spell it out -- I'm on the rag. I'm entertaining my monthly visitor. I'm seeing Aunt Aggie. I'm back in the saddle again. I've got roses in my knickers. Visits from Auntie Flo and Cousin Cramps. Satisfied! Now have your laughs. She then looked away in disgust, a hot tear flowing from her blackened right eye.
Somewhere in the middle of that diatribe I figured out that Millicent was having her monthly period.
Hey, I'm a teenaged guy, and this is soooooo No-Man's-Land for me to discuss with anyone, much less a girl, but I do have one advantage over most guys my age -- Hermione.
The blokes around the dorm mentioned this in early fourth year, and I didn't have a clue what they were discussing. In a moment of brilliance - fear of being proved ignorant actually - I did NOT ask Dean and Seamus what they were on about. I'd heard enough to figure out it had something to do with girls, so I slipped into an empty classroom with Hermione later and asked her to explain. My name had come out of the Goblet of Fire just a week before, so Ron was avoiding me, and being alone with Hermione was easy. She turned bright red at first, but then her lightning-fast mind made the leap of understanding.
"Neither your aunt nor uncle have told you about how women are physically different from men, have they?" I shook my head. Warming to her mission, Hermione continued, "And I bet they've never taught you anything about sex and sexuality, either?"
No Weasley ever blushed redder than I did at that moment, except possibly when one of them had The Talk with their Mum or Dad. In my extreme embarrassment I wanted to yell at Hermione, but I had to keep it down so no one could hear.
"You know how they feel about me, Hermione. Do you expect Aunt Petunia or Uncle Vernon to help me understand anything?" I shuddered at the idea of that conversation. I was so frustrated by my own ignorance that I wanted to cry, but being a guy I'd never cry in front of anyone.
Hermione placed Locking and Silencing charms on the door and pulled the shade in the unused classroom. She calmed my nerves and made me feel at ease surprisingly quickly. Over the next two hours she gave me what was, I believe, a thorough and way too graphic explanation of the male and female reproductive systems and how they work and inter-relate, complete with diagrams on the chalkboard. She explained everything, I mean everything, first in clinical and then in laymen's terms, and even told me most of the crude names for body parts and actions that she'd thought I'd hear in the boy's dorm. I was a sponge that day, and it stuck for the most part. Well, not all of the clinical terms, but then who needs to know all that?
I placed my hand against Millicent's cheek and she looked at me, through a few hot tears. I thought to her, "I understand about your monthly cycle. Hermione told me all about it--"
Her eyes went wide with evil mirth. "Ha! The Boy-Who-Lived had to have the Mudblood tell him about sex!"
I spun away from her stinging words and stood awkwardly on my bad leg. Then mustering what dignity I could I limped about six feet away and stood with my back to her. In a bit I heard a small scrapping sound behind me. I looked over my shoulder and Millicent dropped a stick and waved for me to come to her. I imagined a look of contrition in the midst of her banged up and frozen face.
"I'm really sorry, Potter. I'm a witch with a capital 'B.' I've spent five years hating you and Granger, and now that my world is completely upside down, I'm stuck with nothing but old habits of being mean to you and all Gryffindors. This time yesterday I thought my brother was helping us cover up the skeleton in our family cupboard by being a Death Eater. My parents raised me to hate half-bloods and Muggleborns. Then this summer, they told me that my grandmother, my mum's mum, was a Muggle. I always thought that she was a Squib. She was loving and wonderful, Potter, a saintly lady and you can imagine I knew few like her. Dad's mum was hard and cold. Then, yesterday, they killed my Grannie first--" Tears welled up in her eyes again.
I let her cry for a few long moments. She clinched her stomach and then turned to me. I figured it was cramping from her period and eye-spoke to her, "Well, with Hermione teaching me, you know I had a thorough education. You need pads, tampons, or both? I know these small Muggle shops should have some things, but I doubt there's a great selection. Do they have sizes, or what should I look for?"
She told me of several items that would work and gave me ideas about how they might be listed. Millicent evidently was familiar with the Muggle brand names. I later learned that since the time of Grindelwald's War most witches used Muggle feminine products because they were more convenient than the old solutions of the magical world.
I told Millicent to try to sleep. I draped her with my Invisibility Cloak and hid my broom and the body board in some undergrowth. Then I walked toward the road.
When I was within sight of the road, it felt as if a hammer had slammed into my gut. I fell in blinding pain and nearly fainted. Somehow in the midst of the agony, I rolled against a log for the barest of cover and pulled my wand. I thought I had been hit by a punching spell of some sort. I felt it again, but it was less intense this time. I wasn't being attacked at all. I couldn't imagine what it was, until I realized the alarm on my watch was ringing. It was time for me to take the next Accelerator potion for the Paladin Program.
They'd warned us that missing a potion would hurt, and that if we wanted to quit the program we needed to take a cancellation potion. Well, they were right. It hurt like two Bludgers at once in the gut. I wobbled to my feet and staggered towards the station.
