People of the Goddess by Meadowsweet
FeatureSummary: A retelling of Severus Snape's time as Headmaster, an account of Wizarding Britain hiding Muggle-born refugees, and the untold story of an unorthodox witch.
Categories: Alternate Universe Characters: None
Canon Compliance: None
Warnings: Mild Profanity, Violence
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 23 Completed: No Word count: 139783 Read: 10717 Published: 01/03/16 Updated: 11/14/17
Story Notes:
The idea for this fiction came from an amazing essay I read. The author's pen name was "Swythyv". I have since been unable to find this essay but wish to credit the author and will do so in the pertinent chapter.

1. Chapter 1 by Meadowsweet

2. Chapter 2 by Meadowsweet

3. Chapter 3 by Meadowsweet

4. Chapter 4 by Meadowsweet

5. Chapter 5 by Meadowsweet

6. Chapter 6 by Meadowsweet

7. Chapter 7 by Meadowsweet

8. Chapter 8 by Meadowsweet

9. Chapter 9 by Meadowsweet

10. Chapter 10 by Meadowsweet

11. Chapter 11 by Meadowsweet

12. Chapter 12 by Meadowsweet

13. Chapter 13 by Meadowsweet

14. Chapter 14 by Meadowsweet

15. Chapter 15 by Meadowsweet

16. Chapter 16 by Meadowsweet

17. Chapter 17 by Meadowsweet

18. Chapter 18 by Meadowsweet

19. Chapter 19 by Meadowsweet

20. Chapter 20 by Meadowsweet

21. Chapter 21 by Meadowsweet

22. Chapter 22 by Meadowsweet

23. Chapter 23 by Meadowsweet

Chapter 1 by Meadowsweet
A light burned in the headmaster’s windows long after the castle was silenced for curfew. Severus Snape hadn't slept in many nights. The timetable was shorter than even Albus had predicted. The Dark Lord’s minions were creeping triumphantly closer to their goal, and all he had was a portrait to consult. Dumbledore’s portrait only winced a little and smiled sadly as Snape kicked the desk on his third turn around the room. It was the Granger girl, he was sure of it, keeping them from being seen. All he needed was one sighting, one witness, but half of the frames in the office had been empty for weeks, their occupants visiting other portraits, watching, listening, for nothing. If one sighting was all it took, he should assume Mulciber was equally close. Mulciber. It naturally had to be him sent to track down Potter and his associates. One witness, one Imperius Curse, and the Chosen One would be delivered to the Dark Lord. He could count on Mulciber favoring the Imperius Curse, but that wasn’t enough to predict when and where he would use it. Would he dare to kill Potter or deliver him alive?

Snape stopped before the headmaster’s portrait. As far as he was concerned, Dumbledore was still headmaster acting by proxy beyond the grave. He remembered the Carrows gleefully trashing the office, Scrimgeour’s clinical search, and all the time the sword of Gryffindor slept quietly behind Dumbledore’s portrait. How was it not obvious? The Minister was too exhausted to notice the sword left in Dumbledore’s will was a fake, or maybe he wasn’t worthy and to him even the real thing would have felt like any other sword. What was the sword of Gryffindor supposed to feel like? He’d avoided finding out.

The stone hearth flared green and Snape cleared his mind with practised ease, thoughts toppling like wooden blocks.

“Missing old friends?”

There was something about Bellatrix’s voice that always made Snape wince or itch to throttle her. He turned away from Albus’s portrait.

“Hardly. Not when they can pop in whenever they like. But even you’ve got to admit, none of this would have been possible without him.”

“I’m sure you enjoyed having him eating out of your hand. Oh I’m a reformed character, oh how kind and gracious you are, the great all knowing headmaster…” Bellatrix drawled in poor imitation of Snape’s laconic speech.

“Tell me, is there some point to your being here? Or has the Dark Lord finally grown tired of you fawning over him and you’ve come to curry favor with me?”

“Don’t pretend you’re still his right hand,” Bellatrix spat. “Stuck here babysitting a bunch of blood traitors and Mudblood brats! You’ve been sidelined and you know it. With Dumbledore gone, there’s no need for you.”

Snape let his face contort, a loyal Death Eater insulted. After a moment, his voice shaking with anger, he answered.

“I only hope to continue to be useful to our lord. Now tell me, why have you been sent here?”

Bellatrix triumphant was better than Bellatrix suspicious, nauseating as her smirk was.

“The Dark Lord requires the sword of Gryffindor. After the ridiculous smash and grab attempted by the blood traitors the sword is no longer safe here. I assume the fake provided passed muster?”

“Yes, the minister accepted it without hesitation. Where did you manage to find such an excellent copy?”

“That’s for those yet in his inner circle to know.” Snape snarled, but she cut him off. “The sword, Snape.”

He sat down slowly behind the desk and let the pause grow.

“Oh, I’m to give it to you? I’m sorry Bellatrix, but I don’t keep it here. Naturally.”

His smugness rubbed her wrong.

“What? I thought this school was the safest place to keep anything.”

“It was, once.” But then trash like her kept showing up. “It’s not in the condition it was, and in order to keep free egress for all of the Dark Lord’s followers, it needs a certain...flexibility.”

Even if it hadn’t been the truth, Bellatrix wasn’t much of a scholar and could hardly disagree. She chewed her lip and poked at an instrument on the desk; it had once puffed and whistled if Snape remembered correctly, but now it swayed silently in the fire’s draft. Snape poured a drink with laborious care.

“Well?” Bellatrix could never stand still for more than a minute.

“Of course, would you prefer firewhisky or…”

“The sword! Tell me where to get it, you should know better than to keep the Dark Lord waiting. And if you’ve been keeping it elsewhere, why did the Weasley bitch try to steal it?”

Snape settled back comfortably. She had no way of checking the truth of this.

“An illusion in a glass case, that’s all there was,” he lied. “The Dark Lord trusts my precautions, the Dark Lord knows the instructions he gave regarding that sword and that keeping it here, should the ministry discover I gave them a fake, would be rampant carelessness, which is why he told me to hide it because I am never careless. All of this tells me, Bellatrix, that either he didn’t send you and you want the sword, or he sent you with a message I was to deliver it. To him.”

“You’re to deliver it to me, tomorrow, at Gringotts,” Bellatrix said sulkily. “It’s to go into my vault. Our master wants every piece under his eye at the end of the game.”

Snape smiled. “Which is why he is our master. Tomorrow, six o’clock.”

“Six? Why not—”

“Because goblins do not keep banker's hours, Gringotts is always open, and because it’s convenient for me. If it’s urgent, you’re welcome to wait here for a few hours…?”

Bellatrix grinned and Snape’s skin crawled.

“Can’t stay tonight, sorry, love. There’s a little place, just outside Reading, that’s due for a purge tonight. Too much seditious talk, too many Mudbloods disappearing without a trace. Muggle lovers, all of them. We fly after dark.”

She stalked back to the fire and threw a pinch of Floo powder on flame. Over the sudden blaze she called back, “I’d invite you to come and purify in the name of Wizard kind, but it seems you have a such an important job here. Don’t forget to kiss all the tiny tots nighty-night!”

He let her have the last word, anxious she leave. Less than twenty-four hours to duplicate the sword and get a copy to Gringotts, or failing that, find Potter and give him the original sword and tell him what exactly? Everything before Voldemort discovered his betrayal and killed him? Was it only hubris that made Severus feel that dying too soon would ensure disaster? Snape stood up and raised his arm. A grey owl roosting high above in the rafters of the tower fluttered to him. Outside Reading, she had said, could be anywhere. Snape tied a cryptic warning to the owl’s leg and reached for more parchment. He would have to produce a sword of some kind tomorrow. In the next hour six more owls slid noiselessly into the night until they were followed by a much larger object that hurled itself into the cold air and with a fluttering of robes lifted above the trees of the Forbidden Forest and was gone.


The back alley behind the Hag’s Ankle was a good place. That is, it was good if what you were up to wasn’t. Mundungus Fletcher would have protested he was always on the right side, but he’d agree that a majority of his living wasn’t necessarily to the good. In war time black markets always flourished, and he had his eye on a few things that were really good, or good to some types. There was a witch trying to sell her grandmother’s cellar, excellent vintage, and she had a few bottles aside for him. In the meantime he was watching a wizard displaying a dragonhide to a few customers who clearly didn’t realize it was an Egyptian Swordtongue and planning how he was going to keep its owner from realizing its value too. Someone wandered over to where he hovered, hands over a smokeless blue fire in a trash bin, and joined him in the warmth. Mundungus nodded politely and shifted a little, as not to lose sight of his mark. The stranger also shifted and blocked his way.

“Look, mate, no worries but would you mind —”

Confundo.”

Mundungus almost pitched forward into the barrel of flame, but the stranger steadied him.

“Careful.”

“Er, yeah, I’m fine,” said Mundungus, who was experiencing a pleasant muzzy-headedness while feeling entirely lost. “But, if you don’t mind, what was I saying just now?”

“You were just telling me about that fake you pawned off, the one no one caught onto?”

“Plenty of those, oh yes, I have my ways.” Mundungus went to tap the side of his nose and missed. “What was it exactly?”

The stranger hummed a little. “Jewelry I think, something heirloom? But you managed to forge it in so little time.”

Mundungus shook his head modestly. “It’s not about having skills, it’s organization, mate. Sure, you get some knock-off jewels from one fellow and a bit of old silver from another bloke, and give it all to a third party who don’t know nothin’ about the others, and you think you’re sitting pretty, but really now...what you need is a craftsmen. A real artist.”

The stranger’s hood lowered closer. “And where would someone, if they were as clever and resourceful as you, find an artist like that?”

“I know a chap!” Mundungus sang cheerfully and clapped the stranger on the shoulder. “Good kid. Knapp is the moniker. Bit strange...but he knows his stuff. Wood, metal, any style you want like pict artifacts, goblin made—”

“Ah, but of course it would be silly to tell anyone about him.”

“Absolutely!”

“So of course you didn’t, and you haven’t.”

“I haven’t?”

“No.”

“Where does he live?”

“Just outside London. He works in back of the apothecary in Reading.”

Reading? The address, quickly!”

As his new friend hurried away, Mundungus waved after him happily. He thought he turned to wave back, but really he was just waving his wand. At that moment Mundungus Fletcher shuddered, looked around bewilderedly, and saw that the dragonhide had disappeared while he’d been asleep.




It was well after dark when Snape landed in a low meadow outside Reading, but the sky flickered red. Something was burning. Outside Reading, Lestrange had said, but that could be anywhere. The apothecary was well within the city, and hopefully she and her monosyllabic henchmen were wreaking havoc far from this Knapp.

Snape wasn’t unfamiliar with Reading, it being close to Cokeworth, but it took him some time to find the 24-hour convenience with the old shed in back. Circumventing the dumpster, Snape stepped straight through the corrugated fence and into a smoky haze. Haven Alley was the source of magical emporiums for West Reading and surrounding hamlets, but tonight it was unrecognizable. Shop windows were blown out while the interiors blazed. Carts were turned over in the street, which was strewn with rubble and wares. It was silent. Whatever violence had occurred had moved on. Against the burning sky the black forms of Death Eaters could be seen flying above the smoldering rooftops.

Keeping close to the shadows, Snape moved swiftly, refusing to let his gaze linger. He encountered the first body outside the bookstore on the corner of Sythe and Goodbeaste. Snape stooped a little, found no sign of life, and kept moving. It was less than half a mile on, but his progress was hindered by the lowering flights of Death Eaters. He kept an eye to the sky and cast a concealment charm.

One Death Eater flew lower than the rest, soaring down the street, rattling the windows, and landed almost in front of him. Short, dark hair, an intense face. A witch. That wasn’t common amongst Death Eaters. He didn’t recognize her, but she seemed to know her way. After getting her bearings she pulled her hood over her face and ran towards the part of town still burning. Snape gave her a head start and followed. She was out of sight by the time he reached the apothecary.

The store wasn’t on fire, but that was the only thing that could be said about its condition, or its owner. Fletcher had called the forger a ‘kid’, so Snape doubted the grizzled man coughing blood in the street was Knapp. Snape looked both ways before kneeling down. This was the work of the Cruciatus Curse. The man was terribly twisted, and blood ran from his ears and nose. It was the damage that Snape couldn’t see that would be impossible to heal. Snape raised his wand and put his hand behind the man’s head, who struggled weakly.

“Hush, be still. Dormias.”

Snape lowered the now sleeping victim. He would sleep for some hours. Hopefully help would arrive before he woke, or died. Even so, little could be done for him.

No sound had come from the shop. The interior was dark. If this Knapp was intelligent, he’d be hiding inside. The Death Eaters had had their entertainment from this place; they wouldn’t be back. Wordlessly he cast a silencing charm over the broken glass in the doorway. It was impossible to enter in complete silence but he didn’t fancy Apparating into a dark shop with a terrified wizard inside.

Creeping in, he searched in the dark before daring to conjure light. The ground floor seemed clear as did the cellar, but if forgeries were being made on the premises...Snape found the most cluttered corner of the cellar; people always tried to hide things visible or not. He waved his wand slowly. The iron bed frame, lumber, and broken rocking horse rippled and became a cunningly painted curtain.

The hidden room behind it was utilitarian. Here was a workbench set for tea, a cabinet with an innumerable amount of small drawers, and a kettle sitting over a cold hearth. Scrap metal was neatly sorted and stacked next to a small, self-hammering anvil that was still working on whatever project Knapp had left in a hurry. Snape looked in the cabinet. Diamonds; not real of course. He picked one up and scratched it against a glass jar filled with nails. It cut easily. Or maybe not. A true artist indeed. Snape waved his hand and drawers fluttered open and closed until he caught a glimpse of sullen red. Rubies.

“Are you looking for someone or just looting?”

It was the witch who had nearly flown into him. She was standing at the bottom of the steps, her wand pointed at him. Her voice had a lilt to it, West country, no doubt.

“I’m looking for a Mr. Knapp. When I find him, he’s going to need these.” He slowly pocketed the rubies. His wand was still in his other hand, but lowered.

“Did you see where they took him?”

“He was gone before they got here.” He gestured to the anvil, clanging away, “That has been hammered so thin it could slice unicorn hair, and the fire is cold though the kettle is filled. I’d say he left before his tea.”

Her eyes didn’t leave him. She stood like someone practiced in dueling. Still, if she knew Knapp, no need to hex her right away.

“I very much need to contact him,” Snape insisted.

“People are dead in the streets and you’re shopping? It must be important.”

What was she playing at? Time to show the Dark mark and reveal himself as an ally.

“You should know all about the dead in the streets. I arrived late. I saw you fly here.”

Her frown cleared, “Oh, I see the mistake. I’m not with them.”

“No need to pretend,” Snape sneered. “I saw you. Only Death Eaters fly.”

“We’ve been flying for generations in my family.”

Enough with playing twenty questions. His hand came up and the witch’s wand flew from her grasp. Just as quickly her other hand came towards him, and he barely managed to sidestep something that smashed into the cabinet like a kicking hippogriff. Jewels, bobbins, and screws bounced everywhere, cutting painfully against him. Snape cursed and flicked his wand. She was lifted off her feet and suspended, immobile. He caught hold of her left wrist and dragged the sleeve up. No dark mark.

“The hell is this?” Suspended above him, she showed no fear but her eyes were fixed wide. “How can you fly unmarked? Flying is a Dark magic of which only the Dark Lord is capable, and only through their link with him can his servants fly. Who are you working for? Lestrange?” And did she know who he was?

The witch tensed; her gaze slid sideways. A soft rattling came from behind. A silver ingot flew by his ear, scraping his cheek. He dove behind the workbench as, with a mighty tinkling, the contents of the broken cabinet flew into the air. His curse released, the witch dropped to the floor but would have been shredded by the precious shrapnel had Snape not shouted, “Protego!”

Like rain on tin the gems rattled and bounced off of the invisible barrier shielding her. Saved from a painful death, the witch, instead of diving for her wand, just stared at him.

“That,” Snape snarled, “was really, very, stupid.”

His face was bleeding and he had wasted enough time. A memory charm looked like his best option. She hadn’t seemed to recognize him or realize he was a Death Eater.

“I don’t think you’re in any position to criticize.” The witch sounded bemused.

“That’s—”

“Theophany Knapp.”

He stared at her offered hand. Weren’t they supposed to be dueling?

“Jethro Knapp is my brother.” She smiled.

Not a Death Eater, then, but definitely a mental case.

“Just tell me where to find him, time is short.”

“I have no idea, but I’m also certain I’m the only one who can find him. Call it...a family bond.”

His Secret Keeper maybe?

Knapp tilted her head back. “What do you need him for?”

“Doesn’t matter, there’s no time now—”

“Three hours. I’ll have him in three hours at most. I tracked him from Edinburgh to here in two. Tell me what you need. And I’ll tell you what I want in return.”

“You did just try to turn me into a pincushion a moment ago.”

She didn’t move.

“And you just saved my life anyway. Like I said, you’re in no position.”

He could still Obliviate her. Or he could use her to reach her brother and then wipe her memory.

“I heard your brother can copy things. How good is he?”

“So that’s what the little rat has got himself...sorry. Yes, yes, I’m sure he’s good. Jethro is talented, to say the least. What do you need?”

Snape produced a sketch. Her memories of it wouldn't be long lasting anyway. She expressed no unusual interest in the sword.

“It’s beautiful.”

“He will, of course, be paid well. I need it tomorrow.”

She laughed. Snape raised an eyebrow.

“You’re serious. Okay, tomorrow.” She looked at the sketch again, “You wouldn’t tell me what it’s for if I asked but...how important is this?”

“Life and death. For everyone.”

She studied him carefully. Snape closed his mind, just in case.

“This item is ancient, very ancient. I want you to make a copy that could fool the most powerful wizard you know and then some.”

“Done.”

“Your price?”

“Jethro’s price will be gold. My price is a name.”

“For whom?”

“The person in the Muggle-born Registration Commission who keeps leaking false arrest lists of Muggle-borns. We don’t know who is safe and who is in danger.”

Fair exchange. But was it worth the gamble? He had to keep the sword for Potter. If she was trying to protect Muggle-borns, then she was on the right side.

“Arthur Pinstick,” he said, “and he won’t be the only one spreading false information, but a ringleader, I’m sure.”

“Then if your information is correct, you may expect me with your sword by…?”

“Tomorrow at five. Knockturn Alley, the Spiny Serpent. You know it?”

This time he did shake her hand. Before releasing it he leaned closer and hissed, “Let me impress upon you the need for confidentiality. If you betray me I will personally make you and your entire family regret it.”

The dark eyes gave nothing away, but her voice was grave. “Understood. Until tomorrow.”

And with a turn she Disapparated.
Chapter 2 by Meadowsweet
Author's Notes:
To be up front: contains a scene of torture and very mild language.

There were three detentions before breakfast. Snape just managed to catch two students hurriedly hiding their Extendable Ears and sent them to Hagrid for “punishment” before the Carrows found them. The third, a tall Ravenclaw girl, almost spat in his face and raised such a row the Carrows came running. The fighters always made it worse for themselves, but then again they were the ones who could bear the punishment. He’d noticed several lightning rods emerging amongst the student body. He would patrol the dungeons again tonight in case they had left her in chains somewhere. That is, if he was still alive after pawning a forgery off to Bellatrix before dinner.

The trick to avoid interruptions was to look engaged. He’d started to wonder how many times Dumbledore had faked occupation; the amount of paperwork made it too easy. With enough official looking parchment Snape managed to avoid the Carrows until after lunch.

“Have you looked at the scroll I gave you?” Alecto stopped him in the hall. “The sentiments that student expressed were truly alarming. I would like your permission to take steps.”

“You have been appointed by the Ministry to do just that, Alecto. And such an exemplary job you’re doing.”

Alecto simpered. She resembled her brother too much for such a feminine expression.

“I only wish to please my superiors and bring the truth to the unenlightened. We are making progress, aren’t we? Amycus is close to identifying the ringleader of the rebelling student body. This student has been frequently in need of adjustment. We’re just waiting for him to lead us to the rest of the inner circle.”

“Well, tell Amycus that’s most excellent.”

They parted and he turned back to ask, so casually, “Which student?”

“That blood traitor.” Alecto could barely speak for disgust. “Longbottom.”

Longbottom? Dumbledore’s Army was relying on Longbottom? In frequent need of adjustment? No wonder he could never push the boy enough if torture was what it took to give him spine.


Back in his study he cast the usual anti-eavesdropping spells. Two hours. Of all the owls he had sent, all the strings he had pulled, not one contact had offered an alternative solution. It was all on the Knapps. Damn them, why had those idiots tried to steal the sword? Voldemort would have never demanded it had they not attempted it. A useless gesture of defiance. Typical Gryffindor thing to do.

“Albus.”

“Anything you need, Severus?” The portrait looked up from the book he was holding. It lay opened and the title obscured. What book had the headmaster chosen for his likeness to read for all time?

“Of everyone you knew, who was the most proficient in wandless magic?”

Dumbledore pursed his lips.

“I think the obvious answer would be Grindelwald, but as he reached levels of ability unheard of in many fields, I think we should discount him as an anomaly. I knew a witch in Little Gaddesden who could make curry without lifting finger or wand. Decent curry too.”

“The other night I saw a disarmed witch cast a Stunning spell that broke a quite solid cabinet into kindling. Then she made a nice little whirlwind out of the debris while I had her immobilized.”

“Wandless and nonverbal casting? Impressive, though not unprecedented. There are some who believe children should learn wandless spells first, but I always found it too volatile.”

Snape was about to mention Knapp’s ability to fly when the silver puffer, linked to his warding spells, started to steam. Someone was ascending the gryffin stair. If the Carrows buttonholed him in his office, they might ask pressing questions about his engagement elsewhere. He quickly silenced the alarm and hurried to the fire. Floo powder could be traced, so make it somewhere benign.

“Kings Cross!”

From there he could take his time getting to Knockturn Alley and be sure he wasn’t followed.


Theophany was seated in the Spiny Serpent. Loitering in Knockturn Alley meant you were either selling or looking to buy. Sitting in the corner with her sulphurous smelling drink seemed the least suspicious thing she could do. Her fellow drinkers either conversed in low voices or stared moodily into their tankards. Maybe she shouldn’t have come so early. In her magically augmented carpet bag lay a thing of beauty and it was making her nervous. She was sure she had done the right thing. The Ministry contact, Otho Aubuchon, had confirmed that Arthur Pinstick had been leaking false information. So the intelligence had proved accurate, but should she trust on so little?

“Waiting for someone?” The speaker was a white-haired wizard, a little too well dressed to be a regular customer. His eyes were smiling and bright blue.

“What? Oh, no, please have a seat.”

“Glad to hear it. Shame for someone with a face like yours to be stood up.”

Theophany doubted the Spiny Serpent had much of a dating scene. For hags maybe. If they were really lonely.

“Nice of you to say. Sadly I take after my Dad and not my Mum. She’s the looks in the family.”

“Aw, no, that’s sweet.”

He wasn’t alone. She could see his partner watching closely from the bar. Tall and hungry-looking type.

“Now what I like about your face is how open and honest it is. See, I can tell you’re only going to speak the truth." He leaned forward, and Theophany saw the tattooed black tail of a serpent slide from under his cuff. Left wrist. The rest was obscured.

“Now, what’s in the bag?”


Snape stormed through Diagon Alley for the second time. He’d turned Knockturn inside out and found no trace of Knapp. Now he prowled Diagon Alley, hoping to catch her on her way. There was no time. After twenty minutes he returned to Knockturn Alley. Had he missed her?

“Severus!”

He turned.

“Severus! Over here!”

It was Jugson. One of the Death Eaters currently working at the Ministry. He’d been disgraced after failing to secure the prophecy in the Department of Mysteries two years before and had been assigned to work as an under clerk in Umbridge's newly formed Department for Muggle-born Registration. Jugson smiled widely, his eyes brimming like Snape was a long lost relative.

“Fancy running into you. Shopping? Never mind, never mind. I’m sure it’s none of my business. Something important for our master, eh?”

Snape allowed his face to stiffen.

“As you say, Jugson, it’s no concern of yours.”

“Quite, quite. Anyway something’s come up. Rum really. We’d appreciate your advice.”

“I’m sure any bureaucratic problem…”

“Oh, no! Really this was a routine snatch and search but, well, it’s rum. And this girl’s rum too.”

Snape slowed his breathing. It could be anyone. But a small witch with a bloody great sword would qualify as rum.

“Regretfully my mission is time sensitive, however should you still be occupied this evening...?”

“Only show up for the good part, eh? Sure we’ll have her cracked by then. Borgin’s old place has a tidy little shed in back. Everyone’s been avoiding Borgin and Burke’s like billyoh...not to be seen associating.”

Snape bore the man’s comradely wink and clap on the shoulder with a tight smile. He watched Jugson fade into the dinner shopping crowd.

Was this a distraction? If it was Knapp they had captured, more than her life was at stake. He couldn’t afford to ignore it. Dodging behind a banner proclaiming that Miss Phillida Whipperspeck would be signing copies of her new novel Two Souls Entwined at Flourish and Blotts, Snape cast a Disillusionment Charm. The trick wasn’t staying unseen but remaining untrampled as he crept back to Knockturn Alley. Borgin and Burke’s was deserted, but once he’d slid between it and the wig shop next door, he could see a dim light in the shed behind. The door was ajar, the better to keep watch, so he positioned himself by the boarded window.

“Crowe tells me you’ve been unhelpful,” Jugson was speaking, “so I’m going to try this again.”

There was a scraping sound as he drew up a chair. There was a sound of soft crying.

“What’s your name?”

Silence.

Then a burning hiss and a stifled scream. An unpleasant smell was detectable. The Cruciatus Curse was too fast; they wanted more time with her.

“Who are you meeting?”

Silence. And again a scream.

“Where did you get the sword? Antiques like that don’t belong to scum like you. Did you steal it from some wizarding family?”

After each question he paused, and the only answer would be more shrieks. There were two that Snape was certain of; surely the shed couldn't hide more than two Death Eaters and a captive? Or had they magically augmented the inside for regular use?

“I stand by what I said,” Jugson continued. “You’re honest, which is why you aren’t even trying to lie. I could see it in that nice, open face. Not really my type, so consider this a favor, a few scars might provide some...visual interest. Segmentum.”

More bubbling cries were coming from within. Snape focused on getting noiselessly to the door. Jugson stood with his back to the door facing his restrained victim. Another wizard crouched by the girl’s side tracing with his finger the long cuts Jugson’s wand opened across her skin.

“Say the Dark Lord has conquered.”

Another slicing movement with the wand, more blood.

“He is victorious! Hail the Dark Lord! Say it!"

Either man was in a position to take her hostage if Snape attacked, but they couldn’t spot him right away. He waited until the girl lifted her head. A long crescent slice lay open her cheek and temple. Her eyes were filled with pain but focused when Snape revealed himself. Theophany stared back at him. He counted down from three raised fingers.

Stupefy!

Protego!” Theophany yelled the Shield Charm.

Both Jugson and Crowe were thrown violently back, and Theophany’s chair knocked over, her weak Shield Charm protecting her only against the worst of Snape’s sweeping curse. Jugson's head cracked on the opposite wall but Crowe was up again. His wand was in his hand. Theophany pointed at him with her right hand. Crowe began, “Avada—”

He choked as his neck was turned too far to the side. Snape checked Jugson's pulse. Nonexistent. He stepped over the late Crowe and knelt by Theophany. Burns covered her neck and arms along with several sickle-shaped cuts through her robes. The cut on her face was cruel but shallow.

“Not exactly a defensive spell.” He nodded towards the crooked Crowe.

Theophany’s eyes opened. “I figured,” she whispered. “There couldn’t be any survivors to report you.”

So she had known he was a Death Eater. Then why she was helping?

“The sword?”

She smiled but stopped when the wound on her face started to bleed.

“They saw it, but no one other than me can remove it from the bag. Here.”

Snape prevented her from rising and brought the carpet bag to her. Theophany’s arm disappeared to the shoulder and she drew the sword of Gryffindor into the weak light. Even here the silver’s edge was ice and the rubies smoldered most convincingly. She presented it, hilt first, to him. Snape raised an eyebrow.

“It’s not a trap. Here.” She gripped the pommel, “See? Not poisoned or cursed.”

Carefully Snape closed his hand on the grip. A soft, not unpleasant, warmth rose up his arm. He dropped it and drew his wand, but Theophany was shaking her head, hands raised in surrender.

“No, no! I enchanted it. If you’re going to hand over the sword of Gryffindor to a Dark wizard, they’ll expect some sort of reaction from an ancient artifact.”

Snape was none too pleased she’d identified the sword. “So you made it heat up like a party trick?” he snarled. “Is that what you felt?”

Theophany was looking at him closely. “That’s funny. I used the same principle as a sneakoscope. Only I tied the sword specifically to my own well being. Anyone who would hurt me would feel something hostile when they touched it.”

Clever. And her point was valid—the sword of Gryffindor would certainly react to Lestrange, and in addition Knapp had neatly tested his own intentions. The sword itself was excellent, there was no doubt of that. He lowered his wand.

“I have no time left. Can you get yourself to St. Mungo’s?”

She was shaking her head again but stopped and pressed her palms to her forehead.

“Can’t stand, much less Apparate. Anyway, you can’t deliver the sword without me. The spell is strongest near me. Like I said, a sneakoscope.”

Cleverer still. Or maybe not. “You wanted to know what I’m doing with it,” he hissed. “What’s to stop me killing you and taking my chances?”

“Because you took a hell of a wild chance when you showed me that sketch,” she snapped. “For some reason this sword is important and this fake must work and I—”

She stopped and gulped for air, then slowly crumpled forward. Time was against arguing. Snape forced her back up. He held her head up with one hand and drew his wand with the other. Carefully he traced the gashes, muttering the incantation, passing over her face, arms, and body. Whatever Jugson had used was nothing like Sectumsempra. These cuts had a uniform shape; the spell was emulating some specific weapon. He passed over the wounds a second time, and by the third pass Theophany’s eyes were watching him.

Vulnera Sanentur.” She repeated the incantation. “What is that?”

That is going to prevent you from bleeding out. I can’t do anything about the burns or scars without dittany, and your physical exhaustion will have to wait. In the meantime don’t exert yourself with wandless casting, much as you seem to enjoy it.”

Theophany wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. “That’s not fair. Of course it had to be wandless. Whenever we’ve met I’ve been disarmed…you’re so disarming.” She chuckled and her shudders increased. Snape shook her.

“Stop it. You can’t go into shock, not yet. You’ve forced your way into this, now you have to see it through.”

She pressed her hands hard over her mouth. When she looked at him her gaze was sober but shaken. “I’m sorry. What do you need me to do?”

“Stand up.”

She clutched his robes and he gripped her arms. Like an amateur ice skater her feet slid and her legs wobbled but she remained upright.

“You can’t be seen with me. I need you to follow me to Gringotts. Keep me in sight but no closer.” His fingers dug at her arms. “This isn’t a question of trying.”

“I’ll stay close but out of sight. I won’t lose you.”

Snape took Jugson's cloak, his being the only one present not covered in blood, and gave it to Theophany. Obediently she covered her own soiled and torn robes. Snape pointed to the door.

“Straight to Gringotts. I’ll follow. “

She wrapped the hood closely around her face, a little too well bundled for a mild autumn day, and slipped away. Snape collected the wands of the two Death Eaters and strapped the sword under his cloak, carefully wrapped in a torn section of Crowe’s robes. The carpetbag, the chair spattered in Knapp’s blood, the bodies, nothing could be found. Using Jugson's wand, he cast an incendiary spell. No smoke, slow burning. In Knockturn Alley, where it’s better to avoid asking questions, it would be hours before the ruin was found.

There was no sign of Theophany in Knockturn Alley, or Diagon. Snape paused by a well lit shop window, a perfect beacon for anyone keeping tabs on him. He didn’t see anything and tried touching the pommel of the sword. If she was close it’d be stronger. This time the heat shot up his arm and into his shoulder like a steam from a pressure valve. Quickly he released the sword but the warmth had settled gently into him. What incantation had she used?

It was on the very steps of Gringotts that he spotted her. She had dropped her purse and was busily picking up spilled coins. Snape swept past her and the wizards which had replaced the goblin doorman into the main hall. Two minutes until the hour. He had guessed Bellatrix would be early. She stood in the middle of the hall, expecting the crowd to move around her, as they seemed glad to do. The moment she spotted him she let out that annoying piercing cry and swooped at him like a harpy.

“You have it? Where is it?”

If you will stop yapping like a pekingese...”

He drew the bundled sword from his cloak. Hastily she clawed away the wrapping, heedless of who might see, revealing a slick silver edge. Bellatrix sighed in appreciation and shook off the remaining cloth. She grasped the sword by the pommel, the better to hold it high.

“Ah!” she laughed, then put on an outrageous pout. “Oh, I don’t think it likes me. But why? We’ve just met, sweetie, and you are just gorgeous.”

Tongue between her teeth, she ran a palm down the flat side of the blade.

“What an idiot the Minister must have been to be fooled by a copy, as if anything could copy this. How did that old goat make a copy anyway?”

Snape looked like an offensive smell had been placed under his nose.

“Dumbledore didn’t confide everything to me, Bellatrix. Information didn’t fall into my hands, I had to work at it. He wasn’t the beneficent old innocent he pretended to be. Perhaps he did it himself.”

“Transformed something to look like the sword, you mean? Seems too risky, it would wear off, and then where will you be, Severus?”

“That would be very careless...wouldn’t it? But even if the sword is revealed a fake, what could the Ministry do? Our master is their master. Look at them.”

Around them wizards and witches were queuing or hurrying to and from the vaults. Valuables were handed over to goblin clerks, papers and receipts drawn up, all so beautifully efficient and official.

“Everything’s the same as always, but now Gringotts belongs to the Ministry—”

“And the Ministry belongs to our lord,” Lestrange finished in a throbbing voice. It looked like she was about to get emotional, so Snape thought to hurry things along.

“Unless you need me to escort you and the sword to your vault—”

Bellatrix wouldn’t want him within miles of the Lestrange vault, he knew. She threw her head back and said dismissively, “You’d just slow me down, seeing as you wouldn’t know the way.” The Snapes, of course, never had had a Gringotts vault. “Besides, I’m sure you’re very busy. Such a vital mission you have, Severus, I shouldn’t keep you away from the class reports and runny noses a minute longer.”

Snape took a step closer using his height to force Bellatrix back.

“We shall see, at the end, whose mission is vital, Bellatrix. Don’t expect me to forgive and forget.”

He turned away swiftly, forcing her to shout after him, “It shall be sooner than you think! I look forward to it!”

Now that Bellatrix had so thoughtfully broadcast his departure, he was certain Knapp would meet him outside. Snape kept his stride purposeful and headed towards the apothecary as a likely enough destination for a former Potions Master. There was no sign of her, even when he paused outside of Obscurus Books. It wasn’t until he reached Twilfitt and Tatting’s that he saw her leaning against the corner. How had she got ahead of him? He rode out the crowd, not moving directly towards her.

“Don’t look like you’re waiting for someone,” Severus hissed. “You stand out.”

He couldn’t see her face behind the swaddling scarf and her voice was muffled. “If I move away from this wall I’m going to fall over.”

“There must be internal damage. You should have been at St. Mungo’s from the first, had you not insisted—”

“I can’t go there. They’re keeping records now, who visits when and with what injuries. It’s difficult to explain to Magical Law Enforcement why one keeps turning up with duel wounds or other obvious signs of resistance. The Cruciatus Curse is hard to mistake.”

So they had employed the curse. She couldn’t Apparate and he had no one he could take her to. A year ago Grimmauld place would have been the obvious choice.

“Come.” He hurried her back towards Knockturn, one hand under her arm. Whenever she stumbled he would catch her, but it obviously caused her a lot of pain. He mentally added cracked ribs to her injuries.

“Damn, this place again,” he heard her mutter as they entered the Spiny Serpent.

“We need to use the Floo,” he barked at the barman. There was a token protest which abruptly ceased when Snape tossed a few Galleons on the greasy counter.

“Excuse me,” he drawled, “I mean we would like to access the Floo now.”

The miserable smoldering fire leapt up joyfully when Snape pointed his wand at it. He took a pinch of Floo from the tin box provided and threw it on the fire.

“The Railway Hotel,” he said. “It’s best if you go first. I’ll follow.”

Knapp disappeared into the green flames. Snape took a last look at the barman and decided he didn’t need to be threatened. Better not make themselves too memorable. He stepped into the fire and emerged into a dim little sitting room.

A counter along one wall separated the room from a wall of keys. A sign on the counter read ‘Vacancy.’ It looked dusty, like there hadn’t been any need to move it for a while. The walls were covered in yellowed chintz and the smell was of musty wool. Above the mantle was a bit of fancy work with the name ‘The Railway Hotel’ in faded silk thread. Theophany Knapp was sitting on the floor, practically on the feet of a elderly Muggle woman who was asleep in an old wingback chair.

“What are you doing?” Snape hissed.

“Can’t get up.”

“All right, well, we Apparate from here.”

“Then why—”

“Harder to be traced, and a shorter distance to Apparate will be less damaging.” He knelt and took her by the forearms while she in turn grasped his. “In your condition this will be painful.”

She nodded and clenched her jaw. The room around them dissolved with a crack, hopefully not waking the armchair snorer, and they appeared with a slight bump on the dark wood floor of Spinner’s End.

Theophany bit off a cry and slumped forward, knocking her head against Snape’s chin. Stifling a curse, he lowered her the rest of the way to the floor. He had planned to Apparate closer to the sofa. Best to Levitate her, she’d been jarred too much already. It was a well stuffed sofa, if a little musty. He settled her as best he could and summoned the smaller potions cabinet.

“Miss Knapp, can you hear me? Knapp?” He lifted her head and sharply patted her face. “Theophany, wasn’t it? Theophany, wake up.”

She opened her eyes with obvious effort.

“You can’t lose consciousness until you’re stable. I’m going to prop you up.”

She groaned; some of the wounds had opened again.

“Why didn’t you just tell them what little you knew?”

“I couldn’t,” she whispered. “This is deep magic, ancient. When you believe, no amount of pain can make it untrue.”

“But you can only say, you don’t have to really recant, just say something to make them stop. Hail the Dark Lord if you’re feeling traditional. Could you not lie?”

Theophany was shaking her head. “I was dead already. They wouldn’t have believed me unless I believed it myself. Old magic.”

She stretched her arms wide. Snape winced at the display of seeping wounds, the tattoo of burns, but she didn’t seem to notice.

“They can only kill this body.”

Snape pushed her arms back to her sides. She was either feverish or completely barking.

“Hold this to your face.”

Theophany accepted the cloth doused in dittany and pressed it to her face. The cut was a thin red line now. Quickly, Snape rolled up her sleeves and began applying dittany to the cuts and burns on her arms.

“Legs?” he barked.

“No, not hurt. But—”

She plucked at her bloody robes. They had been slashed through across her her chest and stomach and were a scabby mess of threads.

“I have a screen,” Snape said briefly. “First I’m going to fix any compromised bones, then you can treat the remainder yourself. Episkey.

Theophany hissed a little but held still, letting him continue to the next rib. Snape briefly Summoned an antique screen from another room and wrenched open the potions cabinet. This was very inconvenient. It hadn’t been his intention to show this witch, who already knew too much, his house. Not that she knew where she was. Worse, wiping her memory in her current condition would be a dangerous and unconscionable act. He would have to put her together again as best as possible in a short amount of time.

“Drink.” He handed her the first vial while letting the other self-decant.

She sniffed it. “Dr. Ubbly’s Unction? Surely that’s applied rather than drunk.”

“Not Ubbly’s, mine. It will help with the shock without making you sleep.”

“Cheers then.” She gagged it down. “I assume a blood replenishing potion next?”

If she was a student, he’d have taken points off for insolence. As it was, he selected the second vial and poured it into a beaker.

“Are you a Healer?” Theophany’s voice was still shaky. She was doing her best to stay alert.

“No.

“You should be.”

Snape stared at her. “I can guarantee you are, and always will be, the only person to suggest it.”

Her eyes closed again.

“Knapp!” He shook her. Groggily she woke again and swallowed the blood replenishing potion. He kept a finger on her pulse waiting for it to strengthen. Best to keep her talking.

“The other night when you said your family had been flying for generations, what did you mean exactly?”

“Well, we don’t exactly use it to fetch the milk, but it’s been a family trait passed down for years.”

“Not only is it foolish to employ in these present times, but surely you learned at school that it’s a Dark Art? And one presumed forgotten.”

“I went to a Muggle school.”

Snape frowned. “But your whole family flies, so you’re not Muggle-born.”

“There are only eleven wizarding schools in the world, and not every child gets to attend.”

His evening kept getting stranger. “You are a Dissident?”

Theophany smiled a little. “That is a very insulting term. No, I’m not an anti-institutionalist who believes that a return to the pre-plumbing era, segregated from all Muggles, will return us to the power of wizarding origins. My family follows the Tuatha De Danann.

Snape sneered, “Oh yes? ‘People of the Goddess’? The original wizards who flew to Ireland on a cloud?”

Insult woke her up a little. “Don’t be so dismissive. It is only a legend, and I doubt there was a goddess, but come to think of it, there was probably a powerful witch. Not every witch and wizard gets to go to Hogwarts. We coexist with Muggles, we learn our magic from our elders, and stress the importance of understanding the ancient roots of magic, not just waving a wand around.”

Snape remembered his conversation with Dumbledore’s portrait. “Let me guess, you begin with wandless casting first.”

Theophany nodded, then winced. “Makes the room spin”, she muttered. “Yes, that’s right. My mother was teaching me incantations before I showed any actual ability.”

“Hurrah for you.”

Her pulse was finally regular and strong. He stood and waved the screen into place around the sofa. “I can now trust you to not faint while treating your wounds. I’ll be back momentarily. But first…”

Snape pointed his wand, and Theophany’s own flew from her robes’ pocket into his hand. He tucked it away. She had the gall to look hurt, as if being disarmed was a personal insult. Though she didn’t protest, she failed to suppress a rueful grin.

“Something amusing?”

That smile was a little unnerving, ironic, and a little too knowing.

“Just the opposite.”

He didn’t like it. Not her unusual calm, her unpredictability, or her unorthodox background. Knapp was an unknown factor in every sense, and she knew far too much. Even though he would ensure she remembered nothing, there was still the brother who had copied the sword. Maybe the money would keep him silent. Snape Summoned the screen over to the sofa, gave her a clean cloth for the dittany, and left the library.

He stood in the hall for a moment with the full horror of the situation weighing on him. He had to get rid of her as soon as possible. Snape snatched a blanket, a roll of bandages, and other miscellania from various cupboards. Something in the linen cupboard scurried away, and he was sure a ghoul had moved into the cellar again; the pipes kept clanking. Every long vacation he cleared Spinner’s End and fortified against infestation, but the house had been cheaply built for factory employees in the first place. Merlin, he hated this place. Even more he hated feeling like an idiot, knocking on the door to his own library.

“Come in.”

Theophany had used the remaining bandages and even managed to repair her robes somewhat, though her wand was needed for a more thorough mending spell.

Wordlessly Snape handed her a glass of water.

“Thank you, it’s too bad sugar renders so many potions useless.”

“More importantly, you need to hydrate. Blood replenishing potion can cause fevers, sometimes severe, so we’ll have to guard against that. Here." He snapped the blanket open and tossed it over her. Then he handed her the next item.

“Mrs. Ludo’s Long Lastingly Hot Hot Water Bottle,” Theophany read off the rubber lid, her face carefully blank. “Are they really that long lasting?”

Snape was equally expressionless. “Hopefully. I’d rather you didn’t contract influenza with replenishment potion complications and die before the morning.”

“Ta.”

“Speaking of consequences,” Snape dismissed the screen. He didn’t intend to have her out of his sight until she was safely Obliviated. “The foolhardy and extreme danger of flying needs to be impressed upon you. Not only can it get you mistaken for a Death Eater, itself an unpleasant prospect as the misunderstanding would be revealed in a matter of seconds, but it is a Dark Art. There is always a price for using such— ”

“What’s the price? I understand the Unforgivable Curses—one must intend to kill and commit murder in one’s heart in order to cast the killing curse, or intend pain for the Cruciatus; the cost to one’s soul is very high even when used justly. But what’s the harm in flying?”

She really was as bad as a student.

“The Dark Arts not only encompass all that is harmful and evil, but that which is not understood or curable. Werewolves are taught in the Dark Arts, not because they themselves are evil, but the disease and its consequences on one’s humanity and relations is amongst the most debilitating known to wizarding kind. Employ the Dark Arts only if you desire your humanity corroded and the penalty forever on your soul.”

Theophany was frowning thoughtfully. “I see what you mean. On the one hand, I would reject the argument as an appeal to tradition, but I can also accept your experience as superior. Moreover you seem genuinely concerned and disturbed. Is it a promise you’re looking for? You have it. No more flying. But I would very much like further research on the subject.”

“You give out promises too easily.” He checked her forehead. No temperature.

“It’s the least I can do after such hospitality.” She carefully lowered herself prone onto the couch. “And I owe you a bottle of dittany.”

“Consider it part of your payment, which you will be given in full —”

Theophany was asleep and looking very young. How old was she? If she had other family, why was she the only one tracking down this wayward brother, Jethro?

Snape pulled the armchair away from the fire; too close to the warmth could make him drowsy but, Merlin knew, he didn’t sleep much these days. When was the last time he had slept? Not last night, or before, though the previous morning he had fallen asleep at his desk, much to Albus’s amusement. Even in sleep he couldn’t quite unwind his thoughts, let the guard go. There was always a chance, always a danger. Snape started the process of carefully emptying and barricading his mind. It was harder here in his father’s house; so much of the past interfered, his focus seemed to be off.

Theophany sighed in her sleep, jerking him from his reverie. Of course, he wasn’t alone this time. The room was affected by another presence. Snape listened, letting his breathing relax, finding a common pace with the sleeper, and when his breathing finally hit a regular rhythm his mind emptied easily. He sat for a little time, not planning, not thinking, as close to rest as possible. Then he opened his eyes. It was morning. Impossible. It had only been a moment. He couldn’t have slept. But Theophany was gone. The blanket was neatly folded and atop it was the hot water bottle holding down a note.

Sir, (you never offered your name)
I thought you needed the sleep so I let myself out. Thank you, most humbly, for saving my life. I hope that whatever was at stake was worth the trouble I gave you, the effort you expended, and that all is well. I wish you continued success,

Theophany Knapp

P.S. Mrs. Ludo tells no lies. I recommend the water bottle.


The water bottle was indeed still hot though the blankets and hearth were chill. Snape swore aloud. He had slept. She must have hexed him; how else could he have made such an elementary mistake? But her wand was still in his pocket; how had she managed?

“I don’t sleep, I never sleep, I can’t sleep,” he muttered under his breath while tearing the front door open. No sign. It was a desperate act, as she had probably Apparated from inside the house. Cordial as the note had been, she must have guessed he wouldn’t let her go with her memory intact. Who was she that she was so keen on knowing his business? All his suspicions freshly awakened, Snape slammed the door shut.

“So be it, Miss Knapp.”

He stalked back to the library. He carefully unfolded the blanket, spreading it on the floor. It yielded nothing. He searched the cushions until he found a single, long, dark hair.

“I found your brother and I most certainly will find you.”

Using the tip of his wand he slid the hair into a clean vial.

“I cannot let you jeopardize this mission.”
End Notes:
Thanks for reading!
Chapter 3 by Meadowsweet
Theophany Knapp Apparated into a Surrey tomato patch and promptly fell over. Hard as the frosted ground was, it was better to lie still, staring at the grey sky. No part of her body didn’t hurt. The alarms would have been triggered. Let them find her. Moving any further in her condition was madness. Honestly, Apparating was feeling like a bad idea. The thought of Lolli, face creased with worry, finding her blood-spattered remains in his garden made her groan. With many more grunts and hissing she got to her feet, covered her stained robes with her cloak, and staggered to the cottage. The doorknocker failed to rouse anyone, so she went and rapped on the kitchen window. Lolli’s face popped into view, thin grey hair hanging into his eyes, smile as wide as ever. Theophany’s own smile cracked her face painfully, but she had to try. Lolli didn’t deserve to be worried, innocent as he was.

“Whatever you’re cooking smells just heavenly!” she shouted through the window.

Grinning Lolli opened the kitchen door. “If I’d known, I would have made your favorite. Maevan is here, but he just ran outside because the warding spell—oh, I’ve forgotten I’m not supposed to let anyone in without asking the questions.”

“It’s okay, just ask me now. I won’t come in yet.”

Lolli’s face creased into childish worry. “But...we never decided what questions to ask each other.”

“Ask me...what’s my favorite breakfast?”

The elderly wizard became very serious. “You, friend or foe,” he recited faithfully, “who appears before me as Miss Knapp, what is Miss Knapp’s favorite thing I cook?”

“Sunny-side eggs with cheddar sauce.”

Lolli applauded and let her in cheerfully. Theophany was sure he didn’t understand the danger but dutifully followed Maeven’s instructions. He had lived at Maeven’s cottage for years, ever since he had wandered into Frog’s Hollow with only one shoe and one name.

His appearance didn’t make Maevan out to be a bleeding heart. He entered the kitchen and glowered at Theophany. Tall enough he had to stoop through the narrow door, yet he didn’t carry himself as erect as he once did. His shoulders were stooped, and his dark skin was tinged with the grey of exhaustion, but his deep eyes swept keenly over her ruined robes. Maevan noticed everything.

“Lolli, get some tea for Miss Knapp. I’m going to take her to the study.”

While Lolli scurried off, he lowered his voice, “Think you’ll make it that far?”

“Just.”

Maevan didn’t raise an eyebrow at the state of her robes and patiently waited for Lolli to fuss over the tea and bring Theophany some toast. Even after she’d eaten, he didn’t press but watched as Theophany stared into her empty cup. There was only so much she would tell, but so much more she needed to ask. Ask without telling.

“I know that if I needed something that looked legitimate but wasn’t, I would come to you,” she began. “Everyone else knows that too, right?”

“I’ve provided pureblood status registration papers, birth certificates, minor black market items.” He raised a brow, “All for our cause, yes. There are few others so capable, if I say so myself. Do you need something?”

“No...someone approached me,” Theophany said slowly, “looking for something, I think. And if it was for the cause, I would have thought they would come to you. Has anyone reached out to you?”

Maevan leaned forward. “Somebody’s looking for something and you’re wondering if they’re with us and if they asked me first? Why would they ask you? You’re not a provider of goods, not widely known in the organization…”

Theophany shifted a little.

“And why do I have a feeling you’re not going to tell me anything about your injuries?”

She looked him in the eye. “I’ve received treatment, I’ll be fine. But until I know more, I can’t say.”

“Fine.” He sighed. “What was it he wanted? Papers?”

“It was...an artifact.”

“Unusual. What would an artifact have to do with the war?”

She shrugged. “Well, I’ve received only legitimate requests from trusted comrades and they’ve all been papers as required by this puppet regime at the Ministry.”

Maevan looked like he was about to spit but recalled himself. The Ministry left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. Theophany looked into her cup but it didn’t offer further inspiration.

“One more question, Maevan. How would you go about identifying someone without being seen to be?”

“This same person who approached you? Are they dangerous?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t have a name? In that case you only have a description, and if you ask around you might find something, but they might also hear you’ve been asking. You could cover your tracks, but it would take some spell work, Confundus maybe, but the Imperius Curse or a memory charm would best withstand questioning.”

“Yes, but it would be obvious such a spell was used, and that would still alert him.”

“Him? What exactly are you afraid of?”

“I want to find out how he fits in, before he finds where I do.”

“Maybe he simply thought you were dealing in black market items. Resisting You-Know-Who forces some unsavory associations. Use a Repelling or Masking Spell so he cannot find you by owl. Stay close to home in the meantime.”

“Speaking of home, would you mind terribly helping me repair myself a little? If I show up like this, Dad will have apoplexy. I lost my wand.”

“That may be hard to replace with Ollivander missing.”

Theophany dropped her cloak, the Death Eater’s cloak she remembered with a shudder, and presented her robes for repair. She held her arms, bandaged elbow to wrist, out from her sides like she was being fitted for dress robes.

“Maevan, that’s the least of my problems.”

On the side of the hill northmost of Frog’s Hollow stood an old mill. The dam was yet sound, but the mill works were long since dismantled, and a sign proclaimed the property to be featured on the historical register. The croft nearby was owned by a local farmer, Knapp, who acted as steward for the site. Knapp’s pastures were postcard-perfect and rolled away from The Mill and farm into gentle meadows inhabited by a docile cow and a large amount of sheep. The idyllic valley was heavily protected with Anti-Apparition Spells, so Theophany was forced to walk the sloping path up to the house, a weathered stone building with more charm than glamor.

Sweet and trusting Lolli was one thing, her family another. She hoped only the youngest were home. She hesitated at The Mill, longing to just bury herself in her workshop. A Muggle would only see the derelict building, but anyone magical could see otherwise and probably notice the water wheel that turned itself and the gnome burrows in the garden. The garden was bare and ready for winter, but the little greenhouse was slightly fogged with warmth, and against the glass pressed tendrils both poisonous and benign.

Theophany dragged herself away from the soothing creaking of the millwheel and ascended the scrubbed steps to the front door. At least Maevan had repaired her clothing somewhat, and the dittany had faded any obvious wounds.

“Tiff!” The door was torn open from under her hand. Silyn looked like he hadn’t slept, pale hair on end and colorless eyes wide. “What happened? Why didn’t you contact us—”

“Why do we even bother with security if you open the door to the first person who waltzes up the garden path?” roared Merryn, the eldest.

Theophany started to panic. Were all of her brothers here? Merryn had his own family to look after; Lissy his wife wasn’t well. If he was here, they must have been truly worried. Silyn was about to protest when a third brother entered the hall. Boniface crossed his arms and regarded them all sternly, which was annoying as he wasn’t even of age yet.

“Dry up, Merryn. Silyn could sense Tiff a mile away and know it was no trick. Tiff, come into the kitchen. Dad’s having fits.”

“Really, I’ve been gone for days at a time before, I don’t know why you’re all so…”

Silyn pointed a finger at her. Theophany guilty checked her robes. No stains, and Maevan had repaired all the tears. Was the cut on her face still visible?

“You’re different.” Silyn said. And if Silyn sensed something, they all knew better than to dismiss it. “Also, we can see the bandages on your arms.”

Boniface guffawed. “I was really impressed there for a minute, Sils”.

Silyn cuffed his younger brother. “Doesn’t change my previous statement, Bonnie. There is something different about her.”

They continued to bicker while Merryn steered Theophany through to the kitchen. Dad was seated at the table having yet more hot tea pressed on him by a sympathetic house-elf improbably named Ike. Judging by the amount of cold cups sitting on the table, it had been a long night.

“Tiff’s here, Dad.”

Insensible to Ike’s squeal of delight, Mr. Knapp lifted his head from his hands, blinked at Theophany and slowly got to his feet. He was a big man, with something of the old-world squire about him. He might have seemed intimidating to some, but his children knew better. Recently he had grown frailer and moved with more care. Yet Theophany found herself a little nervous as he walked slowly towards her, eyes fixed on her face.

“You could have said something. Sent us something,” he said hoarsely.

“I’m sorry Dad, but I couldn’t. I don’t even have my wand…”

Mr. Knapp grabbed her and crushed her in a hug. Her brothers were in uproar.

“You lost your wand?”

“Taken? Were there Snatchers?”

“Of all the idiotic things—”

“Did you find Jethro?” Mr. Knapp cut them off.

“Briefly.” This was the worst part. “There was something I had to do, and I had to leave him, so he disappeared again.”

The faces around her were grim.

“But I have a really good idea where to start to find him.”

“Maybe we should stop trying.” Merryn looked at Mr. Knapp. “We can’t force him to come home.”

Their father sighed. “I honestly thought he’d come home out of starvation. Did he look well?”

“Well enough. He seems to be getting work.”

“Doing what?” Silyn looked baffled. “The little snot—sorry…”

Mr. Knapp waved it away. “Your mother always insisted he was talented; he may be more capable than we gave him credit for. Theophany, don’t go out for a little yet. There’s bad news. The Hughes boy was killed in a skirmish last night. Reading was attacked.”

“I know.”

They all froze.

“About Reading. Not—not Hughes. I’m sorry...when is the funeral?”

“They haven’t set a date.”

Theophany looked around at them all and sighed. “You all must have been—I’m sorry I didn’t send word.”

She shifted awkwardly. Maybe a tearful embrace would be appropriate but it felt beyond her.

“I’m—I’m taking a bath. Then I am going to eat.”

With that she marched upstairs, refusing all questions. The bath proved a little tricky. First, she had Ike place an Impervius Spell on her bandages to repel bath water and ordered the borrowed cloak burned. Safest not to keep anything that could tie her to the burnt-out shack in Knockturn. Next she categorically refused anyone’s assistance in climbing into the old stone tub. Once in she felt muscles yet knotted and sore from the Cruciatus Curse relax a little, though it would be some time before that curse left her entirely. The cut on her face was nearly invisible, but she soaked a cloth in dittany and laid it over her face. Except for the occasional ripple it was blessedly silent, and Theophany let herself think for the first time in twenty-four hours.

What looks like a Death Eater but doesn’t act like a Death Eater? A spy. What spy is unconnected to a body of resistance? He had to be connected to someone. Then why hadn’t he reached out to his own contacts instead of coming to Jethro, a stranger? Jethro who’d barely escaped Reading in time. Graeham Tricklebank, the Dagda’s contact in Reading, had gone missing in August. Jethro probably chose Reading for that reason to better evade his family. Without Tricklebank, information concerning the area was dodgy, though Jacka and his contacts did their best. When she had finally tracked him down, Jethro said some wizards had been forewarned scant hours before and had tried to evacuate Muggles and Muggle-borns alike. The destruction could have been worse, but it was hard to imagine. The poor Hughes. There had been so many funerals of late. Her only black dress robes hung permanently pressed, ready for condolence calls, funerals, wakes and vigils. At least the Hughes boy had been killed outright. She’d been at the bedside of too many too broken for repair, like the poor apothecary last night.

Still, some had managed to escape thanks to...a few wizards with mysterious foresight? Jacka’s people perhaps? Theophany lifted the washcloth from her face and stared at the ceiling. A few minutes later she ran into the kitchen with her hair streaming puddles on the tile.

“That’s my robe!” Boniface said indignantly.

Theophany ignored him and fixed her eyes on Merryn. “How did Reading know they were about to be attacked?” she demanded.


The Carrows were in high spirits all morning. Apparently they had caught some students in the act of sabotage. Maybe it was because he wasn’t viewing them through a sleep-deprived fog, but Snape was finding it more difficult than usual to stomach them. They were like anti-poisons, becoming more lethal with exposure instead of building immunity. He couldn’t look at the teachers on either side. McGonagall was like a burning torch to his right, and he could only shield himself from her anger and disgust. Snape jerked his head towards Carrow, who was trying to speak to him.

“What?”

“I merely asked if you would be joining us in the dungeons, Headmaster.”

“Do you expect a couple of adolescents to give you so much trouble?” he snarled.

Carrow muttered a negative.

“Good.” Then, after a pause, “I’m happy to let you deal punishment. Those menial tasks are behind me at last. Albus was never one to get his hands dirty.”

Another nail in his own coffin. McGonagall changed from a blaze to a mortally cold wind. She never said anything, couldn’t make herself speak to him at all. The others weren’t so disciplined, and Snape could hear uncomfortable shifting and whispers from the rest at table.

He returned to making the students uncomfortable under his glare, but his gaze was really inward. He’d tried sending an owl to Theophany Knapp, merely a preliminary step. She had, of course, warded herself from being traced by post. He’d spent the morning casting Priori Incantatem on her wand. Thirteen inches, ash wood, rigid. The reverse spell effect had recalled a certain amount of defensive spells, household charms, and a few arcane spells of protection that were interesting but not revealing. He would have to use the hair he’d found—an involved business that would require more time than he could spare.

Snape had hoped for an uneventful day, for a little breathing space, but it wasn’t to be. As the late autumn light faded to dusk, the Dark Mark burned. Time, he thought briefly as he stepped from the window into the night, to once again have time that is my own.


“We have no idea where the warning came from?” Theophany repeated. “It wasn’t Jacka or—?"

“Well, it was, but not directly,” Merryn hedged. “Someone heard something and told someone else, and so on. I think it was someone in Kent who told Jacka. People must guard their sources, Jacka more so than others. It’s a murky business, counterintelligence.”

“Tricklebank has been missing for four months, so we have no ground operative in Reading, and you’re telling me the Dagda, a so-called organized resistance, is operating on hearsay?”

“Not hearsay but a—a trusted source.”

Theophany stared at Merryn. “You’re just as uncomfortable about this as I am, aren’t you? If this really was a proper source, then surely our response would have been more prepared?”

“It may have been too late.”

“From Kent?” Theophany retorted. “If a trusted source in Kent knew about it, we should have been prepared days ago.”

“If you go about inferring that someone has an unproven source—” Merryn began again, but Silyn cut him off.

“No one is trusted, no one, who hasn’t been interviewed by three members of the organization. If someone is flouting protocol, it could be a trap or—”

“I don’t care.” Theophany looked around at them all. “Really, I couldn’t care less about someone breaking protocol. There’s something much bigger going on, and I’m in danger because I came too close."

"Then surely the safest thing is not to get involved," her father interjected.

"I'm involved, Dad.” Her gaze stared beyond them at something they couldn’t guess. “I can either inform myself, or wait to be discovered. I mean, I could always turn a Memory Charm on myself, but I doubt that would protect me.”

“That’s not funny—”

“And you are protected, you will be here,” Merryn declared. “Protected by us.”

“You forget Boniface is only fifteen, and what of the twins?” Theophany shook her head. “This isn’t a fortress. It’s a home and an important meeting place. I can’t endanger it. Too many people depend on us being here. Where else would they go if The Mill was discovered?”

She stood up from the table and carried her empty breakfast plate to the kitchen where Ike was doing dishes, making the high buzzing sound which was the house-elf’s hum. What would she do when she was discovered? She had no doubts the wizard from last night would ensure her silence somehow.

“Silyn?” she called from the kitchen. “I’m going to need a replacement wand, just something to get by for a while. And Merryn? I need a name, just one name, of someone who knew about Reading before anyone else did.”

Merryn came into the kitchen, ducking his head to get through the door.

“Silyn says he can probably get a captured wand for you; a wand from a defeated wizard is easier to use than a found wand.”

He closed the kitchen door. “If you start questioning about how the Dagda does things, you’ll be out on your ear, Secret-Keeper or not.”

“I know that. I also know I can get someone else to answer my questions.”

“You’ll ignore my advice on this? Your brother?”

Theophany swallowed. “If you make me.”

Merryn scrubbed his face with his hand. “Well, if you’re going to go talking to people at—at least I can make sure they can keep a secret. Look, I heard about Reading from Otho. I don’t know how he heard, or if he knew beforehand. Tiff,” Merryn put a hand on her shoulder, “I know you don’t behave rashly—”

Theophany flushed in shame. Merryn kept talking. “I agree, you need to be prepared. But don’t go out again, not right away. You need to heal and, please, just be safe for us for a little while.”

She nodded. Ike wiped his hands on his tartan dishcloth kilt.

“Everything alright, miss?”

“As it can be.”

Between all the Knapps this was the answer when one couldn’t say more. Ike hopped from his stool and started Levitating plates to the cabinets.

“I promise,” Theophany continued in a low voice to Merryn. “I have things I need to do here. It’ll take a few days.”

Before Silyn returned with a wand, there was only so much she could accomplish. The workshop beckoned. The door unlocked under her touch, and Theophany stepped gratefully into the old mill. Shelves of ingredients were on the western wall, potion bottles on the southern. A large hearth dominated the north wall, capable of encompassing whole trees. A cellar, kept cool by the nearby stream, had been dug beneath, and there heat sensitive potions were stored. A pile of mail was on the work table, and Hero, a barn owl, was asleep in her cage.

Theophany was drawn to the unsealed bottles of potions in progress but made herself open the mail first. There were numerous orders of common types, a few personal letters, and three encrypted only for her eyes. Two were appeals for sanctuary, five people all together. A family of three and a Muggle-born mother with a Squib son. Theophany frowned. Two people could maybe stay together, but where would she put the family? The third letter was brief and hastily scrawled.




Theophany,
Your father wrote to me asking if I’d seen you. Are you all right? How long do you intend to be gone? I hope there is no emergency. Please forgive my selfish panic, but as you know it will be a full moon next week. Let us know when you are safely back. Col sends his best.

Your servant,
Jacka.


This was something she could handle right away and use to further her own plans. She called for Hero and quickly wrote on the reverse side of the letter.

I’m fine. Please don’t worry. Expect me in three days time. –T.K.

Theophany sent the message with Hero and turned to the shelves. She had potions in progress; the wolfsbane would take another day to complete before the final stage. Theophany carefully decanted it into a small cauldron. It would need to sit over low embers until tomorrow. She hesitated, then opened another. It wouldn’t hurt to see they were well supplied, given her uncertain future.

Theophany spent the rest of the morning starting new batches of wolfsbane in addition to sleeping draughts and burn healing paste, and purifying both Bundimun secretion and dittany for use.

She let herself take a break while waiting for the dittany to cool and must have nodded off. It could only have been for a few minutes, but she woke in a cold sweat from some nightmare. For a moment she was confused where she was and looked about her for the thing that had chased her in the dream. Just a dream. A manifestation of her own worries. A vial of dittany, the sample drawn to check purity, was still in her hand. Theophany tucked it into her pocket, allowing herself a wry smile. If she would be meeting him again anyway, might as well pay him back.

His desire for secrecy was obvious; he wouldn’t let a loose end like her go free, but what did he intend to do exactly? He could have killed her many times over and instead patched her up so diligently and thoroughly. She could only lie low and try to discover what was really going on before he caught up with her. Theophany pushed the thought aside; she couldn’t do anything until Silyn got back.

She ate lunch with Mr. Knapp and the twins, Compline and Prosper, who, at ten years old, hadn’t been unduly worried by her recent disappearance. The afternoon went quickly in writing letters to different farms and businesses who were interested in taking on extra “help,” or rather wizards and witches fleeing the Ministry’s Muggle-born Registration Department. How many had been sent to Azkaban already? And how many had died there, driven to death and insanity by those things. Her nib broke and she impatiently sharpened another quill.

“You’ll use up the entire bird at that rate.”

Silyn stood in the open door. Theophany was surprised to see it was dark out, but the days were so short now.

“Just trying to find space to put them all; the refugees keep coming.” Theophany waved a hand at the letters. “Do you think we brought this on ourselves? I think it’s punishment for the decades Azkaban has been in use, exiling people to be fed on by those creatures. I can’t believe it’s more merciful than death. I know which I would prefer.”

Silyn put a hand on her head. “It’s more than just Azkaban. The doctrine of blood purity, high office only for the privileged, derision of non-humans, all of it. As a society we’ve been dying of a cancer for years.”

“What do we do?”

Silyn scoffed, “Glad you asked, I have a master plan ready to go after I become Minister of Magic.”

“I was serious!”

Her brother smiled down at her. “Try and fix the world tomorrow, Tiff. Tonight,” he leaned over and placed a wand on the workbench, “you try and master this. Willow and dragon heartstring, whippy. I’d say start with some simpler spells, level one stuff.”

Theophany grinned wryly. “Thanks. I’ll just be here practicing my swish and flick.”

She followed Silyn’s advice and tried a few basic spells. Her own wand was so rigid she found herself forcing the new willow wand—too much like trying to use putty as a battering ram. When they called her for dinner she came, more for appearances sake than out of hunger. Ike had been happy to take over meals for the next few days while Theophany was recovering.

Merryn left after dinner, stopping at Theophany’s side to whisper, “Remember what I said.”

“Won’t move a muscle without warning you,” Theophany reassured him.

Merryn had his own family, his own work to worry about. He worked in the depot, working with the magical express trains that crisscrossed Britain. Being in transportation, he had excellent reason to travel, listen, and carry messages.

Silyn preferred to be in the front lines. Wherever Death Eater activity was reported, there he would be. Theophany suspected he also used his talent for Divination for the cause, but he didn’t speak of it.

Boniface knew that at fifteen he couldn't expect more than to help his father on the farm and Theophany with rehousing refugees, but he chafed anyway.

And I hold everything together, Theophany reminded herself as she returned to the workshop. After Mum died, she had become mistress of the house in a ceremonial as well as practical role. Such was the tradition of the Tuatha De Danann. Who warded the house? Who was Secret-Keeper for the community? Her mother, and now her.

Theophany picked up the willow wand and Summoned potions at random. When she could both Summon and return them to the shelf without a wobble, she tried a little Transfiguration. Never her best skill and now nearly impossible. After an hour she did manage to turn a mousetrap into a very stiff mouse which creaked away under a pile of parchment. Theophany walked to the window and checked the path. The lanterns of her father and Boniface were bobbing gently in the meadow below. She sat by the fire and made a list.

Edinburgh
Reading/Jethro’s workroom
Jethro
The Spiny Serpent
Shed
Gringotts
Spinner’s End


Theophany had checked the name of the street before she’d Disapparated. It was in Cokeworth of all places. This was the list of events which she had to make sense of, somehow. Perhaps writing it down was too dangerous if someone found it. Theophany remembered her dream of being hunted and shuddered. Maybe she had gone too far and learned too much. But there was no going back, only forward. If there was only a way to secure this list…

Theophany raised her head. It was crazy. She hadn’t done it before. She didn’t even have her own wand. But—

She looked at the list again. As long as she could picture it all exactly. Everything until the Spiny Serpent was easy, but after she had been captured and tortured, it had been harder to pay attention. The memories were foggier. Theophany tried mentally isolating each item on her list. If she focused on one detail too much, would it distort the memory? She had to remember every word that was said. Theophany forced herself to be still. This wasn’t her forte at all.

After an interminable time she glanced at the clock and found it was after eleven. She reached for the wand but held back. Finish the list. Make sure you have it all. It was another half of an hour before she felt sufficiently prepared.

Swiftly she gathered as many empty vials as she could, made sure they were clean, and then reached for the wand. Trying this for the first time with a borrowed wand probably wasn’t the smartest thing. She just hoped she didn’t take an ear off. Wand tip at her temple, she focused her mind on Edinburgh, on speaking with the landlady of the Crooked Broomstick and learning Jethro had left for Reading. The memory solidified in her mind; it was suddenly crystal clear. She drew the wand away and opened her eyes. Dangling from the tip was a twisting silver thread. Theophany crowed aloud, then bit her tongue. Six more, and they mightn’t be as easy.

The shed proved the hardest. Her eyes had been closed in pain and resistance much of the time, her ears stopped against listening to their promises that it was in her power to stop the pain. Her head had been pounding so painfully that Gringotts was a blur, though she had overheard everything.

In contrast, the library flowed smoothly from her mind to her wand. Every word, every expression was there. Doubtfully she regarded the little helix of memory in its jar. Had it been too easy? Had she really been paying such close attention? Theophany closed her eyes. The library came into being around her, the sofa comfortable yet dusty, and a face frowning over her in sharp relief. Theophany shook her head and opened her eyes. She was almost certain she’d seen him before somewhere, but who was he?

At twenty past twelve she put her memory vials in a jar, sealed it, and lowered into the the larger jar of frogspawn. How long before he located her? Better not count on more than twenty-four hours. So much to do, and she didn’t even know his name yet. Theophany blew out her candle and locked the workshop behind her. Her healing body needed rest, and if she would indeed be facing a Memory Charm, best be in fighting form.


Malfoy Manor was looking the worse for wear even since last September. It was as if the presence of so much evil corroded. The Dark Lord had been in fine spirits then, planning the fall of the Ministry and the capture of Potter. Tonight he had been less so, though Snape himself was rejoicing in Mulciber’s obvious discomfort. If Mulciber had nothing to report, then Potter was yet well hidden and there was still time. Following Mulciber’s report, or noticeable lack of, Voldemort cast his eyes around the table. The silence tightened, each relieved when his gaze passed them.

“The wandmaker,” the Dark Lord said at last. “You all know he has been a fellow guest of our own friend Lucius for some time.”

Lucius braced. Narcissa paled. Snape kept an eye on Draco, who appeared so colorless he might fade away in a moment.

“I learned something of interest from him…” Voldemort watched their every breath. “And so was forced to go abroad to meet someone.”

He’s not going to tell us. Unless... Snape kept his mind echo empty, simply absorbing information.

“Gregorovitch.”

Satisfied he had surprised them, the Dark Lord avidly watched the responses. Recognition, confusion, a few presuming to comprehend. Snape’s eyes were blank. The model servant patiently waiting to be instructed.

“I see he is known to some of you.”

“My lord,” Rowle all hesitancy, “Why would you require another wandmaker when Ollivander is here?”

“Fool!” Yaxley broke in, “Gregorovitch has long been known to experiment beyond anything that timid whittler has attempted. If anyone may approach being worthy of making a wand for our lord, it is not that blood traitor but Gregorovitch.”

Further protest and speculation erupted. Draco didn’t seem to hear; he was attentive but somehow not wholly present.

“Silence,” Voldemort hushed them almost lazily. “You are like fishwives gabbling over what is fresher. I do not require a wand to be made, I have no interest in a blood traitor wandmaker or a foreign mongrel who is also very dead. I do have interest in something Gregorovitch possessed.”

Snape felt the spell at work and quickly countered any attempt to search his thoughts. Voldemort’s eyes moved hungrily among them.

“I must know who it was that stole from Gregorovitch. I want his name, and I want him. I don’t care in what order or how.”

No one reacted, no one had any idea what he was talking about, and apparently his Legilimency hadn’t yielded any results, for the Dark Lord jerked his head and his followers stood as one. They bowed, and Voldemort added, “Let me stress I want this thief alive. Whoever harms him will watch themselves fed in pieces to Nagini.”

Slowly rising, they filed from the hall, with murmured honorifics. Snape fell into step beside Draco. The boy didn’t respond, didn’t seem to notice him.

“Draco?”

“Professor, er, that is, Headmaster. I’m sorry, I didn’t see you.”

He made eye contact, he spoke confidently, but Snape could sense Draco was still withdrawn into some inner place.

“I’m sorry, Headmaster, but my father is waiting.”

Snape saw Narcissa watching them and let him go. She looked pained, her eyes anxious. He didn’t dare answer her aloud, only barely shook his head. Draco was giving up, withdrawing to a place they couldn’t reach him. Behold what you have wrought, Narcissa. You tried to protect him too late.

“Any ideas, Severus? Your duties will prevent you from actively joining the search, but I know you would contribute any theories you have for the sake of our master.”

Snape turned towards Mulciber. He couldn’t refuse to respond to Mulciber’s taunt, though he resented the blatant attempt to pick his brain and take the credit.

“Surely your own search takes priority? A further lack of results would be unfortunate.”

Mulciber clenched his teeth. “No reason why I can’t keep an open mind while searching for Potter.” He tried to smile, “Might hear something.”

“One never knows,” Snape drawled. “Gregorovich, while a talented wand maker, was never a proficient wizard. He was Stunned while trying to prevent his own shop from being robbed. I would assume a petty thief could have managed it, but, as he was looking for something in particular and didn’t harm Gregorovich, I’d look for someone personally connected to the family.”

It was all so plausible. He returned Mulciber’s tight smile, bowed, and left. It was disturbing how many of his fellow Death Eaters assumed his appointment to Headmaster was some kind of punishment. Albus had foreseen his promotion, had counted on it, even insisted that Snape make this ambition common knowledge. If the Death Eaters saw it as being sidelined, did the Dark Lord too intend it that way? Was he no longer trusted, or was it because he was still the most trusted?

Snape nodded curtly to Lucius, standing pale sentinel at the door, and stepped into the night. More alarming, did the Dark Lord guess it was his preferred occupation? That he didn’t enjoy the raids, didn’t hunger after destruction and thuggery like the others? Was that counted against him? He’d always offered his intelligence for service over his dueling abilities.

Once, he felt, the Dark Lord might have confided to him what he was seeking. But he’d become more secretive of late, even paranoid. Albus hadn’t counted on Voldemort learning of the Elder Wand, but now that he knew, he would never stop looking. Snape had wondered what the Dark Lord was seeking when he’d left the country but hadn’t suspected, not until the portrait had told him of Gregorovich’s significance. He had to prevent this. The Dark Lord could not, must not, make the connection between Gregorovich and Grindelwald. Snape would have to consult Albus how best to obfuscate this search.

He returned to Hogwarts and locked himself in the headmaster's study. From a drawer he took the vial with Theophany’s hair and placed it on his desk. So many loose ends to tie up.
Chapter 4 by Meadowsweet
Theophany received four responses by owl the next morning volunteering places for her refugees. As she suspected, there was no space for a family of three together. They would have to choose who took the child and who went separate. In response she set up meeting times with the hosts and notified Feagle Allsopp, her contact in London, that she had found room and board. In addition she penned a quick letter to Otho Aubuchon. They had only met occasionally, but she was certain he’d make time for Merryn’s sister. To Merryn she sent a brief note, humbly asking permission to travel to London to transport Muggle-borns to safety. It was her job; he couldn’t very well refuse. Praying that she received quick responses from everyone, she threw herself into housework.

The horklumps were again chased from the garden, the last of the fall produce stored in the cellar, and the doxies in the attic repelled. She even had time to coerce the twins in from the garden where they were tending the rabbit hutch. In the end they compromised, doing homework at the kitchen table with a newly orphaned baby rabbit swaddled in a tea towel. Not much work was done as they tempted the tiny kit with vegetable scraps and complained that teachers were much sterner than when Theophany had attended the village charter school. Theophany was hotly defending Mrs. Teague, who had been teaching maths since before Theophany attended school, when Hero flew through the open window and landed on the breakfast table. The owl swooned dramatically onto the pile of textbooks, pointedly offering her leg with its large bundle of letters.

“Yes, yes, you’re a trooper. Thank you, Hero. I hope it wasn’t too heavy.”

Hero harrumphed but allowed Prosper to pet her and offer part of his biscuit. Theophany quickly rifled through the envelopes. Allsopp’s she kept on top, hiding the others from view.

“I have to go answer these, but when I get back I expect both of you to have finished Mrs. Teague’s assignment.”

The twins studiously bent their heads over their work. Theophany doubted this pose lasted long after she left the kitchen.

Allsopp had sent times, meeting places, and photos. Mrs. Honeysett and Felix, her son aged twelve, smiled widely from the photograph. It had been taken in a garden. Felix squinted at the camera and grinned. His mother shaded her eyes shyly but her smile was as bright as her son’s. The Poindexters, Quintus and Piper, cooed and smiled over their baby, Daisy. The picture was taken shortly after her birth. How could she ask them to split up their small family? There’s no other choice. Theophany gave herself a mental shake. Just keep them safe.

She’d meet the Poindexters and supply them with temporary papers and train tickets. She’d accompany the Honeysetts herself. Otho’s response was brief and barely cordial. Anytime she was in London, he wrote, she had only to present herself at the Portkey Office and Apparition Test Center between the hours of one and three o’clock.

Maddeningly there was nothing from Merryn. Theophany forced herself to relax. It had only been a day. Here she was warded and safe. She couldn’t be found. Once she stepped beyond The Mill, that’s when the clock started ticking. She’d given herself twenty-four hours before the spy pinpointed her location.



The Revelio Spell had many forms. Snape was most interested in Homenum Revelio. Usually used only in the caster’s immediate vicinity, it could still reveal at longer distances when paired with a location spell. Such was the principle behind simple homing spells cast on enchanted objects. He was reminded briefly of the Weasley’s fine clock. He’d always intended to ask how they acquired it; too late now.

The Four Point Spell recommended itself for its simplicity. Again, it was a local spell but when tied to a physical object, person, or part of a person, the results were satisfactory. He held the vial to the light; the single hair inside changed to a bronze hue. Of course there were a dozen Dark spells he could cast, most of them causing great pain to their target. Wizards and witches of old had been cautious to the point of paranoia of guarding themselves. Why else bother burning hair from a brush? But he had no wish to harm Miss Knapp or commit more Dark spells than necessary. Snape first cast Homenum Revelio. The hair in the vial curled a little, but no other indication of the spell working was visible. He then placed his wand on top of the vial.

“Point me.”

The wand spun, wavered, spun again, and wavered between two points. Indecisive. She was under heavy magical protection still. Blocked herself from being traced by owl and more, it seemed. He retrieved his wand and pocketed it. He’d have to keep watch; she couldn’t stay warded forever. In the meantime, the Elder Wand was a pressing concern.

“Albus.”

“Yes, Severus?”

“You’re sure Grindelwald stole the Elder Wand himself?”

“How else could he have become its master?”

“He could have hired someone or discovered the true thief and overpowered them.”

“The prevailing interpretation is that one can only become the master of the Elder wand through murder. I convinced Gellert otherwise.”

“Then it’s more than plausible,” Snape pressed, “that someone who didn’t know about the wand stole it during a petty robbery and that Gregorovich remains its master. Since the Dark Lord has interrogated and murdered Gregorovich, he’d be more than pleased to learn he is already master of the wand; he only need find it.”

“Thus preventing him from realizing Grindelwald ever had it.” Albus mused.

“If he learns it was Grindelwald’s, it’s over. Everyone knows who defeated Grindelwald.”

Albus sighed. “Our past actions, even our so-called feats, come back to haunt us. So,” he looked over his spectacles at Snape, “you intend to lay a false trail.”

“Long and obscure enough to delay him while Potter…” Snape sank into a chair, “while Potter tries to accomplish whatever he’s doing.”

“You sound defeated already—”

“I still don’t understand!” Snape was back on his feet, pacing. “You’ve sent a teenager on some secret mission when instead the whole Order should be—”

“A large scale operation would have lost us the element of surprise and Harry would have been killed—”

“But isn’t that the point!” Snape spat. “Does it matter to you at all when he dies? It seems you were resigned to the fact that it is his ultimate purpose.”

Albus said quietly, “You’ve said this before.”

“When you told me that the result of all my actions led to this, that our goal is the murder of a teenage boy. Yes, I might have mentioned it.”

“Believe me, Severus, there is no other way. And I believe that if Harry succeeds in his task there is a—a possibility…”

Snape looked around sharply. “Go on. What? A possibility of what?”

Dumbledore shook his head. “This magic is too old, and with no precedent I can’t be sure.”

And that was all Snape could get from him. He stormed a little longer, more for the sake of venting than for hope of an answer. Snape collapsed into the armchair by the fire and sat silently for a few minutes.

“So,” Snape said between his teeth, “we need a substitute for Grindelwald. A false trail leading to a different thief. Any suggestions for a scapegoat?”

“The lore is unclear after Loxias’s death, and the wand did not reappear until Gregorovitch claimed it.”

“It is assumed Gregorovitch somehow acquired it from the previous master, but in a duel?” Snape scoffed. “That short-sighted windbag? More likely he discovered it after its master had died or, what is more obvious, he stole it himself. No, no that won’t work. If he stole it then, according to the lore, he wouldn’t have killed for it, wouldn’t be its master, and the Dark Lord wouldn’t have won it by killing Gregorovitch. If we—if I—can create a theory that would make the Dark Lord already master of the wand, he is more likely to believe it.”

