VII – Muggle Madwomen
Despite Bury’s gloomy prediction the hearse flew on for another ten miles or so after crossing the Firth of Forth. Eventually he pointed down to the left; “That road below looks clear, and the thestrals are starting to tire, I’m going to take us down. As soon as the wheels touch the road twist the top of the brake lever anti-clockwise then slowly pull it back. Don’t make us visible until you’re sure nobody is watching.” He did something complicated with the reins and they started to descend.
The road was narrow and not particularly straight, and Harry’s heart was in his mouth as they swooped down. Twice they had to pull up at the last minute, to avoid an oncoming truck and overhead power lines. Eventually, as the wing-beats of the thestrals were visibly slowing, the wheels finally touched the road, and the hearse began to slew from side to side, with the thestrals still flying rather than running, bouncing noisily and shaking its passengers. Harry twisted the lever frantically and the wings retracted noisily. The extra drag seemed to remind the thestrals that they were supposed to be on the ground, and they landed at the gallop.
“Brakes!” shouted Bury, and Harry belatedly remembered to start pulling the lever back. They began to slow to something more plausible for a horse-drawn vehicle, a brisk trot. “All right, make us visible then push the brake lever forward a little.”
Harry stopped chanting and the spell ended. Without it the illusion covering the thestrals was restored, and they looked like horses again. They began to rattle along at about ten miles an hour.
“That was amazing,” said Harry. “But why can’t we fly the whole way?”
“Too much drag,” said Bury. “It’s strictly for emergencies, and it tires the thestrals out, as you can see. They’ll have to stay down for a few hours before we can even think of doing that again.”
“I suppose so,” said Harry. “Anyway, that has to have got rid of them now, there’s no way that they could follow us.”
“You had to say that, didn’t you? I would have thought that if anyone would know better by now... Maybe that would shake off Muggles, but for all you know they’ve got a witch or a wizard helping them."
“Sod it! I’ve jinxed us, haven’t I? Sorry.”
“Keep your eyes open for somewhere we can get off this road to feed the thestrals, while I check the map. We’re heading in roughly the right direction, I think, but for all I know this road’s a dead end. Yell out if you see any road signs.”
To Harry’s alarm Bury switched most of his attention to a road map he pulled out of a pocket, leaving the thestrals and wagon to guide themselves, the reins slack in his hand. But it was a warm summer’s afternoon, birds were singing, the thestrals seemed to know what they were doing, and for the first time since he’d got off the plane Harry was able to relax a little. Twice they were passed by cars whose occupants seemed to see nothing odd in a hearse on a quiet country road. “Do you drive round here a lot?”
“Not since the war. Why?”
“Nobody seems to be paying us much attention.”
“There’s a curiosity-damping spell on the hearse. It doesn’t work very well if someone’s actually looking for us, but if they’re not, they won’t think that there’s anything odd about us. Can’t hide us completely, of course, or people would be running into us all the time.”
“That might explain why the people in the bus noticed us,” said Harry, “If someone used a phone to call them and warn them about us.”
“I suppose,” said Bury, looking at a compass that seemed to have a couple of extra dials, tapping it, and checking the map again. “But wouldn’t the phone wires have to be awfully long? Anyway, this road will do us for the next few miles. There’s an old ruined church a little further on, if it’s the one I’m thinking of there’s a horse trough there and some room for cars to park. We ought to be able to feed the thestrals.”
“Okay. Once we’ve stopped I’ll have to report in to the Ministry. I didn’t think to bring an owl or any of my usual equipment, so I’ll have to apparate to the Auror offices in Glasgow and report from there. It should only take a few minutes.”
“Well, don’t take too long about it, if you’re really being chased by mad Muggle women I’ll want your help fending them off; unless they’re particularly attractive, of course.” Bury didn’t crack a smile as he said it, and Harry wondered if he was serious. He was reasonably sure Bury had a wife and children.