When I missed my potion the night before, I'd felt my stomach rumble, long and loudly. I just thought I was hungry, which I was, but it hadn't rumbled again last night. Evidently the pain increased with each missed dose. I hadn't thought about the Accelerator Potions until my recent gut wrenching. After all I'd hoped to be at Hogwarts by now.
None of the passing drivers even looked my way as I walked to the Spar station. A man was pumping petrol outside the station. I waited until he drove off, and then I walked to the shop. The clerk was a young man, not a whole lot older than me. He barely looked up and didn't even nod my way, before ducking back into his comic book.
I grabbed water bottles at first, but then I saw energy drinks. I realized it would be hard to get food into Millicent's mouth, and that she couldn't chew. I also saw some soup tins that I could heat in a little oven they provided. The feminine products were the right type and size. Boy, was that a relief. I blushed enough taking these items to the counter and paying. I did NOT want to ask this bloke any questions on the matter. I grabbed several pain relievers that I recognized. At the Dursleys' I'd often snuck out of my cupboard during the night and nicked something from the loo when I was sore from yard work or a Dudley beating. I knew from experience which ones I could double up on and which ones not to. There was even a liquid version of my favorite painkiller. I bought a bottle of that for Millicent. I grabbed some small things to go in my pack: strips of cured beef, small tins of sausages, packaged nuts, and several pastries. It took over half of my Muggle money, but I knew the stops for lunch and dinner wouldn't include buying pain relievers or feminine products. There should be enough money to last us -- maybe.
I ate some of the chewy stuff as I walked back, not wanting to eat it in front of Millicent. I thought I'd done enough by buying her supplies, but Millicent expected me to help her with the process. She actually yelled at me with her eyes when I said I didn't want to help with her feminine problems. Realizing she really couldn't manage on her own, I quickly reconsidered. I levitated Millicent and shifted her angle. Then I unzipped her pants and slide them past her hips. I gave her what privacy I could by turning my head but I had to support her back as she maneuvered to take care of things. First Millicent emptied her bladder, which I certainly understood - I'd done the same on my walk to the road. Then Millicent did what she needed to do with the feminine stuff. I caught various smells in the process and sights after the fact -- but we won't discuss any more on that topic. Thank goodness she didn't need to perform the other typical morning necessary. I guess I was lucky she was only two for three.
Once Millicent was back together and levitated away from the scene of, well, you know, I pulled out the can of soup I'd heated at the store. I hoped she would be able to slurp it through a straw. "Millicent can you use your tongue at all? This soup has some small noodle and chicken bits in it. You can't chew, and the bits are small enough to swallow, but you may need to push stuff around in your mouth. You must be careful.
"I know how to eat, Potter."
"Of course you do," I thought to her. I almost thought something about how her bulk was proof of that, but lucky for me she broke eye contact before that thought made it to my eyes. She looked back. I eye-spoke, "But this is different. Your tongue, mouth, and jaw are bound. If you choke, you may drown or ruin something in your mouth before I can release you from the Localized Stasis spell. I'd rather not have to re-cast that on your face and head again, thank you very much."
She looked contrite again as she thought to me, "You do know that women can be vicious when having their periods, don't you? I'm sorry. I owe you my life and my opportunity to avenge my family. Thanks for all you've done. I mean it, Potter. Please help me eat, I know I need it.
Millicent had about two more hours of relief from the pain potion she'd taken, so I didn't give her any Muggle medicine then. I took the maximum dose of my favorite, and would have taken more but I wanted my wits about me as I tried to fly further north. I had her drink half of an energy drink. Millicent refused to try it at first because of the look of it - it was a hideous, nearly glowing lime color. I explained it was a slow acting, Muggle version of Pepper-Up Potion that would also quench her thirst. I even promised her it would taste good. When she finally tried it, she liked it at first sip. In the interest of getting along I graciously didn't mention the fact that I'd told her so, but I wanted to. I drank an energy drink and a can of soup in quick order. I also ate one of the pastries. It was borderline stale, but nourishing to whatever degree a sweet wrapped in plastic that has sat on a store shelf for weeks could be. I'd already scarfed down a package of nuts and two strips of beef on the walk back.
I placed Millicent back on the board and configured her for flight. Wanting her to feel more useful, I made sure Millicent's arms were free to move, and placed her wand in a pocket near her right hand. Absolutely brilliant move on my part doing that, we later found out. I had to actually wrestle my broom back through the loop holding the sling-rig. When all was secure, I pulled my wand and used my modified Point Me to find Manchester and then Liverpool. I aimed for the middle distance between the two cities and took off.
We stayed in the tree lines when possible, but and the terrain was littered with open fields. I'd skirt across small fields after stopping and looking to be sure that no one was around, but that was too risky for the larger fields. I had to circle those, flying in the bordering trees.
It was about mid-morning and we'd come to a broad open expanse. No way to circle this. There was no activity in this large clearing and there was an abandoned warehouse of some sort in the general direction I wanted to go, about a mile forward. I headed towards it. We were almost there when the red beam of a Stunner crossed my path. Had my broom not bucked a second before and slowed for a bit, I'd have been knocked off. I started shifting left and right and turned, wand drawn. Boy, my ribs hurt. I gripped my broom handle tightly as I swung from side to side looking for my assailant.