The wind was picking up outside. The portraits, always cast into slumber before these little chats, shivered and snuggled deeper into their respective cloaks, tunics, or armor.

“So he acquires it without winning it,” Snape continued, “and uses it for his experiments in wandlore, spreading the rumor that he has an ancient artifact as the source of his study, lending credence and status to his work. Then what?”

Snape pinched his nose in thought. Dumbledore hushed the portrait of Edesa Sakndenberg, who was muttering in her sleep.

“Arcus and Livius,” Snape said at last. “No one knows which of them was master after Loxias, and surely, whoever wasn’t the master desired the wand. How aggravating to be the most powerful wizard in the world by rumor only. So when they hear their old rival is dead and a wandmaker has it, they take it for themselves.”

“And which is it, Arcus or Livius, must be discovered,” Albus said approvingly.

Snape leaned his head back and stared at the tower ceiling. “I can’t say as much. Some evidence must be discovered by a different servant for the Dark Lord to interpret on his own. He isn’t unintelligent, but if the story favors him already having mastered the wand, he’ll believe it.”

Albus smiled beatifically down on him. “I’m sure I must have said so before, Severus, but I’d like to thank you for never flattering me. It’s disturbing to see how easily manipulated it can make one. Even Riddle.”

Snape Summoned the ottoman and propped up his feet. “Who’s flattering who now? Unlike you, the Dark Lord gives me some material to work with. Now, I need to think.”

“You need to sleep,” Dumbledore’s portrait insisted softly. But his successor gave no indication he heard, and the candles were left to gutter low again that night.



Merryn contacted Theophany via Floo that night. He couldn’t very well forbid her to go but insisted on learning her itinerary.

“After you contact Allsop, what then?”

“He’ll take me to meet the Poindexters and Honeysetts, separately,” Theophany recited from Allsop’s letter. “The Poindexters will split up and meet their designated host families. I’ll accompany Mrs. Honeysett and her son to their new home.”

Her brother looked tired; the flames revealed deep shadows under his eyes.

“And that’s all?”

“I’m meeting Otho Aubuchon,” Theophany blurted.

Merryn closed his eyes. “Well, you did warn us you were going to look into it. But, Tiff, the risk to you is also a risk to the community—”

“That’s not true. The task of Secret-Keeper passes on to the next person.”

“You do so much more than merely keep the secret. It may not be as it looks. Why not trust our superiors?”

“Because I think they may be receiving anonymous information that—that I might be able to verify as trustworthy.”

If I can get close enough, she added silently.

“What then? Otho won’t have all the answers; you intend to go back tomorrow and the day after that and question everyone?”

She shook her head. “I won’t have time. It’s tomorrow or never.”

Merryn wanted to know more, but that was all she could say. If this spy really was a spy and operated alone, unconnected, anything she did could compromise his cover.

Which was another reason why, the next morning, Theophany had multiple butterflies in her stomach. Silyn saw her to the edge of the valley, and she tried not to blench as she stepped out of the protective spells. That was it, she was visible, the clock was ticking. He could find her anytime, but even with the best spellwork she had at least today.

Apparating to London was easy, but the random checks made by Ministry officials slowed her down. She was Theophany Knapp, a potions and ingredient supplier for Cornwall, in town for some ordinary shopping. Her papers were all in order; Maevan saw to that. All of it truthful; she even did some shopping to prove it but stayed away from the more heavily patrolled Diagon Alley.

Allsop was waiting at the Hand and Heretic. As previously agreed, Theophany entered carrying multiple bags, looking footsore and hungry. While she was peering around for an empty table, Allsop called out and waved. Theophany responded with cheerful surprise and dropped gratefully into his corner booth.

A round, hearty-looking wizard, Allsop acted the part of favorite uncle with ease. As it was getting on towards lunch, the pub quickly filled while they chatted. Shortly before their food arrived, a young couple entered. They looked haggard, but the laughing baby in the pram made a reasonable explanation for their apparent exhaustion. No tables were left, so Allsop graciously offered his booth and Theophany fussed over the baby.

“How old is she?” she asked Piper Poindexter.

“Ten months,” the mother tremulously replied.

Theophany kept her eyes on baby Daisy, letting her chase and grab Theophany’s wriggling fingers. Mrs. Poindexter took a few deep breaths while her husband held her hand tightly. Allsop cast an Eavesdropping Spell from under the table, then nodded to Theophany.

“We have a place for you,” Theophany said simply. “But families can rarely stay together. You have to decide who keeps Daisy.”

Quintus Poindexter paled but didn’t move a muscle. His wife, to her credit, quickly brought her sleeve to her face, as if overcome by heat.

“Will we be close enough to see each other?”

Theophany kept her voice even. No amount of sympathy could make this better.

“No.”

There had been another home in close proximity, but Theophany had been forced to place the Honeysetts there instead. Not everyone had been willing to take a Squib, unfortunately, and the Hughes were willing accommodate Felix Honeysett. Most hosts wanted someone useful.

Allsop nudged her foot. Theophany glanced at him; it wouldn’t help but she could try.

“I’m sorry,” she added to please him but kept her tone still professional. “If you would rather wait…”

Quintus was vehemently shaking his head, then recalled himself and tried to relax a little. No one seemed interested in their table, but the Ministry had willing eyes everywhere.

“There’s no choice. We’re grateful to whomever will take us in. What do we do?”

Theophany blew on her hot pasty. “Look into your glass, Mr. Poindexter. You’ll take the train from King’s Cross from this platform at that time.” As she spoke, the foamy surface of Poindexter’s tankard rippled, displaying the platform and station clock. “You’ll disembark at this destination.” The station changed to a rural scene, the train station name and time again visible. “You will be met by this man.” A wizard’s face swam into view, with frothy eyebrows and beard.

Theophany repeated the process in Mrs. Poindexter’s lemonade. She would be traveling with an elderly-appearing couple presenting themselves as day trippers. It was agreed she would keep Daisy with her.

“For both of you the password is gribbleyskunk. Your guides will identify themselves by that word, and you must respond in kind. You will be provided new names and papers by your guides.”

Theophany placed her napkin in her lap and cut into her meat pie. “Any questions?”

The Poindexters were silent. For appearances sake they picked at their food, but Quintus looked wary and impatient while Piper wilted like grass.

“So,” Theophany smiled, “is Daisy talking yet?”

Piper brightened a little. “Babbling mostly, but just the other day she said ‘no’.”

Theophany kept her talking while Allsop made his departure with great ceremony, shaking hands with the Poindexters, kissing Theophany on the cheek and reminding her to visit, and remembering himself to a fictional extended family. When Theophany finished her pie, she leaned over the pram and said goodbye to Daisy, adding softly, “Split up, don’t return home. Pack nothing.”

They managed to smile as they waved goodbye. Theophany gathered her bags and left with a final, casual wave and a nod to the barkeep. Allsop was waiting for her around the corner.

“I know I’ve said this before,” he began, “but you could be a little less...well abrupt. Professionalism may inspire confidence, but they want to know you are human.”

“You can be hearty and reassuring.” Theophany replied, “but if I’m sympathetic, it only forces their sorrow back onto them. By acknowledging it, I’m asking them to display it. If I don’t mention it, they bear up.”

“Still, a little human emotion?”

“Won’t make it any more pleasant.” Theophany was grim. “Where are the Honeysetts?”

“A safe house. Their home was attacked and raided. They’ve been in hiding ever since.”

“That makes it easier. They’ve already left their lives behind.”

Allsop offered an arm and Theophany took it. Side-along Apparition would protect the location of the safe house. Even she wasn’t to know. They Apparated into an underground garage.

“Sticklers for security, these old buildings,” Allsop apologized. “We have to take the stairs, I’m afraid.”

The building was old but clean, the fixtures and woodwork from a bygone, more grandiose era. Theophany calculated they were only a few streets from the Leaky Cauldron, but she kept that to herself.

Allsop knocked on the door of apartment 213. A whispered exchange was held through the door before it opened. Lavinia Honeysett was beautiful. Theophany found herself wondering if that was her real name; it suited her too perfectly. Her hair and eyes were the color of wild honey, her eyelashes long and hair gently waving. Felix had his mother's eyes but with darker hair and stronger features. Theophany didn’t ask after Mr. Honeysett. Allsop would have been informed if he was in the picture; there was no need for her to know.

“We try to mix parties as much as possible for travel. If the Snatchers are looking for a young couple, we age them and add a fake son or daughter,” Theophany explained. “You will both be traveling with me. I will not be disguised, but Mrs. Honeysett, you will need to drink this.”

She drew a potion bottle from her bag. “Felix isn’t so noticeable once the family resemblance is removed. He shall travel unchanged.”

Lavinia took the bottle and opened it. The potion was cloudy blue and smelled of pine.

“Who will I be?” she asked.

“My brother Silyn. He provided duplicate identification papers for the purpose. The potion is quite strong and will last twelve hours. Allsop has wizard robes for you. Drink the Polyjuice at two p.m. I will collect you at four o’clock. You should use the time in between to become accustomed to your new person and clothes. The smallest slip has betrayed others. You must practice your movements. Your voice won’t change, so avoid speaking in public. Is there anything you need?”

Lavinia looked at Felix; whatever they communicated silently was satisfactory. Lavinia took her son’s hand and looked at Theophany.

“We’ll be ready.”

Allsop saw Theophany to the door.

“You can Apparate from the hall. May I ask,” he inquired carefully, “why the two-hour gap?”

“She does need the practice, but I also have an errand.”

“But the Polyjuice Potion, shouldn’t we use every minute she’s affected?”

“Have you ever known my Polyjuice to last less than fifteen hours?”

“You said twelve!”

“That’s because I’m humble.” Theophany winked. “Oh, and Feagle, when did you first hear that Reading was under attack?”

Feagle Allsop blinked, and shook his head.

“Tragic, tragic. With Tricklebank gone, there was no warning, and I didn’t hear until long after it began. In the wee hours it was.”

“Thanks. Hold these for me until I get back.”

Interrupting his questions, she dumped her shopping bags into his arm and Disapparated.

The visitors’ entrance to the Ministry of Magic was the same, thankfully, though she’d heard the employees’ entrance had moved. Theophany stepped into the telephone booth and took a deep breath.

6-2-4-4-2

“Hello!” Theophany trilled into the phone and winced; she sounded like a teenager at her first job interview. “Theophany Knapp. I have a meeting with Otho Aubuchon. Portkey Office.”

The visitor badge rattled into the slot, and she pinned it to her lapel and checked her watch. Ten minutes until two.

“...you are required to submit to a search and present your wand…”

The box was finally lowering. Theophany tapped her foot.

“...We at the Ministry of Magic wish you a pleasant day.”

She stepped into the Atrium. With a quick glance around she located the visitors' desk and presented both herself and her wand for inspection.

“Willow, twelve inches, dragon heartstring.” The ministry clerk read. “Been in use…”

Theophany caught her breath. Would it count the previous owner’s use? If it said two days, she might be arrested on the spot.

“Six years.”

She breathed again.

“Lifts are straight ahead.”

“Thanks!” Theophany flashed him a smile and he blushed. Theophany mentally got a hold of herself. Stop overcompensating for nerves. She requested level six in a crisp tone. The long corridor was unmarked, so Theophany marched its length, reading doors as she went. Broom Regulatory Control, Registration of Temporary Magical Transportation, Portkey Office.

“Hello. I’m here to speak with Otho Aubuchon,” she informed the witch with impossibly blonde hair who sat behind the desk.

“Sign in, please. He’s straight on, fifth door on the left.”

Theophany thanked her and stepped through. The first door was open, revealing a witch struggling with a crate full of old toddler toys. Some were spinning, others glowing, and their number was in constant flux as toys appeared and reappeared at random. The second office door was shut but she could hear raised voices.

“I thought Portkeys were supposed to be safer than Apparition! If we hadn’t noticed it was off, we could have been picking up the pieces from here to—”

Offices three and four were silent. The fifth office too was still. Theophany knocked.

“Come in.”

Otho Aubuchon was a slight wizard, about Merryn’s age. He had the mild expression of all civil servants. Combined with his indifferent dress sense and curly hair, he seemed harmless.

“Theophany Knapp.” She put out a hand. “We’ve met only briefly.”

“Yes, of course.” Otho shook her hand. “How can I help you?”

“Should we go out? Have you eaten?”

Otho understood her. “My office is always protected against eavesdroppers. Some of the work I do is sensitive, so it’s expected.”

“But to discuss this here—?”

“Being seen meeting someone outside of work would attract more attention. This way you’re the sister of a friend, looking for a Ministry job, and I felt obliged to give you some time.”

Theophany smiled back. “Nice of you.”

As if put off by her genuine smile, Otho became professionally cordial again. “So, what can I do?”

Theophany held his gaze. “Feagle Allsop, my London contact, only heard about the attack on Reading in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Assistance didn’t arrive until eight in the evening. Haven Alley was attacked after dusk, which being November was roughly four forty-five. The wizards and witches who arrived in aid were mostly relatives or had connections in the area and were contacted individually and privately for help. We, we the resistance, were alerted and arrived at eight forty-seven to discover there were members of our organization already present who had been warned in advance and arrived at four in the afternoon. Mr. Jacka, of Frog’s Hollow, received word through contacts in Kent. Our counterattack was non-existent. We were few in number and had evacuated as many as possible in the short time we had.”

SIlyn had given her all the details. As usual he had been one of the first to respond.

“These early arrivers were informed by Jacka. You, Mr. Aubuchon, sent word to my brother, Merryn Knapp, at eight o’clock that an attack was underway in Reading. That makes Jacka the first to know, and he only had it on hearsay. So why were we, the Dagda, so late in finding out?”

Otho Aubuchon probably played cards. His face hadn’t changed from polite concern. She might have been complaining about her plate to an experienced maitre d’.

“I receive my orders anonymously,” Otho said slowly. “For security reasons, obviously. As to why I received this information later than others...I can’t guess. We’re a wide body, forced to operate and communicate obliquely. These things happen.”

“Croydon, Bristol, Beccles, Slough. All since last July. These things happen with disturbing frequency recently. Each village was attacked, and each time there was an early response with an untraceable origin, except that Jacka or another werewo—”

Otho gestured frantically. Perhaps certain trigger words would release the Anti-Eavesdropping Charms.

“—Friend of Jacka’s,” Theophany substituted, “was the first to receive word. Where are the tips coming from?”

Otho leaned back.

“Why don’t you tell me what you’re accusing me of, exactly?”

“Oh no, I’m not accusing you of anything! Well, maybe I’m saying you’ve been turning a blind eye. Someone isn’t using the channels of communication as they should. Information isn’t being verified by three members and presented to the group as agreed, but being directly sent to active groups for immediate action, specifically communities of—of people like Jacka. If this intelligence is originating from outside of our organization, then our people may be sent into a trap at any time. If it is coming from inside, but from a single person—”

“Then someone has real time information. A direct source—”

“And they’re keeping it from everyone else,” Theophany finished. “I knew you had to have noticed it. And it’s not just the attacks, is it? Other information is being fed directly into our intelligence collection, but no one knows where it comes from.”

Otho looked at his clasped hands.

“Suppose a reasonably intelligent, somewhat high ranking member of our organization did indeed notice this phenomenon.”

Theophany raised an eyebrow. Otho gestured her to keep silent.

“Let’s say someone trusted with transporting materials and people for the resistance. Someone, in, say, in the Portkey Department, noticed people being moved just before certain events transpired. Or goods being ordered and delivered just before they were needed.”

Theophany leaned in. “And what would this person do, in such a situation?”

“Tracing orders, comparing times, much the same as you have done yourself, Miss Knapp. Should such a person actually exist.”

“Of course.”

“And as we have established, this person would be, or could be, of some standing, so he would apply directly to leaders within the resistance. Would he do so?”

Theophany studied him. A little fusty, very conscientious. “He would.”

Otho brought his hands down on the table with a smack.

“Aha! And there’s the catch. Such a person—who bears no resemblance to myself—would find his inquiries into such a delicate subject instantly shut down, his motives examined, and his person under suspicion. Simply for questioning his superiors.” He resumed in his former bland tone, “That would be the conclusion to this hypothetical situation.”

Theophany nodded. “If it leads nowhere, then why tell it?”

Otho looked at her hard. “Consider it a cautionary tale.”

She stood and offered her hand. “In that case I’m very grateful you shared it. Thank you.”

Otho shook her hand and said goodbye. When Theophany reached the door he spoke suddenly.

“If I had remembered, before you left, I would have told you that our hypothetical protagonist would have shed some light on the matter. He might have theorized that the safest course for an informant in such a situation would be to inform several people simultaneously but separately. In that case everyone knows but everyone thinks he is the only one who knows.”

Theophany didn’t turn around. Otho added sadly, “As I said, should have mentioned it. Only you’d already left.”

So she did. Theophany signed out, took the lift to the ground floor, and returned her badge.

When she stepped from the telephone booth, she checked her watch. Twenty to three o’clock. She would meet Allsop at King’s Cross, they’d Apparate together to the safehouse and collect the Honeysetts at four. What could she do in an hour?

She had been right, Otho had confirmed it, but she had nothing to connect the two sides. On the one hand, an anonymous source giving real time information and apparently through channels of the werewolf community. On the other, a Death Eater who showed compassion. She sighed. How to connect them? The sword? Could it be connected to some resistance plot? It was her only evidence he was involved in any Anti-Death Eater activity. But why pass off a fake? What was the sword needed to accomplish? It was locked away in a vault, and any inquiries she made from the resistance side would be swiftly dealt with, as Otho had experienced. It wasn’t like she could enquire from the other direction—yes, excuse me, Mr. Dark Lord, were you looking for a sword by any chance? Besides, the only Death Eater of her acquaintance had withheld his name. Who’s Who should come with pictures and descriptions.

Theophany continued to walk briskly but had no real destination. Her adrenaline simply pushed her forward. Muggles brushed against her and moved on, confused by her strange clothes for a minute before forgetting her entirely. The clock was ticking. Five past three. She was annoyed with herself. She was sure she’d seen the Death Eater somewhere before. If only she could think of a place to associate him with, or find someone to ask. Who, other than the enemy, had seen him? Theophany stopped. Someone had. Glancing both ways she stepped into an alley and Disapparated.

Diagon Alley was a crush of people. Quickly, quickly, she pushed herself through. The press of shoppers carried her along to Knockturn. Out of breath and disheveled, she fought out of the crowd and into the dim light of the back alley. The Spiny Serpent was empty. Maybe she’d missed the lunch rush, though she’d be surprised to see more than half a dozen tables occupied if it was the last pub on earth. Hallelujah, the same barkeep was behind the counter. Dropping gratefully onto a seat at the bar, she ordered something strong. She didn’t care. Theophany grinned over the top of her glass.

“Thanks, it’s mad out there.”

The barkeep grunted. Theophany concentrated on slowing her racing heart. The drink was firewhiskey, she believed, but a higher proof than she’d ever tasted. She wondered if it was legal and took another sip. With a look at her watch and a theatrical start she called for a glass of water. It came in a grimy glass but she downed it anyway and slapped a tip on the counter.

“By the way, I was in here the other day, you might remember, I was a bit off colour and you kindly let us use your Floo. Anyway, chap I was with, seen him since?”

The bartender eyed her once and went back to scraping scum off the counter with a bent knife.

“Nope.”

“Sure?”

Certain. Now bugger off.”

Theophany added more Galleons to the tip. Slowly.

“I’ve got to run, just want to leave a message for him. I know he’s in occasionally. Say I’ve got what he’s looking for, right? Got that?”

Eyes on the gold, the barman nodded. Theophany slid off her stool, keeping her hand on the coins. She chewed her lip, simulating coy uncertainty.

“Sure you’ll know him again? Tall, dark, hooked nose, bit sickly looking?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know what Severus Snape looks like. Bloody hell. He owe you money or something?”

Theophany gave him a warm and sincere smile. “Something all right. Cheers!”

She stepped outside, and Knockturn Alley had never looked so beautiful. Theophany grinned to herself. At last a name. Severus Snape. She was certain it was right, could almost picture it in type, but where had she seen it printed before? Her watch showed nearly half past. She had half an hour to get the information she needed.

Out of Knockturn and back into Diagon Alley, she turned south. If she vaguely knew the name, remotely as she lived, it must be common enough knowledge. The front of Whiz Hard Books was crowded and a queue spilled into the street. Theophany slid through and reached the offices of the Daily Prophet. The atrium was almost empty excepting the guard and the young wizard sitting in reception. He looked Theophany up and down and waited for her to speak.

“Archives, please,” she said crisply.

“Sub level three.”

He signed her in and then wrote her name and purpose on a slip of parchment and folded it. At the touch of his wand the memo leapt into the air and fluttered off.

“I’d try and keep up if I were you,” he said in a bored tone.

Theophany chased after the interoffice memo. It took her to the lift, fluttering agitatedly while she punched the button for B3. She could smell the ink and paper, and the dust, as soon as she stepped off. The hall was full of wheeled shelves, squeaking back and forth on brass wheels, each loaded with wheels of undeveloped film or document boxes. At the far end of the hall an elderly wizard halted each shelf, checked its contents against his clipboard, and waved it on. The paper memo bonked against his clip board until he caught it and opened it.

“Miss Knapp?” he asked.

“Excuse me, sorry to bother. I’m here for a little research…”

The wizard barely glanced up. “Follow me.”

The carts abruptly stopped their to and fro, though a few seemed confused which way they should go and followed Theophany and her guide into the archives. There were print archives, microfilm, undeveloped reels, carefully preserved scrolls and even a shelf with carefully wrapped stone tablets.

“Subject and dates of interest?”

Now or never.

“Everything you have on Severus Snape.”

He blinked at her. “Anything in particular?”

Was the librarian a reporter too? Two-faced propaganda pushers. She quirked an eyebrow.

“Is he such an unusual subject?”

“No, no, I mean, given his position, one might say it’s unusual that there aren’t more inquiries. Still it’s a little early for a biography.”

“Not a full work, no, but a biographical piece.” Theophany replied sunnily. “Maybe a professional profile only. It’s sort of a labor of love, a series…”

She was stammering a little but hoped it would be mistaken for self consciousness.

“Well, it won’t take you long; there’s not a lot. Some of it’s been compressed for storage, but the recent article from August will be in print.”

He continued to chat while he settled Theophany at a desk and fetched some newspapers sealed in brown paper and a roll of microfilm. It was indeed a very small amount. She assured him she could do the rest without assistance and spun the wheel on the Camera Aperient. Unlike the Camera Obscura Louis Daguerre had patented for Muggle use, his Camera Aperient was intended for enchanted wizard film. After she set the wheel spinning, the Aperient began to puff, and Theophany set the first wheel of microfilm on the spindle. It slowly unwound itself, and she put her eyes to the lens. The news page was dated February 8th, 1981. The picture showed a seated panel of grim-faced Wizards. They weren’t speaking to each other and looked exhausted.

Wizengamot Sits for 102nd Day: For what some are calling the longest court session since the trials of 1944 the end is in sight. The court expressed hope that the last Death Eaters in custody will be tried by the end of the week. The names of those yet to appear before the court are listed here for our readers. Those who have been tried may be found below as published previously. We will continue to update the list….

Theophany’s eyes slid through the dishearteningly long list. Sabithine, Adonis. Sellers, Daniel. Shortteeth, Ruel. Skint, Adam. Snape, Severus… That wasn’t much of a surprise. He looked the right age to have been an early supporter. She continued to read, but his name only appeared in lists, never alone or with details. No pictures. The final list appeared under the headline, Ministry Official Against All Pardons:
“...head of Central has issued a statement regarding the pardons and alleviated sentences passed by the Wizengamot. “Imperius Curse or not,” he told reporters on Tuesday…” Typical politician, post-crisis grandstanding.
Taking the so-called hard line, Theophany thought. “...our readers can find those pardoned and found innocent, or acting under an Unforgivable Curse, on page...”

And there he was again. Severus Snape. No details. No picture. Frustrated, Theophany removed the reel and tried the next. The roll of film spanned the next decade, Snape appearing only in name and never the principal subject. Usually in tandem with Hogwarts School. Anonymous, forgettable.

Ten till four. Theophany switched off the Aperient and unwrapped the newsprint. It was from only four months ago. The headlines were full of the new regime, the “untimely death” of Minister Rufus Scrimgeour. Theophany wasn’t sure why the newspaper was included in her search until she turned past the front page. Severus Snape Confirmed as Hogwarts Headmaster.There he was, scowling at the camera like it offended him personally. Theophany let out a triumphant gasp and ran to the front to demand a copy.

This is what she had seen, she could remember it now. The months of hearsay and confusion after Severus Snape was witnessed fleeing Hogwarts by Harry Potter after Albus Dumbledore’s murder. Then in August the famous Potter, in absentia, and Dumbledore, posthumously slung with mud, were attacked by the likes of correspondents like Rita Skeeter while Snape was installed as Headmaster. Such a position would grant him influence but also place him under public scrutiny. On the other hand, the degree of trust You-Know-Who must have in Snape threw doubt on his motives.

She placed the rolled copy in her pocket and jabbed the button on the lift. With aching slowness it rattled upwards. Four minutes until the hour. Six hours since she left the protection of The Mill. How long did she have until he found her? Theophany briefly thanked the unresponsive receptionist and asked if it was possible to Disapparate from the atrium. With a vague wave the young wizard invited her to be his guest and, surprisingly enough, winked at her. Theophany turned on the spot and arrived at Kings Cross just as the bell struck.
End Notes:
Thank you for reading!
Chapter 5 by Meadowsweet
It was sometime after Madame Pomfrey’s tremulous report that the amount of injured students in her ward was unacceptable but before Alecto Carrow started screaming that Snape noticed the vial on his desk was moving.

His morning had already been wasted in meaningless correspondence with the Ministry. Yes, he had received their letter and yes, he’d heard that Muggle-borns were going into hiding. No, he was certain none had been spotted within Hogsmeade. Yes, he fully approved searching any suspicious premises and monitoring all modes of transportation. No, he would not submit a concerned statement to that effect to the press.

Shortly after he’d tossed the last Ministry owl from the window, Poppy had turned up. Snape really prefered having these conversations at the teachers’ table in the Great Hall, but the school nurse had formally requested an audience. It seemed he was to be treated with chilly outward respect. So Poppy spoke succinctly, never quite looking at him. Her eyes did flick to the portrait hanging behind the desk with something like horror. Maybe she thought he’d hung it like a trophy. One finger to his temple, he only half listened. His head ached horribly. Unabated Occlumency or sleep deprivation? Just audible under Poppy’s recital something was clicking. He thought all of Albus’s contraptions were still; they appeared to have stopped with their owner. Poppy continued for ten minutes, the tapping sound gradually putting his teeth on edge. They both knew the majority of student injuries were caused by the Carrows, while the remainder were casualties of student guerilla warfare.

Why, why won’t they keep their heads down? The battle isn’t here, what are they accomplishing here?

“The infirmary is well stocked?”

Poppy stammered to a stop. Tick Tick went the noise.

“W-Well, Horace has been brewing everything I need. But we’re well above our average injury intake, and when the school governors see the quarter health report—”

“Are parents complaining? Are the students claiming abuse?”

“I have no idea what the students are saying in their private correspondence,” Poppy replied coldly, “but I’ve received no inquiries or complaints.”

“Then any further discussion is pointless, so if you’ve finished wasting my time…”

Tick Tick.

His eye fell on the desk lamp. At its base an empty vial was rolling. Or seemingly empty. One long, dark hair was curling over itself inside. It would pull itself forward like an inchworm, taking its glass shell with it, only to be stopped short by the unyielding brass lamp.

“Then I suppose that will be all,” Poppy said tartly, having waited sometime for him to speak.

Snape looked up sharply, bit his tongue against the automatic apology there, and nodded curtly. That was when they heard it. Alecto’s voice, magically augmented, screaming furiously.

“We’ve been too lenient with you! If you will not learn, you will comply! All students are to return to their houses at once. Any student found in the corridors will be punished severely. Any student in or near the dungeons is to report directly to my office, and God help anyone who thinks they can deny they were ever there!”

Poppy’s eyes were teary, her face pale. Snape stood.

“Screaming is so...unnecessary,” he drawled. Under cover of the billowing professors’ robe, so unexpectedly helpful for espionage, he palmed the vial and swept from the office. Whatever attack Dumbledore’s Army had perpetuated had to be dealt with swiftly. He had no idea how long Knapp would be visible. He only hoped it was something harmless, perhaps dungbombs, anything that could be passed over lightly. A detention with Hagrid at most.

They descended the stair and entered the hallway below. Students were filing obediently towards their houses and parted silently for Snape and Madam Pomfrey. As they descended towards the dungeons, the crowd of students became much more scarce. They past the Potions classroom and continued towards the part of the dungeons which, until the Carrows, hadn’t been in use. Alecto was pacing from one locked cell to another while Crabbe kept his wand pointed on the student leaning against the far wall. Longbottom was using his sleeve to mop at a vicious cut on his face.

Gone!” Alecto hissed. “Would you care to explain how six students held for detention have disappeared?”

“Don’t know, Professor. I was upstairs in class with you—”

“Silence!” she shrieked.

Snape walked to the first cell. It was locked, the key visible from the inside, and a neat little pile of clothes lay on the stone floor as if the student had simply vaporized. Of course no such thing had happened, but someone in the D.A. had a sense of humor. Snape wouldn’t recommend mocking the Carrows. Bloody Gryffindors.

“What exactly has happened?”

Alecto smoothed her face, adopting a concerned oily tone.

“I had just finished teaching, Headmaster, when Crabbe ran in and informed me he’d spotted a few students, known to be in detention, leaving the dungeons. This excellent student was suspicious and came to me at once so as to not alert the culprits. I dismissed my class when this boy, here, this—this blood traitor,” the struggle seemed great but she managed to control her voice again, “asked me, me, that as I had just lectured on the importance of proper registration and documentation of bloodlines, I must know how much Muggle blood I had. Can you believe that, Severus? He practically called me a Mudblood to my face.”

She dabbed her eyes. Feminine distress did not suit her.

“How regrettable. We can’t have students using language like that. This is a school, after all. Poppy, would you please see to Mr. Longbottom’s face? He seems to have hurt himself.”

Madam Pomfrey, restraints released, leapt forward, but Alecto flung out an arm.

“No! Headmaster, seeing this is a personal offence, I ask that I may oversee his punishment myself.”

Longbottom showed no distress but explored his split lip with his tongue like no one else was in the room.

“Certainly, Alecto. It wouldn’t be harmful for Mr. Longbottom to learn a little tact...no matter his family.”

Alecto blanched. She could barely claim half-blood status. Certain relatives had been disregarded in her family tree to raise her to that status. Longbottom, had he been in Slytherin, would have been her pet student.

“We wouldn’t want other parents to hear he had been roughly treated. They might accuse us of abusing our position,” Snape continued calmly.

Blood traitor or not, certain exalted families would not be pleased to hear a pureblood student was severely punished. They expected that status to protect anyone, even a traitor. Alecto drew herself up haughtily.

“I will bear that in mind, Headmaster. Even wounded in spirit, I can be reasonable.”

Snape turned to leave.

“But there is the matter of the accomplice!”

Damn them all to hell with wood nettle in their

“Accomplice?” he said blandly.

“Obviously Longbottom was providing a distraction. It was another student who actually let them out. Corner. Ravenclaw. I ask you oversee his punishment personally. I don’t trust that moronic mongrel, Hagrid.”

Snape seethed.

“Fine, send him to my office.” He took a step closer, letting his voice drop. “But I don’t like having my time wasted on petty detentions. If you can’t handle adolescent pranks, then I will find someone who can.”

He couldn’t guess if she was furious or terrified. He hoped she was afraid, hoped he was still seen as having the Dark Lord’s ear. She broke eye contact and he whirled around to leave. The vial was dancing a little jig in his pocket, and the minutes were slipping by.

Alecto must have dispatched Crabbe to fetch Corner, for he arrived in the Headmaster’s office minutes after Snape himself. He was sporting no injuries, unlike Longbottom, and carried his chin high. They stared at each other for a few minutes.

“What do I do with you?”

Corner’s gaze didn’t flinch.

“Answer me when I speak to you.”

“Sorry…Professor. I thought the question was rhetorical.”

“No, I want to know what you think is going to happen.”

The boy’s face looked wary, looking for some trick.

“Nobody really knows what to expect with your detentions, now that you’re headmaster, sir. The Carrows punish most everyone, or Hagrid. And nobody talks about what happens in detention with you, sir.”

Snape stayed silent. It usually worked.

“Some say it’s because of trauma, others reckon you wipe their memories,” Corner finished.

“And why would I do that?”

“Psychological warfare,” Corner replied promptly before remembering to add, “sir.”

Snape sighed.

“I’m glad to hear I’m putting such effort into it.” He drew his wand and saw Corner’s hand twitch reflexively towards his own. So they were practicing defense in secret. “Today, let’s try something different. Confundo!

Snape could see the boy relax, then blink.

“You just put the Confundus Charm on me.” He didn’t sound accusing, just interested.

“Oh, very good, considering your state. Yes, you’re right. I do usually Obliviate the students placed in detention, but maybe it’s time someone carried a story back. Now, what do you fear I will do to you?”

Michael Corner frowned in concentration. The charm seemed to make some sleepy, others muddled, a few intoxicated. The boy seemed to be merely unconcerned.

“Well,” he scratched his chin, “you could string me up by my thumbs. It’s the sort of thing the Carrows would do.”

“Surely the student body gives me a little more credit than that?”

“Yah, not enough finesse. You could make me write lines in my own blood like Umbridge did to Harry.”

“Did she? How nauseating.”

“Um. I’m terrified of heights. Maybe you could put the full Body-Bind on me and make me stand on the window ledge.”

“Imaginative but infantile. I’m looking something more befitting a dark wizard – not an Unforgivable Curse.”

“Dark Arts but not an Unforgivable? That’s tough.”

Snape raised an eyebrow.

“Thank you for noticing.”

“Got it! You interrogate me for hours, asking the same questions over again. Names, where we meet, that sort of thing. I’m exhausted and thirsty and you make me stand until I collapse.”

“Then you regain consciousness on my office floor, I’ve forgotten all about you and gone about my business, and your memories of the whole affair are vague. But you know it happened.”

Corner was nodding.

“Exactly.”

“You can see it in your mind.”

“Perfectly.”

Snape stood. “Well done. You have a bright future, though it may not come to pass, should you continue jailbreaking classmates. The Carrows shouldn’t be pushed; restrain your activities to minor infringements.”

Corner was frowning in confusion. Snape sighed. Nothing he said would stick anyway. He appreciated the ridiculousness of the situation, but that didn’t make it bearable.

“Much as I’ve enjoyed this little chat, I’d rather not have it repeated.”

He brought his wand up. The Stunning Spell hit Corner between the eyes, and he toppled heavily to the floor. Snape walked over and felt his pulse. There’d be a few bruises to lend credence to the story. He quickly locked the office door, though no one was likely to come. Corner was breathing softly.

“Poppy will murder me.” He shook his head. “If no one else does first.”

Snape pulled the vial from his pocket. The hair inside was still active, but it was impossible to know how much longer. He opened the window, and the cold wind howled into the room. It was daylight for a few hours yet. Holding the vial in his hand he balanced his wand on top.

“Point me.”

The wand spun and then stopped. Southwest. London? Or closer. Apparating would be faster, but he could overshoot his target. Best keep an eye on the wand point, and should it reverse, he’d know he’d gone too far. Snape sighed; this was going to be tedious. Stepping from the window, he took flight over the forest and was out of sight before Corner began to snore.


It seemed Theophany’s excitement was visible; Allsop kept glancing sideways at her. Fortunately the Honeysetts prevented any private conversation. Lavinia was wonderful. She swung along, unselfconscious, in her borrowed wizard’s robes. It was strange to see Silyn, faux Silyn at least, without his wide-eyed smile. Theophany only had one critique.

“Don’t look worried for him,” she whispered.

“Sorry?”

“Felix. You keep checking on him and looking anxious when he’s walking ahead. Look annoyed, like he’s your kid brother.”

Lavina put on a bored scowl and widened the distance between herself and her son. Their tickets were booked in advance, and the conductor paid them no extra attention. Within a few minutes they were seated in a nearly empty compartment. Their companions were an elderly couple and a young witch buried in a book with the partially visible title ‘Entwined—’.

Theophany itched for ink and parchment. If only she could write it neat and orderly, maybe something would make sense. Severus Snape, Headmaster of Hogwarts, Death Eater...spy? It was a leap; she could almost laugh at herself. But that night in Reading she had come to the front lines, and instead of the enemy she had found, what exactly? An ally who would most certainly hunt her down.

After a delay, security checks were interminable, the train slowly pulled out. Felix, chin in hand, watched the scenery. He was fantastic, even looked bored. Theophany glanced at him sharply; he was bored. Maybe this was all a little anticlimactic. With Silyn’s long legs stretched in front of her, Lavinia perused The Daily Prophet, but she was tense. Theophany felt the reassuring crinkle in her pocket of the Prophet article. It contained little to no useful information, but the picture might be important. An hour after their departure Felix dug into his bag and pulled out a packet of sandwiches. Bless Allsop. Felix politely offered one to Theophany, but she declined and volunteered a game of gobstones. She had lost two games when the train shuddered to a stop.

“We can’t be there already,” Lavina said sharply.

“Probably a rural station, shouldn’t be a long delay,” the old wizard volunteered.

Theophany smiled and nodded. Felix took his turn and captured two more of her pieces. She stared at the board but wasn’t really playing. There were footsteps further down the corridor, still a few compartments down. Should she alter their tickets so they could disembark immediately? But any official would check for forgery if the train was really being searched. The party of footsteps slowly grew closer. If they were pausing in each compartment, then it was surely a search. Manhunt or random check? Don’t change a thing, do nothing defensive.

Theophany paused, halfway to choosing a piece, when the compartment door slid open. Two wizards entered. Neither wore the uniform of the train. Definitely Magical Law Enforcement. One wizard leaned against the door, wand drawn but at his side, while the other checked papers and tickets. Felix was the only one with false papers; Prosper’s name was there but the picture and information were false.

“You’re brothers and sister?”

“That’s right,” Lavinia replied hoarsely. Silyn’s pale eyes and hair were nothing like Theophany’s dark ones, but they both had their mother’s pointed face and short nose.

After a moment he returned their papers.

“Report to the official at Frog’s Hollow when you disembark.”

He wanted the local Ministry rat to confirm, as he could easily ask around about the Knapp family. Silyn-who-was-not-Silyn nodded, lips tight in annoyance or fear.

“Is there something wrong with our—” Theophany began.

“Report to your local census official,” he repeated curtly.

They moved on. The other passengers avoided eye contact like erroneous papers were catching. A while later the second ministry official returned and took up a position two compartments down from theirs. Random arrests weren’t unknown. Anyone could be detained for questioning at any time without evidence. If they were stopped and the Polyjuice wore off, it would be over. Theophany checked her watch as the train began to move again.

“Was there something wrong with the sandwich?” she said softly to Felix.

He looked up in confusion.

“You’re looking a little green.”

“Oh? oh! Just a little motion sick, I guess.”

Theophany smiled at him. He looked carefully back and she winked. Over the next quarter of an hour Felix did an admirable job of becoming listless. He slumped further back in his seat and Theophany saw him surreptitiously pinch his face for flush.

“I–I think I need to go to the loo,” Felix mumbled.

Theophany leaned forward and felt his face.

“Do you feel chilled?”

He shrugged.

“Silyn, go with him.”

“Why do I have to—”

“Silyn…”

Lavinia sighed tragically. “Come on.”

The two of them left the compartment. Theophany packed up the gobstones into Felix’s bag and placed the bag on the overhead shelf. Then she settled herself with the newspaper. She made herself really read it, just to pass the time. They would be worried, she knew, but they wouldn’t budge from the loo without instruction. After a few pages she leaned over to try and look into the corridor, checked her watch with a frown, and went back to reading. She’d finished the headlines and started the editorial when she folded the paper with a sigh and stood up. Conspicuously leaving Felix’s bag on the shelf, she left the compartment and edged down the corridor to the toilets. She knocked on the men’s loo.

“Felix? Felix, are you okay?”

The door opened an inch. Lavinia peered out.

“Not entirely.”

“Oh poor thing. I’ll come in, you wait out here.”

They changed places, and Theophany squeezed into the tiny closet where Felix was sitting on the covered toilet.

“There’s an empty compartment three back, not as far as our own. We’re going there, ok?”

Felix looked like he had questions but kept quiet. Theophany took his hand and led him out to Lavinia.

“Maybe something cold will help. Let’s find the refreshment cart.”

The fake Silyn was looking definitely pale and panicky. Please let the compartment still be empty, Theophany prayed desperately. There was no one else in the corridor or, better still, the compartment. Theophany pulled Felix in and Lavinia shut the door. Theophany walked over the to window and unlocked it.

“Wait, what are we doing—”

“This is where we get off, kids,” Theophany said and winced inwardly. She always sounded more manic than hearty whenever she tried. True, her own heartbeat was thundering, but best not to show that to the refugees. Don’t get excited, be steady.

“Through the window?

The scenery ripped by. Dusk had fallen by four o‘clock and now it was almost complete dark.

“Cast a Shield Charm on yourself and Felix.”

“But the speed—”

“I’ll handle the speed. You just protect yourselves from being battered.”

Lavinia pulled out her wand and Felix held still, his eyes fixed on the window.

“When I open this window, it’ll be too loud to talk much, so let’s get this clear. I’m going to guide your fall. Felix first.”

“Who’s guiding your fall?”

“When you land, this is important, lie flat. Do not look back. Do not look for me. I’ll be there.”

And before she had any further doubts, Theophany tore the window open. The wind was cutting, the howl deafening. Theophany drew her wand and held out her hand to Felix, but he shook his head and climbed onto the sill. She pounded his shoulder briefly and mouthed jump. Felix, face screwed up fearsomely, leapt from the sill.

Aresto momentum!” Theophany shouted, the wind almost forcing the spell back down her throat.

Felix, as if swimming not falling, slid into the bushes below. Lavinia, hovering anxiously, barely waited for him to land before flinging herself after him. The larger the object, the heavier the fall, but Lavinia rolled out of sight seemingly uninjured. Theophany put away her wand and pulled herself onto the sill. It was tempting but she’d promised.

“You’d better be right about this flying thing, Severus Snape. Because it would be really useful right now.”

She pointed her wand at the night sky.

Ascendio!

It was dark enough to prevent anyone seeing a mad witch rocket from the train. Once she was in the air, Theophany twisted herself forward, guiding her body away from the train.

Deep breaths.

Just like Silyn had taught her. Maintain control. The trees offered some screen; as long as she landed safely, it would be fine. She could feel her momentum lessening and, with a lurch in her stomach, started to fall.

Keep calm.

The trees were rushing towards her; she swiped branches out of her way with her wand.

Calm...forget it.

Theophany shrieked and threw up her left hand. Trees threw themselves out of her way, wildlife scattered, branches snapped. The Cushioning Charm had to wait until the last second, the exact spot she was going to land. Her wand hand shot out and the next minute she was bouncing, a little too hard for comfort, in suddenly spongy dirt and moss. She lay for a second listening. The train was already rattling away, growing faint. It hadn’t stopped. Nobody had seen. Theophany whooped and bounced gleefully. A forceful bounce landed her on her feet and she posed like a gymnast.

“Ladies and gentlemen, hold your applause.”

An owl burst into flight and reminded her of the immediate predicament. She had to rendezvous with the Honeysetts. The forest here was ancient, and Muggles had proclaimed it a reserve, deploring its shrunken size due to deforestation, and would have been horrified to know a train ran through it, though they couldn’t see the train, or how large the wood really was. It was indeed a preserve, but for creatures not found on any Muggle endangered list.

Theophany found her way back to the rail and followed it back. Only a quarter of an hour after her own landing she saw her two charges walking towards her.

“How did you do it?” Felix demanded.

Theophany winked jauntily though truthfully she was exhausted.

“All right, Felix?”

“Yeah, but—”

“What now?” Lavinia still looked like Silyn, but the potion wouldn’t last halfway through the night.

“We get you to your hosts.”

“But what about the census?”

“I, Silyn, and Prosper will report. Our paperwork is perfectly in order; he just chose us at random. Come on. You’ve done Side-along before?”

Felix nodded and gripped her arm. Theophany took Lavinia’s hand.

“Sorry, location to remain undisclosed a little longer.”

They Disapparated from the lonely tracks, and Theophany tried to ignore the fleeting sensation she’d seen something in the sky above them.

Frog’s Hollow wasn’t a roaring metropolis at the busiest of times, and the dinner hour saw it nearly abandoned. Light came from the Whistling Ghoul, but all the other houses were shuttered tight against the cold. Theophany peered from the shadows behind the robes shop; no patrol was present.

“Okay, just one door down, opposite side of the street. But we should avoid being seen; we’re supposed to be on a train after all.”

Theophany stepped out from their cover and turned the corner. She just as quickly stepped back, pushing the two behind her close to the wall.

There’s someone there,” she hissed.

Cautiously she looked around the corner. Every wizard in his right mind was toasting his toes at the pub or home having dinner. This one was stamping his feet in the cold, right across from the Hughes's tearoom, and wearing a terribly official-looking badge. Magical Law Enforcement. They must have heard the Hughes were expecting company and came to investigate.

Theophany couldn’t take them to The Mill; no refugee was allowed to see the center of operations. Too many Ministry spies were posing as Muggle-borns. Theophany took Lavinia’s hand, then Felix’s, and squeezed them tight. Responding to her pressure, they clung on as she Disapparated. Lavinia looked about her. They were back in the woods, by the train tracks again. Theophany was already striding ahead, leaving the tracks behind.

“Come on, I’m taking you to a friend. I have to see you safe first, then I can find out if the Hughes are secure or not.”

“But if they knew we were coming—”

“They knew the Hughes were expecting guests, that’s all. But we couldn’t be seen.”

Theophany moved quickly. She should have had the Honeysetts safely settled by now. How could she help them when her time ran out? Felix trotted after her.

“We can’t Apparate there?”

“There’s an Anti-Apparition jinx that covers this part of the forest. For security.”

“So...are we going to your house then?”

“No, though I’m nearby. That’s also under the Anti-Apparition jinx.”

“So no one here can Apparate? For how far?”

“Felix…!” Lavinia warned.

“He’s fine.”

They had left the path and were walking west, away from the Valley and The Mill.

“There’s not many people out here. Of course we can Apparate in the village, but the farms in the Valley and the eastside of the wood are covered by the jinx. You can Apparate from the path between the woods and the valley.”

“So is the Valley Frog’s Hollow too?”

“The Valley doesn’t have a name anymore. But the forest still has the old name, Dagda Wood.”

Felix seemed to be out of questions until they passed through a clearing. It was a stone circle. The rocks were worn smooth by water and half covered by moss.

“How old is that? What’s it doing here?”

“Only a few years actually, though the stones are old. Lavinia, should something happen, the circle marks where you can Apparate.”

Lavinia looked up at the stars through the bare trees, and Theophany could see she was orienting herself should she need to find her way back.

“Don’t worry. You’ll be perfectly safe with my friend.”

The further in they went, the larger the forest became. The fauna changed from tame conservation landscaping to wilderness. Theophany nearly stumbled into the low meadow—it opened so suddenly beneath their feet. It wasn’t very large but deep. On the opposite side a cottage protruded, its back half submerged in the meadowbank. Theophany slid down the bank, releasing a fragrant haze of crushed leaves and herbs from the frosted ground. Felix tumbled after her with Lavinia more cautiously behind. Theophany climbed the erratic steps cut into the opposite bank and gained the cottage door.

“Jacka!” She rattled the knocker, a griffin’s head. “Jacka!”

The door opened and she heard Felix gulp. The wizard was easily over six feet and seemed at least half that again across the chest. His rough, curly hair and beard completed the impression of a large friendly bear. His expression was neither alarmed nor annoyed, but deep worry lines creased his swarthy face as if he was perpetually expecting bad news. Jacka lightened a little when he saw his guests.

“Theophany?” Jacka’s voice was surprisingly soft for his size. “We didn’t expect you until tomorrow at the best. I see you brought Silyn with you, but who’s this?”

“It isn’t Silyn. It’s Polyjuice. Jacka, the Ministry is watching the tea shop. Have you heard anything?”

Jacka was shaking his head. “Not been into town for weeks. Was that their host family?”

“Yes. I have to ask you a favor. Could they please wait with you while I scout it out?”

Jacka seemed a little embarrassed.

“We don’t have many guests, so I don’t have a lot to offer, but of course, come in. I can at least make some tea and something to eat, yes?”

Felix grinned. “Yeah, thanks!”

The interior was humble. Built into the hill, one would expect it to be rather like a cave or a cellar, but it was really like the inside of a tree. The walls and furniture were made of wood, beautifully crafted and lovingly polished. Jacka certainly favored the utilitarian over the decorative, but the natural beauty did much to turn the space from a cabin into a home. While the Honeysetts gratefully moved towards the fire, Theophany stayed by the door and caught Jacka by the arm.

“I’ll be back soon as I can. Jacka, thank you. I know it’s a lot to ask.”

“Always happy to help...when I’m capable,” he added softly.

Theophany waved to Felix and tried to smile reassuringly at Lavinia, who was making Silyn’s face look more drawn and worried than she’d ever seen her brother.

Theophany tore through the wood. She would Apparate from the stone circle to the path. She had to go to The Mill, they would fill her in, and she had to ensure those vials of memories were complete before...before whatever happened. Once out of the wood and in the valley, the path to The Mill seemed distortedly long.

“Dad?” Theophany flung open the front door. “Silyn?”

Silyn hurried down the stairs, his hair damp from the bath.

“What is it? What’s happening, Tiff? Dad went into town and that Ministry bloke was asking for you.”

“Did he see you? You’re supposed to have been on a train with me.”

“No, I stayed in all day. Out of sight. Dad spoke to him.”

“I don’t know what’s going on. Someone’s watching the Hughes tea room. Silyn, has there been any suspicious activity in town? We got spot-checked on the train and have to report to the registrar...Mr. Smithers? Or was it Withers? Wake up Prosper and take him with you to the station—”

“Prosper?” Mr. Knapp entered from the kitchen; he’d probably just come in from the barn. “Theophany, I don’t like involving the children.”

“I know, Dad, this is the first and last time I use their papers. But I can’t present a fake brother tonight. Silyn, the train is due in...forty-three minutes. I’ll meet you there to report to what’s-his-name.”

“Heathers. Mr. Heathers is our local gestapo—”

Mr. Knapp raised a finger. “Be careful in your language, even privately, you don’t want to slip—”

Theophany threw up her hands. “This can wait. Silyn, has there been any news? How did the Ministry know I was taking people to the Hughes' tonight?"

“I don’t know why the Hughes specifically, but there seems to be some new initiative; we heard it on the wireless. There was a massive search on the railway, delays all day on every line. The Floo was also being spontaneously rerouted and checked. Then this evening Heathers stopped Dad on the street, said someone was looking for you. Didn’t say who, but he seemed pretty agitated.”

Theophany felt her breath knocked out of her. She’d run out of time. Severus Snape, or an associate, had found her. Just under a day.

“Tiff?”

She looked up at Silyn, still halfway down the staircase.

“Silyn, be at the station.”

He looked at her curiously but only nodded once. Theophany started towards the kitchen, headed for the back door.

“They’ll be safe with Jacka for tonight. Why don’t you come with us to the station and settle any suspicions Heathers and the Ministry goon have?”

I don’t think Heathers’ guest is from the Ministry.

“I have to take care of this.” She didn’t turn around. “I’ll be there, don’t worry.”

From the back door she ran through the garden to the workshop. Locking the door behind her she took a piece of parchment and wrote.

Speak to Jacka.”

Touching her wand to it, she wiped it clean, only to be read by her. Next to it she placed the copied photo from the newspaper. Quickly retrieving the spawn-slimy jar of stored memories, she sat down and tried to compose herself. No time to rehearse. Bringing her wand to her temple, she extracted it all. Allsopp, the Honeysetts, the Prophet archives. One long curl of memory, the past twenty-four hours, dancing from the wand tip. If she needed to wipe her memories, they would all be here, waiting for her. She sealed the recent memory in the last bottle and put it with the others in a satchel. Satchel over her shoulder, she locked the workshop behind her, even against family members interfering, and turned down the path. She would have even a greater favor to ask tonight.

Theophany scanned the sky as she walked down the path. The valley was under the Fidelius Charm, but she would be unprotected the brief moment she was on the path before she Disapparated to the stone circle.

Back in the woods she ran for the safety of the cottage, unmappable, feeling eyes on her back.

“Jacka!”

The cosy tableau broke up as she burst through the door. Felix and Jacka’s son, Col, were toasting cheese and rolls in the fire, Lavinia not yet in her own form was sipping tea, while Jacka sat in the farthest corner, a beneficent observer. Lavinia looked up questioningly and Theophany tried to appear unconcerned.

“Jacka, a quick word.”

He followed her outside. Theophany looked up at him, lost for words. She offered her bag.

“I need you to keep these for me.”

Jacka pulled the flap open and quickly closed it. “What — Theophany, I can keep these but—”

“Yes, I know. If I need these, that means I’ll need a Pensieve, and I know it’s against the rules, but maybe if you use it with me…”

“That won’t be necessary.”

Jacka put out a hand, then dropped it. Theophany blinked in surprise. Jacka wasn’t really one for physical contact; she was flattered he would even attempt to comfort her. Already a little overwrought, she found herself tearing up.

“Whatever you’re running from, whatever’s out there tonight, stay safe. And if you need these, if you need me, we’ll be here.”

“Thanks.” Theophany pressed her cold hands to her cheeks, trying to compose herself. “Can the Honeysetts stay tonight?”

“Of course.”

“Jacka, I’m — thanks. Thank you.”

“Go. It’s no trouble. Keep everyone safe.”

That was her job. Theophany stepped back into the cottage, smile in place.

“Okay, you’re staying the night here. Trust Jacka like you would me. I’ll be back tomorrow. Okay? Cheers, then. Well done today, the worst is over.”

She ducked quickly out, hearing Felix say to Col, “Is she always like that?”

“Like what?”

“Kind of, you know, excited. Manic. Today I was—I was scared, but she was totally cool with it. Like she liked it…”

Do I like it? Theophany scaled the deep bank, up to her elbows in dead leaves and half-dead herbs sleeping under the frost. Do I enjoy danger? For the first time in what felt like days, she paused. A few stars were visible through the bare-branched trees. No, I don’t like anything about this situation, she thought. But I am happy to do it. I like that I am fighting.

Theophany released a long breath and stepped from the woods onto the path. Please, please, no matter what happens tonight, let me remember that I was protecting everyone. It was time to be found.
End Notes:

Thank you for reading! Reviews, comments, questions, complaints, confessions, any feedback at all is welcomed :)
Chapter 6 by Meadowsweet
In Winthrop Heathers’s office Severus Snape sat completely still. He’d circled this tiny hamlet for an hour, and the spell refused to budge away from this twee paradise. But the moment he tried to get closer it would start spinning in all directions. Knapp was here, somewhere, but had gone under protection again. He must have briefly caught her between wards, otherwise he’d have overshot Frog’s Hollow altogether. Rather than knocking on doors, he’d presented himself at Heathers’s office. The Ministerial representative would have access to all the registered locals. Heathers had been pompous at first, but once Snape had revealed his Dark Mark, he’d cooperated beautifully. True to Ministry type, Heathers was an idiot, had even asked a member of the Knapp family where their daughter was. Now that she was forewarned, would she go underground? Snape gritted his teeth. Everyone knew the Knapps locally but could only give a hazy idea of where they lived.

“Some distance away,” Heathers had explained. “Not really locals, but we’re the closest town, so they are registered here.”

Snape kept his eyes on the vial. The hair inside was still. Heathers had been delighted when a message had arrived informing him that the Knapps would report to him when their train got in.

“So she’ll come to us, very law-abiding, these Knapps. You say she has valuable information for you?”

Snape hadn’t answered. If Heathers thought that Theophany Knapp was going to walk meekly into his office, he was thicker than dragonhide. Besides, the wand had pointed him to Frog’s Hollow, and the train wasn’t due for another thirty minutes. She was already here. He’d bet she’d left the train shortly after being told to report. Snape heard the office door open and didn’t bother looking up.

“Just wanted to let you know, sir, the train is reportedly on time and should be here—”

At the same moment the wand spun. Spun and pointed northeast. Knapp was unshielded again. Snape snatched up the wand and pointed it at Heathers, stopping him in mid sentence.

Obliviate!

The official rocked back on his heels and hit the door frame. Snape left him blinking dazedly, sitting on the floor. He wanted no trouble for the Knapps; best Heathers forgot they were ever of interest.

Snape slipped out behind the station house. Here it was unlit and he could take to the air without being noticed. His wand was still pointing him steadily northeast, towards the forest. If the Knapps were indeed farmers, as he had been told, then surely they would be to the south of town where the land was level. The far side of the forest was another village, no place for a remote farm. Was she leading him away from the nest? It’s what he would expect. Let’s get this over with.

Theophany wished she had brought another vial with her. She could store memory until the last possible minute. But if it was discovered, all would be lost. Hiding it wouldn’t make sense, as she wouldn’t remember to look for it. She sighed and shivered. It hadn’t snowed properly yet, but the ground was frozen hard and the forest crisp with cold. Was she really prepared for this?

She was in the western side of the forest. Beyond Jacka’s house and outside the anti-Apparition jinx. Theophany stopped walking and took a few deep breaths against the rising nausea. She could have stayed hidden, but for how long? How long would this war last? Theophany continued walking along the forest path. It was a very pleasant path; Muggles interested in bird watching and seasonal foliage would walk it, their arms full of picnic baskets and those funny cameras you throw away. Of course for them the path was much shorter and appeared to cut straight through the wood.

Theophany considered a bench, placed picturesquely away from the path overlooking the frozen stream. She saw no reason to continue walking; she had no way of knowing exactly how close he was. Theophany turned her back on the path and sat down. Her cloak was warm, and if she lowered her chin into the high collar, she was quite comfortable. This was it, no planning, no running, just waiting. Theophany stopped trying to imagine what the Memory Charm would be like and focused on staying warm. After a while she experienced that curious sensation of not being aware of her extremities and found her mind floating in bemused observation.

When she heard the crunch of leaves behind her, she came to herself with a jolt. Pleased to find her breathing continued to hold steady, she was able to ask calmly, “Is that you?”

Snape came alongside her bench.

“Yes.”

She was oddly glad it wasn’t someone else.

“What do you intend to do?”

“A Memory Charm.”

Theophany sucked in her breath. Partly in apprehension, partly in amusement. He couldn’t guess that she’d prepared for this, could he?

“Do you intend to leave me any memory of the past few days?”

“I could, yes. Shall I?” His wand was already at his side. “Shall I rifle through your mind, learn everything about you, your family and associates, and purge only those memories pertaining to me? Could you even stop me?”

Theophany looked up at him.

“I’d die trying.”

“I believe you, which is why I won’t be selective.”

“That’s three nights and two days....gone. So much has happened and there are people who depend on me—”

“You brought this on yourself by getting involved,” Snape snarled. “Had you just delivered the sword, I would have wiped your memory then, but you decided to be clever. Even after Gringotts, once you’d healed, it wasn’t too late. You would have lost the memory of one night only. Since you seem to have guessed my intention, why sneak out in the night? Why not just let me—?”

“I didn’t sneak out in the night. I left at seven in the morning and you were sound asleep.”

“Satisfy my curiosity. How did you manage casting a bewitched sleep without your wand?”

Theophany blew on her hands and stood up.

“I didn’t. You were just really tired.”

Snape blanched a little. She couldn’t tell if he was embarrassed or furious.

“You did something! I rarely sleep.”

Theophany put her head to one side.

“You look it.”

And Disapparated. She heard him shout, felt a hand snatch at her robes, and together she and Snape Apparated to the foothills north of the valley. The forest was west of them now, and the lights of the valley were few and distant. Theophany had intended a destination further from her home than Phiny’s Peak but he’d thrown her off.

Snape’s wand was already in his hand and he’d a hold on her shoulder, but Theophany had the advantage of anticipating the slope of the hill. As he regained his balance she lashed out, aiming for his kneecap with her boot. The contact made an awful cracking sound, and he fell to his other knee.

“Sorry!” she cried, and took off running.

She had only a minute’s head start before sensing the invisible ropes reaching for her. Theophany slashed her borrowed wand.

Diffindo!

He was up again and limping after her. He didn’t seem in any hurry. Theophany blocked a Stunning Spell and two more Restraining Spells before she stopped running. The jinxes were coming too fast; she couldn’t run and defend herself. He couldn’t move swiftly with that knee but, Theophany wondered as she blocked another spell, did he really need to? She was annoyed with herself. Apparition had been a mistake. In the forest she had more cover and ammunition. The hillside was bare, no place to hide here, no chance of running and losing him. The spells came quickly; if she paused to Apparate, she’d be hit.


Snape stopped walking—his leg was in terrible pain—and focused on Stunning Knapp. Her pace was erratic, and he was beginning to see it was intentional. Her rhythm would change, forcing her opponent to change pace with her. She’d switch seamlessly from defense to offense, and she certainly wasn’t afraid to use any means. Twice now he’d blocked an attack from the front, only to dodge some piece of rock or branch flying at him from behind. Her free hand could cast simple spells even as her wand finished hurling something at him.

Theophany had nearly clipped him a couple of times; his injury was definitely slowing him. She sent a burning jinx past his shoulder. He flinched as he sidestepped it, probably a combination of the heat and his bad leg. Using his pause Theophany pressed forward. Her Expelliarmus Spell nearly got through his defense, and she followed it quickly with another Stunner. Snape stepped backward for space, gritting his teeth as his knee crunched painfully under him

“I...really...don’t have time for this,” he hissed between spells.

Theophany was close enough he could see her eyes, wide and burning bright.

“So sorry to be an inconvenience,” she panted. “You...could...just...leave!”

Snape waited for her to come closer, then staged a stumble on his bad leg. Theophany hurried to attack, and as she raised her wand he quickly righted himself and went under her guard. Theophany’s wand flew from her hand and landed at his feet. Instantly she raised both hands, and he felt that same forceful jinx that had shattered the cabinet wash over a Shield Charm he’d barely managed to cast in time. He again cast a Restraint, and Theophany’s head whipped back as cords wrapped around her and brought her to her knees.

Snape dropped his wand to his side and cursed softly. Gingerly he inspected his leg; it seemed the kneecap was split.

“This was all so unnecessary,” he drawled.

Theophany lifted her face. The intensity had left her eyes, and she smiled that crooked smile. Her cheeks were wet.

“Can’t blame a girl for trying to keep her head.”

Snape limped toward her.

“This won’t hurt.”

“Have you ever had someone take your memories away? No? Then shut up.”

“I’m sorry.”

Theophany squinched her eyes closed and bowed her head.

“As the person about to Obliviate me, you’re allowed no opinion or sympathy. Just hurry up.”

Her hair hung over her face but he could hear her breathing was ragged.

“Nonetheless, I regret its necessity.”

She didn’t answer or open her eyes. Her clenched fingers were trembling. Snape raised his wand.

“But I can spare you experiencing this.”

The Stunning Spell knocked her over. There’d be a few bruises, but she was the one who had resisted. At least she wouldn’t feel her thoughts slipping from her mind.

Obliviate.”

The light from the charm lit up the grass around them briefly, startling something in the hedgerow below. Then the only sound was Theophany’s gentle breathing.

“It would have been more fair, perhaps, had I returned this to you earlier.” He drew her wand from his pocket and dropped it by her unconscious body. “But I don’t take chances.”

Snape released her restraints and then turned his wand on his knee. Once he could move comfortably, he Apparated to Hogsmeade and then walked thoughtfully up to the school. He met Filch briefly in the entrance hall, but neither of them felt compelled to speak, for which Snape was grateful. Snape ascended the stair to the Headmaster’s office and cast the usual Anti-Eavesdropping and Warding Spells before falling into a chair.

“All right, Severus?” Dumbledore’s portrait asked.

Snape reached into his pocket and removed the vial with its single hair. He placed it on the desk.

“Albus,” he sighed. “I’m a complete bastard.”



Which woke her first, her headache or the cold, Theophany wasn’t sure. Her body was stiff, her knees and right shoulder bruised, and she couldn’t remember where she was.

Jethro. She’d been looking for Jethro, but hang on. Theophany stood carefully, her head swimming. She was home, or nearly, the valley was just beneath her. How had she got back when she’d just left? Had she even left to find Jethro? Had that little...no he wouldn’t attack her. Run, definitely, but not hurt her.

Theophany looked down. What was her wand doing on the ground? She picked it up and tried to pocket it, but there was already a wand in her pocket. She drew it out and looked at it, and didn’t recognize it. Whose was it? Why was there dittany in her other pocket? Was someone hurt? Theophany started to feel queasy and not just from her headache. Home, she should go home and figure out what had happened. Theophany looked about. She was on Phiney’s Peak, so she’d Apparate to the path and walk home from there. Easier said than done. Apparating made her promptly sick. Feeling green and shaky, Theophany walked down the sloping path to The Mill.

“Dad?” she called, in case he was in the barn or back garden. “Concord?”

The front door unlocked under her hand, and she stepped inside. Maybe everyone was asleep. It was dark, but she was completely uncertain of the time. It could be evening, or the small hours. There was a little light coming from the kitchen.

“Dad?” Theophany whispered, in case the twins were asleep.

“Theophany?”

She heard the scraping of a chair and Mr. Knapp hurried toward her.

“Oh, God, I was terrified. Silyn and Prosper already left, you have six minutes to get to the station. What happened, dear? You’re all over dirt and leaves.”

Theophany held him back.

“Wait, what? Why did they go to the station, Dad? I have to go find Jethro. Why is Prosper at the station? I know I just left but…”

“What are you talking about? Sweetie, you said the official on the train told you to report to Heathers, and because you had those people pretending to be Silyn and Prosper with you—you decided—”

“Dad! Stop!” Theophany held her head. “What train? I left just after dark to find Jethro, after he sent that letter. Next thing I know I’m coming to on Phiny’s Peak. I wasn’t on a train…”

Mr. Knapp gently removed her hands from her head.

“Oh, oh, my little girl, I don’t know what to say.”

Theophany was horrified to see he was fighting tears.

“I wish—oh, you have no idea how I pray—that I was useful. I can’t do anything to protect you.”

“What are you saying…”

“Theophany, listen to me.” His mouth worked, then stiffened. “You left
almost three days ago—”

Dad?”

“No, what’s important is that you Apparate to the station, right away. Heathers is expecting you, Silyn, and Prosper to present your papers for inspection. Tell Silyn—tell him you don’t remember anything after you left; he’ll take care of you and bring you home. Then, then we’ll talk. Okay? You have to go now.”

Theophany took a step towards the door.

“...Dad?”

Go!

She ran. The path away from The Mill was painful, her head pounded mercilessly with every step, and when she Apparated into Frog’s Hollow, she was sick again. The station was just around the corner. If she had been on a train as Dad said and was supposed to disembark, she shouldn’t be seen entering the station. Casting a quick Disillusionment Charm, she made her way through the station to Heathers’ office behind. Frog’s Hollow was too small to really have town offices, so the Ministry official had taken over a small office behind the stationmaster’s. Silyn and Prosper were hovering just outside, moving slowly and glancing at the clock. Theophany waited for a couple of wizards moving crates containing kneazles hybrids to pass.

Theophany Knapp!” Silyn hissed murderously, “Where—?”

“I don’t remember anything after I left Tuesday night.” Theophany cut him off in a low voice. Prosper was happily distracted by the one of the kneazles who seemed intent on unlocking his crate. “Dad sent me here, my head's splitting, and I might be sick again any minute.”

Silyn’s mouth had slowly widened then shut tightly. He eyes quickly scanned her face.

“I’ll do the talking. Tiff, I—I can see there’s something very wrong.”

“No kidding,” she muttered.

Silyn shot her a look, equal parts worry and exasperation, and led the way into the office. He addressed Heathers politely but with a definite edge of annoyance, as befitted a law-abiding wizard undeservedly detained. Heathers starting nodding politely halfway through Silyn’s explanation and just couldn’t seem to manage to stop.

“Yes, yes, yes, happening all the time now. Random checks, random checks...security! Aye, that’s our watchword.”

Heathers' eyes glazed over. Silyn waited, but he seemed disinclined to continue speaking though he was still nodding cheerfully while gazing vacantly at the ceiling.

“So, our papers are in order?” Silyn prodded pompously.

“Papers? Oh yes, papers. Let me just…”

His nod became more affirmative as he looked them over. Opening a lower drawer on his desk, he produced a set of scales on which perched a brass owl. When he placed their registration papers on the scale, the owl began to squawk metallically,

“Seal, correct. Stamp, current. Watermark, positive. Paper grade and weight, Ministry issue. Ink, India black—”

Heathers winced and held his temples. Before the scale finished speaking, he lifted the papers off, silencing the grating voice.

“Well, that seems all in order.” He started nodding again, then stopped, holding his head. “Have a good evening, Mr. Knapp, Miss Knapp. So long, sonny.”

He waved at Prosper in a friendly manner. Prosper waved politely back as Silyn ushered them out. As they left, Heathers again subsided to smiling glassily and nodding at nothing.

“Looks like a Memory Charm to me; do you have anything to do with that?” Silyn whispered to his sister.

“I wouldn’t know!

“Pipe down, sorry. Let’s get you home first. Come on, Prosper.”

It turned out there would be no discussion that night. Mr. Knapp had contacted Merryn, and Theophany found herself bundled into bed with a quick draught for her headache. Merryn sat by her bed and asked her some questions, none of which she could understand or answer. After a few minutes he seemed satisfied and told her to sleep. Theophany closed her eyes to please him. It felt like she lay awake for hours, chasing her mental tail. Frustration, fear, and anger all shook her in turn, but beneath it all was a greater sense of betrayal.

Like a recovering invalid she was served breakfast in bed, which she only submitted to under the condition that Merryn fill her in concerning the last three days. He did the best he could, but it was little more than confirm that she’d spoken to Otho and gone to London to meet with Allsop.

“You play your hand close to the chest. There was something bothering you, but you wouldn’t say. Otho could tell you why you needed his assistance.”

“He could. But maybe it was talking to Otho that got me Obliviated.” Theophany pushed the crumbs around on her plate. “Other than that letter, we’ve heard nothing further from Jethro?”

“No, and that letter was more than enough. Jethro’s definitely gone too far this time—actually supplying the black market. He’s not underage anymore; he could be arrested.”

Theophany nodded soberly. Merryn was watching her, forehead wrinkled. They were all watching her all the time, and it was hard to think. She handed the tray to her brother and swung her legs out of bed.

“I’m going to the workshop.”

“But—”

“I’m fine.” She pulled her coat over her dressing gown and started hunting for her galoshes. “At least physically. I’m not going to faint or lose my head.”

“Last night after you...came back...”

Theophany suppressed a groan. It was like she had a chronic illness. Would they be forever tiptoeing around the words Memory Charm?

“...Dad and I went out to the shop and it was locked up pretty tight. Do you remember doing that?”

“I always lock it.”

“Yeah, but I mean, I got blown off my feet just for trying the handle. Dad almost had a nasty burn.”

Theophany stared at him, then dropped the single galosh she’d found. Taking the stairs at a run, she was opening the back door while Merryn was still yelling at her to take it slow.

A light snow had fallen in the night, covering the frosted stone path. It melted away beneath her socks. Theophany ignored the unpleasant chill. There had to be something there. If she had thought she was in danger...could she have really known it would be a Memory Charm? The door didn’t unlock instantly but grew very warm under her hand. With a crackle and short burst of light it popped open and the inside Warding Spells shivered away.

It was tidy, nothing looked interrupted or disturbed. There was quite a large batch of Wolfsbane aging. Why had she made extra? On the worktable were two pieces of parchment; one looked like a newspaper and the other was torn from a larger scroll. Probably scrap.

She picked up the newspaper first. It wasn’t a full spread, just a copy of an article. Severus Snape pictured read the tiny print. It was dated September, so she must have read it at the time, but why did she have a copy now? This Ministry puppet headmaster didn’t spark any recollection. Theophany looked closely at the picture. The wizard seemed to be listening to someone outside the frame, then directing his attention at the camera. As he squared his shoulders and shifted uncomfortably, Theophany was reminded of the twins having to sit for a school picture. The picture scowled impatiently at the camera, eyes constantly sliding away, only to square off against it again. The photo was hardly his idea, it seemed. His posture was belligerent. The Ministry seemed to attract mostly thugs and knuckle-draggers these days.

She looked under the worktable, in her ingredient cabinet, and checked her work notebook. Nothing. She reached for the news copy again and brushed the scrap of parchment out of her way. It quivered. Theophany snatched it up and watched as her own handwriting scratched.

Talk to Jacka.

Why Jacka and not Silyn or Merryn? She trusted her own brothers surely? Or perhaps this was a reminder of something else. The extra wolfsbane maybe. But it was charmed so only she could read it. Someone was calling from the house. She stuffed the parchment into her coat pocket guiltily as Silyn ducked into The Mill. He was carrying her galoshes.

“Merryn sent me out. Find anything?”

Theophany hesitated, but really she didn’t know what she was hiding. Why not?

“Y-yes. I need to talk to Jacka. I think.”

Silyn took in her soggy socks.

“Come inside and get dressed, then get him on the Floo.”

Theophany hated the Floo. Their parents had always been careful, so she’d been spared any accidents, but she couldn’t get over the uncontrollable sensation of being launched through spinning space. Flying was much preferred. She shivered. Now why did she feel there was something wrong? Flying...

“What?” Silyn asked, holding the door for her.

“Nothing, just a goose walking over my grave.”

Brushing one’s hair and tidying up seemed rather pointless when communicating by the whirlwind that is Floo, but Theophany made the effort. Settling herself on the kitchen hearth, she carefully enunciated, “The Forester’s Cottage,” and thrust her head into the green flames.

With a sickening lurch she was aware of her hands clutching the weave of the hearth rug at home but also of a sudden distance between her head and her shoulders. She opened her eyes and saw Jacka’s kitchen, the breakfast things still on the table.

“Jacka? Hello? Oh, Col! Hi.”

Jacka’s son didn’t looked surprised to see her. Maybe she’d left a message she was coming? Feeling hopeful, Theophany asked if Jacka was around.

“Sure, he’s just outside. Come in, have some tea. I’ll get him for you.”

Theophany thanked him and withdrew her head. She’d collected the wolfsbane that was ready from the workshop and was sitting on the rug next to her. In another breathtaking, nausea-inducing moment she was through the hearth and in Jacka’s kitchen. No one was about yet, so she unpacked the basket of potion bottles. The back door swung open.

“Jacka! I’m sorry for coming so early. I really needed to talk to you —”

Someone else entered the room. She was tall, much taller than Theophany, with perfect waves of hair and long curling eyelashes. Behind her Jacka carefully wiped his boots.

“Ah, um.” Theophany tried to school her expression. “Sorry, um. I didn’t realize you had guests.”

The horror this statement received was beyond her comprehending. The witch paled and staggered to a chair, but somehow looked graceful the whole time. Jacka swore and covered his face with his hands.

“I’m sorry, what did I say—?”

The woman spoke shakily.

“I’m Lavinia Honeysett. You brought me and my son here last night...if you don’t remember that, I can only assume something terrible has happened and we’re in danger.”

Refugees. She’d had her memory wiped while transporting refugees. It was a miracle they were safe at all.

“Well, I guess there’s no point in pretending I’m okay then. Jacka?”

Jacka’s eyes were full; he looked terribly crushed.

“I had hoped you wouldn’t—I’m so sorry Theophany...come with me.”

Lavinia stood and made to follow, but Jacka raised a hand.

“I’m sorry. Some things remain secret, even to guests like you.”

She nodded and turned away. Poor woman, Theophany thought, entrusting yourself and your son to someone who can’t remember meeting you.”

They descended to the cellar where Jacka did something complicated with a sliding panel in the wall. He produced a satchel Theophany recognized.

“That’s Jethro’s old school bag. I’ve been using it for shopping and such—”

Jacka opened the bag. Glowing in the dim cellar, misting under her breath, were half a dozen or so memories. They crawled and idled in bottles and vials of various shapes and sizes. Theophany bent over the bag, scared to touch.

“Are these mine?”

“You gave me this, saying someone was looking for you.”

“I knew? We’re all in danger of losing our lives, my brothers face it every day. How could I know someone wanted my memories?”

Jacka squinted at her.

“I was under the impression you were going to wipe them yourself.”

“...Huh? What now –”

“There’s only one way to find out.”

“How? I don’t have a—oh Jacka. I didn’t. Did I ask you to let me use it?”

“You didn’t have to. As the guardian, I protect the collective memories of our ancestors, and as you are Secret-Keeper to our home, I think you have a right.”

“But any interference with the Pensieve could be detrimental to any memories. Some of them are ancient—”

Jacka raised a hand. His voice was remained soft but like the quiet sound of a knife being sharpened.

“I am the guardian. I have spoken. Late tonight will be safest. Nine o’clock. I will attend you but these—” he pointed to the bag of memories, “are only for you to see.”

Theophany handed the bag back to him.

“Then I’ll leave these with you. Thank you, Jacka.”

With a formal bow he accepted the bag and returned it to the sliding panel. His position was an ancient one, keeper of the memories of the Tuatha De Dannan, and tonight Theophany could see him wearing the office like a stole. He led her from the cellar, and in the light of day his royal demeanor fell from him and he became large but apologetic Jacka again. Theophany felt awkward saying goodbye so casually. She shook his hand and thanked him.

“See you tonight then.”

“Yes. Oh, and thank you for the wolfsbane.”

There was a loud crash as Lavinia dropped the teapot. She’d just entered from the kitchen.

“Wolfsbane?” Lavinia repeated faintly.

Theophany stepped protectively in front of Jacka but he brushed her aside.

“Go home, Theophany. I’m sure your family is worried about you.”

Jacka sounded weary but firm. Theophany hesitated. What if the Honeysetts demanded to be moved immediately rather than stay in the home of a werewolf? Last night Theophany had left them with Jacka for some reason. It wasn’t safe to move them, or act at all, until she’d reviewed those memories and found out what was going on. She raised a hand but didn’t quite touch Jacka’s shoulder. He was too tall and too shy.

“I’m sorry to land you in my mess,” she said softly and stepped back into the flames.

Silyn put down the Quibbler as she stumbled back into The Mill.

“Helpful?”

“Very.”

“What’s next?”

“Bed. I think it’s going to be a long night.”



The last solid date was Barnabas Deverill. Born late in the seventeenth century, died 1730 or 32. It was a little uncertain when Loxias murdered him, or indeed where he was buried, if at all. Loxias was the beginning of a slippery slope into the shadows. So many people had claimed to have killed him over a range of dates, his lifespan was difficult to bookend. His activities seemed to have been kept exclusively in the west of Ireland, and there, according to legend, a great monolith marked his grave. Anybody could be buried under that rock, but it wasn’t entirely unlikely.

After Loxias’s demise the Elder Wand was claimed by either Livius or Arcus. Dates unknown. No family name. They were thought, by some, to be mere filler in the legend to bring the story up to present day.

Snape scowled at the book in his hand and tossed it on a discouragingly large reject pile. Fine, he would continue with what he did know. The wand had somehow passed from one of their hands to Gregorovitch but must have lain dormant for sometime. Until Gregorovitch started running his mouth, there were no rumors of a master wand anywhere. At last, Grindelwald. If the height of his power, and the year of his defeat, was 1945, how long had he possessed the wand? Albus said Grindelwald left the country in 1899, which left forty-five years for his slow rise to infamy.

Dumbledore wouldn’t say how he knew when Grindelwald left, and Snape didn’t press. There were no lights in the sky, no miraculous acts or shows of power until the early thirties. Did Grindelwald have the wand all that time and suppressed its power? Either way, Snape had to create a path for the Elder Wand from 1830 to roughly 1900, when Gregorovitch lost the wand, and continue that path after that point, carefully editing Grindelwald out of the story. Everyone knew who had defeated the last dark wizard. Grindelwald pointed irrevocably to Dumbledore, and he had to remove that glowing sign post.

The portraits in the Headmaster’s office were all asleep; he always cast this spell to ensure ultimate privacy and security. No portrait could betray the school’s current head, but he didn’t want any witnesses to his extra activities, even oil-based ones.

He picked his way past his scattered books to the shelf. The wizarding Who’s Who of the magical world, fondly nicknamed Whizoo, dated much further back than the seventeenth century, unlike the Muggle editions named after it. It seemed a simple-minded place to start, but Snape flipped through anyway. Beginning at an obvious point was better than casting about helplessly. He was nothing if not thorough. It was what had made him a good student.

Thoughtfully he checked against the Muggle editions, despite Livius and Arcus most likely being purebloods. The hierarchy of blood and family had forever underscored magical society. There was no indication of any powerful person matching the names or the theoretical dates of Livius or Arcus, but there was a family named Archer who caught his interest. They seemed to own vast amounts of land.

The industrial revolution had done wizards no favors. Magic could not be put on an assembly line, and so many of the magical arts were dependent on nature. Moreover, after the Secrecy Act in 1689, the need for privacy and space for wizarding communities became more desperate, the more urban Britain became. Was Arcus being anglicized to Archer too much of a stretch? Was it plausible enough for his purpose?

“Severus? Have you found something?”

Dumbledore’s portrait leaned forward as if to leave the frame and peer over Snape’s shoulder.

“Hum? Yes, I can make it work.” Snape returned the books to their respective shelves with a wave of his wand. “It will be a paperchase at first so I know the field; and then I make a paper trail of my own, one that The Dark Lord will follow. Hopefully.”

He pinched his nose bridge,

“What I need right now is access to the sort of books not kept in your study, Albus. I need to tie Arcus or Livius to some ancestry. The Dark Lord isn’t as much of a pureblood snob as a general snob. One great ancestor is, to him, greater than an unbroken line of inbred aristocrats.”

“I didn’t know you were such a champion of the bourgeois, Severus.”

“And the most complete collection of pureblood directories”— Snape chose to ignore any commentary from Albus—“would be in the possession of one of the ‘Sacred Twenty-Eight’.”

He checked the clock.

“I’ll be at Malfoy Manor all evening.”

“And they’ve offered you their private library?”

Snape swept books and papers off the mantel in search of the Floo pot.

“They will now.”

“What if Riddle is there and finds you in the library?”

“You forget Albus, I’m an academic.”

He was gone in flash of green flames, hearing Albus sigh, “I wish you wouldn’t smile when nothing is funny.”
Chapter 7 by Meadowsweet
Author's Notes:
All belongs to the author, J.K. Rowling. I'm just playing with what she has so graciously shared. The lyrics quoted in this chapter are from the song 'Vogue' by Madonna. Released 1990. I am, shockingly enough, not Madonna and don't own the song or lyrics in any way. Enjoy!

Malfoy Manor was dark. A house-elf opened the door for Snape, and when he inquired after its master, it fearfully answered in the negative. In their grubby assorted rags he could never tell the sex of the Malfoy elves. They could have five or fifty and he wouldn't know, interchangeable in their terrified expressions and lowered ears. He swept past the unfortunate elf, and it didn’t dare contradict him. It knew he bore the mark.

