VI – Perfectly Normal Paranoia
“Right, Auror Potter…” Mervyn stepped back from the coffin. “She’s looking pretty good, though I say so myself.”
“That’s amazing,” said Harry, “she looks like she’s just gone to sleep.” He wasn’t exaggerating. The sunken look, chemical smell and yellowness were gone, now the skin was firm and the complexion identical to the photograph.
“It’s not going to last as long as the original embalming or the preservation spell that was used on her at Gatwick. Once she’s buried, things will start to break down.”
“So she’ll return to the ground naturally, earth to earth and all that. It’s a legal requirement; it’s even part of the Statute of Secrecy. There are all sorts of reasons why you don’t want unchanging bodies lying about the place. It clutters up the cemeteries, and there’s at least one French Saint that was originally a wizard whose body was preserved that way and fell into Muggle hands.”
“Why didn’t they just obliviate the people who found it?”
“Because about ten thousand pilgrims had already seen it by the time their Aurors heard about it. It was simpler to lift the preservation spell and put on a little makeup so that it looked like someone had messed about with the body to make it look unchanging.”
“I haven’t done anything with the wound yet. Before I do, did you say you wanted photos?”
“I’d better take a couple,” said Harry. “I doubt that the Ministry will do much about it after all this time, but if there is some sort of investigation photos might help. Do you have a camera I can use?”
"Only a muggle one, I've run out of film for the Spellflex. That okay?"
"She's not going to be moving so it doesn't really make much difference, I suppose."
“I’ll just get it. Can’t keep it in here, my spells would eventually play hob with the electronics.” Mervyn went out, and came back a couple of minutes later with a big Nikon. “Bloody Muggles, they’ve got no respect.”
“It’s the Festival, isn’t it? If it isn’t mimes it’s street theatre, and if it isn’t street theatre it’s conjurors and jugglers, right outside our doors.” He was talking to Harry’s back by the time he said the last words, as Harry went through to one of the front rooms and peeped out between the blinds. There were jugglers out there all right; two girls. He was sure that he recognised one of them from the plane. He couldn’t see Vi or Kennedy, but he had a feeling that they were out there somewhere.
“Is there a problem?”
“I don’t know, but there were some women who seemed to be taking an odd interest in the original coffin when we were loading it, and I think they may have followed us from the airport, or traced the van here. Oh bloody hell… can you get in touch with the hearse? The one from Hogsmeade?”
“Not until it gets here. Be about half an hour. Why?”
“One of the women seemed to be able to see through illusions. If I’m right and she’s out there somewhere, she’ll see the thestrals as they really are, not as horses.”
“Most people can’t see thestrals at all, without the illusion it would look like nothing was drawing the carriage.”
“Anyone who’s seen someone die can see a thestral, and I know that she’s seen someone die.” Harry wasn’t entirely sure that killing Sanguini counted as seeing a death, but it seemed likely.
“You’ll have to obliviate them then.”
“There could be a dozen of them, and if I’m right they’re watching all of the approaches to this building.”
“If you don’t mind me saying so, that’s a bit paranoid.”
“I think I’m entitled to a little paranoia, don’t you?”
“I’ll grant you that, Mister Potter. On the whole, I can’t think of anyone more entitled to be paranoid. So what do you want to do?” Mervyn led the way back to the workshop.
“Is your driver still around?”
“Duncan? He’s out at the back cleaning the van.”
“Okay – would he be willing to help with a diversion?”
“Tell him it’s official Auror business and slip him twenty quid and he will. He’s a Squib, but his heart’s in the right place. But if there’s any damage to the van or injury to him I’ll want full compensation from the Ministry.”
“Okay… now here’s my plan…”
Ten minutes before the hearse was due to arrive Harry came down from the upper floor offices with a hastily drawn sketch of the street behind the building. Mervyn and Duncan were waiting for him.
“Okay.” Harry pointed to some blobs on the map, to the right of the gates. “There are three women here, here, and here. The one in the middle is Kennedy, I think she’s giving the orders. This big oblong here to the left is their bus, it’s parked with the front pointing off to the left. I couldn’t see much from that angle but I think it’s got three or four people inside. What I want you to do is drive off past the bus, fast enough that the women on foot don’t catch up with you, but slow enough that they can get after you in the bus. After that keep driving, if possible try to avoid getting stopped at traffic lights and so forth for as long as possible. If they catch up to you and ask any questions, you’re just taking the transit coffin back to the airport. But give us as long as possible.”
