Side trips, fast food, disguises, Goblins, a new home, watching eyes and Anna's final instructions. Goodness, what a busy two days.
"Humm?" Gwen checked for traffic and pulled out onto the main street through the town. "What?"
"That man on the corner was staring at us."
"Well, pregnancy and scarf not withstanding, Cissa, you're a beautiful woman."
"No. I mean he looked surprised to see me, almost. Maybe he was a spy, a Death Eater looking for /you/."
Gwen did a quick check in the rear view mirror. The man was still standing on the sidewalk, watching them drive away, a quizzical look on his face.
"Well, there's not much we can do, is there? He can't chase us on a broomstick in broad daylight or anything, can he?"
"No, but he can Apparate ahead of us, up the road a bit and get a better look at us as we pass, maybe, if he is a spy. Perhaps I'm just being paranoid."
"If he is looking for me, but thinks he recognizes you/, the fact that you're riding in a Muggle /car would make him doubt his own eyes and sanity, don't you think?"
"Possibly, but can we go a different way; lose him, somehow."
Glancing out her window, Gwen smiled wickedly. "HE! HE! HE! I've got a better idea."
Gwen watched in the rear view mirror until the man was just out of sight and turned at the next corner. Driving a few blocks, she then cut through a parking lot, drove through two alleyways, turned into another parking lot and pulled up behind a car.
"Where are we?" Cissa asked, looking around, trying to get her bearings.
Driving forward when the car ahead of her moved up, Gwen grinned. "We're about to hide for a few minutes, it'll give us a chance to do a quick change."
Narcissa looked out the windshield and her eyes got wide.
"What is this place?"
"Car wash; we'll go in this end as a green Range Rover and come out as...Oh, let's see." Looking around, she pointed. "How about...that small delivery van over there. Think you can convert the outside of this car to look like that?"
Narcissa swiveled to gaze at the vehicle Gwen was pointing to. She pushed up her sleeves and pulled out her wand.
"Gwen, I love the way your mind works."
"And can you change our appearance a little too; say our hair color and clothes?"
"Good thought. Let's see..."
As the Range Rover disappeared into the suds, shrieks of laughter were heard coming from the interior. The attendant just shook his head. When the gray van emerged at the other end, five minutes later, the boys doing the wipe-down never knew anything was different. The red headed lady driving the van gave them a good tip and a dazzling smile as she drove off, the other woman, with the black hair and glasses, laughing heartily.
"Ok, this is as close as I can get, Cissa, without being seen or heard." Gwen shut off the engine and turned to the witch sitting next to her. "Are you sure you've remembered everything, because there's no second chance on this. Once it's done and we leave here, there's no coming back...for /anything/."
"Oh, Gwen, I've been over and over this list with Dobby," Narcissa sighed, glancing down at the piece of parchment in her hand, "and between the two of us, we think we've narrowed it down to everything that's really important."
"Good." Gwen turned in her seat. "Dobby, you know what to do; if you hear anything or see anybody/, friend or foe.../get out! Do you understand? They could have someone there as a lookout, who's in disguise, so NO taking chances." Gwen grasped his hand. "/Be careful!/"
"Yes, Missy Gwen. I is knowing what to do and will be quiet and quick. You is not to worry about Dobby." The house elf jumped out of the van and trotted off through the woods. The two women glanced at each other.
"Now we wait."
"Yes...Now we wait."
Dobby listened for a full minute after entering Malfoy Manor. It was totally quiet and still. He noticed the dust on the floor was undisturbed; no foot prints or signs of having been walked on in weeks. He'd have to hide his own footprints, though, or it would be apparent whom or what had been there.
Running quickly up the stairs to Narcissa's bedroom, he opened the secret panel in the corner and took out the hidden jewelry box. He shrank it down to the size of a matchbox and put it in the zippered compartment of the hip-bag he was wearing.
Opening Narcissa's wardrobe, and the drawers of her dresser, he soon had all of her clothes and shoes shrunk to tiny size and in a second bag he was carrying. Then he grabbed certain pictures and valued things from her dressing table and stowed them away, also. Peeking out into the hall and listening intently for a few seconds, he ran to Draco's room. Within moments, Draco's clothes and personal effects were stored in the bag with Narcissa's.
Dobby went over to a chest in the corner and opened it, gazing down at all of the childhood "treasures" Draco had put away. Making an "executive" decision, Dobby shrank the whole chest down and put it with Narcissa's jewelry box.
