Chapter 9: A Very Frosty Christmas
The three friends finally decided to go to Concerto on the back of two Thestrals, the winged horses of the Forbidden Forest, which were invisible to those who have never seen death. On the previous day, Harry had ordered a great quantity of fresh meat, and first necessity provisions on behalf of Dobby at Hogwarts kitchen. He had also gone up to the Owlery to tell Hedwig to meet him at Concerto.
They woke up at dawn and after taking a substantial breakfast each, they met up behind Hagrid’s hut. They went far into the forest with a bit of fresh meat in hand to attract these winged horses. Harry breathed with relief when he saw from far away two eyes sparkling in the timid dawn light. They were lucky, very lucky, because there were two of them, perhaps one male and one female. Harry gave them the meat. Then he hung on either side of the back of the first Thestral two bags of clothing and food, and put a large leather collar around its neck. Now with the collar and the bags, Ron and Hermione could see it, or at least could guess where it was. Harry prepared the second Thestral in the same way and mounted it with Dobby in front of him. They all wore warm clothing, scarves, woollen hats, and gloves. Harry also covered Dobby in his coat.
‘Grip well on the collar ! And clench your legs tightly around the horse’s sides ! The take-off may be dangerous !’ Harry advised, remembering how it had been the last time when they had mounted the Thestrals to go to the Ministry.
Then he bent down and spoke in the ear of his horse : ‘Chalet Concerto in Austria, please. Well, if you know where to go !’. Hermione did the same to her horse. For a moment, the horses did nothing at all; then, with a sweeping movement that nearly unseated them all, the horses crouched slowly, they extended their wings then rocketed upwards so fast and so steeply that Harry felt sick.
“To adventure !” Harry cried out.
When they arrived at Concerto, the sun was still high. It took them only a little more than four hours to go from Hogwarts to Concerto. “Yes, it’s in a straight line !” thought Harry. They all were chilled to the bone, but safe and sound, and were all pleased with that mode of transport, so rapid, so convenient, and not costly at all. The Thestrals must probably have been accustomed to bringing Dumbledore here since they knew the way so well; they landed down right in front of the chalet. Dobby took the Thestrals to the back where there were sorts of loose boxes.
At the main door, there was a security device, Harry applied the secret code, and the door slid open as by magic.
“Wonderful !” Harry cried out, really happy. He went in and got water for the horses, and gave them half the rest of the meat. Giving a friendly pat on their neck, Harry said:
“Thank you very much”, and he was also very glad to see Hedwig quietly sleeping on a bar above the loose box.
The chalet was equipped in Muggle fashion, with electricity, running water, electric cooker, electric heating, (but there was also a fireplace in the living room), fridge, freezer, and also a dishwasher and a washing machine. But both freezer and fridge were empty. Electricity was supplied by a fuel generator in the warehouse behind the chalet, where there were still many full fuel cans and a huge stock of wood for the fire place. Water was supplied by a well with an electric pump. There were three bedrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, cellar, bathrooms and toilets, all the modern conveniences, and even a small room that, Harry thought, could be arranged for Dobby’s use.
Dobby prepared the dinner with ham, toast, butter, cheese, and jam. They devoured all happily after a long and tiring journey.
After dinner, Harry made a reconnaissance visit of the chalet. The main room was very large. It contained a desk with a high backed chair, two comfortable armchairs, a low table, a well-filled bookcase, and on the side of it were a large bathroom and toilets, accessible only from the room. In the drawer of the desk Harry found a wad of Sterling notes, a book about snakes, the different varieties of snakes, their venoms, how to approach them, and how to destroy them.
“This book looks very interesting ! … Woouuawh, we are rich !” cried out Harry, “Tomorrow we’ll go shopping to constitute our food stock … It will be a very busy day !”
Ron was filled with wonder before the Muggle electric labour-saving machines. As for Dobby he didn’t know how to use them.
“You are on holiday, Dobby ! I’ll do it”, said Hermione, then she cleared the table, put dishes, spoons, knifes … in the dishwasher and turned it on. The soft purring noise of the machine intrigued both Ron and Dobby.
“Hermione, you take the main room”, said Harry. “For Ron and I, the two small ones will do. And Dobby, you can sleep here, on the sofa, surely we’ll find a blanket for you.”
Upon that, Dobby darted out to prepare the bedrooms. The three friends remained in the living room savouring their first holiday evening in their ‘home’. They found under the low table a tourist map, surely of the region, with a red cross mark, probably the site of Concerto. So, they were in a very remote area; the nearest small village that they could see on the map, was about twenty kilometres, according to the map scale. Harry thought that Concerto, apart from the Muggle security devices, must be also magically protected. He had complete confidence in Dumbledore.