A wizard in Auror blue was on a broom a hundred feet behind me. He fired another Stunner. I blocked it with a Shield spell, and shouted, "I'm Harry Potter. I'm on your side." He fired yet another Stunner. I blocked it and used a Sonorus to make myself heard this time. "Stop! I'm Harry Potter!"
The Auror came forward with his wand still drawn, but not casting spells at me. I lowered my wand a bit, but kept it pointed in his general direction. The Ministry hadn't been my friend this past year, and Fudge finally acknowledging Voldemort's return had not made everything all ducky between us.
The Auror was Dawlish, the man who'd come to arrest Dumbledore; one of the Aurors who'd hit McGonagall that night when he'd been trying to arrest Hagrid. I knew he was Fudge's pet Auror, which meant I didn't trust him a bit.
"I'm taking you in for questioning, Potter."
"The deaths of the Bulstrode family, and an Auror named Pew."
"What?" I raised my wand again, as did he, but neither of us cast anything. "I came up on the Bulstrode farm and found Death Eaters attacking them. I saw them kill the mother and father, and their daughter is right here under my broom escaping from the Death Eaters with me. If I killed an Auror, then he must have been wearing Death Eater robes."
"That's not the way we see it. Minister Fudge ordered you brought in for questioning. If you resist, my orders will be upgraded to arresting you for murder."
We were about thirty feet off of the ground at this point. Dawlish raised his wand and shot another Stunner at me. At that height I could have been killed if it had hit me and I'd fallen. I blocked the Stunner again and fired off one of my own. Dawlish blocked it but he did not count on Millicent's weak, but silent, Cutting curse. It clipped off most of his broom straws. His broom started to go down and I didn't wait to see if he'd make it. I steered my bucking broom for the warehouse and hoped to put the structure between us and Dawlish, before he hit the ground.
I heard the crash and subsequent swearing. Too bad he wasn't seriously hurt. We had almost made the warehouse when he Apparated ahead of us. Dawlish shot a Reductor at us, and I sent a series of Reductors back at him. Dawlish managed to dodge them all, but not the shrapnel that came from the Reductors hitting the warehouse. A sheet of corrugated metal whacking his head finally dazed him. Then I hit him with Petrificus Totalus. I hovered in front of him. Dawlish was frozen in place, but I knew he'd only be frozen for a while. I hit him with an Incarcerous as well. "Dawlish," I said, "I didn't kill any of the Bulstrodes, and I only fought Death Eaters who attacked us first. I don't expect you or your boss to believe me, but know that this is the truth and saying anything else aids Voldemort, not the good witches and wizards of Great Britain." Where that little melodramatic speech came from I'll never know.
I turned my broom to the northeast, not exactly the 'where' I wanted to go but hopefully misleading him as to our direction. Then I took off as fast as possible. Once we were well away, I looked down and used eye-speak to ask if Millicent was all right.
"I'm starting to hurt a little bit, but get us to a safe place before you slow down to give me some of your Muggle potions. Mr. Malfoy always spoke well of Dawlish, though he isn't a Death Eater. Let's get as far away from him as we can."
In minutes I hit the tree line and turned due west. We continued west for about twenty minutes, flying through the trees as fast as the bucking broom and countless obstacles in our path allowed. Once we were back on course, I found a tree-covered clearing and landed.
"Are we making any progress north, Potter?"
"We been flying for over two hours and we've made maybe fifty miles progress towards Hogwarts. I have to stay in the trees during the day, which slows us down, but it is forward progress. After that idiot Dawlish showed up, I made a considerable detour to throw him off our course." Once I'd calmed down, I told Millicent about the liquid Muggle pain potion.
"--it doesn't take effect right away, but you should feel some relief in twenty minutes or so."
Millicent took the liquid pain reliever gratefully, but refused anything to drink. I allowed myself enough time for several gulps of the green energy drink and a single pill. Then I got us back in the air. If I'd been on foot, I'd say I trudged onward, but at least we had my faithful broom. We were flying, but barely and reluctantly if the broom's opinion counts for anything. Does that mean we fludged? Whatever--
I spoke little because I had to concentrate on weaving through the trees. Millicent either looked at the scenery or at me. I think she slept some.
It was almost midday when we came to another huge tract of open ground with an old barn in the middle. To go around would take forever, so I took us down very close to the ground and we attempted to fly across the fields. We were roughly two miles past the barn and almost to the next tree line when a Cutting curse whizzed by. We weren't hit, but it came entirely too close for comfort. I swung around in a bizarrely out-of-sync circle and saw three Death Eaters on brooms, coming up behind us in a 'V.' A new adrenalin-laced magical surge kicked in and I raised my wand, ignoring the pain in my arm and ribs that had throbbed moments before. I sent a series of Incendios out in a spray around them. One target became a fireball and another Apparated away. The third caught fire on the hem of his robe and he shot a Water spell at it. We entered the trees and he eventually came in after us. I'd flown on into the trees a bit and landed. Once the Invisibility Cloak securely covered Millicent, I ran to put some distance between us. The Death Eater wasn't far behind us. He flew right at me and I fired a Reductor. His broom shattered and I heard him scream as he hit the ground. But then a Portkey activated and he popped away. I'm not sure if he was only unconscious or worse. At the time, I was just relieved he was gone. I jumped back on my broom and headed deeper into the forest. We had only covered another mile or so when I saw several Death Eaters flying a search pattern overhead. They missed us. Too bad the next Death Eater to fly by didn't.