One last thing and Dobby could leave. He waved his hand and the dust on the floor of Draco's room lost the imprints made by the house elf's feet. Then he erased all evidence from the hall as he made his way toward the stairs. Dobby stuck his head into Narcissa's bedroom and made sure the floor was back to its undisturbed appearance before heading downstairs.
He hesitated, for a long moment or two, at the door of the study and then slowly opened it. This had been Lucius Malfoy's private domain and Dobby did not have fond memories of this room. The curtains were drawn, but he could make out the desk, chairs and the picture frames on the walls. Starting to walk to the book shelf, he was halfway across the carpet when he froze. What was that sound? Was it someone breathing?
Swiveling his head, focusing on the source of the rhythmic noise, he saw the portrait of Lucius hanging over the fireplace. He was seated in a large chair but his head was leaning back and ...he was snoring softly! Dobby swallowed hard, and tiptoed to the bookshelf, where he slowly and carefully slid two photo albums from the second shelf. Not daring to take the time to shrink the books, he quickly headed for the door.
Lucius shifted in his chair, snorting and rubbing his nose. Dobby stopped dead in his tracks and didn't move, waiting, hand on the edge of the door, until his former Master's breathing settled down and the soft snoring started up again. Heaving a sigh of relief, Dobby soon had the albums in the bag and was headed out the door, taking the time to re-dust the floor.
Lucius shifted again, muttering in his sleep, "I'll deal with you /later/."
Gwen and Narcissa both broke into smiles when Dobby appeared at the edge of the woods and climbed up into the van.
"Oh, Dobby, you were so quick! Was the house empty, then? No evidence of anyone being there?"
"No, Missy Cissa, they's been no one there for a long time...too much dust. But I is seeing the Master."
"WHAT?" Gwen gasped. "We'd better get out of here, quick!"
"No, no, wait, Gwen! That's not possible, Dobby. Master Lucius is dead, you know that."
"I is sorry Missy Gwen, Missy Cissa! Dobby is scaring you! I is meaning I saw him's picture in the study. He was asleep, but Dobby was very quiet and did not wake old Master."
"My stars, I forgot all about that portrait!" Narcissa clamped her hand to her forehead. "Of course, it would have come alive by now. I bet he's wondering where everyone is, though. HE! HE! HE! Serves him right, too, he never wanted to be disturbed when he was in his study; let him sit there and wonder. HA!
"All the same, the sooner we're away from here, the better."
"Agreed. Buckle up, Dobby."
Gwen backed the van up a bit and then turned and drove down the dirt track. Soon the grounds around Malfoy Manor were once again quiet and peaceful.
"Where, exactly, are we going, if I may ask?" Narcissa took another bite from her cheeseburger, as they drove out of Birmingham on the M42, heading northeast.
"We're heading for an old house that will never be considered, by either side. We'll be fine. It's been made 'Unplottable', whatever that involves, except to us and Anna. It's also going to have all sorts of wards and spells on it, so we'll be well hidden, Cissa," concluded Gwen, popping a french fry into her mouth. "Ok back there, Dobby?"
"Oh, yes, Missy Gwen. Dobby is just fine. I is liking fast food, Miss." The grinning house elf took another sip on his soda and rolled his eyes in ecstasy. "And looks, Missy Gwen, Missy Cissa, Dobby is getting a toy!" Holding up the prize from his kid's meal, he showed off his new possession; a small cartoon car and driver.
Gwen shook her head, then turned and reached over to wipe a bit of catsup from Cissa's cheek.
"I think I've done a very bad thing, introducing you two to junk food."
"We had to get something to eat, and staying in the van made good sense, too. And I'd seen this on your telly and really wanted to try some fast food, if you must know."
"Right. Well, we'll be there in a little over an hour, I figure, as we're going to circle around and approach from the other side. 'Tactics' by Anna. Bloody waste of time, but I'd better do as she said or she'll skin me alive."
"She'll skin us both when she hears what we've just had Dobby do for me. But, it's done, so let's just enjoy the ride, shall we? I know Anna is efficient, if not punctual, so this is going to be an adventure, I can tell. I feel as if I'm back at Hogwarts, getting caught up in one of her 'plans'."
"You and Anna hung out together? I thought you were in different houses."