“And what of the young Mr. Malfoy?”

“Please sir, I don’t know, sir,” it squeaked in distress, “only that he left this morning with t-two others.”

Draco was on some errand then. He dismissed the elf and made his own way to the library. Even in the half dark of a winter evening he knew this manor well enough. He remembered being brought to this same library when just out of school. A large part of their biography and history collection was particular to their ancestry only. But he only needed a name, a likely culprit. A contender for the Elder Wand.

The pace was slow. He didn’t want to leave indicators of his line of research, so he reshelved volumes as he read, forced to retrieve them to cross-reference, and even to take notes. He doubted anyone could keep so many second cousins three times removed without quill and parchment. Scratching another date, Snape was struck by a memory of Lucius, already a prefect, standing over him in the Slytherin common room.

“It shows you have a Muggle parent, taking notes by hand like that. I mean it’s alright in class, the professors don’t want us fooling around with self writing quills or writing with wands. But if you do it in here…”

Snape had primarily been wary. Why was the pureblood golden boy speaking to him?

“My notes are more accurate than anyone else’s. Anyway, writing things out aids memorization”.

That’s what he’d said. Not that he enjoyed it, not that the smell of parchment was still new to him, a boy born and raised among Muggles. Or that it gave him an excuse to be alone, to look preoccupied. He didn’t even register having to lie. He had already accepted never saying what he really thought or felt.

Snape paused over his notes of lineages and land rights. How foolish he’d been then, thinking he was being so cautious. Hearing footsteps, Snape rolled his parchment up and opened a book on mushroom species, an innocuous red herring. It was Lucius, and he looked terrible. Snape marked his place with his parchment. No trying to slip it out of sight, no subterfuge.

“I hoped it was you. Couldn’t see any of my regular guests using the library.”

“Careful, Lucius.”

Malfoy raised a still perfect eyebrow but his eyes were bloodshot.

“Not going to lecture me? Bellatrix informs me it’s an honor to be...host to our Lord.”

“You should know better than to compare me to that.”

Lucius restlessly turned through the books on the desk. Snape saw his nails were bitten and ragged.

“No, Severus, you were never a fanatic.”

Snape waited. Malfoy kept his head down but his shoulders were tense.

“Lucius, did you want something?”

“Lots.” The master of the manor gave a hacking laugh. “But...Severus? Do you know where my son is right now?”

“No, I—”

“Neither do I! Draco’s my son and I’m forbidden to ask. I thought the Dark Lord was pleased with him. Draco did everything—everything he was told! I hoped he’d escaped being tarnished by my failures, but he is being sent away over and over on these useless missions. Speaking to obscure mystics and kidnapping scholars…what is happening Severus? I thought victory was ours.”

“The Dark Lord is not victorious until—”

“I know, yes, this fixation with the ‘boy who lived’. And why must he be the one to kill Potter? Mulciber is on their trail, why not let him take care of it?”

Severus studied the carpet.

“Lucius. Do you know how you fly?”

“By the power of the Dark Lord,” Lucius said as easily as a child recited a lesson.

“But how?”

“Er—I just intend to fly. The power to do so is with him, I suppose. We just use that power through our obedience.”

“Just so. The Dark Lord has undergone transformations and experiences so deep into the arcane arts that we cannot imagine them. If he says something must be done just so, I will believe it.”

“Don’t believe I doubt him, Severus!” Lucius begged, a little panic in his voice. “It is only that I fear for Draco. I tried to convince him to return to school, but he said it didn’t matter now. But I would be much happier if I knew he was at Hogwarts where you could still watch over him.”

Snape opened his book and dipped his quill.

“Draco has refused my help, I didn’t even realize his plans for the vanishing cabinet. He has stepped out from under us both, Lucius. Never again will he obey me as he did.”

His tone was brusque; effectively signaling the end of the conversation. Lucius hovered a moment longer, then retired to the armchair by the fire. He sat looking more scarecrow than sanguine, hunched, face thinned by worry.

Snape continued to work steadily. He made no attempt to hide the sort of books he was using; Lucius would never notice. Some time must have passed in silence. After a time Snape noticed Lucius's chin was resting on his chest; he was probably sleeping very little.

The next volume of interest was entitled A Treaty on Land Ordinances of the 19th century: Effects and Repercussions to Wizarding Families of Property and Title...purebloods in other words. He was stifling an anticipatory yawn when a noise rattled the inkpot and raked across the back of his neck. He blinked stupidly while Lucius scrambled to his feet. It was a scream.

Snape had heard something like it only once before. He drew his wand and ran to the door. Ever since Voldemort had chosen Malfoy Manor as headquarters, the immediate grounds and interior were spelled against Apparition. Lucius grabbed his arm,

“Wait!” He snapped his fingers once. A house-elf appeared. This one was more wretched than ever, wringing its hands sore and sniveling horribly.

“P-Please, sir, it—it’s the young master—”

“Take us!”

House-elves could Apparate whenever and wherever they wished. Spells could not prevent them. Without letting go of Snape’s arm, Lucius caught the elf by the scruff of the neck. With a crack and a sudden enormous pressure they were in the entry hall. Like every room in the Manor, it was excessively lofty, filled with dark corners the candle light could not reach and seeming to dwarf the people huddled in the center.

Narcissa was screaming. Macnair was bent over something on the floor. The two Death Eaters with him were still hooded. Lucius dropped the elf and ran to Narcissa and caught hold of her arm, but she shook him off, pointing frantically, never stopping her hysterical screams. Lucius cried out, but Snape had already seen the faint shimmer of pale hair under Macnair’s arm. He swooped on Macnair and pushed him aside.

Lying on the stone floor, the boy was barely alive. Draco was pale and losing more color as they watched. A terrible bluish tint was gathering around his nose and mouth. Snape knelt and placed his hand over the boy’s mouth. He could feel nothing.

Aspiro.

“You don’t think I tried that?” Macnair sneered, “It only gets him breathing for about a minute. He got hit with something. His chest went cold, he said, then he stopped talking—”

Draco!” Narcissa wailed.

Snape was thinking furiously.

“Lucius, Lucius?” The man seemed Stupefied. Snape had to keep his wand on Draco, keep him breathing. “Lucius! Open his robes.”

He was obeyed. When Draco’s collar was unbuttoned it revealed a welt across his neck and chest. The frosty blue tint was creeping vein by vein up his neck to his mouth and face.

“What is this?” Lucius whispered.

Draco’s breathing was fading again.

Aspiro! I haven’t seen it before. Do you have Bitterroot? Bezoar? Powdered bicorn?”

Lucius kept shaking his head. Snape wasn’t even sure he had heard the question. Draco twitched suddenly and was still again.

“I already tried a Reversing Charm,” Macnair said noncommittally.

He seemed to view the situation as purely academic. They were out of time. Something had to be done now.

“Hold him still.”

Snape placed his wand on Draco’s chest, over the welt, and held his free hand against his own chest.

Epotavi!” he barked.

The chill bit into him so savagely he felt his lungs empty with a rush. Some species of Smothering Jinx, he thought clinically, even while he gasped for air, that copies symptoms of hypothermia. Even now the spell was still clinging to Draco,

Epotavi...” he hissed again.

He pulled his wand slowly away from the boy’s chest. Draco gasped, choking down air. Snape couldn’t examine him closely, as a new wave of cold was attacking his spine, running up to the backs of his eye sockets and blurring his vision. He cast about for a target. The entrance was only sparsely furnished, but the hearth was large enough for several small trees. Snape raised his hand and the kindling started to flare alight.

“Out of the way!” he snarled.

Macnair was already hanging back, only mildly interested. But Lucius had to force Narcissa away from Draco. From the tip of his wand to the center of his chest Snape could feel the cold thrumming. As he forced it from his heart back towards his wand, he whipped his hand towards the fire and the spell spun from the wand tip. It smashed into the flames, snuffing them out completely and knocking ash from the chimney, but the spell had been spent.

For a moment the only sound was the tinkling of ash and Draco coughing. Narcissa would have rushed to him, but Snape kept her back with a look. The skin on Draco’s throat was slowly flushing pink and the blue tinge had left his face. Snape rolled him onto his side and placed a hand against his back.

“Deep breath.”

Draco sucked in air and started coughing again.

“Slowly.”

Snape felt the boy’s ribs lift. It seemed his lungs were filling fully. Snape sat back on his heels. Narcissa ran forward, Lucius only a step behind.

“What did you use?” Macnair asked idly.

“A Draining Charm. It will draw and contain most things into any receptacle. Though not often applied to charms or other spellwork—”

Macnair made a face.

Enough, Professor. Merlin’s beard, you do like to lecture.”

The Malfoys were in a tight huddle over their son, who hadn’t spoken yet. Snape got to his feet. Macnair pulled his hood on.

“I have a report to make. Though next time I want a lesson, I know where to come, can always get a free seminar out of you, Professor.”

“We all serve in our own way,” Snape responded blandly.

Always ready for blood, Macnair didn’t really fear him. His own barbarism prevented him seeing Severus Snape, the fussy academic, as a threat. Snape watched him gather his two cohorts and leave, mostly so he didn’t have to turn and face the Malfoys.

“Severus?” Narcissa’s voice was damp.

Snape didn’t turn.

“Is Draco still breathing?”

“Professor.”

Snape turned. Draco was sitting up. Narcissa clung to him, but Draco managed to look like he didn’t notice her or his father, who was hovering at his shoulder.

“Thank you, Professor.”

For that moment it was as if the last year hadn’t happened, not Hogwarts burning or the terrible flight after Albus’s death. As if Draco still trusted him.

“Severus, if you hadn’t—”

Snape cut Lucius off.

“What happened, Draco?”

The boy’s face shuttered closed. The moment was over.

“I can’t tell you that.”

“I’m not asking you to reveal your mission. I want to know who attacked you.”

“We don’t know.”

Snape’s voice grew quieter.

“Where were you and what did they look like?”

Draco averted his face and tried to get shakily to his feet. Lucius gripped his shoulder. The boy’s breathing was labored still.

“Surely this is no betrayal? We need to counter any attack efficiently.”

“Well, sir, you have always been efficient.” Draco’s lip curled. “We were in Durham. Six of them Apparated, they knew exactly where we were…” He paused for breath. “We were forced into a dead end, so we left the road and ran for the wood. It was two to one. I don’t know what happened after I got hit. They were masked, so I didn’t see their faces. But they wore armbands. Just a white cloth with a mark on it, like a backwards F.”

“I’m not familiar...I would suppose then someone alerted them to your location. Perhaps whomever you were seeing in Durham?”

Draco set his jaw. Lucius quickly intervened.

“Surely that’s enough, Severus. He needs to rest.”

“Of course,” Snape smiled tightly, “I’ll just collect my notes from the library.”

Narcissa seemed to think the sudden coldness on the part of her son should be smoothed.

“We are so grateful to you, Severus. Please don’t doubt—Draco’s just such a conscientious boy. He know’s you’re only concerned for him—”

“What notes?” Draco's voice was sharp, though he was still unsteady on his feet. “What were you doing here anyway?”

“Yes, Narcissa, I see what you mean. Very grateful.” Snape let his sarcasm snake out like a whip. “Don’t wait up. I’ll see myself out.”

He returned to the library. After fooling McGonagall and turning the rest of the staff against him, it was easy to play his part with the Malfoys. But he didn’t want to alert any suspicions in Draco, who could barely contain his disgust for Snape. His parents assumed it was some kind of general disdain for a spy, perhaps even jealousy that Snape had stolen Draco’s glory in killing Dumbledore.

Snape knew otherwise. It was the murder of Albus Dumbledore alone. Draco was revolted to find Snape was capable of killing someone who had put their trust in him. Someone who had, apparently, begged him. It was the most cheering thing Snape had realized for a long time. There was hope for the boy after all.

Slowly and deliberately he finished his search in the library; he had only limited time for research before he would have to act. He collected the most helpful volumes to take with him. Lucius would never notice. Now he had an additional task: discover who it was in Durham that Draco had been sent to find. It would be someone who Voldemort thought could lead him to the Elder Wand.

Theophany was so sick of resting that she insisted on getting out of bed before dinner. The twins' desperate pleas that they be allowed to cook curry were gladly agreed to, much to their surprise. Theophany sat comfortably by the fire while Ike supervised the curry, the house-elf graciously ignoring the extensive mess they were making. Their enthusiasm was furthered by being allowed to listen to their music on the wireless, Theophany gamely singing along when invited.

“Oh, you got to let you body move to the music,
“Oh, you’ve got to just go with the flow,
“Oooh, you’ve got to vogue.”


Mr. Knapp was doing chores, so the volume was turned up, causing Merryn to leave the kitchen in mock horror while the twins giggled fiendishly, their feet jigging and tapping along even as their hands whisked and chopped. A large portion of curry was set aside for Silyn and anyone else who might appear after dinner. Silyn was known to bring unexpected guests, and The Mill was generally accepted as a meeting place. Theophany had learned to copy her mother’s habit of keeping food ready.

Dad was bringing the sheep in from the lower meadow, and Theophany waved to him on her way to the barn. She climbed into the loft and lit the lamp with her wand. This time of year the hayloft was full, and she had to climb over scratchy, square bales to the far end where, dangling grotesquely from a rafter, was a pillowcase dummy. Old straw poked through the cloth, and a pillow head lolled from the hanging rope. Some older brother had painted a squiggle of a mouth and X’s for eyes. Theophany untied the other end of the rope and lowered the dummy to the barn floor below. The barn door slid open, and Mr. Knapp watched the dummy descend.

“Been awhile since I’ve seen him,” he said blandly as his daughter scrambled back down from the loft.

“Yeah. Not since Concord was a kid.”

“Getting in a little extra practice?”

Theophany picked straw off her robes, then sighed and faced her father.

“Someone got around me, Dad. I messed up.”

If it was in fact someone else who had wiped her memories and not herself.

“And you think throwing spells at a pillow will improve you?”

“I’ll get Concord to duel with me, Silyn too if he has time.” Theophany looked over her shoulder at the dueling dummy. “It does feel a little childish though, at my age.”

Mr. Knapp scoffed.

“When you’re my age remembering being your age, you can talk like that. Here, I’ll swing him for you.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

Mr. Knapp raised and lowered the rope, causing the dummy to jump and jig. Each time Theophany hit it with a spell, the manikin spun crazily. The goal was to hit it again before it made a complete revolution, simulating an opponent’s response time. It would have been a quiet practice were it not for Theophany. She hissed, she growled, she shouted and cursed. After a while Concord poked his head around the door to find the source of the noise.

“I thought Tiff was murdering someone. But I see it’s just you, Dad.”

Mr. Knapp let the rope slide from his fingers.

“Concord, get in here and fight your sister.”

Concord glanced at his sister. Theophany was breathing quickly, her hair wild and eyes on fire.

“Nope. Make Silyn do it.”

His father swatted at him.

“Don’t let a fragile old Muggle make you look bad. Me and the pillowcase were putting up a good fight.”

Concord gave a teenaged sigh.

“Fine, give me a minute.”

Mr. Knapp waited until he had left before turning back to Theophany.

“Be careful about pushing yourself.”

She seemed to hear him from a great distance.

“What? Oh. Okay, I’ll be careful.”

“You remind me of her. Kind, but ferocious when threatened.”

Theophany looked up, the fog of battle falling from her like a popped bubble.

“Mum? I always thought Silyn was most like her.”

Her father came and leaned against the wall, indicating a low stool. Theophany sat down obediently.

“That’s true. Your mother told me once that I reminded her of you. Though you were only a little girl when I met your mum. Maybe it’s because we’re so similar, you and I, that she married me, Muggle and all.” He rested a hand on her head. “She told me to ‘watch out for Theophany; she could get in trouble one day’.”

Mr. Knapp tilted Theophany’s head back to look her in the eye.

“I don’t know what’s going on, love. And I know you don’t know either; just remember you’re at your strongest when fighting to protect those you love, but don’t let it rush you into danger. For our sake.”

Concord came loping back into the barn. He was wearing an old Keeper’s helmet and knee pads.

“Alright,” he said. “Let’s get the beating over with.”

Despite his grumbling Concord was more than proficient for his age. Theophany had to work hard to get past his defense, but her victory was always just a matter of time. She wasn’t sure how long they had been fighting when Silyn joined them. Concord had just been flung onto his back.

“Silyn! Brother! Save me!” he gasped from the floor. “She just shattered my Shield Charm.”

Silyn pulled Concord to his feet.

“Lucky for you, Tiff has an appointment tonight.”

“Huh? No fair! I wanted to watch you take a turn, you can actually beat her.”

“Go take a shower. You’re sweaty and gross.”

“Well, Tiff isn't much better—”

“She’ll be in in a minute.”

Concord raised an exaggerated eyebrow at Theophany and left with pointed diffidence.

“Hey, Tiff,” Silyn said quietly, suddenly serious. “If you want practice, you should come with us tomorrow. We could use you.”

Theophany wiped her face on her sleeve.

“If I’m not unhinged by what I see tonight, I’m in.”

“Good.”

He reached into his pocket and tossed her a piece of white cloth. Theophany unfolded the arm band so the distinctive mark showed starkly.

“Whose was this?”

He shook his head.

“I don’t know everyone’s names. It’s better that way.”

From some deep reserve Silyn retrieved a reassuring smile. Theophany, somewhat calmer but exhausted, followed him back to the house to change.

Curiosity and anxiety took turns leaving goosebumps across her arms and neck. She had never entered the Pensieve of the Tuatha; it was used for very specific duties and ceremonies that hadn’t occurred in generations.

The problem of an oral tradition is things get a bit muddled. Sometime in the 1100’s the Tuatha decided a Pensieve, stocked with ancestral memories, would guide their posterity. Ancient memories, passed down, were locked within the basin, which was sunk deep underground within a forest. There were only a few such Pensieves. No one knew which was the first.

One such forest sheltered the village of Frog’s Hollow, once known as the Vale of Dagda. Around each Pensieve a small community had grown, attracting other outcasts and wanderers. Each Pensieve had a keeper, each community a Secret-Keeper. But as far as Theophany knew, the Secret-Keeper had no right to access the Pensieve. She was there on Jacka’s sufferance and authority.

The air felt like snow, heavy and hushed. It was nearly December, and very little snow had fallen to cover the frozen ground. Even the weather, Theophany thought standing on the front step, isn’t the same. The world is wrong.

“Hey!” The door behind her opened, and Concord stepped out, shivering.

“Silyn sent me out. You forgot.”

Theophany accepted the scarf and wound it around her neck and face.

“He says he and Dad will be waiting for you. They were going to walk to Jacka’s with you but thought perhaps you’d prefer not. Putting on a show of confidence for them, all that.”

“Thanks,” she mumbled through the scarf.

“Is this about your….memories? Are you trying to get them back?”

“Fingers crossed.”

The cold quiet invited Theophany to take her time, but a peaceful walk was impossible this side of the Pensieve. She needed to know and quickly. At the end of the lane she Disapparated. The oak wood was familiar from childhood, but tonight, from recent events, it felt sinister.

Theophany didn’t stop until she climbed the earthen stairs, panting slightly, to Jacka’s door. The Honeysett woman opened at her knock. Even though there was no where else to go, Theophany was a little surprised they were still here. Many would rather risk detection than stay with a werewolf.

“Good evening. I’m sorry, am I early?”

“Not at all,” Mrs. Honeysett replied evenly. “Mr. Jacka is late.”

She said his name gently, like it was fragile. Theophany was sat by the fire and was given tea which she couldn’t drink. She found her stomach was clenching and rolling. For a moment it was awkwardly silent.

“I need to apologize—”

“I’m so sorry—”

They both stopped in embarrassment. Mrs. Honeysett coughed.

“I need to say I’m sorry about my earlier behaviour. It was selfish to be worried when you have been so—so horribly attacked.”

Theophany waved her hands.

“No, no, of course. Mrs. Honeysett, you’ve done nothing wrong. You have a son, he must come first. Of course you must be worried. I’m so sorry that I’ve put you in this situation. But if you can believe me, after all that’s happened, please believe we will keep you both safe. After tonight we'll have a better idea how to proceed.”

“Jacka won’t say how you plan to do that. I suppose—?”

“Not my secret to tell.”

Mrs. Honeysett nodded. The silence was more comfortable this time.

“May I ask,” Mrs. Honeysett said shyly, “what is Mr. Jacka’s first name?”

Was it just the fire making her face glow?

“Jacka is Jacka.” Theophany proceeded cautiously. “It’s the only name he had when he came to us. I was seventeen. Col was five.”

Something about the expression of the other woman caused Theophany to continue.

“He came from a...clan of werewolves. The most brutalized and stigmatized coming together in a kind of pact or community. They felt the world had abandoned them. They became self-destructive, refusing to try and live in society, engaging in ritual biting. He tried to run away with Col when he was little and still unbitten. But they caught them.”

Theophany caught Mrs. Honeysett’s eye and held it. This woman needed to know. She couldn’t say Jacka’s name like that, look like that, and not know. If she couldn’t accept everything about Jacka, Theophany wanted this stopped sooner than later.

“They locked Jacka in a room with his little boy at full moon.”

“Oh God, no. Col? Oh, how could they? What about his mother?”

“Turned the key on them.”

Theophany watched her shudder in horror. Leaning forward she lowered her voice.

“Mrs. Honeysett. I was seventeen when I accepted Jacka into the protection of the valley; my protection. I was young enough to be his daughter, but he still whole-heartedly accepted me as Secret-Keeper. Long before there was this war, he was my first refugee. I will hurt anyone who harms him. I am very protective.”

Mrs. Honeysett removed her hand from her mouth just as the door swung open. Jacka clumped loudly into the room, shedding his cloak and hat.

“I see you’re here, Theophany. Are you ready? I need only collect your things from the cellar.”

Theophany’s stomach, briefly forgotten, took a dive. She stood up wordlessly. Mrs. Honeysett hurried to the coat rack by the door. A bag was hanging there.

“Just a thermos of tea and some sandwiches.” She blushed under Theophany’s gaze.

“Thank you,” Jacka said sincerely.

Mrs. Honeysett turned purple. As Jacka descended into the cellar she whispered to Theophany, “No matter what happens tonight, if you remember us or not, I know we’re safe with you. Both of you. But I know we can’t stay here long term; it wouldn’t be fair to Jacka or Col.”

Theophany could only nod, a little taken aback. Jacka returned with the old satchel.

“We may be out late. Good night, Mrs. Honeysett.”

“Good night,” she returned, “and please,” aside to Theophany, “call me Lavinia.”

“Good night, Lavinia.”

Jacka held the door for Theophany. She stepped out and caught her breath, pulling up her hood. It had started to snow.

They were headed for the oldest part of the forest, the true forest, some said. It was primarily an oak wood, and deeper in, the trees were thick and heavy with age. The snow made a soft rattle as it fell onto the crisp leaves and frosted undergrowth. The sinister looming was gone, now that she was with Jacka, yet Theophany still had to quash a childish urge to hold his hand.

“Have you ever used the Pensieve?”

“Yes.”

“What’s it like?”

“Disconcerting. It doesn’t show bias, or emotion. You will see only what happened; your actions will be presented honestly, objectively.”

“Terrifying.”

Jacka smiled. They moved on in silence. Theophany could detect no path, but Jacka was sure-footed. At last the ground begin to rise slightly and then steeply until they left the trees behind and stood on a small hill. Half buried stones marked a ring on the bald top. A tightness in the air that had nothing to do with the modest elevation made Theophany’s blood thrum. It grew stronger as they approached the stone circle. It wasn’t exactly dread, but there was a curious sense of resistance pushing against her that made her move slowly.

Jacka stepped in first before giving Theophany a hand to step over the barrier. She felt a pressure almost like Apparition as she entered the circle and found the pressure was gone. Jacka pulled her to the center and raised his wand.

With an earthy groan the stones shifted, scraping through the frozen soil. The ground beneath them lurched, and Theophany unashamedly clutched Jacka’s arm with both hands. They were lowering slowly into the hill, and Theophany wasn’t sure what they were standing on, if anything at all. The rocks above moved faster until they spun in their circle with a grating thrum. Inside the hill it was even colder and lit only dimly. Beneath their feet was a soft silver light, shifting on the walls like water, but there was no sound other than the rasp of stone against stone. At last her boot struck stone and they stood in the center of the hill.

The circular opening above appeared no bigger than the palm of her hand. Jacka moved forward and spoke a word. Torches lit around them, burning with the same silver light that shone from below. Theophany realized she was only at the edge of the room and followed Jacka towards the source of light. The chamber was entirely of stone and her steps were loud.

Jacka descended out of sight and she hurried forward. There was a short flight of stairs and at the bottom a pool. But it wasn’t. Theophany paused. About four feet across it was a basin of silver set into the stone floor. It seemed a small thing for such a large chamber, but its light carried far into the blackness and up the cold walls. Jacka was waiting for her.

“It’s beautiful,” she said.

“It’s safe.”

“I’m not afraid of it; I’m afraid of what I’ll see.”

Jacka pointed and Theophany knelt at the Pensieve edge. Jacka placed the satchel gently by her and moved to the far side where he sat cross legged. In the shifting light he was barely discernible.

“I don’t know what I’ve done,” Theophany whispered.

He lowered his head.

“Only what you thought best. I will stay here. You may trust me not to look into the Pensieve. I am merely the keeper.”

Theophany steeled herself and opened the satchel. The odd collection of bottles and vials winked up at her, contents glittering. She chose one and saw a number three scratched on the cap. She’d had time to prepare, apparently. Finding the vial with a number one inked on the top, she uncorked it and poured the strand within into the swirling Pensieve. The mists thickened and cleared. She was looking into a street at dusk. Theophany took a deep breath and lowered her face into the Pensieve. Her breath made tiny ripples across the surface, and then the floor gave way and she was falling.
Chapter 8 by Meadowsweet
Author's Notes:
So sorry for the long delay! I can only cite midterms. I can promise the next update will be soon. Again I own nothing this is all J.K. Rowlings, only Theophany is mine. Also more song lyrics! The brief quote is from 'Wannabe' by the Spice Girls released 1996.

Falling into a street in...Edinburgh? She believed she was somewhere south of Morningside, but it wasn’t the nicest spot. There were a lot of tired-looking buildings housing identical flats. No one much was about. A bus came roaring around the corner, and Theophany instinctively jumped back but much too late. It ripped through her and continued obliviously on its way. Theophany tried to slow her heart and reminded herself that everything here was vapor. Including the witch striding so purposely towards her. Did she always walk so assertively? Did she always look so serious? Self esteem isn’t the point here, Theophany reminded herself and followed her Pensieve self into one of the resident buildings. There was a grimy cement courtyard, surrounded by flats that looked more like a barracks. The stained steps took them to number 472, and Theophany watched herself unlock the door and then quickly step to one side as about a dozen protective charms blew up simultaneously. A quick suppression spell stopped the conflagration. Through the smoke a curly haired figure could be seen, huddled on the peeling linoleum with one shaking hand pointing a wand.

“The effect is a little ruined when you’re hiding your face like that,” Theophany said.

The watching Theophany jumped. That’s what I was thinking, but is that because I already thought it? But I don’t remember that. So are my responses predictable?

“You got my letter?” Jethro was saying. “Did the Holts send you? Is that why&mdah;”

“Firstly, The Mill is protected by the Fidelius Charm, as well you know, so no, nobody has come looking for you. No owls, Howlers, official inquiries—”

“Why would you assume there’s an official inquiry—” Jethro squeaked indignantly.

Secondly” Theophany continued, “I’m here to not become an accessory after the fact by learning whatever it is you did, but I am here to haul you home.”

“Now hold on! I’ve got work, I can’t just drop everything and leave!”

“Work? Really? I’m guessing your employer isn’t the sort who will report your absence to the officials.”

Jethro stood up and sulkily dusted himself off.

“There’s rent due.”

“Ugh. So much for this so-called employment. Pack a bag. I’ll see the landlord.”

With a last contemptuous glance she left the room. The real Theophany hurried after her. Oh no, you didn’t! He’s going to run the moment you —

With a hollar and a whoop Jethro ran from the flat and leapt from the balcony. Both Theophanys ran to the concrete edge in time to see him fly safely to the balcony opposite, do a cheeky dance, and Disapparate. The memory faded, to be replaced by a scene in a grimy office. An elderly woman was fussing with a key.

“I don’t normally turn over my tenants’ mail, but since you’re a relative…”

“Thank you for your understanding.”

Theophany watched her past self tear through the bills, raising an eyebrow at receipts for odd materials, and finally pausing on a letter from someone named Burlip. The return address was marked 31b Haven Alley, Reading. The office faded away and Theophany sat up.

The Pensieve was again empty mist. Jacka hadn’t moved. He sat chin on chest. His eyes flicked a question, and she tried to smile reassuringly. Theophany fumbled in her pack and found vial two, written in blurred ink. The Pensieve swirled and changed to a scene of fire. With a shorter hesitation than before, Theophany plunged in.

Haven Alley was burning. This attack was only hours old. She watched herself fly down the street, landing just short of the Hag’s Ankle. The dead were everywhere. Theophany kept her eyes on her own figure, picking through the rubble, shoulders taut and defensive. Suddenly she froze, then began walking again. What am I doing? 31b was right there, she was passing it. Theophany saw her other self turn down the next block and then slowly circle back. What had warned her? Had she heard something?

They approached the apothecary from the other direction, creeping low against the wall. Theophany found herself sneaking quietly along by instinct. Someone was standing outside the shop. A wizard. She must have heard him behind her. A Death Eater? He stooped down. She couldn’t see. Oh for heaven’s sake I’m not really here!

Theophany left her past self and ran towards the wizard. He was bending over the remains of a man. No, not the remains, Theophany realized sickly, he was still just alive. The poor man coughed blood and struggled weakly. The wizard drew his wand and Theophany tensed.

“Hush, be still. Dormias.”

WIth a soft sigh the tortured man fell asleep. Theophany bent, but the stranger stood up swiftly and regarded the shop. It was too dark to get a good look at his face. Pretty distinctive profile though. She watched his cautious entry into the shop and the slow search of the ground floor. Oh yeah, what was I doing all this time? Oh, pretty much what I’m doing now. The past Theophany was a safer distance away, watching through narrowed eyes. Eventually she rose and entered the shop as well, wand at the ready. Following the light she descended into the cellar and through the revealed doorway into a work space of some kind. The stranger was pocketing something.

“Are you looking for someone or just looting?”

Allsop was right. I really am too abrupt, Theophany thought. The stranger turned slowly, almost insolently slowly. Damn, that is a distinctive face. Do I know him? Theophany watched their exchange in confusion. Wait, he thinks I’m a Death Eater because I flew? So he’s only acting like a Death Eater? She flinched as she watched herself lifted into the air, her arm checked for the mark. So he is a Death Eater! But what’s a Death Eater doing casting mercy sleep on victims in the street? Wait —

Theophany ducked as the cabinet exploded, even though the debris went through her. What was I thinking?

She saw the wizard dive to one side. Damn it, he should have got the worst of it. How did I block this?

Theophany watched dumbfounded as the Death Eater rolled onto his shoulder and cast a Shield Charm. She saw her own shock mirrored on her past face. The following conversation was equally surreal. The memory faded and she sat back on her heels, staring at the Pensieve. Okay. So he had saved her from her own spell. That’s not an excuse for her to be that friendly. How could she trust him so readily? What had she been thinking? Not a Death Eater, then, but he really wanted that sword. So she exchanged it for information. Had it worked?

“Do you need to take a break?”

Theophany jumped. She’d forgotten Jacka.

“No, no absolutely not.” She tore open the satchel. “Come on number three...aha!”

It was a phone booth. Was she still in Reading? She was leaning against the phone, waiting. It rang.

“Hello? Otho?” There was a pause for the security question before Theophany gave the password. “Conmaicne of Connacht.”

The observing Theophany tried to press closer to the receiver but could only catch the muttered voice of Otho Aubuchon.

“You’re kidding. It was Pinstick? You’re certain?” Theophany bit her nail. “Yes, yes, anonymous so we can’t — I know. Listen, I’ve got to go.”

She hung up and pulled the drawing of the sword from her pocket. In it were wrapped three rubies. Theophany checked her watch; it was a quarter past nine.

“Okay, Jethro, let’s see how good you are.”

The memory changed. She was behind the bar of some seedy pub. The barman was scrupulously looking the other way, probably heavily tipped, while Jethro and Theophany argued behind the barrels on tap.

“Do you have any idea what time it is?” Jethro was hissing. “I’d have to work all night, what’s left of it, and even then I might not make it.”

“Yes, I know what time it is, which makes me wonder why this pub is still open. You’re going to make good on this promise.”

“On a promise you made! Why should I? And how did you find me?”

“Your bills, Jethro. I’ve spent all night going to the nasty places you owe money until I hit the right place. You do this, I pay off your current debt. Right?”

Jethro squinted.

“You said he’s paying.”

“Yes, so you’ll be ahead of the game…for about a week,” Theophany finished sarcastically.

“I’ll show you…”

Theophany’s memory took her through a long night. Eventually Jethro was so absorbed in his work she had allowed herself to sleep. He was as good as he said.

The fourth vial found her in the Spiny Serpent, and she felt no other memory could be harder to watch. She was jerked from her chair by Jugson and Crowe, and no one made a move to help her. Knocked down, searched, and blindfolded. Theophany had experienced the Cruciatus Curse only once before, and she was glad she had no memory of this second time.

She paced in the shed, not quite able to watch the torture, thankful she didn’t remember this. By the time she was rescued, it was obvious she could barely hold her head up. She was covered in burns and cuts. Theophany watched the hook-nosed stranger heal her as best he could, efficiently but gently. Surely not a Death Eater? He could have claimed the sword without helping me. It was stupid, but I had to enchant that sword, I have to know what he’s up to, how he knew about Pinstick. But he could have risked it — just taken it.

The journey to Gringotts was physically grueling and hardly illuminating. Theophany nearly had a heart attack when she saw who was waiting and, from the look of it, her other self had barely hidden her horror. Bellatrix Lestrange. It was a wonder she hadn’t turned and ran.

She had heard only snatches of their conversation and had no answers. Why give a dummy sword to Bellatrix Lestrange? Wasn’t that tantamount to palming it off on You-Know-Who himself?

Theophany was so intent on what was happening she almost missed her own collapse. A little ahead in the street the Pensieve Theophany stumbled and her legs seemed to give out. She stumbled drunkenly to the corner and waited. The not-Death-Eater wizard came alongside her shortly, and they made their painful way back to the Spiny Serpent. Through the Floo Theophany chased the dark wizard and her bleeding self. The memory was growing dim, indicative of her deteriorating physical state. When the Floo dumped them at the chintzy hotel, her vision was hazy around the edges, and when they Apparated, everything went black.

“Miss Knapp, can you hear me? Knapp?” He lifted her head and sharply tapped her face. “Theophany, wasn’t it? Theophany, wake up.”

The memory swam into focus as Theophany regained consciousness. The real Theophany winced as the Death Eater who didn’t seem to be a Death Eater peeled bloody sleeves back from her arms.

“Why didn’t you just tell them what little you knew?”

“I couldn’t,” she whispered. “This is deep magic, ancient. When you believe, no amount of pain can make it untrue.”

I must have been really dazed to speak so freely.

“...They can only kill this body.”

Whoa. I must have hit my head. Why? Why do I keep talking?

After treating all her visible wounds and mending her ribs, he placed an old screen—it had a faded design of white blossoms on black lacquer—around the sofa. He dosed her, while the observing Theophany screamed at herself not to drink it.

“The other night when you said your family had been flying for generations, what did you mean exactly?”

“Well, we don’t exactly use it to fetch the milk, but it’s been a family trait passed down for years.”

Shut up, Chatty!

“...My family follows the Tuatha De Danann.”

Merlin’s underpants. Just serve yourself up on a silver platter. You idiot! You didn’t even try and fight when he took your wand!

Proving a perfect gentleman, the Death Eater left the library while she treated her own wounds. Theophany watched herself partially disrobe and daub dittany over circular wand burns and the now closed cuts. She was relieved to see she had at least tried to investigate a little. But other than an impressive collection of books the room was quite bare, and Theophany was hardly capable of walking. After a brief search of the desk, and nearly passing out, she made her careful way back to the couch just a minute before he knocked.

He brought a glass of water? And a blanket and a hot water bottle? How...shockingly domestic.

“...The foolhardy and extreme danger of flying needs to be impressed upon you. Not only can it get you mistaken for a Death Eater, itself an unpleasant prospect as the misunderstanding would be revealed in a matter of seconds, but it is a Dark Art. There is always a price for using such — ”

Is that why I got goose flesh about flying? Because I promised? How could I still remember that?

“You give out promises too easily.”

“It’s the least I can do after such hospitality.” She carefully lowered herself prone onto the couch. “And I owe you a bottle of dittany.”

So that’s why she had had dittany in her pocket when she came to on Phiny’s Peak. Theophany watched herself fall asleep and the library fade, to be replaced by the same room in the light of morning. The wizard was sitting in a chair by the last embers of the fire, breathing deeply and steadily. Theophany saw herself rise quietly and approach him. It was too risky to recover her wand, what was she doing? She just stood there. For about two minutes she had watched him sleep. Then she’d folded the blanket, scribbled a quick note, and weighed it down with the water bottle.

Outside the winter dawn was grey, but she had a feeling this street never looked cheerful even in the rosiest summer light. The brick houses on either side looked empty, but so did the residence she’d just left. To her left was a dead end, so she turned right and walked to the main road. On the corner was a sign: Spinner’s End was the street.

This main thoroughfare was unmarked but had a few sad shops, not yet open. Theophany followed herself and they walked slowly to the edge of the village street where a slushy trickle ran through a frozen streambed filled with old cars, bedsteads, and other junk. An abandoned stone building loomed over the stream, as if about to slide into it. Its sign in rusty iron letters proclaimed it once ‘Cokeworth Mill’. Theophany Disapparated, and the memory changed to the much pleasanter view from Maevan’s cottage. After speaking with Maevan the memory was complete and she was once again in the chamber with Jacka. Theophany stood up slowly; her legs were cramped and cold.

“Is that all?”

She looked around at Jacka quickly.

“N-no. I just need a minute.”

A slow pace carried her about the circumference of the chamber in a few minutes. She did two more circuits before settling down at the basin again. Too many connotations and consequences to consider. If this wizard was truly on their side but appearing as a Death Eater...and how was he operating alone? Theophany unstopped the last bottle. Please, she thought, have answers for me.

The conversation with Otho was illuminating but provided only further complications. Had she discovered nothing? Theophany followed the memory into the offices of the Daily Prophet. Her frustration was growing. What was she trying to prove?

Severus Snape.

That much is progress, at least. I knew I’d seen his face before. At last she saw herself meet the Pointdexters and the Honeysetts. It was reassuring to discover that while the Hughes’ house was under observation, the Honeysetts themselves had not been discovered. Theophany witnessed her last desperate memory stash and the mist turned dark. Theophany knelt, holding her head.

Why was the sword necessary?

If he really was working alone, how had he known about Arthur Pinstick?

Was he the anonymous intelligence source Otho investigated? Was that the assumption she had made?

If she’d been aware he intended to use the Memory Charm on her, why did she trust him? Or had she not been aware he would wipe her memory?

If he was the anonymous source, why should that make her trust him?

Why did she trust him still?

Theophany jumped when Jacka touched her shoulder.

“What’s wrong?”

“Jacka, I know what but I don’t know why I did what I—”

Jacka squeezed her shoulder.

“Shh. You don’t owe me any explanation. What do you need?”

She wiped her face with her sleeve. The chamber was cold, but a clammy sweat made her robes stick.

“I need to see this again, I need to try and understand what I was thinking — what I felt.”

Jacka pulled her to her feet and led her away from the pool.

“First, eat something and have some tea. You’ve been at this for hours.”

Lavinia had even packed a blanket. Jacka draped it over Theophany’s shoulders while she ate.

“Nice woman, that Lavinia. They’re going to be okay. Nobody found them; it was me they were after.”

“That’s good and bad news,” Jacka said carefully.

“All good news. She has a little boy and they’re both safe. Me, I’ll be fine. As long as I’m protecting the valley and everyone in it, I’ll always be in danger. I just need to figure out why I went looking for it this time. How do I revisit a memory?”

“Place your wand in the basin and call it to mind.”

She insisted Jacka keep the blanket and walked back to the basin. Prodding the mist with her wand tip, she concentrated on the house at Spinner's End. The library swam into view and Theophany lowered her face into the mist.

“...Theophany, wake up.”

She watched him settle her on the sofa. Severus Snape. I feel like there’s something I know about you but I can’t remember… No, don’t watch him. She was the puzzle here. Theophany turned her back on Snape to watch her own face. It slid from painful grimace, to patient pain, to crooked smile. How could her own face be so hard to read? It was obvious she trusted him; that wasn’t an act. She’d even been hurt when he hadn’t returned that trust and taken her wand. That was clear from her telltale, ironic smile. She went through it all twice more without further enlightenment. Frustrated, Theophany retraced her steps to the moment she first opened her eyes in the library. Her face had been blank, confused, and then tight with pain.

“What are you thinking?” Theophany asked aloud. “Is it just because he saved you? Is it because he’s kind? How could you not still be suspicious of him?”

She watched her face clear as the pain eased, the amused smile that quirked her mouth while Snape was bent over the cuts on her hands.

“What is it? What are you thinking? What do you see— oh! Idiot! I need to see what you see!”

She had been looking at the wrong person. All being vapor, Theophany couldn’t actually lie on the sofa but she could inhabit the same space. She tried again from the beginning, sitting on the floor with her hands clasping her knees. From this vantage point she could see his face as he shook her awake. He was concerned but impatient, exasperated. He kept glancing at the clock.

“...Theophany, wake up.”

Was this concern for her? Or was she only a liability? If he was worried about wasting time, why not leave her with someone else? Unless there was no one he could trust. Theophany watched him frown ferociously or meet her with a sarcastic sneer. But sometimes he would glance up, almost interested, then his face would be empty again. Always wary. But mostly...Theophany held her breath. He was, Theophany realized, incredibly sad.

She walked through the memory again. Saw that he chose every word, censured every movement. Always guarded. She watched him sleep while the library fire burned down and the weak morning light woke the sleeping Theophany. She saw herself bend over him, study him carefully. He slept the heavy sleep of the exhausted.

How and why she had decided to trust him she might never know, never remember. She could feel the space it had occupied, like a missing tooth. Theophany and her past self seemed to agree that here was a person greatly burdened. The memory of herself prepared to leave, but Theophany stood a minute longer by the chair until the memory began to melt away. She stood up. The Pensieve swirled at her feet, empty.

“Theophany? Theophany, you’re crying.”

Surprised, Theophany wiped her face. Sweet Jacka, always so concerned for everyone else. She smiled up at him. Jacka looked a little alarmed.

“That’s enough. I shouldn’t have let you stay so long.”

“No. I needed to. Thank you for letting me — letting me see that I — damn...”

The tears welled up again. Jacka wrapped the blanket around her, clucking gently.

“Ah now, it can’t be that bad. No one’s hurt, everyone’s still safe. Yes? You always keep us safe.”

Theophany nodded tearfully.

“It’s fine, I’m okay. It’s — It’s fine. We should get back, I’ve kept you long enough.”

Jacka helped her recall her memories from the Pensieve and reseal them. He insisted she keep the blanket as they walked back. It was after midnight by Jacka’s watch, and he kept it scrupulously wound. They were neither of them surprised to see Lavinia still awake. Col sat with her at the kitchen table over tea and buttered toast.

“Felix insisted on waiting up but fell asleep an hour ago,” Lavinia whispered, nodding to the chair by the fire. Felix was curled like a cat under his mother’s cloak.

“You should be able to sleep soundly too; neither of you are in danger.”

Lavinia leaned forward.

“Then who attacked you and why?”

“That’s a different matter entirely. The Hughes probably let it be known they were hiring a new shop assistant, and Heathers had them watched. Probably to check the registration papers of whomever they hired. We’re a small village, not very exciting for the local enforcement. They can be overzealous.”

“What happens to them now?” Col asked.

“And what about the Hughes?” Lavinia added.

“There was another family we moved the same day as you. We had to divide them up. Now we’ll put one of them with the Hughes so it looks like they were expected all along. As for you, I’ll have to find another place.”

“It’s not that you’re not welcome —” Col broke in hurriedly.

“— But it isn’t possible,” Jacka finished quietly. He smiled at his son. “Nice as it’s been, in’it?”

Lavinia spread her hands on the table. Her whisper sharpened.

“We’re safe here. And we’d love to stay. Moreover you have limited places to hide people, and there will be only more like us, I’m afraid.”

Jacka bent forward.

“Listen, it’s not possible —”

“— To stay here, I know. Mr. Jacka, I noticed you have a tent in the attic. Felix found it. It’s quite charming inside, reminds me of my parents’ cottage.”

Theophany liked the look of total stupification on Jacka’s face.

“So you’re going to camp out then?” she asked Lavinia.

“Yes, I’m sure we aren’t the first to disappear from society entirely. No fake identities needed. No need to endanger a host family. This forest is already protected from Muggles; we’ll ward our campsite, and if trouble comes, we can always run to Jacka and Col.”

Jacka was wagging his head.

“Absolutely not. There’s no safety net for this plan if something goes wrong—”


“If we were discovered, we’d run,” Lavinia pointed out. “Isn’t that what we would do anyway, if we were discovered at the Hughes'?”

Col looked hopefully at his father. Despite their differences in age he seemed to enjoy Felix’s company. Theophany shifted in her seat.

“Jacka —”

“I don’t think —”

“Jacka! They’ve lost everything, but still they are happy here with you and Col. If this is what she wants, if being here makes her happiest, then—then why can’t you let her…”

Theophany pressed a hand over her mouth. It wasn’t up to her to save all the lonely people of the world. Col looked embarrassed. Lavinia was peering at her in the firelight.

“Are you alright?”

“Y-Yes.” Theophany prayed she wouldn’t start hiccoughing. She stood up. “Since you’ve withdrawn your request for asylum and prefer to find your own place, this is no longer my business. You will have to settle it between yourselves.”

Fight hard. She wanted to yell. Don’t let him push you away!

Col offered to see her home, but Theophany brushed it aside.

“This is your decision too, Col. You’ll share responsibility for them.”

She wanted to walk — no she needed to run. Theophany picked her way down the steps from the cottage, but as soon as she had crossed the meadow out of sight, she began to run. Until she reached the edge of the wood, until her heart was hammering so hard she couldn’t breathe and she felt her blood pulse in each fingertip. On the path to The Mill she walked slowly to catch her breath. Ahead she saw the front door standing open, a square beacon, and put on a reassuring smile.

“Theophany?”

“I’m fine, Dad. I — I don’t know everything but I have what’s important.”

“Oh my God!”

Silyn stood in the door behind their father with Merryn and Boniface just behind. Silyn pushed his way past and grabbed Theophany by the shoulders.

“What’s wrong?”

“N-Nothing! I just said—”

“Don’t you lie to me! I can see it! There’s a shadow on you and your aura is — is bright, it’s way too bright, like it’s burning up.”

“Whoa, what?” Boniface yelled.

They crowded around her. It was unusual for Silyn to speak of auras or other phenomena. He hated the terminology of popular Divination; dismissing it as invented by hacks and frauds. Mr. Knapp managed to get a word in.

“Keeping her out here in the cold isn’t going to fix anything!” His sons subsided. “Now, dear. Do you need anything? Is there something we can do?”

Theophany shook her head.

“Then, go to bed. I can’t see your aura but I can see you, and you look exhausted.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Theophany said sincerely.

Silyn looked mutinous for a minute. Left to himself he would probably have cross-examined her then and there. Instead he pulled Theophany into a tight hug. Theophany felt a little claustrophobic, but fortunately she started hiccoughing and everyone started exclaiming she should be in bed. By the time she crawled between the sheets, her hiccoughs were regular and loud. Pressing her face into the pillow, she cursed Severus Snape and ever meeting him.

Why did she feel so sorry for him? It wasn’t her responsibility, but she lay awake anyway, wondering and worrying.

She must have slept because suddenly the ceiling was bright with morning sunlight. Theophany let herself stay a little longer after Ike rang the bell for morning chores. Dad was a heavy sleeper. He’d grumbled that a Muggle alarm clock was good enough for him, but any model he bought went haywire around his magical offspring. After the last one started belting Gilbert and Sullivan numbers at odd hours, he appointed Ike the role of back up alarm, much to the house-elf’s delight.

Theophany felt as if she’d been taken apart and rearranged. Was an emotional response common to Pensieve use? She supposed this was better than last night’s tears. She cringed with embarrassment. Poor Jacka. Theophany wasn’t even sure what had upset her, but in the Pensieve she had felt overwhelmed with sorrow and betrayal. Well, she couldn’t start wallowing in her feelings.

By ten o’clock she’d made breakfast for the twins, it being a school holiday, answered the post, brewed three potion orders and was halfway through cleaning the workshop. When she reentered the house to grab a can of Godeby’s Degreaser and Cauldon Polish, she could hear the radio playing upstairs. The ceiling thumped to excitedly dancing feet.

“...tell you what I want what I really really want—”

“You two!” Theophany hollered. “More cleaning, less dancing! I expect both of your rooms to be pristine when I check.”

The thumping stopped and the volume lowered. Merryn poked his head from the study. He was going over accounts while Dad was with the livestock.

“Congratulations, your ability to divine when they’re goofing off has reached parental levels.”

Theophany muttered something.

“We really need to talk. All of us. Are you considering eating at some point today?”

She paused at the door. She really couldn’t resent it, much as she dreaded it.

“At lunch. Bring Lissy and the girls over. We can all talk then.”

Hopefully with Merryn’s wife Lissy and their two girls it would be more of a family conference and less of an interrogation. Not that they wouldn’t handle her with kid gloves, Theophany reflected as she scoured the bottom of the five-gallon cauldron; that almost made it worse. She did owe them some explanation. A ringing rap on the outside of the cauldron made her drop her cloth and cover her ears.

“What?”

An owl was perched on the upturned cauldron. As Theophany watched, it impatiently banged the brass edge with its beak.

“Okay, okay!” She untied the letter. “Hey, at least wait for an answer!”

The owl stopped trying to flutter away and hopped onto her work desk to peck a cork to pieces. It was a brief note from Jacka. Theophany read that Lavinia and Felix would indeed be camping in Dagda Wood.

Further down the page Jacka wrote,“...This worries me to no end. I’m thankful you delivered such an amount of Wolfsbane, it is reassuring to have it at hand, but myself and Col have never been exposed to others while under its influence. I don’t doubt your brewing capabilities, but is it enough? If she ran to us for help at the full moon, would she be in danger? Could we even help her?”

Theophany grabbed a spare piece of parchment. Scraps of recipes and notes fluttered onto the freshly scrubbed floor, but she ignored them. How could Jacka not remember? He had helped her at the full moon, once. In that first year she had not been cautious enough; she had never been around werewolves. She wasn’t used to following the cycle of the moon when visiting Jacka.

In her defense, she had been seventeen, but it was carelessness to get lost and even stupider to knock on Jacka’s door. Theophany paused, her quill dripping. She would never forget what she saw that night. The door had swung open at her touch, and the room had been dark and cold but full of something that breathed raggedly, that unfolded itself from the corner and kept growing larger. It had advanced on her, its rangy frame stooping under the low rafters, its eyes picking up the moonlight. She hadn’t been able to move, and if Jacka hadn’t been taking his potion she would never have moved again. Would Lavinia manage an encounter like that? Theophany didn’t mention her terror, only reminded Jacka that she had once been perfectly safe with them, ten years ago.

As for Lavinia’s reaction,“We can only wait and see,” she wrote. “Until the time comes, none of us knows what we are capable of.”

The bell rang for lunch. It was a relic from their childhood days when Mum had to call them in from wandering in Dagda wood or throwing dirt clods at the Squirting Inky Caps in the lower field. Theophany felt a familiar pang. Not a day passed she didn’t want to speak to her mother, but today she would have given anything for her advice. Theophany gave the owl her reply and sent it on its way. She bent to pick up the scattered papers from the floor. Under her notebook was the copy from the Prophet.

Theophany held it to the light and studied the face. Snape’s lip curled, he twitched and shifted. Impatient and dismissive. Cold. Nothing like what she’d seen in the Pensieve. What was the word? Harrowed. Haunted, even. So which was the mask? She placed the photo deliberately on the table and pinned it down with an inkwell. If only its subject could be so easily pinned down. Theophany took a deep breath. She had to relocate the Poindexters, she had to warn her family that information was leaking into the Dagda resistance and that had got her memories wiped, and Silyn needed her tonight. If the Dagda needed an extra witch, Theophany couldn’t afford to be distracted if it came to dueling.
End Notes:


Thank you, you lovely people you. Reviews, comments, and critiques all welcomed.
Chapter 9 by Meadowsweet
Severus Snape was studying a map. Rather, he’d finished studying it and was still staring at it while he ran scenarios. There were many respected witches and wizards in Durham and a good number of the opposite. Which would Malfoy have been sent to consult? Academic or criminal? It would be better to approach it from the other end and pinpoint the disturbance they’d caused. Draco had said they were forced off the road and into the woods; that could only mean they were by the College.

While there may not be witnesses to the fight, the Dark Lord was unlikely to let resistance go unpunished. Especially if it occurred in pursuit of the Elder Wand. He would send more Death Eaters, those experienced in rooting out local pockets of dissent.

Additionally Draco had left without accomplishing his goal, so Snape was doubly certain another attempt would be made soon. There was the problem. He had to be there to discover if this mission did in fact concern the Elder Wand, but he couldn’t afford the time or risk of surveillance. Would he have to rely solely on guess work?

“No problem is insurmountable, Severus. What are you working on? Is it that young witch who evaded you so easily?”

“I wish you wouldn’t — it was pure luck on her part! Anyway, she’s no longer a concern.”

“Forgive me, Severus, but by that you mean…?”

“Not dead. I had to restrain her and wipe her memories, but there should be no long term damage.”

“Then what’s troubling you?”

“Unlike you, I don’t have a spy. I don’t have resources. I must discover everything for myself but not be seen to be looking.”

“So use the sources you do have.”

“I can hardly set Death Eaters to watching other Death Eaters. If there is a mission to Durham, it is my duty as an obedient servant of the Dark Lord to shut my eyes and ears and ask no questions.”

“However where Draco is concerned, you might be seen to take liberties.”

“I might, just might, be able to bring this resistance movement to the others' attention and on the pretext of protecting Draco ask any sightings of people wearing this mark to be reported to me.”

“But?”

Snape winced and clutched his arm. The mark burned. He dismissed the map with a wave of his wand.

“If I present these people as a threat, it could lead to their eradication.”

“Always the question. Who do we risk in trying to preserve lives?”

“Who do I risk. I must bear it. You’re dead.”

He glanced at the clock. Almost midnight. Why these late summons? They no longer needed to operate under cover of darkness. He opened the window and the portrait called after him.

“What are you going to do, Severus?”

“I have a plan.”

It was cold and the wind cut cruelly. After a long season of rain and frost it had finally snowed. Winter. And was Potter any closer? To what? The sword was a heavy burden, constantly on his mind. Whatever progress Potter made would be curtailed if he couldn’t use the sword, but for what? Dumbledore’s portrait would not specify. Snape stopped himself from thinking, imagining, what Potter was seeking. Potter was supposed to be in hiding; no one would believe he was actively seeking a way to defeat the Dark Lord. As Headmaster of Hogwarts there was no reason for him to be thinking of the boy.

He landed at Malfoy Manor with a mind properly full of Hogwarts, Reform, and the Education Initiative for a New Order. He now had letters from the board of governors, those who had been allowed to remain on the board, pledging their support to the new direction of the school. While sundry reports were made, Snape could appear pleased; his work at least was successful. Any Legilimency quietly at work would reveal only smug satisfaction.

The Dark Lord was preoccupied. These random meetings were more to keep his disciples on edge. A formality. After the first searching gaze around the table, when Snape could feel his mind being seared open, Voldemort lost interest and stopped listening. More important to him were the whispers in his ear from the unnamed spies who passed freely through the manor and the infrequent owls he eagerly awaited.

The Elder Wand. Why was he so certain he needed it? Was this desperation, or simply lust for power? Snape had wondered this only at his most secure and private times. Here, his mind was a box with a tightly sealed inner compartment and nothing could pass from one to the other in the Dark Lord’s company. Snape didn’t allow any change of emotion to wrinkle his mind until they were dismissed and had bowed from their master’s presence. As Death Eaters poured silently out of the manor into the night, Snape caught up with Lucius. Around them wizards were taking flight or Disapparating as they crossed the barrier warding the manor.

“How’s Draco?”

“Gone again.” Lucius glanced around them and added in a fierce whisper, “He’s being intentionally removed from my influence. As if I – I am not loyal! I raised him to be the valuable servant that he is!”

Snape silenced him. Dolohov and Birtwhistle were close.

“Dolohov,” Snape said quietly. “A word?”

Dolohov seemed reluctant to stop, but Birtwhistle was always a brown noser and readily stopped to talk. Snape raised his wand and was amused to see the involuntary twitch the others made towards their own wands. In the air he cut a glowing vertical line. From its middle he made two parallel lines branching to the left.

“There are some exceedingly foolish individuals hindering the work of the Dark Lord and his servants. They hide their faces and wear this mark on their arm. Dolohov, am I right in assuming you are still Lestrange’s watchdog? Sniffing out traitors and rebellion for her to purge?”

The Auror bristled.

“I serve our lord, not Lestrange. This group is obviously too small to be relevant or a threat, or of course I would have known long before””

“A threat? I doubt it,” Snape said smoothly. “I wouldn’t expect you to waste time or resources. Only they did cause trouble for Macnair and Draco recently. Draco must not be seen to fail; there are a jealous few who would take advantage. Foolishness, after he’s proved so valuable to our lord.”

There it was, the personal motive. Propping up the godson. Envious of Draco’s popularity though they may be, they could not be seen to work against him. Dolohov would do the bare minimum to assist and then wash his hands of the matter.

“What does the mark mean?” Birtwhistle asked.

“That depends. It’s an ogham rune, Dagda. It represents the oak tree.” Snape grimaced. “But its meaning depends on what field of mythology or divination one prefers. I never cared for such studies.”

Dolohov mumbled something about keeping in touch and moved on.

“I’m overseeing different teams of Snatchers,” Birtwhistle volunteered. “If we find anyone or see anything, I’d be only too happy…”

Snape bowed and walked away, leaving Birtwhistle still bubbling enthusiastically. Lucius hurried after him.

“Why just Dolohov, why not inform everyone?”

“Because, Lucius, it isn’t a grave threat and the Dark Lord has made his priorities clear.” Snape lowered his voice. No need to lose his only ally, such as he was. “You should not be seen to be acting contrary or hindering our master’s plans, even for the sake of your son.”

Malfoy blanched but set his jaw.

“If it saved him...I would do it.”

Snape stopped short and caught Lucius by the robes urgently.

“Don’t say that again. Don’t even think it, Lucius.” He added slowly, “Now is a very dangerous time.”

Most everyone else had left; to linger longer might raise suspicion. Snape told Lucius to return quickly before his absence was noticed and flew back to Hogwarts School.


It was five a.m. Theophany wasn’t sure if she was more desperate for food or sleep. Maybe just a cup of tea.

“I find tea is always best,” Silyn agreed.

“Did you just read my mind, or did I say that out loud?”

Silyn laughed. “You were talking to yourself.”

“Merlin, that’s no good on a mission, is it?”

They were stumbling down the path to The Mill. Theophany had been prepared for anything but not, as it turned out, for nothing. From dusk until the wee hours she and five others had hidden themselves in a place called Little High Wood. There were other approaches to the area, but the house of interest to them could only be approached by the south road. The far side of the wood gave way to undevelopment country. A strategic weak point. Sitting stiffly and overly alert, Theophany had watched the back field with Maevan.

“You did fine,” Silyn reassured her. “Tomorrow night, er, I guess that’s tonight actually, we’ll be patrol and the others will take watch.”

No one had told Theophany what or who they were protecting. What they were watching for didn’t need explaining. She frowned, and Silyn caught the look.

“As far as I know,” Silyn volunteered, “someone alerted a friend, or a friend of a friend, who knows our person in the Ministry. However it happened, we prevented them from being kidnapped the other night, but we lost contact after they went to ground somewhere in the area. Now we have to locate him before we can move him. You can be sure we’re not the only ones watching.”

“Should you be telling me this?” Theophany asked, sagging against the door jamb while Silyn unlocked the door.

“Probably not,” he answered with a straight face, “but something tells me you can keep a secret.”

“Shut up.”

Ike, bless him, had stayed up. The fire was lit and the warm kettle was whistling in a few minutes.

“Good morning, sir!” Ike shrilled to Mr. Knapp as he entered the kitchen.

“Oh Dad, did we wake you?” Theophany asked.

Mr. Knapp kissed his daughter.

“Not at all. The kettle was perfectly timed. My alarm didn’t go off this morning.”

He placed a banana on the table. It was ticking.

“Is that…?” Silyn wondered.

“My alarm clock, yes. I found it a little disturbing so thought I would leave it here until it, er, reverts.”

The latest in a long line of clocks gone bonkers at The Mill, the banana chimed the quarter hour. Silyn started laughing, which set Theophany off, and they sagged against each other in helpless giggles.

“I think it’s perfectly reasonable not to want a ticking fruit on one’s bedside,” Mr. Knapp huffed. “I mean, how would I stop the alarm if it rang?”

“Stop, stop!” Theophany gasped.

Ike handed her a tea towel to wipe her eyes. Weak-kneed, Theophany declined the tea and stumbled upstairs. A few minutes later Silyn knocked on her door, already clad in pajamas and robe, to deliver a beaker of sleeping draught.

“That stuff makes my head feel stuffed with wool,” Theophany sighed.

“You won’t sleep without it. Tonight may be our last night, so at least get a few hours sleep.”

Theophany sank gratefully into bed, hoping that indeed this would be the last night in Durham.

It wasn’t the last night. Not by four more nights. On the third night Theophany had been relieved. Silyn insisted it was best to use as many fresh volunteers as possible. She was afraid of receiving preferential treatment but, as Silyn pointed out, all new recruits needed rest.

Theophany was paired with Isha Korrapati tonight, the fifth night. Durham was quiet after dark, at least on this tree-covered road winding through the colleges. They both used the Disillusionment Charm and moved in the shadows. With their hoods pulled low over their faces there was little chance of recognition. Besides, they would spot anyone abroad before they were seen. At least that was the idea.

Somewhere between Grey College and St Mary’s the moon came out in full brightness. The recent snow had covered enough ground to create a resplendent reflection casting light back up towards the heavens and splashing the reserved brick houses with silver.

Revealed in the sudden light, Theophany and Korrapati froze. Less than twenty meters ahead another figure, equally exposed, stood still and vulnerable. The pointed hood cast slowly side to side. He had apparently been walking ahead of them. As he looked over his shoulder Theophany saw the mask with snake-like slits for eyes. Death Eater.

Korrapati’s wand came up, but Theophany grabbed him by the elbow to pull him flat against the wall. Too late, the motion had caught the Death Eater’s eye. He sent a hex flashing towards them which Korrapati blocked. It was two to one, but the Death Eater came running towards them, and Theophany realized he wasn’t shouting for reinforcements.

As her returning hex lit up the road, Theophany hissed, “I think he’s alone. Keep him from—”

Too late. The Death Eater’s pace changed from a sprint to a glide and in a moment he was a curling black blur rising towards the moon.

“Damn!”

“He’ll be fetching reinforcements,” Theophany pointed out. “If he was the reconnaissance, we can assume they are moving in tonight.”

The rendezvous point was in Little High Wood. It was neither thick nor large but with the proper spells could provide proper cover. Maevan was waiting for patrol pairs to check in. Briefly Korrapati explained the situation. Maevan raised his wand and, without speaking, conjured a Patronus. Theophany watched the flickering fox with envy while Maevan spoke his message and dismissed it.

“You two watch the rowhouse. As each patrol receives the message, I’ll send them in. We need to move now before the Eaters arrive. Theophany, if there’s any way Silyn can figure out which house is the right one…?”

Theophany nodded. With Korrapati she cut through Little High Wood to the south road. On the wooded side of the street, facing the row house, Silyn crouched by the tumbled stone wall. Though he had cast a Disillusionment Charm, Theophany knew where he would be.

“Death Eaters,” she whispered. “One spotted us and left in a hurry. We don’t have a lot of time. Maevan was wondering if you could take a look.”

SIlyn nodded.

“Isha, we need a watch set in both directions. You head north up the road, Tiff, south.”

Korrapati nodded once and slipped away, running low along the wall.

“Anyone in hiding for this many days must be terrified, not to mention impatient,” Silyn continued to his sister. “But the problem is, luv, everyone’s scared these days. Muggles too. I can’t pick up on anyone inordinately afraid nearby.”

“So...I’m not really taking the south end.”

“Afraid not, you have to babysit me. The next one Maevan sends along can play lookout.” Silyn leaned back against the tree behind him and closed his eyes. “If I start talking, shut me up but please”, he opened an eye, “no gags or socks.”

Theophany made to retort, but Silyn had slumped forward and she nearly didn’t catch him. His eyes flickered beneath their lids and his breathing deepened. Then without warning he convulsed. Theophany, poised to move, had caught his arms before he hurt himself. Silyn’s eyes snapped open; their pale gray reflected the moonlight like flat coins. He started whispering. He seemed to be counting. Theophany knew to disregard most of what he said, it hardly ever made sense while using the sight. He had never prophesied that the family knew of.

“...six...eight...nine…”

Theophany struggled against him as he tried to sit up. Why hadn’t anyone else checked in yet? Maevan should have sent others by now.

“...two sixes is twelve, three sixes is eighteen.”

Times tables? Theophany released one arm to gently shake his shoulder. Non-responsive. He was too deeply engaged. The seconds ticked by as Silyn counted higher. His inflection changed, catching his sister’s attention.

“One hundred and three. One hundred and three.” He had been repeating it for some time. “Remember one hundred and three.”

Was he talking to her or himself?

“Blue room, blue chair. Blue room...very, very tired.”

He finally fell silent, but his body was still rigid, still trying to flail.

“Theo...phany?”

“Silyn?”

But he was still under. Was he aware she was there?

“One hundred and three.” He paused. “He’s coming.”

Silyn went limp. Theophany released him. He would come around in a minute. There was a flash of light across the wall. Headlights? But there was no car motor. Theophany cautiously crawled to the wall and looked over. Nothing in the street. Then a spark crackled through the woods some distance behind her. Another crackle and a spell arched above the trees. In its light Theophany saw two figures facing each other, wands drawn, and behind them the flickering light of distant spellwork. The Death Eaters had arrived with uncharacteristic silence and stealth.

“Silyn, come on!”

Theophany shook her brother hard. It was usually only a minute before he woke, but tonight he stayed unconscious.

Damn it, damn it!

She couldn’t leave him, nor could she leave their mission. Theophany pointed her wand.

“Locomotor.”

Silyn lifted into the air, dangling loosely from his shoulders. Theophany kept her wand low, which forced Silyn’s feet to scrape along the ground. Keeping this low profile, she moved him north along the road. If the Death Eaters had attacked the checkpoint in the wood, hopefully they hadn’t split up yet. As the road began to twist north-east, Theophany spotted Korrapati ahead, crouched behind the ruined wall.

“It’s me,” she said softly.

“Who are the sons of Conmac?” he whispered, wand ready.

“The Conmaicne of Connacht,” Theophany replied.

Korrapati clambered down from the wall and hurried over.

“Is Silyn hurt? What happened?”

“He’s unconscious. But I think he got it. One hundred and three. That’s the house, I think. Look for a blue room with blue furniture.”

“Where’s everyone—?”

“We’re under attack. I can’t leave him, but I can cover you while you enter the house.”

Korrapati hesitated for only a second.

“Keep Silyn close. I’ll only need a minute to get in.”

Theophany grinned.

“I’ll be fine. Just snatch whoever it is that we’re protecting and sound the retreat.”

Leaving the road behind, they approached the one hundred block from the other side. This meant leaving the sheltering wood behind and working their way through St. Mary’s. When they got within sight of the brick row house, Korrapati motioned Theophany to stop. She lowered Silyn as comfortably as she could. Korrapati crawled forward past the wall to get a good look around before slithering back.

“One hundred and three is the opposite end from us,” he whispered, “This is one hundred and seven. I’m going to go around back. Hopefully everyone’s keeping the Eaters busy across the street and they haven’t crossed the road from High Wood yet. I need you to keep an eye on the front. If there’s another way in, I’ll take it but shouldn’t count on it.”

“I won’t engage anyone if they don’t see me or you. If they do, I can hold them off long enough for you to get in. I can keep the front busy, so plan on leaving out the back.”

The light show in Little High Wood was closer than when Theophany left. No way of telling how many were the Dagda. Korrapati stepped slowly onto the open lawn. Turning, he winked at Theophany and loped off. Theophany looked back at Silyn. Still comatose. She hadn’t seen him in a trance this long. Was this common? His breathing was light, no cause for concern.

Keeping an ear tuned to his breathing, Theophany watch the road with her wand at her side. How long would it take for the fighting to break out of the wood and reach the road? Ten minutes? Fifteen? Unless Maevan was intentionally holding back the Dagda, hoping that Korrapati and the Knapps would complete the mission.

A shadow moved around the far corner of the building. Korrapati. He slid up to the front door, unlocked it, and edged inside.

Theophany shifted her weight, trying to remember Silyn’s advice. Don’t lock your knees, relax, be ready. Count to four, inhale. How much time had passed? Count to four, exhale. There were other attack jinxes she could use, but ever since her lost duel with Snape she was reluctant to try anything elaborate. Keep it simple.

She felt a few drops fall on her neck and wand hand. There hadn’t been any mention of rain or snow on the wireless. Theophany frowned. The moon was so bright, there couldn’t be clouds. Slowly she raised her head. The branches above her were rustling. Just falling snow then. But why weren’t any of the trees in Little High Wood moving too?

The rustling grew stronger and a rush of wind swept across the treetops. Someone had flown over. Theophany threw herself on the ground and pressed against the inside of the stone wall. Looking up through the skeletal branches, she saw them whip back as three black figures flew over. Whoever had flown by first must have landed; she didn’t hear them continue over the road into Little High Wood. Until the moonlight caught them, Theophany couldn’t see the next two until they were right over the trees. These she heard land in the road only a few meters on. They talked together in low voices and were hailed by the first three.

Theophany twisted slowly in the dirt, finding a crevice in the wall to peer through. Yes, there were five. Where was the first? A creaking overhead announced a late arrival. Theophany didn’t move and saw him land only from the back. He didn’t wear a hood. Slight, blond. And, when he spoke, she realized, ridiculously young.

“I didn’t realize you’d be here, Dolohov.”

“Our master has entrusted the recovery of Professor Oglethorpe to me.”

“Then I’m here on sufferance?”

“You’re here as a favor to your godfather.”

The blond boy turned away slightly as if the speaker was beneath his notice.

“They are stationed in the wood? Do they have the professor?”

“The professor hasn’t been sighted. It’s our guess they have as little idea where he’s hidden as we do.”

“So then.”

The boy drew his wand and strode towards Little High Wood. The one called Dolohov called after him.

“An organized search might be more profitable—”

“Do as you please,” the boy said calmly, and the wood swallowed him up.

Dolohov muttered something and jerked his head at his companions. One went up the road east, the other south, and the last stationed himself with Dolohov outside the house.

“What do you think? It’s a little obvious isn’t it?”

“There are only a few private residences around. Of course we have to take a possible Fidelius Charm into account,” Dolohov replied. “Check the woods around and behind.”

Theophany braced herself. The Death Eater might walk by, or he might scrupulously look through the underbrush. If he saw Silyn, she had to be ready. Dolohov hung back watching the house, so effectively the odds were even. As the wizard crossed the wall, he studied the house, looking for exits, movements. The woods weren’t his main concern. She noticed he didn’t use a light. They didn’t know the numbers of their enemy and were wary of attracting attention. He’d reached the back corner when somewhere a door creaked. Theophany held her breath.

Not now, Korrapati. Don’t come out!

The Death Eater turned and motioned silently to Dolohov. Together they pulled down their masks and hoods. Theophany pulled herself up to a crouch. They were well in sight of her but facing away, looking behind the house, but when the fighting started, the others would come running. If only Korrapati would wait long enough.

But the door squeaked again and an elderly voiced gasped and was quickly silenced. The two Death Eaters moved as one. Wand hands came up to strike as they slithered around the corner, using the shadow as cover for as long as possible.

Theophany followed them. Her mind was reaching for the incantation, her breathing still regulated and steady, but one of them glanced back. Theophany lashed out and the Stunning Spell hit him squarely. He crumpled, and the other, Dolohov she thought, pressed in to attack. Theophany quickly deflected his spell. Where was Korrapati? She couldn’t get a good look behind her opponent, who moved erratically and swiftly.

Dolohov was pushing her towards the front of the house, to the road. His spellwork was exploratory. He’d try a different attack each time, getting her measure. She nearly caught him once but only because he took the time to raise his wand and emit bright sparks into the air. Theophany’s back was to the road, she wouldn’t see who came at her from behind. She gritted her teeth.

Don’t get flustered. Breathe in and count to four…

Her Full Body Bind ricocheted off of Dolohov’s shield and burned past her shoulder.

Focus. One...two…

The hairs on the back of her neck lifted; his reinforcements would be here in any minute. Dolohov’s attacks were almost lazy. He wasn’t even trying to beat her, just waiting her out. If Korrapati was in trouble, she was the only one close enough to help, but she couldn’t get to him.

Three...four…

If she was surrounded, she’d be cut off from Silyn. Theophany stumbled. She lost count and her breath came quickly. Dolohov pressed in and she knocked aside his curse with a flick of her hand.

Silyn. I can’t let that happen.

Her wand came up. Theophany forgot to keep a rhythm. She whipped the Stupefying Jinx from her wand tip. As the spell left her wand, she was bringing her other hand up, shattering the crumbling wall nearest the Eater. Dolohov sidestepped, but flying stone fragments caught him on the shoulder. Theophany’s next curse almost broke through his hasty Shield Charm. Dolohov parried wildly for a minute while retreating; then, before Theophany could gain further ground, he Disapparated. Theophany ran from the road and scrambled over the wall. Silyn was still sleeping. She checked his pulse.

“Theophany?”

Her wand was still in her hand and she brought it up so quickly she nearly took out Korrapati’s eye.

“Where have you been?” she whispered.

Korrapati joined her and crouched by the sleeping Silyn.

“He was right, blue room and all. Professor Oglethorpe is very elderly and moves like it. We couldn’t Disapparate in the house, so I had to get him out first. Sorry it took so long. He’s at Maevan’s cottage now.”

“And Maevan?”

Korrapati jerked his chin at the wood opposite.

“Fight’s still going strong in there. First we need to get Silyn safe.”

“If you help me lift him—”

“I think you should put him down,” suggested a third voice pleasantly.

They were caught from all sides. Crouched on the ground, neither could make any sudden moves. A tall Death Eater leaned over the wall, his wand pointed at them. Ivory tusks curled delicately from his silver mask. From the trees around emerged three others. One was Dolohov, cradling his right arm gingerly. Korrapati stood up slowly, keeping his hands in sight.

“This man is injured.”

“I really don’t care,” the speaker said conversationally. “But if you care, then you should do what I say or he won’t wake up again. Now, where is the professor?”

“Had to get your friends, did you?” Theophany addressed Dolohov with a confidence she didn’t feel. “Was I playing too rough?”

Dolohov barely glanced at her. He kept his eyes on the Death Eater who had assumed command. This was someone higher ranking. Someone he feared.

“I need you to pay attention,” the masked Eater continued. He casually flicked his wand and Korrapati flew back from the wall, crashing through the foliage. He might have been seriously injured, but his body slowed suddenly before he drifted gently to the ground.

Dolohov and the others glanced around. Theophany’s wand quickly left Korrapati and pointed at the leader, but her left hand moved to Dolohov and the other three — they cried out and collapsed in quick succession. The tall Death Eater drew his wand but hesitated while the others struggled to summon breath to heal their broken legs. The leader was staring at Theophany’s left hand. Theophany didn’t give him a pause and scaled the wall. Through the slits in his mask she saw his eyes slide towards Silyn.

“No!”

Fear forgotten, Theophany leapt from the wall. She hadn’t even decided on a hex but she knew, somehow, Stunning Spells were not an option. This would be a fight to the death. Korrapati could manage himself long enough, though they were outnumbered. She would have to make this fast.

“Ammentum.”

A red light grew at the end of her wand with a high pitched buzz. It lengthened and shot towards the Death Eater, who scrambled out of the way. Her spell left a smoking burn in the road where he’d been standing.

Theophany wasn’t monitoring her own wand work or using the focus techniques SIlyn had taught her; all she knew was she was furious. The Death Eater dodged the next hex that sliced off a bit of his cloak. Theophany blocked his attack impatiently and gestured again with her hand. Gravel from the drive flew in his face and he cursed, spitting. Even so he didn’t falter.

Somewhere behind her Korrapati shouted. She had no time. They were in the road, in plain sight of the enemy. Theophany sped up her attacks. She used Ammentum again, and this time the light lengthened a few meters, lashing out in burning sparks. Hard pressed, the Death Eater called out, but Theophany sliced her wand and his voice gurgled to a stop. He fell to his knees and then pitched forward.

Theophany ran back to the woods. Silyn was there. Korrapati must have drawn the others deeper into the forest. Theophany pulled her hood over her face to hide the gleam of her skin and moved as quietly as she could into the trees.

It was unlikely they had all followed Korrapati; someone was bound to have stayed to capture Silyn or herself, should their leader prove unsuccessful. She heard the first one before she saw him. He was pacing a perimeter from the house to the wall, keeping an eye on both fights probably. Theophany slowly raised her wand, but before she could Stun him, a dark figure passed between them. It swept through the trees with arrogance and no pretence of stealth, moving purposefully. The Death Eater had turned and began to speak but crumpled to the ground. The figure paused and listened before moving on. Impossible to make him out in the dark, but Theophany had a hunch, so she followed at a distance.

The figure circumvented another body; Korrapati had accounted for one of his pursuers. That would leave Dolohov and one other. The ground rose a little and the wood thinned. Ahead of them the remaining two Death Eaters crouched on the slope, using a downed tree for cover. One was Dolohov, still favoring his other leg. His fellow Death Eater was half standing, sending hexes and curses up the hill towards an outcropping where, Theophany presumed, Korrapati had gone to ground.

The figure watched Dolohov painfully start to crawl from behind the log. With Korrapati pinned down by his companion, Dolohov could approach from the other side. The figure raised his wand and with an irate flick knocked the two Death Eaters aside. The standing one knocked his head painfully on the log and collapsed. Dolohov was flung deep into the brush. With a quick Stunning Spell he was unconscious before he even knew what had happened.

The wizard turned to look over his shoulder and moonlight caught him clearly. Theophany froze. He didn’t see her. But Korrapati did. Coming cautiously out of cover, Korrapati momentarily froze at sight of the wizard, then drew his wand and shouted for Theophany to duck. Instead Theophany hit him with a Stunning Spell and he crumpled.

She stepped into sight and pulled back her hood. She gave herself a minute to relish his expression before saying, “Hullo, Severus Snape.”

Her smile widened.

Priceless.
Chapter 10 by Meadowsweet
Snape kept his wand trained on her. He knew he was taking too long to answer, but he couldn’t formulate a response.

“You may remember me, Theophany Knapp,” the girl continued, politely.

He eyed her.

“Who are you?” he asked quietly.

“I just said“”

“Theophany Knapp has no memories of me, so who are you?”

She smiled again.

“I’m Theophany Knapp and I owe you a bottle of dittany.”

Snape didn’t lower his wand. It was possible, just possible, that Knapp had been captured and tortured. Such a detail could be used by anyone trying to impersonate her.

Knapp sighed, “Long story short, I don't have my memories back nor do I remember losing them. But I have a – a record of certain events I thought best not to forget. There are people who depend on me.”

Snape lowered his wand. She’d said that before, and no one else could know. Moreover she couldn’t remember she had said so before, could she? She wasn’t manipulating this conversation. Their duel on the hill left no time for her to even write herself a note. How had she preserved her memories?

“How much do you know?” he managed to ask.

Knapp pursed her lips thoughtfully.

“Well, you’re Severus Snape, supposed Death Eater.”

Her voice, so obviously Cornish, shortened his name to an accented cadence, Sev ’rus Snape.

“Then there’s the sword. Gringotts. Knockturn Alley, and, of course, Spinner’s End.”

“You were never to know where I had taken you,” Snape growled. “You’re forcing my hand.”

“Please, I have a failsafe in place. Wiping my memory again wouldn’t help, and it’s not an experience I care to repeat. Besides, it’s not just my knowing about the sword or Spinner’s End you should be worried about.”

Snape stepped closer, lowering his voice.

“Would you care to elaborate, Miss Knapp?”

“Werewolves,” she whispered softly. “You are feeding sensitive information regarding Death Eater movement and attacks to underground contacts. We call ourselves the Dagda, and we know we aren’t the only organized resistance, but it seems some of our channels of communication have crossed with yours. That is, werewolves. Names on the Muggle-born Registration list, when the Ministry fell, these have all been reported by werewolves. I bet you informed someone that Reading would be attacked.”

Snape’s fingers bit into her arm.

Shut up.

Theophany nodded.

“I understand you might not want to talk about this here, but I can’t leave my brother too long.”

Snape hesitated, and glanced back and the forms of Dolohov and Korrapati.

“Let me get both of them safe, then we’ll talk.”

“There’s no time–”

“Again, you seem to be in a hurry and with no reinforcements to take care of a troublesome witch.” Theophany put her head to one side. “Was I right? I think you really are working alone, Professor.”

How could she know so much, far too much? Wand still in hand, Snape let his gaze bore into hers. She seemed unaware of any Legilimency and looked curiously back. She was either innocent or practised Occlumency on a level near his own. He found it hard to believe either.

“Where’s your brother?” he asked at last. Time was against him.

“Unconscious. Oh, by the cottage. I can’t leave him too long, the fight might leave Little High Wood or that blond boy could return–”

What?”

Snape swore. If Draco was here, he must avoid being seen. Dolohov must have informed Draco after his owl had reached Snape.

“Let me help,” Theophany said.

Snape looked at her. She was serious.

“What?” he said again.

“Let me check on my brother; then I’ll help you do whatever it is you’re trying to do behind the Eaters' backs.”

Legilimency showed nothing. Snape could feel the seconds ticking by. He had to make a decision. An image of Theophany, sliced and bleeding, came to mind.

They can only kill this body.”

She had borne his trust once before. Severus Snape pocketed his wand.

“Do you even really have a brother?” he asked dispiritedly.

Knapp smiled; she seemed relieved.

“Five, actually. This way.”

She led him through the forest back to the south road. When they reached the wall, she dropped low and crept forward cautiously. There was a young wizard lying beneath a tree. His hair was silver blond, almost Veela pale. Snape glanced at the witch next to him, her dark hair dragging in the leaves as she bent forward. There was no resemblance he could see. She glanced up,

“I’d introduce you but as you can see, he’s in no state. You’re here about Professor Oglethorpe? The house is 103. I’ll meet you there.”

