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People of the Goddess by Meadowsweet

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Theophany Disapparated and appeared on the road closest The Mill, the first outside of the Anti-Apparition Jinx. She stood for a moment, looking ahead and behind. It was getting on towards dinner; there wouldn’t be anyone else abroad. Theophany looked up at the stars. Another clear night. Naturally, now she was alone, the tears that had been threatening all evening wouldn’t come. A strange sound of frustration and embarrassment came out of her throat. She bent forward and pushed her hands into her hair, pressing her spinning head into place.

“What? What?” Theophany whispered to herself. “What am I thinking? I don’t have time for this – there is so much to do…”

She had very little to go on and a great deal to accomplish. To find one secret place in all of Europe...the chances of success were not large. Even less than her chances of...what exactly?

“No, no, no! You don’t want anything from him!” she scolded out loud.

Theophany stomped up the road. She had been savagely attacked, suffered Legilimency and blindness, so of course she had felt vulnerable and in need of reassurance. Maybe even comfort? Comfort from him? Theophany’s pace slowed, and she stopped in the middle of the road, clutching her head. The thought made her queasy in a surprisingly pleasant way.

“What did you do to me, Severus Snape?”

No, she had to be fair. He hadn’t done anything. Other than take care of her. Alright, admittedly she had liked him from the beginning. Sarcastic but selfless. He was interesting. So maybe, just maybe, she’d developed a fancy.

Fine.

Theophany kept walking. She would get over it shortly. It would be driven from her mind. There were more important things to worry about.

Yes, like helping him find an unspecified place at an unspecified location on the continent for unspecified reasons.

But it was undoubtedly important.

Sure. Is that why you jumped at the chance? Swore to never betray him?

Theophany stopped again. She would never willingly betray anyone, but why had everything in her physically rebelled at the thought of putting him in danger? Why had she been so anxious to stay by him? For the sake of the war or for the sake of keeping him safe? But surely no one did anything purely for the war. Everyone fights not for an abstract ideal, but to keep their loved ones safe.

Then what does that make Severus Snape?

This wasn’t good. If she couldn’t even be honest with herself, she couldn’t trust herself. This needed to be sorted.
Theophany walked to the edge of the road. There were three fields between The Mill and herself. She would go through them rather than by the road. Perhaps the reflected light suspended between snow and sky would illuminate more than her path. She climbed the first stile and jumped down. Other than the crunch of snow under her feet, the night was still.

She had felt so much, but he had only saved her. Again. Then he had cared for her and stayed by her side when she needed him most. Theophany’s mind conjured a memory of darkness and the reassuring feel of his shoulder under her hands. She blushed and was glad the night was empty.

If this was a blushing matter, why had she felt nothing then when she saved him from the Forest of Dean? But tonight she had ached to reach out, to hold and cling. When he placed his hand on her head, everything had changed.

Theophany realized she had stopped walking. She shook her head. Focus. How had this affected her actions? Had she done anything wrong or selfish? Theophany pondered this as she climbed the second stile. She was glad to say she hadn’t. She had chosen to treat him as a friend and had continued to do so. What would be selfish would be foisting too much affection on him now.

Too much. Theophany paused before jumping down from the stile and looked across the field to the bare hedgerows. There was no sound, not even the glide of an owl’s wing or the scamper of a hunting fox.

Did she feel too much for him? Yes, she did. That was the truth. Was it alright? With hesitant curiosity Theophany uncovered the well of feeling she’d capped so hastily earlier. It bubbled like a spring and rose through her with unexpected speed. For a moment she let it show on her face, just for a single moment, only for her and the moon to know. Yes, it was alright.

She’d promised to put his mission first. Theophany didn’t break a promise. But there was no reason that she shouldn't have her own mission. Theophany scrambled up the last stile and looked down on the valley and The Mill. She puffed a small cloud of warm breath and grinned. She was going to keep him safe.

“And then, Severus Snape, we’ll see if I am ‘exactly the right person.”



