Chapter Notes: Usual disclaimers, I do not own the Wizarding World, Harry Potter, none of it. Nada. Zip.
The next morning Zuri and her brother Sipho knocked at the back door while the Knapps were finishing breakfast.
“Listen, listen now.” Zuri clapped her hands as she came in. “I need you to promise perfect silence, no one says anything. Now, are you ready? No words, remember. There is a taboo. They have made a taboo of the name. The name of You-Know-Who.”
There was a collective intake of breath, but they remembered not to speak.
“Sipho,” Zuri prompted, “tell them about your friend.”
“He was taken.” Sipho’s voice was heavy. “Taken before my eyes. He had spoken the name, and Snatchers appeared within the minute. A small act of defiance has been made the surest way to betray ourselves.”
“We have charmed ourselves. We cannot speak it. Theophany, the children worry me most.”
Prosper and Compline looked around at their sister, eyes wide.
“They may speak it accidently, or even in fear.” Zuri came and put her hands on them. “Please understand I know you are not foolish children.”
They nodded but looked uneasy.
“Is it possible to charm against a word?” Theophany wondered. “Without having them speak it? Or a Memory Charm?”
“No, then they might hear the name and repeat it, forgetting what it is. I can take the word away without the need to speak. Will you let me?”
Theophany knelt and turned the twins towards her.
“Yeah,” Compline said softly.
Prosper merely gave a thumbs up. Zuri made them face her and put her hand over Prosper’s mouth. Theophany kept her arms around them. Raising her wand, she said the incantation aloud for Theophany to hear,
Thin light came from Prosper’s mouth. He crossed his eyes to watch it slip into Zuri’s hand. She clenched a fist and then opened and the light was gone.
“Say the name,” Zuri instructed.
Prosper looked at her like she was crazy.
“It’s okay, try it.”
“No wahala,” Prosper whispered. His hand flew to his throat. “I didn’t mean to say that, I mean...no wahala, wahala!”
Compline started to giggle. Zuni smiled.
“This means, no troubles. No worries. I have taken the name and given you different words. Would you like something different?” Zuri asked Compline.
“No, give me no wahala!”
The Knapps considered charming each other as well, but didn’t think it necessary. Theophany felt secretly panicked at the idea of having no control over her words and thought the others must feel the same. Zuri demonstrated the spell a few more times for them in case. Theophany thought it was similar to the incantation to draw out memories but didn’t say so and excused herself.
“Going to the workshop, love?” Dad called after Theophany.
“No, I have some errands to run.”
Theophany couldn’t deny she was taking some extra care with her appearance. Lissy had said she was pale even before yesterday’s drama, and after St. Mungo’s it was made abundantly clear to her she was looking the worse for wear. If she was honest with herself, and she didn’t want to be, Severus’s obvious disbelief of her true age still irked her. True, she mostly wore her mother's outdated robes, but they were well made and decent. Yes, her hair was unfashionably long and wild with twists and crinkles, but at least it was soft. If her hair were only as thick as her brows, she would have no complaints.
Today Theophany smoothed her hair with Sleakeazy’s Hair Potion so at least all the crinkles would fall the same way. She chose robes with a less severe cut than usual; she wanted to appear friendly to Miss Glinda Herbert. Best not look the stereotype of mad, reclusive, potions brewer. Though honestly, she smirked, Severus looked more that part than she did.
It was best not to Apparate into Upper Flagley to avoid disturbing the Muggle population. Theophany took the bus into town, her Repellant Charm ensuring any Muggles' eyes didn’t find her worth a second glance. When she got off, just before the square, there was someone who gave her more than a glance, who was in fact waiting for her like a black crow among pigeons. Severus Snape stood with his arms crossed. People slid around him as if he were nothing more than a signpost, which perhaps he’d spelled himself to look like.
Theophany leapt off the back of the bus and hissed at him, “What are you doing here?”
The people around looked slightly confused and avoided eye contact. She might very well appear to be speaking to a post.
“Interviewing Miss Herbert.”
“I have already obtained all the necessary information. There is no time to waste, we must visit the property her aunt, Elisaveta, left her. Not the house near Hamburg, but the preserve, if you are right in assuming there’s more there than appears.”
