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 —
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.
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.
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.
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?”
“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?”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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?”
“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.
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.
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–”
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 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.