Before breakfast Theophany had installed herself in the workshop with every map she could get her hands on. Clad in pajamas and an old t-shirt of Boniface’s, she crawled carefully around each map to pin the edges down with books, bottles, and jars. Also opened were her ledgers. Each potions order from the past five years neatly entered. All international orders inked in red.

Theophany was by no means the only private purveyor of potions. There were far larger and more public establishments than hers. But she was one of a fewer number that catered to very specific needs of those not serviced by Slug and Jigger’s or Mr. Mulpepper.

Furthermore, Theophany had retrieved her mother’s letters. Important letters and personal letters. Letters to important people and people who were only important if you knew. Reaching out to people beyond the Tuatha, who called themselves by other names, wasn’t unprecedented though not common.

Even after she’d marked the location of her mother’s correspondents and her own customers, her list was incomplete. She would need to wait for the further information Severus had promised her.

Theophany was using the official ordnance map alongside a Muggle map. The first had every wizarding community clearly marked, the second none. Theophany placed another X in Normandy. A majority of her foreign customers were grouped on the other side of the channel. That was to be expected, word only traveled so far. Still, she had a surprising amount further south in Bordeaux and southeast in Avignon. A very few orders had made it as far as Dusseldorf. Every cross she made represented a customer who in turn represented a wizarding community of some size.

Ever since the establishment of the Secrecy Act wizards had banded into communities. One may live openly amongst one’s own kind at least. Also many wizards disliked the idea of depending on non-magical neighbors. All right if you need to borrow a cup of sugar but what if your self-writing desk went mad and started scribbling Sanskrit on everything in the house? Or one’s carnivorous carnations ate the neighbor’s cat? Theophany was sure that whatever, whomever, Severus was seeking would be near or in another wizarding village. The fact that he referred to it as a ‘dangerous’ place, a secret place, indicated it wouldn’t be on any official wizarding map. Theophany was inclined to think that, like Frog Hollow itself, it wouldn’t appear on any map.

After her maps were complete, she thought she deserved a cup of tea. Besides Ike, the only others in the kitchen were the twins. Prosper was nearly falling asleep at the table, while Compline was helping herself to orange juice. They both looked listless.

“Are you the only three up?” Theophany asked.

“There’s a ewe sick,” Compline informed her readily, “something bad. I saw sick everywhere in the barn. Dad and Boniface were out there all night. And Silyn isn’t here.”

Prosper looked up and gave a sigh.

“The rabbit died. The orphaned one.”

“We were careful not to name it, just called it the kit, but–” Compline bit her lip.

“Oh – oh no. I’m so sorry, darlings – where is the little thing?”

“Buried it this morning, early. In the garden under the bird bath.”

Theophany looked at them. They were taking care of things on their own now, being strong. Soon it would be back to school, and it felt like she’d been gone most of the holiday.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t – you know you took such good care of him.”

In the end there wasn’t much else to say, so they spread a blanket in front of the fire and spitted bread and sausages on toasting forks. Ike attended, cross legged on a cushion, happy to pour orange juice and coffee as desired. In reality he finished most of the coffee pot on his own. Probably his second pot that morning.

“Do you know when Silyn left?”

Both twins shook their heads, mouths full.

“Master Silyn left before first light, Miss,” Ike supplied.

“Oh.”

Prosper swallowed but Compline got ahead of him.

“Did Sils tell you your aura changed?”

“What? Oh, yes.” Theophany had honestly forgotten this. The night of the Pensieve. “Yes, he did a little bit ago. Why, did yours change too?”

“Yep,” Prosper said quietly. But Prosper always spoke softly.

“He says,” Compline continued, “that they’re visible all the time now.”

Theophany’s sausage was becoming a cinder but she didn’t care.

“Really?”

“Yep,” Prosper confirmed.

Moved by sudden loquacity he spoke further.

“He reckons it’s because we’re getting older, our birthday is in three months.”