"Not hung out so much as plotted and planned together in the back of Potions class. We were both quite good at Potions, so we had time to chat and goof off...Severus, too. We'd bounce ideas off each other and come up with strategies for avoiding Filch and the prefects so we could sneak around Hogwarts at night."
"All of these revelations about Anna's school days are quickly eroding the ground under the pedestal on which she's resided for so many years. She was a real trouble maker, was she?"
"Well, growing up with James Potter, it's no wonder. He was a genuine rascal, but not half as bad as my cousin, Sirius Black. He was the instigator of most of the infamous Gryffindors escapades."
"Ok, that's it; spill your guts, Cissa. We've got a long ride and this sounds like the start of a long story."
"Well, lots of little ones, anyway. Hummm...where to start?"
"How about Potions class? I'm really fascinated by the subject, and considering we'll be spending the next few months brewing the 'Felix' potion, that's as good a place as any to start telling tales."
"Ok. Well, Severus and Anna and I shared a table and cauldron fires in the back corner of the Potions classroom and I remember...."
So the time and miles passed quickly as Gwen headed for the Midlands and an abandoned house deep in a preserved section of what was once Sherwood Forest. A house that had stood vacant for twenty years, forgotten, even by the man who had spent his childhood there.
"There it is." Narcissa pointed at an old wooden gate and the grassy track beyond.
"The gate looks to be padlocked and rusted shut, to boot."
"Looks can be deceiving. 'Alohamora'."
The gate swung silently open. The two women exchanged looks and grinned. Gwen put the van in four wheel drive and they disappeared over the small rise, the gate swinging shut behind them. As the van approached the edge of the forest, the track petered out and they were driving on grass. Gwen slowed to a stop, puzzled.
"Now where do we go? There's no road or path or anything. And I'm starting to feel the anti-Muggle spells."
"Yes. Anna explained what sensations and thoughts I'd have, so I can ignore them. Sort of. I wind up with a very perturbed voice telling me I'm being quite naughty for not listening and that I'm definitely in the wrong place."
"Oh, be quiet," Gwen said, looking around. "Where do we go now?"
"Anna said 'the way should be revealed' and that's a quote."
Narcissa showed Gwen the piece of parchment, which she read and then shrugged.
"Hummph. Oh, by the way, you better burn that note, like Anna instructed."
With a flick of her wand, the parchment blazed up...POOF! and settled to the floor of the van in a shower of ashes.
"AH! I didn't mean NOW! JEEZ, that scared me to death!" Gwen waved her hand, dispelling some of the smoke.
"Sorry." Narcissa looked contrite. "I keep forgetting you're not a witch."
"Oh, I can be, but not in the magical sense," Gwen assured her, patting Narcissa on the arm. "Let's get out and stretch our legs"
"Sounds like a wonderful idea. I am feeling a bit stiff, come to that."
Gwen looked in the back seat, to find Dobby asleep, buckled into his car seat, snoring softly.
"Let's just leave him, for now," she whispered to Narcissa, who nodded.
The two women climbed down out of the van and tried to work the kinks out of their legs and backs. Narcissa stood regarding the trees. Gwen joined her.
"Not really, but I think if we get closer, we might."
They walked over to the edge of the woods. The brambles were so thick they couldn't see more than a few inches into the shadows. Narcissa held out her hand.
"I can feel the wards. Not too strong but if I tried to push through, I'd probably find myself flat on my back in the grass."
Gwen jerked her own hand back and shoved it into her jeans pocket.
"Whoa! Thanks for sharing; I was about to try and push some of the branches out of the way to peek through."
"There has to be an opening and knowing Anna," Cissa thought aloud, "she's charmed it to be seen only by the three of us and Dobby and Winky, too, I'll wager."
"Why don't you try that 'Alohamora' on this mess?"
"That's too simple."
"Soooo...why make this any more complicated than it has to be?"
"Hummm. Ok, why not." Narcissa waved her wand. " 'Alohamora'!"
Sure enough, two large bushes pulled their branches back, leaving an opening just big enough to be driven through. Laughing, the two women returned to the van, which Gwen maneuvered slowly through the gap. Checking in the rearview mirror, she saw the branches return to their former position, intertwining to seal the opening and make it invisible once more. She shook her head.
Focusing on the narrow track in front of them, they proceeded through the gloom, under the canopy of giant, ancient oaks. It was silent and still. Circling one particularly huge tree, the ground fell away steeply and the van crossed over a rushing brook on an old, arched stone bridge.