As he turned to attack, he ran into a spray of Reductors I'd fired in his flight path. His scream was cut short so I guessed I'd reduced Voldemort's ranks by one more. If the spell didn't do it, a fall from that height probably would. No sooner was the one Death Eater gone than two more flew in to take his place. This pair bombarded us with spells and curses as they split up for a two-pronged assault. One hit me with a split second of the Cruciatus before a tree limb came between the curse and me. The limb exploded and splinters hit me in the face. There are some definite advantages to wearing glasses.
His partner flew a tight holding pattern directly overhead, firing down at us all the while. Fortunately he wasn't able to fly and aim at the same time. His spell barrage was wildly inaccurate. I used a Summoning charm to call him down off his broom and for a furious moment it was raining Death Eater. His scream halted abruptly when he hit the ground. I'm not sure if you'd call it a whim or a flash of inspiration, but I summoned his wand and tried to cast with it left-handed. I sent a Reductor at yet another Death Eater that had just spotted me and decided to join the party. I am right-handed, but I'm not bad with my left -- maybe it's a seeker thing. Quite often I hold the broom with my right hand and fly while reaching for the Snitch with my left. The Reductor I sent with the filched wand and left hand was less powerful, but it still hit the Death Eater and caused him to swerve into the path of a tree. Death Eater pulp, anyone?
I had never heard of a witch or wizard using two wands at once, but I needed some extra firepower, so I didn't care much if it was unorthodox. Could I cast two spells at once or did I have to verbalize one at a time for each hand? Would my spell's power be halved since I was casting through two wands instead of one? Would it work at all? Great questions all, but I had little time at the moment to theorize. Learn by doing usually works best for me.
The three Death Eaters coming at me now provided an excellent learning opportunity. I shouted "Reducto!" and spells shot out of both wands. I hit nothing at that distance. Each spell was just a little less powerful than if I'd cast with only one hand. I felt within my magic to see if twin casting took much out of me, and other than the same tired feeling I'd already felt for hours, and the adrenalin rush of battle, I seemed no more depleted from twin casting than I would have been from casting with one wand. I'd just succeeded in doubling our firepower. Brilliant.
Three Death Eaters fell out of the sky. One screamed in pain until silenced by his impact with the ground. The other two were silent as they dropped. Later I'd wonder where all these Death Eaters came from, but not now. I didn't like the answer once I heard it. A lot of people were looking for me in all the wrong places, but a few found me.
With those three down, the only sound was the wind rustling through the trees. I ran back to Millicent and got us back in the air. Once we were above the tree line, I turned and flew us out as fast as I could - in the wrong direction. We needed temporary sanctuary and we needed it fast.
I made it back to the barn we had passed some number of Death Eaters ago. I flew us through an open door to the hay loft, and then lowered us slowly down to the ground level and around into a corner where there was fresh hay. There was a washbasin there and thankfully the water was still connected and ran clear. The well water had a slightly brackish taste, but I was thirsty and it met my needs.
I was spent, and I knew I'd crash soon as the magical surge died down and the adrenalin wore off. It had been eight or nine tedious hours with my aunt, and over eighteen hours of nerve-scorching travel at night and day under the constant threat of discovery, punctuated with several battles risking both my own life and that of the witch I'd taken under my care.
"Millicent, are you all right! You weren't hit by any of these spells or anything were you?"
"Potter! Your face is bleeding - poring!"
I raised my hand to my face and found blood and splinters in several places. Funny thing, that -- I mean it hurt a lot the instant I realized I was wounded, but not before. I gingerly pulled out three large splinters and some of the smaller one. The tiny fragments were irretrievable. I ran water from the basin over my face and saw the blood splash against the abused porcelain.
That done I reassured Millicent.,"Nothing serious here. It hurts some, but Madam Pomfrey will fix me up in a jiffy. The face bleeds freely but it's all superficial. How are you?"
"Well, I'm cramping, bloated, ugly, broken, and in pain. Other than that, I'm fine, thanks, and you?" There was a bit of a laugh in her eye-speak and I fancied there was a little laughter in her blackened eyes. I grinned in spite of our situation. She thought to me, "Was it my imagination, or did we go back south for several miles, away from Hogwarts, to land here?"
"That's right. I figure all the Slytherins among the Death Eaters will assume a Gryffindor would never give up ground and reverse his direction to hide. They'll surely fly north from that place in the woods and never think to head this way."