“Eleven,” Compline said complacently, “is a very important age.”

“Good morning.”

Lissy came slowly into the kitchen like a ship billowing into harbor, her rounded stomach preceding her by several hands. Ike quickly snapped his fingers, and a chair scuttled over from the table to the fire. He insisted on piling cushions on it before allowing Lissy to sit. This hadn’t been an easy time for her.

“Oof,” she said quietly as she lowered herself into the chair. “Someone’s going to have to toast me a crumpet or get me a very long toasting fork.”

Ever eager to poke at the fire, Compline volunteered. Lissy squinted at Theophany.

“Were you up early? I thought I heard you.”

“Sorry, did I wake you?”

“No, no.” Lissy indicated her stomach, “This fellow did. Drumming a tattoo on my kidneys at five a.m. Merryn thought I should go home, but I told him this fellow isn’t letting me sleep no matter where I am, so I might as well stay the night.”

She sighed and shifted in her chair.

“Do I look as old and tired as I feel?”

“Positively glowing,” Theophany declared stoutly. “You’ll be mistaken for my younger sister.”

Lissy snorted. “Like that would ever happen! But, Tiff, love, you seem to be out late and up early daily. Take care of yourself a little.”

Theophany guiltily smoothed her hair. It was true she hadn’t wanted to look too closely in the mirror this morning, her face pinched and pale. Of course she had more reason to be self-conscious of her appearance now.

“Lissy, you are absolutely right. Come on. No one else is going to spoil us, so grab your toast, follow me, and we’ll do it ourselves. We’re going to the workshop.”

Theophany insisted on melting the snow on the path and having Lissy shuffle behind wearing every extra cloak in the house. Once her sister-in-law was installed in the sole armchair in Theophany’s workshop, Theophany put the kettle on the hearth and hung her smallest copper cauldron over the flames.

“It’s so tiny,” Lissy laughed. “Like a doll’s cauldron.”

“I used to play with my dolls in here while Mum was working. She’d give me one of these, and my dolls would be brewing potions made of dirt and scraps. But it also works well for just the two of us.”

Powdered unicorn horn and peony oil. Calendula and water from an underground spring, untouched by sunlight. A skin potion fit for royalty. They rolled up their sleeves and slathered their necks and arms as well as their faces. Lissy leaned back in her chair, feet propped up on an overturned cauldron, while Theophany stretched out on the hearth rug.

Outside the wind whistled under the eaves, but inside the only sound was the hiss of the kettle. Lissy was pouring the tea when the saucer rattled in her hand and she said, “Oh! He’s awake and kicking again. Do you want to?”

“Please!”

Theophany got onto her knees and briskly rubbed her hands together to warm them. Like a collector handling Ming porcelain she carefully placed her hands on Lissy’s belly. There was a shifting, a sense of movement, and then a sudden strike against her palm.

“What does it feel like?” she asked Lissy.

“Uncomfortable.”

“Yes, but I mean...all of it. What’s it like?”

“Uncomfortable,” Lissy said again, but thoughtfully. “And frightening. Also terribly thrilling, new, and yet familiar. I already know him…”

With this she looked down at her stomach with a little surprise. Theophany listened with her hands to the small drumming heels.

“I want kids.”

“You do?”

Theophany blushed, realizing she had spoken aloud.

“That’s wonderful!” Lissy continued. “You’ll make – well you already are a wonderful mother to the twins.”

“Er, thanks. But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.”

Lissy grinned, and for a moment Theophany felt terrified that her skin was transparent and all her thoughts were visible.

“Tiff, really, is there no one you like? All you’d have to do is crook your little finger...”

“What?” Theophany scoffed, “You’re crazy – that is I’m crazy and everyone in the Dagda knows it. Besides...this isn’t the time.”

“When is anything ever the right time?”

“Definitely not now.”

“Then when?”

“When I crook my finger, I suppose.”

Theophany managed to say it with a grin, but she doubted she’d be crooking any fingers. Severus didn’t seem the type to respond to such a summons.