“If you actually get to the airport,” said Mervyn, “call in at the British Airways cargo counter and ask for the deposit back, same as usual.”
“Aye,” said Duncan. “And can I say what an honour it is to be doing this for you, Auror Potter?”
“Um... Thanks,” said Harry. “I hope that this won’t be dangerous, but please be careful. We don’t want any accidents.”
“Have no fear,” said Duncan. “It won’t be the first time I’ve had to help with a wee diversion. Why, I well remember in ninety-seven…”
“No time for war stories now,” Mervyn said hastily.
“We’d better get started,” said Harry. “Okay, as soon as you’re ready to go flash your lights and we’ll open the gates. After that, just keep going, and pay no attention to anything going on behind you.”
A minute later the van was on its way. Standing behind the gate, and hopefully unseen by anyone in the street, Harry pointed his wand at the van and murmured ”Alohomora.” As it swerved to avoid a girl standing near the bus, one Harry hadn’t spotted, one of the rear doors flew open, revealing the transit coffin in the back of the van, the Sunnydale label clearly visible. A few seconds later, as they were closing the gates, they heard a diesel engine starting. Harry ran back upstairs, and saw the bus pulling out in pursuit. He watched for a couple of minutes, but there didn’t seem to be anyone left watching the rear gates. The front of the building was still being watched by the jugglers. Harry went back down. “I think it’s clear for a few minutes. How quickly can we load the coffin when the hearse gets here?”
“A couple of minutes to get it in, a couple more to strap it down,” said Mervyn, “but the thestrals will want a drink and a feed, and that takes a few minutes.”
“Okay. If Duncan can stay ahead for ten or fifteen minutes that ought to do it.”
There was a clatter of hooves outside, and Harry and Mervyn swung the gates open again.
The hearse was a Victorian-looking black carriage with brass lamps and a glass-sided compartment for the coffin. It was apparently drawn by two grey mares, and Harry had to squint to see through the Disillusionment Charm and see the thestrals as they really were. Theoretically a Muggle would see nothing unusual. Harry was hoping that in Kennedy’s case that wouldn’t be put to the test.
“Mister Potter?” said the driver, climbing down. On Harry’s nod he added “Nice disguise; I wouldn’t have known you if I hadn’t recognized the wand.”
“Mister Bury, I’m afraid that we’re going to have to get out of here quickly, there’s trouble. If you can get the thestrals fed as fast as you can, we’ll get the coffin loaded.”
“Right you are.” He opened a compartment in the side of the carriage and pulled out a cooler box, and began to feed the thestrals bloody chunks of beef. “So what’s the problem?”
“Some Muggles seem to be following me for some reason, and I think that they might be dangerous.”
“These aren’t ordinary Muggles. I’m not sure what they are, to be honest. There’s a couple watching the front, we’ve drawn off the ones at the back but they’ll probably be back in fifteen minutes or so.”
Mervyn came out from the workshop, levitating the coffin towards the hearse, and Harry helped him guide it in, then took over feeding and watering the thestrals while Bury strapped the coffin down in the hearse. One of the thestrals nuzzled his hand, leaving bloody drool behind; they seemed to accept him, and Harry guessed that they came from the herd that Hagrid managed at Hogwarts; he’d probably fed them when they were colts. Bury came back, levitating buckets of water, and gave him a scrap of towel to wipe his hands. “Shouldn’t be long now.” One of the thestrals snorted and belched loudly.
“There’s two more girls out the back,” said Mervyn. “I’ve never seen them before, and they seem to be taking a bit of an interest in the gates.”
“We’re running out of time,” said Harry.
“Calm down,” said Bury, putting away the cooler box and producing a long black coat. “Try this for size.” Harry pulled on the coat, found it a little too long, and hastily adjusted it with his wand. “Not bad. Now put this on…” he gave Harry a blonde wig, which more or less fitted him, with a fringe that covered his forehead; “and this…” a shiny top hat; “and these…” Dark sunglasses, and a pair of white gloves. Harry felt ridiculous, but there was no denying that between them they altered his appearance beyond easy recognition. Bury pulled on his own coat, hat, and gloves, and said “Right then… Orchideous” The coffin was suddenly surrounded by tasteful bunches of flowers.
“You’ve done this before,” said Harry.