"How positively Slytherin of you, Potter, oh!" She arched her back in pain for a bit. After thirty long seconds or so, she looked my way, in agony. " I thought cramps were bad enough, but they really hurt when you add in the broken ribs." She took several deep breaths through her nose and then exhaled slowly. "I don't suppose you want to try putting my rib cage in Localized Stasis, like my face. It doesn't really hurt much at all as long as I try not to jerk my tongue around inside my mouth. My neck's a little sore though."
"I'm afraid to try it on your ribs, Millicent, I might freeze some of your internal organs. I think I got very lucky with your face. In fact, I'd be very afraid to try it again, so let's hope that stasis holds."
"I understand, Potter. Could I have some more of that Muggle pain potion? And if there's more of that green potion, I'd like some of that too. I'm parched."
I helped her with both and even got Millicent to sip some soup. It was cold but nourishing, and I gulped the last third of it. I drank a green energy drink as well. I was grateful for the "extra" stuff I'd purchased that morning. With Voldemort actively searching for us, we couldn't risk another shopping trip anytime soon. What we carried would have to take us a good way.
"How long do you plan on staying here?" She eye-spoke to me.
"Three or four hours, I think. I had no sleep last night, and I'm dead on my feet now that the rush of battle is over. Plus the Death Eaters will probably be scouring the woods ahead of us for several hours more. It's nearly noon now so I plan to sleep until mid to late afternoon and then see how things are. I wish I could leave now and get you to help sooner, but our luck fighting multiple Death Eaters can't hold out forever."
Millicent slowly nodded in reply.
I had slept only an hour or maybe a little more, when I woke with a jerk. It was only a dream -- and not a Voldemort dream, but I couldn't go back to sleep after being startled awake. As brief as the nap was, it helped. I was actually rather refreshed. I checked on Millicent and she'd not slept, even a little. Even though I was physically ready to go, we needed to stay put as planned to give the Death Eaters time to move on. Thinking conversation would help to pass the time, I asked Millicent to tell me more about her maternal grandmother.
"Why do you want to know, Potter? So you can make fun of me?"
I looked away for a second in anger, but then turned, determined to have my conversation.
"No, Bulstrode. My mother was Muggleborn and I don't consider that anything to laugh at. Have I ever made fun of you?" My anger flared in my eyes and in my unspoken voice.
She thought to me, "I was in the library once and I heard you three, the golden trio, and one of you, Weasley, as I recall, called me a fat hag and you all laughed."
I didn't remember that happening, but I didn't doubt it occurred. I stared at her eyes until she looked back at me. In the ten seconds or so I waited for Millicent to meet my gaze, my mind wandered in fatigue and once again I noticed her eyes were such a beautiful shade of blue.
I came back to the moment when she gasped in eye-speak, "You really think I have pretty eyes?"
I decided on honesty. "Well, Millicent, right now your eyes are just about the only part of your face that isn't bruised, smashed, broken, or out of joint. That fact emphasizes that they're a very lovely shade of blue, one that I've never seen before. I'm sure that if we'd ever had a civil conversation before yesterday and you'd smiled at me, instead of sneering, I'd have noticed how pretty your eyes are."
"Now," I continued, "It was wrong of us three to talk about you and call you an ugly hag. Malfoy's gang has been abusive to us, and we've not been nice to you in return, in any manner. Tell me truly, have you ever sat in your common room with Malfoy and laughed at one or all of the three of us, calling us names?"
After a moment of looking away, she said, "You're right. We have -- plenty of times. It's the Gryffindor and Slytherin thing to do, I guess. Sorry." She looked down again.
When she looked back up I said, "I understand that Slytherin and Gryffindor have been the major house rivalry since Salazar and Godric, but it's usually just been Quidditch and the House Cup they fight over. I know three adults that were in Slytherin and I consider them fairly good friends. I say 'fairly' only because I don't know them as well as I'd like.
"Millicent, we got off to a bad start our first five years, but now we have a common enemy. You do want revenge, don't you?"
"More that you can imagine." Her eyes went wide after that statement. "That was stupid for me to say, Potter. If anyone can imagine how I want revenge, it's you. You lost your family, too, and you've had to live with it your whole life."
I sighed and looked away for a moment. "Mainly I just want the killing to stop. Your grandmother is only one of hundreds of Muggles that Voldemort and his Death Eaters have killed for no good reason. Maybe many of them weren't as saintly as your grandmother, but murdering them is no less wrong. Muggles, Muggleborns, half-bloods. Murder is murder and it's wrong. My dad was as pure-blood as the come, but he's only one of many pure-bloods they've maliciously killed."
"I've been reading a lot this summer, Millicent, and I've read a number of good things that pure-bloods can teach those of us who weren't raised in the Wizarding world. Most of your culture and traditions are wonderful, although some seem a little weird. I want to understand them and I don't want to make fun of any of them. But there are also a few things I think we Muggle-raised can teach you pure-bloods, but that's off subject. Let me ask you, do you just want to kill the Death Eaters that killed your family? 'Cause they're all dead already - you and I killed them. Or do you want to seek revenge against all of Voldemort's followers and the Dark Jackass himself?"