“While I walk into a trap laid by your friends?” Snape hissed sharply. “You’re coming with me, now.”

Knapp seemed about to protest, but she bit it back. With a quick Disillusionment Charm Silyn was hidden from view, and they moved past the wall into the side yard of the row house.

The southern road was empty, but the pavement was cracked and scorched. There was no telling which direction they’d gone, north further up the road or down. The fight had moved through the wood. She listened, but wizards’ battles were much less noisy than Muggles’. She crept forward slowly, Snape following and feeling foolish. How was he reduced to trusting a stranger? The whole situation was ridiculous.

Knapp paused, then put a hand behind her and caught hold of Snape’s sleeve. Just when he thought it couldn’t be more ridiculous. He tried to pull away, but she clung tight and led him around the back of the house, carefully pulling him around possible pitfalls and the sprawled body of a masked Death Eater.

At the backdoor she did a quick check for security spells before easing it open. It had been left unlocked when the premises were evacuated, presumably. The front hall was really a landing; one could go upstairs to the upper flat or enter the lower directly.

“Upstairs, I think. His room is blue,” she whispered.

At least she had let him reclaim his arm. Knapp climbed the stairs ahead of him, wand ready. The flat at the top wasn’t blue but covered in old wallpaper. They passed through the tiny front room and even smaller kitchen. A door beyond opened into a study and that was indeed blue. Walls, furniture, even the lamp shade. The carpet may once have been similarly colored but was so worn down and faded it was impossible to be sure. The room was tidy. They could safely assume the Death Eaters hadn’t found it yet. Knapp looked around.

“Probably used to be owned by the college. Student digs, or for visiting faculty originally. Got the air of something institutional and neglected about it, don’t you think?”

Snape didn’t bother answering. From beneath his cloak he produced a satchel. It wasn’t very large, but it contained all of his research and more. He started pulling books from the bag.

“How long was he kept here?”

“A little over a week.”

“Place the books I’ve brought about the room like they’ve been used.”

Knapp obediently picked up a stack of books. She placed Hubbart’s The 19th Century in Wizarding Britain, Free or Feudal? and The Art of Aristocracy: Public Lives Post Secrecy Act authored by Whisplet, Dredger, and Trent together by the reading lamp. She left some books open at pages Snape had dogeared; others she bookmarked at random with bits of parchment.

Snape trusted he could leave her to finish while he worked at the desk. According to the professor’s dull and convoluted notes, Oglethorpe had been recreating the Goblin rebellion of 1643. Snape swept Oglethorpe's books and parchment out of sight into the satchel. He staged the desk with a scroll he’d brought with him, smaller pieces of parchment he pinned to the corkboard by the desk, and some scribbled notes in the right hand drawer.

Placing his wand tip on a bit of Oglethorpe’s writing he murmured, “Transcribi Specei.

He lifted the wand and moved it to his own writing. A trail of shadow letters clung to the wand tip, trailing like a smokey comet. Snape swept his wand across the page and the letters scurried across, fitting themselves over his own. For a moment one was atop the other and their differences clear, then Snape’s swift, spiked, writing began to stretch and wriggle to fit Oglethorpe's round hand.

“Neat.” Knapp was at his elbow. “But illegal.”

“Legality didn’t seem to concern you when you offered to help a Death Eater tonight.”

Knapp grinned again.

“True. From henceforth I’m forever disqualified as a role model.” She held up a book. “Do you want Tufter’s heretical claims concerning the Pendragon myth and Pureblood genealogy in the place of honor?”

Tufter was a crackpot, but a respected one, of the late 1750’s who had tried to claim all pure bloodlines traced back to the original Pendragon. His research had been the basis for founding many of the Sacred Twenty Eight. It would also, Snape hoped, be the book that sparked the theory. The theory that Arcus, possible master of the Elder Wand, was ancestor to the Archers, a formidable pureblood family long since thought extinct.

“You already have it marked and everything,” Theophany added.

Snape accepted the book from her and placed it on the desk, underneath a pile of notes. There were multiple references in the bogus notes he had compiled. It would have been kept close as a main reference.

Knapp was at the window.

“There are lights in the woods, but there’s no telling if the main force has been scattered or not. We could be found any minute.”

Snape slung the satchel over his shoulder and glanced around the room. The job was thorough, but discreet. Knapp joined him at the door, but he descended first. He no longer expected a trap from these so called Dagda. Death Eaters were the real threat now.

He hadn’t realized how stuffy it had been inside until he opened the back door. A cold wind had picked up; it would probably snow again before dawn. Snape heard only the creaking of the wood around them. The night was startlingly clear and quiet.

Knapp slipped out and stood next to him, listening. She cocked her head and smiled a little, a quick signal of confidence, and moved back towards the treeline. Snape considered Disapparating then and there. But no, he had to clean this up as best he could. Knapp was bent over her brother, looking, for the first time he’d seen, worried.

“He should have woken up by now. I’ve never seen it take this long before.”

Snape hesitated. So he hadn’t been simply knocked unconscious?

“Could it be...he’s in a trance?” he couldn’t help but ask.

Knapp was pulling the slumbering wizard into a seated position. Snape got an arm behind and helped prop him up.

“More like recovering from one. I’ve got to Disapparate and get him to safety but,” she glanced up at Snape, “I’ve a feeling you’re not going to let me go.”

“Go,” Snape said simply. “You have to come back for your friend you so casually Stunned earlier. I’ll wait for you there. After he’s safe, we will have to discuss your inconvenient interference.”

Knapp got her brother under the arms and heaved.

“Fair enough,” she gasped. “Could you–”

Snape got the pale-haired boy upright while his sister got her arms around him. He was of a height with Snape and her head was just level with his shoulder.

“Ta,” she said breathlessly, and they Disapparated.

Snape looked towards the wood. What was its name? Little High Wood. Draco would be in the thick of it, redeeming himself from last week’s ignominious attack and failure. If he spotted Snape, there was always the excuse of coming to check on him, but it was thin. Snape turned away and headed deeper into the trees. Best he stay out of sight and figure out what in hell to do with Theophany Knapp.

Amongst the frozen remains of Maevan’s garden again, Theophany tottered dangerously. Straining against Silly’s weight, she managed to stagger a few steps before falling heavily. Keeping her grip on Silyn, she managed let him tumble backwards on top of her. Not the best solution perhaps, she thought, pinned to the hard ground. At least he hadn't hit his head.

Theophany lay still for a minute to catch her breath. Everything had happened so fast. Four uneventful nights of mind-numbing patrol, and now this. Bloody Severus Snape walking right into their operation. Theophany grinned swiftly but sobered. It’s terribly exciting, but don’t let it go to your head.

“Maevan?” she called. He probably wasn’t back if the fight was still on. “Lolli?”

A door creaked.

“Tiff?”

She pulled herself up onto one elbow, Silyn lying crosswise over her.

“Boniface? Why are you here?”

Frozen twigs snapped as her younger brother came hurrying through the garden.

“Taking attendance. Maeven’s not back yet, but most of our people are. I’m to check roll call.”

The fight was winding down. Maevan must have led the main force of Death Eaters away from Oglethorpe to buy Korrapati time.

Boniface helped roll Silyn off their sister.

“Blimey, haven’t seen him like this in a while.” He conjured a stretcher and Levitated the now snoring Silyn onto it. “You look like you’ve been in the wars too. Oh, I suppose I should ask you the security question and make sure you’re not a Death Eater masquerading as my sister.”

Theophany paused in exploring the burnt tear in her robes and picked a leaf out of her hair.

“The answer’s Peachy-kins.”

Boniface nodded solemnly.

“And a fine rabbit he was too.”

“Listen, I have to go back. Korrapati is still missing.”

“Just come back here before you go home. Maevan wants everyone’s report tonight.”

Theophany Disapparated. She had a feeling her report would be much expurgated, which was a pity, as it had been a most interesting night.

She Apparated in the treeline, just below the outcropping where she’d revealed herself to Severus Snape. To Theophany’s relief Korrapati hadn't regained consciousness. However, her absence seemed to have wrought a change in Snape. He’d had time to plan, and the element of surprise was lost to her. He was standing, arms folded, deep in thought. She knew he’d seen her, but he didn’t acknowledge her until she spoke.

“Where are Dolohov and the other one?”

He looked up, scowl in place.

“You know Dolohov?”

“Fortunately, no. But I heard someone call him that.”

“Thank God for that, at least, something you don’t know.”

Theophany knelt and checked Korrapati’s pulse.

“He’s breathing. Why did you decide to Stun him?” Snape asked.

Was he playing for time? Or was there an ulterior motive to the question? Theophany thought it best not to spar with him.

“He would have seen you. You don’t want anyone to know about you, that’s clear.”

“But you know, it seems.”

Theophany stood up and faced him squarely.

“I have guesses.”

“You guess far more than anyone is supposed to know. Your behaviour has been foolhardy at best, but for the most part stupid.”

He pinched his nose for a moment, glanced at her and then away. So much for winning his confidence. The very sight of her annoyed him. Theophany felt like she was twelve years old again, being reprimanded by the Dean of the charter school. That was exactly it, she realized. He was treating her like a student. He was a teacher, after all. It was suddenly so obvious the thought made her smile.

“I don’t see what you’re so pleased about. Your position is dangerous, to say the least.”

Theophany smiled wider. It seemed to annoy him.

“You’re not going to hurt me.”

In a twitch his wand was out and inches from her chin.

“Don’t forget,” his voice was chilling, “don’t forget what I am. Not for a moment.”

Theophany didn’t move, but she let go of her smile.

“That’s exactly what makes me so pleased,” she spoke earnestly, trying to make him understand. “You’re a Death Eater, yes, but on our side. I know your information is good; we aren’t walking into a trap. Do you have any idea how terrified I was that my brothers’ marching orders were coming from an anonymous source? But if it’s you–”

“No one can know that!”

“Does it look like I’ve told anyone?” She gestured at Korrapati. “I’m very good at keeping secrets.” Technically, it was her vocation. “I’ve been tortured for a fake sword and never said a word. What else can I do to have you trust me?”

Snape leaned closer. He had this trick of looking into her face like he was boring into her mind through her eyes. Was he? Could he? Precious little she could do about it.

“Understand this,” he hissed. "I have trusted no one for nearly twenty years. I have sacrificed everything to put myself in this position, even those who trusted me, and I will not have my mission jeopardized because a young idiot wants some nice warm feelings of reassurance!”

“I want to help.”

That seemed to freeze him up again.

“I want to help,” Theophany repeated. “Like tonight, you couldn’t have found the right house without me –”

“Maybe because a certain young witch delayed me.”

Theophany sighed and flicked the wand out of her face with the back of her hand. She was done trying to reason with him.

“Right, firstly, I’m getting tired of your attitude. How old do you think I am? I’m not one of your students.”

If he was angry before, he was livid now. Theophany held up a another finger.

“Secondly, when I first met you, you were short on time then, too, with no assistance or hope. You were frantic for help. So don’t pretend I’m the reason it went belly up tonight. Third and lastly, I’m not going to try and convince you to trust me anymore. I’m simply going to trust you. So go ahead.”

Theophany put her wand in her pocket and spread her arms.

“Do your worst, Severus Snape. Because you’ve already done it.”

He wouldn’t hurt her or kill her. Couldn’t wipe her memories.

“I could put you in a coma for the next six months,” he said quietly.

“It’s impossible to work a Stunning Spell that strong without risking killing me.”

“And you’re so sure I won’t risk it?”

“Positive. You don’t do collateral damage, you like to save whoever possible. Can’t lie about that, not after you patched me up so carefully and gently at Spinner’s End.” Theophany smiled again. “Haven’t changed my mind. You should have been a Healer.”

His wand was at his side. After a moment Snape pocketed it in his robes.

“Others might dispute my bedside manner.”

What bedside manner?” Theophany chortled.

Korrapati groaned softly. Theophany glanced down and back at Snape.

“We shouldn’t be here when he wakes up. I’ll be 'looking' for him in Little High Wood when he comes to. Are you coming?”

Snape shook his head.

“I shouldn’t be seen. Listen.” He was still watching her like she was an unpredictable animal. “I can’t fix this or prevent it, but I will keep you from knowing more. Do not seek me out, do not meddle in any way. This is the only way we win this war.”

Theophany moved closer. If only she could read his mind.

“That’s why I meddled, why I had to know who you were. You talk like what you’re doing is so important it’s – as if it’s the only thing that’s important.”

Snape didn’t blink. His eyes had gone curiously flat again.

“I have a mission. You can help it succeed by staying out of it.”

Theophany tried to smile.

“Not what I hoped to hear. No less than what I expected. Alright then,” she offered her hand, “I promise.”

“You give promises too easily.”

“I haven’t broken one yet.” She sounded defensive even to herself. “Even post Obliviation I knew there was a reason I shouldn’t fly.”

He took her hand, a single clasp. His fingers were cold, his face sharp in the moonlight. He didn’t look well.

“Good luck, Severus Snape. I wish you success.”

Theophany turned away. It was hard to leave like this, after working so hard to find him. She was surprised at her own disappointment. It wasn’t just not knowing, or not being trusted. Theophany felt oddly dejected and worried. She paused and turned back, she had to say something.

“Please–”

She was surprised at the wobble in her voice. Snape didn’t look up.

“Take care of yourself.”

He didn’t answer. The pause was so terribly cold, Theophany just walked away. There was no coming back from that. She’d done all she could, offered all she had. She could only hope Severus Snape was right to refuse it.



When the dawn came, it felt stale and anticlimactic. Nothing urgent required Theophany’s attention. The Poindexters had settled in nicely. Mr. Poindexter, in place of Lavinia Honeysett, had been moved to the Hughes and was currently employed at the Tea Room. Lavinia, too, seemed content judging from her recent letter, though Jacka seemed to think it unfair Theophany had encouraged her to camp in the Dagda forest.

Theophany pulled her knees up to her chest, her hair fanning out in the water around her. The bath water was cooling, but she was reluctant to climb out. She’d had little sleep after she and Boniface had returned to The Mill at three a.m., but mostly her mood was the cause of Severus Snape.

Would she spend the rest of the war knowing that one wizard was responsible for victory? That’s what he had seemed to suggest. And one mistake, one failure, and it was over for Snape. Who could replace him? Was there even someone else responsible?

She got out of the water and squeezed her streaming hair, causing a rivulet to run to the floor. Impatiently she pulled on her robe and dug for her wand. With a wave the floor was dry, the mirror unfogged, and she got a good look at herself. Forehead creased, hair in a damp twist to her waist, eyes preoccupied. This wouldn’t do; anyone could tell she was worried. All this hiding of secrets.

The rest of the Knapps had been patient with her lack of explanations, even after she’d been to the Pensieve. Merryn had expected more than the vague story she’d told about getting too close to an intelligence source. In deference to her memory trauma they were prone to treat her gently, even agreeing to not fly any longer based on a “hunch” of Theophany’s that it could be detrimental. Their concern was almost palpable. Theophany knew they were thinking, poor thing is so rattled, just humor her.

Maevan was upset with her too. She had been the last to report in, Korrapati having recovered and Disapparated some twenty minutes after she and Snape had left him. Theophany had given it a good hour before returning to Maevan's cottage, wandering in the wood “looking” for Korrapati.

“So you just wandered about?” Maevan had been skeptical.

“After I got Silyn back safe, yes. I didn’t know where everyone else was, and Korrapati had been separated from the main force just like me“”

“Yes, yes, I know, so you’ve said. So after Isha got the professor out, you were attacked, Isha led some of the Eaters off, and you took on the leader.”

“Well, I don’t know for certain, but he seemed to be in charge.”

“And after he lost, you went back. So how did you miss Isha if he was lying about unconscious?”

“There were two others, you see, and I had to move cautiously; also I couldn’t lead them back to SIlyn.”

And so it had gone. Maevan had reprimanded her for being too focused on her brother and said that clearly her account was jumbled because she wasn’t combat-ready. War, he said, wasn’t something you could prepare for, but he had hoped Theophany would be more level headed. In the meantime she was removed from combat service.

It seemed the only people not mad at her were Silyn and her father. Mr. Knapp treated her like an invalid still, but, aside from that one outburst when she’d returned from the Pensieve, Silyn’s behavior was unchanged.

“I for one am extremely glad you stuck close to me,” he had told her lightly, finally regaining consciousness in the wee hours. Theophany had muttered something noncommittal.

“No, really. You did fine. What was it, three? four Death Eaters? Maevan just has to be organized, everything has got to be accounted for, and you’re a bit of a loose cannon. You forgot to control your breathing, right?”

“I – I tried, really! But then they threatened to hurt you and–”

“No, no! It’s all good. It was just a mechanism to keep you focused. You obviously don’t need it anymore. You’ve outgrown it.”

Silyn’s smile was a special thing, Theophany reflected. Not that it was rare, but so sincere. Maybe it was just because he looked most like Mum.

Theophany, hair dry and wearing an old house robe, descended to the kitchen. Ike already had the kettle on, and she decided to treat herself to sitting at the kitchen table, with father’s ticking banana, to enjoy a cup of tea. For the next few days she would be returning to her own duties as potions purveyor, Secret-Keeper, older sister, and refugee smuggler. Easy job, she thought, in comparison to some.


Reginald Cattermole was dead. The Ministry owl had obligingly informed the Headmaster, with assurances such a breach of security in the Ministry would never happen again. The penalty was unsurprising, given the break-in and subsequent escape of Muggle-borns. It was unfair, given Cattermole had only been impersonated and wasn’t an active participant. Still, Cattermole had time to get his family out before his arrest and that should have been some comfort, in the end. It would would have been enough for Severus Snape.

He wondered what it would be like, to fight with everyone you cared for safely away, not having to worry for them. What would he have for comfort when ‘in the end’ came for him?

Snape looked up from his tea. He’d stopped pretending to eat breakfast. Showing up was hard enough. After a few initial words at the beginning of the year Minerva had remained silent. Most of the staff managed to speak infrequently to him, but to Minerva he was invisible, already dead. Counter to the largely silent staff table, the Carrows were exalting over Cattermole’s death with disgusting false regret. They were delighted that the regime was willing to make examples of the most innocent of bystanders.

“It’s regrettable. Especially as we want people to see that the Ministry has only the best interests of wizardkind at heart.” Alecto’s voice was sweet as treacle and sticky with empathy.

“Some will never see, Alecto. That’s why we must train them while young,” Amycus growled. No pretence of squeamishness. “Wouldn’t you agree, Headmaster?”

Snape slowly focused on Amycus Carrow. He didn’t ask him to repeat the question but just looked at him blankly.

“Our hopes, Headmaster,” Alecto purred, “rely on the next generation, yes?”

This generation?” Snape asked doubtfully.

“You think it’s too late for these students? Raised by their traitor parents?”

“Everything...takes time.”

Snape was getting a headache. He pushed his chair back. It was a little early to leave yet but he had no stomach for the Carrows today. When he stood up, he found he had no stomach for anything. The room spun for a moment and he grabbed his chair to steady himself. Bile rose in his throat. Concerned murmurs came from the blurred faces around him. He doubted Minerva’s was one of them.

“Severus, Severus, are you alright?”

Snape stepped back from the table before either Carrow could touch him. He was weak-kneed, but his vision was clearing.

“Fine,” he snapped irately.

“Please look after yourself.”

Knapp had said something similar, but Alecto’s simper made him itch to seize the jam spoon and carve the placid expression from her face.

“I repeat,” he said slowly, “it’s...fine…”

With all his pent-up frustration and rage he seared the table with a glance, and even Madam Pince had to drop her eyes. Minerva looked through him. Snape strode from the Great Hall in fine form but had to lean against the wall outside to catch his breath.

This wasn’t good. Even if he couldn’t sleep, he would have to rest. If only he could Apparate to his quarters. Instead he was forced to make slow progress up the main stair, feeling like a victim of the Jelly-Leg Jinx. Snape flattered himself he knew most of the castle’s shortcuts, but there was only one stair into the headmaster's office. He didn’t sleep in the headmaster’s quarters, in a murdered man’s bed.

Taking a respite by the bust of Balfour the Bane, he heard approaching footsteps. Rather than try and act like he wasn’t breathless, he stepped into the alcove behind the bust and cast a quick Disillusionment Charm. He didn’t want the Carrows’ company, and Poppy Pomfrey would probably try to poison him under pretence of helping.

“...really sickening for something.” It was Professor Sprout. “He’s been looking worse recently, but that turn at breakfast looked serious. Gesticulating Ginger would probably clear that right up, provided it’s nothing chronic.”

“Oh, I’m hoping for a not so simple solution.” Minerva’s voice was hard and bright. “I hope it’s really very serious and eats at him. Maybe Alecto’s poisoning him so she can become headmistress. I hope she’s using something agonizing.”

Snape tasted bile again. He let them move past and crept on without dismissing his camouflage. When he was at last installed in his office armchair, he explored his symptoms cautiously. Dizziness, lack of appetite, general weakness were all indicative of chronic sleep deprivation. The nausea? The labored breathing? He’d taken precautions against poisoning when he first took the post. Either side would be happy to see him die, it seemed.

“... hope it eats at him.”

McGonagall's hatred echoed in his head. What was eating at him?

“Severus?”

Albus’s portrait had noticed him. Snape didn’t bother responding, preferring to follow his train of thought. Obviously he had many things to eat at him: the sword of Gryffindor still on his hands, and Potter still did not possess that last vital piece of information. Maybe he could do both in one blow? That would be a relief.

Potter, here’s the sword which is needed for purposes Albus wouldn’t explain to me but presumably you know and, also, you have to let the Dark Lord kill you because you’re a – you have a piece of his…

Then what? Return to Hogwarts and keep up the loyal Death Eater farce to protect the students? For how long? Until the end? His heart, or whatever was still left to beat in its place, sank. Snape glanced back at the portrait. Albus was waiting, looking a little concerned. It was just a painting, but somehow he could never treat it wholly as such.

“It seems it’s not just the mission, Albus,” Snape sighed. “I was prepared for that. I just didn’t expect – it seems I wasn’t ready to be seen as a traitor. I didn’t fully realize…”

“‘Has it crossed your brilliant mind that I don’t want to do this anymore?’” Albus quoted.

Snape inhaled sharply. The portrait gazed thoughtfully over his head.

“You did realize, at that time. For a moment. It, truthfully, it hadn’t crossed my mind you would until you asked me. Then I worried you wouldn’t go through with it. So I distracted you. Is it worse than you thought?”

Snape turned away from the painting.

“Things so often are.”

He closed his eyes. Tried to empty his mind. But the moment he became conscious of his own breathing, it grew labored and panicked. Last time he’d had trouble emptying his mind, Theophany Knapp was snoring on his sofa, upsetting his concentration.

Snape summoned an image of Spinner’s End to mind. Not usually a soothing place but if he remembered that specific night, he might regain control. He had listened to Knapp’s breathing, ignoring his own. That is what sleep sounds like, he told himself. Try and remember. Her breaths had been deep and steady. This is feeling relaxed and safe. Snape slowly matched his breathing to the memory. This is rest. This is peace.

He slept lightly, feeling the passing of time, but he was still surprised to find it dark when he woke. The timepiece in the corner, Snape hesitated to call it a clock, had three hands that indicated astrological signs, moon phases, and certain gems placed around the clock face. Two smaller hands pointed to numerals that made no sequential sense and had to be read using some form of Arithmancy. Snape had no idea why Dumbledore had it, other than his love of the arcane and rare. He smothered a yawn and scrubbed his hands over his face. His mouth was fuzzy and his body ached, but he felt significantly revived. How had he managed so long without sleep?

“Feeling better, Headmaster?” Phineas Black had returned to his portrait.

Snape was suddenly wide awake.

“Anything to report?”

“No – the young larvae seem more concerned about what’s happening here than doing anything themselves. Got all excited when I told them someone had tried to nick the sword–”

Excited?” Snape bore down on the portrait. “Did they say why they were so interested in the sword?”

“Well, they were more worried about their little friends, but they got interested in the sword when I said Dumbledore had taken it out of its case to–”

“Phineas,” Dumbledore’s portrait said gently.

Phineas Black stopped, torn between headmasters living and dead. Snape put him out of his misery.

“Return to your other portrait and don’t move. I’m going to try and anticipate their next location.”

Relieved, the portrait nodded and hurried away.

“There was no need, Albus. I’m well aware you used the sword to destroy the ring. I put you back together after all. What I’m interested in is what Potter needs it for.”

“I know that, but I want to keep Phineas from speculating. Neither he, you, or anyone else can know too much.”

Theophany Knapp knew an awful lot. Snape felt a small twinge of guilt and stilled it with a scowl.

“And I know precious little,” he snapped to cover his embarrassment.

“How do you intend to anticipate their location?”

“Grimmauld.” Snape shook his head. “I feel clear headed for the first time in days. They had to abandon Grimmauld quickly after Yaxley found them. He said there was no clue where they had come from or were headed, but he may have missed it.”

“In your current state of mind, Severus, is it wise to return there?”

Snape smiled.

“You think I’m going to have some emotional breakdown? Pining for the good old days of the Order? You forget I was hardly welcome there. Tolerated from necessity only.”

Islington was dark. Wherever Snape Apparated these days, it was always eerily silent. Reading burning. What did the Muggles see? What explanation of strange events kept them inside their houses after dusk? During the first war, as a child, he’d seen the concerned citizenry of Cokeworth mobilizing against “gang violence”, the school drills, the confused newspaper headlines. He’d been too experienced to ask what his father thought was happening. It was smarter to keep one’s mouth shut and pray Tobias Snape didn’t notice you.

Grimmauld Place looked much the same from the outside, though he was sure Yaxley would have torn apart the interior. No one had bothered to lock up. The door fell open under his hand. It was darker in here than the street outside. A rustling could be heard. Rats?
A dim light was growing further down the hall. Snape drew his wand. Perhaps Yaxley hadn’t disarmed all the security charms. A specter was forming, but only partially. The spell must have been damaged when the Death Eaters searched the house. The glowing figure drew closer and Snape held his breath. Half-formed as it was, he could recognize it. The shape fixed empty eye sockets on him. Its forward motion was halting, and it continuously faded in and out of focus.

“...Sev...s-Snape?” the flickering corpse of Albus Dumbledore asked.

Moody’s voice. It had his touch. Efficient and merciless. Snape lowered his wand. Antagonizing the spectre would probably trigger the spell. If he was expected to attack, then the best thing to do was the opposite.

“I’m sorry, Albus,” he whispered.

“You k-killed...you k-killed…” The spell was wearing off.

“I didn’t kill you,” Snape said firmly.

The spectre disappeared. Of course. Simple but ingenious. They had assumed him a murderer, incapable of denying Dumbledore’s murder.

Shaking off the slight chill that had run down his spine, Snape stepped into the silent house. It had been stripped.The portraits on the wall had been torn down, the wallpaper peeled off in places. Even the portrait of Walburga Black was silent. Yaxley had done a thorough job.

He started in the front rooms. Every drawer was opened, every surface examined. He tried to picture it clearly in his mind as it had been. Was anything changed, or moved? Plenty. It seemed Potter and his friends had done a little housekeeping. More than Black had attempted.

Black. Why, out of all possible substitute father figures, had Potter chosen Black? Especially with mild, reasonable Lupin at hand. The last thing he had needed was someone encouraging him to be even more bullheaded and rash. Sirius Black. Forever stuck in adolescent rage and grief. Azkaban had frozen time for Black, prevented his grief from maturing, fading.

Snape paused. Was it petty to think ill of the dead? He rather thought that, wherever he was, Black would be horrified if Snape had been less contemptuous of him. Not that Snape would be high on Black’s list of concerns.

How informed were the dead? Did they know what happened to those still living? God, I hope not. Snape would rather Lily didn’t know just how much he’d ruined his life. He shook his head. Can’t keep wandering like this. His thoughts were everywhere tonight. Perhaps his focus was impaired by his overly long nap. What was he doing here? Looking through the debris for a clue was fruitless.

Snape climbed the stairs one last time. Impossible though the task, he had to do something. In the last room he paused. He knew what was in here, and what wasn’t, but he was unable to prevent himself from looking. It was her handwriting after all.
He walked to the chest of drawers and knelt down. There was nothing underneath. Snape slowly sat down on the slashed bed. The letter and photograph, what remained of them, were gone. Why? There was nothing important. Yaxley would have overlooked it surely?

Potter must have it. Or course he would have taken it. But did that tell him anything? Could it help him anticipate where Potter would be? What was in the letter? Snape pressed his fingers to his temples.

Remember the details. She had sounded so happy. Lily. In hiding with her one-year-old son and sounding so happy. A birthday party. That was it. And who was the guest? Something about Grindelwald. Bagshot. Bathilda Bagshot was there.

Snape opened his eyes and sighed. No clues there. If Potter had the letter and wanted a trip down memory lane, he would have visited Bathilda already. Snape swore. If he had realized this earlier, he might have intercepted Potter at Godric’s Hollow. Oversights like this could lose the war.

I’m sorry, Lily. I keep making these mistakes. He locked the house up carefully, averting his eyes from the vicious slashes in the furniture, the gutted walls, and the flooded kitchen Molly had kept so immaculate. Barely tolerated, he had said. But still here he had been, in a way, welcome.
End Notes:


Thank you everyone for reading!
Chapter 11 by Meadowsweet
Author's Notes:
The quote from canon dialogue is bracketed for citation. DH first U.S. Edition, 2007, Arthur A Leving Books, Scholastic. Page 341. All belongs to J.K. Rowling.

XI

Ice crystals had already formed on the pond after Theophany’s morning swim. Her plunge into its icy murk might look impressive, if one missed the Thawing Spell she cast beforehand. If anyone noticed her rigour in exercise and work over the past few days, they didn’t comment. No matter how vigorously she worked, she still felt weakened and listless.

The truth was Theophany’s skin was itching with impatience. She wanted desperately to be doing something. Not that she was idle, her own work continued. Work both legal (the distribution of potions) and illegal (the distribution of Muggle-borns). Ike, always a blessing, was needed more than ever to take over the housework. Mr. Knapp and Boniface saw to the farm; Merryn would look in to help with bookkeeping. And Silyn came and went as the wind. Tonight he would be coming, and with guests.

The Fidelius Charm on the valley was generations deep, one of the longtime homes of the Tuatha De Danann. When the Dagda needed a place to meet, The Mill was ideal. Shortly Maeven would arrive with Broughton Drake and the Onwudiwe siblings. Otho Aubuchon was usually late.

Theophany realized that Maeven was likely still angry with her. Otho would probably pretend they had never met, and she’d never spoken to Drake before. She was doubly glad, then, when Zuri Onwudiwe arrived first.

The Nigerian witch strode up the path through the snow and slush looking as she always did. Impeccable, elegant. Theophany, a great deal shorter and unkempt, felt all thumbs around Zuri. It didn’t help she was covered in Goddard’s Degreaser and wearing an old apron of her father’s. Zuri took both of Theophany’s hands in hers, ignoring the degreaser.

“Oh, no, here use the dish towel.”

But Zuri didn’t let go.

“Theophany, I haven’t seen you in months. How are you?”

“Really, I’m alright.”

“Silyn told me about the attack. But you continued working after losing your memory; I expected no less.”

Zuri didn’t gush. She simply spoke and her words sank into you. Theophany noticed she didn’t ask for details about the attack or the current state of Theophany’s memories. Zuri had worked in the Department of Mysteries before transferring to Magical Law Enforcement for reasons she never volunteered. She, of all people, would understand why some questions shouldn’t be asked.

“I’m so glad you’re here today. I’m rather afraid Maeven’s washed his hands of me.”

Zuri grinned slyly.

“You are too valuable for him to do that. And too important to the valley. Yes, I heard Maeven wasn’t pleased with events in Durham. He wished to discuss it today, I believe.”

Theophany’s heart sank. She busied herself washing her hands at the kitchen sink.

“Well, that’s me sorted then. I won’t be on duty again for the duration of the war, I suppose.”

“Hardly.” Zuri moved comfortably about the kitchen getting tea. “I told you you're too useful. Besides Maeven doesn't have the only vote. Sipho and Aubuchon know your potential, as do I.”

“Thanks.”

“Besides,” Zuri winked, “I think Broughton likes you, or looking at you, at least. I think you scare him a little. We’ll use that. So get rid of that apron and let your hair down.”

Theophany sputtered. Zuri was sly again.

“I speak both figuratively and literally. Relax, be yourself. But also, wear your hair down. You look lovely, and that won’t hurt.”

Theophany looked at her hands, scrubbed pink. “I’ll go make myself decent, shall I?”

“I can handle them until you’re ready.”

It was true. If Maeven thought her incompetent, then she had best present herself well. But “letting her hair down” for Broughton Drake? Zuri had to be joking. Nevertheless Theophany untied her hair and let it fall to her waist. Flyaway waves like her mother’s, but so much darker.

They were gathered at the kitchen. Ike was passing around a plate of hot buns. Zuri was pouring the tea. Theophany said good morning and sat down. Otho Aubuchon returned her greeting politely, Broughton Drake nodded with his usual sobriety, and Maven jerked his chin.

Zuri must surely have been joking about Drake. Theophany cast her an annoyed glance and accepted marmalade from Ike. Silyn and Sipho arrived minutes apart, and the meeting commenced.

Once Theophany reported the number of fugitives Frog’s Hollow was sustaining, supplies required, and declared any necessary steps for security or resources, her part was done. As Secret-Keeper, the immediate concerns of the valley were her job. Aubuchon had reports concerning the “Muggle-born Relocation Camps.” Silyn and Maeven reported Death Eater movements in areas of higher security and interest.

“We’ve noticed the rate of random sweeps has grown, and many locations are reporting multiple sweeps.” Silyn hesitated for a moment. “It’s theorized that they’re looking for something. Or someone.”

There was a brief silence. After the fall of the Ministry every one wondered what the next move would be, but instead the world had become stagnant under a puppet regime. The darkest wizard of their time must have something else planned. Theophany looked hard at her tea leaves. We’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“It might be multiple persons,” Maeven said at last. “The Prophet’s list of most wanted individuals is no surprise, mostly associated with Hogwarts or Albus Dumbledore in some way. They could simply be...cleaning up.”

“Then why not simply torch whole communities? Mass executions until they give themselves up?” Theophany asked bluntly. “There has to be something for them to lose, or they wouldn’t be moving so cautiously. Or secretly.”

Maeven might have argued the point, but Silyn spoke up.

“There’s something still in play.”

They all looked at him. He was staring at his plate. When he glanced up, he started sheepishly, “Just my opinion, sorry. No vision or anything.”

Zuri laughed, and the moment passed. In the subsequent refilling of tea cups Otho Aubuchon said casually, “Speaking of areas of concentrated Death Eater presence, I’ve noticed for some time an interesting focus.” He accepted his tea from Zuri, but Theophany felt he was addressing her. “Godric’s Hollow.”

Now the silence was profound. That place meant too much to be taken lightly. Otho raised an eyebrow at Theophany.

“You look a little alarmed.”

Was this a test? A challenge? With Otho one couldn’t be sure.

“I only thought...” Theophany replied carefully, “That is, I’m aware many Dark spells and concoctions exist that require the “ the remains of an enemy.”

She’d effectively killed the mood. Drake was looking at her with a kind of horror, Maeven bristling with impatience.

“Has there been some activity in Godric’s Hollow?” she asked Otho.

He smiled. “No, that’s just it. But over the past few months there has been a great deal of activity around it. The village was the first to be emptied of Muggle-borns, rather a strange priority, don’t you think? A one-pub village in the west country?”

“A one-pub village with famous significance,” Theophany interjected.

“Historic significance,” Maeven emphasized. “It’s no threat now. What will the Death Eaters do? Deface the Potter monument?”

“Why do you bring this up now?” Sipho leaned forward. “If there’s been no change in activity?”

Otho shrugged. “Merely an anomaly I wished to share; no action need be taken. After all,” he said innocently, “I don’t know for certain. We don’t have an agent there. And, besides, we have other matters to discuss–”

Sipho shook his head. “But we should see what state the village is in. If every Muggle-born was “relocated”, it could be deserted, used by the enemy for some purpose.”

“That’s speculation! And we don’t have the resources to post someone in every hamlet!” Maeven pointed out.

“Not permanently, no. But surely we can send someone to reconnoiter?”

“We have no one capable available.”

“Miss Knapp seems fully capable,” Drake said at last. “Surely her duties do not tie her here?”

“Miss Knapp,” Maeven said stiffly, “has not been proven capable of active duty.”

“Well, it’s on the agenda, so we might as well discuss it now. Frankly I don’t see cause for concern. Miss Knapp, how many Eaters did you handle in Durham? On your own, yes?”

Counting the one I fraternized with? Theophany wondered. Aloud she answered, “I’m not sure.”

“She’s not sure,” Maeven repeated. “Just as she’s not sure how long it took Isha Korrapati to evacuate Oglethorpe, or how long after that they were attacked, or how long she searched for Korrapati after he regained consciousness. We cannot send someone incapable of forming a clear report on a reconnaissance mission.”

Theophany wanted to disappear, but instead she forced herself to look at each of them in turn. Silyn was wisely holding his tongue; the others seemed deep in thought. Everyone except Zuri, who winked at her, and Otho, who looked only mildly interested. What was his motive for pushing this?

“What was Korrapati’s report?” Sipho asked.

“He was able to report what time he delivered the professor to the safe house.”

“But that’s all?” Sipho pressed. “He couldn’t guess how long he’d been unconscious, or how long he searched the area before reporting in?”

“He couldn’t say,” Maeven said stiffly.

“Well, I don’t blame him,” Otho cut in. “He was attacked, and the whole operation was a fiasco. Why that many Death Eaters turned up in the first place is a mystery, plus having only three operatives watching the house at the time our main force was attacked–”

“Our patrols were scattered and were to report in and be redirected to strategic points surrounding–”

“But Miss Knapp and Mr. Korrapati were sent ahead,” Otho continued smoothly, “because you wanted Miss Knapp to carry a message, a directive, to her brother. That, I believe, is the true matter at hand. Asking Miss Knapp to guard her brother, without backup, or safety protocols. The real question is should Silyn utilize the Sight in the field?”

Theophany nailed him to the back of his chair with a look. None of this was Silyn’s fault. Unfortunately, Otho had the placidity of office paste and seemed unaffected by her glare. The only other person at ease seemed to be Silyn.

“It’s true my trance was of greater depth and duration than usual,” he said pleasantly, “but I can’t pretend it hasn’t happened before.”

Theophany kept her face neutral. This was news to her.

“It’s infrequent and unpredictable. It doesn't seem to be brought on by my physical condition or surroundings. I simply take longer to come to. I am certain, however, that my state endangered both Theophany and Isha.”

“But,” Maeven said softly, “it did give us the professor’s location, and not a moment too soon.”

Silyn bowed in his direction slightly.

“Yes, while I can’t predict the future – like the Death Eaters turning up – I can let my mind wander and see things that are happening.”

“I don’t suppose,” Drake said hesitantly, “you can, er, do it long distance? Keep you safely back, as it were, and have you, um, look from there?”

Broughton Drake, Theophany decided, was an idiot, valued member of the Dagda or not.

“Unless I had a kind of second sight antenna, no.”

Theophany, Maeven and Drake were the only ones to laugh.

“What’s an antenna?” Sipho whispered to Zuri. “Does he mean like an insect?”

“No, er, like a Muggle device – you know. Reception I think it’s called?” Drake tried to explain. “Anyway, without proper protocols in place for protecting Silyn, I think Theophany and Isha did a bang-up job in a sticky situation.”

Honestly, Theophany wondered, was it the way Drake spoke or simply the idea he found her attractive that made him so annoying? There was a chorus of murmurs around the table, and Otho swiftly stepped in and closed the deal.

“In that case, I move that the question of Miss Knapp’s actions should be removed from the agenda and Silyn’s use in the field discussed in its place–”

“Seconded,” murmured Drake.

“Thank you. So,” Otho continued blandly, as if his original subject hadn’t changed, “I think at least three days' surveillance is merited, given the significance of the location. Miss Knapp, how soon can you be ready to leave for Godric’s Hollow?”

Theophany thought for a moment. It felt more like punishment than vindication, and it was probably Otho’s grunt work she was accepting. There was always work to do, but no new refugees had claimed asylum; everyone was for the most part settled.

“Tonight,” she said firmly.



There was less to prepare than she had expected. Zuri had generously offered to help, but Theophany had insisted it hardly needed two to pack a single bag. Now she stared at the bag sitting on her bed. Silyn knocked on the door jam.

“Alright?”

“Hm? Yes. It’s just...everything seemed so complicated a few days ago. Not enough time for anything. Now everything I need is in this bag. Silyn, am I a terrible guardian? Should I be staying here and not running off trying to feel useful?”

“Don’t pretend this is for your own gratification. You hate surveillance.”


“Still, should I stay? Instead of contingency plans for Boniface and the twins, I should stay here and make sure those plans aren’t needed. I feel I’ve been coming and going. Mostly going.”

Silyn puffed out his cheeks.

“Theophany, I don’t know what to say. But please stop talking like you’re useless and have to try to be of help. The only reason we have any network of information is because of your wolfsbane. Also you’re protecting not just the family but the community by being Secret-Keeper. The fact that you can do all that and still take an active part in the resistance isn’t a bad thing.”

“What about you? Will you be allowed to continue to help in your own way?”

Silyn picked at the wall.

“That’s not up to me. Under discussion until further notice, it seems. So,” he shrugged, “who are you going to be?”

Theophany placed the carefully wrapped bottle of Polyjuice Potion in the carpet bag.

“A maiden aunt visiting relatives. Good thing it’s nearly Christmas.”


The woman whose hair provided the Polyjuice Potion was named Elaine Boergenpoeffer, and she bred Kneazle crossbreeds some miles from Frog’s Hollow. She was ramrod straight with weathered skin and hair gone mostly gray. Theophany completed the look with a giant shawl wrapped tightly up to her nose, the perfect country aunt. No one worth noticing.

A Muggle house right in the center of Godric’s Hollow advertised a room to let, and there Theophany knocked. The view was perfect — she could see from the church down to the pub. Watching her host’s eyes glaze, Theophany had explained at length that, “With the house overfull of relatives visiting for the holidays it only made sense for someone to stay nearby, and with the bus it was only minutes away…”

There would be no further questions about her stay. Her host’s wife however seemed eager to chat and, with one eye watching passersby on the street, Theophany exchanged home remedies for cough and bad backs, for bread pudding and cordial recipes. She retired early, making herself some hot milk with fussy precision.

The Polyjuice would wear off shortly. In the meantime she sat in the dark, waiting for the village to go to sleep. Godric’s Hollow wasn’t a busy place at the best of times; now in the dead of winter it barely woke at all. The only activity after dinner was the straggling line of visitors to the pub. About ten o’clock they came back out again, talking in groups kept close against the cold, determinedly homeward bound through the snow.

Hardly a ghost town, but the next thing to it. Everyone was very old. Many of the houses had no lights. A village where young people grew up to leave the old behind. Then the war had started and the population thinned further.

Everyone walking beneath her window had, legitimately or otherwise, met the Ministry’s new standards for magical citizenship. Either that or they were Muggles, confused as to why so many of their neighbors had suddenly “moved away.” Muggle-born relocation camps. None of the Dagda had seen inside one, security was too high, but Theophany could just imagine.

After midnight she slipped out her window and descended to the street by way of the woodshed and some dustbins. The snow was deep and made it easy to erase her footprints as she went. First a systematic patrol of the village, thorough enough to make Maeven proud. Working from the outer edge, she walked in a tightening spiral, fixing streets and places in her head. What houses looked inhabited, or not. She reached the graveyard without finding anything unusual.

In the wee hours she would find a place to watch, before returning to her room at dawn. For now it only seemed fitting to pay her respects.

The statue felt impersonal, a little too public. Rather she turned aside and looked for the house. She had never come to the site before, and now, watching it unfold from the Concealing Charm, she shuddered.

The house was burnt out. Over a decade of disuse couldn’t hide the initial damage. It must have been blown open before its occupants were murdered. So much hate and violence to destroy even the Potter’s hiding place.

Theophany stood in the road, trying to imagine. What if this was The Mill? What would it do to her to find her loved ones like this? The house torn open, their death certain before she even found their bodies. Who had discovered the Potters? Not a loved one, she hoped.

The plaque on the garden gate was nearly obscured by scrawled names and initials, Theophilus + Anna, The Katchick Family, Much love, Never forget.

Before returning to her room she walked once through the graveyard. It was old so it meandered around the back of the church, hardly a straight row to be found. Many graves were worn clean of inscriptions but she spotted many famous names. At last she stopped before the Potters. It hadn’t felt right to not see it, after viewing the house, but now that she was here she could hardly find anything to say, much less think. Theophany looked up at the old tree, nearly growing sideways over the graves.

I suppose the greatest thing, to me anyway, is that you only did what you could. You were just protecting your kid, you didn’t know he would survive. Without knowing the consequences you did what you could.

Snow dripped from the branches overhead. She knelt and said a prayer before leaving. She wouldn’t try and drum up some emotion. This place was sacred for the love that was buried there, but it could only be felt by those who had lost them.

Back in her room Theophany caught a few hours sleep before rising early. She left a note saying she’d skip breakfast to take the early bus to her “family’s” house. Without the Polyjuice she’d be a stranger again, so she could wander the streets in daytime without being asked. Today she would explore the surrounding area further, in case Godric’s Hollow wasn’t the main target.

Theophany hadn’t needed Silyn’s reminder she hated surveillance. It was boring and tense at the same time, and she hated Otho Aubuchon before the day was over. The surrounding areas of Godric’s Hollow revealed nothing as there weren’t any surrounding areas. The bus connected some rural stops to each other, but not much else. For some twenty miles this village was the metropolis.

The third day she ate breakfast in her maiden aunt form, chatting with the hosts for any local gossip. As before, she kept an eye out the window but was beginning to think the village had been well and truly deserted, by Muggle-borns and Death Eaters alike. The local Muggles seemed pretty unaware of anything unusual and carried on their lives normally. From her hosts she learned the names of people who had “moved away” unexpectedly in the last six months.

“I suppose people will always be looking for greener grass,” Theophany quavered, “but surely new people must be moving in? The country is so beautiful in these parts.”

“No, no one new. We hoped some of the nicer old places wouldn’t be left abandoned, but nothing yet. Of course it takes some time, and the market’s been slow...”

“Oh, let’s not talk economics,” his wife cut in. “It’s not all bad. We have a good amount of old families holding onto their homes. There’s an old dear who lives across the green, still independent at her age and keeping up the house.”

“You mean old Bathilda? Yes, she’s still sharp. Won’t even let the historical society help out with the house. Haven’t seen her for a bit though. We should probably drop by sometime, be sure she’s not ailing.”

Theophany made sympathetic noises and finished her meal. She’d be up all night anyway, at least she had a house in particular to watch, though it was a slim enough chance to be worthwhile. Chances were this Bathilda was just gone for the holiday.

Before the Polyjuice wore off, she did some last minute day-before-Christmas shopping in the village. Everything was decorated for the holiday; lights in every window turned the icicles into prisms and bathed everyone in a golden glow. She was missing the preparations at home, but she could trust Dad and Ike to put up the tree. They would make it merry for the twins and Merryn’s girls. Somehow. Tomorrow. It would all be done tomorrow. Today she had only to watch, once more.

After making a show of catching the bus she Disapparated back to the village and cast a Disillusionment Charm. St Clementine’s was a beautiful little church, well kept. The steps to the roof, though dusty from disuse, were in good repair. With a non-burning flame in a bottle under her cloak, Theophany was warm enough atop the square bell tower. She could overlook the square, and all roads converged here.

Not that trouble would necessarily come by road. But, if they cared to preserve the Secrecy Act, it was a possibility. It had bothered her and the rest of the resistance. Why, now that You-Know-Who was in power, was the Ministry still preserving the Act? Everyone had expected mass terror towards Muggles, supremacy of the wizarding race and all that. Why wasn’t he furthering his victory? What was he waiting for? Theophany found she was holding her breath and sighed. And why was Severus Snape acting like time had run out? What event was he waiting for?

Theophany worked these questions over until she ran out of possible explanations. Then she recited every poem, song, prayer, and potion she could recall from memory. She then started trying to figure out a way of reducing Doxy Venom for potency without rendering it unstable. Flobberworm mucus would thicken it quickly but would also dilute the mixture. This problem occupied her until lunch.

Theophany descended to the street before lifting the Disillusionment Charm long enough to buy a meat pie and an orange. The Polyjuice had worn off, so no chance of her being recognized as she made her way back to the belltower.

After lunch it was only a short time until dusk. It was fully dark a little after four o’clock, and she was able to move about more freely. Theophany occupied herself running in place and stretching until the carol service started. Singing under her breath, she joined the congregation and fell silent with them when the school choir took over, voices impossibly young and strong. In the crystalline night the children’s voices, starlight, and drifting snow became one.

Afterwards she watched the congregation leave the church in small groups, trailing home or to the pub. Theophany sighed and jogged in place a little, her limbs feeling cold and heavy. By the time they trailed – full of cheer – out of the pub again she was leaning on the parapet counting fence posts surrounding the graveyard.

It was dinnertime on Christmas Eve, and the little village of Godric’s Hollow was officially closed for business. Anyone outside now would have to be a suspicious character. Except them. The middle-aged couple in the graveyard. They couldn't be more normal. There wasn’t anyone else about though, and it was a bit dark for visiting a grave. It could easily be a relative who’d died on Christmas, Theophany chided herself, don’t be overly suspicious. The couple stayed there for a bit; it was too far away to see, but they were definitely spending time at a particular grave. Theophany watched them more from idleness than anything else.

Below, a door opened and shut, probably someone letting the dog out. The couple in the graveyard moved away from the church towards the road and then disappeared.

Theophany nearly fell from the parapet. They hadn’t Disapparated; it wasn’t a Disillusionment Charm either. Something had simply passed over them and they were gone. She’d never seen anything like it.

Theophany ran around the parapet, scanning all sides. No sign of them. There was an old woman shuffling down the road, but no one else. Theophany quickly cast a Disillusionment Charm on herself and hurried down the stairs.

Outside she moved across to the graveyard and paused to listen. The old woman had reached the ruins of the Potter house. She stood there for a moment, then turned around and started shuffling back. She hadn’t even glanced at the house, but she was quite old. A bit confused perhaps?

Theophany breathed softly. If her targets were invisible, they could still be in the graveyard, or nearby. Across from her the old woman had shuffled to the front steps of her own cottage. She took a moment with her keys. Maybe not so absent-minded from age, then. The woman opened the door, entered, and then stepped aside. Theophany leaned forward, wand ready, as the woman held the door open for a moment, standing politely to the side. She was letting someone in.

The door shut and Theophany ran across the road to the cottage. Pressing her ear against the door, she could make out voices but little else. A man was speaking, but it was a young man. Where were the invisible old couple?

Theophany moved from the door to the window. A heavy curtain covered it, the same at the next and at the back. All garden level windows were covered. Theophany returned to the cottage front. Should she try and get in? A light flickered in an upstairs window. There was no way she could learn what was happening from down here.

Ascendio,” she whispered.

It was no harder than the train had been, really. She had only a few seconds to target and cushion her fall. She landed by the chimney and hooked an arm around it; her foot clattered against the gutter, and for a moment she froze. Nothing.

There was a voice inside, the young man again. Theophany moved forward on her stomach towards the edge. If she dangled a little she could get close to the window. There was movement inside, a crash and a shout. A struggle? Over the noise she heard the young man again.

[“He’s coming!”]

Theophany jerked back as something hit the window. There was the sound of running footsteps. Some struggle was happening in the room beneath her. If they weren't on the same side, why enter the house so easily? If reinforcements were coming, best not be in the open.

She slid off the roof and dangled by her hands before she tumbled into the overgrown snowy garden. There had once been fragrant herbs here; also visible were the rotted carcasses of vegetables and gourds. It looked oddly neglected. There was a loud crack of Apparation from the street.

Careful of thorns and broken trellis, Theophany pulled back a little brown foliage to look through the fence into the street. A wizard stood there, straining forward as if listening for something. His head jerked up and his hood fell back.

Theophany froze. Her body screamed at her to burrow for cover, but she didn’t dare move. It wasn’t a human face. Red eyes slid beneath lashless eyes in a bone-white face, the snake-like nostrils quivering. Theophany could believe she was seeing a demon.

His gaze seemed to look through everything around him. She could feel her legs quivering and bit her tongue. Not a move. Not a sound. With a predatory hiss he sprang forward, feet barely touching the ground. The front door burst open for him, falling crazily from its hinges. Theophany fell back into the garden, clamping her hands over her mouth, tasting blood…He was here.

Her body was frozen, but she should be moving. Quickly. From the house came the crack of Disapparation and a scream; a scream of inhuman rage. Theophany threw herself from the garden bed, legs shaking, and scrambled through the fence to the street. She had to see what happened. Back to the church.

The howls of rage continued. Disapparating would be heard. Damn it that she’d promised not to fly, but having seen You-Know-Who’s unearthly glide, she wasn’t sure she could ever stomach flying again.

Theophany only made it as far as the church doors before Death Eaters Apparated in the street. She was surprised to see only two. She pushed herself into the wall of the narthex, but they seemed more eager to join their master and hurried towards the cottage.

Theophany’s mind started to move again. If the other party had escaped and that was the Disapparation crack she had heard earlier, then the Eaters would be sent to search, no matter how futile. For her own safety she had to leave. There was nothing more she could do here.

Theophany peered into the street. It was oddly mute. Were they using a Silencing Spell? As she watched, a pale figure exited the house. Theophany’s knees started trembling, but she kept watching as the darkest wizard of the age flicked his wrist and the cottage broke open like an egg. Out of the broken roof leapt dark flames, opening in a maw and snapping at the sky. From the windows fiery serpents writhed and melted the casements. Fiendfyre? She’d never seen it before. Theophany felt sure she was seeing a repeat of the Potter house, the ruins of which were only a few blocks down. With only a glance at his handiwork, the Dark Lord Disapparated, and the street was silent except for the cracks and groans of the burning house.

Theophany forced her jellied limbs to move. The other Death Eaters had to have Disapparated from inside before the fire was set. She had minutes to see whatever evidence had survived. The front door was the mouth of a furnace. Theophany covered her face and yelled, “Partis Temporis!

Fiendfyre though it may be, it still parted under her wand. Even so, the heat was blinding. She had only moments to decide where to look. The struggle had taken place upstairs, so she cleared the way and ran up the cracking, swaying, staircase. The window she’d listened at had been in front, by the chimney. Accordingly she raced down the hallway, wand before her.

The smoke too parted under the Dispersing Spell, but the heat made everything hazy, and she stumbled over the corpse before she saw him. A Death Eater. So they hadn’t left the house. Why had he summoned them at all? Theophany proceeded carefully. There should be two more. One was halfway inside the room itself, the second was slumped against the wall where he’d presumably been thrown. The bodies were already charring and the smell was making her dry eyes sting. But there was something else on the ground.

Theophany moved towards the window, squinting. It couldn’t be a fourth corpse, it looked like a cast off pair of clothes or...Theophany retched and stumbled back. She tried to catch her breath but the airless room only made her head spin. Holding her sleeve over her mouth and nose, she crept closer to the thing. It was skin, and hair, and even teeth. It had once been a person.

The house trembled, and the remaining pane of glass in the window shattered. Theophany took a glance around, but everything not currently burning was already ashes. There would be no clues for her here. She Disapparated as she heard a great crash from below, the stairs collapsing, she guessed.

The cold winter night hit her like an ice bath, and her eyes started streaming. Her first thought had been home, and that’s where she had Apparated, just at the edge of the wood at the end of the path to The Mill. Should she have reported to Maeven first? Floo would be adequate to contact him. For now, she wanted desperately to be sick.

Theophany’s stomach heaved, a combination of smoke and disgust. Even though her skin felt scorched, she was shivering. Shock? Best to hurry home. The lights were on at The Mill, and she was reminded that it wasn’t yet ten o’clock; time seemed to have flowed differently for her today. If the twins were still up, it would be best they didn’t see her looking like this.

Theophany let herself in and peered cautiously into the parlor. Lissy, her sister-in-law, was kneeling in front of an enthusiastically decorated tree. Her hands were full of yellow tinsel which she dropped when Theophany hissed at her, “Lissy! Are the twins upstairs?”

“Wha– oh gosh...” Lissy’s violet eyes grew huge with shock. “Theophany!

“Shh! I just need to get cleaned up before they see me.”

“Here, let me take you.”

Lissy, in her flowered apron and smelling pleasantly of chocolate and cinnamon, took Theophany’s smoke-soaked cloak and herded her upstairs to her room. Moving surprisingly silently and swiftly for a mother in her second trimester, she smuggled out the rest of Theophany’s clothing, most of it scorched or smudged with ash, and left her to wash and get dressed, promising not to say a word. Merryn had married such a practical person. Lissy had never not been capable of dealing with the Knapps, no matter how wildly they behaved.

Theophany toweled her hair somewhat dry and left it hanging, its cool dampness pleasant on her still hot skin. She lit a fire in her small bedroom hearth and tried making contact with Maeven by Floo, but no one seemed present, even when she called out. The best she could do was send him an owl. She woke Hero and sent the disgruntled owl with a brief note, no details; how would she even begin to put it in writing?

Theophany heard the twins race down the stairs, chasing the girls. Merryn and Lissy’s daughters were nine and six. Young enough to believe the adults were capable of handling everything, that nothing bad could happen on Christmas. Probably everyone was in the kitchen, toasting in the fireplace and sharing eggnog. She had planned on joining them, but could she manage it?

The sudden change in atmosphere from peril to home was unbalancing, and her knees were starting to shake again. She had seen him, and she doubted she could explain that terror to anyone else. What was so important for him to come personally? Who were the two old people who had disappeared in the graveyard? And what was that thing, that empty sack she’d found coiled on the floor? He’d killed his own followers, in anger or punishment, so it was likely the only people who knew what had happened that night were You-Know-Who and Theophany Knapp. Theophany, who had no idea what to do with this information beyond report it.

She stood up. Someone else should know. Someone with more knowledge than she. Again she unrolled a piece of parchment and addressed it Severus Snape. How to even begin to explain? Just stick with the facts. Try to be brief. She longed to disclose all her fear and incredulity, to examine her actions, but that wouldn’t be helpful.

She hurried down the stairs and out the front door to avoid the kitchen. Walking around the house to the back, she entered the barn and climbed to the loft. Roosted cosily in the rafters were two owls, Tabor and Phyllis, Phyllis being another victim of Mr. Knapp’s penchant for names. Tabor woke to Theophany’s whistle and gamely held onto her shoulder as they descended from the loft.

Outside in the clear night Theophany paused to listen. The light from the kitchen fell over the path to the barn and the workshop. Voices could be heard softly. She hesitated over the rolled letter. Should she charm it to reveal its message at touch? Or his eyes only? Finally she decided on a humble, yet somewhat arcane charm. She trusted he could figure it out. She scribbled the destination and tied it to Tabor’s proffered leg. She could feel the owl’s scratchy feathers against her cheek.

“I can’t give you any directions. Good luck.”

With a modest hoot Tabor unhooked her talons from Theophany’s robes and leapt into the air.

“Theophany.”

Maeven was standing in the open kitchen door. He must have been nearby for Hero to find him so quickly.

“Tell me where that owl is going.”

Theophany turned back to the sky; Tabor was a fluttering shadow in the distance.

“No,” she said gently.

Maeven sighed. “Theophany Knapp, you must tell me where that owl is going. Who are you contacting?”

Tabor was out of sight. Theophany turned back and looked at Maeven . In the light from the kitchen window his face was deeply creased but he didn’t seem angry.

“I can’t, Maeven. I’m sorry.”

“Then I have no choice.”

“I know. First come inside and have something to drink. It’s Christmas Eve.”

They crunched through the new snow towards the kitchen. The children’s voices could be heard buzzing with excitement. Theophany, still a little sick and trembly, stumbled a little on the path. Maeven put out a hand and took Theophany’s arm.

“Slippery here,” he said gruffly.

Theophany thanked him. It was good to know, even though she would never again be allowed to be a member of the Dagda, she wouldn’t lose this friend.
Chapter 12 by Meadowsweet
Author's Notes:
Quotes from the canon are bracketed. Cited in order of appearance, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2007, Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic. p. 372, p 374, p.689. None of this belongs to me, all is J.K. Rowling's. Except Theophany Knapp.

After spending two days in the headmaster’s office Snape was out of paperwork. It was a phenomenon. He hadn’t believed it possible. The only option left to him now was to pace in front of Phineas’s portrait.

Snape was terrified of not being in the office when and if Phineas had news. By the time Snape received any message, Potter could have moved on. At first Snape considered using his health as an excuse for his confinement, but he realized no one would even care. When he didn’t show up for meals, they were more likely to be relieved than concerned. Fortunately, it was the holiday, the school was nearly empty, and the demands on him were few.

That didn’t stop Alecto from knocking on his office door. After pretending to be out the first few times he’d started just ignoring her, not caring if she knew he was there or not. Surely she had better things to do?

“Severus?”

“Not now, Albus.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you were busy.”

Snape was currently slumped in an armchair staring at the ceiling.

“This is what it looks like when I’m working.”

“Maybe you could try eating or sleeping for a change.”

“My health seems a popular concern, despite my being universally despised. Pomona, Alecto, Knapp–”

“Knapp? Isn’t that the young lady whose memories you wiped? Why would she be concerned for the health of someone about to take her memory?”

“No, this was after.”

The portrait’s eyebrows kept climbing higher.

After Obliviation?

Snape sighed.

“It’s complicated, Albus. I told you she’s not a concern–”

An owl swooped through the open window and circled the room.

“Do you intend to stay in your office until Phineas has news? That could take days, weeks, avoiding your staff, not speaking to anyone–”

Snape watched the owl.

“Seems pleasant enough, Albus.”

Perching on the chair opposite Snape, the owl regarded him with suspicious eyes before fluttering to his armrest. More Ministry business. Anything to occupy his mind and time was welcome. He slipped the rolled parchment from the pouch and unrolled it. It was blank. Snape stood slowly. It hadn’t responded to his touch. He turned it over. Nothing. There were many spells to secure a letter. Who would be writing to him at the school? The address, written hurried and round, read simply, Severus Snape, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

“Be careful, Severus.” Albus leaned forward in his frame.

Snape nodded absently and tried a reversal charm. Nothing, so not an invisibility spell. It was a long shot but he raised the parchment to his chin and breathed on it. The parchment crackled and a brief spider web of ink showed for a moment. So breath wasn’t enough; he needed a specific word.

“I haven’t seen that in years,” Albus mused. “It was very popular with the students at one time. I remember there was a Valentine’s Day when everything was spelled to open at the whispered name of the sender, but everyone kept guessing the wrong person, the person they hoped had sent it, and everything ended in tears. Rather arcane magic.”

Snape squinted at the paper. Maybe because it was arcane, maybe because they had just been speaking of her, but it seemed a growing possibility.

“Theophany Knapp,” He breathed. Again only the crackle. “Theophany?”

The parchment flattened out and writing appeared to race across it with an invisible hand. Ink splotches appeared and the occasional drip.

Severus Snape,

I keep a promise. This isn’t interfering but simply passing information. Tonight in Godric’s Hollow there was an attack. It’s hard to explain what I saw, as I don’t understand it myself, but I will try and just give the facts in chronological order.
A pair of Muggles, middle-aged caucasian man and woman, disappeared before my eyes. It wasn’t Disapparation, or a disillusionment charm. It was exactly as if something swallowed them up or passed over them. I have never seen anything like it.
Only minutes after they disappeared an elderly woman the neighbors tell me is Bathilda Bagshot left her house, went for a meaningless stroll of about twenty yards, and then held the door open for an unusually long time on her return. There was an inordinate amount of footprints in the snow outside her door for one person to have made. The only voice I heard within the house was of a young man.
Some sort of struggle took place, the young man shouted someone was coming, and I hid. Please believe me, what happens next is the truth. I swear to you, You-Know-Who Apparated in the street. I hid as best I could, but I believe the only reason I’m alive is because he was intent on whoever was in that house. They must have Disapparated, though, because I could hear him shrieking something; he was angry. He killed the three Death Eaters that arrived to attend him, and lit the house with Fiendfyre.
When I went inside, there was no trace of the Muggles I had seen disappear, only the corpses of the Death Eaters and one other. I hesitate to call it a corpse. It was like someone had been skinned, only there appeared to be no damage to the skin at all. Hair, teeth, features, eyes, were all intact. I discovered nothing else in the time I had before the house was consumed.
I’ve thought for some time You-Know-Who is after something or someone. His forces are distracted, scattered, focused on something other than enforcing this new regime. Whoever was in that house is important, but I don’t know why. I can only hope you may do something about it.
I know I promised, but if there’s something I can do, please let me help. I have a feeling I’ll have some free time in the future.

Theophany Knapp



“It seems Potter went to Godric’s Hollow,” Snape said quietly, “and I had assumed he would have gone already and missed my chance to intercept him.”

He stared at the letter, then kicked the desk. The inkwell tipped over in a puddle and papers scattered. A water glass rolled off and shattered on the floor with a satisfying smash. He pressed his palms against the cool wood, head bowed.

“Are you sure?”

“It’s all here, Albus! Obviously, it’s the Invisibility Cloak at work Knapp describes, though she couldn’t know that. It must be Potter. It would seem Miss Granger is with him, which is the only reason he made it out alive, I’m sure, before the Dark Lord turned up. In person!”

Snape wiped his mouth; he was spitting with rage.

“If I hadn’t been so complacent, I would have been there waiting!”

Two more glasses shattered and the candles on the desk jumped as he pounded it with his fist.

“You made a logical assumption, Severus.”

“Yes, but I assumed. That was my mistake. I should have taken nothing, nothing, for granted.”

He flung himself into the chair.

“The Dark Lord must have had this trap in place for some time, on the off chance,” Snape continued. “Now that he’s come so close, he will redouble his efforts to find Potter and the Elder Wand. In the meantime,” Snape was on his feet again, “what have I accomplished? I can only hope my petty false trail will delay him long enough!”

“Don’t get overwrought, Severus. Think! You have done–”

What have I done?” Snape shouted. “For what reason am I rotting away in this office under false pretences instead of bringing about the end of this war?”

Dumbledore’s portrait pressed its lips together in a frown.

“You have protected and continue to protect the students I’ve placed in your care. Don’t discount their lives and safety so lightly by deeming your work useless.”

Snape turned away.

“But it’s not enough. It’s never enough to finish it.”

He stepped over the broken glass and collapsed into the fireside chair, turning over the contents of Knapp’s letter. He couldn’t explain everything she’d seen or heard either.

Bathilda Bagshot? Why would Potter seek her out? How had she been used by the Dark Lord? “...before the house was consumed.” Had Knapp actually entered the house despite the Fiendfyre? There would be nothing left to see for himself then.

When he found himself thinking in circles, he emptied his mind and tried to breathe regularly, listening to the ticking of the Arithmancy clock. Resting. The office grew lighter; he heard the sounds of the school waking up. It was Christmas. Even over the holidays enough students and staff were present to shake the castle awake. Sometime after dawn he must have slept, for he woke to a tapping at the door.

“Headmaster? Headmaster? Are you there?”

Flitwick? Snape raised his head, mostly in surprise it wasn’t Alecto.

“Alecto says you’ve been ill? I thought maybe…”

That maybe he was just hiding from the Carrows and would respond to someone else. It seemed his dislike was obvious. Bless Filius for being concerned. Footsteps were heard on the stairs and he heard Flitwick depart hurriedly.

“Headmaster?” Alecto once again. “I’ve brought you a tray from breakfast.”

Snape’s stomach turned and he clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle the retch.

“I’ll leave it here for now. If you don’t take care of yourself, I’ll have to take steps.”

Was she being friendly or threatening? He knew which he found more frightening. The Carrows had always been brown-nosers, but ever since his promotion to headmaster Alecto had been insufferable. What was her purpose? Was it general ambition, or did she want something specifically? He waited for Alecto’s footsteps to recede before daring to move about.

Snape’s morning routine was mechanical now, simpler than ever before. His spare robes hung in a cabinet, cleaned overnight, everything else he owned was at Spinner’s End, and he was beginning to think he would never need any of it again. He drew back the curtains and saw it had snowed again.

“Merry Christmas, Severus,” whispered Albus.


The holiday passed like any other day secluded in his office. It was so quiet, in fact, that Snape was relieved to see the parliament of owls that gathered the following morning. The usual Ministry correspondence and propaganda twaddle had piled up over the holiday, but it was something to do.

The first owl dropped the Daily Prophet on his ink-splattered desk. Snape picked it up by a corner, read its screaming headline MOST WANTED WIZARD AT LARGE, and dropped it into the wastebin. The search for Potter had already begun anew. The Dark Lord must be frustrated after Potter’s escape from Godric’s Hollow. But there had been no summons, no meeting. The Dark Lord didn’t want his servants to know his failure or how desperate he was becoming.

Snape cleaned up the spilt ink and broken glass, then dealt with school business until breakfast when, taking advantage of the quietness of the castle, he summoned a kitchen elf to bring tea. Dumbledore would frown on it, but the perils of leaving the office were too great. The elf was cheerful, probably the only inhabitant of the castle who was, and the office felt particularly bare and silent after it departed. Snape discarded the sandwich after a taste and found the tea also unpalatable after a few sips. His stomach burned rebelliously, and he replaced the cup with regret.

“Severus?”

“What is it, Albus?”

“Read me the letter again.”

With a sigh Snape picked up Knapp’s letter. The portrait hadn’t gleaned any more from it than himself. He obligingly read it through again. Albus’s painted eyes closed as he listened; the painter had given such detail to the painting Snape could swear the eyelids flickered.

“Someone, or something, was wearing that skin,” Albus said calmly.

Snape’s chin jerked up so fast his teeth clicked.

What?

“I thought about it through the night, and I’m now certain of it. Miss Knapp never saw Bathilda Bagshot go for a walk. That was only all that remained of the poor woman.”

“I’ve never heard of such a spell…” Snape’s stomach clenched a little, making him glad it was empty.

Albus closed his eyes again, smiling softly.

“Despite your certainty that you are the chief of sinners, Severus, there are depths to the Dark Arts even you haven’t plumbed.”

“I shall rejoice in my relative innocence –”

“Headmaster!”

Phineas. The letter fell from Snape’s hand. His heart sped up even as his hearing and vision seemed to dull. He blinked, and it seemed to take an entire minute, and suddenly Phineas was shouting at him.

[“Headmaster! They are camping in the Forest of Dean! The Mudblood – ”]

Phineas was only a painting, a copy of a few character ticks and expressions. It was pointless to be angry. Maybe it was too much exposure to Alecto and Amycus Carrow, maybe it was the pain in his chest. Without thinking he cried out, far louder than he intended, [“Do not use that word!”]

Phineas stammered, [“–The Granger girl, then, mentioned the place as she opened her bag and I heard her!”]

[“Good! Very Good!” Albus’ portrait cried.]

Time sped up again for Snape. The fog cleared from his mind, though there was a tremor in his hands he didn’t like. Albus was babbling at him as he walked towards it. It couldn’t know he’d lived this moment hundreds of times over. Prepared for it every day. He snapped at the portrait to stop Albus’s enthusiastic flow. He needed a clear head. Snape grabbed his cloak and flung open the door. Move quickly, there’s no way of knowing when they would leave again. If something went wrong, if he missed them…

Severus turned back into the room.

“And you’re still not going to tell me why it’s so important to give Potter the sword?”

The portrait squinted at him thoughtfully.

“No, I don’t think so. He will know what to do with it.”

So much faith placed in Potter and yet he still knew nothing. There was no failsafe for the boy’s mission. After the sword was handed over, there was nothing he could do to help.

Albus was still talking, as flustered as a mother hen.

“Don’t worry, Dumbledore, I have a plan…”

Snape hesitated at the door. The letter from Knapp was still on the ground. Stooping, he snatched it up and pocketed it before locking the headmaster’s office behind him.

The Forest of Dean. Snape couldn’t remember visiting it before. Surely it too had changed. It was suffering from the same malady as London, Malfoy Manor, even Hogwarts. Enemy occupation.

Once pleasant paths were overgrown, others trampled wider, showing the passage of large parties. Snatchers, perhaps. There had been a camp near here, though he wasn’t sure if it was still in use. Of course the presence of Dark magic lent its own particular ambience. Would there be a corner of England left without it?

The winter light, already weak, barely struggled through the tree canopy. It was a forest of grey. Snow and shadow. Potter wouldn’t be moving during the daylight, if he had any intelligence at all. Snape had only until dark to search for their location. It would be heavily warded, but with logic, process of elimination, and if necessary some less than legal spellwork, he could get close.

There were campgrounds, though probably not in use presently. Would Potter — or, that is to say, Granger — count on it being deserted and risk it for convenience? First place to check. Secondly, locate the previous Snatchers’ camp. Whether or not it was active, Potter and company would be at the furthest point from it. It was roughly over one hundred square kilometers of woodland he had to search but, he was positive, they wouldn’t be found too near the edges, where Muggles and Snatchers alike were plentiful.

Snape strode forward, through the overgrown path that led to the Muggle campgrounds. Last point, they would need to be near water. He raised his head and sniffed. The air was heavy with snow, no woodsmoke. Snape smiled. He was feeling quite energized again.

By late afternoon he was leaving the Snatchers’ camp. The Muggle campgrounds had seemed truly abandoned, and his spells had revealed nothing. They weren’t foolproof; nothing could detect a wizard properly warded. But he could detect other magic being used and had so far found none.

The Snatchers had proved to be in residence, but it was only a skeleton crew. After over an hour of surveillance while under the Disillusionment Charm, Snape was certain that Potter was not already a prisoner before continuing the search.

Snape’s legs were cramped, his feet frozen. If he had kept moving, some of his excited energy might have stayed, but now, after sitting so long in the cold, he was slow and aching. Even at his worst, Snape doubted the Snatchers were any threat to him. He thought the rank and file Death Eaters were knuckle draggers, but these wizards were in a class of their own. Somewhere below the missing link, he imagined. Where was the Ministry even finding them? They made Goyle bright and charming by comparison.

Striking east, moving parallel to the river, he was in an area with no paths. Only the occasional forester’s road would snake through the trees. No Muggle forester had been here for a while, though, and other inhabitants had moved in. They were attracted no doubt by the Dark magic and, Snape reflected as he stepped around a web with threads as thick as his arm, food. He would have to check with Hagrid whether all the Acromantulas in the Forbidden Forest were accounted for.

Hagrid, who could barely stand to be in the same room with him. Best not ask, probably. Snape couldn’t afford to be broken in half prematurely. Loyal Hagrid perhaps suffered the most under Headmaster Snape. The thought of Dumbledore’s murderer residing at Hogwarts was slowly killing the groundskeeper. To be as simple as Hagrid, Snape mused. He paused, surprised that he hadn’t meant anything derogatory by the thought. With a smile that wasn’t exactly amused he stepped carefully over a cocoon the size of an Airedale terrier. It seemed he even envied Hagrid now.

Camping near an Acromantula nest, relying on the insanity of it, seemed much more Potter’s style. Snape’s progress was slow. He was forced to alter his course around the webs, avoiding setting off any vibration that would alert a hungry spider. It was a halting but elegant dance through the forest. Sidestep, sidestep, slither, slide. One Acromantula wouldn’t be the end of him. But two or three would easily corner him and Snape wasn’t sure, in his current condition, if he could sustain flight.

Once he had reached the northeast edge without spotting anything, he assumed that Potter was camped in the interior, an area of a few square kilometers. Easy enough to flush him out.

A snap and crack came from overhead. Snape threw himself to the forest floor, a Disillusionment Charm already in place. By the time one heard an Acromantula it was close, close enough to leave its silent web and hook its clawed feet into the supporting trees.

A little ahead of him a leg, the thickness of a sapling tree, descended from the canopy. It waved gently, joined by a second leg. Together they moved in a slow search, scenting, tasting the air. After a moment they were withdrawn before the full Acromantula became visible, leaping briefly into sight as it crossed between trees.

Snape lay on the frozen ground a little longer, feeling the snow melt into his robes and chill his skin. He had the patience to survive, but would he start coughing from the cold? He focused on breathing lightly, eyes fixed on the trees around him. Minutes passed. Each agonizing minute he promised himself to wait one more, and then one more again.

By the time he dared stand, the light had changed. Afternoon was going to shortly change to dusk. Snape drew his wand and cleaned his robes, briefly. He dared not conjure any fire for warmth, being dry again would have to be enough. Snape resumed his careful progress through the spiders’ domain, this time moving inwards. He would trust his instinct they had camped in the interior.

A half hour later he had left the last of the webs behind him, and an hour after that he’d found the perfect place. It was almost centered in the forest, a frozen pool of water. It was the largest he had seen; similar smaller pools were scattered nearby. The perfect area to camp. But what if Potter had already left?

Snape studied his blurred reflection in the ice. He’d have to take the chance that Potter was still here and lure him out. If he wasn't, then Severus was risking announcing his presence to somebody, or something, else.

When he’d told Dumbledore he had a plan, in fact he had several. Each depended on the environment and situation in which he discovered Potter. The sword had to appear to have been waiting for the boy. Specifically for him. A message from Albus from beyond the grave. Severus had considered guarding the sword with a riddle, similar to what Albus had used on the Mirror of Erised to hide the Philosopher’s Stone. But no, that was more Granger’s forte. If the boy was to believe the sword had been left for him alone to find, then the situation must speak to Potter’s strengths. A task of some difficulty but not necessarily clever. Foolhardy and brave.

For a moment Snape was standing on the shores of the Great Lake at Hogwarts, watching Albus’s sad smile as Potter struggled ashore dragging two hostages. The feat worthy of a Gryffindor. He needed a task for a Gryffindor.

Snape tested the ice with a foot. It groaned but didn’t crack. Thick, and solid, the water below would have been undisturbed for weeks, freezing. Perfect. Would it work? It was a gamble. The boy would remember the lake. Of course, compared to the Black Lake, the pond was laughable, but it had its own particular hardship. Snape pointed his wand.

Diffendo.”

The ice snapped and water sloshed across its grey surface. It could be magically refrozen in a moment but, if he changed the temperature of the water too much, refreezing would take longer. It was nearly dark, Potter could be planing to move again, and Snape didn’t have that much time. Besides, a test of courage had to be set up properly. Any spellwork from the shore would be insufficient, suspiciously sloppy.

He’d chosen Glaedwyn’s Canticle for Binding and a basic Sealing Spell. They should prevent all forms of magical retrieval. However they were useless if not cast directly on the object. Snape shuddered once in dread before removing his boots.

The behaviour of magic under the elements was something not studied enough. Few students realized that air, water, fire, and earth, all had an inherent power of their own and could limit, warp, or otherwise influence spellcasting.

Snape left his cloak on the ground, methodically folding his robes on top to keep them dry. The sword he kept in his hand, his wand he put into his trousers pocket.

Elemental effects were a primitive study of magic long since out of fashion and practice. The first step into the water bit his bare foot and sent a dull shock up his leg.

....it was a shame that the older forms of magic were only referenced in the most theoretical fashion…

He waded further in, and thought became impossible.

The sword was suddenly incredibly heavy. Mind numbed with cold, he expected it to grow in weight, intent to drown him. Despite his being a Slytherin and a Death Eater, maybe it would make an exception and not drag him to his death. The water was now past his waist. There was no help for it but to dive.

Snape had learned to swim only through necessity. His parents weren’t the type to take him to the community center for the youth program. The Great Lake at Hogwarts had been his pool and his lessons were held whenever Potter and Black had thrown him into it. Eventually he learned to sink while holding his breath, struggling a little for show. No wonder he’d never enjoyed swimming. He could hear his heart pounding in his ears now, sinking deep into the murky water and duckweed.

The water around him seemed to flicker between the grey water of the forest pond and the cool green of the Great Lake. His heartbeat sounded too loudly. The Sword of Gryffindor seemed to drag him faster and faster towards the bottom. The cold didn’t cease to be shocking, but it no longer bit but rather pulsed through him.

At last he felt sand and small stones scraping his outstretched hand, his frozen feet, and he let the sword settle flat on its side. In this dim underworld it was almost too bright to look at. His chest was tight. Better hold on a little longer...make sure Potter and Black had grown bored and left...what was he doing with his wand out?

The sword.

Snape focused his thoughts. Running his wand along the edge of the sword, he cast the Sealing Spell. Releasing it, he then traced the Canticle over the sword, his wand leaving a flickering thread of light that wove a cage over it, settling tighter and growing dimmer until it disappeared entirely.

Snape pocketed his wand. His eyes were burning and his lungs were empty. He tried to focus on what seemed the glimmer of the surface and kicked off from the bottom. His legs were weak and his hands seemed to scrabble rather than push through the water, but he was rising. So dulled were his senses, he was surprised when he broke the surface. Splashing ashore, he struggled with his clothes, using them first to dry himself. His skin was frozen past sensation, yet the cloth scraped his skin like sandpaper. Again he couldn't risk even a smokeless fire.

T-t-tergeo,” Snape chattered.

Robes again dry, he hurriedly dressed himself and scrambled to his feet. It was full dark. Dimly below the black water he could see the sword gleam.

Congelo.

The water rippled and cracked, freezing over in glassy thickness, ripples caught in former motion. Snape retreated from the water’s edge and found an outcropping between two trees that was sheltered. Slumping against the nearest trunk, he took a minute to catch his breath. The water still roared in his ears, and he couldn’t stop shivering. He was dry, his own body heat would return shortly, he just had to be patient. Snape leaned his head back. He could remember a time when he’d waded ashore from the lake, hair streaming and books ruined yet again. Lily had been seated on the shore waiting for him.

“A minute and forty-seven seconds,” she had told him wryly. “Are you in training for a world record?”

“Houdini could hold his breath for three and a half minutes,” was his retort. “I’m nowhere close. Fortunately, Potter is part troll, so his attention span is roughly twenty seconds, and it’s easy to outwait him.”

She’d laughed, and it was more welcome than the towel she had ready. She must have seen Black and Potter drag him to the lake. Always watching for him, noticing what was invisible to anyone else. Lily insisted on towelling his hair for him and he’d had to bend over, already taller than her, face mercifully hidden. Lily folded the towel neatly and dried his books magically, not allowing him to help. They wouldn’t agree on what to do about James Potter, so she didn’t say anything, but she held his hand all the way back to the castle.

Snape blinked and pulled out his wand. He couldn’t rest yet, he had to execute the last part of his plan. Death Eaters wouldn’t summon a Patronus, no need. So even this had to be hidden. Nothing was safe. Everything was secret. Snape raised his wand and wondered if this would be the last time he ever needed to summon it.

The doe lit up the forest around her so brilliantly that at first she was only a blur to him. Gradually his eyes adjusted and he could see her, waiting patiently. The soft reassurance that Patronuses radiated was better than any fire he could have lit. Potter couldn’t be too far, and he’d spot her easily enough, but sending her away was hard. How pathetic was he to feel so comforted by a figment of mist? There was greater need than his.

“Go,” he snapped.

Quicker than any live deer, but still more graceful, the silver doe flew through the forest and the darkness closed around Snape once again.