Further twists and turns and they both noted that the trees were smaller, younger and the thick carpet of leaves and moss was giving way to small bushes and patches of grass. Up ahead, they could see sunshine filtering down through the overhead canopy, letting bright patches dot the forest floor.
Finally, they rounded a tall wall of rhododendron bushes and came into an open space about two acres or so in size. Gwen stopped the van and they got out, once again, to survey their new home.
Approaching the front door, Gwen looked around and shook her head.
"This place is a mess! I know it's been deserted for twenty years, but I assumed Anna had done a cleaning charm or two."
Gwen reached for the door knob. POP! An envelope appeared, tied with a ribbon to the huge knocker. It was addressed to Gwen and Narcissa.
Gwen had jumped back about three feet. "What the..."
"Anna has been here and left us a note," Narcissa explained as she reached up and untied the bow. "Enchanted it, so only if you or I touched the door, it would appear."
"You have to love her thought patterns and how her mind works."
"Indeed. Well." Opening the pages of the note, Narcissa sat down on a stone bench that was to one side of the door. "Let's see what she's left for us."
Starting to read aloud, " '/Hello//, you two. Welcome to our hiding place. I know it looks a fright, but it's not that bad, just a lot of dust and leaves and cobwebs. Dobby should be in his element!'."/
"Oh, I forgot all about Dobby!"
Gwen rushed back to the van, just as the house elf was rubbing his eyes and stretching.
"We're here, Dobby. Let me help you get out."
"Thank you, Missy Gwen."
She soon had him out of the car seat and the two of them joined Narcissa on the front terrace.
"Anna's left us a note, Dobby. I was just reading it."
"I is wanting to hear what Missy Anna is writing, Missy Cissa." Dobby beamed up at his former Mistress.
"Let's see, where was I? Oh, right, 'The garden out back is overgrown, but still lovely. Enjoy the sunshine and have a picnic dinner. Gwen, there are candles and matches in the front hall and I left bottled water and some snacks in a cupboard in the back hall. I know you brought some provisions with you and we'll get the rest of what we may need when we join you at the end of the week.
/Love, Anna and Winky.'/"
Gwen lifted the latch on the front door and pushed it open. The hall was dark, dusty, cobwebbed and felt thoroughly gloomy.
"What a cheerful place."
"Just opening the curtains and the windows will be a big improvement, but let's look around first," Narcissa suggested, as she walked past Gwen, going deeper into the house.
"Let's find that cupboard, I'm a bit parched, truth be told." Gwen turned around in a circle and then followed Narcissa.
"Right, and then we'll check out the garden."
As the two women and the house elf wandered through the rooms, heading toward the back of the house, a pair of eyes observed their progress. Silently, the watcher followed them, staying just out of sight.
'/A Muggle? Here? And a witch with a house elf? After all this time? Why now? Why are they here? Who are they?'/
A troop of Goblins from Gringotts descended on Malfoy Manor first thing in the morning, on the last day of term at Hogwarts, as planned. Lucius Malfoy, or rather, his portrait, raised blue blood murder, for all the good it did.
The workers ignored him as they packed up the family silver from the dining hall and took the various paintings down and boxed them, to be shipped to the secret warehouse. They even rolled up the antique Persian rugs and carried them out. The furniture and Lucius' portrait were left.
In the study, Griphook, himself, opened and emptied the safe hidden behind the fireplace. The money, private papers and family jewels were added to the load, destined for storage. The bookshelves were relieved of the choicer volumes, which were then boxed and taken away.
Lucius was beside himself. When Griphook finally turned to look up at him, he had almost yelled himself hoarse.
"Who," croaked the former Master of Malfoy Manor, "gave you permission to invade my house and remove my possessions?"
"The owner and heir, Mister Draco Malfoy."
"What? He'll not get away with this, I will see to that! He'll rue the day he decided to remove my things. What does he intend to do, sell them?"
"Not that it matters, but no; he's putting them in storage for safe keeping, from your Master, the Dark Lord."
"What? But, he's to go to the Dark Lord and be marked, as soon as he gets out of school this year. Why would...wait...don't tell me he's so foolish as...no, not Draco, he does what I tell him to do. He knows his place is with my Master."
"Perhaps, but you're not in any position to tell him anything any more, are you, Mister Malfoy? The young Mister Malfoy is using his discretion, as the head of the family, to do with his possessions what he sees fit. Good day."