“Nothing will ever be the right time ever again,” Lissy’s smile was gone, “if we lose this war. How long do you think it can last?”

Theophany lay back on the rug and stared at the ceiling. So much about this war didn’t add up. It was as if all the real struggles were happening behind the scenes.

“I think...I think something will give way soon. Something will change, but I don’t know if it will be for better or for worse.”

“If it’s for the worse, we could lose an entire generation to this regime. And our children will be forced to live in secret. Hidden from the Ministry, hidden from Muggles – it will be like a Dark Age.”

“I know.”

Lissy wiped her face.

“Sorry. And you were trying to give me such a nice time, too.”

“Not at all. I was feeling a bit dingy myself and used you as an excuse to brew something extravagant. I’ll give the rest of it to Mrs. Honeysett – er, that is, Lavinia, to atone for my selfishness.”

Theophany sat up.

“Talk however you like, Lissy. No one should have to force confidence and cheerfulness. Sometimes these things need to be said even if there’s no answer to them.”

A tapping at the window heralded an owl. Lissy pulled herself to her feet even as Theophany protested against her leaving.

“No, I’m sure that’s work for you.” Lissy was firm. “Besides those maps looked like there are hours of work left yet, and it seems terribly important. I shouldn’t keep you from it.”

Theophany felt a little foolish.

“I can hide from the boys and Dad but not you.”

“Well, Zuri told me to keep an eye on you. Anyway, I should pack the girls’ things. We’re going home after lunch. I must try and establish some order at home before we’re back for New Year’s.”

She left Theophany to her mail. It was a letter from Jeremiah Mingeworthy, apothecary. He needed a batch of Pungent Onion unction if she could prepare it. While she had nothing else to do but wait, Theophany lit the fire under her cauldron. She was just donning goggles to protect against the tear-inducing steam when Boniface knocked and entered. He raised an eyebrow at the paper chaos on the floor, the steaming cauldron, and then another eyebrow at his sister.

“Nice shirt.”

Theophany glanced down. She was still wearing her pajamas and Boniface’s shirt.

“Stopping for lunch?”

“Lunch?”

The clock told her Boniface was right.

“Oh, I suppose I’ll just have a cup of –”

An owl swooped silently through the open door, its wings nearly brushing Boniface’s head. He whooped and ducked instinctively. Not an owl Theophany was familiar with, it circled the room once and then perched on the table holding out a leg patiently. It was very well behaved and let her untie the scroll without hopping or fluttering. When she unrolled the letter, it was blank. Theophany looked guiltily at Boniface who was watching interestedly.

“You should see your face,” he grinned. “Ooh, top secret things, probably just a beau – I didn’t see anything. Literally. This means you’re not coming in for lunch then?”

“N–no. Tell Dad I’ll be in a bit later.”

“M’kay. Do consider getting dressed or showering sometime today–”

He ducked and scurried out as Theophany hefted Achterberg’s Connoisseurs’ Herbs in a threatening manner. Her smile broadened as she regarded the blank letter. She had to admit to more than a little excitement. The spell didn’t reveal at her touch, so she tried breathing on it and then whispering, “Severus.”

A curl of ink burst briefly in the lower corner where the signature would be. Theophany smiled. He had used her cipher.

“Severus Snape.”

The handwriting bloomed, signature first, spidering across the page.

Theophany,

The names included here are far flung and may appear random. However, they were all connected, at one time, to the location we seek. Please use them as a cross reference with your own resources. Do not hesitate if there is further information I can provide, but do not risk contact unnecessarily.

SS


The back of the parchment contained a list of some dozen or so names and nothing else. The underlined word had nearly torn the parchment, such was his emphasis.

“Well,” Theophany sighed aloud, “doesn’t exactly make a girl feel special. But feeling needed is enough, I suppose.”

