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.”
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.”
“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…”
“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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“Do you know who you are?”
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—”
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.
“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.”
“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.”