Snape wrapped his arms around his chest, letting his traveling cloak cover him like a tent. He muttered a Warming Charm. It helped, but an enchanted fire would have been better. It didn’t take away the tightness in his chest.

Feeling guilty about snarling at the Patronus was even more pathetic. The shivering stopped, but his fingers were still clumsy. Was this a sign of improvement? He let his chin fall on his chest. Drowsy, but mustn’t sleep. Time was sluggish and hard to track as his eyes fluttered open and closed. When the doe returned, he wasn’t sure if it was a dream or reality until he saw who followed.

The boy came running, regardless of safety. His eyes were fixed on the doe with an expression of...recognition? Snape didn’t move as Potter lit his wand, searching the area around him. The boy was taller, warier. Still only a boy. He had spotted the sword.

Snape fumbled with his own wand. Had he cast a Disillusionment Spell earlier? His fogged brain couldn’t remember. Hurriedly casting the spell, he was just in time as Potter directed the beam of his wand through the trees around the pond. Snape watched Potter try to Summon the sword, an obvious move. The boy paced the edge of the pond. Snape’s fingers ached, but he didn’t dare move, even to rub them.

A test of courage. Of determination. Only a true Gryffindor, he thought, as if he could reach Potter through pure concentration.

The boy stopped walking.

Only a true Gryffindor.

Potter sighed, but not in frustration. He cast around again, checking the area.

Only a true…

Potter smiled ruefully and shook his head. He knelt down and started unlacing his shoes. This was it. Everything would go as planned. Snape let out his breath. He was relieved Potter hadn’t wasted time with more silly spellwork, trying to outwit the sword’s protection. Snape almost smiled. For once the Gryffindor mind was working in his favour.

He couldn’t help but wince when Potter plunged into the water; the memories of his own recent submersion were still cutting. Snape rose with caution. He had to be ready to leave but couldn’t until he saw the sword safely in hand.

The chunks of ice were still bobbing in the wake of Potter’s dive. He should be back momentarily, it wasn’t deep. Snape, unknowingly, took a step forward. His own time underwater had felt interminable, but surely it could only have been a minute, not even two...a ripple whirled across the surface of the pond, and the water turned but Potter didn’t surface. Something was wrong.

Snape ran from his hiding place, adrenaline coursing through his numb legs. He splashed into the water, hands instantly frozen as he swept them through the dark water, trying to grasp something. He was still charmed with Disillusionment; Potter wouldn’t see the hands reaching for him. Would he even reach out for help, had he been able to see who was trying to save him? Snape submerged himself, but the water was murky with turned-up mud and sand, and he couldn’t see anything. He came up gasping for breath.

Damn it, why wasn’t the boy coming up?

Something hurtled past Snape and splashed into the water.

Weasley.

Of course, Weasley would never be far away. Snape waded from the shallows and collapsed on the pebbled shore just as they both broke surface. Snape was trapped now until they were gone. He didn’t dare make a move to the cover of the trees; couldn't make a sound. He repressed his shivers, dripping silently, as Potter and Weasley sputtered and stammered at each other.

Fortunately the pond divided them, so he wasn’t in immediate danger of being trampled as Potter hopped around with one pant leg on. Weasley had the sword. That was all that mattered. Snape supposed that jumping without hesitation into potentially dangerous water to rescue your idiot friend must also count as the deed of a true Gryffindor.

[“You didn’t see anyone else?”] Potter’s words were clear enough to bounce across the water to him.

Snape froze. Weasley was pointing back towards Snape’s former hiding place. Probably a good thing he hadn’t regained it, he thought, as he watched Potter beat through the bracken and examine the area.

His position was most uncomfortable, and his breath was hot in his icy chest. He’d been doubly exposed to freezing temperatures and now couldn't even dry off. He wished the idiots would stop their poor detective work and leave. Snape shivered and caught his breath. They didn’t seem to hear, they seemed to be arguing about something.

[“You can do it! You can!”]

Do what? Get rid of what? The Weasley boy was clutching the sword like he expected the Dark Lord to appear then and there. Potter was bent over something on a rock.

What…

There was a hiss.

They were no longer alone. Malignant and cloying, something spoke. It turned Snape’s stomach. Then his vision went black. A black whirlwind buffeted him, sucked away his thoughts. It was cold. A storm. A storm on a bare hill. Snape knew this storm. He’d first come to Dumbledore, begging, in this storm.

“You disgust me.”

Snape tried to open his mouth to deny it. Albus’s voice continued, hard and distant.

“You would sacrifice an infant boy to spare her.”

A weight was on his chest, preventing him from speaking.

“You wanted James Potter dead.”

Albus’s voice was changing. Becoming higher and even colder still. The stern blue glare turned red, and the Dark Lord’s eyes bored into his own, no Occlumency could save him, no barrier existed that could stop this attack.

“I saw what you were when you first knelt to me! You wanted them all dead. All the people who had ever exulted over you and looked down on you. Including her and her family. Your grief means nothing! You would rather she were dead than belong to anyone else!”

Snape stopped trying to throw up a wall against the onslaught, to clear his brain and hide his thoughts. He reached out for something to throw back, a weapon of some kind. Someone yelled. Was it him? There was no one to help him. Snape’s mind grasped a single thought. He was here to prevent someone else from dying. What was it Albus had said?

“Don’t discount their lives and safety so lightly by deeming your work useless.”

The Dark Lord was quick to respond.

“So still you work to earn your redemption? You think you can earn forgiveness?”

“No,” Snape was able to respond clearly, “I can never earn that.”

“Then you are without hope. You can only destroy and envy. You are without love–”

Snape’s hand clawed the darkness. Enough of this taunting in the dark, he would grasp hold of this voice and silence it. Despite the weight holding him down he struggled towards the voice and lashed out.

“Who are you to tell me I have not loved!”

There was a terrible scream. Was it the shriek of metal or human agony? Snape opened his eyes before he’d realized they were closed. He was on his back. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t move. Where had the voice gone? Had it truly been the Dark Lord?

Jagged rocks dug into his back. He must have fallen backwards and knocked the air from his lungs. Snape sucked in a breath and then another. Painfully, spots dancing before his eyes, he turned his head. Potter and Weasley had gone, taking the sword with them. Snape’s sigh of relief became a fit of coughing.

As Snape regained his breath, other sensations made themselves felt. He was still wet from the pond, and colder than he’d ever felt. But he wasn’t shivering. He tried sitting up but found all he could do was roll onto his side. That was enough effort. His eyes drifted shut for a moment.

Snape thought it was a moment. Longer maybe. Not that it mattered. He thought a fire would be nice but couldn’t find the pocket of his robes for his wand. His fingers felt like rubber gloves. A piece of parchment in his cloak pocket crackled at his touch and fluttered to the ground beside him where he regarded it for a moment in puzzlement and then alarm.

He should be able to remember what it was, or what it was doing in his pocket. A still slightly rational part of his mind started screaming at him that he was in trouble, wasn’t thinking clearly, that he was too cold and wet. He wished it would shut up. His head hurt.

Get up.

Can’t. Too tired.

Get help…!

Who? There’s no one anymore. The Order is gone. Finished. Snape’s eyes fell on the piece of parchment paper. His mind came together for a moment. Snape managed to draw his wand. He raised it to the few stars still visible through the branches overhead. The Patronus blossomed from the wand tip, twitching her ears and tilting her head. Her presence eased the sharp worry gnawing at him.

“Heus...”

The incantation was slurred. His face felt like a mask. Working his mouth, he tried again.

“Heus!”

The doe lowered her head and pushed her ears forward to listen. Snape tried to collect his thoughts but could only mumble, “...The Forest of Dean.”

The incantation complete, the doe ran, gaining speed until it was a shooting star of mist. The Order had been able to send messages anywhere via Patronus, no matter how protected. He could only hope it reached her, wherever she was. It might take some time so he had better try and pull himself together.

With more than a little effort he pulled himself towards the trees. A little shelter meant he could perhaps conjure a fire without being seen. His hands kept slipping on the stones and he was surprised to find they were cut and bleeding when he hadn’t felt a thing.

He gained his former hiding place with many pauses of immeasurable length. With each rest his eyes fluttered shut. He had no sense of time. To shelter against the cold, and effectively block his fire from being seen, he’d have to sit up. Raising his head made it spin. He tried a little at a time until he had a shoulder against the trunk of a tree, one elbow trembling under his weight.

He was resting his pounding head against the trunk when a light shone on him. The doe came running back, dematerializing just before she ran through him. Eyes dazzled, Snape tried to blink away the bursting sparks and lost his balance. As his arm buckled beneath him, a hand caught him under his shoulder, preventing him from hitting his head.

A voice with a Cornwall slant said, “Well, shit Severus Snape.”
End Notes:


Thank you for reading! I have more done, promise to submit soon!
Chapter 13 by Meadowsweet
Author's Notes:


Theophany spent Christmas at The Mill. Everyone, and that included everyone, came to celebrate. Merryn and Lissy with their girls, Lissy’s parents, Lissy’s sister and her husband. Silyn brought guests who had no home for the holidays, young witches and wizards who fought for the Dagda and mostly stood together talking quietly. Boniface’s friends, one of which Theophany noticed was a very pretty girl, and school friends of the twins overflowed the house. It was all, Theophany pronounced mentally, very good. Until Christmas morning itself when she had to admit Jethro wasn’t coming.

Mr. Knapp, resplendent in seasonal tie and waistcoat, kissed her good morning and said, “Don’t mind it. I’m still sure he’ll come home, just not today. Pray he’s well, that’s the important thing.”

That was when the ticking banana on the table exploded. The twin screamed in delight, and Merryn dabbed bits of pulp off his robes.

“It’s been browning for some time. Maybe it couldn’t decide whether to get ripe or ring the alarm.”

“And tried to do both?” Silyn suggested.

“There, now see, I was perfectly right not to keep it by my bedside.” Dad stuck out his chin. “Dangerous fruit.”

The twins rolled their eyes. Theophany was primarily relieved the subject of Jethro had been safely dropped. For the first time in many weeks the Knapps enjoyed a day with no alarms. Other than the banana.

The day after Christmas had its own quieter traditions and rituals. The wider circle of friends that always came by for lunch or just tea, the general settling down to really enjoying presents, and the unspoken rule that the air of contentment and well deserved rest was not to be disturbed by loud festivities or any overexertion until evening, when the bonfire would be lit. Theophany sat on the floor by the kitchen fire, looking over a stack of books her father had given her. Silyn came in to help himself to cold pie.

“Good haul?” he asked.

“Look at this. A novel, an encyclopedia of Vietnamese magical aquatic plants and their properties, another novel, a collection of short stories, more novels, a collection of poems, and Von Brauser’s Deadly Antidotes More Lethal Than Their Poisons.”

“He knows you so well. But why are you hiding in here?”

“Isn’t it funny? Here I am a grown woman, and I still find myself thinking of Dad and his friends as ‘the adults’ having coffee. I’m letting them talk shop about forage yield and lambing season and...hay maybe?”

Silyn dropped a small box in front of her.

“For you. Didn’t really belong with the other gifts under the tree yesterday.”

Obviously this gift deserved special attention. Theophany opened the box. Inside was a ring. Or rather seven rings, cleverly stacked and fitted together to make one band. Their edges waved and the ring widened to an engraved oval on top.

“I chose silver so it would go with Mum’s necklace.”

“Thank you.”

She looked at the rings carefully. Each bore some etching on one side, hidden in engraving. Snapped together the rings created a leafy motif, but separately each ring seemed to have its own design. Theophany raised her eyebrows at Silyn, but he refused to give any clue. Theophany twisted the rings around. Some lines were so fine she squinted to make out the figures hidden in the design.

“One, twelve – no, fifteen. One, nine, six— Oh!” Theophany looked at the ring again, seven parts in one. “It’s a birth date! This one is Merryn.” She slid her finger along the rings. “Then this next one is you, then Jethro, one for me too?”


“It felt odd to leave you out, even though you’re the one wearing it.”

Theophany counted the last three rings. “Boniface, Prosper, and Compline...now you’re all always with me.”

“I rather thought of it the other way around.”

“Isn’t it the same thing?”

Silly hesitated. “Yes and no. I meant the ring to mean that you’re with us even if...you’re not here. That’s why I included a ring for you.”

Theophany looked down at the ring.

“I know I’ve been gone a lot lately —”

“That’s not what I meant!” Silyn rubbed his forehead. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply anything. Tiff, you’ve always given your all to us and the Valley. And nobody asked you to—”

“Mum asked me to.”

“Not this. You promised to look after Dad and the kids, and you have. But anything more than that — Tiff, you don’t owe us that, or Mum. You don’t owe the Valley that. You could have left anytime, done anything, but you decided to stay here. No one thinks you’re neglecting us, or your duties.”

Theophany slid the ring onto her left index finger.

“Of course I stayed. I’m happy here. I didn’t sacrifice anything for this.” She smirked. “Besides, you’ll have me around a lot more, now that I’m not allowed to work with the Dagda, so get used to it...”

Silyn’s face was wooden.

“Tiff, I’m apologizing in advance here.”

“What for?”

“For the steaming pile of clairvoyant rubbish I’m about to unload on you.”

Theophany looked at him in alarm. Silyn never prophesied anything, only the occasional image which he rarely shared. Her brother took a deep breath, resting his elbows on his knees, and looking at her from under his eyebrows.

“Tiff, you’re going on a journey.”

“Wait. I’m going to stop you there because I think I’ve heard this one before.”

“Shut up and listen.”

The kitchen was silent for a moment. Silyn squeezed his hands together and hung his head, looking woebegone. He reluctantly continued...

“The way is uncertain and treacherous. The path will be long. You will meet...a tall, dark stranger–”

Theophany started sputtering, then couldn’t stop the laughter. Silyn feigned mock outrage.

“Unbeliever! Here I am telling your fortune, and this is the thanks I get. You have no idea how crushing this is to my sensitive seer’s soul…”

Theophany snorted.

“Ugh, stop, you’re making me sound so unladylike.”

“Impossible,” Silyn declared loyally.

Theophany collected her books and got to her feet.

“Tall, dark, and handsome maybe?” Definitely not Severus Snape then, only two out of three. “When does this journey begin?”

Silyn didn’t answer. She turned to look at him and he was watching her. There was interest and possibly a little worry in his eyes.

“Tonight.”

He didn’t looked embarrassed anymore. He was serious. This was really happening.

“It’s a long road, Tiff.”

“This isn’t a...a metaphorical journey that we’re speaking of then.”

Silyn frowned.

“It could be both. What do I know? I see it as a path. A dark and guarded path. But you walk as if you know the way. It begins soon. There’s something coming tonight – nothing bad!” he added as Theophany twitched towards her wand. “Something is coming to you —”

Silyn pushed a hand through his hair.

“Can’t explain it. I don’t really understand it.”

His eyes were unfocused.

“I see a deer running in a dark wood and a great door guarded by four beasts. I see you in a tower at the top of a cliff. You are in a dark place, but you’re not alone.” He shook himself. “Some of this is more what I sense than see. I just wanted to you to know that wherever you go, whenever you leave, you aren’t leaving us.”

“Okay.” Theophany’s voice sounded small, even to her. “But I could always choose not to go.”

Silyn shrugged. “Of course. The question is, will you want to? That’s really the point I’m trying to make, Tiff. If you think you should go, if you want to go, then go.”

Theophany nodded. She found it hard to look at Silyn. A hug would be appropriate here. It would reassure him and express her feelings, but it was hard to start. It was hard to break out of their easy, everyday way. Theophany thrust her arms out and quickly put them around his waist, mumbling, “Thank you for telling me.”

“Sure thing.” He patted her hair awkwardly. “Okay, could you let me go? I need to find Boniface.”

His sister released him. “Okay. Um, he’s probably setting up the bonfire.”

Silyn grinned. “I’ve picked out some fireworks this year that will put last Christmas to shame.”

“Just don’t incinerate the garden shed again.”

“Spoilsport.” Silyn stuck out his tongue and hurried from the kitchen.

He seemed to have recovered his spirits. A few weeks ago he had seemed more reserved, but Theophany couldn’t know what he had seen, what he had done, or who he had lost to the war.

She pulled her chair over to the kitchen window and put her books in her lap, but she didn’t feel like reading. Theophany slowly turned the pages. Her new ring made a pleasant sound across the paper, and she liked the weight of it on her hand. She drew out her mother’s pendant from under her robes and held it together in her hand with the ring. The pendant was not as decorative, a drop of silver engraved with a birch tree. She clenched both in her hand. The more she thought about the future, the less likely it looked. Victory felt so far away. She sat lost in thought, watching the snow. Before she knew it, the clock was striking five, and Zuri and the other guests were expected at six.

Theophany stuck the book she still held into her pocket and hurried upstairs. Christmas day was for family, but the Knapp bonfire night on the twenty-sixth was a strictly dress-up affair for the wizarding community of Frog’s Hollow.

It was already dark outside, and from her window Theophany could see the old barn was lit with fairy lights. Inside it would be warm and smelling sweetly of sawdust and hay. She should help Ike put out food and double check that Silyn’s fireworks were a safe distance from the party.

Theophany selected some robes in dark red, seasonally appropriate and unfussy. Like so many of her things, these robes had been her mother’s. Were they terribly outdated? Edwardian? Theophany decided ‘classic’ was a better word and ran a brush through her hair. Not brewing, working, or fighting, she left it loose down her back. Or mostly down her back. Its wayward crinkles and waves made it go all directions, including looping over her elbows or getting caught on her front buttons.

For the next hour she greeted guests and stood by to receive food that Ike Banished from the kitchen, to reappear magically on the trestle tables in the barn. Theophany was caught between a spicy dip and a platter of mini quiches when Zuri swept in, a comet in gold. The scarf tied around her soft hair was stitched with gold thread and her eyelids glowed with golden dust. She relieved Theophany of the quiches and wished her Merry Christmas.

“I always forget how much room there is in here,” Zuri winked conspiratorially at Theophany. “Will there be dancing later?”

“Of course the band is here, but only if enough people join in…”

Zuri’s laugh was rich and soft as caramel.

“I want to dance.”

So of course they did. Zuri claimed Silyn as her first partner, then as her third and fourth. Watching them made Theophany dizzy. She had danced the first two songs before begging off in favour of chilled cider. There were too many people and it was far too close. Feeling hot, she slipped outside.

It was bitterly cold but after the closeness of the barn quite welcome. Theophany blew long streams of cloudy breath. The stars were magnificent. Andromeda was low on the horizon, but the Gemini were ascending. Theophany wondered if Silyn saw things in the stars.

A twinkling that couldn’t be a heavenly body caught Theophany’s eye, and she took a few steps away from the torch light. The lower fields were pristine with snow and shimmered with light. Something in the trees beyond the field seemed to be more than a reflection. Theophany saw it flicker rapidly between the trees, moving too fast to be wand light. There weren’t any hinkypunks around here.

Theophany drew her wand, waiting for the light to reach the forest edge. It came into sight with a bound. Fearless. Diving and leaping over the drifts below, it didn’t leave a print behind it and ascended the hill so rapidly Theophany barely had time to raise her wand before it was only a few meters from her.

It was beautiful. It was so achingly beautiful. But Theophany kept her wand on it, just in case. She’d never seen this before, and pictures in books could hardly begin to capture what it truly looked like. True was the right word. Or pure. The luminous thing stopped and approached her more slowly. She could see now it was a doe, its feet impossibly delicate, ears long and perked forward. As she watched it lowered its head and opened its mouth. There was no tongue there but from it came a voice, weak and breathless.

...the Forest of Dean.”

Theophany lowered her wand.

“Severus Snape?”

The doe lifted her head and looked at her. She put out her left hand and the doe came closer, as if to touch her pointed nose to Theophany’s fingers, but before they touched, the doe shimmered and was gone. Theophany blinked and looked around for it. There was only a rapidly disappearing light in the trees below.

...but will you want to?

Silyn. Silyn had known she would choose to go.

She wanted to go, had to go. Theophany ran as fast as she could through the snow, back towards The Mill. The barn was full of noise and music, but the house was quiet. Theophany burst into the kitchen, and the door rebounded noisily. Her hair was a little wild and her robes damp with snow but Ike hardly glanced up from the cakes he was icing.

“Is it more drinks, Miss, or are the beef wellingtons running low?”

Theophany focused on the elf from a great distance.

“Probably both. Ike, I have to go out and help someone. I don’t know how long I’ll be.”

“Do you wish Ike to tell Master Knapp?”

“Um, please tell Master Silyn, and he’ll let Dad know. Thanks so much, Ike.”

The wrinkled elf smiled toothily with what teeth he had.

“Of course, Miss.”

Theophany grabbed her cloak from the peg and put on stouter boots.

It’s a long road,” Silyn had said. Or was this not the road, but rather the first step?

Theophany Apparated to the Forest of Dean, or rather to Wysis Way, which she had known quite well. Or thought she had. The spider web the size of a tour bus was new to her. She’d Apparated with her nose nearly against it.

Theophany backed away carefully, feet crunching in the new snow. The web was pure silver in the moonlight and looked stickily fresh. Theophany raised her head and checked the canopy above. Nothing was visible, but weren’t ambushes a spider’s forte? How was she supposed to find Severus Snape in all the forest?

The moonlight was bright, but far brighter was the doe that made itself visible just a little to her left. Had it been waiting for her to catch up? Theophany moved towards it. At the last possible second the doe leapt away and ran far ahead, stopping to look back.

“Alright then, if that’s how it is.”

Wand in hand, just in case, Theophany lifted her robes and ran after the doe. It took her in a serpentine path, avoiding fallen trees, pits, and webs, but still Theophany’s progress was slowed by climbing over dead trees or ducking under low branches.
As they left the webs behind, the forest opened and became sparser. Little pools fed by frozen streams lay at her feet. The doe ran across them, hooves barely touching the ice; Theophany chose to circumvent them.

They were running almost side by side now, the doe like a reflection brought alive on the ice, Theophany sprinting alongside the frozen edge. The wind sang creaking songs in the sleeping trees. Despite her fear about what might be waiting ahead, Theophany gloried in the wind and ice, and the silver beauty of the doe that seemed to be egging her on to run faster and further than before.

The doe, in that fading away and reappearing trick, appeared again ahead of her. Something about her attitude, legs braced, head still, warned Theophany, and she slowed her run. This time the doe didn’t flee when Theophany came close, but turned to look ahead to another pool of water, larger and deeper than the others. Ice floated in chunks on its surface and the pebbles on its shores were wet and slippery.

The doe hurried forward, but not so fast as to lose Theophany. In her light Theophany made out a figure stretched among the roots of a tree. The doe fixed Theophany with a wide eye, then turned and ran. She disappeared before she touched the tree, briefly illuminating the figure there.

Though he was almost prone, his eyes were open and fixed, and Theophany feared the worst as his head buckled forward. Leaping forward, as if her limbs had caught some of the doe’s agility, Theophany got a hand under his head and an arm around his shoulder before his forehead struck the rocks. She felt ice in his hair and the sodden state of his robes and frantically searched for a pulse. Theophany felt it, weakly persistent under his jaw, and looked down at the person in her lap.

“Well, shit, Severus Snape.”

Spinner’s End seemed the safest place to take him. Only this time Severus Snape was the one unconscious on the sofa. Theophany fully appreciated the parallelism but felt she would appreciate it more if she actually remembered her first visit there.

She’d been hesitant to move him much; in addition to his low body temperature there were minor injuries that could be indicators of trauma. But there was little choice in method or destination; she could hardly take him back to The Mill.

The fire was lit and Theophany tried every cupboard in the hall until she found extra blankets. Raise his core temperature, she told herself, and keep checking his pulse. There was a fancy word for it, an irregular heartbeat, that came of being in cold water too long. If she moved him too much he could have a heart attack.

Theophany piled blankets on the patient, tucking each one under him securely before adding another. She would have given much for Mrs. Ludo’s Everlasting waterbottle now. She was able to conjure a thermometer to monitor him. Thirty-two degrees Celsius was too close to danger, surface warming only might be ineffective. Theophany looked about her. In the Pensieve she had seen him summon a cabinet. She could picture it clearly, small and lacquered with the edges scuffed and worn.

“Accio!”

She wasn’t expecting it to come from the other room, and it collided with the door frame. Severus Snape didn’t stir.

“Oops, sorry, so sorry. But really you’re more important than the cabinet – what do you have in here? Excellent, very well stocked, um, oh that’s – that’s rare and expensive. Anyway —”

Powdered dragon’s claw, scorpion venom, nettle. Theophany shook the venom and powdered claw together in a vial. With a wave of her wand the knife and cutting board unpacked themselves and started shredding nettle. Theophany checked Snape’s pulse again. Still weak but no sign of arrhythmia. Theophany looked around. She needed a tub of water. The kitchen sink would suffice. She didn’t like leaving him alone and sped through her preparations. She stoppered the sink and filled it with cold water. Theophany poured everything into a copper pot with a wooden handle.

Add the nettle.
Pearlwort for the moon.
Yiyiren for water.

Theophany blew her hair out of her eyes and commanded a gust of flame at the end of her wand. Holding the small copper pot at arm’s length, she held the fire beneath it. Just as the venom started to bubble, she plunged the pot into cold water and spun it three times clockwise. The west lay over her left shoulder. She stirred the pot with a stem of pearlwort, faced west and then stirred the opposite direction.

“It’s ready!” she called through, as if he could hear her.

The cabinet provided a dropper. Theophany carefully measured out the dose and pumped the dropper’s rubber top. Snape was still cold to the touch, unresponsive. Theophany knelt by the couch, placed the edge of her hand on his chin and pulled his jaws apart. She poised the dropper under his tongue and squeezed. The clock ticked twelve seconds.

Snape jerked and coughed but didn’t open his eyes. Theophany felt his pulse. Strong and steady. His skin flushed a little, then paled again, but his cheek stayed warm to the touch. Theophany rocked back on her heels.

“Bloody hell, Severus.”

She wiped her face. She should clean this up. Hopefully he would wake with nothing more than a mild head cold. Theophany mentally checked her notes. In mild cases of exposure one only worried about circulation and frostbite. He might wake up with some stiffness, probably be clumsy.

All his cuts and bruises looked minor. She pushed his hair back from his forehead. A slight bruise, possible concussion? With her thumb she raised an eyelid. No response from the sleeper, but when she brought the lit point of her wand close, the pupil contracted and he stirred slightly. Theophany smoothed his hair down and checked his fingers. No frostbite, but cut and scratched.

Episkey.”

Once they healed she started chafing them. Better safe than sorry; poor circulation could lead to clotting. After a brisk chafe Theophany felt secure enough to make herself a cup of tea. She sat on the low table by the couch and watched him breathe deep uninterrupted breaths.

Was it possible for him to have lost weight since she last saw him? He was positively cadaverous. Theophany carefully bent over him, holding her tea out of the way. The pallor wasn’t just from his chill tonight, and the dark circles under his eyes were the work of many sleepless nights. No wonder he’d been in such a bad way. He had no reserves of strength left.

Theophany placed her tea on the library table and perched next to it. His body temperature was up, but she didn’t want to take any chances and returned to rubbing his hands and feet. She alternated between a brisk rub and a gentle massage, humming tunes from the party.

...sound of rain upon
a window pane,
the starry song that April sings…


Theophany switched to his hands again. The fingers twitched once, but there were no other signs of waking. She’d hummed through half of her repertoire, all that was in her capability, that is. Some of the twins’ favourites were distinctly un-hummable, being heavy on bass and drums. His fingers twitched again and then caught her wrist in a grip that was surprising in his condition.

Theophany turned her head slowly. Two black eyes were staring up at her. They were different. Hostile. Theophany maintained her slow, gentle, massage.

“Do you know where you are?” she asked mildly.

The answer was like wind through a window crack.

“....yes.”

“Do you know who you are?”

“Yes.”

She lowered his hand but her wrist wasn’t released.

“Do you know who I am?”

This seemed to require more speech. His voice was slurred. “I know...who you s-s-s-eem to be.”

Theophany smiled down at him.

“We’ve done this before. I’m really me, and I owe you a bottle of dittany.”

He didn’t let go, but his eyes changed. Only guarded now. She hadn’t exactly expected him to roll out the red carpet for her, but a little gratitude would be nice. Theophany disengaged her wrist and folded his hands together on his chest.

“Go back to sleep.”

The black stare intensified and his jaw stiffened.

“I could have done a million things to you already. So just go to sleep.”

Whether in obedience or exhaustion, his eyes closed. Theophany watched his fingers knit, his shoulders tense. Under his lids his eyes roved restlessly. Theophany pulled the footstool from the armchair over to the couch so she could sit more comfortably.

“I’m not sure what you’re thinking, but it’s not helping. Was anyone else hurt?”

An almost imperceptible headshake.

“Is someone or something urgently in need of your attention? No? Then, go to sleep!

He didn’t hear, or didn’t listen. His fingers knotted together, his breathing was steady and slow, but rigid. The breathing of someone fighting panic. He was trying very hard at something.

Theophany placed her hand on his forehead and gave a tentative stroke. It was like startling a cat. Snape balked and his eyes flew open. He tried to hiss something but his voice was weak and raspy.

Okay, that wasn’t going to work…

Theophany ignored his agitation and took his hand again. Though she felt distinctly awkward herself, she resumed her gentle massage. Ignoring the black stare pointed at her, she kept at it. Eventually she felt his hands slacken. His eyes were closed. She carefully released his hand.

“Severus?” Theophany whispered. “You asleep?”

Severus Snape snored softly and Theophany clenched a fist in silent victory. She got up a little stiffly from the stool and checked the time. Late. But not too terribly. She would send a message to The Mill. It seemed she wouldn’t be home tonight.

Snape woke in the night. Or was it morning? He was disoriented. No sense of time. There had been a voice in his dream. That voice again taunting him. Had the Dark Lord read his mind? His concentration had been shattered, he’d fought to put up the usual barriers before he slept but...Snape shuddered. He hadn’t been able to perform even that simple task. He felt clammy, remembering his panic. What was it Potter had been carrying? It had shattered his defenses, his concentration, he hadn’t been able to fight back.

Because it had been an attack from within.

Snape felt his heart hammer. Whatever it was had used his own mind against him. The darkest things below conscious thought. His worst fears and memories. A mental boggart. What was capable of that?

Snape carefully sorted his thoughts, tried blocking and unblocking his mind in a compulsive check that he was still capable of Occlumency. His head ached and his throat was dry. Given the negative mental impact experienced, no wonder his Patronus had felt so reassuring. Drawn from happy memories it was the antidote, the opposite, to whatever had attacked him. Snape frowned. Why had he summoned the Patronus…?

He turned his head so quickly the room spun. Theophany Knapp was curled up in the armchair by the fire, a book open in her lap. Her boots were off and her hair fell over her face to tumble down the side of the chair. One hand was holding a thermometer. With sickening clarity Snape recalled his minutes of consciousness last night.

What had she given him?

His eye fell on the potions cabinet.

Oh God, had she brewed it herself?

He tried to lift his neck, but his body was stiff. A dull pain throbbed through him. Last night he’d been aware of aches in his limbs and his hands had been hurting...and…

Snape cringed. Hesitantly he raised a hand to his eyes as if her touch had left a visible mark. Snape writhed a little. He sputtered but couldn't find words. He could only twist onto his side and put his back to Theophany. Even though she was sleeping he couldn’t look at her, crippled with embarrassment.

Why had he sent his Patronus to her? Not that he had other choices. There was no going back now, he hadn’t only accepted her help but requested it. His insides squirmed at the thought. Surely there had been some better option? His judgment must have been badly impaired.

Despite his emotional discomfort Snape felt himself growing sleepy again. Perhaps now that the sword was with Potter, his burden was a little lighter. This time, before he slept, he firmly put his mental barriers in place. Not that the Dark Lord could read his mind like Potter’s, but if he slipped just once…

Snape blinked. He’d slept again. Sunlight shone through the curtains but not enough to have awakened him.

“I’m going to kill you and all your friends…” someone whispered.

Snape reached for his wand. His stiff fingers caught in the blankets and he banged his elbow on the low table. Impaired though he was, he managed to get to a half seated position. On her knees by the farthest bookshelf Theophany Knapp looked up in surprise. In one hand was her wand, in the other a dustpan.

“You have an ant problem,” she said mildy.

Snape collapsed against his pillows again. His heart was still racing. If it had been a real emergency, he would be helpless. His head was aching and these blankets imprisoned him.

“My hands...aren’t working properly,” he gasped.

He heard Theophany get to her feet.

“Well, Severus, you’re recovering from severe hypothermia—”

Get these blankets off of me!” Snape snarled.

She obeyed but with a tolerant smile he found even more irritating. Theophany folded the blankets but kept a rug on his feet.

“Headache? Dry mouth? Pain in your limbs?”

“All of it.”

“You’ll feel drowsy again soon, so try to stay awake so I can dose you.”

“Unlikely I’ll sleep with you talking.”

“I’ll keep talking then. Do you know the last recorded wizard to freeze to death was Byron Widdersane in 1600 something? That’s because it’s hard for a magical person to die of exposure usually—”

“Are you calling me inept?”

“No, just saying it must have been an interesting situation.”

“Interesting?” Snape spluttered. “Only the most dire circumstances and the greatest need of secrecy forced my hand – otherwise I’d never have hidden it at such cost—”

“Hidden what?”

His jaws shut with a snap. The cold had compromised his thinking.

“Never mind. You aren’t going to explain, I suppose,” Theophany sighed.

Snape swore to himself she would get nothing further from him. She knew too much. Quicker than he could dodge she bent down and slipped the thermometer into his mouth. He might have spat it out, but she also held a hand against his forehead, causing him to freeze completely.

“Severus, if I’d poisoned you, you would have felt the effects by now,” she said patiently, mistaking his discomfort. “Don’t worry. You just have a mild fever.”

Theophany opened the potions cabinet. She looked different. Of course on previous occasions she had been fighting, tortured, or disguised.

“No Pepperup Potion?”

Snape shuddered. “Never keep it.”

“Given it a lot as a child, I bet. Sickly, were you?”

The Hogwarts nurse at the time, Madame Burntip, had always forced it on him, no matter how he was feeling.

“Not especially. The school nurse seemed to think so.”

Theophany rolled her eyes. “I wonder why.” She pushed her hair over her shoulder, “Oh well, I can whip something up I give the kids.”

Kids? She looked barely older than a graduate. Snape glanced at the hand she was using to lay out ingredients. There was a ring but on the wrong finger. Elaborate piece, though. He took in the rest of her. That was what was different. Of course, he’d forgotten the date.

“I apologize from pulling you away from the party.” He kept his tone sarcastic, but really it was a probe. Who had she been with and did they know she was here? “Rescuing me from the forest was enough; you could have left me here last night. Returned to the holiday festivities.”

“No, I couldn’t. You were close to, what’s it...ventric fibro-something–”

“Ventricular fibrillation,” Snape snapped. “And what about your children, then? While you’re playing at espionage?”

Theophany poured out a measure of peppermint oil.

“Dad’s with them. Our Dad. See they’re not mine they’re…” She carried the copper pot to the hearth and set it to warm. “See, Dad is really my stepfather. He’s a Muggle. Boniface and the twins, that’s Prosper and Compline, are his children. He married Mum when I was twelve. Jethro, he’s two years older, Silyn, he’s next oldest, Merryn, the eldest, and I all took his name, Knapp. Even though Silyn and Merryn were already adults when he married Mum. Clearer now? Maybe not. Anyway, Dad’s been a father to all of us.”

She smiled over her shoulder. “I like ‘Knapp’ a lot more than ‘Botterill’ anyway.”

Snape blinked. He was feeling slow despite having slept. He frowned. Needed to rouse himself.

“...why the difference in names?” he asked.

“What?”

“Merryn, Silyn, Jethro...all old Cornish names. But then —”

“—a mouthful like Theophany.” She laughed. “Grandpa, Mum’s dad, was a vicar, and she actually preferred names like mine, but our – well, our father who was hardly a father wanted strong, old-fashioned names. She only got to name me what she liked because I was a girl. He didn’t care about a daughter. He kicked us out when I was six.”

The warmth never left her eyes, but Theophany's voice became subdued.

“We had nowhere to go at first. Mum didn’t have any surviving relatives or work, and with three kids she couldn’t do live-in jobs. Even then it might have been easier without a difficult child.”

A smell of peppermint and sweet rose came from the pot. Theophany stirred it slowly; her head was lowered.

“It seems I became... feral. It’s all confused when I try and remember but...I wouldn’t let anyone touch me, I wouldn’t speak. My first magic happened when I was four, but suddenly it became more volatile after we left home. I mean, got kicked out.”

A young age to show magic. And dangerous.

Theophany continued a little more quickly, “Things would break, explode, catch fire. I guess I was angry. Silyn taught me to control my breathing, use it to try and remain calm. It didn’t fix me all at once. Even as a teenager I wouldn’t let my family touch me sometimes. Anyway, in times of stress I’ve kept going back to that...four counts breathe in and four counts out. Until recently. It seems I’ve finally outgrown it.”

She tossed her head dismissively and shrugged.

“Happy ending, though. Eventually Mum found the valley of the Dagda, and the Tuatha De Danann there. And my stepdad, Ephriam Knapp. He’s a farmer. I forget the absurd number of sheep we have. The Tuatha are outcasts and misfits like us. Mum was talented, very talented, so it wasn’t hard to fit in. She was the one that taught me to brew potions. Eventually she became the – well, someone very important in the community. When she died I was seventeen, the twins were two, and I just took over for her.”

The fire crackled.

“Outcasts and misfits,” Snape yawned. “You said before you had nothing against institutionalized learning. Yet you’ve stayed outside it by choice?”

“Choice?” Theophany brought the pot back to the table and poured it into a beaker. “Let’s see, there’s about two to three hundred students at Hogwarts every year, yes?”

“Two hundred and eighty-three.”

“Is that an average amount?”

Snape smiled crookedly. “Enrollment was a little down this year. Can’t think why. But it’s close, yes.”

Theophany set aside the beaker to cool.

“So say each one of those students graduates, grows up, and gets a job at the Ministry of Magic. There’s not enough of them to staff every department, only about sixty percent, so theoretically there will always be a need of Hogwarts graduates at the Ministry.”

“And?”

“Well, who staffs the remaining forty percent? What about all the shopkeepers, cauldron makers, Kneazle breeders, robe tailors, desk clerks—”

“You’re saying they are Tuatha de Danann?”

“No! I’m saying a large percentage of wizarding Britain doesn’t attend Hogwarts. If Hogwarts represented all of wizarding Britain, we would be less than one thousandth of the population, actually more like one sixty-thousandth, considering the population is around sixty million. The Tuatha is only different from the others in that, instead of choosing a trade, we follow a somewhat antiquated system of magical education handed down through the community.”

Snape was frowning.

“And I’m well aware that many Hogwarts students go on to be shopkeepers and the like,” Theophany added. “I only used the Ministry as a population example. Also non-Hogwarts graduates rarely get Ministry jobs.”

He was still frowning. “I wonder why your names never appear in the book.”

“The Hogwarts book and enchanted quill? There are theories. But to prove any one of them it would require understanding how the book works, and I believe that’s a secret of the founders.”

This wasn’t helping his head. Snape rubbed his forehead, and Theophany reached for the beaker.

“You want to sleep. Here, this should be cool enough.”

She offered the beaker but then quickly drew it back and swallowed a mouthful.

“Should we wait to see if I fall to the floor, frothing at the mouth?”

Wordlessly, Snape held out his hand. The potion was earthy and tasted strongly of peppermint, but it did much for the cobwebs in his mind and the chills that still chased up and down his spine.

Theophany gathered up the potions things. He could hear her cross the hall and turn on the kitchen sink. Listening to the sounds of dishes, he almost drifted back to sleep. Theophany entered again, her bare feet padding across the floor.

“Severus?” she whispered.

He grunted. Since when were they using first names?

“I’ll check on you again this evening.”

Now he was awake.

“That’s not necessary.”

“Shut up.” She continued to whisper, “I’m coming back. You’re not allowed to get up until then. You can lock me out if you like —” Theophany smiled. Her mouth did it crookedly, one side dropping self consciously while the other curved upwards.

“ —but I don’t recommend you try it.”
Chapter 14 by Meadowsweet
Author's Notes:
Woop woop we're back!
After such a stern injunction not to get up, Snape did. Additionally he locked the door and layered it in so many protective charms even Bellatrix would be delayed. He then collapsed back onto the sofa as the room began to tip most distastefully.

He had toyed with the idea of taking the Floo back to Hogwarts. Now that part of his task was accomplished, perhaps the portrait would reveal more to him. Moreover there was the problem of the Elder Wand. He needed to know if anyone was following his false trail. Had the Dark Lord sent someone to examine the Hall of Records or had certain files simply disappeared? Had they got as far as finding Arthur Murgolode, O.M., whose mother, Edwina Murgolode née Archer, had been the last descendent of a great pureblood line? Supposedly.

Frustrated, drowsy yet sleepless, Snape’s thoughts worked back to the problem of Theophany Knapp. From the problem to the person herself was a small step. Her uncanny ability for wandless and nonverbal spells likely stemmed from her childhood inability to speak. Then again, her wandless work seemed restricted to moving objects (not uncommon). But wordless jinxes? The exploding cabinet, that unfortunate Death Eater’s neck, could easily be the same Breaking Spell.

Then there was her upbringing. He understood why Theophany had been insulted when he called her a Dissident. Like the Tuatha, Dissidents formed small communes, but Dissidents claimed that wizarding kind needed to return to some “natural” state, that pure and true magic could only be learned outside of schools, and that government and order was an evil in itself. Theophany, though decidedly strange, was no anarchist.

He had been aware that not all of wizarding kind attended Hogwarts. It was, as she had said without rancour, merely a question of numbers. How did the book choose? Was it a concern that many talented individuals were not receiving a Hogwarts letter, or, if Theophany was an example, were they not hampered by their lack of formal education? Was this a fault in the system, or was it a strength, creating a diversity of magical disciplines? Severus Snape fell asleep without discovering an answer to any of his questions but one.

Hunger woke him. Yet the thought of food still turned his stomach. With tentative movements he tried sitting up. Better. Snape settled himself in a sitting position and glanced at the clock. Nearly six. It would be dark already. Had Theophany said what time she would return? His cuffs and collar were unbuttoned and he irately fastened them. Of course Theophany could be banging fruitlessly on the front door at this moment; he had spelled it against even knocking. She was confident, but she wouldn’t be able to break this kind of security. If he was going to use Theophany, he had to know. That was the only concrete conclusion he had reached..

Damn it, when had he started thinking of her as Theophany?


It was an odd name. Snape’s mind, tired of the old route between Potter, The Dark Lord, and the Elder Wand, jumped onto the little problem like a small rodent with a new wheel. The meaning eluded him, so he waited patiently to pounce when it showed itself. He knew the name. In fact he was certain it wasn’t really a name but something else...something like...an epiphany.

Some fifteen minutes later he heard steps in the hall. Snape leaned forward. He hadn’t heard any warning sounds from the front door. His wand was ready. It might not be Theophany. The footsteps stopped outside the library.

“Severus?” Theophany’s voice was calm. “If you don’t open this door, I’ll give it the same treatment as the front door, which is currently dripping down your front steps.”

Snape smiled and waved his wand. The spells unwound and the library door swung inwards. Theophany had changed from her previous finery to more practical robes. She still wore the ring, he noticed.

“Thank you. Your front door will resolidify within the hour, but it might never be the same. I did warn you.”

“Your inconvenience is immaterial. I was curious.”

Theophany paused in undoing her cloak.

“You made me spend twenty minutes disentangling every protective spell known to man because you were curious? You must be a real treat as a teacher –”

“—I need to ask you —”

“—You’re worse.”

Snape was thrown by the interruption.

“What? No, on the contrary your potion was excellent. No fever or pain –”

“Not what I mean. Before I left we had an actual conversation, granted I did most of the talking. But look at you now. You’re all broody and depressed and rude again.”

“My mood is none of your concern, nor will forced gaiety have any effect on the outcome of this war.”

“I’m not telling you to think positively. Drum your heels on the floor and scream if it helps, but do something that helps because right now you’re killing yourself.”

Snape raised his eyebrows at this dramatic declaration. Theophany leaned against the low table, almost at eye level with his seated position.

“Slowed cognitive process. Depression. High blood pressure. Physical deterioration. Eventual heart attack. The fact is sleep deprivation is killing you, and I’m guessing you don’t sleep because of stress, which only makes you more stressed so you sleep even less...”

“Yes, I understand it’s a vicious cycle. I’m aware.” He snarled, “What do you want me to do? Take a holiday?”

“Every day. I have my family, my work, I try to make life normal for the twins. And sometimes a good cry helps. You,” Theophany looked at him critically, “might start with having a sit down and cup a tea every day and thinking of something distracting — I don’t mean that thing I saw last night where you’re trying so hard not to think you can’t relax. Occupy your mind with something that refreshes it. Something trivial and silly and — oh, I don’t know, a crossword maybe.”

“Are you seriously lecturing me about taking pleasure in the little things?”

“Yes. Or just talk to someone. It doesn’t have to be me.”

Snape’s eyes flicked towards Theophany’s and away again. She couldn’t know Minerva had once said the same thing nearly twenty years ago.

“Or when was the last time you, I don’t know, took a walk or had a long hot bath —”

“There is nothing wrong with my hygiene!”

Theophany bore his glare nonplussed.

“O—okay. I touched a nerve there.”

Snape bit his cheek. That childish retort had burst out unbidden. As the silence grew longer, Theophany chewed her lip, crossed and recrossed her ankles and then cleared her throat.

“Chronic stress or anxiety disorder,” she began softly, “leads to alterations in our nervous systems and brain chemistry. Muggles are good at observing stuff like that. Even unconscious stress can trigger our nervous responses...so, um, I’m guessing you’ve been stressed most of your life and your body has dealt with it in several ways. Malnutrition, insomnia...”

She busied herself with her bag. It was small, but when she reached into it her arm disappeared to the shoulder.

“Night sweats are also common result of chronic stress...which would result in...among other things, greasy hair,” Theophany mumbled into her bag.

Snape wasn’t sure which he found more irritating, her embarrassment or his. Theophany finally unearthed a paper parcel from her bag. Tucking it under her arm she said brightly, “I’m going to make dinner. Then I want to hear whatever you wanted to ask me. Won’t be long!”

And she scuttled from the room. She wasn’t just persistent. She was a nosy busybody. Snape doubted he could eat but thought it best to let the air clear from that. The longer dinner took, the better.

The meal was a light broth with only the barest slivers of vegetables. There was also ginger tea sweetened with a little honey. A meal for an invalid. Theophany placed the tray on the table and unfolded his napkin for him.

“I was relieved to find you had tableware. Usually when someones says there’s nothing in the kitchen, there’s just nothing that goes together, but there’s actually nothing in your kitchen.”

She knelt opposite him, on the other side of the low library table, with her own bowl. It seemed he would have to watch her eat. Theophany noticed he hadn’t picked up his spoon. “Oh, of course, sorry.”

She reached across the table, and picked up his spoon.

“That’s not —” Severus started.

Theophany sipped some broth.

“Um, a little hot, but otherwise edible. I’ll get you a clean spoon, unless you think I’ll coat it in poison, then I suggest you force yourself to eat off this one.”

“It’s really not necessary you do that,” Snape said resignedly. “I’m sure you haven’t laced my food with something deadly. I’m not hungry.”

“Sip some tea and then try. You’re body is famished, even if you don’t feel like food.”

Snape wrapped his fingers around the hot mug. It was pleasant to hold, at least.

“What is it you wanted to ask?” Theophany prompted.

When she was sitting on the floor, the table nearly reached her chest. She didn’t look like someone who could dissolve a door and a few dozen protective charms. Or someone who was old enough to be taking care of children.

“It’s twofold.” Snape watched her carefully. “You haven't forgotten Professor Oglethorpe? Well, I am most eager to learn how his 'research' has been received by my...compatriots of the other side. There are two paths of inquiry. I wish to know if certain records have disappeared from the Ministry Archives.”

“Disappeared? Surely we could just check who has accessed them —?”

“Disappeared,” Snape repeated firmly. There would be no chances taken with the Elder Wand. “Anything to do with ancestral land holdings, birth registries, or anything else taking place between the years 1730 and the present that should be there but isn’t. In addition I need to know if an Arthur Murgolode, O.M., has been approached by anyone interested in his family history, estate, etc.”

He turned the mug in his hands warming his fingers. Theophany frowned, spoon suspended.

“Murgolode. That’s a familiar name. And you think he’ll tell me?”

“No, but his caretaker will. Murgolode is one hundred and sixteen and not in the best of health. It’s a private residence, not a care facility, so nothing so useful as a guest log will be kept. You will have to question the staff. And have a plausible reason for visiting.”

“When?”

“What?”

“When do you need me to go?”

“Too much time has been lost already.”

Theophany nodded. “Archives first thing in the morning. Anything missing from 1730 to now is a bit vague, but since you mention records of birth or property, I suppose you mean any documents from that time that could be used to identify or trace someone?”

Damn.


“Yes.” Snape said grudgingly. It was like having Granger in class again.

“How do you like your tea?”

Snape looked down. The mug was nearly empty. When had he…? Damn again. Theophany took his mug,

“I’ll get you some more. Try the soup.”

Part of victory was knowing when to concede defeat. Snape tried the soup. And finished the second mug of tea. Both stayed put in his shriveled stomach. Snape refused to acknowledge the pleasant sleepiness that was creeping over him and continued to brief Theophany. It was hard to be impressive while sunk on the couch, but Snape tried his best. Theophany, nursing her own mug, listened meekly.

“If anyone suspects that you’re looking for something or becomes suspicious of you in any way, you will be killed.”

“I understand.”

“No, you don’t. There is no way you could fully appreciate the severity of the situation, nor can I reveal it all to you. If you are suspected, you will be dead within the hour. Theophany?”

She appeared to be giving it real thought at least.

“I won’t do anything elaborate with disguises, but I’ll give false papers at the Ministry and a false name to Mr. Murgolode. Anything I do won’t be traced back to Theophany Knapp, and furthermore I will keep my investigations brief and succinct. Best if I don’t incur any suspicion, even with the false identity. If I don’t discover anything, I’ll move on quickly.”

“Are the false papers good?”

“They’ve been so far.”

It was really the only thing she could do to ensure safety. Snape didn’t like it. But what he did and didn’t like hadn’t mattered for the last seventeen years.

“Feel like you can sleep?”

Snape shook his head. The drowsiness was already slipping away.

“I’ve slept all day.”

Theophany reached for her purse. If it was a sleeping potion, he would refuse it. They did little more than make you unconscious, not a real sleep. Theophany produced a woolly muffler and gloves in deep orange. Snape slowly opened his mouth and closed it once before it saying, “No.”

Theophany retrieved his cloak for him.

“I said no.”

She dropped the gloves in his lap.

“Your hands might stiffen up again if they get cold, and we don’t want that after you were able to handle your spoon so skillfully. I was very impressed.”

To his horror she made to help him with the muffler, but he shielded himself frantically.

“Oh, come on!” she scolded. “After you’ve eaten and moved about a little, there’s a much better chance you’ll sleep. Or you can stare at the wall all night or whatever you usually do.”

Dread of a wakeful night rather than agreement drove him to put on the cloak and gloves. He refused the muffler.

A thick, brackish substance covered the steps and was dripping upwards slowly filling the door frame. Currently only a few inches of door had formed, and they could step over it. Until the door resolidified, Severus cast a Sealing Charm on the doorway.

The lack of streetlights and inhabited houses made the street very dark but the stars more visible. It was a perfectly clear night, the first after the Christmas snow. He bowed his head against the cold and focused on walking steadily.

“Don’t people turn their lights on at night?” Theophany grumbled. She stumbled on the uneven sidewalk, the slabs sunken and broken.

“Only one in three of these houses are occupied.”

“Oh. Good place for a safe house then.”

“Spinner’s End is not a safe house. Both sides know this location.”

Theophany leaned forward a little to look up into his face.

“So...that’s your house?”

“My father’s. I inherited it.”

“Oh. I mean it’s—”

“Don’t bother. Don’t pretend it has any particular charms.”

Theophany smiled. “Okay. Fair enough. So that’s your childhood home then? What about your mother?”

“Died when I was still a student at Hogwarts.”

“I’m sorry.”

He didn’t bother answering. The wind was surprisingly chill but not strong. He was grateful for the gloves. Despite their difference in height, Theophany was managing to match his stride. Given he was little slow tonight.

“How are you feeling?”

“Fine.”

“You seem the type to keep pushing yourself — but let me know the moment you’re tired.”

Snape made a noncommittal sound. They left Spinner’s End behind and turned onto the main street. Theophany pointed a mittened hand at the crumbling mill chimney on the horizon.

“How long has that been empty?

“Since the sixties. It was a milltown for most of the century. Before then it was a coal settlement, but most of the houses were built after that for the mill workers.”

“What did your father do?”

“After the mill? Not much. Whatever came along.”

“Must have been hard.”

“...More than it had to be.”

Again Theophany seemed to take the hint, and again she chose to ignore it. Instead of avoiding the past she just changed directions.

“When was the first time you did magic?”

What was next? His favourite colour?

“I was seven. Of course I’d been trying for ages, I was desperate to know that I could. It happened down there.”

He jerked his chin. Ahead, the dry river bed curved to run under a cement bridge before it met the mill beyond.

“It was full of rubbish then too, though there was still a little water. The only place I could go undetected. There were usually a few unsavory types beneath the bridge, but they left me alone and I didn’t care about them.”

“And no one cared you were down here, at seven years old?” Theophany said between her teeth.

Snape coughed, the air cold in his chest. Her protective instinct was ridiculous for her size. More to needle her than anything else, Snape continued, “I was trying to lift a pebble and balance it on a rusty can. I was concentrating so hard I don’t really know what I moved, but somehow the burnt-out automobile in front of me Levitated about three inches. I was triumphant until I realized that vehicle had been supporting the pile of trash I was standing on.”

Theophany winced. Her footsteps had slowed while she listened.

“There was something of a collapse, and as I fell I dropped the car nearly on my own legs.”

She was a good audience. Gasping in all the right places.

“As it was, it took me an hour to dig myself out. No harm done.”

“Did you get in trouble?”

His clothes had been ruined and the punishment for that had been severe.

“...well, not entirely no harm done —”

Snape coughed again and kept coughing. Theophany took his arm.

“Let’s go back.”

“It’s fine. I’m not even tired.”

“You will be by the time we walk back.”

“We can always Apparate.” Snape had spent the past twenty-four hours locked in that house. He wouldn’t spend another hour he didn’t have to.

From her cloak pocket Theophany pulled the muffler. It was so really so very wooly and orange. Snape eyed it.

“Wear it,” she ordered.

With an ungracious sigh Snape drapped the muffler around his neck. Theophany reached up and wrapped it snugly over his nose and mouth; her mittens were scratchy. They completed the turn where the riverbed met the road and turned west. Crossing back by a second bridge, they approached Spinner’s End from the opposite way. Theophany put a hand under his arm at the steps but he drew away.

“I can manage.”

“There are leftovers and more ginger —”

“I can manage.”

The front door had solidified again but had a new, curiously rippled texture. Snape pushed it open and it squeaked.

“See you in the morning,” was all Theophany said. Severus only nodded, and she Disapparated. The crack echoed in the empty street.

Snape locked and double locked the traitorous door. Now it had failed him once, he would never again trust it. He paused in the hall, only dimly lit by the single light of the library. Upstairs seemed even more cold and remote, the library warm but claustrophobic. He wasn’t hungry, though the warmth was making him sleepy. Snape slowly climbed the stairs. Perhaps a long hot bath…?

For the second time that day, Theophany walked the path to The Mill. This morning she had hurried, anxious to assuage any worries about her sudden departure from the party. Now, even after the walk around Cokeworth, she wasn’t tired at all and found herself dawdling.

Theophany knew she was probably smothering Severus with attention, but she wanted to be close enough she couldn’t be shut out again. Severus Snape had a habit of pushing people away even before they got close. Theophany had felt the barriers go up the moment he opened his eyes. She had to vault each of those barriers, disregard warning signs, and plow ahead against each arctic blast that howled at her to keep out.

Theophany winced when she remembered how insufferable she’d been this evening. A total disregard for personal space and preferences. She’d bullied him mercilessly. That boldness wasn’t likely to win his trust and friendship, but even if she was a thorn in his side, at least she’d be there. Annoying and persistent but ready to help.

If she was honest with herself, and Theophany always tried to be, it wasn’t just for the war or his self-proclaimed “mission”. If that were so, it wouldn’t matter if he didn’t trust her and forced her out. If he contacted her only in the most dire of circumstances with no explanation, and no thanks, Theophany would accept that if she had cared only for the cause. But she didn’t.

The lower field, where the silver doe had run to her the night before, was no longer pristine but crisscrossed with animal tracks and the dustings of bird wings where they landed to pick through for spilled feed and crop stubble. Theophany swung on the gate, her breath leaving a miniature stream of mist hanging in the air.

She had to admit to herself that she couldn’t walk away and be only an occasional comrade in arms. Was this curiosity or her habit of protecting and sheltering? Did she like Severus Snape and want to help him for his own sake, or was it some kind of mothering complex? Theophany frowned for a moment, then surprised herself with a shudder and laugh. Honestly, the thought of mothering him was a little repulsive. She wondered why. Complex or Compassion?

Theophany swung the gate closed and jumped off. It hurt, she knew, to be alone. She knew better the hurt and agony of watching someone struggle alone and not being able to help. If she could and even wanted to stretch out a hand, then shouldn’t she?

Severus Snape woke to the sound of dishes. Again. He’d fallen asleep on the couch in his spare robes. Muttering curses, he buttoned his collar and hurried out into the hall.

“Knapp!” he bellowed. “This is a private residence, not a hotel, and didn’t I say the Archives were of utmost importance!”

The kitchen smelled of something wonderful. Theophany was at the stove,

“Oh good, you’re awake. I was already at the Archives this morning. I said first thing, didn’t I?”

Snape could only stare. He couldn’t put his finger on what exactly made her hideous, just the individual details. Theophany was wearing all black, but instead of being elegant, it was oddly dowdy. Her hair was piled with combs and twinkling pins. In addition she was wearing makeup and it was hideous. Cakey. The smile lines around her eyes and mouth made haggard cracks in a yellow mask. Her eyebrows, thick and serious already, were penciled into arches of inhuman heights and her eyelashes so blackened she had smudges under her eyes that made her look at least as old as he felt. Theophany returned his look quizzically,

“What? Oh, right. I haven’t changed yet. I’m famished.”

Snape found his voice. “I’m glad one of us is.”

“Just try a bit of food, you may be surprised.”

“Go change.”

“What?”

“Knapp. Go change. I have no intention of eating with Eargit the Ugly’s maiden aunt.”

When Theophany laughed, it was full and unoffended.

“It’s ghastly, I know. Alright, I’ll just be a minute.”

She place the spatula in his hand and swept from the room. Snape wasn’t sure what she wanted him to do with the spatula, so he poked at the pan of sausages in a desultory way. Theophany reentered in her own clothes, face scrubbed slightly pink, hair loose behind her, and looking about eighteen. Was there spellwork involved?

“How old are you?” Snape asked point blank.

Theophany’s grimaced. “I know it’s because I’m small, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. I’m twenty-seven, I swear.”

Snape eyed her skeptically; it was more than just being short. Her face, build, everything spoke to being years younger than that. Why she needed to hide her true age he didn’t know or care, but he let her feel his doubt as he handed back the spatula.

“What happened at the Archives?”

“Nothing.”

“What kind of nothing?”

“Nothing to be found. Not one file had been moved, or disappeared, in fact I was told I’m the first in months to request anything from that area in particular.”

So they hadn’t double-checked Oglethorpe’s “research” and had gone straight for Murgolode. Snape had hoped that the Death Eaters who found the scroll would have carefully corroborated the information before presenting it to the Dark Lord. Murgolode’s status and age should protect him from danger. As long as there was the smallest chance he might be lucid enough to share any information about his supposed ancestor, Arcus, then they would leave him unharmed.

“Then we can be certain that he has sent someone to Murgolode.”

Theophany paused in her work.

“By ‘he’ do you mean...him?”

Snape nodded. She bent her head over the pan again. The light had left her and she was pale. He proceeded cautiously.

“I understand from the letter you wrote that you saw him, that night in Godric’s Hollow.”

“Yes, I did.” She didn’t raise her head, “and I don’t know how you — how you can do what you do.”

“His physical appearance is the least of it.”

“I know, I’m not talking about the way he looks. How he even became that I can’t guess...but that’s the first time I’ve felt something evil. It touches everything around him,” Theophany whispered. She kept her eyes averted. “The evil is inside burning to get out, looking for someone more to consume. How can you bear feeling it? It isn’t just his face, he is ugliness and evil and — and cruelty...how could you ever…?”

She wouldn’t look at him. If he didn’t answer, would he lose her trust? Would she refuse to help if she doubted him? Snape tried the most brief of explanations. She should remember whom she helped.

“But I did. I bear the Dark Mark. At the time the world was ugliness; or so it seemed to me. He seemed no worse than anything else. Now I bear it only because I must.”

Theophany looked up at him finally. Her eyes weren’t judgmental but perhaps a little speculative. Did she expect more? Theophany looked down at the browning omelette in the pan.

“Think you can eat?” she asked.

“I’ll try.”

“Then here. And tell me all about Murgolode, Order of Merlin Second Class.”

Snape accepted the plate but he still didn’t like this plan. The fact it was his only option didn’t guarantee its success. He’d even toyed with the idea of using Polyjuice and going himself, but any chance of being recognized put Dumbledore’s plan into jeopardy. Best not let Theophany see just how anxious he was, so he poured a cup of coffee and started to talk.

Theophany waited for a bus to pass before crossing the street. The address was in London, so she’d decided to walk there openly. Nothing to hide. Muggles' eyes slid past her, her Repellant Charm making her so uninteresting as to be invisible. As she walked, she reviewed everything Severus had told her.

Arthur Murgolode had been an intelligent investor in his youth; owning a large share of Cleansweep Manufacturing got him his first million Galleons. He earned his Order of Merlin, Second Class, during the Goblin riots of 1930. Apparently he had acted as a liaison and diffused some extremely sticky situations. Theophany thought that “riots” was a misnomer, as Goblins were by nature orderly persons and their idea of rioting was simply refusing to do anything and getting very nasty when pressed. Of course if this had been a riot of centuries past, then heads would have indeed rolled and not figuratively.

They decided to use the Goblins as their entry point. As of this morning she was Theodosia Kirkebrittle, an intern at the Prophet and an activist for social change. She wanted to interview Murgolode about his time working with the Goblins to support her paper, which she would be submitting to a conference of Magical Law Enforcement trainees in Aberdeen next month. The paper called for higher restrictions on non-wizard magical activity, rights specific to the needs of the community without extending wizarding rights to nonhumans. The words oozed out, making her want a very hot and clean shower. Severus Snape had added a few talking points in case she was questioned closely.

“And always mention the economic risk of leaving wizarding wealth in the hands of malcontents,” he’d drawled. “They like that one, makes racial discrimination a practical necessity.”

“Your years as a spy must have been an education.”

“My education in pureblood politics started long before then,” he’d replied.

Severus Snape was fascinating. Textbook example outcome of an unhappy childhood, but then not so typical on closer examination. No self pity there. He used his bitterness and cynicism like a weapon. It was all he was holding onto. Unlike so many that merely held a hope for a better future, he clung like death to a bare, unsentimental determination of making it so.

He was acerbic and sarcastic, and Theophany liked him for it. He was a friend, and that, she thought, was that. Of course he would continue to look for ulterior motives in her actions, which was amusing in its own way. Amusing. Yes, she found Severus amusing. He’d be insulted by that. Maybe it would be better to say she enjoyed his company?

Surly as he had been this morning, he had checked and rechecked her papers, quizzed her on her identity, and repeated everything he knew about Arthur Murgolode twice. It was like having yet another brother worrying over her. She took his warnings to heart and realized the danger must be very real to put Severus on edge.

There were many grand houses on this street. Most of them were converted to luxury flats with doormen, in-house dry cleaning, and maximum security. The houses were built right up to the street, their pale Edwardian fronts rising to distinguished but not flamboyant heights. Theophany guessed their back gardens were over-manicured delights of order and quiet taste. She rang the bell at the front door of 118. There was no letter after the number frosted gracefully on the leaded glass, so she assumed Murgolode still owned the entire building. A barrel-chested wizard opened the door, his robes a light blue on which he’d pinned his Healer’s badge.

“Good morning,” Theophany said, pleasant but crisp. Theodosia was a professional woman, aiming straight for the top. “I’m Theodosia Kirkebrittle. I wrote yesterday evening about an interview?”

The Healer had a pleasant face with a rubber quality that allowed him a most impressive range in expressions. As she spoke, he had changed from polite interest, to dedicated listener, to delighted recognition, and now complete desolation.

“Oh, my dear Miss Kirkebrittle, I should have written you back at once had I known you would be coming by so soon. Mr. Arthur is sadly indisposed. I really don’t know if he’s up for a visitor, you know —” he lowered his voice to an awed whisper. “He’s one hundred and sixteen!”

Theophany said that she had known, yes, and if he’d be so kind as to check?

“I only hope that I stay half as sharp as him for half as long!” The Healer’s face bounced back from earnest awe to self mockery in an instant. He was very distracting.

“Come in, come in. I can at least give you a cup of tea while I check if he’s agreeable to visitors. You’ve come all this way.”

“Thank you so much. It’s not far really, and it’s such a lovely part of the city.”

Theophany hung her cloak on a peg only for the Healer to remove it instantly. He shook it out and created three pleats on each side with a deft pinch of his fingers, before hanging it precisely by the hood so the pleats hung just so.

“Sorry, dear. It’s the training we get at St. Mungo’s, makes neat freaks out of slobs and compulsive lunatics out of neat freaks.” He winked. “Guess which one I am!”

Theophany laughed appreciatively, hiding her nervousness. She was herded into a sitting room, done very nicely in pale green and white, and served tea. She found she was too nervous to drink it and moved around the room. Checking herself in the mantle mirror she saw a young witch, well dressed, fresh faced, a little serious looking with those heavy brows.

“I’m sorry, love, but Mr. Arthur is still resting. In this weather, can’t be too careful at his age, a nip can become a cold can become influenza just like that! But you have a month until this big do in Aberdeen, yes? Surely if you come back…?”

Theophany showed her dismay. “Yes, but all papers need to be submitted before that date...you must think me terribly sloppy for requesting a last minute interview, but I’ve learnt that Alexius Doge — I’m sure you’ve heard the name — will be submitting a paper, and we’ve come so close to passing legislation on subhumans that I could simply scream with frustration when I think of that man twisting Mr. Murgolode’s words around—”

“You’ve lost me, dear. Are you saying this Mr. Doge knows Mr. Murgolode?”

Theophany paused in staged confusion.

“You mean he hasn’t called here yet? I have quite good information that he intended to interview Mr. Murgolode and use his comments against the cause. So I came to set the record straight. He hasn’t come?”

“No, no.” The Healer’s eyebrows wagged up and down. “That name is news to me.”

Theophany grinned but let it slip away.

“Do you think he...could have given a false name?” she whispered. “One reads about these things.”

The Healer stretched his mouth downwards, a stage mask of sorrow.

“Ye-es, one does.” He shook his head. “So you want to know who’s called, just in case?”

“Surely that would be an invasion —”

“Ye-es, it would.” He bobbed his head. “But I can assure you, dear, no one’s come since we’ve been here.”

The sitting room door opened and two wizards entered. Their clothes were shabby under their black cloaks. The first was fair with a prescription-worthy squint, the second nondescript but for unfortunate dental resemblance to a rabbit.

The Healer turned his head towards them and barked, “Not yet.” Then his voice returned to its former sweetness. “Now dear, I’d like to ask some questions.”

Theophany smoothed her hands on her skirt. “I–I don’t understand. I didn’t ask you to do anything illegal like read his mail, you’re the one who volunteered information —”

“Of course I did. We’ve been waiting to see who showed up. Our office is displeased, very displeased, with someone messing about with the pureblood records. Oglethorpe I think was the name? Some washout of a professor writing some dissertation proving that the Archer family are descendents of the Arcus of legend. We can’t have this sort of thing. The Sacred Twenty-Eight are sacred because genealogy is more than a science but a closely guarded art. Do you know what would happen if it suddenly became the Sacred Twenty-Nine? Chaos! Every Smith and Brown, Tom, Dick, and Harry, would be unearthing great aunts with hyphenated names claiming purebood status, and our advancement as not just a society but a race could be set back for generations.”

The Healer sat down, pinching his robes at the knee to create a loose crease.

“Naturally when these gentlemen brought Professor Oglethorpe’s, thank goodness, yet unpublished work to us for verification, we were aghast. I had been assigned to St. Mungo’s for sometime, but was asked to look after Mr. Murgolode here, waiting to see who expressed an unusual interest.”

“I’m sorry!” Theophany burst into tears. “I don’t know any Oglethorpe. I just want my paper published. Do you know how many years I would have to work at the Prophet to even get a piece on the eighth page? I’m sorry I intruded, but I don’t know what you want me to do!”

“Now, there, there, girl. It’s alright, don’t go all to pieces. Someone paid you, or threatened you, into making inquiries and we just need a name. That’s all!”

Theophany hiccoughed. “A–are you with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement? Am I under arrest?”

“No, no. The Muggle-Born Registration Commision. Claims and Verification Division.” The Healer smiled. “I was posted at St. Mungo’s because everyone needs medical attention at some point, easiest way to separate the sheep from the goats, as it were. Working here has been such a nice change, Mr. Arthur is such an interesting man; we’ve had some very educational conversations. However,” he sighed, “duty is duty and all good things must come to an end. So please, Miss Kirkebrittle, who sent you?”

“Alexius Doge —”

“No. No, no. Let’s not do that again. Elphias Doge’s nephew is out of the country, has been since the beginning of the war. He lobbies for so-called equal rights from a safe distance. No, dear, who sent you really?”

The two Death Eaters, Theophany assumed they were Death Eaters, moved closer into the room. The Rabbit one flanking the Healer on his left and Squinty one on the right. While she was in here, she was caught in a bottle. If she could make it to an exit there was a chance for her. The Healer hadn’t given a name, but the Death Eaters weren’t hooded, so there was no doubt she wouldn’t be allowed to leave here, no matter how truthful she became.
End Notes:
Thank you for reading! And a round of applause for the site being back!
Chapter 15 by Meadowsweet
Still playing innocent, Theophany hadn’t drawn her wand. The Healer leaned forward, fleshy smile in place.

“Nothing? Not even a hint? I’ll have to have a tiny hint.”

Theophany wasn’t fast enough to block the spell. Expecting a jinx or the Cruciatus Curse, her breath was stopped by the explosion of images in her mind. The Spiny Serpent, the wood around Jacka’s cottage, suddenly the library at Spinner’s End —

Stop!

The Shield Charm she cast with her hand probably didn’t stop him, but the surprise did. Both Death Eaters had their wands drawn in alarm.

“Well, well! Gentleman, have either of you seen that before? How very talented of you! But best not fight, dear, so much more difficult.”

Theophany was brought to her knees by the next round. Dad’s face, Mum’s face, a toy horse bursting into flames. Why was he looking at childhood memories? Were they trying to confirm her identity?

“Luv, it’s sweet you care so much for your family, but you seem to have them on the brain. And nothing about your home? I can’t see where it is — Does anything else occupy that mind of yours? Something more recent, hmm? Focus now.”

Theophany balled her hands and sent a jinx at the chair leg. It snapped, sending the Healer barrelling backwards. It was infantile, but it bought her a few seconds. The Eaters put their wands on her, but she didn’t make another move. The Healer had smacked his head quite painfully in his fall, which gave her a moment.

Theophany’s mind raced. So if she didn’t think it, he couldn’t see it. Her mind wasn’t his to rifle through at will. What to think – what to hold onto to and crowd out anything else – something she knew so well she could remember it in every detail. Theophany’s mind raced through The Mill. Something she could remember with all her senses, Mum’s cooking, Dad’s laugh, the fort they built when she was ten, lying on her stomach on the braided rug of the living room, Dad sitting at the old spinet with Prosper on his lap guiding his fingers across the keys like he had done with Theophany —

The Healer was on his feet. His face was no longer animated rubber but a mask, smooth and cold. Theophany watched him. She had it. The Healer’s voice was no longer friendly but taut.

“Now that that’s out of your system –”

Behind him the door drifted open. He paused. The two Death Eaters exchanged glances, and Rabbit walked over to the door and looked into the hall beyond. He shook his head at Squint but stepped out to investigate, shutting the door behind him. Squint shifted uneasily. Now there were only two, but Theophany couldn’t spare any thought for attack, she had to defend her mind. The Healer pointed his wand and Theophany struck the key on the spinet, Dad’s hand over her ten year old hand, his voice singsong.

“Sing it, ‘A’!”

The note she’d hummed after hearing Dad repair the string.

“A!” she’d sung back in her childish pitch, feeling the vibration through the key.

The note filled her head.

A.

Tuning pitch. Theophany’s eyes were closed. She couldn’t see the wizard in front of her, stopped thinking about him. Filled her body with the vibration.

A.

440 hertz. She’d been so proud to show Dad that she could sing it perfectly without the piano. Now her body was filled with it, Theophany felt it should fill the room, let it overflow. Theophany mentally turned up the volume.


A!

The Healer smacked her across the face.

“Are you simple?

Theophany tasted blood.

“Have you no thoughts in that head at all only – only that endless tone? God! My ears are ringing!”

He stooped and grabbed her face in one hand, squeezing her cheeks against her teeth. Her cut lip split as she was dragged to her feet, head forced back. He released her only to grip her neck instead, lifting her feet from the floor.

“Now you...” he panted, “are going to listen to me –”

From the corner of her eye Theophany saw a light. A spell as slow as gossamer drifted towards them. It settled on the Healer, and Theophany saw his eyes bulge and felt his grip tighten. She choked. Saw the Squint turn, frantically looking for the source of the spell. The Healer’s hand shook and then released her. Theophany hit the floor as he fell to his knees, a rictus grin on his face before he toppled over.

Squint turned on her, but another spell from the invisible source dispatched him. Theophany took rattling breaths. Someone was in the room with her. The Disillusionment Charm worked best stationary; once you moved, your form could be seen, sliding from illusion to illusion as the figure was sliding towards her now.

“Severus?” she croaked.

“Can you stand?”

“Yes.”

“There are more watching the house. We’ll have to draw them from their posts if we want to leave unnoticed. There’s an Anti-Disapparition Jinx on the house.”

Theophany nodded. She gripped an unseen hand and got to her feet. The Healer’s broken chair Levitated and hovered a moment before being sent through the window with a resounding crash. Theophany’s hand was pulled in the opposite direction.

“We don’t leave that way!” Severus hissed, “Find the back door. I’ll be behind you.”

Not being able to see him was disconcerting — she would have to trust that he was nearby. Drawing her wand, Theophany carefully eased the door open; the hall would only be empty for a few more minutes.

“They will circle around to the back as well,” she said softly. “How many?”

“Enough.”

Theophany slipped into the hall, leaving the door open for Severus. This hallway ran parallel to the front of the house. They needed a room on their left to be empty, or another hall running perpendicular to this. The marble and minimal furnishings were pleasing to the eye, but not when you were prey. Speed or caution? Theophany crept along the wall, testing doors. Locked. Alohomora did nothing. This house was carefully prepared for attack.

There was a clatter from inside a room, and she froze. Footsteps. But not just inside. They echoed off the walls, coming from all directions. Descending the stairs, running from the front. They had to move now. The first Eater turned the corner, a green light snaking from his wand. A low hiss came from him as he saw Theophany, caught like a rabbit in the open. Theophany, preferring escape over attack, cast a Shield Charm and ran. The spell burst against the shield, flaring briefly.

Theophany hoped Severus was staying close. They needed a door now, and she didn’t care which one it was. She chose the double doors at random, chancing they would lead to more than a broom closet, and hit them with a jinx. They cracked, and splinters showered the floor and Theophany. She pushed through the doors, asking her invisible companion, “Are you okay?”

There was no answer. She couldn’t go back, couldn’t look for him. There was shouting behind her.

“There’s two of them! One’s under Disillusionment, stay in pairs.”

The room was empty with another set of doors at the other end. Theophany listened, silence beyond. These were unlocked and she was able to pass through two more rooms without meeting anyone. In the passage beyond there were three Eaters waiting. Theophany slammed the door she’d just opened and felt their jinxes hit the wood. She could smell smoke.

Retracing her steps, she found all sides were cut off, except the staircase. They were driving her away from the exits. Once she climbed the stairs she would be trapped, unable to Disapparate. Perhaps sensing her hesitation, the enemy moved in. The one leading looked astonishingly thin, even ill. His two companions more than made up for it and were built like ape men. Theophany was forced up the staircase, blocking curses. With three of them she couldn’t slow enough to return fire, but of course they couldn’t know she didn’t need her wand to jinx.

The closest Ape Man dropped like a stone, his neck hanging at a macabre angle. Theophany didn’t drop her shield, but the Eaters paused, stopping now at the bottom step, wordlessly blocking her way. But they did not press closer. Theophany continued to back up the stairs, keeping her wand on them. They didn’t seem interested in pursuing her, but she didn’t flatter herself that she frightened them. They knew she was outnumbered.

Theophany found herself in the upstairs hall, alone. This quiet stalking was getting on her nerves. They knew she was here, but they wouldn’t rush her. She was being herded and penned in. Where the hell was Severus?

She tried the closest door. These weren’t locked. Bedrooms, furniture covered in drop cloths. Storage in others. She seemed alone up here, unless Mr. Arthur was, in fact, still alive. She had assumed, despite his Pro-Pureblood politics, he would be a hostage. Yet the Healer had sounded on good terms with him. Time to meet Mr. Arthur.

The rooms were curiously empty, suspiciously silent. Three rooms revealed nothing. The fourth had a cot made up, a kettle, and a wireless set. A nurse’s room. So the adjacent room must be Murgolode’s. Theophany drew her wand and padded softly over the carpet. The pile was thick and silenced her footsteps. Carefully easing open the door, she peered through.

The room beyond was too dark until her eyes adjusted. There was a confusing amount of medical paraphernalia, both magical and Muggle. The elevated hospital bed was dwarfed by the towers of machines and cabinets of potions. Smaller still was the figure that lay there, barely able to lift the hand that gestured to her.

“Come in.”

There was no one else present. Theophany didn’t lower her wand.

“Come in,” Murgolode croaked again. “Are you the guest that’s caused all this uproar I hear?”

“That was entirely unintentional,” Theophany replied mildly.

“My staff can become overexcited.”

“Well, sir. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but it’s not just your staff down there.”

“They are all my staff now.”

Definitely not a hostage.

“Then you can call them off.”

“Why would I do that? I’m as curious about you as they are.”

Theophany looked around.

“What’s all this for?”

“For? To stay alive.”

“What for?”

The shrunken lips moved as if savoring something.

“Victory. Victory of wizarding kind. I want to see it...with my own eyes.”

“You’re not going to–”

Her jinx snapped the wires of the first two machines and toppled a potions cabinet.

“–unless you call them off.”

Murgolode might have been laughing, had his lungs had more air than they had dust.

“You can’t touch me! I’m learning immortality!”

“Let’s test it then.”

A door, cleverly set in the wall paneling, burst open. These would be his personal guards. Unlike the beasts below, they were trained, efficient. The two of them were identical in military haircuts and Auror uniforms. They tried to disarm her, but Theophany blocked the jinx, sending one flying into the other potions cabinet. The second closed in, but he was taking his time. Footsteps could be heard. He was waiting for reinforcements. Out the window was a one story drop to the ground floor. It could be done but she’d be hit in the back while trying to climb out.

Theophany tried a Freezing Charm, but the Death Eater blocked. He seemed reluctant to engage with Murgolode in the room.

“Why are they protecting you?” Theophany asked aloud. “You have nothing to offer them.”

“Influence. Power. Money. All these things make me valuable.”

The reinforcements would arrive in seconds. Theophany kept her eyes locked on the Death Eater but mentally reached for the bed. The metal bars squeaked and slowly bent inwards. The Eater flicked his eyes from Theophany’s wand to the bed and back. The bars snapped, jagged ends lowering over the patient.

“What? What are you doing?” Murgolode struggled as if he would sit up.

“This jinx has always come easily to me. Never needed my wand for it...just a Cutting Jinx, but if I do it slowly enough–”

The metal rods groaned and buckled further inwards.

“—or I could do it fast, a snap of the neck. Over in seconds.”

The door burst open. These were the real Eaters, not the thugs or Ministry goons. Their faces were covered in masks sporting horns or tusks, carved into serpents or laughing gargoyles.

“No, you fools, don’t touch her!” Murgolode shrieked from his lethal bed, which continued to bend inwards like a wilted steel flower.

The Eaters hesitated. He’s a fool, Theophany realized. Whatever information they think I have is worth more to their master than him. A snake-masked Eater pointed his wand, not at Theophany, but at Murgolode. The Killing Curse scathed the darkness, illuminating the room for a second that felt too short to take a life. Murgolode was silenced, but the room was chaos. The dark was lit by jinxes, and Theophany blocked as many as she could, but something hot seared her arm and a second volley nearly incapacitated her. She needed space and time to react. There was a cry, and one Death Eater collapsed. Those standing closest spun about looking for their new adversary, and Theophany attacked the closest gargoyle.

Obliviate!”

Her target dropped without a sound. Theophany wanted no description of her, no report to make its way back to You-Know-Who. The fight in the doorway was confused as the Eaters tried to pin down their adversary without hitting each other. It had to be Severus, but there were too many even for him, surely. Theophany stunned another Eater and wiped his memory when a hand caught her by the hair. She kicked but the Death Eater only grunted and didn’t release her, his other hand forcing her wand away. Her scrabbling hands only found the cold metal of his mask and the sharp nub of horns.

“Let’s see if your friend will come out of hiding, eh?” he hissed in her ear.

Theophany arched her back.

“He won’t.”

The Death Eater screamed as his fingers snapped, their loose ends tangled in Theophany’s hair. She pulled herself free, tugging painfully on his broken hand. He clawed at her, knocking her back, but she kicked his hand away. She’d just Obliviated him when a curse hit her in the back of the neck. Pain raced down her spine and through her head. Everything went black. But she could hear the shuffling of feet and muttered curses. She was still conscious. Theophany was on all fours, staring at the floor.

“I can’t see,” she whispered.

Someone pushed her, or tripped over her. She was flung to one side and scrambled to her feet. She could be facing any direction, in any part of the room. Vertigo gripped her.

I can’t see!” she shrieked.

Had he heard? The others had. Theophany was grabbed by the shoulder and dragged forward; another got her arm behind her back, pinning it painfully against her shoulder. Theophany opened her eyes wide in pain but saw nothing. The one in front of her grunted and fell back. Whoever was gripping her from behind hissed softly, “Don’t move any closer or I’ll–”

He didn’t need to finish and he never did. Theophany felt her arm released and something fall against her. She stumbled forward but was caught by two hands on her arms.

“Hold onto me,” Severus whispered, “and run.”