Amongst the names given there was not one French, or Italian, and only one German. The others were...Hungarian? Czech? Theophany stood on her toes to retrieve her copy of Whizoo from the shelf. Most were included there, but only briefly. Excluded were Abel Szoke, Gaspar Molnar, and Elisaveta Herbert. However she did find them in an older edition, but Szoke and Molnar both only held property in Britain and hadn’t lived on the continent since they were children. Of the remainder Theophany created a list, including their place of birth, descendents, and any property still in the family. She wondered why the entries in Whizoo were so skeletal, or missing from recent editions altogether.

Once she cross-referenced Severus’ list with her own, she felt a little lightheaded and blamed the tiny script used in Whizoo. Theophany got a fresh piece of parchment and created a new list. At the top she placed Elisaveta Herbert. Herbert had owned extensive lands outside Hamburg, and Schneverdingen. The latter was now a preserve for Magical Creatures and rare flora. The fact that large quantities of Chizpurfle fang could be ordered from a store in that area, a store not recognized by any official map but well known by the Tuatha and other homebrewers across the continent, indicated a wizarding settlement in addition to Herbert’s preserve.

Elizaveta moreover had become influential in Magical Law Enforcement in the 60's after immigrating to Britain. Her father had been in Ministry work back in Germany. There was no mention of who had inherited her wealth, but there was a surviving niece living in Upper Flagley. Power, influence, money, and an unmarked community of wizards. What else was needed to build a place both exceedingly ‘secret’ and ‘dangerous’?

The names after Herbert she arranged in descending order of importance and then sent off to Severus, adding that she would be calling on Glinda Herbert, the only surviving family member, in the morning. Feeling a little too warm, Theophany banked the fire and rubbed her tired eyes. Surely she had been getting enough sleep? She shouldn’t be so tired...

The return owl provided a corrected list. In red ink. He really was a teacher. Theophany smiled and then frowned as her head started to ache. A few of the names were switched around but Severus seemed to agree that Elisaveta Herbert deserved immediate attention. There was also a note.

Those who are no longer powerful and wealthy remain of interest. If their families were influential in specifically the 30’s and 40’s, they are of the first importance.

So they were looking for a place originally founded in those turbulent years. Theophany strained her sluggish mind. In summary: Severus was looking for, somewhere in Europe, a location founded by a native family of influence and wealth, sometime in the 30’s and 40’s. Her list of criteria was growing, slowly.

Theophany neatly copied the corrected list, turned over his letter, and scrawled, May all your quills break and your inkwells dry out, Severus Snape. If you told me that in the first place, I wouldn't have wasted your time, not to mention mine.

She signed it with a flourish and sent it off. Theophany looked at the floor, or what was visible under Whizoo editions, maps, and letters. She couldn’t do more right now. She should lock up the workshop.Theophany took a step towards the door when the room went sideways and something hard hit her side. She opened her eyes and saw the inkwell rolling in a lazy circle.

Theophany was on the floor. She’d fallen. She must have bumped the table when she fell, but why? Theophany sat up slowly, her head still spinning. There were papers scattered and her pocket watch lay on the floor, its face cracked. This wasn’t simple fatigue – something was very wrong. Footsteps were pounding up the path and the door was flung open. Boniface had a scrape on his chin and hay in his clothes.

“Tiff! Merlin – you too? Can you get up?”

“What, you fainted too? I just–”

“You fainted? I just came over all funny and lost my balance. Nearly fell from the loft but just banged myself up on the ladder instead. Come on – Dad’s taken poorly and Lissy too.”

Both?

They ran up the path to the house. The twins had Lissy on the top stair landing, propped up with pillows. Her eyelids were fluttering, but she didn’t seem to hear them.

“We felt a bit queer–” Prosper started.

“–then heard a crash and Lissy had dropped her suitcase down the stairs and she nearly fell too but managed to sit down but then she sort of went slack–” Compline explained in a rush.

“–Cathisma and Anele are upstairs. They’re okay too.”