“Smuggling muggle-born witches and wizards past the Snatchers back in ninety-seven,” said Bury. “There was no shortage of bodies to be moved in those days, and nobody really noticed who was moving them. Now, just climb up onto the seat and look nicely solemn. As a last resort, if anyone tries to stop us, Confound them or something. Don’t do anything that’ll leave evidence, we don’t want to give Mervyn trouble. Oh, and I’m calling you Brian from now on.”
“Okay.” Harry climbed up, and Bury added “That lever’s the brake, be ready to pull it when I say so.”
Mervyn swung the gates open and Bury took the reins and led the thestrals out, saying “Right, we meet up with the mourners on Queen Street then it’s straight on to the Cathedral. Brakes, Brian.” Harry pulled the lever, and held it back as Bury climbed up. The girls were a little way down the street and seemed to be watching with interest, but weren’t trying to stop them. It seemed that they didn’t notice anything too unusual about the hearse. “Brakes off, Brian.”
The hearse started to roll forward, the thestrals moving at a steady walk that took the hearse forward at four or five miles an hour. “Can’t we go any faster than this?” Harry muttered.
“Not unless we have to,” said Bury, skilfully taking the first corner. “This is the speed a hearse is supposed to move, if we take it nice and gentle nobody will notice anything odd. Anything faster than this is disrespectful while people are watching.”
“Then it’ll take… Merlin, about twenty hours to get to Hogsmeade.”
“Ah well… once we’re out of town a bit I daresay we’ll make better time.”
“Which way are we going?”
“North, of course; once we’re across the Forth Bridge we can get off the main roads, after that I’ll show you what this thing can really do.”
With agonising slowness the hearse rolled away from the undertakers, through several sets of traffic lights that obligingly changed to green in its path, and on towards the bridge. Harry was beginning to feel a lot better about things when he noticed a road sign ahead, indicating that they were heading towards the airport.
“The people who are after us may be heading back along this road,” said Harry. “At this rate there’s no way they’ll miss us.”
“What do you think this is, the Knight Bus? I can’t just speed through traffic without anyone noticing.”
As Bury was talking Harry noticed a small green bus coming towards them, and hunched down in his seat and prayed that it wasn’t the women, and that if it was the spell would continue to conceal the thestrals. His prayers weren’t answered; a few seconds after it passed he heard a squeal of brakes, and glanced back to see the bus starting a cumbersome U-turn to follow them.
“Shit! They’ve spotted us!”
“Language, mister Potter. Remember that we’re on a solemn journey here.”
“A solemn journey that’s about to become a punch-up if we don’t get away from here pretty fast.”
“All right then,” said Bury. “If you can slow them down a bit, I’ll see what I can do.”
Behind them the bus was still making its turn, with traffic backed up in both directions. Harry carefully sighted on one of the rear wheels. “Glisseo!” Deprived of friction, the wheel began to spin furiously, and the bus faltered in its turn and stopped. He repeated the spell on the front wheels, for the next couple of minutes the bus would be impossible to steer. “That won’t hold for long. Now, can you get us out of here?”
“Brake lever all the way forward, please.”
Harry pushed the lever forward to its original position, then further until it clicked, as Bury flicked the reins and the thestrals began to trot. Suddenly the hearse was accelerating smoothly, and Harry guessed the speed was up to fifteen or twenty miles an hour. “Better, but they’ll catch up eventually.”
“I know,” Bury said calmly. “Now push the lever forward again and twist the top clockwise. Clockwise, mind.” Harry did as he was told, and with a series of cracks and whirrs bat-like wings emerged from under the carriage and folded out to either side. Bury was chanting an invisibility charm, one that didn’t need any wand action, and gestured for Harry to take over as he flicked the reins again. The thestrals were galloping, faster and faster as they unfurled their own wings. “Hold on to your hat!” Harry clapped his free hand to his hat, and held on tightly to his wand with the other. He could feel something pressing him down onto the seat, and guessed that a modified cushioning charm was acting as a safety belt.
With a last flick of the reins the thestrals were dragging the wagon into the sky, its own wings flapping in time with theirs, and heading North, about a hundred and fifty feet up.
“We’ll have to land once we’re over the Forth,” said Bury, “The thestrals willnae’ take it much longer.”
Harry grimly kept the invisibility charm going, prayed that they wouldn’t run into anything as they crossed the airport flight path, and gloomily wondered how he was going to explain this to Percy when he reported back to the Ministry.
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