It was already late when they decided to go to bed. Harry took the book on the snakes with him to read it in bed. That night once more, he dreamed of cups and odd objects, but the ladder that Dumbledore had offered him was no longer a rope, it was a snake, an enormous snake. He woke up with a start. He thought that perhaps it was because of the book he had been reading before he fell asleep, but it intrigued him all the same and he lay awake thinking about the significance of his dream, until the other members of the chalet were awake. He went out to take his breakfast with the others in the dining room. Their first breakfast in the chalet, with a good cup of Muggle coffee prepared by Hermione with the electric coffee maker before the curious and intrigued eyes of both Ron and Dobby.
It had snowed during the night. There already was a layer of snow of many inches deep in the garden.
‘We should do some food shopping today, we had better buy food for ten days, just in case…’ Harry suggested.
In the warehouse, they found a handy folding caddie. They Apparated near the intersection of the village road with the small river: they had seen it on the map, cross-marked in green. Their point of landing had been a good choice, for it was discreet, hidden by a row of trees that bordered the river bank. Harry had also thought of taking with him his Muggle chequebook and the wad of Sterling notes. It was a small village, but you could find everything you want. There was an old small church; it looked very romantic and was supposed to date back to the fourteenth century. There also were a bank, a fuel station, a small post office, a small market, a baker’s, and also some clothing, ornaments and souvenirs shops. They went first to the bank. After that little detour, with their pockets full of local currency, they went to the market and began to fill the caddie with food.
‘We’ll return to our landing point’, Harry proposed. ‘I’ll take the bag to the chalet and meanwhile you go and make other purchases, I’ll meet you up there. We can do many trips like that and we will have all we need by noon. I’ll take also the empty fuel cans that we forgot this morning.’
And so, when they returned to the chalet at noon, the freezer was full with chickens, fish, and meat for the Thestrals, the fridge was sufficiently full for the next ten days, the fuel stock was to the maximum. They also had thought of renewing the stock of cleaning and household products.
Dobby was glad to be able to prepare the meals properly. He had found in the warehouse a small stool on which he could stand to be at the proper height with the cooker. Hermione had shown him how to use the electric cooker, and the precautions that should be observed. Dobby was in the seventh heaven and the three friends too.
Hermione had her mail forwarded to Concerto. And so, the three friends learnt by the Daily Prophet that there had just been an attack in Norfolk by about a hundred of Dementors, in a small and remote village, at an open air market. An army of Aurors had been dispatched to the place.
“Listen,” said Hermione, “… after nearly an hour of fighting, the Aurors have been able to chase the Dementors away, but the toll was heavy. Part of the material damages was mostly caused by panic; five Muggles were in deep coma, probably irrecoverable. They all presented the signs of having received the kiss of these monsters. Some thirty in a state of shock had received the first treatments of the Healers who had immediately been called onto the place. The Aurors had been able to modify the memory of all the eyewitnesses; that is to say nearly all the village. The Ministry tried to turn the incident into a hurricane by uprooting some trees...” read Hermione.
“That’s terrible”, said Ron. “We should exterminate them all, those monsters, but how ?”
“Yes, we should exterminate them all … “, replied Harry with rage. “For sure, Voldemort is behind all that !”
That night again, Harry made the same dream but the ladder that Dumbledore offered him was no longer a rope ladder, but a snake, an enormous snake, and Harry woke up all of a sudden in the middle of the night. He thought of Dumbledore, and reviewed all the details of his dream, the helpful hand of Dumbledore, the smile in his eyes when he offered the ladder, as if encouraging him. ‘Why the ladder is replaced by an enormous snake ?’ Harry wondered to himself, ‘an enormous snake ! But, it’s Nagini, the enormous snake, why he has not thought of it before ?’ And he thought he has found the answer. It was Nagini the key of the problem. Confident of having found the significance of his weird dream, Harry returned to sleep at one go till the morning when the noises of the other members of the chalet woke him up.
“Morning Harry ! You have a better look today”, greeted Hermione when Harry arrived in the dinning room.
“Yes, I think I’ve found the significance of the ladder that turned into a snake in my dream”, said Harry.
"WHAT ? You are still in your dreams of snakes ? Are you mental !” Ron burst out.
“On the contrary, it’s very sensible, the question is now how to exploit my discovery”, replied Harry.
“Do explain, because I can’t understand any thing !” begged Hermione.
“It’s quite simple ! I should get into Nagini’s head, sift through the bit of Voldemort’s soul which is in it, to find out what are the other Horcruxes as well as where Voldemort had hidden them!” Harry explained, “but I’ll think about that later, for the moment, we shall decorate our chalet for Christmas, and I would like to buy some presents specially from this remote place.” Harry added happily.