Lucius could still be heard yelling as the front door closed.
"Now where was I before we were so rudely interrupted?" Anna asked as she, and the group that had followed her and Professor Snape to the Headmaster's office, returned to the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and resumed their meeting. "We have to do this quickly as it's almost time for the closing ceremony and feast."
"BritRail Passes." Hermione replied, and held her's up.
"Right. Study the map and know the stations closest to where you are, at all times. Plan your route; know the names of the stations so you won't have to keep checking the map. You want to appear to know exactly where you're going, not apprehensive or confused or wary, although if anything happens, and you have to flee, inside, that's what I'd expect you to feel. You should look like teenagers off on a lark."
"Do you think we'll be attacked?" Ginny asked in a small voice.
"I honestly don't know." Anna hung her head for a moment, then lifted it and looked around at each of them. "But, if there are attacks, you may not be able to rejoin your family, Ginny...Ron. So, tell your folks and Neville, tell your Gran...Luna, your father...Hermione, even you, Harry, tell Petunia, that if there are attacks, you are all under orders to get to safety, here at Hogwarts. You're prepared and they should be, too. Explain our plan to them and tell them I have every confidence in your ability to get back here /on your own/."
"How will we get in the gates, if they have spells on them to keep people /out/? How can we let them know we're coming or are /out there/," Ron pointed, "banging on the gates? We'd look bloody stupid to make it all this way, to get caught and killed at the flipping front doorstep, so to speak."
"AH, Hermione has the answer to that." Anna smiled and crossed her arms.
"/Me/?!" Hermione gasped.
"Remember talking to me about your enchanted coins, for alerting D.A. members last year?"
"Yes, but how would those help?"
"They can alert the members of an attack; that can be the new signal. If there is an attack, anyone in the D.A. can activate their coin and the others will know instantly.....BUT, I've made different, new coins, to be used as signaling devises for getting back into Hogwarts. When you get close enough, use them to alert Albus and he'll see that you're met at the gates and allowed in."
Going to her desk, she brought back a small sack and handed it to Hermione.
"Hand them out tonight or on the train tomorrow with the passes. Explain everything and make sure they are kept in a safe place; don't want anyone buying fish and chips with them accidentally, now, do we?"
"That would be my luck," Ron mumbled.
"Then pick a pocket on you backpack and keep them there, in an envelope or something. Easily reached, but not used by mistake."
"The Muggle born members have the advantage, when they're home, of being able to telephone each other. Go over that with the others, also, and make a phone list and pass it out, to be put with your other things. Have a chain of people who will alert one another, if the need arises."
"This backpack is going to weigh a ton, if we put much more in it." Harry laughed. "We might make it back here to Hogwarts, but Madame Pomfrey will have her hands full fixing our hernias or blown discs."
"Don't be daft, Harry," Anna laughed with the others. "Use a lightening charm on it if it gets too bad."
"Oh, right; good idea." Harry blushed crimson.
"Sometimes I really worry about you, Harry." Ron poked him in the ribs, grinning.
"Well, that's about all. If /I /think of anything else, I'll send you an owl and you can pass the word along. Now...we'd better get downstairs."
Anna hugged each of them and then led the way downstairs to the Great Hall.
"Is everything in place?" Albus asked in a whisper.
"Yes, Professor. Dr. Jones...Gwen...and I finished with the supplies just before she left the other day."
Artemus Pye was standing with Dumbledore at the end of the ward.
"Splendid. I'll do a special memory charm on you for tonight, so if it becomes necessary, due to changing circumstances, it will lift and you'll know exactly what to do."
"Yes, I think that is the best course of action. That way, I'm not waiting for the 'other shoe to drop', so to speak. We've enough stress around here, without that on my mind."
"I understand, and agree."
Suddenly, right in front of them, Anna shrugged off her Invisibility Cloak.
"She's ready, Albus. She understands what's about to happen and she's glad to be of help."
"Excellent, but we'd better hurry. We must get back to Hogwarts as quickly as possible, before we're missed."
"Yes, we're cutting it close as it is and I'd hate to be late. Severus would strangle me...gleefully," she giggled.
"Can't have that, can we?" He put an arm around Anna's shoulder and hugged her.
"Not tonight. I'm sure he'll have plenty of opportunities in the future." Anna replied.
"Oh, of that I have no doubt," Albus responded with a chuckle, "no doubt /whatsoever/."