Theophany got a fistful of his robes somewhere by the back of his shoulder, and when he pulled away, she kept close to his side. Were they going to push through the Death Eaters? A jolt went down her arm and there was the sound of breaking glass. They’d gone through the window. She was falling with no way to right herself. Which way was land, which was sky? It seemed an eternity before she landed, though it was surprisingly soft.

Severus was pulling her to her feet again, and they were running. Even a lawn as perfectly manicured as this must be wasn't perfectly smooth, and Theophany stumbled more than once, but her grip never broke. Without that grip she was adrift in total darkness. Holding on was the only thing keeping her from panic. Severus stopped and pulled her to one side. She felt his hand on her head, forcing her down out of sight.

“There’s three” he said very softly, “at the gate. If I hex one, the others will turn on us and reveal our location to our pursuers.”

“Where are we?”

“Behind the garden wall.”

Theophany kept her head very still. Turning about did nothing but worsen her vertigo.

“Can you get them to make a sound?”

“What?”

“So I can hear where they are. Then we both attack, two down at once, so that only leaves one more. You can handle that, right? I’ll go for the rightmost Eater.”

Snape didn’t ask her if she was certain. But there was a pause. Was he examining her face? She wasn’t even sure if he was facing her. Was he even visible yet?

She felt Snape stand up, keeping close to the wall. Theophany put both hands on his right shoulder, following behind. They stopped. Theophany held her breath, listening. Under her fingers she felt Severus’s shoulder move as his wand hand came up. He must have used some form of stinging hex for the cries were short and surprised but painful. Theophany raised her arm swiftly, an accusatory finger pointing at her unseen target. The short yelp she’d heard was only a few meters away. She couldn’t miss.

Crack.

Someone screamed, and she knew it was the same wizard who had yelped. He would be on the ground, one leg twisted under him or jutted out at a wrong angle. Severus had swiftly hexed the two remaining wizards and was dragging her after him. Their way was clear, but their pursuers wouldn’t be far behind.

They ran into the street. Jostled and disoriented, Theophany was breathing raggedly. What time was it? Was there any light at all? She was in complete darkness. The sidewalk seemed to heave under her. She couldn’t seem to guess its rise and fall and ended up scuffing her feet or falling against Severus repeatedly. He moved sidewise suddenly, and she nearly lost him, but one long hand grabbed her and pulled her after. She felt a rough wall against her shoulder.

“Can you see anything at all?” he whispered.

He was standing close. The Death Eaters wouldn’t be far behind. Theophany shook her head, not trusting her voice. A traitorous sob was clawing up her throat.

“I can reverse the spell but,” Severus was saying, “but light will be painful. Here.”

Her sleeve was hanging loose from the hex that had burned her. With a rip Snape freed it and she felt cloth pass over her face.

“I’m tying this over your eyes. Keep your eyes closed at all times or the damage might be permanent. Ready?”

Theophany didn’t dare nod, her stomach was in knots, the ground unstable. Her voice betrayed her and wobbled.

“Yes.”

She felt nothing. Couldn’t see the light of his counterspell or the merest shadow of movement. Her darkness was unchanged. Had it worked?

“Did anyone else see your face?”

Theophany tried to focus on answering the question,

“Only the Death Eaters in Murgolode’s room. I–I Obliviated three –”

“The others are dead.”

He stepped away. Did he keep walking? Was he still there at her side? In sudden panic Theophany reached out. Her hand caught at empty air. Nothing. She couldn’t hear him, didn’t dare call his name in case someone heard it.

“Wait – wait…?” she pleaded, her voice barely a whisper.

“What?” he snapped.

Severus’s voice was on her other side. He’d moved past her to check the street. Theophany reached out and felt his shoulder. She gripped it with both hands and brought her face close.

Don’t let go of me!

Again a pause before he answered.

“Are you injured?”

“I’m – I’m...n–no, just dizzy.”

She heard the scrape of his robes against the wall as he drew back out of sight.

“We’ll have to Apparate. If you’re not injured then–”

“No, wait–”

The world was already spinning, but now it took a dive. Theophany couldn’t scream if she wished, couldn’t even be sick. Her lungs were frozen. She was paralyzed in a limbo of motion and disorientation. She fell on her knees and felt the floor of Spinner’s End against her palms. Trembling, she reached for the blindfold.

“Not yet!” Severus ordered.

I need to see!

“Wait. The curtains.”

She heard a rattle and rustle. Please, please, please.

“It’s alright!” he yelled. “Just wait.”

Had she pleaded aloud?

“This should be dark enough.”

Theophany got her nails under the blindfold and dragged it down. The room was almost too bright and her eyes teared. In their current state she was nearly blinded by the dim seep of winter sun through the smallest space in the curtains. Everything was only a ghostly blur. Theophany shivered, trying to blink the moisture from her eyes. Had it worked? Would she ever see properly again? A stake of panic was lodged in her chest, and she couldn’t get a breath.

“Slow breaths. Don’t move. I’m coming to you.”

He moved slowly in the dark. Theophany strained but couldn’t see him. A creak of floorboard and whisper of robes to her right made her rise on her knees, stretching out a hand. He must be close. The dark was terrible, relentless. She needed to be pulled out of it.

Please,” she whispered again.

The pale face of Severus Snape swam out of gloom. She could see him. Against the grey smudge of the room his face seemed luminous. Theophany caught her breath. She could see the black of his eyes glitter beneath lowered brows. Despite the dark they had a light of their own.

Her heart stopped fighting the panic piercing it and began to slow. Her limbs felt numb and heavy. His face was slightly over hers now — he must be bending down. Theophany leaned backward to keep looking into his face. She tried to smile at him, but she couldn’t be sure her body was obeying her. How wonderful to know where he was, to be certain of his presence at a glance, to see him near and not feel suspended in aching emptiness. Her arm was still stretched out to him, and Theophany lifted her hand towards his face, but her vision blurred. Were her eyes watering or were these tears?

“What is it?” he demanded.

The room lurched. Theophany gasped. She didn’t want to fall into the spinning pit again, so she caught Severus by the front of his robes. She had to warn him or they would both fall...

“I’m…”

“What?”

“I’m going to faint.”

And Theophany fell into the pit, but she felt a firm grip on her hands and was sure he could lift her out again.
Chapter 16 by Meadowsweet
XVI

There was something cool on her face. There seemed to be a lot of pillows too. Theophany raised a hand.

Don’t touch!

Severus. He was still here. Theophany found herself smiling, though her lips felt cracked. A bubble of happiness and relief floated in her chest. She dropped her hand from the bandage. Everything was still, blessedly still and peaceful. She could hear him moving around the room. Still trapped in her private darkness, Theophany had a childish wish he wasn’t so far away and out of reach. She wanted to hold his hand. Her empty fingers twitched restlessly and explored her surroundings. She was on the carpet. Licking her lips, Theophany tried speaking,

“We do seem to spend an awful lot of time patching each other up, don’t we?”

Her voice sounded hoarse.

“Don’t open your eyes.”

“I won’t.”

“Are they hot or dry? Scratchy?”

For some reason his voice kept making her smile. That little bubble of happiness was trembling just beneath her throat ready to burst. ‘Scratchy’ was a funny word when Severus Snape said it.

“Nope.”

“Before you fainted, could you see anything at all?”

Yes, you. And you were just...beautiful.

She didn’t say it aloud. She was so absurdly happy. Probably just the relief making her euphoric. Theophany substituted, “Yes, I saw a little. What’s on my eyes?”

“A cloth doused in dittany. You have scratches from clawing off that blindfold. And I used a few drops of Horklump juice and essence of calendula in your eyes, so keep them closed. I’m going to replace your cloth.”

Theophany felt him bend over her with that sixth sense of nearness. Not quite aural or kinetic, a human ability to sense another person. In her darkness it was almost as good as sight, almost believable she could guess his expression, his movements exactly. If she opened her eyes, would she see the face she had seen in the Pensieve? Anxious and irate?

Theophany kept her eyes closed but found her ears straining as if to hear what she couldn’t see. The cloth lifted, and she felt a draft on her face. She could sense the candle’s glow through her eyelids.

Light.

She almost sighed with relief. Then Severus bent over her again, and she no longer noticed the light. There was the smell of old books, and wool, and something unidentifiable. Theophany took a sniff but instantly forgot what she was smelling when she felt featherlight fingertips on her forehead. She held her breath. The light was blocked again and the cloth replaced. With a firm touch she felt his hand lie against the cloth to gently seal the edges against the light. His hand stayed only for a moment, heavy and reassuring. Within the straining echo of her ears Theophany heard her heart began to hammer. This wasn’t like the panic from before. It was fear and joy together. Her hand tensed, about to raise to meet his, but he removed his hand and stepped away.

Wait–

She was still holding her breath. Theophany released it in a rush. She felt bereft and lost. The darkness was overwhelming again. All the worse because this time she couldn’t hold fast to him.

Don’t go…

Theophany took in another breath. It was panic rising in her chest, but it was also pain and excitement. It pressed on her heart and ribs, and there was nothing she could say. If she tried to speak, her heart would tumble from her mouth and he would run away from these feelings. Under closed lids Theophany’s eyes began to sting.

“I’m sorry, Severus,” she whispered.

“For what?”

I can’t say –

“Ha...” Her laugh was weak but concealed the sob underneath. “For so many things. I’m sorry for fainting. I’m sorry for getting the two of us trapped in that house. I’m sorry for being more hindrance than help and that I couldn’t discover what you needed. I’m sorry, but I really didn’t…”

...mean to like you this much.

Theophany silenced herself. The bald statement was startling even in thought.

“You didn’t…? What? Didn’t think it would be like this? Don’t you want to do this anymore?” The sneer in his voice was heavy. “And you were so eager to help.”

“No! No, I do!” He’d misunderstood. She couldn’t leave him alone, it was too dangerous. “You mean you’ll let me help still?”

“I don’t have much choice. Since my plan failed, things will only become more dire.”

Theophany gratefully seized the subject. These were dire circumstances. No time to examine her private feelings. We’re at war. Calm yourself.

“You wanted to misdirect,” Theophany pointed out, “So did your plan really fail?”

“Misdirect permanently. It only bought us a few weeks.”

“But we know they haven’t learned anything else, otherwise they wouldn’t have been waiting. They can’t have any other leads to – to whatever they're looking for if they were so eager to find us.”

They were looking for someone certainly, and Severus had wanted them to believe that certain someone was a member of a certain family, namely Murgolode’s.

“Did you guess he may be a Death Eater? Is that why you followed me?” Theophany propped herself up on an elbow, “Which was stupid by the way. If you had been caught, it would have been worse for you than for me. Why did you send me anyway if you intended to go yourself? Not that I mind, I knew it would be dangerous, but I didn’t suspect the Death Eaters would be in the house – so I suppose I should say thank you instead of scolding you.. Thank you for being there, Severus.”

“Lie down. You’re dripping dittany on the rug.”

Embarrassed by her babble, Theophany lay down and promised herself to watch her tongue.

Keep it to yourself. He doesn’t want your thanks. So what if you want to throw your arms around his neck and…

The image this thought conjured was so very new and interesting that Theophany thought it best to save it for when she was alone.

“On reflection,” Severus was saying, “I thought it best you have someone outside, in case the house was watched. I was alerted to the situation when I recognized a Death Eater who left shortly after you entered. I knew Arthur Murgolode was a traditionalist but I didn’t expect him to be an active member. However, I highly doubt he bears the mark.”

Theophany nearly sat up again but restrained herself.

“You don’t need a Dark Mark to be a Death Eater. And you don’t need to not have one to not be.”

Like that made sense. Her mind and tongue were so disconnected it was a wonder she could speak at all. Not to mention the distance between what she felt and what she could say.

“I assure you I’m the only example of the latter…” he answered drily.

There was something about the way he said it.

“But you’re hoping that’s not the case?”

There was another silence. She really wanted to see his expression.

“How did you do that?” he asked abruptly.

He was changing the subject, but at least he was talking.

“Do–?”

“Keep him from your memories. Are you...do you practice Occlumency?”

What? No, who could I possibly find to teach me that?”

“Still you manged to fight him. He used his wand, not a very practiced Legilimens,” Severus’s tone was dismissive, “but you managed to repel his attack. How?”

“I just realized that he could only see what I focused on, so I just tried to fill my thoughts with something else.”

“He said something about a tone?”

“‘A’ 440. Tuning pitch. My dad taught us to play when we were small, before he married Mum, and I could remember all the pitches by ear–”

“Are you some kind of savant?” he snapped exasperatedly.

“No, no, I doubt it. I was completely useless at playing. I just chose the memory because it was so clear. Dad’s hand on mine. The feel of the key. And of course the sound...something that would fill me up.”

“Almost like you were summoning a Patronus.”

Theophany twisted her head around, forgetting she couldn’t see him.

“Can you do that? Of course you can, that was the doe that fetched me, wasn’t it? Can you teach me?”

No.

“Why not? I’ve already seen your Patronus, haven’t I?”

“I don’t have time to play school with you–”

“Of course.”

Theophany turned on her side. She couldn’t see him, but he could see her, and she mustn’t let her face betray her.

“Someday, though. Please show me.”

Severus got up. Was he leaving? Theophany nearly flung out an arm, plea on her lips, but he stopped at the table and she sighed with relief.

“While we’re on the subject of can and can’t do. That broken leg today. And that day in the shed when Jugens and Crowe snatched you. You’ve broken two necks since I’ve met you. Not forgetting the exploding cabinet. It’s the same jinx, isn’t it?”

“Yes. That one just...comes easy. I told you my magic was volatile when I was small. Before I knew the incantation, I could make things...er, come apart.”

“Well, I sincerely hope you didn’t kill anyone.”

“Broke a man’s legs once. He was shouting at Mum, wanted to evict us even though we’d paid. Like I said, it wasn’t easy on Mum having a child like me around.”

There was a silence.

“Severus?”

The silence sharpened, he was listening.

“Just checking that you’re still here.”

“Yes.”

Please talk a little more.

“We’re at Spinner’s End, aren’t we?”

“Regrettably.” He drew the out the word with as much distaste as he would a worm from an apple.

Theophany kept her face turned away but had to smile.

“You’re funny,” she whispered.

Apparently he didn’t know how to answer that.

“I’m getting you a calming draught. You should let your eyes rest as long as possible, so it would be best if you slept. And the couch would be better than the floor.”

“It’s surprisingly comfortable.”

“Given your disoriented state, I thought it best not to move you unnecessarily. Will you be able to stand up?”

Theophany slowly sat up, one hand holding the cool cloth on her eyes. She moved as if balancing something fragile on her head. There was a black pit at her feet and, the moment she moved, the void would swallow her.

“I am...I am going to need a little help.”

Theophany stretched out a hand into the darkness. She felt him take it. Long fingers. He pulled steadily and she got to her feet. He didn’t let go yet.

“Dizzy?”

“Not so much. But just give me a moment.”

Their hands were clasped, the only thing separating them. Theophany’s shoulders were tense and her whole body locked. She probably looked defensive or uncomfortable, but Theophany Knapp was actually very happy. Delirious even. Part of her warned these feelings were bad news, while the greater part of Theophany happily acknowledged that it felt very nice.

“Alright, lead on.”

Severus turned her away from him and walked alongside her, their clasped hands ahead of them and his other hand holding her elbow. Theophany held herself stiffly and didn’t let herself lean on him too much. She felt her knees bump the couch and felt her way to the seat but didn’t release his hand until she was supine with a pillow behind her head. When he let go of her hand, the bereft feeling came back.

“I’m sorry for making such a fuss. It’s a kind of phobia for me. Blindness. Feeling so trapped.”

It was the truth. She had panicked and lost her head at Murgolode’s house. If Severus hadn’t been there, she would have never had the presence of mind to even try escaping.

“A fear of blindness? Interesting to see a Boggart manage that,” Severus drawled.

“You are funny.”

Theophany couldn't have hid her delight at discovering this if she’d tried. Suddenly every fact and thought pertaining to Severus Snape was fascinating and to be dwelled on at leisure with great enjoyment. She wanted to know everything. Theophany squinched her eyes, they felt entirely normal, but she continued to keep them closed.

“Though,” she mused, “these days I think we all have the same Boggart. We all fear to lose the ones we love.”

“...yes.”

“Ah!” Theophany sat up. “And I thought you said you had sacrificed everything. But you do have something to lose!”

A glass of something was pushed into her hand.

“Drink,” he snapped.

Theophany obeyed, the better to hide her smug smile.

“What do I do next, Severus?”

“Sleep. Your eyes will need more time. What were you using my pearlwort for?”

For a moment Theophany was confused.

“Oh, the warming draft! It was all pretty basic ingredients, Dragon’s claw and nettle, but because of the circumstances I need to warm you specifically against ice. So Yiyiren, or Job’s Tears, for the moon. Pearlwort–

“–for water. But you didn’t want to give me more water.”

“No, no. It’s a question of essences. Sometimes you give something of the essence you want to draw out. Like a magnet.”

“You were factoring the elements present into the potion?”

“It’s what I was taught.”

“Your mother, I remember. And where did your mother learn?”

“From her mother, who learned from an old wizard who taught the community. I don’t know where he learned.”

“From his parents, most likely. All the way back to Queen Maeve, I’m sure.”

Theophany sniggered. “We’d like to think so. Sounds so posh.”

“Sleep. If you can.”

He was moving away. Theophany made fists of her hands. Don’t reach out to him, don’t hold him, don’t–

“Where will you be, Severus?” she whispered.

“Too much time has been lost these last few days –”

“Don’t leave me. Please, don’t go anywhere until I can see.”

“There are many things I need to do...”

“Then please wait until I fall asleep.”

“...very well.”

“Thank you – I’m really sorry, but thank you.

“I shouldn’t have made you Apparate,” Severus said abruptly. “You said you were dizzy, and I should have realized you had completely lost your equilibrium. Apparating was...thoughtless.”

Theophany both cursed the cloth and blessed it. She wanted to see him so badly, but then again, what would he see in her face? She kept it averted.

“There wasn’t much choice. They would have found us. Anyway – thank you, Severus.”



It took a little time but Theophany fell asleep. She was recovering from not only the curse but a state of extreme panic. Her apologies had been profuse but unnecessary. The only one who had erred was him. He had pinned too much hope on his forged research. Moreover he had nearly sent his only ally to her death. Given the circumstances, Theophany had done well. But was he right to use her? The plan relied on no one else knowing he was a spy.

Severus made sure the house was securely locked and warded before lighting the fire. He threw some Floo powder on the fire, speaking softly as not to wake Theophany.

“Headmaster’s Office, Hogwarts School.”

“Severus!” the portrait cried as he stepped from the hearth. “Is it done? Is all well?”

The office looked untouched. Most likely no one was aware he’d been gone.

“Severus?”

“Wait.”

He raised his wand over his head.

“I, Severus Snape, Headmaster of this school, require you to sleep.”

With the rustle of an audience before a concert, the portraits settled themselves in their respective frames. Resuming seats and removing hats, in some cases wigs, or troublesome frilled collars and heavy jewelry. The portrait of Albus Dumbledore removed his spectacles and closed his book.

“Except you, Albus.”

With a good natured twinkle Albus replaced his spectacles and cocked his head expectantly. These were the times Severus was most aware of the deficiencies of the portrait. To see even a painted likeness of Albus Dumbledore obey so mildly was disconcerting. The proxy school board were insisting Severus’s own headmaster portrait be painted. Perhaps he would charm it with a garrulous and sunny disposition as a final revenge.

When it was just Severus and the portrait, and all possible painted witness were snoring gently, Severus drew closer.

“I have done as you said. Potter now has the sword.”

“And he doesn’t know it came from you?”

“No, we had no contact. He is still without the information I’m to provide concerning Nagini...and his death.”

“That’s as it should be. Too soon could ruin everything.”

“Too late should be our worry!” Severus retorted. “What would you have me do?”

“All the instructions I have for you, I have already given you in life.”

“But is there nothing else? After I turned over the sword, I hoped you would explain more–”

“All the instructions I have for you, I have already–”

“Yes, yes, so you said.”

Severus watched the portrait, a finger tracing his mouth. Perhaps if he approached things from a different angle, he could receive a different response. Could it be the answers were buried there and he hadn’t yet asked the right question?

“How am I to know when to approach Potter if it’s to be neither too soon nor too late?”

“His mission will be complete.”

“He will come out of hiding?”

The portrait considered this. “If the best way to attack Tom Riddle means he must remain in hiding, then no, he will not.”

“Then how will I know his mission is complete?”

“I could only see so far, Severus.” Albus smiled sadly. “What signs there will be are up for you to see. For your interpretation and wisdom.”

“My wisdom?” Severus repeated flatly.

He walked around the desk and retrieved a chair. The back legs scraped over the stone floor and shuddered over the carpet as he dragged it back to the portrait. Sitting down, he continued in a tight voice, “My wisdom has done little to help myself or anyone. My instincts are not to be trusted. We – we the Order – have only ever relied on your leadership, your instincts. Now at the final hour we must rely on mine?

“I always did,” the portrait replied blandly.

“You what? No, it was never my job to make suggestions. I only relayed information–”

“Severus,” Albus laughed, “how can I, a mere painting, convince you of what I could never convince you in life? Yes, I have constantly relied on your instinct and your knowledge, but you would never accept that and preferred to think of yourself as a pawn–”

“Damn you, don’t turn this around! Even as a painting you prefer to play mind games instead of giving a straight answer!”

“Then here it is straight. You must wait, Severus. There is nothing else to be done until Harry completes his mission. I have no doubt that he will. Wait, have patience, and protect this school.”

Severus’s hand was over his mouth, eyes boring through the painting.

“What about the Elder Wand?”

“Your ‘paper trail’ didn’t deceive?”

“Only delayed. The only certainty is he has no other leads. He was relying on discovering who forged the paper on Arcus’s bloodline and torture information from them.”

He didn’t like to think how close Theophany had come to true torture. Should he ask if it was alright to use an accomplice? Had Albus ever even considered the possibility? Severus certainly hadn’t. The Order believed him a murderer, and the Hogwarts staff had to believe the same for their own protection.

“Albus, if Potter’s mission is so essential, what difference does the Elder Wand make?”

“It could make a great deal, or none at all.” Albus frowned. “A wand that, united with the Cloak and the Stone of Resurrection, makes the owner master of Death. Supposedly. Obviously it wasn’t the case for me.”

“You never held all three at once.”

“If that is the key, then neither will Tom Riddle. But will the Elder Wand make Tom impossible to defeat? Or only at a cost which I still cannot bear to consider…”

“Tell me where the Elder Wand is now.”

The portrait sighed. “The only instructions I have to give you I have already given–”

“I know!” Severus clutched his head. “Merlin! It’s like having a broken record for company!”

“I do apologize, Severus. It is, however, only with certain topics that I was created with a lack of responses. Should you wish to discuss anything else or reminisce about your time at Hogwarts, either as a teacher or student, you will find me quite lifelike. For instance, this is the first Christmas in a long time you have not joined in for leftover gingersnaps and coffee in the staff room.”

Severus was holding his head in his hands. “Don’t make me sound like a willing participant.”

“Not at first, no. At first it was too easy and enjoyable to annoy you, so of course I dragged you along. Then it simply became a tradition in its own right. Oh well. Traditions change. It’s not surprising. I’m dead. As for you, offering to share gingersnaps with the staff wouldn’t do much for your public image as a Death Eater–”

“Albus,” Severus cut in, “did you leave me no specific instructions as to the safeguarding of the school because you were uncertain? Were you afraid any instructions you left would become obsolete but I would obey them anyway? Were there simply too many possible outcomes for you to predict them all?”

“Why, Severus,” Albus chuckled in surprise, “why would I do all that when you’re here?”

Severus looked at the portrait blankly.

“I had to rely on you to fulfill certain tasks,” Albus continued soberly. “Tasks which I had originally intended to complete myself. No one but I should have had to bear this burden, but it was too late. But surely these tasks, these instructions, are enough? Indeed, I knew they were too much. I have already entrusted you with the thing most precious to me.”

Severus stared at the portrait.

“All of this.” Albus’s gaze went beyond the room. “All of my children. This year, and the next, and the next. Keep them safe, Severus.”

Slowly, Severus lowered his hands and let them hang loosely from his arms, elbows on knees. He bowed his head and stared at the floor.

“Then that is what I shall do.”

“You may have been my only choice, Severus, but that was because you were my first choice. There are no further instructions because I entrusted Hogwarts to you to protect as your instinct directs you. That is what it means to be Headmaster.”

Severus folded his hands tightly.

“I will. It has seemed inevitable that I would – one day – be again a free agent. So I will do as I see fit to protect Hogwarts. To do my utmost by whatever means I deem necessary and right.”

“You’re planning something in particular, Severus?”

“Something terrible. And desperate.”

He fell silent. Even though he had, in a way, received permission to proceed, Severus still hesitated. The question wasn’t only could he, but should he? He was no longer alone. Perhaps it wasn’t impossible.

“Albus?”

“Go on, Severus.”

“Tell me about Gellert Grindelwald.”

“He was brilliant and sociopathic. Talented but twisted.”

“No, tell me.”

The portrait steadily returned his gaze.

“Gellert was indeed the Darkest, most powerful wizard before Tom Riddle. But Gellert, unlike Tom, didn’t surround himself with sycophants and cobbled-together doctrines. Gellert truly believed not just in the right of wizards to rule but in his future as the founder of a new world order. It wasn’t just something he desired or planned, it was something he knew. Tom is always afraid of failure – always proving himself greater, better. Tom is paranoid. Gellert was gifted. An egomaniac and manipulative to the point of uncanniness, but gifted.

“Also, unlike Tom, Gellert didn’t enjoy violence in itself. It was a regrettable necessity. A tool only. But he would murder with as little hesitation as Tom or even Lestrange. It was a curious dichotomy. Gellert believed he worked for the good of all, truly wanted to eradicate suffering, yet he was able to induce so – so much pain without guilt.”

The painting was silent for a moment. Severus let it proceed as it wished.

“Perhaps it was a switch in his mind. Empathy turned on or off for convenience. For he was capable of empathy. Not merely going through the motions, as a self-aware sociopath might only act caring. Nor did he do so for the self-gratification of thinking of himself as a “good” person doing “good” things. If I have any ability to read a man at all, I am certain that I saw true compassion in him…that is why he is so dangerous.”

Albus fixed Severus with a familiar blue-eyed stare and leaned forward.

“This is the most important thing, Severus. You must not forget it. Gellert loved. He is as different from Tom Riddle as you or I in that he has and does love. But,” here the blue gaze turned fiery, “he will not be swayed by it! No appeals to his better nature or his capacity for love can or will convince him or change his actions. His fervent ideology is protected from his heart and conscience by his own brilliant mind. That is his tragedy.”

Severus listened a little longer, but it seemed Albus had finished. The portrait watched him stand and move the chair back to the desk. While his back was still turned, it spoke again.

“It is also, besides your choices, perhaps the largest difference between you. Gellert never had to sacrifice conscience for his ambitions. He could simply disregard it. He believes he is whole but lives with a soul in pieces. You sold your conscience for your ambitions and have since worked to regain it to become whole again —butonly whole enough to prove yourself. You are afraid of regaining too much life, Severus.”

“It’s too late now, old man.” Severus didn’t turn around. The painting wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t know. “I could have tried to carve out a life these past years, but instead I was living each day waiting for this. Now it isn’t life for which I need to prepare.”

The portrait spoke, and it was unlike any time it had spoken before. Albus’s voice, no longer soft and strong, wavered.

“I’m…sorry...Severus.”

Severus turned around. The portrait looked much the same, a little sad and serious. But he couldn’t shake the certainty that nobody else would have heard it speak in that voice. The voice of Albus a year ago, weakened and dying. Could it be possible that those few words had been left expressly for him?

“Albus…” Severus averted his eyes from the painting, frustrated. “If I could tell you – I hope you knew that I chose this. Never mind whatever I said in the beginning; I chose this.”

The portrait had no answer. It couldn’t help him communicate beyond the grave. Severus took a shuddering breath. It wouldn’t be long, he supposed, before he could tell him in person. He would be patient.

By the time he took the Floo back, it was after sunset and Spinner’s End was dark. The library was still when he stepped from the hearth. Perhaps Theophany Knapp had regained her sanity and escaped before he returned and involved her further.

“Theophany?”

Her voice floated from behind the couch.

“Severus?”

“Yes.”

“Welcome home.”

“What are you doing back there?”

“Long story.”

He lit the lamps and pocketed his wand. Walking around to the back of the couch, he found Theophany sitting on the floor, her back against the couch and legs extended in front of her. The cloth was still firmly in place over her eyes.

“Hide and Seek?” Severus couldn’t help but ask.

Beneath the mask of the dittany cloth, she smiled wryly.

“Something like that. I woke up a little discombobulated. I guess the calming draught wore off because my heart was racing even before I remembered you told me this house was known to both sides. After that I couldn’t stop thinking what if someone came looking for you and I couldn’t see...”

It must have been terrifying.

“Anyway, in the end I tried to find somewhere out of sight of the door in case you got a visitor, but I only made it to the end of the couch before the vertigo hit again. Then I either passed out or fell asleep. So I’m really really glad it’s you and not someone else.”

Despite the cheerful words that last bit sounded desperately sincere.

“The house is securely warded. I’m sorry I couldn’t be here.”

“Oh! No, it’s fine – I’m fine! You were kind enough to stay while I fell asleep, I could hardly expect you to be there when I woke up too.”

“Do you need assistance getting up?”

“Yes – no! Rather, can we take this off now? Then I wouldn’t need any help.”

Severus snuffed the candles, leaving only the farthest burning. Carefully peeling back the edge of the cloth, he could see the scratches were all but gone.

“Alright. Open slowly.”

Theophany blinked at him.

“Hmm, gritty. May I rub?”

“Let me get you a clean cloth–”

“I have a handkerchief.”

After wiping her eyes she refocused on him. Stared at him. Severus bore it a moment longer before snapping, “What?”

She averted her eyes and shook her head.

“Sorry, it’s nothing. It’s just, last night I assume it must have been quite dark in here but you were – I could see you just fine. Now, even with the candle lit, everything’s a bit dim.”

“It is dim. There’s no lasting damage. Last night your eyes were particularly sensitive to light; they were probably taking in far more than usual.”

“‘No lasting damage’.” Theophany folded her handkerchief and cleared her throat. “That’s good to hear. Thank you.”

“I did very little.”

He stood up and heard Theophany add, in a small voice, “What about you? Are you alright?”

Severus looked down at her, but she kept her face lowered. What was this? More shame about being captured at Murgolode house?

“I was uninjured.”

Theophany scrambled to her feet.

“Sorry, I mean you just now. Are you alright? You seem a bit...not my business. May I ask what you plan to do now?”

Severus turned to face her. He had to be sure before going on.

“Are you prepared to assist in any way you can? Do you put success before your own personal safety?”

She looked back directly which made Legilimency easier. Theophany didn’t seem to be hiding anything, in fact her eyes seemed to be boring back into his with their own communication, but he couldn’t decipher it.

“...yes.”

“Will you ever betray me–”

“No.”

Severus could detect no lie. Albus’s words came back to him. Not just his only choice but his first choice. Theophany could be that for him. To speak the words, make a contract, might be redundant, but he wanted complete clarity.

“Then I am going to ask you to help me. Can you swear that you will put the mission first, and not interfere with my plans? Wait, I’m not finished–”

Theophany quieted and bit her lip.

“Furthermore, can you promise to do all this without having or requiring explanations?”

She paused. She wasn’t unintelligent. She would see all that was unfair and potentially dangerous in his demands. Would it be too much? Theophany raised her lowered eyes to look at him. She was incapable of both Occlumency and Legilimency, he reminded himself. He wasn’t sure what she was looking for, but something decided her.

“Yes. I promise.”

No going back now. It would be as he saw fit.

“I need to find a hidden place.”

“Any hidden place? or…?”

“A particular place. Extremely dangerous and kept hidden for a great many years.”

“Ah.”

“I hoped, with your particular background and contacts, that you might be exactly the right person to help find it.”

Theophany didn’t leap to agree but looked troubled, if anything.

“That could be true.”

She held his gaze and said gravely, “In that case, I’ll do my best.”

“We might need more than that.”

Theophany raised her chin. “Then I’ll give it all I’ve got.”
Chapter 17 by Meadowsweet
Theophany Disapparated and appeared on the road closest The Mill, the first outside of the Anti-Apparition Jinx. She stood for a moment, looking ahead and behind. It was getting on towards dinner; there wouldn’t be anyone else abroad. Theophany looked up at the stars. Another clear night. Naturally, now she was alone, the tears that had been threatening all evening wouldn’t come. A strange sound of frustration and embarrassment came out of her throat. She bent forward and pushed her hands into her hair, pressing her spinning head into place.

“What? What?” Theophany whispered to herself. “What am I thinking? I don’t have time for this – there is so much to do…”

She had very little to go on and a great deal to accomplish. To find one secret place in all of Europe...the chances of success were not large. Even less than her chances of...what exactly?

“No, no, no! You don’t want anything from him!” she scolded out loud.

Theophany stomped up the road. She had been savagely attacked, suffered Legilimency and blindness, so of course she had felt vulnerable and in need of reassurance. Maybe even comfort? Comfort from him? Theophany’s pace slowed, and she stopped in the middle of the road, clutching her head. The thought made her queasy in a surprisingly pleasant way.

“What did you do to me, Severus Snape?”

No, she had to be fair. He hadn’t done anything. Other than take care of her. Alright, admittedly she had liked him from the beginning. Sarcastic but selfless. He was interesting. So maybe, just maybe, she’d developed a fancy.

Fine.

Theophany kept walking. She would get over it shortly. It would be driven from her mind. There were more important things to worry about.

Yes, like helping him find an unspecified place at an unspecified location on the continent for unspecified reasons.

But it was undoubtedly important.

Sure. Is that why you jumped at the chance? Swore to never betray him?

Theophany stopped again. She would never willingly betray anyone, but why had everything in her physically rebelled at the thought of putting him in danger? Why had she been so anxious to stay by him? For the sake of the war or for the sake of keeping him safe? But surely no one did anything purely for the war. Everyone fights not for an abstract ideal, but to keep their loved ones safe.

Then what does that make Severus Snape?

This wasn’t good. If she couldn’t even be honest with herself, she couldn’t trust herself. This needed to be sorted.
Theophany walked to the edge of the road. There were three fields between The Mill and herself. She would go through them rather than by the road. Perhaps the reflected light suspended between snow and sky would illuminate more than her path. She climbed the first stile and jumped down. Other than the crunch of snow under her feet, the night was still.

She had felt so much, but he had only saved her. Again. Then he had cared for her and stayed by her side when she needed him most. Theophany’s mind conjured a memory of darkness and the reassuring feel of his shoulder under her hands. She blushed and was glad the night was empty.

If this was a blushing matter, why had she felt nothing then when she saved him from the Forest of Dean? But tonight she had ached to reach out, to hold and cling. When he placed his hand on her head, everything had changed.

Theophany realized she had stopped walking. She shook her head. Focus. How had this affected her actions? Had she done anything wrong or selfish? Theophany pondered this as she climbed the second stile. She was glad to say she hadn’t. She had chosen to treat him as a friend and had continued to do so. What would be selfish would be foisting too much affection on him now.

Too much. Theophany paused before jumping down from the stile and looked across the field to the bare hedgerows. There was no sound, not even the glide of an owl’s wing or the scamper of a hunting fox.

Did she feel too much for him? Yes, she did. That was the truth. Was it alright? With hesitant curiosity Theophany uncovered the well of feeling she’d capped so hastily earlier. It bubbled like a spring and rose through her with unexpected speed. For a moment she let it show on her face, just for a single moment, only for her and the moon to know. Yes, it was alright.

She’d promised to put his mission first. Theophany didn’t break a promise. But there was no reason that she shouldn't have her own mission. Theophany scrambled up the last stile and looked down on the valley and The Mill. She puffed a small cloud of warm breath and grinned. She was going to keep him safe.

“And then, Severus Snape, we’ll see if I am ‘exactly the right person.”



Before breakfast Theophany had installed herself in the workshop with every map she could get her hands on. Clad in pajamas and an old t-shirt of Boniface’s, she crawled carefully around each map to pin the edges down with books, bottles, and jars. Also opened were her ledgers. Each potions order from the past five years neatly entered. All international orders inked in red.

Theophany was by no means the only private purveyor of potions. There were far larger and more public establishments than hers. But she was one of a fewer number that catered to very specific needs of those not serviced by Slug and Jigger’s or Mr. Mulpepper.

Furthermore, Theophany had retrieved her mother’s letters. Important letters and personal letters. Letters to important people and people who were only important if you knew. Reaching out to people beyond the Tuatha, who called themselves by other names, wasn’t unprecedented though not common.

Even after she’d marked the location of her mother’s correspondents and her own customers, her list was incomplete. She would need to wait for the further information Severus had promised her.

Theophany was using the official ordnance map alongside a Muggle map. The first had every wizarding community clearly marked, the second none. Theophany placed another X in Normandy. A majority of her foreign customers were grouped on the other side of the channel. That was to be expected, word only traveled so far. Still, she had a surprising amount further south in Bordeaux and southeast in Avignon. A very few orders had made it as far as Dusseldorf. Every cross she made represented a customer who in turn represented a wizarding community of some size.

Ever since the establishment of the Secrecy Act wizards had banded into communities. One may live openly amongst one’s own kind at least. Also many wizards disliked the idea of depending on non-magical neighbors. All right if you need to borrow a cup of sugar but what if your self-writing desk went mad and started scribbling Sanskrit on everything in the house? Or one’s carnivorous carnations ate the neighbor’s cat? Theophany was sure that whatever, whomever, Severus was seeking would be near or in another wizarding village. The fact that he referred to it as a ‘dangerous’ place, a secret place, indicated it wouldn’t be on any official wizarding map. Theophany was inclined to think that, like Frog Hollow itself, it wouldn’t appear on any map.

After her maps were complete, she thought she deserved a cup of tea. Besides Ike, the only others in the kitchen were the twins. Prosper was nearly falling asleep at the table, while Compline was helping herself to orange juice. They both looked listless.

“Are you the only three up?” Theophany asked.

“There’s a ewe sick,” Compline informed her readily, “something bad. I saw sick everywhere in the barn. Dad and Boniface were out there all night. And Silyn isn’t here.”

Prosper looked up and gave a sigh.

“The rabbit died. The orphaned one.”

“We were careful not to name it, just called it the kit, but–” Compline bit her lip.

“Oh – oh no. I’m so sorry, darlings – where is the little thing?”

“Buried it this morning, early. In the garden under the bird bath.”

Theophany looked at them. They were taking care of things on their own now, being strong. Soon it would be back to school, and it felt like she’d been gone most of the holiday.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t – you know you took such good care of him.”

In the end there wasn’t much else to say, so they spread a blanket in front of the fire and spitted bread and sausages on toasting forks. Ike attended, cross legged on a cushion, happy to pour orange juice and coffee as desired. In reality he finished most of the coffee pot on his own. Probably his second pot that morning.

“Do you know when Silyn left?”

Both twins shook their heads, mouths full.

“Master Silyn left before first light, Miss,” Ike supplied.

“Oh.”

Prosper swallowed but Compline got ahead of him.

“Did Sils tell you your aura changed?”

“What? Oh, yes.” Theophany had honestly forgotten this. The night of the Pensieve. “Yes, he did a little bit ago. Why, did yours change too?”

“Yep,” Prosper said quietly. But Prosper always spoke softly.

“He says,” Compline continued, “that they’re visible all the time now.”

Theophany’s sausage was becoming a cinder but she didn’t care.

“Really?”

“Yep,” Prosper confirmed.

Moved by sudden loquacity he spoke further.

“He reckons it’s because we’re getting older, our birthday is in three months.”

“Eleven,” Compline said complacently, “is a very important age.”

“Good morning.”

Lissy came slowly into the kitchen like a ship billowing into harbor, her rounded stomach preceding her by several hands. Ike quickly snapped his fingers, and a chair scuttled over from the table to the fire. He insisted on piling cushions on it before allowing Lissy to sit. This hadn’t been an easy time for her.

“Oof,” she said quietly as she lowered herself into the chair. “Someone’s going to have to toast me a crumpet or get me a very long toasting fork.”

Ever eager to poke at the fire, Compline volunteered. Lissy squinted at Theophany.

“Were you up early? I thought I heard you.”

“Sorry, did I wake you?”

“No, no.” Lissy indicated her stomach, “This fellow did. Drumming a tattoo on my kidneys at five a.m. Merryn thought I should go home, but I told him this fellow isn’t letting me sleep no matter where I am, so I might as well stay the night.”

She sighed and shifted in her chair.

“Do I look as old and tired as I feel?”

“Positively glowing,” Theophany declared stoutly. “You’ll be mistaken for my younger sister.”

Lissy snorted. “Like that would ever happen! But, Tiff, love, you seem to be out late and up early daily. Take care of yourself a little.”

Theophany guiltily smoothed her hair. It was true she hadn’t wanted to look too closely in the mirror this morning, her face pinched and pale. Of course she had more reason to be self-conscious of her appearance now.

“Lissy, you are absolutely right. Come on. No one else is going to spoil us, so grab your toast, follow me, and we’ll do it ourselves. We’re going to the workshop.”

Theophany insisted on melting the snow on the path and having Lissy shuffle behind wearing every extra cloak in the house. Once her sister-in-law was installed in the sole armchair in Theophany’s workshop, Theophany put the kettle on the hearth and hung her smallest copper cauldron over the flames.

“It’s so tiny,” Lissy laughed. “Like a doll’s cauldron.”

“I used to play with my dolls in here while Mum was working. She’d give me one of these, and my dolls would be brewing potions made of dirt and scraps. But it also works well for just the two of us.”

Powdered unicorn horn and peony oil. Calendula and water from an underground spring, untouched by sunlight. A skin potion fit for royalty. They rolled up their sleeves and slathered their necks and arms as well as their faces. Lissy leaned back in her chair, feet propped up on an overturned cauldron, while Theophany stretched out on the hearth rug.

Outside the wind whistled under the eaves, but inside the only sound was the hiss of the kettle. Lissy was pouring the tea when the saucer rattled in her hand and she said, “Oh! He’s awake and kicking again. Do you want to?”

“Please!”

Theophany got onto her knees and briskly rubbed her hands together to warm them. Like a collector handling Ming porcelain she carefully placed her hands on Lissy’s belly. There was a shifting, a sense of movement, and then a sudden strike against her palm.

“What does it feel like?” she asked Lissy.

“Uncomfortable.”

“Yes, but I mean...all of it. What’s it like?”

“Uncomfortable,” Lissy said again, but thoughtfully. “And frightening. Also terribly thrilling, new, and yet familiar. I already know him…”

With this she looked down at her stomach with a little surprise. Theophany listened with her hands to the small drumming heels.

“I want kids.”

“You do?”

Theophany blushed, realizing she had spoken aloud.

“That’s wonderful!” Lissy continued. “You’ll make – well you already are a wonderful mother to the twins.”

“Er, thanks. But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.”

Lissy grinned, and for a moment Theophany felt terrified that her skin was transparent and all her thoughts were visible.

“Tiff, really, is there no one you like? All you’d have to do is crook your little finger...”

“What?” Theophany scoffed, “You’re crazy – that is I’m crazy and everyone in the Dagda knows it. Besides...this isn’t the time.”

“When is anything ever the right time?”

“Definitely not now.”

“Then when?”

“When I crook my finger, I suppose.”

Theophany managed to say it with a grin, but she doubted she’d be crooking any fingers. Severus didn’t seem the type to respond to such a summons.

“Nothing will ever be the right time ever again,” Lissy’s smile was gone, “if we lose this war. How long do you think it can last?”

Theophany lay back on the rug and stared at the ceiling. So much about this war didn’t add up. It was as if all the real struggles were happening behind the scenes.

“I think...I think something will give way soon. Something will change, but I don’t know if it will be for better or for worse.”

“If it’s for the worse, we could lose an entire generation to this regime. And our children will be forced to live in secret. Hidden from the Ministry, hidden from Muggles – it will be like a Dark Age.”

“I know.”

Lissy wiped her face.

“Sorry. And you were trying to give me such a nice time, too.”

“Not at all. I was feeling a bit dingy myself and used you as an excuse to brew something extravagant. I’ll give the rest of it to Mrs. Honeysett – er, that is, Lavinia, to atone for my selfishness.”

Theophany sat up.

“Talk however you like, Lissy. No one should have to force confidence and cheerfulness. Sometimes these things need to be said even if there’s no answer to them.”

A tapping at the window heralded an owl. Lissy pulled herself to her feet even as Theophany protested against her leaving.

“No, I’m sure that’s work for you.” Lissy was firm. “Besides those maps looked like there are hours of work left yet, and it seems terribly important. I shouldn’t keep you from it.”

Theophany felt a little foolish.

“I can hide from the boys and Dad but not you.”

“Well, Zuri told me to keep an eye on you. Anyway, I should pack the girls’ things. We’re going home after lunch. I must try and establish some order at home before we’re back for New Year’s.”

She left Theophany to her mail. It was a letter from Jeremiah Mingeworthy, apothecary. He needed a batch of Pungent Onion unction if she could prepare it. While she had nothing else to do but wait, Theophany lit the fire under her cauldron. She was just donning goggles to protect against the tear-inducing steam when Boniface knocked and entered. He raised an eyebrow at the paper chaos on the floor, the steaming cauldron, and then another eyebrow at his sister.

“Nice shirt.”

Theophany glanced down. She was still wearing her pajamas and Boniface’s shirt.

“Stopping for lunch?”

“Lunch?”

The clock told her Boniface was right.

“Oh, I suppose I’ll just have a cup of –”

An owl swooped silently through the open door, its wings nearly brushing Boniface’s head. He whooped and ducked instinctively. Not an owl Theophany was familiar with, it circled the room once and then perched on the table holding out a leg patiently. It was very well behaved and let her untie the scroll without hopping or fluttering. When she unrolled the letter, it was blank. Theophany looked guiltily at Boniface who was watching interestedly.

“You should see your face,” he grinned. “Ooh, top secret things, probably just a beau – I didn’t see anything. Literally. This means you’re not coming in for lunch then?”

“N–no. Tell Dad I’ll be in a bit later.”

“M’kay. Do consider getting dressed or showering sometime today–”

He ducked and scurried out as Theophany hefted Achterberg’s Connoisseurs’ Herbs in a threatening manner. Her smile broadened as she regarded the blank letter. She had to admit to more than a little excitement. The spell didn’t reveal at her touch, so she tried breathing on it and then whispering, “Severus.”

A curl of ink burst briefly in the lower corner where the signature would be. Theophany smiled. He had used her cipher.

“Severus Snape.”

The handwriting bloomed, signature first, spidering across the page.

Theophany,

The names included here are far flung and may appear random. However, they were all connected, at one time, to the location we seek. Please use them as a cross reference with your own resources. Do not hesitate if there is further information I can provide, but do not risk contact unnecessarily.

SS


The back of the parchment contained a list of some dozen or so names and nothing else. The underlined word had nearly torn the parchment, such was his emphasis.

“Well,” Theophany sighed aloud, “doesn’t exactly make a girl feel special. But feeling needed is enough, I suppose.”

Amongst the names given there was not one French, or Italian, and only one German. The others were...Hungarian? Czech? Theophany stood on her toes to retrieve her copy of Whizoo from the shelf. Most were included there, but only briefly. Excluded were Abel Szoke, Gaspar Molnar, and Elisaveta Herbert. However she did find them in an older edition, but Szoke and Molnar both only held property in Britain and hadn’t lived on the continent since they were children. Of the remainder Theophany created a list, including their place of birth, descendents, and any property still in the family. She wondered why the entries in Whizoo were so skeletal, or missing from recent editions altogether.

Once she cross-referenced Severus’ list with her own, she felt a little lightheaded and blamed the tiny script used in Whizoo. Theophany got a fresh piece of parchment and created a new list. At the top she placed Elisaveta Herbert. Herbert had owned extensive lands outside Hamburg, and Schneverdingen. The latter was now a preserve for Magical Creatures and rare flora. The fact that large quantities of Chizpurfle fang could be ordered from a store in that area, a store not recognized by any official map but well known by the Tuatha and other homebrewers across the continent, indicated a wizarding settlement in addition to Herbert’s preserve.

Elizaveta moreover had become influential in Magical Law Enforcement in the 60's after immigrating to Britain. Her father had been in Ministry work back in Germany. There was no mention of who had inherited her wealth, but there was a surviving niece living in Upper Flagley. Power, influence, money, and an unmarked community of wizards. What else was needed to build a place both exceedingly ‘secret’ and ‘dangerous’?

The names after Herbert she arranged in descending order of importance and then sent off to Severus, adding that she would be calling on Glinda Herbert, the only surviving family member, in the morning. Feeling a little too warm, Theophany banked the fire and rubbed her tired eyes. Surely she had been getting enough sleep? She shouldn’t be so tired...

The return owl provided a corrected list. In red ink. He really was a teacher. Theophany smiled and then frowned as her head started to ache. A few of the names were switched around but Severus seemed to agree that Elisaveta Herbert deserved immediate attention. There was also a note.

Those who are no longer powerful and wealthy remain of interest. If their families were influential in specifically the 30’s and 40’s, they are of the first importance.

So they were looking for a place originally founded in those turbulent years. Theophany strained her sluggish mind. In summary: Severus was looking for, somewhere in Europe, a location founded by a native family of influence and wealth, sometime in the 30’s and 40’s. Her list of criteria was growing, slowly.

Theophany neatly copied the corrected list, turned over his letter, and scrawled, May all your quills break and your inkwells dry out, Severus Snape. If you told me that in the first place, I wouldn't have wasted your time, not to mention mine.

She signed it with a flourish and sent it off. Theophany looked at the floor, or what was visible under Whizoo editions, maps, and letters. She couldn’t do more right now. She should lock up the workshop.Theophany took a step towards the door when the room went sideways and something hard hit her side. She opened her eyes and saw the inkwell rolling in a lazy circle.

Theophany was on the floor. She’d fallen. She must have bumped the table when she fell, but why? Theophany sat up slowly, her head still spinning. There were papers scattered and her pocket watch lay on the floor, its face cracked. This wasn’t simple fatigue – something was very wrong. Footsteps were pounding up the path and the door was flung open. Boniface had a scrape on his chin and hay in his clothes.

“Tiff! Merlin – you too? Can you get up?”

“What, you fainted too? I just–”

“You fainted? I just came over all funny and lost my balance. Nearly fell from the loft but just banged myself up on the ladder instead. Come on – Dad’s taken poorly and Lissy too.”

Both?

They ran up the path to the house. The twins had Lissy on the top stair landing, propped up with pillows. Her eyelids were fluttering, but she didn’t seem to hear them.

“We felt a bit queer–” Prosper started.

“–then heard a crash and Lissy had dropped her suitcase down the stairs and she nearly fell too but managed to sit down but then she sort of went slack–” Compline explained in a rush.

“–Cathisma and Anele are upstairs. They’re okay too.”

So Lissy’s daughters hadn’t seen their mother collapse.

“Ike took Dad to the village clinic before I got in,” Boniface finished. “Seems he had some sort of attack. I’ve been through the Floo to St Mungo’s to request a stretcher for Lissy; they should be here in any minute. You need to be looked at too, Tiff.”

No – I’m fine. I felt a bit woozy and I’ve got a bump on my head, but I feel – I feel fine now.”

Theophany looked at Boniface, then at the twins. They all hesitated, then nodded agreement. They all felt fully recovered. Yet Lissy still lay unresponsive.

“Boniface, you go back and wait for the stretcher. The Fidelius Charm will prevent them finding their way through the Floo. Prosper, I want you to run down to the village and be with Dad. Ike will need help. Compline can wait here with me and look after the kids while I stay with Lissy.”

They had not even been in the house at the same time. How had it reached all of them? What was it? Theophany held Lissy’s hand and felt her pulse, strong but slow. If this was some sort of attack, it had targeted them without needing them all in the same place.

A curse on the entire family?

The Healers came, and Theophany followed them back to St. Mungo’s. She left Boniface at the farm to be there with Compline and Lissy’s girls. She didn’t add that she wanted him to stay for other reasons. If this affected the whole family, then SIlyn would be in trouble and need help when he got back.

...if he got back.

Theophany shut the thought down and kept her mind on tight reins for the next hour. Merryn had been informed and would arrive soon. She sat outside emergency reception, then outside an exam room door, then outside the curtain of Lissy’s hospital bed. Finally she was allowed to part the curtain and sit with her.

The Healers could find no definite cause, but they said Lissy had been sorely physically and nutritionally depleted when admitted. Theophany explained that her sister-in-law was taking thorough care of herself and her baby and that she had no history of anemia or other illness, but the Healers looked skeptical. They had revived her and expected no lasting ill effects but insisted Lissy be left to wake on her own, so Theophany waited in silence. And thought.

Something had drained Lissy of all her strength in minutes. Probably something similar had occurred to Dad, and Ike had feared it was a stroke. Theophany herself had experienced a sudden weakness and fainted, but Boniface had only been disoriented and the twins barely affected at all. The curtain tore back and Merryn appeared, white to the lips.

Elisabeth?” he whispered.

“She’s going to be fine,” Theophany said softly and gave up her seat for him.

Merryn sank into the chair. His eyes were fixed on his wife’s face. Theophany slipped out and closed the curtain behind her. She would get awful tea while he collected himself.

St. Mungo’s, like everywhere else, was plastered in Ministry propaganda. Theophany stared blankly at the wanted posters hanging over the hissing tea urn. The Ministry's Undesirables hadn’t changed. No names had been added, but none had been removed either. Some important people were still free. Theophany could only assume they were important by how fiercely they were hunted. Of course, she thought glancing at the famous face on the topmost poster, everyone knew that boy was important.

Theophany bore back two white mugs with some scaldingly hot and mostly bland brew, but Merryn, a little red-eyed, accepted it gratefully. They enchanted the curtain against eavesdropping but didn’t talk for a few minutes at first. When he was ready, Theophany went over all she knew had happened.

Merryn listened in silence before asking slowly, “Tiff, do you believe in...sympathetic emotions?”

“Um…?”

“I mean, feeling something at the same time someone else is.”

“Considering what just happened – wait...did you feel it too? But you were at work“”

Merryn nodded once.

“I was at the depot taking a shipment of Goblin-made copper. It’s the best thing for the steam boilers….it seems I pitched head first and nearly crushed the head craftsmen. I was out for a few minutes.”

Theophany looked down at her mug.

“Then Silyn was most definitely affected too. And we don’t even know where he is.”

“You should go. Go talk to Maeven, he might have some idea–”

“How the hell can Maeven help?” The curtain was open and Silyn was standing there with his hair on end looking like an electrified dandelion. His eyes burned with a pale fire, but his voice shook.

“If someone’s hurt you all – I swear I will hunt them down and peel their...” He struggled. “Not important – was she badly hurt? How could this happen? The Fidelius Charm should prevent any attack.”

Theophany dropped her mug and hugged her brother.

“Idiot! Maeven was to help us find you. Lissy’s fine – the baby is fine – but how about you? You weren’t injured when it happened?”

Silyn gaped at her.

“Of course I wasn’t injured, I wasn’t there!”

He leaned past Theophany to take Lissy’s hand, frowning in concentration.

“Most of us weren’t at the house, but we all felt it. Except the kids,” Merryn explained.

“Then The Mill wasn’t attacked?” Silyn looked around. “I mean, if they got Merryn too. You would be at work–?’

“– yeah, I was –”

“I think it must be a curse directed at the family,” Theophany interrupted. “Someone got ahold of a hair or something–”

“Then how come I wasn’t harmed? Wait – would that even work? I mean Boniface and the kids are our half-siblings, so would using a hair to cast a curse work on all of us?”

“But if Theophany and Boniface both felt it and they’re half-siblings–”

Stop.

Theophany held her head. Both of her brothers looked at her, awaiting her revelation. She pulled out her watch. Behind its broken face the hands were frozen in time.

“...Silyn, what were you doing an hour and twenty-two minutes ago?”

He frowned and his mouth worked silently. Theophany was sure he must have been somewhere that protected him or deflected whatever had touched them.

“Silyn?” Merryn barked in alarm.

Silyn seemed to be sagging. Theophany caught him as his knees buckled but being half his height could only slow his drop to the floor. Silyn remained on his knees, head lowered onto his chest, Theophany supporting him from beneath.

“I think...I’m going to be sick,” he whispered.

“Bedpan –” Theophany started, but Silyn waved her away.

“Just a – I’ll be fine. More’s the pity. Merryn – Merryn, I’m so sorry. I did this. It’s all my fault.”

Merryn rubbed his eyes and then scrubbed his hand through his hair.

“Okay, Sils, I’ll humor you. Why do you think this is your fault?”

“It’s my fault,” Silyn insisted quietly. He gently but firmly pushed Theophany away and stood up slowly. “I broke a promise. We promised Tiff, that night she came back from the Pensieve, that we wouldn’t fly. Well, I did. A little over an hour ago I was in a tight spot – it doesn’t matter what – but it seemed the best way out. So I broke my promise...because it was convenient.”

Theophany bit her tongue. This was starting to make dreadful sense. Merryn however was skeptical.

“So the heavens are punishing the family because you broke a pinky swear? Really, come on–”

“No, no, it’s the direct result. Tiff had a theory that flying could be detrimental somehow.”

“This is just correlation, not causation.”

“How come You-Know-Who didn’t fly until after he became...well...You-Know-Who?” Theophany asked softly. Both brothers fell silent and looked at her. “I mean, if you discovered how to fly, and no one else knew, it would be an amazing advantage. But he didn’t. No one knew about it, not until long after he was powerful. Not until he had fame and followers.”

She looked up at her brothers.

“A lot of followers. All linked to each other and bonded to him...as if by blood.”

“You’re saying that the Eaters can fly because they share a link? Through the mark?” Merryn considered this. “And then what it feeds off is...oh. You’d need a lot of energy. A lot of power.”

Silyn was nodding. His jaw tight.

“More than just one person possesses. So when I flew, I stole a little strength from each of you, from Lissy and the – the baby too...oh Merlin.”

Silyn looked like he was going to faint again.

Calm down,” Merryn snapped. “We don’t know that. Besides, Lissy isn’t related to you by blood. We’ve been flying before, generations of it on the Botterill side. Mum’s too. How come this has never happened before?”

“Dad has been sick for a long time now, and remember what a surprise that stroke was two years ago. He was so healthy.” Like a ball of string sent rolling, Theophany’s thoughts came unspun. “Mum’s parents didn’t live long, in fact her older siblings died only a little before she did. And she was...only forty-seven.”

“Yeah, but she was sick,” Merryn cried and then quickly lowered his voice. “I mean, I know the family tree is marked with somewhat below average lifespans, but now you’re saying we killed our own mother by draining her energy?

Silyn put a hand over his mouth, his eyes going wide.

“No!” Theophany shook her head vehemently, “No – think about it. Us, her parents, her two brothers, all flying, all using each other’s energy, not just hers. Long before she was born, before we were born. And our father’s family too. Botterills have always died young. We’ve been stealing from each other. And remember Lissy’s been so unwell. Even though she’s not blood, there’s the baby, and marriage might be enough to bond us, so we could have been feeding off of her too–”

Please don’t say it like that!” Silyn begged. He was looking sicker.

“Well, we would have noticed, right? Felt it?” Merryn pointed out.

“And how often did we fly before the war? Really?” Theophany demanded.

“It was always wiser to keep a low profile,” Merryn agreed, “So hardly ever. Emergencies.”

“So we wouldn’t have really noticed if, occasionally, we all felt poorly at once. We’d just think it was flu or something. Of course the Botterills...”

“Flew all the time back in the day. And Mum’s parents. But why was it so much worse this time?”

“We lost whatever tolerance we built up? Or maybe because Dad’s older and Lissy’s pregnant, it was just too much. And the twins and Boniface are just younger and stronger, so they didn’t feel it as much.”

Merryn stared at them both.

“It’s all entirely speculation. But damn it, it fits. Why doesn’t it surprise me that the Botterills were slowly sucking the life from each other and their kids. They did it emotionally, why not literally? Silyn, congrats…. it looks like I have to accept your heartfelt apology and explain to Lissy that she has the most predatory in-laws in history.”

“That isn’t even a little funny,” Silyn whispered thickly.

“Tough. You’ll have to deal with black humor because I’m not going to get angry and scream at you.” Merryn took his wife’s hand. “And neither will she.”

“Merryn, I–”

“Just take Tiff home, she looks done in.”

Why does everyone keep saying I look tired...oh. I probably do, actually.”

“And Boniface must be worried.”

Silyn nodded and hesitated.

“Lissy’s really going to be okay.” His voice wobbled a little. “I’ve seen it.”

Merryn frowned.

“You don’t need to offer me that, Sils. Your being here is worth more than your Sight. Always.”

Silyn looked about to cry, so he dragged Theophany from the bed and started scolding her about making Boniface wait so long. Theophany allowed herself to be pulled along, happy to float in his wake.

Dad was back from the clinic, no signs of a stroke but he was warned to be careful for a while. Normally they would take him to St Mungo’s, but it wasn’t the best place for Muggles just now. Boniface had warmed up last night’s stew for the kids and had been generally helpful and domestic but was desperately relieved when Theophany got back. She had only taken charge for a few minutes, commanding Silyn to eat and the twins to help Boniface with the chores, before Ike appeared in great wrath.

“What Ike wants to know,” he demanded in a croak, “Is what is Ike even for if Miss is always taking charge when Miss herself needs rest!

“It’s just a bump on the head,” Theophany explained weakly.

“You do look tired, Tiff,” Silyn added, unhelpfully.

If I hear that one more time–

“Miss is, of course, Ike’s Mistress, and Miss may do as she pleases,” the house-elf’s voice rose in crescendo, “but if Ike was to do his job, then Miss would go straight to bed. But as Ike isn’t allowed to be taking care of them, then Ike is a terrible elf and will be pressing himself in the Millwheel until Ike is flat enough to slide through the letterbox!

“Please don’t do that, Ike. I’ll go, I promise,” Theophany begged.

From his armchair Dad regarded the indignant elf.

“You should have been a lawyer, Ike.”

“Ike would be whatever Master likes, if Miss will listen.”

“I’m listening, see? I’m going up now. Do not go near the Millwheel.”
Chapter 18 by Meadowsweet
Author's Notes:
Usual disclaimers, I do not own the Wizarding World, Harry Potter, none of it. Nada. Zip.
The next morning Zuri and her brother Sipho knocked at the back door while the Knapps were finishing breakfast.

“Listen, listen now.” Zuri clapped her hands as she came in. “I need you to promise perfect silence, no one says anything. Now, are you ready? No words, remember. There is a taboo. They have made a taboo of the name. The name of You-Know-Who.”

There was a collective intake of breath, but they remembered not to speak.

“Sipho,” Zuri prompted, “tell them about your friend.”

“He was taken.” Sipho’s voice was heavy. “Taken before my eyes. He had spoken the name, and Snatchers appeared within the minute. A small act of defiance has been made the surest way to betray ourselves.”

“We have charmed ourselves. We cannot speak it. Theophany, the children worry me most.”

Prosper and Compline looked around at their sister, eyes wide.

“They may speak it accidently, or even in fear.” Zuri came and put her hands on them. “Please understand I know you are not foolish children.”

They nodded but looked uneasy.

“Is it possible to charm against a word?” Theophany wondered. “Without having them speak it? Or a Memory Charm?”

“No, then they might hear the name and repeat it, forgetting what it is. I can take the word away without the need to speak. Will you let me?”

Theophany knelt and turned the twins towards her.

“Alright?”

“Yeah,” Compline said softly.

Prosper merely gave a thumbs up. Zuri made them face her and put her hand over Prosper’s mouth. Theophany kept her arms around them. Raising her wand, she said the incantation aloud for Theophany to hear,

Vello Laqueum.”

Thin light came from Prosper’s mouth. He crossed his eyes to watch it slip into Zuri’s hand. She clenched a fist and then opened and the light was gone.

“Say the name,” Zuri instructed.

Prosper looked at her like she was crazy.

“It’s okay, try it.”

“No wahala,” Prosper whispered. His hand flew to his throat. “I didn’t mean to say that, I mean...no wahala, wahala!

Compline started to giggle. Zuni smiled.

“This means, no troubles. No worries. I have taken the name and given you different words. Would you like something different?” Zuri asked Compline.

“No, give me no wahala!”

The Knapps considered charming each other as well, but didn’t think it necessary. Theophany felt secretly panicked at the idea of having no control over her words and thought the others must feel the same. Zuri demonstrated the spell a few more times for them in case. Theophany thought it was similar to the incantation to draw out memories but didn’t say so and excused herself.

“Going to the workshop, love?” Dad called after Theophany.

“No, I have some errands to run.”

Theophany couldn’t deny she was taking some extra care with her appearance. Lissy had said she was pale even before yesterday’s drama, and after St. Mungo’s it was made abundantly clear to her she was looking the worse for wear. If she was honest with herself, and she didn’t want to be, Severus’s obvious disbelief of her true age still irked her. True, she mostly wore her mother's outdated robes, but they were well made and decent. Yes, her hair was unfashionably long and wild with twists and crinkles, but at least it was soft. If her hair were only as thick as her brows, she would have no complaints.

Today Theophany smoothed her hair with Sleakeazy’s Hair Potion so at least all the crinkles would fall the same way. She chose robes with a less severe cut than usual; she wanted to appear friendly to Miss Glinda Herbert. Best not look the stereotype of mad, reclusive, potions brewer. Though honestly, she smirked, Severus looked more that part than she did.

It was best not to Apparate into Upper Flagley to avoid disturbing the Muggle population. Theophany took the bus into town, her Repellant Charm ensuring any Muggles' eyes didn’t find her worth a second glance. When she got off, just before the square, there was someone who gave her more than a glance, who was in fact waiting for her like a black crow among pigeons. Severus Snape stood with his arms crossed. People slid around him as if he were nothing more than a signpost, which perhaps he’d spelled himself to look like.

Theophany leapt off the back of the bus and hissed at him, “What are you doing here?”

The people around looked slightly confused and avoided eye contact. She might very well appear to be speaking to a post.

“Interviewing Miss Herbert.”

“What?”

“I have already obtained all the necessary information. There is no time to waste, we must visit the property her aunt, Elisaveta, left her. Not the house near Hamburg, but the preserve, if you are right in assuming there’s more there than appears.”

“Oh, right. Certainly.”

This was moving much faster than she had planned.

“I suggest we Apparate to King’s Cross. From there–”

Theophany pulled out her watch.

“There won’t be an Eastern Train until after noon, but if we take the 10:45 we can connect in Bruges and avoid the lunch traffic on platform 7 ½.”

Lest she sound like a railway enthusiast Theophany added, “My brother works for the Wizarding Rail....”

“Useful,” he commented.

“Very,” she agreed.

Please don’t let me become awkward and self conscious, Theophany prayed. Let me be a friend to him…

She managed a grin and offered an elbow in pantomime.

“Shall we?”

With what was almost an eyeroll Severus turned on the spot. Theophany grinned swiftly. A response. She was getting to him a little. She Disapparated and Apparated in King’s Cross, falling into step alongside him. In the crowd they were easily dismissed and crossed the barrier onto platform 7 ½ without attention. The platform was nearly empty and, with an hour’s wait, Theophany saw the potential for a very long and awkward silence. She stowed her ticket in her pocket and schooled herself to sit still.

“Why did you place greater importance on Elisaveta Herbert than Dragoslav Mlakar?” Severus asked, apropos of nothing.

“Mlakar was an old pureblood name, not as old as some on the continent but well established. However they never acquired great influence. Their ancestors managed the country estate and were rarely seen in politics beyond local positions in agriculture. Neither were they wealthy. The name is pretty much extinct now, no direct descendents, and the estate was given over to the government. I don’t see how they could have built a place as secret or ‘dangerous’ as you describe.”

“They might not have built it, but as an old pureblood family they may have been party to it.”

“Invited in, you think?” Theophany kept her eyes fixed on the poster across the tracks, a Ministry bulletin asking the question, Are You a Victim of the Muggle Menace? A young witch was depicted, looking frail and depressed. How exactly she was being menaced was unclear.

“I’ve wanted to ask you, but didn’t want to break my promise by ‘requiring an explanation,’ so feel free not to answer. Is this place some kind of exclusive club? And the people involved make it dangerous?”

“Very exclusive.”

He sounded wry.

“Then, if so, why the Mlakar family?” Theophany concluded. “Why would they be invited? They have nothing to bring to the table. Not like the Bulstrode family or Nott...I mean, imagine one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight fostering a member of a lesser blood family with no influence or money. It’s unheard of.”

Severus was silent for a moment.

“You’re right,” he said finally. “That would be an...exceptional circumstance.”

The way he drew out the word made “exceptional” sound anything but pleasant. He didn’t say anything more. Theophany sighed and decided to buy herself some magazines and maybe a novel. It would be a long day.

After they boarded, Severus still hadn’t spoken. Two hours later he wasn’t even pretending to sleep but just stared out the window. The German landscape looked just as bare and cold as England had. Theophany was sure he wasn’t really seeing any of it. Her novel was terrible, and eventually she couldn’t distract herself with it any longer and exchanged it for the guidebook.

“Where are we going again?” she asked Severus.

“Schneverdingen.”

“Gesundheit. Ever been?”

“No.”

“Me neither. But the guide says it’s “quaint” and “the perfect blend of rural German countryside and old world village”. Of course there’s also Pietzmoor. The “Largest area of bog in Lower Saxony.” Goodness. Are all of your first dates this glamorous?”

Theophany bit her tongue. She’d gone too far. But Severus only looked at her with such confusion she could only bite it again to keep from laughing. It seemed he didn’t understand she was teasing. Much less flirting.

“The preserve was, as far as Muggles know, established in 1921,” he explained,.“However it was a magical reserve long before that, courtesy of the Herbert family.”

So he chose to ignore her silly comments. Or perhaps he simply couldn’t comprehend them. Either way, Theophany realized she had complete amnesty to say what she wished if she wanted.

“So hinkypunks, murtlaps, and will o’ the wisps galore?”

“And even larger specimens, yes, as well as rare carnivorous flora.”

“And we’re there to see if something else is hidden on this preserve?”

“Yes.”

“Severus,” this had been bothering Theophany for some time, “If this place we’re looking for is so very secret and dangerous, surely it will be under the Fidelius Charm?”

“No. It was to be accessible to different people, at different times. Those responsible aren’t always the same people, and other circumstances would necessitate...no matter. In any case recasting the charm every time would be redundant and no more secure than not having it.”

His answer was firm. This wasn’t some hazy notion they were chasing, but a place he knew about in great detail, yet had never been. So perhaps not exclusively for Death Eaters then. The fact that it was abroad and not located in Britain also spoke to its not being exclusively Death Eater.

The train, continuing straight on despite terrain, forest, and water, was making the journey without reaching the levels of speed a Muggle train would need to make the journey in twice the time. Soon Luneburg was a haze on the horizon. The haze sharpened into bare relief as they drew nearer, becoming black branches and then wide parks and glens.

“It must be absolutely lovely in summer,” Theophany smiled and added, “we must come back one day.”

He didn’t answer. Her hypothesis seemed to hold true that Severus’s weapon of last resort was silence.

They didn’t speak as they disembarked and moved through the barrier to the station, again invisible to Muggle eyes. The wooden walk that turned the expanse of moor into a tourist destination was abandoned at this time of year. The locals would think them mad if they were spotted. Perhaps they were mad. Despite the sensation of searching in a haystack, Theophany followed. Severus seemed to know where he was going, their boots making hollow sounds on the boardwalk.

As the walk entered a stand of spindly trees, Severus stopped. From his robes he drew a letter with a large, ornate seal. Theophany wasn’t close enough to see the design clearly. Severus held it up before him, as if trying to read the contents within. The air thickened before him. He sliced downward with his hand, and the air parted with a whistle around the edges of the letter. The wooded view peeled back to reveal a new path: a bridge that rose gracefully above the boardwalk, ornamented by a large bronze lynx on either side. At the far end of the bridge a single tower rose, round and solid. It was surrounded by smaller, more modern buildings and many greenhouses.

“Clever of Elisaveta,” Severus mused, “to hide industry in the middle of a purported nature reserve.”

“She didn’t preserve magical creatures or plants,” Theophany said slowly, “but used them.”

“Mostly experimental research. Work that continues under her niece, Glinda.”

“Glinda who gave you that letter, I imagine. Both letter of introduction and key?”

“Yes, her ideologies concerning wizard superiority made it simple to acquire an introduction. She’s unharmed, though I had to take her memories concerning my visit…”

Theophany blinked. “Of course. I wasn’t worried.”

She started over the bridge and heard him follow after. But as they drew near the gates, Severus easily gained the lead. Theophany held back. It appeared she would be taking a supporting role.


Severus had been relieved Theophany had proven so reliable. She hadn’t seemed overly put out by his sudden appearance and had adapted to the new plan swiftly. Now she was hanging back and letting him lead. They passed through the bronze gates and approached the guard stationed behind a matching bronze grill. He was stationed outside a single door. No other entrance was apparent. The wizard looked at them narrowly and said something. Severus could guess the meaning and handed over Ginda Herbert’s letter. At the guard's touch the seal snapped and he read the contents briefly.

“Welcome to Pietzmoor,” he said in English. “Identification, please?”

Severus could easily hand over the papers. Not even the Headmaster of Hogwarts was exempt from the Ministry’s new passion for registering everything that moved. But meekly submitting his papers didn’t feel right. Pinching his lips together in a closed sneer he unbuttoned his left cuff. Never removing his glare from the guard, he rolled up his sleeve. The Dark Mark writhed. The black snake doubled back on itself through the skull’s gaping jaws. The Dark Lord’s followers may be exclusive to Britain, but there were pureblood sympathizers everywhere. Including the Herberts.

“Unlike papers, this,” Severus drawled, “is impossible to fake.”

The guard's eyes flicked interestedly over the mark. Most likely the first he’d seen in person.

“I will inform them of your arrival.”

Severus didn’t thank him. Behind the guard was a wall that looked like a Muggle switchboard, only it emitted a constant hum and puffs of purple smoke from multiple brass pipes. Several glass pipes rose from the top and disappeared into the ceiling. The guard flipped one of the many levers and hit a button marked ‘mezzanine’. There were other buttons designating other floors, offices, and personnel. With a musical chime and a loud rattle something rose from the contraption and shot through one of the glass pipes. The guard reached down and pulled another lever. With an efficient click the door swung open.

Severus finished buttoning his sleeve without turning around. No need for Theophany to see it. She was still standing silently behind him. No one questioned her presence. His credentials had been enough for both of them.

They entered into a circular room, bare of any decoration, but clean. At the opposite end were a pair of double doors, the wood painted over in bronze which rather ruined them in Severus’s opinion. They swung open from the inside and a young wizard greeted them.

“Good afternoon. I am Bretz, and I am pleased to welcome you.”

He bowed slightly. Severus nodded.

“I understand you wish to tour the facility?”

“As the letter said,” Severus confirmed brusquely.

“Then we can begin immediately. I must ask you not to touch anything and stay away from cordoned areas. Danke.”

Bretz led them from the anteroom into the tower proper. It too was a circular room but on a much larger scale. The interior seemed to utilize the entire width and height of the tower excepting only offices and smaller rooms that ran the circumference. These were accessed by a small lift that climbed the furthermost side from the entrance. Whole trees dripping lichen were growing around them. Cages of furred and feathered things rose on all sides or hung over them, all gibbering and screaming. The ceiling, several stories above their heads, was a small circle of light the size of a saucer.

“Is that enchantment or glass?” Severus asked. “And does it light the lower levels as well?”

“Glass,” Bretz replied. “We get the best results from our plants with natural light. This is the lower-most level. If you please, we will begin with the Southwest growing station. We have some obscure Conforming Conifers, which were once essentials to potion-making in the seventeenth century–”

“Is that for purification or distillation?” Theophany cut in.

Severus and Bretz turned back. She was pointed over their heads. It was so vast it was unbelievable Severus hadn’t noticed it, but the glass was so pure it was almost invisible. Snaking above their heads, in a craze of angles and loops, was a glass pipe wide enough for a small child to crawl through. It took up every spare space in the canopy above them, bending around trees and twisting through walkways. The glass labyrinth seemed to descend from the very top of the tower and eventually disappeared into a large cistern in the middle of the floor.

“Purification,” Bretz responded briefly. “We process in such quantities that individual systems of separation took more time and space.”

“How do you keep the temperature constant? The potion will cool as it passes through, and a Warming Spell would disrupt the potion–”

“Yes, yes.” Bretz seemed to consider her question elementary. “Any additional spellwork on a potion will affect the result. The majority of our work is in raw ingredients.”

“But even raw ingredients mustn’t be exposed to too much magical influence before use, lest it warp their function. As you said, natural sunlight gives better results than enchantment.”

Bretz eyed her. Clearly he was reevaluating her status from casual observer to professional.

“There are fans set up in the joiners of the pipe. Hot or cool air can be used as required based on the needs of the potion or ingredient. We take temperature readings every ten meters.”

“But the air introduced into the pipe will affect the speed of the contents.” Theophany’s voice was only pleasant, but it was clear she would not be put off. “A basic example would be dittany. It takes three minutes for dittany to separate from the dross in a standard pipe, any longer and you’ve lost potency. How do you factor the fans creating speed or resistance into your purification time?”

Bretz pursed his lips.

“Well–”

“Excuse me,” Severus interrupted. “I don’t have a great deal of time. Who should I speak to at the South growing station?”

“Junge. But perhaps if we might continue this later, I may show you there myself…?”

“Oh, Severus doesn’t mind. He’s not interested in mechanics. He’d rather go on ahead. These fans, how are they operated? If they’re hand operated, surely there’s a margin for error in the timing?”

Bretz turned to answer and Severus moved away. Theophany had provided him the opportunity and he took it. He glanced over his shoulder. Bretz was now providing a stepladder for her to more closely examine the pipe immediately over their heads. Brilliant. Beneath that cheerful, easy manner Theophany possessed a surprising amount of guile – and a hex like a giant’s fist.

Severus strode purposefully towards the far side of the tower. He neither hurried nor crept. People were less inclined to question you if you walked with authority. He passed through a maze of raised planters and carefully tended plots. To one side he could see the Conforming Conifers bending agreeably around each other at right angles. Some of these planters contained plants that were tethered or caged and not for the sake of their growth. Snapping sounds could be heard, and leafy tendrils snaked out to sense him as he passed by.

A young witch carrying a box of live mice paused and asked if she could help him.

“Bretz has already taken care of me, thank you.”

As long as someone else was responsible for him, it wasn’t her problem. She smiled politely and turned back to the large stalk that bloomed over her head. Its flower was twice the side of a sunflower and was flushed a deep purple. Its leaves trembled excitedly. As Severus moved around her, she Levitated a single squirming mouse from the box. Severus tried to shut his ears to the sudden rustle of leaves and the scrabbling of tiny paws. It seemed he was becoming squeamish of late.

The grounds outside were planted out in gardens or screened in greenhouses. Nothing was hidden there. Severus was interested in what lay under the tower. Despite Bretz’s assurances this was the lowest level, the timber reinforcements were buried deeply and looked broad enough to support subterranean walls in addition to the weight of the tower itself.

The bronze lift raised and lowered workers in white coats or overalls. It stopped on the ground floor. He needed another way to access the rooms he knew were below them. A wizard with a clipboard passed by him. In his wake followed self-propelled carts bearing broken equipment, pottery shards, and discarded plant trimmings. Each cart was so uniformly filled to the brim that Severus wondered what was underneath all the trash. Rather than open sides the carts were covered with canvas, preventing him from seeing more.

He followed them at a distance to a door marked 'Personnel Only' in German, English, French, and Goblin. The wizard held it open for the carts, and as the last few entered, Severus heard them stop immediately on the other side. The wizard entered and shut the door. There was a whirl of machinery and a metallic groan of protest. The service lift.

Severus waited until the noise had stopped before approaching the door. It was a simple, platform lift, meant for much larger objects than he. He shut the cage door and spun the handle to lock it. Examining the panel, he saw there were no helpful labels or names here, but there were far more basement levels than Bretz had admitted to. The obvious choice for anything secret would be the lowest floor, as it was the most secure. As human nature was usually obvious, Severus pushed the button for B15. He dismissed the idea of casting a Disillusionment Charm. It would be harder to explain if he were caught. Best to enter boldly and avoid suspicion in the first place.

Metal struck metal, and the lift stopped. Severus sprung the handle, and the doors slid back. It wasn’t what he had expected.

It was an underground storage vault that seemed, at first glance, to hold only junk. Shelves to rival the Hogwarts library rose on either side of a wide center aisle. Not all the items were shelved but hung from racks or were mounted on walls. Directly before him was a mirror set in a frame resembling a blazing sun. Its rays extended several feet in all directions; the metal cunningly worked seemed to waver with heat.

He passed it by. The first shelves on either hand contained all things glass. Stained windows, beveled dangling ornaments, bubbled vases of impossible thinness and more mirrors. Mirrors that reflected mirrors and the light of a hundred other reflections passing through glass to glass. As he walked by them, little white tags of paper caught the draft from his robes and fluttered entreatingly. He caught one in his fingers and read,Robiere original. Cut glass and moonstone. Paris. Received 1928. He had no idea who this mirror maker was, and no interest. Severus checked tags at random as he went. All followed the same format: an artist, a description, place and date.

After the glassware section came furniture, brooding under dustcovers and sheets. There was enough to refurbish one or two wings of Hogwarts. Some of it was older than antique, ancient even, their carvings arcane. Others were more recent and many even Muggle-made. None of it was dusty or neglected. There was no damp. In fact, as he drew closer to the center, it was growing warmer. There must be a heat source of some kind. Eventually Severus caught a flicker of firelight and pushed through some hanging Persian carpets.

He froze, one foot still entangled behind him. The furnace wasn’t a furnace, or rather just a furnace. A fire rumbled in a great iron box, and that box was embedded in the belly of a mechanical giant. Fifteen or twenty feet if it stood, now it sprawled like an abandoned doll, but this was no toy. Its fingers were iron, as long as Severus’s forearm, and well oiled. Its arms coiled springs and metal pistons, lovingly covered with ceramic plates as a sort of outer armour. The porcelain was beautifully decorated with an embossed design. Its face was a ceramic mask, the jaw and cheeks disproportionately long, giving it a melancholy look. Behind its mask the iron bulk of its head sat low on the shoulders. Dangling over what could be called a temple, like a graduate’s tassel, was a lock. It was the lock that revealed the nature of the giant. Explained too why it needed ceramic, or clay, in its body to hold the spell together.

Golem.

Old magic. Once widely and rightly feared. The sheer size of this one dated it to at least over a century old. Gradually they had been outlawed for private use, and then forbidden altogether for their single-minded behaviour. The scroll of spells suspended in its head could dictate purpose, but it couldn’t force behaviour. A Golem would protect by any means. It was a guard dog with a psychosis. But how did it get here? And was a Golem really necessary to protect this glorified estate sale? The accumulated value must be incalculable, but Golems had been outlawed since 1946.

Severus closed his eyes. Clearly he envisioned the little tags, so much gibberish to him except the dates. 1936. 1930. 1944. Paris. Denmark. Warsaw. It all made sense now. He sighed. Plundered goods from murdered families. That was the Herberts’ secret.