The snow layer of yesterday had not melted. They went to the village in the same way as the day before, but this time they were as real tourists, and for their pleasure. Harry has thought of everybody, and he was very glad of his choices. Hermione had already sent her presents to her parents before going to Concerto, but she has bought a postcard representing the village church and sent it to her parents by the local Muggle post office. Ron had found a beautifully worked ring set with a blue topaz for Mrs Weasley. Harry had also bought for himself a small old-looking silver locket on a long chain; he thought he would put the photos of his parents inside.
Hedwig was lucky, because all the gifts were for The Burrow. Dobby had found a beautiful fir tree and the three friends spent the afternoon decorating it in a total euphoria which, for once, was not disturbed by events.
It started snowing heavily, and they thought that if it went on like this, by the next day they would be blocked in their chalet, completely cut out from the rest of the world, but they had everything they needed and they did not give a damn about what might happen.
The next day Hedwig wasn’t back yet, but Harry didn’t worry. It was a long way from Concerto to The Burrow, and Hedwig was only a small owl, not a Thestral.
Things happened exactly as they had forecast. On Christmas eve, the inhabitants of the chalet woke up to find themselves on an island in the middle of an ocean of snow. Harry saw Hedwig come and sip quietly in his cup of milk, as if there was nothing special. She nipped tenderly his finger by way of greeting him a good day, but she brought no letter, no news from the exterior world. To save fuel, they had switched off the electric heating, and made a good fire in the fireplace, to have a warmer and more appropriate atmosphere for Christmas festivities. Harry was really happy. He had never had such a Christmas eve as this, with his two best friends. ‘I’ll think of Nagini and of the Horcruxes later, for the time being, I will enjoy what life which, for once, seemed clement enough, deigns to give me’, Harry thought.
Dobby had prepared a lordly meal for the Christmas Eve. The friends stayed up late, savouring their holidays. Harry had already entrusted to Dobby his various presents for Hermione and Ron, and for once, he slept like a log.
“Time for Christmas presents !!!” Hermione’s clear voice was heard from the living room.
Harry came out of his room stealthily, hiding his present for Dobby behind his back, and discreetly he slipped it under the Christmas tree. They all had many presents. Even Hedwig, who got a packet of cornflakes.
On the previous day, Hedwig had brought many presents from The Burrow, which Dobby had intercepted and hidden all. Dobby was really very happy for having received so many presents from everybody. He confessed that he had received the day before, a black suit with a white blouse and a bow tie which Winky had made all by herself. ‘Winky has made good use of her salary’, thought Harry. Then an idea just appeared in his mind that darkened his feature : ‘Shall I survive once more after the final combat with Voldemort to have other Christmas like this ?’, Harry thought gloomily, ‘and my friends, will they be safe and sound ?’ That sentence came back regularly each time he had a happy moment with his friends. 'It’s dreadful ’.
“What is it ?” asked Hermione, always attentive, as she had noticed that flash of sadness over Harry’s face.
“Nothing the matter !” replied Harry. “I was only wondering whether I would be able to come out unscathed once more from the final combat and whether I shall have other Christmas like this one?”
“Yes, of course, you will. The prophecy was clear on that point”, said Hermione putting an arm round Harry’s shoulder. “We’ll always be with you, and if we should die, we would die with you … I would die with you.”
“No, I forbid you to speak this way. For the final combat, it will be me alone facing Voldemort. But let’s not speak of that now. Let us enjoy the present time.” Then with watering eyes, he kissed his only two best friends.
That night, Hermione’s sentence came back into Harry’s mind: “I would die with you”, and a twinge of pain oppressed his heart, making him put a hand on his chest, and the image of Hermione from the very first time he had met her on the Hogwarts’ Express in his first year unrolled in his mind like a film. ‘I love her’, he said to himself. ‘I have always loved her. It’s was her I loved; it was not Cho, nor Ginny”.
Another sentence of Hermione came back to his mind : ‘Ron’s got all those brothers to compete against at home, and you are his best friend, and you are really famous – he’s always shunted to one side whenever people see you, and he puts up with it, and he never mentions it, but I suppose this is just one time too many …’ It had been during his fourth year, when the Goblet of Fire had picked out his name making him the fourth champion at the Triwizard Tournament. ‘Yes, I didn’t want to take away Ron’s only friend. I had deliberately, voluntarily pushed Hermione away from my heart. I didn’t want to be my best friend’s rival. And now, Ron loves her. The story must end here. Yes, the story must end here. I should no longer think about it ! “ Harry said to himself miserably.
Time passed so quickly, and soon the day of their departure arrived. They should leave that enchanting place.
To be continued on next page
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