So Lissy’s daughters hadn’t seen their mother collapse.

“Ike took Dad to the village clinic before I got in,” Boniface finished. “Seems he had some sort of attack. I’ve been through the Floo to St Mungo’s to request a stretcher for Lissy; they should be here in any minute. You need to be looked at too, Tiff.”

No – I’m fine. I felt a bit woozy and I’ve got a bump on my head, but I feel – I feel fine now.”

Theophany looked at Boniface, then at the twins. They all hesitated, then nodded agreement. They all felt fully recovered. Yet Lissy still lay unresponsive.

“Boniface, you go back and wait for the stretcher. The Fidelius Charm will prevent them finding their way through the Floo. Prosper, I want you to run down to the village and be with Dad. Ike will need help. Compline can wait here with me and look after the kids while I stay with Lissy.”

They had not even been in the house at the same time. How had it reached all of them? What was it? Theophany held Lissy’s hand and felt her pulse, strong but slow. If this was some sort of attack, it had targeted them without needing them all in the same place.

A curse on the entire family?

The Healers came, and Theophany followed them back to St. Mungo’s. She left Boniface at the farm to be there with Compline and Lissy’s girls. She didn’t add that she wanted him to stay for other reasons. If this affected the whole family, then SIlyn would be in trouble and need help when he got back.

...if he got back.

Theophany shut the thought down and kept her mind on tight reins for the next hour. Merryn had been informed and would arrive soon. She sat outside emergency reception, then outside an exam room door, then outside the curtain of Lissy’s hospital bed. Finally she was allowed to part the curtain and sit with her.

The Healers could find no definite cause, but they said Lissy had been sorely physically and nutritionally depleted when admitted. Theophany explained that her sister-in-law was taking thorough care of herself and her baby and that she had no history of anemia or other illness, but the Healers looked skeptical. They had revived her and expected no lasting ill effects but insisted Lissy be left to wake on her own, so Theophany waited in silence. And thought.

Something had drained Lissy of all her strength in minutes. Probably something similar had occurred to Dad, and Ike had feared it was a stroke. Theophany herself had experienced a sudden weakness and fainted, but Boniface had only been disoriented and the twins barely affected at all. The curtain tore back and Merryn appeared, white to the lips.

Elisabeth?” he whispered.

“She’s going to be fine,” Theophany said softly and gave up her seat for him.

Merryn sank into the chair. His eyes were fixed on his wife’s face. Theophany slipped out and closed the curtain behind her. She would get awful tea while he collected himself.

St. Mungo’s, like everywhere else, was plastered in Ministry propaganda. Theophany stared blankly at the wanted posters hanging over the hissing tea urn. The Ministry's Undesirables hadn’t changed. No names had been added, but none had been removed either. Some important people were still free. Theophany could only assume they were important by how fiercely they were hunted. Of course, she thought glancing at the famous face on the topmost poster, everyone knew that boy was important.

Theophany bore back two white mugs with some scaldingly hot and mostly bland brew, but Merryn, a little red-eyed, accepted it gratefully. They enchanted the curtain against eavesdropping but didn’t talk for a few minutes at first. When he was ready, Theophany went over all she knew had happened.

Merryn listened in silence before asking slowly, “Tiff, do you believe in...sympathetic emotions?”

“Um…?”

“I mean, feeling something at the same time someone else is.”

“Considering what just happened – wait...did you feel it too? But you were at work“”

Merryn nodded once.

“I was at the depot taking a shipment of Goblin-made copper. It’s the best thing for the steam boilers….it seems I pitched head first and nearly crushed the head craftsmen. I was out for a few minutes.”

Theophany looked down at her mug.

“Then Silyn was most definitely affected too. And we don’t even know where he is.”

“You should go. Go talk to Maeven, he might have some idea–”

“How the hell can Maeven help?” The curtain was open and Silyn was standing there with his hair on end looking like an electrified dandelion. His eyes burned with a pale fire, but his voice shook.

