Chapter 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 —”
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 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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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?”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.
“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.
Chapter Endnotes: Thank you for reading! And a round of applause for the site being back!