Millicent flinched at his name. Then she looked at me pensively. "Potter says his name and nothing ever happens. I was raised to revere his name, but how can I respect the Dark Lord now?" She had thought this to herself, forgetting I could "hear" it. "Millicent, I can hear you thinking when you look into my eyes. Do you want me to sit over there for a while so you can ponder this?"
Millicent jerked in response to another cramp, and then favored her broken ribs as she struggled with her various pains. She took several quick deep breaths through her nose and exhaled the last slowly. I'd pulled back but she looked at me again and eye-spoke, "What I need, is to change my pad again. I'm sorry, Potter. Could you levitate me over there? I know I stink because of this, and I make a mess changing this way. Take me over there, open another pad for me, help me with my pants, and I think I can do everything else."
I did as she asked and then turned away from Millicent to give her some semblance of privacy. I kept a hand on her shoulder to steady her. Millicent grabbed it when she was done and I turned back to her. I didn't mean to look, but my eyes were instinctively drawn to the refuse she'd only been able to toss a few feet away from her. I quickly glanced away and never turned back, but Millicent saw me look, and I blushed profusely. I had to help her pull her pants back up the rest of the way. After she was finally dressed with my clumsy assistance, I looked into her eyes. Tears of pain streamed down her face. She was breathing heavily and her right arm held her rib cage.
Millicent nodded to me and I levitated her back to our original area, near the washbasin. I placed her gently in the straw with her head elevated and I offered her the liquid painkiller. She drank it, greedily, and I had to pull it away, explaining that it could hurt her if she overdosed. That is also true of painkilling potions, so she understood.
"Thanks, Potter. You're doing more for me than anyone I can imagine. Could you see Malfoy or Nott, or, God forbid, the troll twins Goyle or Crabbe helping me with this?" I smiled at her and snorted a laugh. "Parkinson would have helped me just because she's a girl and can sympathize with me, but I'd never hear the end of it, and she'd act like I owed her a life debt or something."
We smiled for a moment in silence, looked around for a bit, and then looked back at each other.
"Millicent, would you call me Harry? When you Slytherins call me Potter I hear a lot of ill will in it. You're saying it differently now, but I still hear you like you said it meanly, a month ago."
She said, "All right, Harry, I'll try, but I'm sure I'll slip up, now and then. Can you stop calling me Millicent? I hear you Gryffindors saying it like a swear word or something."
"Okay, I admit I used to say Millicent like it was another name for evil. Sorry. What do your housemates call you?"
"Most call me 'Bulstrode,' but somehow I can't see you saying that any better. The girls in my house usually call me Millicent."
"What do your friends call you?"
She looked away from me with a hurt expression. I wanted to look into her eyes and hear her thoughts, but that would've been very rude of me.
"Potter, er, Harry. I don't have any real friends. I'm just a girl in with the other girls. They all talk about boys and make-up when they're being frilly and leave me out as though I'd never be interested, or even understand. I was the only fourth year girl in my house who didn't go to the Yule Ball, and what hurt is the girls acted like they didn't expect anyone to ask me. Goyle and Crabbe went stag rather than ask me. I refused to go by myself, so I sat in my dorm room, all night, alone, and feigned sleep behind my curtains when they came up from the ball.
"Oh, they're all for asking me for help, particularly when they want to move furniture around and the like, but they never ask me to do things with them." She laughed derisively in eye-speak. "How pathetic am I? Spilling my heartache out to the Gryffindor who was number one on my hate list less than twenty-four hours ago."
"I know what you're talking about, having no friends."
I actually heard her snort both in her mind and through her nose. "You're the great Harry Potter. Everyone wants to be your friend."
"Oh, sure they do, Millicent. Remember second year, when I spoke Parseltongue and didn't even know what it was? Oh yeah, people really lined up to be my friend after that. And remember when my name was drawn from the Goblet of Fire? Even Ron abandoned me, for over a month. And of course everyone wanted to be friends with the mad liar Minister Fudge and the Daily Prophet spoke ill of all last year."
She sheepishly eye-spoke "Sorry," to me.
"No, with Ron and Hermione, and a few others, I have more friends that I ever had in my life. I was talking about being friendless before Hogwarts." I went on to tell her about my life with the Dursleys. I told her just enough about my aunt and uncle to explain things in general, and why Hermione had to explain to me the facts of life. I told her about how I had no friends, in school or around Little Whinging, because of Dudley.
"So Snape's talk about you being a spoiled prince is all wrong?" she asked. "And when Malfoy talks about you being raised by disgusting Muggles, he's right?"
"Malfoy's right as far as that goes, but he knows little else about me so beyond that bare statement I wouldn't trust anything he says. Those particular Muggles are disgusting, but not all Muggles are. Muggles are like witches and wizards - some good, some bad, and most of us struggling in between." At this point I wanted to leave the discussion of my life and not go back to Millicent having no real friends either. "So, Millicent, you don't want me to use your given name and using your last name doesn't work either. So, what should I call you?"