There was nothing more here for him to discover. Severus turned to go. A motion, no more than a breeze, shifted the carpets. They swung ponderously. There was no sound, just that single brief stirring of air, but Severus felt his neck prickle. How could something so large move without sound? Severus took slow steps. He was in the main aisle now. He didn’t turn his head. Again a stirring of air that was only a whisper but strong enough to set the carpets billowing behind him. Still he didn’t turn, he couldn’t start acting like prey until the exit was in sight. Even then he could be anticipated and his escape cut off.

The circular racks were beginning to spin in the draft. It was a strong wind now and everything was creaking and driving before it except Severus Snape. It was moving faster, closer, but still made no noise. He had to leave the main aisle. There was a particular turn he needed.

Severus slid between two massive bookcases. The first wardrobe was large enough to hold a man. The door swung open with a creak. There was a silence. Severus felt his pursuer rush forward, the air tunneling towards him. He slammed the wardrobe door shut and threw himself behind the bureau that stood opposite.

An iron-fingered hand swept through the wardrobe like it was taking the top off an egg. The shatter cracked the eerie silence and echoed. Debris showered Severus as the Golem peeled the wardrobe open. It was fast and enchanted to be silent. But this behemoth of metal was not intelligent. Methodical and logical, yes. It would predict his movements to reach the exit. Severus gritted his teeth.

Damn it. Damn it. Damn it.

He didn’t like his choices. But when had that ever mattered? He stood up and ran. The Golem flung the wardrobe aside. The ceramic mask followed his progress impassively, and then, without a sound, it came after him. Its enchantment prevented him from hearing how close it came, and looking would slow him down. Severus chose the smallest opening between two armoires and slid through. As he gained the end of the aisle, he heard the Golem crash through. Fast but clumsy.

Severus kept his path serpentine and narrow. Drawing his wand, he randomly blasted things from the shelves, scattering the path behind him. No longer silent, the vaulted basement was full of terrible crunches and crashes as the Golem pulverized everything in its way. It wasn’t slowed by the obstacles. As Severus caught sight of the lift, he was swallowed in an abrupt silence.

Where was it?

He fell to one side, crawling behind a massive canopy bed. Twisting his neck around to look behind him, he caught sight of the Golem, soaring silent overhead. Its stationary leap had carried it double its height into the air and about fifty meters ahead where it crashed into the mirrors and glass. It had predicted his attempt to reach the exit and now blocked him. Logically he should try and find another exit. Logically.

Too out of breath to curse, Severus crawled out of hiding and whipped his wand at the Golem’s head. His jinx rebounded and shattered more glass. The lock was spelled against breaking, probably unlocking too. The Golem slowed its advance. It hadn’t predicted attack.

Immobilis.

The Golem’s limbs froze. There was the scream of metal straining and slowly it began to move forward again. Severus hissed in frustration. The thing had protective spells and anti-jinxes generations deep. He didn’t have time to work through the possibilities.

The Golem continued its stiff progress. Severus continued refreezing it as he thought. Drastic measures like Fiendfyre were not an option. The entire tower and everyone in it would be incinerated. If he couldn’t get through the protective spells, then how did he get around?

“Do not focus on the object as it is, resisting a new form, but rather think of it as you need it to be.”

Minerva. Transfiguration wasn’t his strongest subject, but if she was right and he could change the problem to one more easily solved...take away what was undesired.

“It’s a question of essences.”

Now when had Theophany said that? Pearlwort. Substituting the cold of the moon for warmth. Cold for hot. Unbreakable for fragile.

A substitute.

Severus’s eye fell on the ring of broken glass that surrounded the Golem. Curious and exhausted, he spoke.

“Mutati.”

It wasn’t a Transfigurative Spell, in all strictness. It was a switch. The glass trembled as if the floor was shaking. The shards emitted a high ringing and grew brighter before falling still. Now dull and grey their glitter was gone. The lock dangling from the Golem’s head hummed with that same ringing tone. It was a perfectly made lock cast in twinkling glass. Severus flung a jinx at it, but the Golem raised its hands protectively, waving away spells like gnats. Expensive property, its protocols were-self preservation over attack.

Severus pocketed his wand, cursed once, and ran. Flying in closed spaces wasn’t the easiest thing. Fortunately he need only propel himself towards the Golem, a more than large enough target that would stop his trajectory before he became soup against the far wall. He flew under the Golem’s waving arm and alighted on the shoulder under the lock. There were handgrips here and steps inserted into the side of the neck. Alarmed, the Golem swung around.

Severus’s feet flew out from under him, but he had already caught hold of a grip. Swearing savagely through his teeth, he pulled himself back onto the shoulder and up the steps. Clinging behind the scrollwork that suggested an ear, he heaved himself up and brought a heel down on the lock. The glass shattered under his heel. A wheelbarrow-sized hand tried to seize him, but he immobilized it. Wrenching open the hatch door atop the iron skull, Severus grasped the small scroll that was suspended there. He lifted it free and the Golem froze. With heavy precision it fell to its knees and was still.

Severus gasped and hooked an arm around the ear to steady himself. A good deal had been damaged in the Golem’s methodical rampage. There was no way to hide the struggle that had taken place. Best if it look like a defect in the Golem. Severus unrolled the scroll and scanned the text. His modern languages were nil and his ancient languages rather rusty, but he found the line of text he wanted.

With his thumb he rubbed at the faded scroll. The old ink flaked away leaving only a shadow. He resealed it and placed it back into the Golem’s iron skull. Its eyes lit. With a groaning of machinery it rose to its feet. Best not stay for the next bit.
Severus leapt from its shoulder and flew to the ground. He landed only a meter from the lift and had swung the cage door shut by the time the Golem’s missing protocol began to take effect.

The Golem reached up and peeled off the iron hatch on its skull. Using the broken door it attacked its own beautifully crafted joints and limbs, punching holes into its furnace belly and stripping away sheets of metal. Digging out its own life source. It had orders to destroy any animated thing in the vicinity. Now that he had erased the clause preventing self harm, its defensive protocols would target itself. No evidence of his external tampering would remain. Murder disguised as suicide. A first for him. Severus turned away and hit the button marked ‘mezzanine’.

A Cleaning Charm removed any dust or remaining debris from his robes. By the time the lift stopped, he looked much the same as always. Slipping from the lift, he regained the small forest of potted carnivorous plants and found a young wizard trying to water a particularly feisty specimen. The wizard was too engaged to see the Confundus Charm hit him.

“What’s your name?” Severus asked him.

“Er...Eberhart Krukle.”

“Right. We’ve been talking for quite a while, Mr. Krukle.”

“Oh, have we?”

“I got lost looking for the Conforming Conifers and asked if you were Junge–”

“Am I?”

“No, you’re Eberhart Krukle.”

Krukle frowned. “If you say so.”

“So you answered my questions–”

“About what?”

“The conifers! And we’ve been talking quite a while now.”

“Have we? That’s no good, I have three more of these bastards to water.”

“Then you should say that it’s growing late and you should take me back to Bretz.”

The young wizard was nodding. “Yes. Yes. I should–”

Snape twitched his wand and pocketed it while Eberhart blinked and nodded. The wizard frowned and checked his watch.

“Sir. It’s growing late. I should take you back to Bretz.”

“Of course, I am sorry to have troubled you.”

With much politeness, Eberhart guided him back to the far side of the tower. The sunlight above was dimming, but the bustle inside the tower was as high as ever. The glass piping system was active too. Some translucent solution sloshed through it, bursting into fine spray at turns and sometimes slowing to barely a trickle. In its wake a fine sediment was left, the dross separated out.

Ahead Severus could see Bretz and two other wizards, technicians it would seem, standing atop a great tank. It seemed the end goal of the pipe. A protective railing ran around the edge, but Theophany was, unsurprisingly, leaning a little too far over it. Someone had produced a small stool to minimize the difference between the high railing and Theophany’s low stature. It seemed Theophany had managed to finagle a demonstration out of Bretz. As Severus watched, Bretz put out a hand to steady her atop her stool, but Theophany waved him away, flashing a brilliant smile.

“Bretz!” Eberhart called, “I’ve got one of yours here.”

Bretz didn’t seem overly concerned about Severus’s absence and welcomed him back with equanimity. Theophany greeted him with much more excitement.

“Severus! You’ve missed it; this is ingenious.”

“I’m sure you can tell me everything about it. However, it seems you have not been watching the time.”

Theophany pulled out her watch.

“Oh! It’s that late? Oh, Mr. Bretz, you should have said something.”

“We have some time yet before visitors are no longer allowed. There is a great deal of heavy machinery and work that must be done in the evening shift, and we can’t have any guests present. Did you find Junge?”

“No. Mr. Krukle answered my questions. My thanks for your time.”

Severus whirled about to go, but Theophany stopped him.

“Severus, surely we have a little time to see the rest?”

Theophany’s smile was bright. Didn’t her face hurt from smiling like that? And her eyes were a little too wide. She was playing innocent, and the effort of appearing so was cracking. She knew there was a reason he wanted to leave in such a hurry but was throwing sand in any suspicious eyes by appearing reluctant. Bretz came to her side and she cast him another glowing smile.

“Well, sir,” Bretz stammered, “if you can muster an interest in mechanics, we have time for another demonstration.”

Severus bowed his head slightly and let his hand wander to his left forearm.

“Thank you. Unfortunately my time isn’t my own today.”

Bretz’s eyes went from Severus’s forearm to his face and back.

“Of course, sir. Regrettable, but I hope you will come again.”

Severus only nodded tersely. They were led out by the guard, and Bretz wished them a safe journey. He lingered for a moment in the entry, but Theophany only flashed a last radiant smile before striding across the bronze bridge. Severus easily caught her up.

“As soon as we cross the bridge, we can Apparate. The train station.”

Theophany kept her eyes fixed ahead.

“Are you alright? Something happened. Are you hurt?” she whispered.

“No.”

She didn’t ask anything further. In silence they passed between the bronze lynx guardians and as one turned on the spot. The smell of dead grass and snow became concrete and tar. The train’s whistle drowned out Theophany’s words. She grabbed his arm and repeated herself.

“Sure you’re alright?”

The train shrieked, and Severus saved his breath and merely nodded once. Their tickets were return so they evaded the queue and boarded. They would be departing in twenty minutes. Looking for an empty compartment reminded Severus of the Hogwarts Express. Everyone wanted their own compartment for themselves and their friends. He’d always pushed a way through, punching holes through crowds with a glare, Lily keeping close behind, trying not to be trampled and saying she wouldn’t mind where they sat. But he minded.

A small fat witch carrying too many bags pushed passed him to get into her compartment. Severus fell back and felt his shoulder collide with the wall. It was unusually painful; he must have been badly bruised by the Golem. He hissed under his breath and felt Theophany put out a hand to steady him.

“Alright?”

“Fine.”

They found a compartment, and he sat back and closed his eyes. He could feel Theophany’s questions building up, but she didn’t speak. When the train finally started to move, he opened his eyes. She was frowning at him. He noticed her fingers were clenched tightly together.

“Something happened.”

“Yes.” He blew out a breath. “But it wasn’t there. What we’re looking for. It wasn’t the right place.”

“I suppose the odds were against us being right on the first try. I was so sure they were hiding something-”

“They are. Just not what we wanted. Art and antiques from all over Europe in the 30’s and 40’s.”

Theophany’s frown deepened from puzzlement to disgust.

“So it seems the Herbert family was in agreement with any pureblood agenda, including Muggle ones. But to go through so much trouble for some antiques?”

“It’s several fortune’s worth. A Golem was guarding the vault.”

Theophany went white.

“A Golem? As in–”

“Yes, an original. Quite sickening but efficient to guard stolen artifacts with the victims’ own magic.”

“A Golem. How are you not hurt? No, you must be hurt.”

“It was a close thing.”

Theophany looked like she was about to say more, but she only clenched her hands again.

“What is it?”

“Nothing.”

She was looking white about the lips. Theophany moved her gaze to the window, probably to avoid his. He was certain now she was hiding something. There was a thought, a something she was keeping reined tight when around him. His suspicious glare seemed to have little effect, and he had to wait until she reached a decision. Theophany turned away from the window and glanced up at him.

“I was going to scold you.”

She smiled. Not the radiant smile she tossed at Bretz, but the one-corner-down smile.

“I was going to verbally flay you for leaving me so long. I didn’t – I didn’t know what to do. I kept buying time thinking any moment I’d say the wrong thing. I thought I should look for clues, signs, but I don’t know what to look for or what to do when we find it. I was terrified, Severus.”

So the brilliant smile for Bretz was a mere radiance born of nerves. Theophany unfolded her hands and held them out, palm down. They were strong, bony, hands but they were trembling.

“I can’t stop shaking. I was terrified of a few wizards, and you were fighting a Golem.” Theophany made a tsking sound and shook her head. “I thought I was being so brave and helpful.”

“Would you prefer I hurried back upstairs and dragged you back with me with no explanation so we could fight it together?”

Yes. At least I’d know where you were.”

“You didn’t look terrified.”

“Well, obviously I was trying not to!” Theophany snapped. “I take back all the nasty things I wanted to say, but Severus, sometimes you make my back teeth ache...I’m just glad you’re alright.”

She drew herself back, deeper into her seat. The subject appeared closed, but Severus felt she was still upset. By the time they arrived at King’s Cross Theophany was a little thawed, but her smile lacked conviction. She felt around in her pockets,

“I know a sublime Thai place just around – but it seems I gave all my Muggle money to the twins for school lunches.”

It might be a peace offering, but Severus still wasn’t sure what they were fighting about. He just shook his head.

“I don’t have the time.”

“Are you eating properly? Sleeping? Remember what I said –”

“I’ve taken it under consideration.”

She couldn’t be too angry if she was still concerned about his health.

“Let me help you, Severus.”

“I was under the impression that’s what you have been doing.”

“I mean, don’t disappear on your own to go fight Golems or dragons – or whatever. Don’t leave me behind. One day you’re going to need me there.”

He refused to answer. Theophany snorted and muttered, “Fine. Since you won’t reassure me, don’t complain if I stick to you like a bur.”

“Preventing you from following me would be the easiest –”

“You could try!” she snapped.

That nebulous something from the train had returned. Theophany was ablaze with temper, but it hid whatever the real issue was, preventing her from an honest argument.

While he was still trying to parse her actions, Theophany took a deep breath and jerked her head. “You’ll hear from me soon.”

She turned on the spot and Disapparated. Impossible individual. Just like dealing with a temperamental student. Severus glanced about platform 7 ½ and was satisfied no one had noticed him. He would take the Floo back to Hogwarts, directly to the headmaster’s office. He didn’t want to bump into anyone on the way.


Theophany kicked a tree soundly. She had Apparated a little further from The Mill than necessary. She needed a little privacy to throw an entirely immature and overdue tantrum. Would Severus Snape ever not fling himself into near death situations without help? The odds of survival against a Golem were low, even in groups.

Terrified. She had been so terrified. He’d been gone so long. Bretz had asked many probing questions, and she’d barely breathed the whole time. Hearing about the Golem had floored her. Apparently she could still be worried about him after the fact.
Theophany wrapped her arms around herself and shuddered. It had been all she could do not to fling her arms around him and scream at him never to do that again. Love, it seemed, was far harder than it was pleasant. Strange. She still hadn’t questioned if it was worth it. Not once. Theophany looked down at the fingernail marks she’d left on her palms. She could have picked an easier person to love. She winced in sudden embarrassment. The Thai shop had been such a desperate attempt to keep him close a little longer; reassure herself he was alright. Theophany scrubbed her fingers through her hair as if to rub away the shameful blush.

What next?

Focus on the mission. Atol Szoke was the next name on the list. She’d give much to know where Severus had got that list and what these names had in common besides pureblood ideology. If only she had some other source of information, one more way to be sure before wasting time. Theophany pushed her hair out of her face and pulled up her hood. It was an off-chance, but she would go talk to Jacka.
Chapter 19 by Meadowsweet
Author's Notes:
Don't own anything of J.K. Rowling's.
Boniface was at the Forester’s Cottage before her. It seemed he had brought some supplies for the Honeysetts and had stopped by to visit Jacka. Theophany felt a pang of guilt. She should visit the Honeysetts, not to mention the Pointdexters. As her most recent rescues they deserved more attention.

“Lavinia and Felix are quite comfortable.” Boniface assured her. “That tent has all the comforts of home. And I brought them an old wireless today.”

“Mrs. Honeysett has proven quite resourceful. I’d say she’s no stranger to camping,” Jacka added.

He needed a haircut; his brown curly hair flopped when he nodded his head. Theophany winced. He still called her Mrs. Honeysett. Poor Lavinia. Theophany felt she should definitely visit. Lavinia might have advice about loving difficult and reluctant objects.

“Does she come by often?” she asked casually.

“No. Says she doesn’t want to be troublesome. Says she wants to be self sustaining.”

So she was trying not to be clingy. Perhaps it was an example Theophany should follow? She pondered this while Jacka pressed more tea on both of his guests. He added a plate of fresh bread and honeycomb which Boniface helped himself to liberally.

“Not hungry?”

Theophany shook her head.

“Jacka, I have a question for you.”

Jacka settled himself and raised his eyebrows attentively, looking more like a sweet-tempered bear than ever.

“I’m looking for – someone. Someone who could help me with something. But I think they’re out of the country.”

“I don’t have many contacts abroad…” Jacka replied dubiously.

“No. I know. But I was wondering if you knew anyone who had lived abroad in a – a secret place.”

Boniface paused in mopping up honey from his plate.

“Secret place?”

“Like Frogs Hollow. An unofficial wizarding community.”

Jacka placed his chin on his folded hands.

“There are many, of course. Communities, I mean. All over the continent. Wizards as a kind have never been very good at trusting governance and order. But that’s just the problem. If you don’t know it, don’t live there, it’s difficult to find.”

“Mmm,” Theophany agreed. “What about places one doesn’t live?”

“Sorry, you’ve lost me.”

“I mean places the locals know not to go. Secret places but....dangerous places.”

Jacka frowned. The sweet bear look was shuttered.

“It would be irresponsible not to ask what this is about.”

“Of course. But I can’t say. Can you trust me?”

Boniface snorted. “Tiff, really–”

“I always will,” Jacka responded at the same time.

Boniface waved a hand in ironic illustration.

“See? Don’t pretend you have to ask, Tiff.”

“What? I do have to ask.” Theophany was affronted. “I’m not in charge of the valley–”

Jacka looked confused. Boniface just stared at her before finding his voice.

“Um. You’re in charge. You’re definitely in charge, Tiff.”

“Oh? Why didn’t someone say – since when?”

“Um, yeah, since Mum died and you became Secret Keeper?”

“But I was seventeen!”

They both just looked at her in surprise. Theophany started to reorganize her ideas of her position and then gave up.

“This – this isn’t important. Could you tell me anything you know, Jacka?”

“I know a few people who came from some....remote areas.”

“Would they talk to me?”

Boniface groaned and rolled his eyes. “Tiff. You’re in charge. Remember?”

“Well, I’m not going to demand they see me.”

“They will be very pleased to talk to you, Theophany,” Jacka interrupted gently. There was an odd smile hiding at the corner of his mouth. “Let me write a list for you. Can you wait?”

“Sure, okay,” Theophany said meekly.

She had the feeling Jacka was laughing at her, which was new for him. Boniface on the other hand wasn’t trying to hide it at all and sniggered thickly into his bread and honey. Jacka produced a raven quill pen and quickly scratched out a few names. There were less than Theophany had hoped. She prayed one of them would tell her something useful.

“Thank you, Jacka. I am going to call on Lavinia before I go, so if there’s anything…?”

Jacka shrugged and shook his head. Poor Lavinia. Jacka would never allow himself to love. Theophany paused with her hand on the door. She wasn’t in a much better position herself.

“Jacka...please take care of Lavinia. I know she’s afraid of burdening you but...she’s not as strong as she pretends.”

Boniface paused behind her. “You okay, Tiff?”

“I’m fine.”

Theophany waved to Jacka and pulled her hood over her face. The parchment crackled in her pocket, and she struck out for the path. This evening she would see Lavinia. Someone on this list might hold a key to everything she needed. There couldn’t be much time left. The daylight was short and Theophany could sense the days dwindling.



When Severus Snape stepped out of the hearth into the Headmaster’s office, he found he was expected. Alecto paced excitedly while a stoop-shouldered wizard sat quietly in the armchair by the fire.

“Travers.” Severus greeted him, ignoring Alecto. “What can I do for you?”

“Nothing, Severus, nothing really.” The Death Eater rubbed his hands together though the fire was bright and full. “I only came to deliver some papers. Umbridge is particular about papers. These will have to be returned in the morning so if you could…?”

“Of course. Though you seem too senior to be running papers about.”

“A mistake. Just a mistake.” Travers’s hands continued their agitated washing, but they trembled. “Like I said, Umbridge is particular so I – I had to be certain you were delivered the correct papers posthaste.”

“I told him you would be back shortly –” Alecto cut in. “You’re never gone long, Severus.”

Was Alecto covering for him? The thought was so peculiar it gave him pause. What was the real reason Travers was here?

“If anyone thinks I am neglecting my duty, Alecto, I would prefer to be told so directly.”

“No, no, Severus.” Travers flapped his hands and grimaced. “Nothing of the kind. Truly just here to fix my own stupid mistake.”

Now that Travers had unclasped his hands, Severus could see he was injured. Fine scabbed lines covered the back of his right hand. The sight twitched at a memory but he didn’t have time to unravel it now. If Travers was truly not suspicious, he would be, after Alecto’s blundering attempts to defend him before it was needed.

“Then I won't take offense,” Snape apologized in a tone that meant nothing of the kind. “Please show me what you need.”

It was nonsense as usual. The Muggle-Born Registration Committee must eat parchment, they demanded so much of it. As headmaster he was required to submit some kind of record concerning any Muggle-borns who had attended in the past years he’d taught. As if he could remember. But he nodded at the right times and made sure he knew which boxes to tick. Alecto hovered obviously the whole time. When at last Travers had said his goodbyes, she swooped at Severus.

“It’s not Hogwarts business that takes you away, is it?”

It didn’t sound like a question. Maybe instead of covering for him she had merely wanted to be the one to reveal him.

“What other business would I have, Alecto?”

“Your own,” she whispered impressively. “You have always been ambitious. When I first became a follower of our Lord, you were already a member of his inner circle. Now that you aren’t needed as a spy–”

“I was aware,” Severus cut acidly through, “of speculation concerning my continued usefulness to the Dark Lord. But I did not expect this from you, Alecto.”

Severus moved slowly towards her. He moved with deliberation, not yet threatening but forcing her back.

“You see how much remains to be done before our victory is complete. The Ministry, the Resistance, all of it is only the beginning. We must rebuild the world in the image of our Master’s vision. Years, Alecto. You know this. You and I both play the longer game.”

“Y-yes. Severus–”

“So imagine my surprise when I find you questioning me. Do you seek my place? This office?”

“No!”

She wouldn’t retreat further but her face was shiny with sweat.

“Severus, you misunderstand. I only mean to support you. I believe – I know you will remain key to the future of Hogwarts. I only wish to help you…”

“Is that so?”

“Yes! I only asked because I wondered if you have ambitions beyond the school. If–if you wanted something more,” she hurriedly added, “in which case I would only support you, naturally!”

Alecto looked up at him, desperate to be believed. She was nervous, eyes fixed, but she seemed to be waiting for him to make some move. She wasn’t afraid; she seemed almost eager.

Severus was certain now. She wanted to be headmistress, and if he had his eyes set on some loftier office, so much the better for her. Alecto wasn’t above fighting dirty. If she was unafraid, she probably had some trick ready. He waited another moment before relaxing. He didn’t concede any ground but released the tension.

“You are mistaken. Where would I seek greater power? The Ministry? We both know this is where the real battle for the future takes place. Here is where we change the world, Magical...and Muggle.”

Alecto, instead of looking relieved, actually advanced on him again. What did she want? Was she trying to force him to reveal something?

“If there’s ever anything I can do, Severus, you need only ask.”

What reaction was she hoping for? A raise?

“Of course. I know I can rely on you and Amycus.”

He turned back to his desk and waited for her to leave. Alecto hesitated before admitting the interview was over and bowing silently out. After she’d gone, the room felt befouled. Like a stench that wouldn’t wash out, she would keep coming back until she got what she wanted.

Severus ticked boxes and made neat columns of numbers until after dinner. The numbers were bogus, mostly, but he refused to put any actual work into it. He had the whole set finished by eight o’clock. Travers would be relieved.

Severus had recalled the young Ravenclaw, Corner. He had said something about Umbridge forcing Potter to write using his own blood. Severus had only caught a glimpse but the scabs on Travers’s hand had a look of script. It would also explain his eagerness to rectify his small clerical mistake.

Severus threw down his quill and rubbed his forehead. Hopefully Theophany was having a more productive evening than he. Theophany. Now if only she was as simple to read as Alecto. Severus shuddered. What an idle wish. The world needed no more than one Alecto Carrow, and that was arguably one too many. He could be certain that whatever had angered Theophany, and he refused to believe it was only because she had been worried, she would put the mission first. He could count on her for that.

Despite his mantra of confidence, Severus was beginning to worry when two days passed without hearing from her. He started to doubt. The instructions were too vague. The mission too difficult for one person to fulfill in the short time they had. She had mined her vein of information and found nothing. At last, just after the new year, he received an owl. Breathing the usual password on it he found it brief.

Dear Severus,
I won’t waste your time again. Confirming the whereabouts of the niece of the godson of Abel Szoke. Also pursuing leads on Struna Prazak and Diana Antal. The moment I know, you will know too.

Theophany


It wasn’t enough, not nearly enough progress. Of course he should be astonished she found even this many from the list. Those witches and wizards had been struck from the history books, exiled to forgotten nightmares, or carefully covered up by their descendants. Severus almost wrote back but forced himself to wait until she sent something concrete. After lunch two more owls came, nearly on top of each other.

Severus,
Szoke is out. But either Antal and Prazak may be the one. Also stumbled on something about Marton Petofi that I didn’t expect to find. You’ll hear from me soon.

Theophany


The second was written in a hurry.


Prazak and Petofi are the same person. The same! Connection with an old pureblood family in Britain, gathering further information, people you may know. Don’t make any similar inquires. Wait for me. Don’t answer to any inquiry you may receive from anyone called Chegwidden or Ludicoat.
T


Both names were unknown to him. Where was she and what exactly was she doing? Throughout the day he was peppered with more letters. Some haphazardly folded, all securely charmed against invasion.

Prazak/Petofi is of great interest still. Chegwidden and Ludicoat are liars and conmen, don’t go near them. But excellent dealers in estate sales and antiques, should you ever have the need. Does the name Minear mean anything to you? Don’t make any moves without me.


It was unsigned. Immediately after that letter came the addendum.

Minear might be Mynier. Ring any bells?

To which he sent a negative reply. Then after lunch,

Dear Severus,
Pardon the shaky writing – this train is pushing through some rough weather. Meet me in the village of Tamblyn, tomorrow, after dusk. I’ll bring dinner.

Theophany


It seemed, after his independent actions the last time, Theophany didn’t trust him not to act on the information she’d discovered. What pureblood family in England was she investigating in connection to Prazak?

Severus had finished his usual patrol through the school and had just settled into an armchair for the night when another owl sailed ominously into the room. He recognized this tawny one as the first she had sent. Did this mean she was back home?

Severus, do not go to Tamblyn! Area under heavy observation. Meet at Spinner’s End, first thing a.m.

This epistolary style was exciting but lacking details. Severus frowned and tossed the letter into the fire. He would have to make sure she understood he had to know everything as soon as she did. There was no way they could discover anything if she made a decision based on her limited information. He held most of the cards. Except Potter’s.


Theophany Knapp, however, didn’t seem impressed by his complaints. He found her sitting on the front steps of Spinner’s End, because letting herself in would be rude, as she explained casually. He didn’t much feel like extending any hospitality but got her inside the foyer before releasing his pent-up frustration.

It didn’t go as he had planned. Theophany remained unaffected by shouting and scathing comments alike. It was so reminiscent of Minerva’s attitude that he was stung into a worse temper.

“ – jeopardizing our chances of success to satisfy your own need to feel useful and involved is childish to the point of delusion –”

“Fine, Severus,” Theophany replied. “Then you have a choice. Torture whatever I’ve discovered out of me and continue on your own, or pluck the information from my unwilling mind. I will, of course, fight you tooth and nail.”

She hadn’t given any ground the whole time he’d shouted, and now they were standing quite close so he heard every word though she spoke gently.

“If you are reluctant to do either, you’ll have to compromise and work with me. I tell you everything and you promise not to go off alone anymore.”

He could. He could so easily get the information he needed from her, but what if it wasn’t right? What if they had to keep looking and she refused to help?

“You won’t stop helping me. You’ve promised,” he sneered.

“True. But I’ll help you my way. As much as I like. Revealing as much as I like, when I like. Unless you force me.”

And he couldn’t. She knew he wouldn't stoop to it. Severus rapidly reorganized his plans. When at last they discovered their object, he would have to make sure she wasn’t there. He must prevent her from learning too much by any means he could.

“Promise?” she asked.

“I swear.”

And Theophany changed before his eyes. She seemed to thaw, and the air between them warmed and brightened.

“Alright. I know a safe place outside Tamblyn. We can make our plans from there.”

She grinned, and it looked both eager and a little dangerous.



Morning found Theophany less eager. Disappointment, again. Theophany sighted along a dart at the piece of parchment stuck fast to the workshop wall. Her list had many notes in the margins, crossings out, and underlines. She flicked her wrist but the dart flew wide and only pinned the upper corner, by Abel Szoke’s name. A washout. Like Herber and Mlakar. Like Prazak/Petofi. Last night in Tamblyn had drawn a blank. Again. Theophany threw another dart at her list of names and it thrummed as it struck wood.

It had taken hours to observe, circumvent surveillance, and risk a Confundus Charm or two. Severus was very good at those. They were able to speak to the right people but….again a false lead. They had returned to Spinner’s End at dark. There hadn’t been explicit plans to rendezvous there, but Theophany had automatically followed when he’d Disapparated.

He’d been put out, maybe, but hadn’t refused her a cup of tea. Perhaps that was more surprising. Severus hadn’t been bitterly disappointed or angered by their lack of progress. Worried and preoccupied, he hadn’t blamed her. Especially odd given his earlier black mood. It was obvious he’d really tried to terrify her. She knew it wasn’t concern for her well being. He intended to hide whatever it was he was looking for, right to the end.

The next dart flew crookedly, caught in the draft as an owl glided silently through the open window. Theophany retrieved her list, ready to compare it to whatever news the owl had brought. She shook her head free of muzzy thoughts and concentrated. She had a feeling these next few days would be busy and strange.


Severus was used to living double lives, just not so close together. Or with another person. At all odd hours Theophany would send him a note and he would depart immediately. She was capable of investigating on her own, but he had to be there at the critical moment of discovery to prevent her seeing too much. The term would be starting in a little over a week, and any sudden absences on his part would become noticed. He was at the same time both frustrated in making progress and in a state of constant activity.

Slowly, the days acquired their own unique rhythm. It was no longer strange to be at breakfast one hour with the cold and unrelenting Hogwarts faculty and on a train rattling towards the far reaches of Ireland the next, or on an abandoned moor with Theophany pulling windswept hair from her face, or crouched stiffly for hours in surveillance, ice dripping through their cloaks, wands frozen in their hands, standing in darkness so deep it was only by their breathing they could find the other. And each day ended the same, slipping back at night or in the early hours to reconvene at Spinner’s End.

The ugly old house became the habitual end to their day. A halfway point between lives. It was better than that awful pub in Brixton where they had been forced to stay while London was under an anti-Disapparation freeze for four hours. The wireless had been turned up so everyone could listen silently to the reports of wanted wizards spotted in the area and repeated calls for any witnesses to come forward. It had been nightmarish. Theophany had been unusually silent in that place. He had a sense she was listening for certain names. In this respect only was she secretive. Severus had learned nothing more of the self-named Dagda.

This particular evening they had needed to stop at Spinner’s End so Theophany could change out of her Muggle clothes before returning home. They had visited a resident of a Muggle retirement home and Theophany seemed the better choice of the two not to raise eyebrows.

“I thought Yan seemed quite promising a candidate,” she sighed, removing a cap and windbreaker she’d borrowed from her endless supply of brothers, “especially when I found he was still living but–”

“You couldn’t know how badly his memory had deteriorated.”

“Even then, could he still be the right person? Just because he doesn’t remember whatever it is you hoped he would–?”

“No. Not right. Not the right timing. His nurse confirmed he’d left the continent long before...the relevant time.”

“Timing of what?” Theophany sighed irritably.

She wasn’t really asking though, she knew he wouldn’t answer. Theophany dug her robes out of her bag and before disappearing into the bathroom said over her shoulder, “Perhaps I should just leave the bag here. It’d be convenient.”

“Theophany Knapp, you are not moving in.”

She turned back to look at him, wide eyed.

“Severus Snape. What an idea.” She then winked and shut the door.


They were in and out of Spinners End three more times in the first week of the new year. Each time they returned empty handed. Now in the dark hours of Friday night, or was it Saturday morning?

Severus blinked around his headache. Perhaps he should have let her leave the bag. She’d have something unstained and fit to change into. They’d narrowly escaped a raid of Snatchers en route to London. While daubing dittany on some of her nastier injuries Theophany kept murmuring, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I was sure it was right this time…”

“No matter.”

Severus stoked the fire, hoping the warmth would drive away some of the dull pain that had settled behind his eyes and gripped his neck. Theophany shook her head.

“If not Radic or Ivaylo–”

“It must be Adrijan or Morton.” He too had the list memorized now.

“Right. Must be.”

But the list was running out. They were out of options, and he could see Theophany was terrified she had missed something. If she had made a mistake, it were better she discovered it sooner rather than later. Severus held back any further words of comfort. Let her stew a little, it might result in inspiration. It usually worked with students.

“I need to sit. Need to think.”

He waved a hand and she sat stiffly on the sofa. Severus absent-mindedly fixed the clock on the mantel to the correct time. It never stayed wound. The thing was losing almost as much time as he was.

He heard Theophany make a soft sound and glanced over his shoulder. Her eyes were pinched shut and she worked her fingers against her scalp. Severus didn’t bother with the potions cabinet but pulled open the drawer of the library table. There he retrieved a small bottle with a dosage cap and gave it wordlessly to Theophany. She looked up and he could see the evidence of a headache in her dimmed eyes and strained lines around her mouth.

“Feverfew?” she asked. “Oh Merlin, yes. Thank you.”

She poured a dose into the cap and tossed it back, carefully not touching it to her lips. Severus sat, or rather fell slowly, into the armchair facing the sofa and tilted his head back to look at the ceiling. Theophany made to place the bottle on the library table, but he held out a hand for it. The firelight lit the dark glass enough for him to see it was almost empty. He would have to restock. Severus considered the bottle for a moment before flicking off the cap and swigging back the last of the potion.

Theophany smiled a little. “Fine pair we are. Not a clear head between us.”

Severus tried to focus on the blurred ceiling. He blinked and waited for the potion to ease the pain in his temples and neck.

“When you consider the miles we’ve traveled today...not to mention squatting in that rain-flooded culvert for an eternity…”

Theophany made a small sound of agreement. The silence between them was tired; limp with disappointment. Neither of them spoke. Perhaps Theophany too felt that a moment of, if not peace, at least rest was deserved. A moment longer and Theophany shifted slightly in preparation of getting up.

“Don’t go yet.” Severus closed his eyes. The ceiling wasn’t getting any clearer. “Wait for the feverfew. Don’t risk getting that vertigo again by Apparating too soon. Just – sit for a moment.”

“Thank you.”

She turned sidewise and folded her legs under herself. He could hear her pulling her robes over her feet and arranging her head against the armrest. But her breathing didn’t change. Tight and shallow, she didn’t realize how loud it seemed in this house which had always been so silent. She was still thinking on it, wringing the same ragged thought dry over and over again. Was letting her blame herself really the best thing?

“Theophany….”

Her silence became expectant.

“There’s nothing more you can do. We covered everything, checked everything. We’ll find it. But there’s nothing more you can do just now.”

“Okay,” she whispered.

After a few minutes he heard her arm slip from the sofa and her breathing deepen. Why had he excused their failure, her failure? To make her feel better? That was unlikely. Severus opened his eyes and turned his head slightly, feeling the ache ebb. Theophany’s hair was over her face, fluttering with her breath. Her eyes were only half closed. Severus turned his face back to the ceiling. Neither of them slept but sat in shared silence for a little time.

Eventually she stood. Severus kept his eyes closed and heard her tiptoe out. The front door opened and shut softly. He got to his feet, pleased to find he wasn’t as stiff and light-headed as he would have been a few weeks ago, and took the Floo to Hogwarts. Despite his refusal to acknowledge it, Severus had taken Theophany’s warning under advisement. He still had no appetite and barely slept, but he forced himself to lie down once a day and managed slightly more regular meals. As he climbed out of the fireplace in the Headmaster’s office, Albus looked up from his eternal reading and gave a smile no less radiant for being made of paint.

“Ah. Many happy returns, Severus. I’m a little late, I’m afraid.”

Severus blinked.

“Happy…?”

“Birthday, Severus.”

“Oh.”

What a strange life he was leading.



Theophany Knapp was trapped on a kitchen chair. She supposed she could get up if she wanted, but until the twins got back she would have to stay here. She had intended to be alone in the workshop this morning to brood. It was already the twelfth of January. Last week there had been only two names left on the list. Adrijan or Morton. But now it seemed to be neither. She was still waiting on further information about Morton, but it didn’t look likely. She’d missed something, somewhere.

Theophany had been on her way to consult her notes in the shop when the twins had rushed in with a tea towel bundle and had sternly admonished her to hold it while they found an appropriate box and consulted the encyclopedia. Ike, used to the Knapp family, was calmly creating a breakfast of monstrous proportions.

“Are we expecting people? Or an army?”

“Exactly that,” Silyn responded from the kitchen door. Maeven and Col were just behind him. Silyn unwound his scarf and peered at the bundle Theophany was cradling. He raised his hands helplessly and walked from the room. Maeven and Col leaned forward to see, and Theophany gently raised the tea towel.

“Not your usual refugee,” Col grinned. “Shouldn’t it be hibernating anyway?”

The bat yawned and burrowed deeper into the towel.

“Not mine – the twins. It must have been frightened out of hibernation. Anyway, Compline found it nearly dead this morning, and now she and Prosper are arguing about what sort of hospitality to offer it.”

“We’re not arguing,” Compline retorted. She entered carrying an old birdcage. “I’m just saying everyone knows even baby bats sleep upside down.”

“I didn’t, thought they had to learn it,” Prosper responded quietly. He had the ‘B’ volume of the encyclopedia under his arm. “There are eighteen species of bat in Great Britain. This one could be anything from carnivorous to omnivorous or –”

“He could even –” Maeven said impressively, “Be vampiric…”

Compline turned pale. Prosper looked thoughtful.

“Vampire or no, he’s your responsibility now. Here.” Theophany pushed the bat into the cage where he extended one claw and was soon dangling from the perch like a furry umbrella.

“Now Silyn and the rest have important business, so let’s leave them to it.”

The twins politely wished Maeven good morning and bore the cage carefully away. Maeven put out a hand to stop Theophany.

“Don’t let us put you out – we’re still waiting for Zuri and the rest.”

“It’s no trouble. This has always been a place for the Dagda to meet; the fact I’m no longer a member doesn’t change that.”

“Theophany, I’m sorry.”

She was surprised. Maeven didn’t speak often, and never of his own feelings. Col distracted himself with his bootlace while Maeven looked sadly at her; his bulldog appearance had something of the sad puppy about it. Putting her, the Secret Keeper, out of the Dagda must have been a harder decision than she had realized. Theophany had thought he would be glad to be rid of her, but it seemed she had been underestimating her own importance to Maeven .

Boniface was right. It wasn’t just because the Mill was her home, or because she represented her mother. She was in charge, a figure of importance, and Maeven had gone against all that. Theophany had to make him understand somehow that it was all as it should be. She had made her decision.

Uncertain but determined, Theophany flung caution to the winds and her arms around Maeven’s neck. She instantly regretted the contact but could only commit now. Maeven himself was frozen, so she quickly babbled, “I’m so sorry! I had no idea you were so worried about it – it’s not your fault, Maeven. I did it to myself! I’m not in a snit about it – promise – and of course you can continue to meet here. You’re always welcome.”

Maeven disentangled himself and squinted at her suspiciously. She was telling the truth, she had chosen which mission to support, and while the Dagda had many hands to help it, Severus Snape had none. After she’d refused to fully explain her actions, Maeven had had every right to bar her from the Dagda.

“It’s really okay,” Theophany insisted. “I’ll make myself scarce now. I’ll see you afterwards.”

She smiled and waved at Col, here to represent his father, Jacka, who didn’t like crowds exceeding three people, and hurried from the kitchen.

“Theophany!” Maeven called after her.

Pausing in the hallway she looked back. Maeven looked squarely at her.

“We’re planning a raid on a Muggle-Born Relocation Camp,” he said bluntly.

The breath was knocked out of her. That meant hours of surveillance and inside information. Such a large scale mission would require everyone.

“Is Silyn...going…?”

“He is key.”

“...and you shouldn’t be telling me this. I’m no longer in the Dagda.”

“No, you aren’t,” Maeven conceded. “But we’ll need all the help we can trying to rehouse the escapees. And...I felt you should be kept informed. Not because you were once Dagda but because you’re Theophany.”

He shrugged and smiled. A rare sight. His slate eyes lightened a little, and she remembered he used to laugh more, once. The doorbell rang and Ike hurried past them to admit Zuri, who was closely followed by Lavinia and Lissy.

“Thank you for telling me,” Theophany said softly.

Maeven nodded abruptly. In front of company he was a gruff bulldog again. Lavinia smiled and introduced herself, but Maeven only grunted. It wasn’t surprising, Theophany reflected, considering that she herself had only just won Maeven’s trust.


Col came to find her in the workshop after the meeting. Theophany quickly reshuffled the parchment she was looking at and called for him to come in.

“How is your search going? You know, for secret places abroad,” he asked.

“Well...everyone’s been helpful but nothing yet.”

Col fidgeted for a moment.

“I’m not breaking a confidence here – it’s just she’s kind of private about it...I don’t think even Dad knows.”

Jacka knew everything about everyone. Theophany leaned forward.

“Go on.”

“Have you spoken with Elaine Boergenpoeffer? She breeds kneazles just over towards St. Austell’s.”

“Yes...yes I know her.”

Col looked down. “It’s not a secret, like I said, she just doesn’t talk about it. You’re looking for secret places abroad, and, well, she wasn’t born here, you see. In England. I was fixing some shingles on her cottage last year. Anyway that’s how I found out, and she might be able to help you. I don’t know the details.”

“Do you think she’ll tell me?”

“I think you have a better chance than anyone.”

Theophany raised an eyebrow. “Because I’m ‘in charge’?”

Col shrugged. “Because you’re you. If Dad trusts and talks to you – anyone can.”

“I can promise you that is not the case.”

“Whoa, you’ve found someone less trusting than even Dad?”

“Yeah,” Theophany sighed. “I really have.”



Elaine opened the door the merest crack and poked her hawkish face through.

“Oh, hello. Um, I’m going to open it very quickly and you’ll have to rush in. Ready?”

Theophany affirmed she was prepared. The door swung back and Theophany charged through and found herself in the midst of scattering furry puffballs no bigger than her fist.

“Sorry,” Elaine was saying, “An unexpected litter and they are intent on getting outside. It’s too cold for them in the barn so I’m keeping them in with me and they are -–no, no, you stop that! Anyway – what can I do for you? I said no–”

The kneazle kitten desisted trying to eat Elaine’s slipper.

“Is it Polyjuice again? I can just grab a bit off my hairbrush – I haven’t been anywhere since Christmas so no worries about me being seen in two places at once.”

Theophany, who had asked Elaine for a hair for her Godric’s Hallow disguise, demurred.

“I try not to ask anyone twice, but thank you again for doing so.”

“Of course, no trouble. Well, come through and I can get you some tea.”

A few kittens occupied the chair by the fire. Theophany lifted one to remove it and found a very large cat glaring her down. Its mother, most likely. Carefully replacing the kitten Theophany sat in the straight backed chair instead. The kneazle-cat hybrid continued to eye her suspiciously. It probably sensed she was a little nervous.

“There.” Elaine set a tray carrying a crisp white porcelain tea service on the table. An exploratory paw crept from underneath the tablecloth and Elaine flicked it away.

“Now, what can I do for you?”

“A great deal, if you can.”

Theophany stirred her tea, turned the cup around in the saucer, and eventually just put it down.

“If you’d rather not answer, I’ll just go away, but I’m in great need of knowing, so I hope you’ll help me.”

Elaine’s face tightened in apprehension.

“I’m trying to find something – somewhere actually – and I understand that you were born abroad. You lived somewhere remote?”

The witch’s gaze turned inwards and her smile lay forgotten across her mouth.

“Was it a place not marked on any Ministry or Muggle map? The place I’m looking for, it’s a secret place. A dangerous place.”

Elaine bowed her head.

“I don’t know the name. Maybe it never had one,” she said in a low voice, “but I know where you mean.”

Theophany’s heart seemed to stop and then start racing.

“You do?” she whispered.

“I was a child. I wasn’t really aware what was going on. But that place, it was a bad place.”

There was a silence.

“Will you tell me?”

Elaine glanced up and blinked at her.

“Of course. I was just...it’s a bad memory. People were forced to leave, you see. It was 1937. I was nine. The village was built on ancestral land. In the old, feudal days, you know, a community sort of grew up around a castle and just stayed. The pureblood family still owned the estate, but the ancestral house was long gone. Then, overnight it seemed, it was over. The young master, youngest son of the family, he was seen walking about with some friends. Inspecting, he called it. Then the word got out that he was selling the land or building on it, something like that, and the village would have to go.”

“That couldn’t have been legal even if they technically owned the land.”

“Who cared? It was the 30’s. Pureblood families still ruled throughout Europe and in Britain too. Everyone received some minimal ‘compensation’ but nothing worth the price of their homes, their land and lives. It seemed too fantastic to be true, but one day it was. The young master arrived with a squadron of laborers and carpenters equipped with all kinds of frightful equipment. And architects – goblins mostly. Strange enough, the goblins were the ones who gave us a little hope, though they were only doing business. Honest people, goblins, though suspicious. They said the site was all wrong and it would be better to build above the village on the upland. But it seemed the project was so extensive the site would encompass the entire area. So the village was destroyed.”

“What was it they were building?”

“A summer home? Pleasure gardens? I don’t know. I kept asking what was going on but my father couldn’t – or wouldn’t – answer. The young master came and went with his friends, making plans, up all hours, talking late into the night. Then another wizard came. It seemed they had been waiting for him. The place became evil. People started having nightmares, reporting strange sights. They started avoiding the building site. Even the trees changed. It wasn’t the wood I knew. I felt it was watching me. A malaise blighted my home and clung like a fog. I stopped asking questions and started keeping to my room. Stopped speaking altogether.”

Elaine looked squarely at Theophany for the first time.

“You can’t do anything good in that place. It will only poison anything you do there.”

“I won’t. I don’t intend to –”

“It’s best you don’t tell me. I don’t want to know what’s happened there since. The nightmares will only come back.”

“Can you tell me how to find it?”

“Only generally. I was sent to live with an aunt in France, for the sake of my well-being. Then my parents died and I – well, shed my past and came here.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Losing your home and then your family is unimaginable.”

Elaine’s gaze was steady. “I didn’t lose my family, Theophany. I forsook them when I changed my name in France. My family never left.”

“Weren’t they forced out of their home too?”

“No.” Elaine’s face was flinty. “My nightmares didn’t come from the wood, or the village, they came from the guest my brother brought home to see his pet project.”

“Your brother?”

“The young master was my elder brother. Yes. My family did this. Drove out their own tenants and invited an evil into their home – an evil none of them survived.”

Theophany swallowed. Herbert, Solzke, Molnar, Radic, Adrijan...

“What was your name, before you changed it?”

Elaine sighed.

“Mlakar.”
End Notes:
Thank you for reading!
Chapter 20 by Meadowsweet
Author's Notes:
I am rewriting a bunch of stuff with which I'm not satisfied. So please bear with me! Enjoy, and remember none of the Wizarding World belongs to me.
Alecto’s smile meant nothing good. He should have been prepared, but he couldn’t have expected this. The students were in chains, their wrists suspended over their heads. Severus took a deep breath. Hogwarts was unrecognizable...

“Headmaster?” Alecto purred. He’d missed what she said.

“Yes? It’s disgusting – what of it? You have some discovery to share?”

“We haven’t got them talking yet but—”

“Yet? And just how much time do you think you have? Amycus, I suppose you have nothing further to add either?”

Amycus kept his head hanging low over his rounded shoulders. He scraped at a bit of debris on the dungeon floor and didn’t answer. It obviously hadn’t been his idea to show off their catch to the headmaster, not before he’d had more time with them.

Alecto was confused. “Sever – um – Headmaster, you yourself said it would take years to complete our work here.”

“Years to educate the populace. To stamp out the notions of the old world. But, Professor Carrow, it should not take years to break four adolescent and completely inept students!”

He whipped out his wand and severed the chains. The metal screamed and snapped, rattling noisily to the floor where the chains writhed hotly. The students collapsed to the ground but quickly scrambled to their feet. They hated to show weakness almost more than they hated him. Scabs and red skin glowed at their wrists. According to the Carrows they had been caught out of bounds late in the night; how soon had the Carrows strung them up? How long had they been dangling with their feet barely touching the ground?
Severus let his most hostile stare rest on each of them. He pointed at the one nearest the door.

“You, in front,” He said quietly. “Form a line.”

The Ravenclaw girl was having trouble. Two of her Gryffindor friends got behind and in front her to give support, but it was obvious her leg was injured.

“Can you walk?” he snapped.

Keeping her eyes forward the girl barely nodded.

“Then move.”

“Headmaster – this is unnecessary. Let me have them for the day and I can find out everything.”

“Enough, Alecto. I’m used to doing everything myself after all.”

She was silenced and watched sullenly as he followed the pathetic line of students from the dungeons. The injured girl slowed them down, but it gave Severus time to think. He’d got them out of their chains, free from the Carrows, but with no idea what to do next. He had no choice; he couldn’t have left them there like that. Besides, Severus had a growing suspicion Amycus targeted the female students.

One Ravenclaw and three Gryffindors; two boys and two girls. Probably made an excellent cover, sneaking away in couples. A believable lie for being out after curfew. He knew the Gryffindor boys, McCleary and Philips, fourth and second years. The Ravenclaw girl’s name slipped his mind but the Gryffindor girl looked familiar, although there was something off about her. A memory was niggling at him.

They gained the gargoyle staircase and ascended, painfully, to the headmaster’s office. The portraits twittered and whispered. Albus’s portrait closed his book, stood slowly, and left the frame. The students watched him go with wide eyes. They would interpret that as they would and spread the word that even Dumbledore’s portrait was disgusted with the puppet headmaster.

“Now. This wasn’t a simple matter of being out after curfew, I understand.”

Silence.

“You were found with various compromising items?”

No response. Severus blew out a breath,

“Very well, correct me if I’m wrong. Professor Carrow mentioned you were found in the grounds by the Whomping Willow?”

Had they discovered the tunnel to the shack? It would be useful as a means of escape and for supplies…

“And you possessed contraband including extendable ears and several issues of that rag called the ‘Quibbler’.”

Still nothing. The Ravenclaw shifted slightly, trying to relieve her leg. They didn’t seem to be listening and looked right through him. Something else was bothering them. They had been searched – and bore visible signs of the beating Amycus would have given them – what secret could they still be protecting?

If they aren’t looking at me what are they looking at?

The Gryffindor girl. Rather they were trying very hard not to look at her. Children were so very obvious. Severus suppressed a smirk and opened a drawer to withdraw a vial. The clear liquid shimmered and the students collectively stifled their gasps. He wouldn’t waste Veritaserum on them but let them worry while he watched the girl. She was familiar, yet at the same time not. Hadn’t she had an older sister at Hogwarts? Severus could picture them together, dark hair, neat features, but this girl didn’t have her sister’s aggressive jaw and sullen eyes…

He knew her. As comprehension came, Severus turned and looked at them squarely for a moment. Partly in disbelief, partly in interest. He wanted a good look at this — he might never see it again. The students looked blankly back at him; who knew what they thought was going on. Severus savored the sight of them for a minute and smiled. They looked at him in confusion turning to horror.

“We’re done here,” Severus told them gently.

The Stunning Spell hit Philips first. He could have Stunned them all at once, but they were expecting a little cruelty – they had to realize soon that the cost of fighting was too high. Philips crumpled, and the next boy’s eyes widened as the wand turned to him. Severus proceeded calmly. The injured Ravenclaw girl fell, leaving the Gryffindor girl the last standing. She looked at him stoically even as the spell hit her. She didn’t falter until her eyes rolled back and she lost consciousness.

A Slytherin dressed up in a Gryffindor uniform. It was better than spotting a unicorn and even rarer, if not entirely unknown. No wonder they had been nervous. Her punishment would have been so much more severe, had the Carrows realized. Severus looked down at her, waiting to recall her name. A little Memory Charm and the students would only remember being force-marched to his office and being Stunned. Severus walked down the line again, this time pausing to wipe the memory of each student. His own memory managed to produce the name finally. Greengrass. A Slytherin and a pureblood nonetheless. Astoria Greengrass.



Theophany hurried through the workshop to the small greenhouse beyond. It was really no bigger than a luxurious closet, she was saving for something larger, but the green warm smell was comforting, and she sat on a pruning stool to think. The fronds of the Flitter Fern trembled a little, and some of the smaller glass cages made little plinking sounds as the dangerous sprouts within tapped against the glass. These were the remains of her poison garden, a project she’d started as a child. Why Dad hadn’t put a stop to it she had no idea. As a teenager she had become aware such a thing would raise eyebrows and started keeping her ferocious specimens in pots and indoors out of sight.

The truth was Theophany was at a loss what to do next. In her hand she held a rolled parchment, everything she had discovered on the Mlakar family previous to writing them off. It had made sense to discount them as candidates. The sons, Josef and Dragoslav, had died in the 40’s, their parents died of old age, what minor influence they’d had long forgotten, and no heir had remained. There had been no record of a daughter.

What made this more likely than all the others was Elaine's revelation that something had been built there. The eldest brother, Dragoslav, and his friends had created something and it had destroyed his family. But it could be another dead end. Should she look further or inform Severus now? She couldn’t bear another disappointment, and it would be better if she didn’t have to see the bitterness grow in his eyes every time they came up empty-handed. Theophany put a finger into a cage and let a tiny green tendril wind around her knuckle. She was going about this wrong. It wasn’t her decision. She unrolled the parchment. To the old information concerning the Mlakars she added a brief note about their daughter. On the reverse side she scribbled,

Severus,
I will be taking the night train from platform 7 ½ to Kočevje via Austria. The information contained here will explain why. If I don’t see you on the platform, I will assume you trust me to continue alone. I will write with anything further I discover.

Theophany


Theophany threw down her quill. She’d almost signed, ‘yours’ before her name. Stupid. Even though she felt she was his, it wouldn’t please him one bit.

Theophany put away her research with a sense of finality and locked up. Remembering to take a few essentials with her, she decided to first drag one of the owls out of the warm loft to deliver the letter and then ask Ike to pack a few sandwiches.

One way Floo trips weren’t a problem with the Fidelius Charm, it was coming back that would be the problem if you weren’t in on the secret. Preferring to obfuscate her trail whenever possible, Theophany took the Floo to the Leaky Cauldron first. It was, even in these times, busy. No one would mark one extra witch with a small bag. She took the Muggle bus to King’s Cross and passed through the barrier onto platform 7 ½ without any trouble.

Throughout the bus ride she wondered if Kočevje would be near the mountains – her geography was a little vague – or if the forest Elaine Boergenpoeffer remembered was still there. In the queue for a ticket she wondered if she could get a hot tea on the train. While she waited for customs to search her baggage, she calculated the miles between here and Austria. Theophany wondered anything and everything she could as long as it wasn’t if he would be waiting on the platform.

He wasn’t. The area was empty of Severus Snape. She didn't allow herself to feel disappointed. There were only a few others passengers waiting. Theophany reached into her robes pocket for her watch and remembered it was still at home, broken. The station clock said 7:30. She’d be in Kočevje by midnight. Witching hour, she smiled to herself. In her bag was food and she’d slid in some of the books Dad had got her for Christmas. Von Brauser’s book on lethal antidotes might be too attention-catching, so she settled for the book of poetry instead. In her bag was also a notepad, which made her feel like she was playing at detective, but she felt it would be best to have something to write on should she find something in Slovenia.

The announcer’s voice rang out, the clock chimed, they’d be boarding soon. Theophany shifted her weight on the bench, dog-eared a particularly good bit, and heard a crack. She considered playing cool and unimpressed for about an eighth of a second but threw reserve to the winds and looked up with a smile. She opened that inner door between her thoughts and her face and released all the sincerity and relief she felt.

“I’m so very pleased you came.”

Severus glowered at her. Under the bright lights of the station he looked positively medieval even by wizarding standards. Theophany was now certain that he only bothered with the same set of robes every day. But she also knew without a doubt his spare robes were an exact copy of the same set.

“As if I would even consider allowing you to leave alone.” Severus glowered.

“Oh, oh, allow me, is it?”

She laughed. How appalled Jacka and everybody would be by his attitude. Severus had no idea she was in charge, even considered important. Theophany-formerly-of-the-Dagda, Theophany the Potions Mistress and Secret Keeper. Right now she was just Theophany the Annoyance.

Severus sat on the far end of the bench and rested an elbow on one knee, cradling his forehead in his hand. He looked tired as always. Theophany returned to her book as soon as they boarded. Even though the compartment was empty, she resumed reading. Now that she had got this close to him, she was afraid to push any further friendliness.

Let him stay silent if he wishes.

It was a little hard. She would happily spend hours not talking, just being company for him, but it would only be happily if he knew, and he couldn’t know how she felt. Even if he could read the thoughts in her eyes like it was said of You-Know-Who himself, Severus couldn’t read love there. He wouldn’t be looking for it. That is, if her understanding of Legilimency was accurate.

The train began to make the sounds for departure, the ticketmaster passed through, but they were further delayed by some official-looking wizards checking identification. The Ministry’s new official look being small minded and mean and conceivably part troll. The wizard who took Theophany’s papers looked like he could crack walnuts with his fingers.

“Seyz ‘ere – seyz ‘ere it seyz you’re a ‘purveyor o’ potions’.”

Theophany wanted to congratulate him on his reading capabilities but only nodded obediently. Severus shifted slightly. Was he able to catch her thoughts without eye contact?

“Got da roight papers for potions, do yer?”

She handed over her license. There was much nodding and sucking of teeth as it was examined. The wizard looked under his overgrown eyebrows at her and slowly turned the paper card between his fingers. His expression was entirely blank, but his eyes were busy over her. Finally he sniffed and held her license out to her like it was a great favour. Theophany thanked him meekly and returned it to her bag. After they left, the train shuddered and began to move. Severus spoke at last.

“You should disguise yourself.”

Was that a kind of compliment? Theophany decided to treat it as a reprimand just to be safe.

“Disguises can slip – even Polyjuice can be detected if they think to look for it. I think it best not to raise suspicions unnecessarily. Besides, with a mouth breather like that it wouldn’t matter if I was hideous. Anything vaguely female wouldn’t be safe with that.”

“I didn’t think you capable of holding your temper.”

“I only bother getting angry with people who matter,” Theophany replied sweetly with a backhanded compliment of her own.

She picked up her poems again and settled in with her feet tucked up on the seat beside her. In a while she’d go looking for the tea cart if it didn’t come by, then read some more, have dinner, and maybe doze a little. If she couldn’t sleep, she could always annoy Severus a little. That could always be counted on.

But after she’d finished her tea, Severus broke the silence. His face was still turned towards the window when he asked abruptly, “What put you onto Mlakar? I thought we had discarded him.”

Theophany put down her book. “It’s kind of you to say ‘we’. I had discarded him as there was nothing left of the family estate, they had never been wealthy or influential, and no heirs survived – or so I thought. I went to Elaine hoping she could give me some information on the area. I didn’t expect her to be a relation.”

“I should have guessed,” he muttered. “The fact that young Dragoslav Mlakar had no great fortune or influence to inherit made him a perfect candidate for a promised seat at the table.”

“But he didn’t get that seat – they all died. Except for the daughter, but she she was living in France by then.”

“A lot of people died,” he answered cryptically.

“So you believe that Dragoslav got caught up in the Dark Arts, and the old Mlakar estate was perfect for something, so he was promised, what, part of world domination in return for chasing off his tenants for what – building a top secret clubhouse? A super evil, super dark clubhouse?”

Severus smiled mirthlessly.

“Exactly that. You think it’s near Kočevje?”

“Define near.” Theophany grinned. “You might want to catch a little sleep while you can.” He grimaced and shifted irritably. “Then eat something. Keep up your strength. Here, I have sandwiches. Egg or cheese and pickle?”

Severus eyed the brown parcel. Theophany twiddled it at him.

“Go on. I won’t tell a soul you don’t subsist purely on darkness and the tears of students.”

No eye roll, no impatient sigh. He didn’t exactly smile either, but maybe that was too much to hope for. Severus chose a sandwich at random and accepted her offer to fetch more tea. He accepted the chipped white mug Theophany brought back politely enough. He didn’t deserve commendation for behaving like a decent person, but Theophany felt a trifle smug at being tolerated by Severus when he disliked people as a rule.

Kočevje was mountains and woods together. The plateau, or Rog, above the city was heavily forested and the landscape irregular and sloping. In summer the foliage had to be so thick as to conceal anything more than a few meters away. The rock here was soft, and below them were countless underground streams and caverns. The wizarding train didn’t so much as tilt, its tracks somehow avoiding the steepest slopes and spanning gorges unbridged by Muggles. Below them the river Rinža was a black ice snake, and at the edge lights of Kocevje could be seen.

“After we disembark?” Severus asked.

“We leave at once. The place we’re looking for is remote – somewhere in the elevation above the city.”

The tea trolley witch stopped by, asking for empty mugs. The silver urns on her trolley caroled the variety of soups they carried in bell-like voices. Severus shuddered a little and refused anything they offered. He had only eaten part of the sandwich. At least he was trying. Theophany turned her attention back to the mountains.

Please let this be the place.

They disembarked with only a handful of others, but the platform was busy. Even in winter this was a destination for the holidays. Theophany moved patiently with the holiday ski crowd, trying to look in no greater hurry than anyone else. Severus took the small bag and followed. The wind was strong outside the station. Probably bringing more clouds heavy with snow. Theophany stopped to consult her map under a street lamp. The square in front of the church was well lit – even the clock face in the bell tower was luminous.

“Do you trust me enough for side-along Apparition?” Theophany asked Severus. “I haven’t been there before, but I’ve studied the map. Or we could rent a few broomsticks, but at this hour–”

“Absolutely not,” Severus snapped.

Was this Death Eater afraid of flying?

“Okay then.” Theophany put her hand out.

She’d led him by the hand before, in Durham, but she had barely noticed then how hers fit into his, just filling his palm and wrapping cross the fine bones on the back. Theophany averted her face when he took her hand, looking up at the clock; it was about to strike midnight, the creak of its gears audible.

“Let’s go.”



The river was named Rinža, Theophany had told him. Severus only nodded to show he’d heard. At an altitude of nine hundred ten meters what had been strong wind in the city below was ten times more powerful here. The trees provided no cover. It ripped at their robes. Beside him Theophany was shivering suddenly, her eyes peeled wide against the wind. Severus realized she was still holding his hand and pulled, but Theophany held onto him and leaned closer.

“We’re facing west!” she shouted over the wind. “I don’t know – there’s another valley about five kilometers on, that’s Primozi; it could be here or on the Rog beyond Primozi.”

“So we move forward,” Severus called back. He dropped her hand and strode into the wind.

Theophany followed, struggling with keeping her hood over her face. She still seemed to be shaking. Severus kept up his pace and felt her falling behind. No matter, he wanted to spot it before she did.

“Will it be hidden from us? Enchanted?” she called.

Upwind of her Severus found it difficult to hear.

“Only from Muggles. It’s higher there ...we might see….”

The rest of his words were carried away by the wind. Theophany struggled after him as they climbed. Though they were bare, the trees obscured their view. Severus snorted in frustration and picked up his pace before leaping into the air. Ascending quickly over the treetops, he was blown sideways in a violent gust. It was difficult to fight against it, much less see clearly. Still, he managed a circuit of the area before descending. Caught between his flight and the wind, branches swayed and snapped as he swept past, landing at a steady walk.

Theophany was standing tensely below, waiting.

“Anything?” she asked.

“No.”

“Elaine was just a child, she could only give me general ideas. I compared it with the records of the Mlakar land-holdings. Primozi is west of us, and we want the far side. It’s a higher altitude and a little more remote, but I can Apparate there.”

Severus saved his breath and nodded. Before Theophany offered it, he wordlessly took her hand. His wasn’t much warmer than hers.

Crack.

The next plateau was not as steeply sloped as the mountains they had crossed but still heavily forested. For the next hour they Apparated and reconnoitered and Apparated again. Theophany appeared more and more distracted with each Disapparition. She kept looking over her shoulder or pausing, holding her breath.

“Do you hear that?”

Severus paused. The wind was singing in his ears, but he heard nothing else. Theophany was turning her head about, as if trying to catch something in particular. He shook his head.

“Oh.” Theophany caught her breath and her eyes widened. “It’s like a...whine. Or hum?”

“...Nothing.”

“I’m not imagining it.”

Severus nodded. “I know.”

Theophany looked gratefully at him and unrolled the map. Her fingers were shaking. Severus conjured a handful of flame and handed it to her, taking the map. At a glance he could see they had worked their way west and were far closer to Strahavolje now. Theophany cupped the flames in her hands.

“Th-thanks...it’s not so much the cold though it’s just – I’m filled with adrenaline but I don’t know why. Just jumpy I suppose.”

“Did you hear it again?”

“More like I hear something all the time. It’s something in the wind, and it makes electricity down my spine to my toes.”

She twitched and lifted her head, eyes unfocused. Severus rolled up the map.

“Then let’s follow that.”

Theophany stared at him. Blue light made her eyes look huge, and slightly unbalanced.

“Are you sure? How is that a good idea?”

“Let’s go.”

She clapped her hands over the flame, snuffing it out, then took Severus’s hand in hers, now warmed through. For a moment she hesitated, choosing her direction, then they turned on the spot.

They Apparated further along the plateau. The wind was stronger. Theophany glanced at Severus, shook her head, and they Apparated again. Severus thought they had moved further west but also south a little. He didn’t much care, but followed silently. Theophany wasn’t looking at the map. She kept ahold of Severus’s hand as they stopped no longer than a moment between Apparating and Disapparating.

“Does the wind seem louder to you?” she shouted.

Severus tried to answer, but the wind forced his words back. He clutched her hand tighter and they Disapparated.

Something kicked Severus in the gut. He stumbled forward, releasing Theophany. He couldn’t raise his head, couldn’t breathe, suffocating under some great weight. Severus sucked in a breath and it barely filled his lungs, the air didn’t stir.

“Do you...feel that?” he heard Theophany whisper.

“Yes.”

It was a valley but very small. It was almost a hole between two rises of land. The wind was silent. The valley was dead. Their breath seemed to sit on the air, like it was too heavy to dissipate. Though their altitude was lower, the air felt thin, strained. At the same time, moving was oppressive and Severus's feet moved heavily.

“Severus…what is this?”

He put out a hand and was a little surprise the air didn’t resist his motion, it was so compressed around them.

“This is the place, Severus.”

Severus didn’t answer.

“But – don’t you feel that? It’s like Elaine said, this is an evil place.”

“...I feel it.” Severus’s head was bowed under the weight. “It’s not here – but we’re very close.”

Theophany shuddered.

“How are your ears?” Severus asked.

“What?”

“I think you were reacting to the protective charms – that’s why everything feels...pulled tight. There’s a strain from so much restriction. Do you hear anything now?”

A place so charmed you could hear it. He had never witnessed anything like this, or even read of it.

Theophany shifted her weight uneasily.

“N-no.”

“So we’ll have to follow our gut feeling,” Severus said grimly.

He started up the slope, out of the valley, feeling his heart sink. He knew without a doubt he did not want to go that way. Tiny hooks pulled at his skin. Turn around, stop, just lie down and fight to breathe the scant air. It must be the right direction.

Behind him he heard Theophany follow. The climb was steep enough she had to catch hold of the sapling trees to pull herself up. After a minute Severus was forced to follow her example. His legs trembled with exhaustion, and whatever was deterring their progress forward made it difficult to breathe. It was like swimming through tar, and he was at the end of his strength. A leaden weight was dragging him back, back to the valley, back to the warmth and safety of the train.

Severus reached the summit. He barely needed to look. It was there. A glance upwards was enough and he dropped his head. Theophany was still behind him, hidden by the slope. Severus raised a hand.

“Go back.”

“Absolutely not,” Theophany panted.

Severus looked over his shoulder at her. Keeping her head down, she caught hold of a low branch and pulled herself up. He lowered his hand to gesture her back.

“You mustn’t…” Severus started.

Theophany caught ahold of his arm and used it to draw herself over the top of the slope. As she reached the top, the silence deepened further until even the thinned air bowed and broke under its weight. Not a movement, not a sound. No whisper of wind. Theophany’s legs folded and she fell heavily but didn't let go of his hand. Severus said nothing. He watched her look at the tower.

The ground sloped beneath them into a plain. On the far side rose another plateau, its sheer face broken by rippling stone waterfalls that had been eroded into the limestone over centuries. Rippled edges of caverns hollowed by floods and sinkholes opened their dark mouths into uncertain depths. The black tower rose at the cliff’s edge above them. It dwarfed the walls that surrounded it. The tower was smooth; not a window, not a ledge, broke its sheer sides. There were no doors. A gate in the lower wall bore a heavy lock, a needless deterrent. It was impossible to read at this distance but they both knew what was inscribed above those gates.

Ad Maius Bonum. ‘For the Greater Good’.
Chapter 21 by Meadowsweet
Author's Notes:
I am so honored and happy that this fic was nominated for the Quicksilver Awards and even won! Thank you, everyone, and I hope you continue to enjoy.

I don't own it, just playing in Ms. Rowling's sandbox

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Severus kept taking slow breaths. His lungs were ragged, his limbs heavy. He hadn’t wanted Theophany to see their destination, but physically restraining her was not an option in his current state.

“Severus...Severus, this is Nurmengard.” Theophany didn’t move, her eyes stayed fixed on the tower above them. “This is what Mlakar built – or no, he built it, but Mlakar gave him the land – in exchange for a seat at the table, just like you said. Only – only instead of the “greater good” came war, and the Mlakar family was wiped out. Or he–”

“I don’t think he killed them, no.”

“A secret and dangerous place. So the list you gave me, all those names, those were his followers. You knew one of them must have helped him build it.”

Albus’s portrait had been lacking in details. The location of Nurmengard was the sort of state secret that wouldn’t be kept in a portrait any student could access.

“Severus.”

Theophany looked up at him. Her eyes were wide. He could still see she was on edge from the protective charms scraping at her nerves.

“Severus, what are we doing here?”

We are doing nothing. You are staying here.”

Her eyes sharpened and she pulled herself to her feet.

“Don’t be stupid.”

Theophany stepped out of the cover of the trees and slithered down the bank in a crumble of rocks and snow. Severus followed, turning sidewise to keep his balance.

“Anti-Apparition I suppose?” Theophany asked.

He nodded.

“The tower is fully protected and automated.”

Theophany pointed to a tiny speck of light that winked occasionally at the top of the tower.

“That must be the only opening. I suppose any broomsticks brought near it would be jinxed as well?”

“Exactly. Unsupported flight is the only method Nurmengard did not foresee. So it’s impossible for you to come with me. You promised, remember, to cease flying.”

“It’s not just the promise,” Theophany said quietly, “You were right. There was a price to pay for flight and it’s far too costly. But I can still go with you–”

“You were never supposed to come this far!” he snarled. There was no reason to justify himself to her, no point in arguing. “Leave, Knapp! Go home!”

He turned away but her hand caught his wrist.

“This is the golem all over again and ten times worse. You don’t know what spells and safeguards you could run into in there! And you’re too physically drained–”

“–from you dragging us halfway across the continent–”

“–but I got you here and I’m making sure you get out too–”

Severus flung off her hand. With two steps he was already taking flight, but Theophany tackled him again and knocked them both to the ground. She was faster than he remembered. She was up first and even tried to help him to his feet, but he shook her off and drew his wand. Theophany snorted and kicked a rock.

“Oh, come on, we’re going to do this now?

“It was inevitable.”

If he couldn’t shake her off before reaching Nurmengard, he had resolved to force her to turn back. Theophany was quickly moving from indignant to angry. A strange fire was growing in her glare. The ice and snow crackled under her boot as she stomped her foot.

“Are you going to let me get my wand or jinx me where I stand?” she growled.

“I have neither the time nor the inclination to play fair–”

“Oh, we’re not playing fair? That’s good to know.”

It turned out her wand was already in her hand. She must have drawn it before tackling him. A red light burst from it and became a long sparkling ribbon. By its light Theophany changed, the hollows of her face deepened and her eyes didn’t so much reflect the light as seem to burn with their own.

Theophany flicked her wrist, and the red ribbon whipped towards him. Severus dodged but felt a burning sensation as it grazed his skin. The red whip lazily spun over his head and then cracked backwards and caught him in the gut. It was like a stinging hex but with a constricting grip. He gasped once and countered it, breaking its hold, but his skin still burned. The whip split under his counter charm but lengthened again when Theophany moved her wrist.

Keeping a cautious distance, Severus tried to conserve strength. The protective charms around the tower made any magical exertion exhausting. It must be as difficult for her as it was for him, but Theophany didn’t look tired. Her hair was knotted and wild from the wind and her expression feral. Severus pressed in for an attack, launching several different spells. Theophany was forced to abandon her whip to counter them. Taking advantage of the closer range, Severus fired a Memory Charm under her guard, but she caught his feint and avoided it.

“Again with the Memory Charms?” She sounded disappointed.

“It’s obvious you’ve extracted memories —” talking made him more breathless — “though how you viewed them I have no idea – but I would guess...you haven't been....saving your memories lately.”

They were close again, and he sneered at her, “Isn’t that right?”

She wasn’t distracted and parried his next volley.

“Yes!” Theophany broke free again, and they resumed circling each other. The red whip snaked from the tip of her wand again. “Because I lowered my wand that night and said I would trust you. I would trust you so you would learn to trust me and I am going to keep on trusting you.”

Severus twitched and dodged the tail end of the sparkling whip.

This is being trusting?”

Theophany made a sound of frustration and swept her arm around over her head. With a red crack the whip disappeared. She dropped her wand. The aggression fell from her and she looked close to tears. Lost and small. How deceiving could appearances be? Severus didn’t dare lower his wand.

“I said I would trust you – so I will – but you tell me, am I wrong? Am I wrong, Severus Snape?”

True, he had drawn his wand first. Though technically she’d had hers ready. Did she know he would attack? Or had she planned to incapacitate him? Curiosity, or something like it, pricked him. How far would she keep her word? He lowered his wand.

“I won’t hurt you. And I won’t take your memories.”

Theophany took a deep shuddering breath and nodded. Simple as that. He said it and she believed. It wasn’t that she was gullible. She believed because she said she would. There was something powerful in that. There was something powerful in her words. Could words, apart from spells, have that kind of power? Severus pocketed his wand and bent to retrieve hers.

“You may accompany me in, as you say there may be obstacles, but this interview I will conduct alone.” He offered her wand handle first. “When I say turn back–”

“Understood.”

He glanced at her. No fight left in her. She looked as tame as a lamb. Deceptive in manner and appearance. He put out his hand and grabbed her arm. She flinched slightly. So much for trust, he thought irately, it’s not even the arm with the Dark Mark, she needn’t recoil so.

“You need to hang on somehow,” he snarled aloud.

“Oh, of course.”

Without any visible hesitation she came around behind him. Severus felt her hands slip beneath his elbows and then they were clasped below his chest and her head was leaning against his spine. Severus opened his mouth and closed it again. It was the only practical way after all. But how could she be intent on dueling with him one minute and so at ease with him the next?

“Um – I think we’re ready?” she said from somewhere around his left shoulder blade.

“I doubt it,” he answered.

The ground fell away and they ascended. Severus felt an odd numbness creep over him. As they crossed the plain, time felt slow and sluggish but it was really only a matter of seconds before they reached the walls. The gate beneath them was heavily scarred and still bore seals and locks half a century old. Most of the inscription was chiseled off and a new phrase added beneath, Pro Bono Omnium ‘For the Good of All’. The gate was more symbolic than deterrent.

When they passed over the walls, the oppressive atmosphere changed. Instead of pressing against them it now pulled, and Severus had to fight the acceleration. On this side of the wall Nurmengard was concerned with keeping things in rather than out. Their speed carried them curving up the side of the tower and over the top. Severus turned about and circled. Theophany made no noise but was gripping very tightly. The single window burned with a dim light. There seemed to be no charms guarding it. Severus turned his head a little. The resistance of the protective charms was lessened now they were within the bounds, but Theophany had felt it from further away.

“Do you feel anything?”

Theophany hesitated, then he heard a muffled, “...No.”

Severus dove. He dropped directly beneath the window and then started ascending again. The quick change in direction slowed their momentum and he was able to easily step onto the window ledge. Theophany unknotted herself and crept alongside him. The room was dark. They could see no exits. Was this entire tower a support for one solitary room? It couldn’t have been originally built so. It was to have been a fortress but also the home of a new world order.

A single candle burned overhead, too high to shed any great light. Severus made to step into the room but found Theophany was already sliding from the windowsill onto the floor. He almost hissed at her, but she didn’t move from the window, just stood still. He followed her gaze. Amongst the various shadows of the room one was looking back. A pair of eyes glittered at them. Severus stepped down into the room and moved forward. No one moved. It seemed the first move was up to them. Severus took a breath; introductions seemed out of place here, but some amount of formality seemed necessary.

“Will you speak with us?”

There was no answer. The candle floating over head drifted lower. Its circle of light became stronger but narrower, throwing Severus and Theophany into sharp relief even as the room remained dim. The shadow of a man stayed where he was, but the glitter of his eyes roved from Severus to Theophany and back.

“I am seeking something valuable. It must be protected. Something Albus Dumbledore left behind.”

Grindelwald spoke.

Candles flared alight around the room and, after the darkness, felt very bright. The wizard was old and none too clean. Dingy skin was stretched tight over sharp bones, and his eyes were too shadowed to read. He was wearing a simple robe of rough material. It seemed too large for him, and he was bowed as if even its weight was too much for his shoulders. He leaned forward, and his dark eyes seemed to reflect every light in the room. Severus, only from years from experience, sensed the invasion into his thoughts a second before it came. There was a pause where nobody moved or spoke.

The old wizard said aloud in fascination, “Ah! I cannot see!”

Grindelwald stood up. The room was suddenly too small. Though wasted with age and imprisonment he was tall enough even with his stoop. He strode towards them and paused as if he was afraid to come too close. A thousand different expressions crossed his face, his mouth working as he smiled and nodded to himself. Grindelwald’s feet moved restlessly, but still he came no closer, and Severus realized he seemed to be waiting for some kind of response.

Theophany whispered softly, “Sorry?”

Grindelwald frowned.

“Do you come all this way and not listen? Ah.” His face smoothed. “’I see. After all this time...I forget I’m not speaking aloud. My thoughts are so loud to me – or sometimes I only think to myself and find I have been talking out loud the whole time -–but you...” His hand came up, and it was large and strong without a tremor. He walked swiftly towards them and Severus quashed the urge to grab Theophany and back away.

“It seems you are real.” Grindelwald folded his hands behind his back and bent forward to examine them. “I could create figments that have no thoughts – or figments whose thoughts I can see very well but you –”

He swung back towards Severus.

“I can see your thoughts but dimly. I could not imagine only half another man’s thoughts. So you must be real. You fly – and I know what that means – but you invoke Albus’s name also. So what are you, who are you? I would check. I would see for myself, but your mind is only shadows and I cannot see – how is this?”

“Practice. The one who calls himself the Dark Lord can see only what I choose to show him.”

“Practice!” Grindelwald was moving again. No longer moving toward them directly, he moved with the restless feet of a caged animal. “Practice, he says. Do I believe him? If this self called lord of darkness is your master, you would do well to guard your thoughts, yes. But this one?”

He doubled back to stand before Theophany.

“This one doesn’t fly and doesn’t hide her thoughts, but there’s a charm there preventing me from seeing too much.”

He swooped suddenly to look into Theophany’s face, almost nose to nose. This time Severus did grip his wand, but Theophany made no move. Wide eyed she looked back as Grindelwald muttered to himself.

“It’s a very well kept charm, a long kept charm, but you aren’t that old, are you girl? No not girl, but woman, I see. So small – but no rabbit. And what is she? Albus would never send her here. Faugh! If your thoughts appear only dimly, hers are too bright! She has no need of hiding them, they are too loud to hear. What is she? Have you brought me a wild animal in the form of a witch?”

Severus cautiously put a hand out to Theophany as if to draw her back, saying in a low voice, “This is where you leave. You can be of no further help–”

“So how am I leaving then, jumping out the window?” she hissed back.

Grindelwald looked interestedly from one to the other.

“She cannot leave until you do, if she cannot fly. There is no other way out.” The wizard’s face gathered together in a frown and then spread in a smile that quickly disappeared. “You can trust me there.”

Severus continued in an aside to Theophany, “You must not hear anything that happens here.”

“I can stop my ears…?”

“No!” Grindelwald thundered.

Severus tensed, but the wizard’s bad temper didn’t seem to be violent.

“No. I do not speak – I do not even listen – unless she stays. Unless she hears.”

Grindelwald looked at them in turn. His eyes seemed to drink them in, but Severus suspected his gaze had always been this hungry and wasn’t the result of isolation alone. Grindelwald looked at the world as if he could consume its meaning through his eyes.

“Do you know how long it has been since I have spoken to someone who speaks back? But even longer, yes, it’s been even longer since I have been heard! Even at first they wouldn’t listen. They were paid to guard and stopped their ears in case I corrupted them with evil incantations. Fools!”

Grindelwald’s snarl turned quickly to smirk. His face seemed perfectly in time with his thoughts, and expressions and micro-expressions bloomed or shifted with as much speed as his mind.

“They do not even check now. They used to, once, twice a year, and I don’t even know how long ago that was. Now it is fully, what is the English, ‘Automated’. Convenient....”
His eyes turned inward, smile turned sour. “Merciful,” he whispered. “It was....so merciful to spare my life.”

Grindelwald turned away and stalked slowly back to his bare bed. Even in his rags and age he seemed to move with pomp and destiny on his shoulders. They caught a whisper.

Albus, you coward.