“If someone’s hurt you all – I swear I will hunt them down and peel their...” He struggled. “Not important – was she badly hurt? How could this happen? The Fidelius Charm should prevent any attack.”

Theophany dropped her mug and hugged her brother.

“Idiot! Maeven was to help us find you. Lissy’s fine – the baby is fine – but how about you? You weren’t injured when it happened?”

Silyn gaped at her.

“Of course I wasn’t injured, I wasn’t there!”

He leaned past Theophany to take Lissy’s hand, frowning in concentration.

“Most of us weren’t at the house, but we all felt it. Except the kids,” Merryn explained.

“Then The Mill wasn’t attacked?” Silyn looked around. “I mean, if they got Merryn too. You would be at work–?’

“– yeah, I was –”

“I think it must be a curse directed at the family,” Theophany interrupted. “Someone got ahold of a hair or something–”

“Then how come I wasn’t harmed? Wait – would that even work? I mean Boniface and the kids are our half-siblings, so would using a hair to cast a curse work on all of us?”

“But if Theophany and Boniface both felt it and they’re half-siblings–”

Stop.

Theophany held her head. Both of her brothers looked at her, awaiting her revelation. She pulled out her watch. Behind its broken face the hands were frozen in time.

“...Silyn, what were you doing an hour and twenty-two minutes ago?”

He frowned and his mouth worked silently. Theophany was sure he must have been somewhere that protected him or deflected whatever had touched them.

“Silyn?” Merryn barked in alarm.

Silyn seemed to be sagging. Theophany caught him as his knees buckled but being half his height could only slow his drop to the floor. Silyn remained on his knees, head lowered onto his chest, Theophany supporting him from beneath.

“I think...I’m going to be sick,” he whispered.

“Bedpan –” Theophany started, but Silyn waved her away.

“Just a – I’ll be fine. More’s the pity. Merryn – Merryn, I’m so sorry. I did this. It’s all my fault.”

Merryn rubbed his eyes and then scrubbed his hand through his hair.

“Okay, Sils, I’ll humor you. Why do you think this is your fault?”

“It’s my fault,” Silyn insisted quietly. He gently but firmly pushed Theophany away and stood up slowly. “I broke a promise. We promised Tiff, that night she came back from the Pensieve, that we wouldn’t fly. Well, I did. A little over an hour ago I was in a tight spot – it doesn’t matter what – but it seemed the best way out. So I broke my promise...because it was convenient.”

Theophany bit her tongue. This was starting to make dreadful sense. Merryn however was skeptical.

“So the heavens are punishing the family because you broke a pinky swear? Really, come on–”

“No, no, it’s the direct result. Tiff had a theory that flying could be detrimental somehow.”

“This is just correlation, not causation.”

“How come You-Know-Who didn’t fly until after he became...well...You-Know-Who?” Theophany asked softly. Both brothers fell silent and looked at her. “I mean, if you discovered how to fly, and no one else knew, it would be an amazing advantage. But he didn’t. No one knew about it, not until long after he was powerful. Not until he had fame and followers.”

She looked up at her brothers.

“A lot of followers. All linked to each other and bonded to him...as if by blood.”

“You’re saying that the Eaters can fly because they share a link? Through the mark?” Merryn considered this. “And then what it feeds off is...oh. You’d need a lot of energy. A lot of power.”

Silyn was nodding. His jaw tight.

“More than just one person possesses. So when I flew, I stole a little strength from each of you, from Lissy and the – the baby too...oh Merlin.”

Silyn looked like he was going to faint again.

Calm down,” Merryn snapped. “We don’t know that. Besides, Lissy isn’t related to you by blood. We’ve been flying before, generations of it on the Botterill side. Mum’s too. How come this has never happened before?”

“Dad has been sick for a long time now, and remember what a surprise that stroke was two years ago. He was so healthy.” Like a ball of string sent rolling, Theophany’s thoughts came unspun. “Mum’s parents didn’t live long, in fact her older siblings died only a little before she did. And she was...only forty-seven.”