Her forehead pinked a little. "Well, my family gave me a nickname when I was little, and they still call me that, or did until --"
She cried a little. I could understand and pulled back a few inches. After a couple of minutes of silence broken only by her sniffles, she looked back at me and resumed her thought, "When I was born, my brother was three and a half, and he couldn't say words that begin with the letter 'M.' He ended up calling me Centi, and all my family followed his lead. They still do -- or did. Could you... would you...?"
"Centi," I jumped in. "I like it. It's unique. I think it will work. Well Centi, since I told you about my bizarre childhood, and you had a rather normal childhood for a witch, how about you tell me about growing up on that magical farm I saw back there. I've only seen two magical households. One had a big garden, but that's about all I know."
We spent the next couple of hours talking through eye-speak. Conversation quickly turned to a number of happenings at school over the years, and we told each other about these events from Slytherin and Gryffindor perspectives. Centi told me that most of the members of Slytherin house were amazed at my flight against the Hungarian Horntail in the Triwizard Tournament. I impressed her house that day, despite Malfoy's insistence that I'd just been lucky. Many Slytherins didn't and don't like me, she confirmed, but they do begrudgingly respect my flying. She also said that most Slytherins thought me a dope for staying behind in the second task of the tournament to see that everyone was safe. They all knew Dumbledore was too big a softy to let anything happen to the four hostages asleep in the water.
Just about every Slytherin was as afraid of me when I spoke in Parseltongue in second year as all the rest of the houses were. Centi thought it was hysterical that we had thought Malfoy could be the Heir of Slytherin. She gave me the impression that few in her house respected Draco. They did, however, fear the financial and political power his father wielded, and everyone knew that Draco would go off crying to his father when he was thwarted.
When it was nearing time to go I stopped our "chat" and gave Centi another dose of the liquid pain reliever. We also had another snack.
"I'm going to take the Invisibility Cloak and go outside for a few minutes to look at the skies. I want to see if it's safe to leave." There was a moment of panic in her eyes and I made a big show of leaving my Firebolt right beside her to reassure her that I would not leave her. She understood and gave me a grateful smile.
Everything seemed clear, and soon later we were back on our way.
The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. At one point we hit a heavily populated area -- somewhere between Manchester and Liverpool according to the modified Point-Me charm -- and I did a lot of weaving in and out, skirting little towns and jumping across roads. It was overcast and a little foggy so we weren't quite as exposed as if it were sunny. I even shortened the ropes for Millicent's sling and brought us close together so I could drape the Invisibility Cloak over both of us. We weren't completely covered, but it was the best I could do. When we had to cross big highways, I'd fly along the roadside until I found an underpass or major drainage ditch. Then under the cloak I'd fly us through and on. Luck was with us.
The Longbottoms lived somewhere near Liverpool but who knew where? It's a big town and I couldn't very well fly my broom up to a Bobby and ask for directions, now, could I?
The clearing where I landed us late that afternoon was much farther back from the road than where I'd stopped this morning - a necessity because the trees were much sparser in this area. I left Centi and made my way to a no-name petrol shop fairly similar to the one I'd been at in the morning. An old lady stood behind the counter and inspected my every move. At first I thought she might have been looking for me and would call for the Death Eaters after I left, but they'd rather rot than ask for Muggle help. It finally hit me that she thought I might try to steal something, so I made sure to stay in plain sight and act friendly as I paid. Thankfully, I didn't have to draw attention myself by buying more "products" for Centi. I only had four pounds, six left in my pocket afterwards. Fortunately I hoped to make Hogwarts before dawn, and the supply of food and energy drinks I bought was more than enough for the two of us until then. Centi.
The name suited the girl I was getting to know. I don't like 'Millicent.' Every Millicent I've ever known -- all one of them -- I've despised.
I liked my new friend, Centi.
Whatever gets you through, Potter.
The clouds were thickening as I made my way back to her. I transfigured a wrapper from a tin of biscuits into a tarpaulin and levitated it over us, charming it to stick to two branches on a tree. The good thing about the weather is that darkness came sooner than was usual this time of year.
"Centi, I have an idea. I'm going to take a few of these branches and stick them together to make a frame. I think I can attach my Invisibility Cloak to the frame, hang it beneath us, and make it so no one can see us if they look up. Then, when it's dark enough, we can fly up to just at the base of the clouds, or in them even. My direction spell tells me where to go, so we can fly in the proper direction without having to follow landmarks. That way we can't really be seen from below or the sides or above. It will be like being in thick fog, but we should make good time and not be seen. What do you think?"
She pondered it for a moment. "That would work, but I'm wide awake. Can we have a weak Light spell so we can eye-speak? Maybe you could put that tarp over us and the light. That way no one would see our Lumos moving through the clouds."
"I'm afraid to fly for long at all like that." I said. "Flying with any kind of light increases our chances of being seen. Muggles have aeroplanes, and the cloud cover could dissipate at any moment. I'll also lose all night vision if we're flying with a light. I don't think it wise to do anything that might give even a hint at where we are. After all, we've been spectacularly unlucky so far in being found by Death Eaters and Fudge's Aurors and I'm sure neither side has stopped looking for us. But I'll rig the tarp anyway. Then I can risk a Light spell from time to time to check on you and give you painkillers. I'm sorry, Centi. I was bored and lonely too last night, but it's the only thing to do."