Ten minutes later they rolled off the road onto a gravel-topped parking area, watched incuriously by a Muggle family who were picnicking behind a green Range-Rover, and seemed to be more interested in their food than the new arrival. Bury checked the horse trough and found it dry, and Harry quietly cast Aguamenti to fill it with water, with his back turned to conceal his wand from Muggle view. As Bury led the thestrals to drink Harry walked off a little way, until he was concealed by bushes, and apparated out.
“So that’s the situation,” Harry said a few minutes later, using the Auror’s Floo to talk to Percy, “Hermione has this weird idea about the Curse of the Slayer, and I don’t have a better explanation, or any idea why they should be interested in me.”
“Damned if I know,” said Percy. “But Hermione is probably your best bet. Do you want me to send you some help? Would you like a few more Aurors to help guard the coffin?”
“Definitely not,” said Harry, “I think our best bet is to keep things quiet. Whatever’s going on here, the last thing we need is a procession. I haven’t seen any sign that they’ve got a wizard helping them…” He didn’t mention Bury’s reservations, since there was no evidence “…and there’s no reason why they should think we’re heading the way we are, so we should just press on. What I’d like you to do is get Ginny to send Henrietta out to me with my travelling bag, the kit I use when I’m on a case. And warn her I’ll probably need to keep her with me until after the funeral.”
“About Ginny,” said Percy. “She’s Floo’d me twice this afternoon, she’s been very worried. According to your clock you’ve been in Mild Peril most of the day, and Extreme Peril three times this afternoon.”
“Oh bugger, I wish Molly had never given us that bloody thing. All it does is make people worry.”
“Try telling Mum that.”
“Not likely! Okay, if I talk to her she’ll just get more upset. Tell her I’ve had to dash back to baby-sit the coffin, and give her my love, but don’t forget to tell her about the travelling bag. And get her to talk to Hermione, maybe between them they can come up with some answers.”
Harry apparated back, half expecting to find Bury under siege by Muggle madwomen, but nothing much had changed. The thestrals were eating from nose-bags, and the picnickers were finishing their meal and starting to pack the Range-Rover. Bury was tucking in to a large pork pie and a can of Muggle beer, and Harry suddenly realised that he hadn’t eaten any lunch. “Don’t suppose you’ve got any more of those?”
“Of course not,” said Bury. “Why would I possibly think of carrying a bit of grub for my passenger when the alternative is travelling eighty-odd miles listening to his bloody stomach rumbling? What do you want, a pork pie, steak and kidney, or a cheese and pumpkin pasty?”
“Steak and kidney sounds good.”
Bury fished into a compartment under the seat Harry had been using and handed him a piping hot steak and kidney pie, wrapped in a linen serviette. “Fresh made in Hogsmeade this morning. Do you want beer, butterbeer, or cider?”
“I’d better keep my head clear,” said Harry, “Butterbeer will be fine.”
“Suit yourself.” He handed Harry a screw-capped bottle. “The thestrals are nearly finished so tuck in; it’s not dark until about eight-thirty, and I want to get a move on. Oh, and what happened to your wig?”
Harry put the pie and bottle down on the foot-rest, took off the top hat, and pulled out the wig. “It was making my head itch, and if they can find us out here I don’t think a wig’s going to do much good.”
“Fair enough.” Bury tucked it away. “But keep the hat on, got to show some respect.”
“Okay. Do you think we’ll reach Hogsmeade tonight?”
“Not a hope, but some friends have a farm about forty miles on, we can stop there for the night, finish the journey in the morning.”
At about seven, ten miles or so from the farm, Harry thought he noticed something moving out of the corner of his eye. He looked round, but all he could see was a field of bright yellow flowers, waving gently in the breeze. He looked ahead again, and again had the impression of a hint of movement out of the corner of his eye, not just the breeze. He thought for a second then quietly cast a Supersensory Charm, widening his field of view until he could see behind himself. Without turning his head he concentrated his attention on the field.
He was right; there was a ripple of movement. As the hearse passed the flowers were quietly turning to follow it, like eyes or ears on stalks. “Sod it,” he said quietly, “I think someone’s found us.”
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