With a look Severus nailed Theophany to where she stood. She seemed to understand she wasn’t to move and shrank back a little. Severus moved forward. He couldn’t give too much away, couldn’t allow Grindelwald to manipulate him. Any attempt to interrogate him subtly would be obvious to Grindelwald, insulting even.

“Where is the Elder Wand?” Severus asked simply.

There was no reaction. Theophany, on the other hand, gasped. Grindelwald looked bored.

“And who are you? That you would ask for that?”

“I don’t ask for it. I only need to keep it from being found.”

Grindelwald didn’t answer.

“It is my unpleasant and inescapable duty to finish the tasks Dumbledore left behind. If the Dark – if the wizard once known as Riddle finds the wand, all of Dumbledore’s efforts might be for nothing.”

Grindelwald cupped his mouth in his hand and then rested his elbow on his knee.

“I don’t believe you. Who are you that he should trust you with so much?”

“A teacher.” Severus shrugged.

“A teacher?” Grindelwald repeated in stupification. “A teacher? Was zur Hölle…You aren’t the type of person Albus would trust. He surrounded himself with the talented and charming, the charismatic, the sure to succeed. You are a veryunpleasant man. I don’t see him choosing you at all. What are you to be so special to him? To be so trusted?”

Severus felt an old pain somewhere in his gut. No, he wasn’t the obvious choice for Dumbledore’s right hand. Neither charismatic or successful. It was a pain so old it was more phantom than real.

“He didn’t choose me. Necessity did.” He kept his voice patient. “Not many charming or charismatic former Death Eaters were around willing to be his spy.”

“You tell me nothing I don’t know. You have the mark on your arm, so I know what you are. You are here from Albus, so I know you are a spy too. You talk but tell me nothing.”

“I only answer your questions –”

“I am not this child, Riddle, to be so easily distracted and flattered! Do – not – handle – me! I will not be managed! I ask again, why are you Albus’s trustee on earth?”

Trying to manipulate him would only backfire. Severus reminded himself he had nothing to lose, everything to gain.

“Because I killed him.”

There was a single moment of perfect silence. In this tower far above the earth not even the forest could be heard. Grindelwald rose slowly. His eyes bored into Severus’s. Whatever half thought he saw in Severus’s eyes might tell him the truth or mislead him entirely.

“Those are dangerous words to say to me. But I see you mean them – and that you don’t. You killed him and you didn’t kill him. Is that so?”

He drew level with Severus, who had to tilt his head slightly to look him in the eye. Grindelwald worked his jaw, his fingers flexed.

“So, Albus paid the final price for his principles and asked of you what I once asked of him.”

Severus stopped breathing.

“Albus wouldn’t do it, of course he wouldn’t. I wonder if he remembered that when he asked you to kill him. So. Albus asked you to do something he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – do. Kill a friend.” He leaned uncomfortably close. “What hold did he have over you?”

“None,” Severus said softly. “He only knew that I care for nothing else but the destruction of the Dark Lord. Not even my own life.”

“Then how could you be willing?

“Don’t pretend to be so shocked!” Severus snarled. “Don’t pretend you wouldn’t have done it for the greater good. I would have done anything to avoid it and I almost didn’t – but he was already dead, poisoned twice over, begging me to...and if I didn’t then –”

“Someone else would have. Someone else would have been guilty,” Grindelwald finished. “Yes, yes, I see now. I see your mind better and I was wrong. Albus would have liked you. That is he did – or has…” He rubbed his forehead. “Time is different for me here. It is too long but, sometimes, the past is clearer though it is so far away.”

Grindelwald’s gaze focused again. He instinctively looked towards the window. It was the only thing that broke the monotony of the stone walls. Theophany was leaning against the sill, her eyes wide and dark. The old wizard's voice changed, suddenly warmer and softer.

“Come here, dear, it’s cold by the window. Would you believe I have named every tree I see from that window? After so many years I know where to look for each flower in the spring, where the badgers nest and the deer graze. It’s beautiful in spring, but it is sad too -–like – like that piece of poetry that keeps going through your mind. Why do you like it so? Why does it make you sad?”

“Sometimes sadness is happiness, too,” Theophany replied guardedly.

Grindelwald nodded as if he expected such a cryptic answer. Severus disliked not being included, Theophany wasn’t properly prepared for Grindelwald’s manipulations. If this was some part of his plan, Grindelwald didn’t push the issue. He kept his eyes on the window.

“I haven't set foot in those woods since – since…”

“1943,” Theophany supplied.

Grindelwald wrinkled his forehead.

“You’re too young, how can you be sure?”

“You were captured in London in ‘45 and you hadn’t been on the continent for two years. Is that blanket all you have to keep you warm?” Theophany added.

His eyes darkened deeper as he gazed at her. Severus held his breath, ready to draw his wand if need be. Grindelwald propped his chin on his fist.

“Maybe it isn’t your thoughts that are so bright – maybe it is your heart that colours them so.”

Severus saw Theophany reflexively raise a hand as if to shield herself.

“Then please...don’t share what it says.”

“I won’t, since you seem so concerned for my welfare. I requested the one blanket. There were more but I found I prefered to feel imprisoned. It frees my mind.”

Grindelwald kept his chin on his hand but pivoted to look at Severus.

“Watch this one closely. She will ruin all of your plans.”

Severus refused to look away from Grindelwald. Theophany? Sabotage his plans? No, she would keep her promises. She would put the mission first. Grindelwald was trying to sow doubt in his mind, acting like he knew something Severus didn’t. The dark wizard grinned briefly at him, wolfish and smug, but then he sobered.

“I cannot tell you where the Elder Wand is. Albus took it with him.”

“Took it?” Severus breathed.

His heart stopped. Albus had kept it. Foolish, foolish pride, Albus. Were you not already strong enough?

“If I know – If I knew Albus at all,” Grindelwald was saying. “Of course he did. But that is not what you want me to say when this Riddle comes, no?”

“I must ask you to deny you ever had the wand since I have failed to find it myself. Right now there is nothing to link you to it, the chain of ownership was broken after Gregorovitch. But I fear it is inevitable he will guess. He will find you and he will torture you.”

Grindelwald nodded.

“In which case you think I will be forced to reveal all? Are you so sure I am so weak?”

“I know only what he is capable of.”

The old wizard started to laugh, and it was a young man’s laugh. It boomed through the empty room and shook his slight frame. It was a victorious laugh, mirthful with power and easy cruelty.

“Do you think I have not felt pain? I do not speak of duels, or battles, but the deepest depths of darkness I plumbed for the glory of Wizardkind. The agonies I learned, the twisted rituals I performed, and even after they took my wand – when they mercifully spared my life – I was not powerless. Blood can do as much as a wand.”

He lifted his hands, palms facing inwards, the sleeves fell back baring arms that were scarred and burnt. The tips of his left hand fingers were missing, bitten off. His right hand hand had only a few nails. Severus remembered the portrait warning him there were depths of the Dark Arts only Grindelwald had plumbed. In case the dark wizard was intent on demonstrating this wandless skill, Severus moved back towards Theophany.

“They tried, you know, removing everything. Even these stone walls were enchanted to be soft and cushioning. But they could not win while I had my teeth.”

Grindelwald snapped his jaws, showing teeth long and yellowed with age. “This child, Riddle, can show me no pain I have not subjected myself to long before he was born.”

He tossed his head but eyed them in a sidelong glance.

“Oh, mein Gott, leave her – I am not going to hurt her. It’s clear she’s had no proper training, she’d be no challenge – besides I need what blood I have left to keep me warm.”

Severus was none too reassured but stopped his backward progress towards Theophany. He kept his hand on his wand. Grindelwald rolled his shoulders in a shrug.

“All this is academic, yes? You do not know he will discover I was once the master of the wand. Why has he not come to me sooner?”

“It’s true – had he considered the problem carefully, you would be the likeliest candidate – but he has been distracted. The Dark Lord –”

Grindelwald made a rude noise. Severus gritted his teeth.

“–Tom Riddle was once a brilliant wizard, an unparalleled strategist. But over time he has come to rely on power over ingenuity. He’s grown paranoid, fixated. Don’t doubt that he will find you.”

“The ‘dark lord’,” Grindelwald scoffed. “Surrounding himself with fanatics and thugs. Of course he would eventually absorb their ways and thinking. We become the people we choose to be with, yes? It’s why I chose my comrades so carefully...I thought.”

He looked up at Snape.

“Is that why you surrounded yourself with young students? Hoping to acquire a little of their innocence?”

“Of their stupidity you mean, no.”

“Still. Much is said by the company you keep.” Now he was looking at Theophany. He raised his eyebrows, suddenly comic, like a grandfather trying to make a child laugh. “I’ve only been keeping my own and look what it’s done to me.”

Mercurial, his face fell again with his mood and he whispered, “And you are the last company I shall ever have, excepting my murderer, it seems.”

“No!”

Severus jerked his head at Theophany. She spoke quickly but her voice was sure.

“You won’t be left here, alone. I can’t – I can’t know when it will happen, when he’ll come, but I will come as soon as I can.”

Grindelwald’s mouth twisted, surprised and amused.

“You will come and keep vigil over me? Lay me out for death and say a prayer?”

“So you’re not alone. And he may leave you before...”

“Before I’m actually dead? I doubt that. He will greatly enjoy defeating the previous most powerful wizard of the age. I’m sure you mean well, but the gesture is meaningless.” Grindelwald snorted, but he added, “You may come. Just so he is not my final companion.”

Theophany reached into her her pocket and withdrew her notepad. She tore out a sheet of paper and then ripped it in half. She held it out but Severus intercepted it and handed it to Grindelwald.

“Without a wand...can you use that?” Theophany asked.

The wizard rubbed the parchment between finger and thumb.

“Yes…” he said quietly. “Yes, keep that other piece with you and you will know when I am dead.”

It seemed he knew, despite his boasting, that Voldemort would kill him. Grindelwald looked at Severus from under his lashless eyes.

“I think, now that you know he used it, you have a good idea where to seek the wand, no?”

“Only the obvious places. I don’t think he would have been so foolish to have it anywhere near the school –”

“So you will watch. Watch and wait.”

“It is all I can do, at times,” Severus replied shortly.

Though it made the back of his neck prickle, he turned his back on Grindelwald and strode towards the window. He had accomplished all he could here.

“Wait.”

Grindelwald spoke, and it was more than a command and almost a spell. Theophany had the opposite reaction intended and recoiled, looking as if she was an inch from leaping from the window. Severus set his teeth and took a few more steps to make clear he wouldn’t be commanded. Then he paused and said cooly over his shoulder, “Yes?”

The aged wizard had risen from his low bed and was advancing towards them again. The room was far too small, and he was a pace from Severus in seconds.

“No. Now – now you must give me my due. I have been compliant. I have been hospitable. In return you will tell me what Albus planned. How is a great victory accomplished by you, a – a teacher and this – this untrained peasant girl? Why?” His voice rose sharply and he shook his fists in frustration. “For what reason did Albus sacrifice himself?

Severus took a step back. Grindelwald raised a trembling hand as if to stop him.

“There must be...there must be some plan?”

“Not one other living soul can know –”

The hand shot to Severus’s throat and it no longer trembled. Theophany cried out as Grindelwald squeezed viciously, shouting, “But I am already dead!”

He raised his other hand, but Severus wasn’t watching him. He couldn’t see Theophany and struggled to gasp, “No! Don’t–”

“Even if you beg –”

“Not you,” Severus gasped. “Her.”

He wanted to scrabble at the hand pressing against his windpipe but kept his hands clenched at his sides. To Theophany he croaked, “Don’t move. Do nothing.”

There was no sound from her. He couldn’t turn his head and look. Grindelwald eased his pressure but didn’t let go. Severus met his stare and held it.

“Albus...was so entrapped by his enemies...had received too many blows.” Severus forced the words past the pressure on his throat. “He was already dying. So he found a way to use it in his favour.”

Grindelwald smiled.

“He would. You do realize that I could kill you &nash; and that would compromise your mission as much as telling me everything.”

Severus didn’t answer.

“Unless you think she is some match for me?”

“She would give me enough time... without even drawing her wand.”

Grindelwald was distracted. His quick and curious mind darted after the breadcrumb and his hand relaxed. Severus didn’t twitch an eyelid.

“Ah, some kind of ignorant savant? Very useful. Yes, I see now why you keep her. Come here child – I think we need more light.”

He dropped his hand and turned to summon the candle. Severus said softly and calmly, “The window.”

Would she understand? Severus turned his head and looked at Theophany. She was staring back, frozen. When they made eye contact, he saw understanding cross her face. Theophany gave him one terrified look before she turned and ran. She was only three steps from the window. She closed the space and leapt into the night without breaking step.

Severus spun about and tore after her. He didn’t look back. In the darkness he could lose sight of Theophany quickly. He expected to be stopped, a howl of rage, a grasping hand, something, but there wasn’t a sound from Grindelwald.

The protective charms held both Severus and Theophany tight to the tower, surely there would be other spells to deter suicidal leaps or Grindelwald would have done this years ago. Severus had the advantage of control and acceleration but he didn’t breathe properly until he spotted her. She was falling backwards, eyes open to the sky, arms spread. She was falling more slowly than he. Thank the Ministry, there were protective charms in place to slow a fall.

Severus dove. He wanted to catch her without losing any acceleration. Hopefully it would carry them over the walls and past the boundaries of the protective charms in one go. He turned sharply, changing direction out from the tower like a swimmer kicking away from the wall.

He intercepted Theophany from the side, her shoulder banging painfully against his chest. She managed to get one arm around him and he around her and together they spiraled crazily out from the tower and over the cliff’s edge. The icy wind peeled at his eyelids but he’d fixed on their direction and needed only to put his efforts into speeding them beyond the boundary before he ran out of strength.

After a minute he realized Theophany was flailing a little. Suspended by her arms beneath him it wasn’t the most secure grip. He twisted so he could support her with his side and she shouted something. He shook his head and she pulled herself closer to his ear, arms trembling, and shouted, “Down! We’re out!”

Severus couldn’t continue much further so he hoped she was right and descended. There were no cleared fields at this elevation, the woods were remote and unsettled. The branches tore at their faces and robes but their speed carried them through and they tumbled to the ground. Severus would have been deeply shamed by such an ungainly landing had the circumstances been other than they were. As it was, he gladly released Theophany and rolled to one side, catching his breath. Theophany crawled towards him.

“Are you hurt? Can you breathe?”

Severus waved her away without opening his eyes.

“Theo...phany,” he managed weakly, “I...for one...am relieved...you are...small.”

Theophany sputtered and laughed. She collapsed onto her side and laughed until she was breathless. Severus knew it was a nervous release. He wasn’t funny. Despite the snow they both lay still for some minutes. There seemed to be too much to say to even begin to speak.

“Did he try and stop you?” she asked.

“No – perhaps he is already wondering if he imagined us.”

“Wouldn’t the fact we visited him be revealed if – if’s he tortured?”

Severus shook his head.

“Unlikely he’ll be asked that question. And he will be able to guard his thoughts. But it’s a risk I took. One you didn’t have to take.”

Theophany was quiet again.

“I would have believed him,” Theophany said finally. Her voice was small. “I would have believed he could withstand anything but – but for what I saw in Godric’s Hollow.”

“You find the Dark – Riddle –” Severus sighed. “Whatever you want to call him. You find him more terrible?”

Theophany sat up.

“We both felt the evil here and he, Grindelwald, was...I’m not even sure what he was. Cold, mad, and clever… but he was still a man with human emotions and thoughts. When I saw You-Know-Who he wasn’t human. He’s lost that.”

The portrait had said much the same thing. Was Grindelwald so easily read or was Theophany so perceptive? Or did Grindelwald want to be seen this way? Severus got to his feet. He hurt everywhere and he was tired of thinking in circles. Theophany picked a twig out of her hair, twice as wild and tangled as was usual.

“The charm he sensed that hid some of my thoughts. It was the Fidelius Charm, wasn’t it? He couldn’t see where I was from. Or my family.”

“Yes. That information can only be...betrayed. Not found, even by Legilimency.”

“Alright then.” Theophany got to her feet. She was holding herself stiffly. “Since I won’t be revealing any secrets but my own – do it. Take my memory. I shouldn’t know about the Elder Wand, should I? I see now why you wouldn’t explain.”

It was sensible. She was giving him permission to sort through her mind and remove only the pertinent memories, but in doing so she would reveal everything about herself except what was protected by the Fidelius Charm.

Severus nodded, suppressing a rueful thought that all his energy had been wasted. If he had just waited, Theophany would have volunteered herself and her memories. Now that he knew her, he should have expected this. Expected to be surprised. Severus drew his wand.

“Ready?”

Theophany looked at him. He had the feeling she was trying to imprint this moment on her mind, even though this wasn’t the memory in question. Did she think everything would change after this? Severus returned her gaze, watched her eyes become an open map of thoughts just on the verge of being made legible. He had only to cast the spell. It came so easily to him now, he could feel the moment just before another’s thoughts became clear and their impressions became concrete feelings. What had she been thinking when the dark wizard had looked in her mind? What was she thinking now? There were words just beyond the edge of his perception. Theophany’s eyes were full – were they tears? Then they closed. Severus lost the tentative connection. Her shoulders were raised defensively but her hands stayed clenched at her sides.

“You might – you might not like what you find.” Her voice was a little high.

“I need you to open your eyes.”

“Oh.” She looked back at him. “That makes it a little harder.”

It did. It made it much harder. He had no scruples against it. It was the wisest course of action. Neither did he feel any concern for Theophany’s discomfort, but he found he simply didn’t want to. Theophany’s eyes were frightened, but Severus was the one who looked away.

“I believe the first train is at five a.m. We should go if we don’t want to miss it.”

He didn’t know why. It just seemed such a waste. Severus started walking, feeling the need to get away from her before she said anything. Theophany made a sound. It was almost a gasp or nearly a laugh. Surprise and delight. Severus closed his ears and kept trudging forward. Theophany hurried to catch up with him and offered her hand.

“Here. Just Apparate with me. You’ve exhausted yourself.”

Once more wouldn’t hurt. Severus took her hand and they Disapparated. The warmth of the station was like a hothouse after the biting winds of the Rog. Severus’s head spun. He felt himself pitch forward, and Theophany put a hand under his elbow.

“Whoa! Severus you shouldn’t have – I knew you’d be the sort to push yourself too far–”

He didn’t hear much else. He was vaguely aware of his leaden feet moving under him. He stumbled along the platform and up the boarding steps. Everything was foggy. The time he was forced to walk felt interminable, but finally he felt Theophany push him gently back and he folded into a soft seat. Gratefully, Severus slumped to one side, holding his head with one hand. It kept pounding. It was over though. It was done.

He squinted. Even the dim light of the compartment hurt his head. He felt Theophany’s hand tuck her bag under his head and then the light was switched off. In the half light he saw Theophany settle herself opposite him. She took the torn piece of parchment from her pocket and folded it into a small square. From the collar of her robes she pulled out a silver chain and strung the square of parchment on it before tucking it safely away. She seemed to feel his eyes on her and whispered, “Rest. We’ll depart soon.”

She lit the tip of her wand to read by. Severus half closed his eyes, waiting for his equilibrium to return. He didn’t sleep. The train jerked and shuddered as it pulled from the platform. Theophany lowered her book to look out the window. Severus could see the cover. It was poetry. Grindelwald had mentioned a poem, something he’d caught from Theophany’s thoughts. Was it the same words Severus had glimpsed before she’d closed her eyes? One sentence, one repeating sentence. From under his eyelids Severus watched her and pondered meanings and motives while repeating it to himself.

Give me that dark moment. I will carry it everywhere like a mouthful of rain.
End Notes:
The poetry quote at the end is from Mary Oliver's collecton Blue Pastures, published 1995.
Chapter 22 by Meadowsweet
Severus jerked awake. His neck was stiff. Theophany was leaning forward in her seat.

“What is it?” he asked.

“What did you say?”

“Sorry,” they answered together.

There was an awkward silence.

“You said something – but you must have been dreaming. Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Severus frowned out the window. A weak light was showing at the horizon.

“How long was I asleep?”

“I’m not sure. I dozed a little myself.”

His mouth felt like dust and his body felt no more rested. Severus was aware he must look like death. He leaned forward and rested his face in his hands, rubbing the drowsiness away. When he looked up, Theophany proffered a brightly wrapped, oblong package.

“The tea and soup cart also sells miscellaneous goods.” She smiled.

It was a toothbrush. Severus regarded it with something like surprise that something so mundane could exist in the same world as Grindelwald and the Elder Wand. Theophany had also acquired toothpaste.

“Brushing my teeth made me feel loads better. I fell asleep with no trouble. Er – there’s a lav just a few compartments towards the engine.”

The wrapper crinkling in his hand, Severus excused himself. It did make him feel at least human to wash his face and remove the fuzzy foulness from his mouth. He didn’t spare the mirror a glance and simply raked his hair out of his face with damp fingers.

The train moved in pre-dawn silence. He crept back to their compartment without meeting anyone. The shades of most of the compartments were drawn, and those that weren’t revealed the slumbering passengers within.

Theophany looked up with a brief, comfortable, smile when he slid the door open. Her bag was still on his seat where it had been his pillow, but she’d taken the opportunity to retrieve other books from it. Had she been waiting for him to wake up, tired of her poems at last? Severus inquired how much he owed her for the toothbrush and she frowned.

“It’s just a few Sickles. Honestly, please don’t. If it makes you feel better, you can buy the tea. The trolley witch promised me she’d be back later with some. I doubt there will be anything like an edible breakfast though.”

Severus only nodded. He tilted his head to read the titles of the books under her hand. One was an obvious work of fiction, but the Von Brause book of poisonous antidotes was a little surprising. Theophany drew her wand, and Severus felt a brief compression in his ears as an Anti-eavesdropping Charm settled over their compartment. It seemed Theophany was done waiting for answers. She stood and changed seats to sit beside him.

“First, since you’re trying to protect the Elder wand from You-Know-Who, is there also a….a Hiding Hood and a Spirit Stone?”

Severus sighed.

“It’s called the ‘Resurrection Stone,’ I believe. And I have no more idea than you. But the ‘hood’ is actually an invisibility cloak and I can most definitely vouch for its existence.”

“Stories always called it a ‘hood.’ Local colour, I guess. There must be a lot of variance across Britain. Also, it’s a staff, not a wand, in the stories I heard.” Theophany looked at him warily. “You don’t need me to help you find seven league boots or a lamp with a genie in it, do you?”

“I think not.”

“Just checking. Okay, second. Gellert Grindelwald owned the Warlock Wand – I mean Elder – and that makes sense because he was the most powerful wizard, but then Dumbledore got it so he was the most powerful, or was it because he was powerful in the first place that he won it? Anyway, that means Albus Dumbledore used it. That means...you’ve seen it.”

Severus closed his eyes. The bad taste in his mouth was back.

“Yes.”

“Then if You-Know-Who wants it, and you’re sure he’ll find Grindelwald, then...Harry Potter doesn’t stand a chance. He should stay in hiding even if people do yammer about him being the so called “Chosen One”. What, why are you looking at me like that?”

Severus glanced away so Theophany wouldn’t see all the guilt and frustration ruining his insides.

“Unless we find it first. Right?” Theophany leaned forward to try and look him in the face. “You said you could only think of obvious places where it could be, but you knew Dumbledore.”

“Apparently...not as well as I thought.”

“Godric’s Hollow,” Theophany spoke up. “I saw on the headstones in the graveyard, that’s where he was from, right?”

“That is my only lead,” Severus said bleakly.

“I could always poke around –”

“No!”

She sat back in surprise. Severus bit his tongue. There was a rumbling from the engine, and the train slowed as it crossed a bridge. In the east the dawn was just beneath the hills.

“I...appreciate...all that you’ve done,” Severus began carefully. “It has been more than I felt I could ask –”

“A nice way of saying I’m an infernal annoyance,” Theophany interjected calmly. “It’s not necessary to say anything, really.”

“I should say–”

“No, really–”

“The point is–”

Don’t-

“It’s over,” Severus finished firmly.

Gratitude was all very well, but what was really important was that she understand her time with this mission had ended.

“I know,” Theophany whispered. “Why do you think I didn’t want to hear it? I knew you couldn’t just be thanking me.”

“Heaven forbid. I’ll spare you the discomfort of my gratitude and get straight to the point — do not contact me, do not seek out Spinner’s End. For your safety, and more importantly the preservation of my mission, there must remain no trace we were ever with Grindelwald. As of the moment we reach London we are strangers again.”

It was so much easier to be caustic. Though it took so much energy to work up the irritation. They had at least another hour before they reached King’s Cross, and they could pass it in chilly silence. Theophany kept looking out the window. Probably to avoid his gaze.

“I understand,” Theophany said quietly. “I volunteered. I came because it was important and I wanted to.”

A strange look crossed her face, and then she smiled.

“I’ll keep my promises. The mission comes first. I won’t jeopardize it by contacting you. But if ever for any reason you need me – not just for the mission – please send me an owl. See? I’m being reasonable. There’s no need to try and make me angry.”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “A foolish attempt. Don’t you only get angry with people that matter?”

Theophany’s smile went crooked and she moved to face him.

“Then you should feel flattered by how many times I’ve lost my temper with you.”

Was she trying to manipulate him? She didn’t seem overly upset. Severus felt his way carefully.

“I am aware how...unusual and fortunate it was that you offered to help without knowing the details, that you saw the importance of my mission.”

“That’s not what makes you matter, Severus,” Theophany insisted. “You’re my friend.”

“You can’t claim people as your friend.”

“Then I should say I’m your friend. I don’t need your permission for that. And because I’m your friend, I’ll protect you. I’ll keep my promise.”

“Thank you.”

Severus wasn’t sure what he was thanking her for, exactly. As long as she stuck by her word and never contacted him again, it was possible this could end safely without any repercussions.





Theophany looked back at Severus for a little longer. Though she was looking directly into his eyes, he didn’t look away. She wished he had slept a little longer. Selfishly, she wanted to be in his company without having to guard her expressions or words.

His eyes had no expression. They just bore her gaze as if they were two observers separated by one way glass. He wasn’t free of his past, of this war, and might never be.

It was inevitable that they would fight, he had said. Theophany agreed. It was. She wouldn’t allow a nothingness to drift between them. She would fight her way closer and be accepted or rejected. That would be her crux; she didn’t fear it. It was coming because she had chosen it.

He did indeed purchase the tea. It seemed he was a stickler for politeness in many ways. They didn’t speak again until the train slowed its pace. King’s Cross, platform seven and one-half would be busy with all kind of magical folk coming into the city for business or pleasure. It was the height of morning traffic.

Theophany buckled her bag shut. She couldn’t look at him when she asked, “I assume we are to leave the train separately?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll go first.”

She couldn’t watch him walk away from her not knowing how they would ever meet again. This couldn’t be over. ‘A long road’ Silyn had said. It couldn’t be over yet.

A dark and guarded path – but you walk as if you know the way…but will you want to go? As she told Severus, she had volunteered for this. It was her choice. Theophany hoped she did in fact know her way.
The train swayed from side to side and a shudder ran down its length. Theophany stood and caught the handrail by the door, her bag ready under her arm. Severus’s eyes weren’t on her but looked through her to whatever end he was working towards with dread determination. His mission was secure, but hers was precarious. How could she keep him safe if she wasn’t there? If only she could lay some kind of protection on him.

“I meant what I said.” Her voice was weak and nervous. “If you need me…”

Severus nodded once and gave a tight and grim little smile. No sarcasm, no coldness. It was the first honest smile she’d seen from him. Theophany raised a hand to ward it off. This wasn’t fair, not when she was forced to leave him. She held her mouth tight against the quiver there and impulsively reached out. Her fingertips settled lightly on his forehead. She didn’t know how he reacted. So controlled was his expression. The train screamed and stopped. Theophany removed her hand.

“That’s a blessing – and a prayer.”

Theophany slid the compartment door back and walked swiftly down the length of the train. Passengers were gathering their belongings, stretching and yawning, beginning to crowd the corridor. She had only a few seconds' lead to gain the platform before the crowd would close in around her.

There was a bubble in her throat. Before it could burst, Theophany leapt down the steps to the platform. She was only four cars ahead of their compartment. She could look back but she didn’t. Theophany averted her face and turned on the spot, Disapparating to the soft field of snow that slumbered beneath the Mill. It was her turn to nearly pitch forward, but there was no arm to catch her, so she wiped her face and marched, dry eyed, up to the workshop.

Silyn and Boniface found her in the workshop. A tray of breakfast floated along behind them.

“Ike’s convinced you’ll perish if you don’t eat in the next few minutes,” Boniface said.

“But we admit to some concern ourselves. Where were you last night?” Silyn asked.

Theophany put the tray down and forked up some eggs. The workshop was hot with two cauldrons on the fire.

“I can’t say – had to be somewhere, had to find someone. It’s done now.”

“So what’s all this then?”

“How many people are in that Relocation Camp? One hundred? Two? All without proper care. We will have to treat them as we go -–many won’t be strong enough to travel far. Where are you putting them all?”

Silyn leaned against the table and stole one of the sliced tomatoes off the tray.

“Maevan’s got most of it sorted. But we’ll be counting on you for some help too. That’s why Lissy, Zuri, and Mrs. Honeysett were at the meeting; they’re all finding places to hide or rehouse the escapees we can’t fit.”

Theophany looked at him.

“Just how many people…”

Silyn told her. Theophany felt the need to sit down, but there was no chair handy.

“Four hundred and sixty-five. You said this was big but...how on earth can we hide them all? I mean I can do some but–”

“The Dagda.” Silyn and Boniface spoke together.

“Er, that is, the actual Dagda. The forest, not the civilian army,” Silyn explained. “Lavinia’s organizing campsites like her own. It’s best if most of the escapees disappear completely, assumed names are too dangerous. Problem is only some of the forest is under the Fidelius Charm or the Anti-apparition Jinx.”

Theophany paused in uncorking a bottle of lizard spleen.

“You want me to alter the Fidelius Charm on the valley? That’s never been done. Is this approved?”

“Yes. And, no, not an alteration.. We think a new, additional charm would be best, and since you’re already secret keeper of the valley, it makes sense.”

Theophany nodded and dumped the contents of the bottle into a boiling cauldron. Boniface covered his nose at the smell.

“I’ll start today. It will take a little time.”

“Thank you, Tiff. Do you need any help?”

“Well, um, yes, I’m just trying to stock up on the basics. We don’t know what kind of conditions they have in that camp. Burns, breaks, disease. If you could just stir that…?”

“And when we’re done here, maybe you’ll consider resting a little?”

Theophany briskly washed her hands. The stone basin stayed chilly even when the shop grew hot and stuffy. Resting. She splashed water on the back of her neck and pushed away the hair that stuck to her face.

“I’ll try.”



January was half gone. Maeven wouldn’t give her more details than were necessary. Theophany knew it would be soon. From snatches she’d caught she thought the camp was in the north. It would be a hard journey back for most of the escapees, by broom and rail, mostly. This would perhaps be the single largest act of resistance of the Dagda – perhaps of the war.

Theophany paced the boundary of the Dagda Wood for three days. Jacka joined her and made marks on the map. The Fidelius Charm had to be precise. The twenty-eighth would be a new moon. It was old fashioned, but not disproven, that some charms were stronger in certain lunar phases. The new moon was a good time for secrets and hidden things if Zuri was right. She usually was. Jacka would ask the ceremonial questions, a Tuatha custom if not a necessity, and perform the charm that placed the pledged area in her care.

“Zuri and Lavinia will be there too, I’m not sure why,” Theophany added.

A flicker of something crossed Jacka’s face, but he quickly bent over the map. Theophany debated between pretending she hadn’t seen or being forthright.

“Does that...annoy you? I can ask them not to.”

“No, no. They are trying to help.”

“But–”

“It’s fine. Why would I mind Lavinia being present? She must be curious. I’m glad, even, that she is coming. Zuri believes you should receive more support, I think. She and your sister Lissy have decided they will help you however they can. Perhaps Lavinia feels that way too.”

Theophany looked up at the night sky.

“I’m sorry to worry everyone.”

“We all worry, about everyone and everything. Nothing can be done about that.”

They walked in silence back to the forester’s cottage. In the still night a distant music floated out to them. The gentle plucking of strings and a snatch of song.

“Tell Col I’m glad he still finds time to practice.”

Jacka grinned.

“He will be mortified you heard, but I will tell him.”

Theophany waved and started up the path. With the Anti-apparition Jinx already in place it was a longer walk back to the Mill, and they’d all sworn that no Knapp would ever fly again. Jacka spoke suddenly, stopping her.

“Theophany.” He cleared his throat. “We all worry because you do so much to make this place possible. In this valley Col doesn’t have to hide. There is the chance...I have even begun to hope he can make a life here.”

“If something happens to me, someone else is in line for Secret Keeper. Frog Hollow won’t be in any danger of being lost.”

“And the Wolfsbane?” Jacka responded quietly. “It’s selfish. But it’s frequently on my mind.”

“That too. I have made provisions for everything.” Theophany smiled and quoted Boniface: “Because I’m in charge.”

She pulled her hood over her face but turned back to ask, “What about you, Jacka? Haven’t you made a life here too?”

An easy smile split his swarthy face, the bushy beard quivered.

“Of course. This much I have and it is enough. But I want more for my son. For me it is too late.”

Jacka knew. He knew what was in Lavinia’s eyes when she looked at him. He knew and had already rejected it. Theophany bit her lips. He met her eyes calmly. There was nothing bitter or unhappy about Jacka. He was, truly, content. Theophany only nodded. He would understand all she felt and couldn’t say. She had rather hoped he would be an example for Col, but it was good to know his father was encouraging him to hope. Hope for a little happiness.



February. Theophany felt no extra burden from the Fidelius Charm, but Zuri, Lissy, and Lavinia were constant callers. It was as if they felt something was off. Lissy, enormously round, was due in late March but was still frequently at the Mill. Theophany reassured them she was fine. She was busy. In her heart she was just pacing the long road SIlyn had foreseen, but it seemed he was wrong about her knowing the way. She had never felt more lost.

It was a rainy February. Not so bitter cold but dreary in its sameness. Theophany bent to pull on her galoshes by the kitchen door. When she stood up, she let out a small sound, and Silyn, who was pouring over some maps by the fire, looked up.

“What is it?”

“Nothing.”

It came and went. A sudden stab of bereavement. Sometimes she felt almost whole but never fully present.

Just a little heartsickness.

Heartsick was just the right term. Theophany looked out at the rain. It was already growing dark outside. She’d have to light the lamps in the workshop.

“Silyn.”

“Hmm?”

“Remember when you said my aura had changed? Is it still changed?”

“It hasn’t changed again, if that’s what you mean.”

“You can see it whenever you want?”

“Sometimes.”

“Whenever you want….sometimes?”

“When I look for it and I see it, I’m definitely seeing it when I wanted to.”

“Hmm.” Theophany mimicked his noncommittal grunt.

She stepped into the rain but didn’t pull up her hood. The cold water trickled down her ears and inside her collar. It woke her up a little. Did heartsickness usually cause this fog in the mind? Perhaps there was heart weather as well. Hers would be alternately sea storms or barren desert. Before she stepped inside the workshop, Theophany remembered to tilt back her head to catch a mouthful of rain.



Severus had Filch light more lamps. The Great Hall was always ablaze with candles, but the rest of the castle seemed under a curse of darkness. February had been dreary, but was March always so dark? He told himself this was the calm before the storm. His mark hadn’t burned. No news had come of Potter or other rebellion. But Severus Snape twitched at every shadow. There was nothing to do but fulfill his promise to protect these students. He took almost every detention. He Confounded students in the midst of mayhem and led them away before the Carrows found them. He sent Filch on long errands to remote parts of the castle, or set him on long involved tasks to keep him from patrolling the corridors. Hagrid practically lived in the forest now, Severus sent him so many detentions.

“Isn’t that oaf too easy on them?” Alecto asked.

Severus was examining the essay she’d brought to him for its alarming anti-pureblood sentiments. He tapped his fingers against his lips thoughtfully, taking his time to answer. He rolled up the parchment and handed it back to her.

“It’s a process, Professor Carrow. A heavy punishment may only fan the fire of rebellion, but a constant drip of menial tasks takes some of the romance out of the fight.”

“So what would you recommend for the student who wrote this hateful pack of lies?”

“Soul-crushing boredom. Ask Filch if there are any long and disgusting chores he can assign.”

“Amicus could–?”

“This is a school, not a prison.”

“Of course, Headmaster. But it is our job to quell insurrection and make examples.”

“Which you must do to those students that encourage the rest.”

Alecto smiled. “Then I believe I will soon have good news for you. Amycus and I have a plan to break the ringleader.”

Longbottom. Was he really the cause of all the student warfare?

“Keep me informed,” Severus said disinterestedly.

“I did want a peek at his student record, if I may? I need to know his family. Of course his parents must be just vegetables after all these years, but what other family does he have?”

Snape had a clear image of a green dress and a vulture hat, but instead of irritation he felt panic.

“I’m sure I don’t know. Help yourself.”

He waved towards the large cabinets on his right. Severus unrolled a piece of parchment and started to write quickly. There wasn’t a moment to lose. Alecto hummed and muttered to herself as she sorted through the records. Eventually she paused and he heard the slow turn of parchment pages. His quill paused. He had to have an address.

Think.

He’d seen Longbottom’s file before. He’d checked to see if this student was, indeed, that Longbottom. And Severus had met his parents – once. A meeting a long time ago. He believed Augusta Longbottom held the old, pureblood property in London. He could check after Alecto left, of course, but if he could send this before she left his office, it would have a head start on her own agents. A street in...Kensington? That was it. Harrington Gardens. Severus scribbled the address and folded the letter as Alecto shut the cabinet door.

“Thank you, headmaster. You will have my report by tonight, I hope. I believe it will be favorable. In regards to this essay...”

Severus nodded but stopped listening. Until that instant he hadn’t decided, but Alecto’s certainty spurred him to address his anonymous letter as a warning not to Augusta Longbottom, but to Theophany Knapp. While Alecto prattled, he woke the school owl from its perch and tied the letter to its leg. Augusta might ignore an anonymous letter as an attempt to terrorize her. He couldn’t take that chance.

“...I read some of the ridiculous accusations to the class and the Slytherin students were horrified. We mustn't allow that sort of slander to stand–”

He strode to the window and swung his arm out. The owl soared clear and was soon lost to sight. Severus ran through a few possible scenarios. The logical thing to do, as a Death Eater, would be to go and interrogate students as to Longbottom’s whereabouts. Or better yet, to summon him to the office and keep him there to await Alecto. But if Longbottom somehow went into hiding before that summons? Then he would have done his apparent duty as headmaster, but both Longbottoms would be safe from the Carrows. Someone would have to warn him. Any Gryffindor Severus interrogated would warn him, but there would always be the question why Severus gave that student the chance to squeal. Unless it was a student nobody could accuse of warning a blood traitor. Severus shut the window. He needed to find Astoria Greengrass.

“...Headmaster?”

“As I said, speak to Filch. But as it is a Gryffindor student, I would suggest something particularly menial and overseen by a Slytherin. Excuse me.”

Alecto’s smile was gloating, and she insisted on walking with him as he descending the gargoyle stair. Severus managed to shake her off on the third floor before taking the stair to the dungeons. It was half past three, Potions would just be finishing. The familiar dry, still, smell rose up to meet him. He hadn’t minded it. In fact, having his quarters so far away from the rest of the castle had been fortunate. After the Potters had been murdered, after Azkaban and the trial, a little privacy had been necessary for recovery. Of course the isolation had been for security rather than privacy. The staff hadn’t been subtle in their initial distrust of him.

Slughorn had rearranged the classroom a great deal. There was even enchanted sunlight moving over the mossy green stone walls. It was sixth year Slytherin and Ravenclaws for Potions that afternoon. Severus waited until the bell went, then flung open the door. Sunlight or not, he must have brought the darkness with him, for the faces around him changed the moment they saw him. The Slytherins’ showed only interest. Horace looked worried.

“Good afternoon, Horace...I do hope I haven’t interrupted…?”

“No. No, Headmaster. We have just finished. A cure for boils.”

Severus swept a practiced eye over the still steaming cauldrons. Some were lumpy with badly blended ingredients, some a virulent yellow, others muddy.

“...or perhaps a cause of boils.” He smirked.

He stood to one side, and the students began obediently filing from the classroom. Severus let his eyes rest on each as they went by. Some visibly relaxed after they passed. The Slytherins looked boldly back or made a show of greeting him familiarly. Horace stepped towards him anxiously.

“If there was something you needed, Headmaster?”

“Not from you – ah – Miss Greengrass.”

Astoria Greengrass paused.

“Yes, sir?”

“Come with me.”

She raised an eyebrow in polite inquiry and followed after. Poised and cool. She would be wondering if he recognized her, if he’d discovered her charade as a Gryffindor. Severus ascended behind the class to the upper level. The students dispersed in all directions, some casting curious glances over their shoulders, others looking stoically ahead. The entrance hall was empty. Severus paused.

“Miss Greengrass, how well do you think I know this school?”

“I’d expect pretty well, sir.”

“And yet there are aspects – perhaps whole rooms – I have never found.”

Astoria rubbed her thumb along her bag strap. She listened politely but seemed bored. If she was afraid, she was an excellent actress.

“You see, there are so few teachers and so many students. It’s a question of odds. The students will find far more than the staff ever will. And you know how information and rumors can spread through the student body.”

“I’ve heard a few.” She smiled with casual ease.

“So, it would be neither dishonorable nor any particular betrayal to pass on a rumor to me. The Professors Carrow are both very….blunt….and would do better to listen more.”

Astoria looked amused and a little interested.

“How could I possibly help?”

“Where do the Gryffindor’s sneak off to? I don’t expect you to know much, but what have you observed? When a Gryffindor is looking for Longbottom and Weasley, who do they ask? Who fetches them?”

“But headmaster, why are you asking me?”

“I expect you to answer truthfully. You have no petty ambitions and you are from a good family. I can...trust you.”

“Surely a prefect or–”

“What student trusts prefects? They know as little as the staff do.”

Astoria smiled slyly.

“Well, that’s true. Sir, I – I don’t have a clear idea, just –” She hesitated. “I may be wrong, but the dungeons have always been a favourite hiding place since I was a first year, and I see that Ravenclaw, Corner, around there a lot. He seems close with Weasley.”

She wasn’t telling him anything the whole school didn’t know.

“And what about Longbottom?” Severus pressed. “Where does he frequent? He doesn’t seem confined to the Gryffindor common room.”

“No. Odd that, isn’t it? It would seem the safest place. Too obvious, I suppose. I’ve been wondering how he manages to slip away from Professor Carrow – Professor Amycus Carrow, that is.”

“Do you think Longbottom has any special talent for escape? Or do you think it’s planned
in advance?”

“Well, he never seemed very bright in class. I’d think it’s Weasley looking out for him. She’s probably sneaking him around when the Carrows are looking for him.”

“Thank you, Miss Greengrass, for your intelligent observations. It is of the utmost importance that the Carrows...talk...with Longbottom.”

“Of course, sir.”

Astoria had played carefully indeed by talking so freely and yet saying nothing he didn’t already know. Severus watched her walk away, going to warn the rest of Dumbledore’s Army, he hoped. So, Weasley was to be the decoy, and while they were waiting for her to lead them to Longbottom, the boy would be smuggled away. Severus spun around. Time to get Amycus involved. He certainly hoped Miss Weasley was up to the challenge, but everyone knew her Bat Bogey Hex was unparalleled.


Three hours later the school was in uproar. Longbottom had gone underground and the student body had scattered. The Houses had been ordered to their respective quarters, but many had resisted or delayed, no doubt in an effort to give Longbottom a head start. Filch and the staff, with differing enthusiasm, were rounding up the rebellious or straggling. Severus wasn’t participating in the witch hunt but waiting in his office. Perhaps it was the lofty height, or the security spells, but the sounds of resistance below didn’t reach him. He leaned his head against the cold glass and waited. Someone knocked. He ignored it. They knocked again. Severus flicked his wand and sent a paperweight hurtling against the door. It shattered spectacularly. The knocking did not resume. But there was a new tapping. Severus spun around and saw the tawny owl had returned. When he wrenched open the window, the owl fluttered away, startled, and he had to coax it back. Seizing the letter he tore it open.

Severus,
All is well. I can only think you sent me to Harrington Gardens for a pleasant day trip. Or maybe you missed hearing from me? My presence was entirely unnecessary. It was all over by the time I got there. Mrs. Augusta Longbottom, whose acquaintance I haven’t made, had already left the premises, and there was a very sorry-looking wizard moaning on the floor. I stayed to observe until someone came to collect him. One of our mutual acquaintances from Durham showed up just now and is carting him off to St. Mungo’s in mostly one piece.
I’m not complaining. I’m pleased nothing more dramatic occurred. I expected the worst after reading your letter. As ever, I am happy to hear from you and be of any assistance I can. I am and will remain,
Yours,
Theophany.



Such was his relief that Severus felt a hysterical laugh climbing up his throat. So Neville’s dear Granny had sent a Death Eater to St. Mungo’s and was now on the run. He coughed, and the laugh erupted into a short bark. Had she hit him with her alligator bag? Perhaps that wretched boggart of Lupin’s making had been a kind of compliment. Though Albus had never let him forget it, vulture hat and all.

Severus wiped the letter clean with a touch of his wand and put it in his pocket. He needed its reassurance as he descended the stair. He passed Madam Pince escorting a line of Ravenclaws to their tower quarters, her lips pinched together tightly. A few students’ heads were lowered, a few tear-stained. Severus spotted Filch hustling two Gryffindors along.

“Argus!” Severus snapped. “Give those two to Pince. You and Amycus find the Weasley girl. The rest of the staff?”

“In the entrance hall, Headmaster,” Filch muttered.

Minerva and the staff were intercepting students in a desultory way and sending them to their Houses. It wasn’t the most rigid of efforts. As Severus descended the stair, they pointedly ignored him and continued gently admonishing students. They were all facing the doors, then, when Alecto Carrow entered. Severus greeted her with a smile and strode quickly towards her.

“Ah, Alecto, I hope you have good news for me.”

Theophany’s letter crinkled in his pocket. A little of his earlier amusement tickled at his throat. Alecto couldn’t know, but he did, and he couldn’t resist burying her further in it.

“We attempted to have Longbottom secured and waiting for you but, as you can see, the student body has proven to be...surprisingly well organized. However it’s crumbling quickly – Amycus is fetching Miss Weasley–”

There was a shriek of rage and a howl of pain from upstairs. Amycus could be heard sputtering curses.

“It would seem he’s found her,” Severus remarked distantly. Alecto’s face twitched. “Of course, now that you’ve returned, interrogating her would be redundant. Longbottom will be forced to give himself up.”

Alecto, who had been looking more and more wretched throughout this performance, muttered something. Severus kept his voice pleasant.

“Yes?”

“Er – it – it might not be so...simple, Headmaster.”

Severus let his brow furrow. He took a few steps forward.

“Forgive me, Alecto, I understood that you intended to secure Mrs. Longbottom –”

There was a hiss from amongst the staff. Severus caught a murderous glance from Minerva.

“– to convince her grandson to cease and desist his regrettable troublemaking. Now do you mean to tell me you have...failed...in this…simple task?”

In the silence his footsteps sounded hollow as he closed on Alecto.

“Headmaster I – I have no authority outside this school. I had to go through the proper channels! I turned it over to Magical Law Enforcement – as a concerned citizen and teacher – and it’s not my fault they sent Dawlish. That – that incompetent ape has got himself nearly killed and is in St. Mungo’s, unable to to speak. It’s not my fault...”

Perfectly at ease, Severus let the silence stretch.

“I am...disappointed, Professor Carrow.”

Her mouth opened and closed. The resemblance to a fish was overwhelming.

“Headmaster! Headmaster!”

Amycus came stumbling down the stairs. His face was partially covered in boils, only one eye was half open, and his left arm was angry red with burns.

“I got her, but some Ravenclaw boy came out of nowhere, they’ve got the corridor rigged with some kind of swamp trap and then that Weasley –”

His stream of epithets concerning Ginny Weasley was cut off.

“Carrow!” Minerva thundered.

Severus turned around. For a moment he and Minerva looked right at each other. Perhaps for the first time since Albus’s death. Then her gaze unfocused and he was invisible again. Severus drew his wand. Enough of this. He swept past Amycus and climbed the stair. The staff followed after him in a suspicious herd, most likely with the intent of throwing themselves bodily between him and any students. Pinching his lips a la Madam Pince, Severus whipped up the stair and ignored them. This had to end. The next time he might not be so lucky in intervening. Any student’s family might be in danger next.

The upper corridor was indeed rigged. It was like the entire stock of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes had been shaken up and disgorged. The swamp stretched from wall to wall and extended some meters down the length, but it bubbled with more than sticky mud. Unctuous potions swirled through the murk, and fine wires ran through the morass. Severus doubted they were attached to something as innocuous as dungbombs. Burns would be the least of his worries if he, were he stupid as Amycus, stuck an arm in that.

He stopped at the edge and regarded the students at the opposite end. There was a small cluster of them around Michael Corner who was eyeing him grimly, clutching a few tripwire ends. Weasley was on his left, chafing her wrist, which was starting to bruise. Amycus hadn’t been gentle in fetching her. Severus gave them a look of sincere exasperation. So much bravado accomplished nothing other than endangering their families. They had to stop this. They had to learn to be covert. He raised his wand.

A soundless blast burst from his wand, followed by a delayed clap of thunder. The swamp rolled into a carpet with the sound of tripwires snapping like piano strings. It flowed towards the students in a tidal wave, reaching as high as the ceiling.

“No!”

Flitwick needn’t have worried. Severus waited a moment and then lifted his wand hand. The tidal wave collapsed onto itself and flopped into a ball that began a wobbly ascent. Severus released it to the collective gasp of the staff. Whipping his wand arm back he flung a fireball at it before it fell many inches. The unstable potions combusted despite the soggy swamp contents, and the lot was consumed in a moment. Ash snowed gently on the corridor. Severus lowered his wand.

“You...are children.”

He didn’t turn back to the staff. In this moment, at least, he could be honest.

“Do you think your actions carry any weight? You’ve wasted a little of my time –” he stepped forward – “delayed me writing a letter perhaps, maybe interrupted a class or two, and you think that makes you soldiers?”

He stopped walking. They didn’t back away.

“Children carry no weight in war. And you are infants in comparison to what you fight. There shall be no more of this. Weasley – to my office. The rest of you report to Professor Alecto Carrow for detention.”

“Headmaster?” Amycus whined, clutching his burnt arm. “Headmaster, please let me? The girl–”

Amycus always did prefer punishing the female students. Severus didn’t let him finish.

“The girl – as you can see – is meekly walking towards my office. A feat I accomplished in under two minutes, whereas you...”

He turned at last to acknowledge the staff. Alecto shrank back and Amycus turned sulky.

You could not constrain one teenaged witch,” he snarled, “a girl barely one third your size! You are nearly as worthless as your sister – who let an elderly witch evade arrest and escape. Without both of you, today might have been a success. Get out of my sight...now.”

Amycus might have protested further, but Alecto hurried him away, two bright spots of anger on her cheeks. Severus would have preferred she cowered more. Alecto was growing bolder. Speaking of which, Miss Weasley was standing on the staircase with an impatient look. No trembling there either.

Gryffindors.

He swept past the staff without a glance, and he and Weasley ascended the stairs to the headmaster’s office without speaking. He would have to actually punish her. Such public rebellion couldn’t be overlooked, and a Memory Charm would be too suspicious. Something truly painful would be expected. But he refused. He wouldn’t stoop. Not even to preserve his lies.

Weasley stood calmly in the center of the office. She looked neither sullen nor frightened, but wary. A child waiting at the dentist’s. Just a child.

He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t. Only a child.

Severus strode to Albus’s desk.

“Sit,” he hissed.

Weasley raised an eyebrow but didn’t move. Severus yanked open the drawer and found a bundle of letters and newsprint. He’d been saving these for other reasons entirely, but they would serve another purpose now.

“Then remain standing until you have finished all of these.”

He thrust the stack of papers into her hands. She managed not to flinch too much. They were reports, private or public, of resistance. All ended in death. The tone of the letters crowed over the bodies of the Dark Lord’s enemies, smugly regretting Severus’s absence and forced exile at the school.

The newspapers were little better. Journalists shook their heads over foolish “fundamentalists” who refused to embrace the new enlightened world order. It would take her some time to read all of them. Maybe then, maybe, she could see how foolish their childish warfare was, in comparison to the numbers dying every day to protect their families.

Severus returned to his desk and sat down. He reached into his pocket and pulled out Theophany’s letter. He wouldn’t respond. Wouldn’t encourage contact. After all, he’d been the one to insist they be strangers. Severus refolded it and stuck it back in the drawer with his private correspondence. He’d burn it when he was done with Weasley. A glance showed tears steadily dripping down the girl’s face. There was a long way to go yet.

For the next two hours he had the perfect excuse to fend off the staff. Whenever a knock came at the door, he would snap that Miss Weasley’s detention was not finished, and they would fade away. Except Minerva. For the first time since he had been elected Headmaster, she came bursting into the office. Had Weasley shown any signs of physical harm, Severus was sure Minerva would have thrown consequences aside and hexed him into oblivion. However, Miss Weasley, despite swaying a little on her feet, had stopped crying and only looked back at Minerva with a clenched jaw. Mcgonagle quivered for a moment, her eyes fixed on the papers in the girl’s hands. Severus thought she would forcefully tear them away.

With a tight inhalation of breath Minerva nodded at Weasley and muttered, “Headmaster.” And left without looking at him. Severus wasn’t sure if that counted as speaking to him or not.

Ginny Weasley resumed reading, and her posture was stronger. Severus was intending to let her off in another twenty minutes when a second disruption occurred. Amycus sidled oily into the room. Severus eyed him. The man was either brave or stupid. Amycus’s right arm was wrapped in bandages, but the boils were gone from his face, leaving it an uncomfortable shade of red. In his other hand he was carrying a portable wireless.

“Sever – ah – Headmaster. If I might have a word?”

“Since you have invited yourself in...make it quick.”

“For sometime I’ve noticed... well, we didn’t used to need to confiscate quite so many radios, wizarding wireless being banned at Hogwarts for years, but they’ve seem to become extraordinarily popular. I started paying some attention to what the students were listening to, but every radio I confiscated was set to an empty station. My next guess was that they were somehow using the radios to communicate.”

“Carrow, taking me through your undoubtedly slow and laborious – for a lack of better word – thought process will take all day.”

Amycus suppressed the ugly look that crossed his face.

“Then in summary, Headmaster, I have discovered this.”

He set the wireless on the desk and switched it on. A burst of static startled half the portraits into hiding. At first there was only buzz and pops, and then a voice cut through. It was so strange, so utterly unexpected. Severus pushed back from the desk a fraction, but his mind shuttered itself before thought, before expression, could betray him.

“...in the area...please stay in your homes…”

Lupin. The voice was so very unexpected and yet so familiar it gave Severus a jolt. He kept his face attentive, trying not to show how he wanted to recoil but at the same time how desperately he wanted to hear any voice besides the Carrows.

The radio crackled, faded in and out.

“...never lose hope.”

Amycus switched it off as the voice was lost in static.

“Whoever that was, he seems to be broadcasting regularly via a password-guarded station. I stumbled on it at first. The password seems to change all the time.”

Severus cut him off.

“Weasley, get out. Report back to this office this time tomorrow. I will expect two scrolls of parchment in response to your reading.”

Ginny Weasley cast Amycus a contemptuous glance. Carrow bared his teeth, but she looked back boldly before walking confidently from the office. Severus looked at the radio with distaste. This discovery was all too convenient. He guessed Carrow had been sitting on this information until a profitable moment came to reveal it and win favour.

“Have you heard anything besides this...motivational drivel?”

He let the sneer creep across his mouth, let Amycus interpret it how he may. It was so unlike Lupin, he would have thought, this public speaking.

“N-no, Headmaster.”

“Well, until they reveal their location – or the whereabout of other wanted wizards – don’t waste my time with it.”

Amycus nodded fervently. “I will keep you informed, Headmaster. Er...should I notify Alecto of this?”

Severus looked thoughtful. “Alecto seems incapable of even the simplest tasks. Let us keep it between us for now.”

Rewarded for bringing his master a bone, Amycus relaxed. Alecto would be furious when she found out her brother was keeping secrets from her, but, Severus smiled a little grimly, everyone needs humbling now and then.
Chapter 23 by Meadowsweet
Theophany felt gooseflesh creep over her arms and shifted closer to the fire. Despite the warmth she couldn’t dislodge the unease that had dogged her all day. It wasn’t just the memorial service they’d attended that morning. Another funeral. A young cousin of Korrapati’s. Isha had been unable to respond to condolences.

Theophany had changed quickly back into her everyday robes. The black woolen robes seemed to stick to her unpleasantly, suffocating her. After changing she shoved them into their box in the back of the wardrobe. Theophany disliked seeing them every time she opened the door, a lurking reminder of too many lost.

She hadn’t received a reply from Severus either, but that couldn’t be all that was bothering her. Theophany recrossed her legs and sighed.

“Dad, do that one again?” Silyn asked.

Mr. Knapp glanced up. Silyn had just entered, his snow wet cloak still over his shoulders. Mr. Knapp obligingly turned back to the spinet and began playing ‘I’m Old Fashioned’ again. Prosper sat in a chair nearby, his nose inches from the keyboard, carefully watching his father’s hands. Compline was reading but occasionally lowered her book to listen. Merryn was going over the accounts. Theophany was supposedly doing her own bookkeeping, but her ledger lay in her lap. Her unease was no less abated by Silyn’s arrival. Her brother flung himself onto the couch by Compline and yawned.

“How long are you home for?” Compline asked.

“For a while. Maevan won’t be needing me for a bit. Korrapati’s got things sorted.”

“Is Isha coming?”

Compline sounded surprised. They were all thinking Isha would be excused from Dagda business for at least a little time. Whatever he was doing must be important.

“Maybe in a few days, if everything goes well.” It seemed Silyn wasn’t going to expound on Isha’s role.

“Oh.” Compline went back to her book. “And Zuri said she wanted to talk to you when you got back. She left a message while everyone was out.”

Silyn’s face changed. He looked troubled. Theophany watched him until he glanced at her. She twitched her head at Silyn, and he reluctantly got to his feet and shambled over to her. He knelt down beside her on the hearth rug, and Theophany asked softly, “What’s wrong? Why are you worried about Zuri?”

He shook his head. “It’s not Zuri.”

“Is it about the camp refugees? Can she not hide them?”

“With all four of you planning there are enough places to hide them. They will be safe.”

Theophany watched him for a minute.

“What does Zuri know that I don’t? Is she worried about you? What is your part in all of this?”

“Important, Tiff. But I can’t tell you – and Zuri doesn’t know either, so don’t look at me like that. Everything’s going to be fine. Really.”

“You can’t promise that,” Theophany hissed back.

“I can promise that I’m okay.” Silyn shrugged. “What about you, what’s eating you so much that you can’t sit still?”

“Nothing,” Theophany snapped.

Silyn raised an eyebrow but he didn’t leave. He moved Compline’s dangling feet out of the way and propped his back against the couch. The cold March night was unwelcoming and everyone, without speaking, agreed to stay here by the fire.

Boniface let in a gust of wet wind when he came stamping through the kitchen, shaking rain from his hair. He seemed to catch the mood of the room right away and didn’t speak but leaned against the mantle warming his hands as Dad played ‘You are so Beautiful’ soft and slow.

The peace was short lived. Two days later Isha Korapatti arrived, only staying long enough to pace impatiently in the kitchen while Silyn grabbed his things. Silyn kissed everyone on the cheek goodbye and wished Theophany happy birthday in case he wasn’t back before the fifteenth. Then he was gone.

Lissy would make first contact with the escapees. Merryn would be smuggling the weak and sick by railway. She would then pass on the portion assigned to Theophany, who, as Secret Keeper, would lead them to Dagda wood and Lavinia. Zuri was rehousing the remainder that the wood could not accommodate. She hadn’t revealed where. Maevan hadn’t explained either. Theophany hadn’t even seen him. His cottage was dark, and Loli was staying with Zuri and Sipho. Maevan was never absent for this long. The raid must be soon.

Theophany stood at the kitchen sink and tested the feeling in her bones. Her gut was a flutter of fear, her heart a storm of maybes, but her bones ached with dread.

The twins had created a nest on the kitchen table for the bat. It crawled about in its awkward way while the twins fed it spiders.

“That,” Theophany said as she washed her hands at the sink, “is a face only a mother could love.”

The bat raised its small gargoyle features eagerly for another leggy snack. Moths and other insects being scarce this time of year, the twins had been inventive with spider traps along all the window panes.

“You may say that, but you found us the sticky paper we needed for traps,” Compline pointed out.

“I don’t want it to starve. Though remember it’s your responsibility–”

“Yeah, yeah. I happen to know the only reason we have rabbits is because you took in every wild one you found since you were six.”

“And Mum started with the ferrets, too,” Compline cut in. “There was a mole family too once living in the cellar behind the cider cask.”

Theophany looked over her shoulder at them.

“You remember that?”

“No, but Dad told us.”

“Right. Okay, admittedly, I might have a bleeding heart to match Mum’s, so it’s from experience when I say it can be a lot of trouble.”

“Don’t worry. He flew onto my bookshelf last night, so I think he’s getting stronger. We have him on the table so Dad will see him when he comes in.”

Theophany dropped the dish towel.

“Oh no.”

If Mr. Knapp was about to get involved, then the twins were very serious about this bat. If it was named, then it would become a permanent fixture. Theophany frowned at the small interloper as it daintily picked apart a crunchy morsel with its tiny white teeth. Leathery wings and furry pig face; it was fascinating and a little off-putting at the same time.

When Mr. Knapp entered, he brought in guests and the smell of muddy spring. Isha, Sipho and Zuri, Lavinia, Jacka and Col, and at last Maevan.

“Hi, Dad. Oh, I didn’t know to expect anyone, sorry.”

Mr. Knapp dropped his muddy boots in the crate Boniface had charmed to be self cleaning and water resistant.

“It’s all very last minute as I understand. Silyn will explain.”

“No, I won’t.”

Silyn appeared behind Maevan. His eyes were wide and his movements were large and hurried.

“Shouldn’t be here at all really but – well – had a chance to stop so I thought why not – better judgment aside.”

Theophany paused in summoning extra chairs.

“What better judgment? Of course you should come home whenever you’ve got the chance!”

Her brother’s eyes slid a little to one side and he seemed almost embarrassed. He busied himself pulling out a chair for Zuri while Maevan insisted on seating Lavinia. Theophany ushered Jacka to a seat.

“Time for that to go upstairs, and both of you too,” she told the twins, pointing at the bat with her chin.

They obediently gathered their books and parchment, but Silyn stopped Prosper from picking up the bat.

“He’s still here? What have you named him?”

“Well, we were going to ask Dad to take a look, but you’re all busy –”

“Oh, then, put him back. Dad, come on then.”

Lavinia raised her eyebrows at Theophany.

“It’s kind of a tradition, almost a superstition, really,” Theophany explained sotto voce. “Dad has a knack for naming things, the most dreadful names sometimes, but there’s no arguing they fit. I mean, it’s not a usual name for an elf, but can you picture Ike being called anything else?”

“This isn’t really the time...” Dad was protesting.

“No, no, I want to see this. We’re still waiting on someone. We’ve got a little time,” Silyn urged.

The kitchen quieted a little as Mr. Knapp bent over the towel where the bat rummaged for missed legs or other tasty bits. Knapp folded his hands behind his back and whistled soundlessly to himself.

“It’s a Brandt’s bat,” Prosper was explaining to an attentive Col. “Pretty common here. Carnivorous. Usually hibernating this time of year, but something must have disturbed him...”

“Archie,” Mr. Knapp said.

The room leaned forward. Beady eyes and white teeth flashed as the small bat’s face opened in a silent cry. It was a demonic little face but, unquestionably, an Archie sort of face.

“Archie?” Compline tried.

The bat pushed itself up on its bent forelegs and twisted towards her voice. Lavinia gasped. Archie leapt, agile despite his crooked limbs, and a few slow beats of his wings sailed him into Compline’s outstretched hands. The table applauded. The twins, proud and triumphant, bore Archie away with promises of gnats. Lavinia said softly, “That was incredible. That’s not just a knack for names.”

Maevan spoke unexpectedly.

“Even Muggles have gifts, Mrs. Honeysette.”

Latina flushed. “I didn’t mean to imply anything about that.”

With an uncomfortable grunt Maevan shifted in his seat.

“And I didn’t intend a rebuke, ma’am. I spoke too bluntly.”

He stood and walked around the table to Isha, who was speaking in a low voice to Jacka.

Lavinia looked miserable. “Now I’ve offended him. And I was so pleased I could be of help, even if it’s just organizing tents and such for the refugees.”

Theophany tried a laugh. It sounded rusty from disuse.

“Maevan’s made of sterner stuff. He’s just not the most loquacious of leaders. Let me know if you need anything for the campsites.”

Lavinia promised. Her eyes were already moving from Maevan to Jacka, sitting quietly by Col.

“Discovering a name. Were all your names like that?”

Theophany grinned. “Only the ones that are Dad’s – Boniface and the twins. The rest of us were named long before we met Dad, of course.”

Lavinia looked yet more annoyed with herself. “Of course! I knew that. I wasn’t thinking.”

Theophany patted her arm before making her way over to Silyn, who was one of the few not in conversation. He was sitting quietly, taking in the room. That intense energy hadn’t left him, but he was very still. Theophany touched his shoulder, and it seemed to take him a minute to gather himself. Even then with his eyes focused sharply on her, a little too much so. He took a minute to reply.

“Hmm? What is it?”

Theophany jerked her head towards the pantry.

Silyn shook his head. “No. I’m not going to be interrogated. Everything’s fine. I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine,” Theophany hissed.

Silyn gave a quick glance around the table and then stood up. Grabbing Theophany’s wrist, he pulled her into the pantry after him.

“You’re not fine either – nobody is fine,” he whispered fiercely. “But I can swear to you on anything you like that I am going to be alright. Everything is going to be alright. So please let me enjoy being home and you should try enjoying it too instead of being so miserable!”

“Have you seen something?” Theophany’s heart was sinking fast.

“Not since I shared my vision about you at Christmas, no.” Silyn shook his head. “I’ll say it again, it’s not prophecy. Just images. But it doesn’t take a gift to see you’re knotted up inside.”

“I’m not – I mean, I can’t say.”

Silyn rolled his eyes.

“I’m not asking you to. Merlin, I don’t even want to fight. I just wanted...”

He stopped and gathered himself.

“I just don’t want to add to those knots, Tiff. Whatever’s bothering you, hurting you, it won’t go away, but I can take away any knots for my sake. I’m not hurting, okay? So don’t hurt for me.”

Theophany felt lost. Was her worrying such a burden on him? What did he want to hear?

“Okay. I’ll try.” She nodded. “I’ll try.”

“That’s good.” He smiled. “I should get out there now. I have to talk to Dad too before I go and you need to reassure Maevan the Fidelius Charm is in place. He’s getting more paranoid the closer we get. This is going to be a success, Tiff.”

She worried anyway, but if that bothered him, she could grin and hide it.

“Well, of course it is, you’ll be there.”

Silyn snorted and laughed all the weariness from his face.

“That’s true.” He eased the pantry door open. “Maevan won’t mind me telling you – be prepared by next week.”

He was gone. Theophany slid slowly to the floor. That meant the raid could happen any night now. She never knew, before, when and where Silyn was fighting. Theophany never thought that knowing would make it worse.


Longbottom had stopped attending classes. It seemed he had understood the Carrows would no longer hold back and so had gone into hiding. However, the incidents had slacked off to minor infractions only. Someone in the D.A. had some intelligence. Enough to scale back the attempts at espionage. There were still flares of anger and rebellion in Muggle Studies when Alecto made some of her more ridiculous claims. Amycus’s class was much more sedate. The students, even with looks of distaste, paid very close attention in the Dark Arts though for their own reasons.

This state of affairs only fanned Alecto’s visible frustration. Severus continued making it extremely clear he had not forgiven her failure, but also equally evident that her brother Amycus was clearly back in his good graces. Amycus would give reports on his wireless research, sotto voce, and then glide oily away, casting a triumphant look at his seething sister. They were so childish. Was pettiness really so satisfying? He had once found it so, but Severus wasn’t sure anymore. His head ached. With exhausted eyes he watched Alecto become more impatient until her expected outburst finally came. It might have been sooner, but Severus had been avoiding taking meals with the rest of the staff, and Alecto waited until she could have the audience she wanted.

The staff meeting was unavoidable. The Ministry required minutes and updates every quarter term. Severus delayed as often as he dared, but this time his hand was forced. Hagrid had escaped arrest. The Ministry were all over the school. Now, looking at the assembled staff and the one representative from Magical Law Enforcement, Severus felt his headache building. After he had, for the tenth time, decried Hagrid’s “traitorous” actions, Severus needled Poppy into another sickbay report and demanded Horace explain the worst potions grades, otherwise the faculty would have sat in perfect silence, not looking at him. Horace was in the middle of a long and pompous ramble with little content when Alecto stood up.

“Excuse me for interrupting,” Alecto’s voice was tightly controlled, “but my report is time sensitive.”

Horace blew and puffed a little but was happy to concede the floor. Alecto smiled.

“Thank you, Horace. I know you are aware, Headmaster, that my brother has been doing a little research. Devoted, as you know he is, I am surprised that I wasn’t asked to assist as I am – well, never mind. The point is, we’ve found the new password through a long process of elimination that would have been hopeless without my help. I am much better at such puzzles than Amycus.”

Alecto placed the portable wireless on the desk. Severus rested his forehead in his palm and looked at her wearily.

“It never occurred to Amycus, see, that our fellow staff would be able to identify the voices on this illegal broadcast. Seeing as they are, by their own admission, affiliated with Albus.”

She tapped the radio with her wand and it came to life at Albus’s name.

[“We apologize for our temporary absence from the airways…”]

The room sat transfixed. The Ministry officer took notes.

[“...Every human life is worth the same.”]

Should he order it switched off? Alecto was carefully scrutinizing the room. If she asked him to identify the speaker, could he avoid it?

[“...Harry Potter is still alive?”]

The room sat up and then relaxed as Lupin answered the question. Severus held his breath. Lupin was right, Potter’s death would be highly publicized, but Severus was disappointed that was all the evidence they had. Apparently the Boy Who Yet Lived wasn’t relying even on his closest allies.

There was a tsking sound from the Ministry official when Hagrid’s name was mentioned. He made a short note with his quill. Something about too many loose tongues about Hogwarts School affairs, no doubt. Ever since the half giant had escaped arrest, his name had appeared frequently on the news, to Hogwart’s embarrassment, as a beacon of the new world order. Severus felt a hysterical twinge in his chest and quickly suppressed it.

The voices on the radio changed, and he relaxed. If it was those two idiots, he could be sure no further pertinent information was forthcoming. Still, he didn’t demand Alecto turn it off. As the Weasley twins continued their outrageous crosstalk, the Carrows' faces grew darker. The rest of the staff were keeping straight faces, though Filius was forced to cover his mouth occasionally to hide a smile. Severus watched the staff struggle and the Carrows’ growing outrage with equal enjoyment.

When the wireless dared to speculate on the Dark Lord’s whereabouts, Severus was sure Alecto was about to explode. Amycus gasped and jumped to his feet at the mention of his master. Now Severus could feel the eyes of the room on him. It was now or never. He had to distract them from trying to identify the speakers without betraying himself. Careful. Severus pressed his hand harder into his forehead, knuckling the pain there, and opened his mouth to speak just as the buzzing voice of one of the Weasley brood said punchily, [“–the fact remains he can move faster than Severus Snape confronted with shampoo–”]

There was a dreadful silence from the staff. Severus froze in disbelief. From the mouths of children the perfect distraction was provided. This would be easy. Severus was so weary he felt an absurd amount of gratitude to the two dropouts.

He glanced up and saw the Carrows’ blanched faces and the staff fixed in horrified amusement. He’d planned to feign outrage but, Merlin, their faces. The breath he’d been holding hissed out of him and the flutter in his chest climbed into his throat. Severus put his hand over his eyes and laughed. It wasn’t a good laugh. He could hear, from a distance, that it was grating and exhausted. It rang hard and sharp in the still room. No one, not even the Carrows, dared speak.

Finally, the Ministry officer leaned forward in his creaky chair and said, “Er...Headmaster? Er–?”

“Behold...the enemy,” Severus gasped, waving a hand at the radio. “Switch that thing off.”

Alecto twisted the dial and the room shifted as if waking up.

“S-Severus?” Alecto started hesitantly.

The official cut through her.

“I hope you aren’t taking this matter lightly, Headmaster. In light of
recent events, such an attitude towards propaganda could be seen as careless.”

Severus managed to swallow before the laughter became hysteria. He felt it slither down his throat and settle somewhere above the constant tightness in his chest. Severus waited for it to grow still before speaking.

“Pardon me – no, don’t bother reminding me of your name. Do you know what I do…?” In a soft voice he added, “What I have done?”

He pushed his chair back and rose from the desk, towering easily over the officer.

“What I am capable of doing? Forgive me if I am not alarmed by the cheap words of anonymous children playing war. If you wish to investigate further, please waste your own time. This meeting is over.”

Severus passed unchallenged through the staff and slammed the door behind him. His head was exploding. He’d raid the infirmary for some feverfew and go hide somewhere for a while. He was extraordinarily tired. But, still, fifty points to Gryffindor.


It was raining again. It made the twilight dingy. Theophany stood at the head of the winding path that led down into Frog Hollow and the Dagda wood. She kept her hood over her face. Merryn’s message had come nearly forty minutes ago. ‘Expect us within the hour’ it read. The timing couldn’t have been worse. The original plan had Merryn and Lissy both guiding the escapees by rail, but Lissy had gone into labor two days previously. Now she was at the Mill, one-day-old Comfort Knapp in her arms, and Merryn was working the railway alone.

Theophany could see the first dim figures toiling towards her. She recognized the wizard with them, a member of the Dagda Silyn would regularly bring by for a meal. The young wizard raised a hand but didn’t speak until he was close enough his voice wouldn’t carry. Like most of the resistance he looked prematurely aged. His voice was emotionless.

“They’re going to be coming very slowly. Most are badly hurt or ill and in no condition to Apparate. We’ve got Portkeys set up between here and the station. Merryn is staggering the groups as they arrive but... it’s going to be a long night. You’ll have to wait for each group.”

Theophany nodded.

“I’ll escort each group to the forest. They know to wait here if I’m still not back?”

“Everyone’s been briefed.”

He wished her good luck and turned away. Theophany saw the muffled figures hesitate. Passed off from one person to the next, who could they trust? Surely not her, a small, rain-tossed figure.

“I’m Theophany Knapp. Follow me and we’ll be out of the rain soon.”

It wasn’t soon enough. An eight minute walk became fifteen and then twenty. Even with the healing charms they would have received from Merryn, their condition was bad. Three out of the group were elderly. The fourth was a teenager, a boy whose eyes were already old.

By the time they reached the wood it was full dark. Lavinia had driven a stake into the ground and hung a lantern. The orange light turned her hair bronze, but her smile was brighter still. She appeared domestic and reassuring. Col’s face was equally trustworthy, but Jacka straddled the path, a wary animal. Theophany knew his eyes were busily assessing each refugee.

“You were given a password before you left the camp,” Jacka challenged.

In turn each refugee shuffled forward and whispered into Jacka’s ear. He nodded and stepped aside. Col and Lavinia hurried to receive them, and Theophany was left behind.

She ran back through the anti-Apparition jinxed wood until she gained the summit of Phiny’s peak. Further down the path she could see hunched figures making their painful ascent. Theophany threw back her hood. She couldn’t display the same warmth and glow as Lavinia, but she could at least show her face.

The groups were irregular in size. Some were whole families, others a mix of strangers all equally wary and distrustful. Theophany had no names, but she kept a tally, fearful someone would be lost along the way. Col eventually came to help her hurry them from Phiny’s peak to the wood. There were too many too slow, old, or sick. The dark fell early this time of the year, which would give more cover to move them, but dawn was creeping closer. At last, Theophany muttering her tally at every step, she could report the end was near.

“Ten more,” Theophany whispered to Jacka. “Ten more will account for all of them.”

“Can we be sure no one else will be coming? Plans change.”

“I have to confirm with Merryn.”

They shared a tired smile between them before Theophany trudged away. Her legs were aching; she didn’t know how many miles she’d covered by going back and forth. She gained the peak and sat down, not caring the grass was hummocky and wet. Minutes passed. She’d stopped thinking really, just staring tiredly down the road. When she saw movement she got to her feet, ready to receive, but this was different. There was only one figure hurrying towards her, too tall and full of energy to be a refugee.

“Theophany?”

She kept her wand ready just in case.

“Isha?”

Isha Korapatti stopped just short of her, panting.

“I just checked in at the station. Merryn says there are just ten left, but Maevan wants to speak to you.”

“What, here?”

“Yes, he said to wait for him.”

“What’s going on? Where is he?”

“We’ve cleared the camp and have only just got all our people out. I’m to help you with the last.”

“Thanks.”

Theophany’s mind turned sluggishly. She couldn't guess what Maeven needed. Extending the Fidelius Charm? Three more refugees appeared on the path, an old umbrella serving as a Portkey. Theophany quashed her thoughts and strove to greet them calmly. Seven more to go.

Half an hour later left just two more. Theophany paced, chilled despite her rain repellant charms. Isha stood quietly. Maybe that was why Compline liked him. He was so quiet and gentle and the Knapps were so, well, unruly. Except thoughtful Prosper. Despite being so close, Theophany felt a pang of homesickness. She wanted to have a hot picnic breakfast with the twins and listen to Dad play the piano. Theophany looked at her watch. The glass was still cracked, but Boniface had got it running for her again. It had been twenty-eight minutes since the last group. Theophany savagely bit her nails.

“What was the camp like?” she asked abruptly.

“Hell,” Isha responded briefly.

“Neglect? Or – or torture?”

“Inadequate care, housing, food...the occasional cruelty from whatever human troll was posted there. It was considered a cushy post, I understand.”

“Not anymore,” she muttered. “I hope they’re in a great deal of trouble.”

“That’s why it was important it look like an escape and not an outside job.”

There was a crack, and Maeven Apparated on the path before them. Blood from his forehead stood out starkly from his pale face. Theophany exclaimed and started forward, but he pushed her hand away, looking almost guilty.

“Are the last ones through?”

“Two more still.”

“What happened?” Isha interrupted. His voice didn’t rise, but Theophany could hear it tighten.

“Snatchers. Didn’t like finding us so near the camp, I suppose. We scattered...resisted arrest. Edwards and Onwudiwe are making sure everyone’s out. Isha–”

“How many were scattered? What were the Snatchers doing there?”

Maeven shook his head at Isha and then winced. He avoided their eyes and wiped at the blood on his forehead.

“One of the escapees let off a trap, got too near the road. Anyway, there was a flash and suddenly the area was swarming. Isha, perhaps you could…? I need to talk with Theophany.”

Theophany felt her stomach drop. In a moment she felt that odd shift in reality, becoming acutely aware of her surroundings. Her mind was marking this moment as important even as she realized what was wrong. The rain made a dull sound in the mud. Wind blew sharply from the north.

Isha was saying, “I could help Edwards and Onwudiwe.”

“No, I think you should take over for Theophany. I need to talk to her.”

“Silyn.” Theophany’s voice cracked. “It’s SIlyn.”

Maeven dropped his bloodied hands to his sides. The gruff mask was gone and his voice was thick.

“He and Drakes are missing. Onwudiwe and the others are looking...Theophany, we’ll find him. I’m going back and–”

“No,” Theophany heard herself say. “No, you’re going to the Mill to get your head looked at. Isha, go find Silyn.”

Isha nodded once and Disapparated before Maeven could order otherwise.

“Theophany–”

“Go to the Mill, Maeven.”

“We can finish here, you don’t need to do this alone –”

There was the sound of muffled feet. The last of the refugees had arrived, a wizard and his elderly mother.

“Go, Maeven,” she hissed.

Theophany stepped past him, her hands outstretched. The elderly witch could barely walk and caught hold to steady herself.

“You’re almost there,” Theophany said softly. “Come with me.”

She kept her face still and her feet steady, but she couldn’t speak any more. The escapees were too weary to ask questions, and they struggled down the path in silence. The wizard’s arm was tied up in a rudimentary sling, and he walked with difficulty as if his feet pained him. Theophany bore the weight of the elderly witch alone until Jacka saw them coming. He came running and swiftly bent and scooped up the witch. In faltering tones they gave the password. Theophany was already turning away.

“Theophany,” Lavinia called out, “my tent is nearby, you should rest.”

Theophany didn’t answer. She felt her legs had been freed from leaden weights though her mind was still sluggish and distant. She kicked her sodden robes away from her feet and ran. She had no flight. No Apparition. Just her cold and clumsy feet.

Her breath was ragged by the time she cleared the wood, and though a stitch was pinching her side, she didn’t stop until she reached the Mill. She fell on the steps but staggered upright and pushed through the front door. The family was gathered together. Merryn and Lissy held hands in silence. Boniface sat, hands useless at his sides, staring at the floor. Compline was sitting with Dad, tearstained face pressed into his shoulder. Prosper, red eyed, was biting his nails. Maeven, with a bandage wrapped around his head, stood up when she entered.

“I waited until I saw you back safe. I’m leaving now.”

“I’m going with you.”

Merryn stood up, but Lissy didn’t let go of his hand. Boniface followed suit, but Theophany walked past him to grab a spare cloak from the hook. She felt the tears pricking at her eyes and didn’t dare make eye contact with any of the family.

“Boniface, stay here.”

“I’m coming–”

“No!”

“I can help! I’m sixteen!”

“You’re staying!”

Theophany blazed up, all the fog in her brain burning away.

“You need to be safe. If you or the kids got hurt – there’d be no point in winning this war.” Theophany shrugged into her dry cloak, hurriedly doing up buttons. “Merryn, you’re staying too.”

“You can’t make me stay.”

“You have three little girls. One just born. You stay or, by Merlin, you will find out I can make you!”

“It’s not right!” Merryn continued to protest. “It’s not that you shouldn’t go, Tiff, but I shouldn’t stay.”

Theophany spun around.

“Who is holding your hand?”

“What?” Merryn looked down at Lissy in confusion. “Lissy…”

“Yes, your wife. Is anyone holding my hand? No, because I’m – I’m the best choice to go. You have to be safe, Merryn, for your family. I don’t have – I can go.”

Mr. Knapp looked over Compline’s head. Theophany saw the pain in his eyes just once before lowering her gaze.

“Merryn can’t go. And Jethro’s not here, Dad. I have to go.”

It wasn’t his permission she was asking but his understanding. Mr. Knapp stretched out a hand and Theophany obediently came close so he could rest it on her head. A blessing and a prayer was placed on her head with Maeven at her side.

After a moment Dad said softly, “Go get your brother, Tiff."
End Notes:
Thank you for reading! For all my reviewers, thanks a ton. You always make me rethink and see it through different eyes. Even if it's just two words, it feels amazing that someone takes the time to leave a review. For everyone who reads, thanks!
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