We rested and talked for another half hour. I told her (out loud) all about the Paladin Program while I made the rig. Snape had recruited among the Slytherins for the program, but Centi had turned it down flat. Most of Slytherin House was shocked when Draco and Pansy volunteered, but the general assumption was that they'd joined to sabotage the program or spy for Voldemort. I made a major mental note to share this with Dumbledore.
After I gave her a basic overview of what the Paladins were learning, Centi asked if it was too late to join. I told her I doubted it was too late. As it was Dumbledore would have to help me catch back up on the potions. Maybe we could do it together. She seemed stunned when I made the offer, but readily accepted it. The way I figured it, one less fighter for Tom and one more for us was a good thing. And I knew she was motivated to fight Voldemort now. Having seen her in action, I also knew Centi wasn't afraid to do serious harm.
She was a killer, just like me, I realized glumly.
I had my rig all set to go. Now all we needed was a little more darkness. I saw an Auror fly over as we waited. Maybe he was trustworthy, but I just couldn't bring myself to call out and risk it. How he flew about like that without a Disillusionment was beyond me. Just inviting a Muggle sighting, that was. I later found out that he was Disillusioned, but I could somehow see him anyway. We waited a bit more before proceeding.
It began to rain just as we took off. I'd already cast charms to waterproof us and warm us, but they needed renewing every half hour or so. We climbed up into the base of the low cloud covering and I set course for the next city on our route, aiming us just to the east of Carlisle.
Flying to the west of Carlisle was a straighter shot to Hogwarts, but it meant flying over a wide body of water, the Solway Firth. I couldn't risk it. I wanted to be able to set down on solid ground if necessary. At thirty miles per hour, Carlisle was four hours away. Three hours past that was Glasgow and about two and a half hours beyond that was Hogwarts. I thought that we could make it just before dawn. Perhaps it was my imagination, but my much abused yet trusty Firebolt seemed to be acclimating to its cart horse status.
Centi's idea of putting the tarp over us was a good one. During the night I cast a quick Lumos at my modified Point-Me charm every ten minutes or so to see if we were still on course -- a necessity since visibility was too low for us to navigate by lights in the distance most of the time.
At three hours we were almost to Carlisle. I'd thought we were flying a bit faster. I could see the lights of the city through the cloud covering, and I steered to the east of it, as planned. Maybe we had a tailwind to help us along, maybe my broom was flying faster - anyway, it took less time than I'd guessed. Thank God for any help in a storm - and boy were we in a storm. I almost set us down once after a couple of hours but it cleared up a little just before I did. Every four hours, I gave Centi a dose of the Muggle painkiller. Each time she thanked me profusely.
About 3:00 in the morning I had trouble waking her to take her medicine. Her stupor worried me so I only gave her half a dose. Centi didn't complain. I felt her forehead and it seemed a bit feverish, but not much. Half asleep she nuzzled against my hand as I did it. It was somehow reassuring -- surprising, weird, but nice nonetheless.
Over an hour later the storm rose in pitch and a nearby thunderclap awoke Centi. Her screams were silent because of her frozen face, but I could feel her thrashing in panic. I cast Lumos and had to shout at her to be heard over the storm, before she pulled it together. More lightning crashed, way too close, and her eyes showed her fear, which matched mine in the light of the raging electrical storm.
We were well past Glasgow and I needed to look for landmarks to guide me to Hogwarts. My modified Point-Me spell didn't respond to Hogwarts since it's unplottable.
In my exhausted state I never considered casting my direction spell at Hogsmeade.
I set down in a deep forest, and soon found a rock overhang to protect us from the wind and rain. I wanted to rest for just a half-hour or so before going on. I knew Hogwarts was almost due north of Glasgow. If we awoke in about a half hour and flew on, after an hour we'd be near the school, and it would be barely light enough to make out landmarks. I guessed, and later found out I was correct, that we were less than fifty miles from Hogwarts.
Centi was asleep before I finished unstrapping her from the rig. I slumped down beside her and oblivion took me.
Horrendous stomach pains woke me. The screams I couldn't hold back woke Centi. She trashed about in momentary confusion and her own dire pain. Once she recognized me, Centi calmed down. I relaxed as the pains subsided until I realized I was hurting from missing another Paladin potion. Then I panicked. That meant it was 7:00 in the morning and I'd slept far too long.
It was already much too light out to fly on safely above the trees. It also occurred to me that by now, the Death Eaters knew exactly where we were going. They knew exactly where to watch for us - in the southern approaches to Hogwarts.
Author's Note - I have opened a new fandom under my portion of FanFicAuthors.net. In it you will find Jane Austen fanfiction written by my wonderful and talented wife, Pamela St Vines. She's a better writer than I am, and also is my beta reader under the name, ebdarcy. Please give it a look if you're a fan of Austen, or even if you liked the A & E production of Pride and Prejudice. Most of Pamela's work is AU of that particular novel. Thanks for giving her work a shot, and for telling others you know who might be interested. Cheers!