“Yeah, but she was sick,” Merryn cried and then quickly lowered his voice. “I mean, I know the family tree is marked with somewhat below average lifespans, but now you’re saying we killed our own mother by draining her energy?

Silyn put a hand over his mouth, his eyes going wide.

“No!” Theophany shook her head vehemently, “No – think about it. Us, her parents, her two brothers, all flying, all using each other’s energy, not just hers. Long before she was born, before we were born. And our father’s family too. Botterills have always died young. We’ve been stealing from each other. And remember Lissy’s been so unwell. Even though she’s not blood, there’s the baby, and marriage might be enough to bond us, so we could have been feeding off of her too–”

Please don’t say it like that!” Silyn begged. He was looking sicker.

“Well, we would have noticed, right? Felt it?” Merryn pointed out.

“And how often did we fly before the war? Really?” Theophany demanded.

“It was always wiser to keep a low profile,” Merryn agreed, “So hardly ever. Emergencies.”

“So we wouldn’t have really noticed if, occasionally, we all felt poorly at once. We’d just think it was flu or something. Of course the Botterills...”

“Flew all the time back in the day. And Mum’s parents. But why was it so much worse this time?”

“We lost whatever tolerance we built up? Or maybe because Dad’s older and Lissy’s pregnant, it was just too much. And the twins and Boniface are just younger and stronger, so they didn’t feel it as much.”

Merryn stared at them both.

“It’s all entirely speculation. But damn it, it fits. Why doesn’t it surprise me that the Botterills were slowly sucking the life from each other and their kids. They did it emotionally, why not literally? Silyn, congrats…. it looks like I have to accept your heartfelt apology and explain to Lissy that she has the most predatory in-laws in history.”

“That isn’t even a little funny,” Silyn whispered thickly.

“Tough. You’ll have to deal with black humor because I’m not going to get angry and scream at you.” Merryn took his wife’s hand. “And neither will she.”

“Merryn, I–”

“Just take Tiff home, she looks done in.”

Why does everyone keep saying I look tired...oh. I probably do, actually.”

“And Boniface must be worried.”

Silyn nodded and hesitated.

“Lissy’s really going to be okay.” His voice wobbled a little. “I’ve seen it.”

Merryn frowned.

“You don’t need to offer me that, Sils. Your being here is worth more than your Sight. Always.”

Silyn looked about to cry, so he dragged Theophany from the bed and started scolding her about making Boniface wait so long. Theophany allowed herself to be pulled along, happy to float in his wake.

Dad was back from the clinic, no signs of a stroke but he was warned to be careful for a while. Normally they would take him to St Mungo’s, but it wasn’t the best place for Muggles just now. Boniface had warmed up last night’s stew for the kids and had been generally helpful and domestic but was desperately relieved when Theophany got back. She had only taken charge for a few minutes, commanding Silyn to eat and the twins to help Boniface with the chores, before Ike appeared in great wrath.

“What Ike wants to know,” he demanded in a croak, “Is what is Ike even for if Miss is always taking charge when Miss herself needs rest!

“It’s just a bump on the head,” Theophany explained weakly.

“You do look tired, Tiff,” Silyn added, unhelpfully.

If I hear that one more time–

“Miss is, of course, Ike’s Mistress, and Miss may do as she pleases,” the house-elf’s voice rose in crescendo, “but if Ike was to do his job, then Miss would go straight to bed. But as Ike isn’t allowed to be taking care of them, then Ike is a terrible elf and will be pressing himself in the Millwheel until Ike is flat enough to slide through the letterbox!

“Please don’t do that, Ike. I’ll go, I promise,” Theophany begged.

From his armchair Dad regarded the indignant elf.

“You should have been a lawyer, Ike.”

“Ike would be whatever Master likes, if Miss will listen.”

“I’m listening, see? I’m going up now. Do not go near the Millwheel.”
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