“Oh, right. Certainly.”
This was moving much faster than she had planned.
“I suggest we Apparate to King’s Cross. From there–”
Theophany pulled out her watch.
“There won’t be an Eastern Train until after noon, but if we take the 10:45 we can connect in Bruges and avoid the lunch traffic on platform 7 ½.”
Lest she sound like a railway enthusiast Theophany added, “My brother works for the Wizarding Rail....”
“Useful,” he commented.
“Very,” she agreed.
Please don’t let me become awkward and self conscious, Theophany prayed. Let me be a friend to him…
She managed a grin and offered an elbow in pantomime.
With what was almost an eyeroll Severus turned on the spot. Theophany grinned swiftly. A response. She was getting to him a little. She Disapparated and Apparated in King’s Cross, falling into step alongside him. In the crowd they were easily dismissed and crossed the barrier onto platform 7 ½ without attention. The platform was nearly empty and, with an hour’s wait, Theophany saw the potential for a very long and awkward silence. She stowed her ticket in her pocket and schooled herself to sit still.
“Why did you place greater importance on Elisaveta Herbert than Dragoslav Mlakar?” Severus asked, apropos of nothing.
“Mlakar was an old pureblood name, not as old as some on the continent but well established. However they never acquired great influence. Their ancestors managed the country estate and were rarely seen in politics beyond local positions in agriculture. Neither were they wealthy. The name is pretty much extinct now, no direct descendents, and the estate was given over to the government. I don’t see how they could have built a place as secret or ‘dangerous’ as you describe.”
“They might not have built it, but as an old pureblood family they may have been party to it.”
“Invited in, you think?” Theophany kept her eyes fixed on the poster across the tracks, a Ministry bulletin asking the question, Are You a Victim of the Muggle Menace? A young witch was depicted, looking frail and depressed. How exactly she was being menaced was unclear.
“I’ve wanted to ask you, but didn’t want to break my promise by ‘requiring an explanation,’ so feel free not to answer. Is this place some kind of exclusive club? And the people involved make it dangerous?”
He sounded wry.
“Then, if so, why the Mlakar family?” Theophany concluded. “Why would they be invited? They have nothing to bring to the table. Not like the Bulstrode family or Nott...I mean, imagine one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight fostering a member of a lesser blood family with no influence or money. It’s unheard of.”
Severus was silent for a moment.
“You’re right,” he said finally. “That would be an...exceptional circumstance.”
The way he drew out the word made “exceptional” sound anything but pleasant. He didn’t say anything more. Theophany sighed and decided to buy herself some magazines and maybe a novel. It would be a long day.
After they boarded, Severus still hadn’t spoken. Two hours later he wasn’t even pretending to sleep but just stared out the window. The German landscape looked just as bare and cold as England had. Theophany was sure he wasn’t really seeing any of it. Her novel was terrible, and eventually she couldn’t distract herself with it any longer and exchanged it for the guidebook.
“Where are we going again?” she asked Severus.
“Gesundheit. Ever been?”
“Me neither. But the guide says it’s “quaint” and “the perfect blend of rural German countryside and old world village”. Of course there’s also Pietzmoor. The “Largest area of bog in Lower Saxony.” Goodness. Are all of your first dates this glamorous?”
Theophany bit her tongue. She’d gone too far. But Severus only looked at her with such confusion she could only bite it again to keep from laughing. It seemed he didn’t understand she was teasing. Much less flirting.
“The preserve was, as far as Muggles know, established in 1921,” he explained,.“However it was a magical reserve long before that, courtesy of the Herbert family.”
So he chose to ignore her silly comments. Or perhaps he simply couldn’t comprehend them. Either way, Theophany realized she had complete amnesty to say what she wished if she wanted.
“So hinkypunks, murtlaps, and will o’ the wisps galore?”
“And even larger specimens, yes, as well as rare carnivorous flora.”
“And we’re there to see if something else is hidden on this preserve?”
“Severus,” this had been bothering Theophany for some time, “If this place we’re looking for is so very secret and dangerous, surely it will be under the Fidelius Charm?”
“No. It was to be accessible to different people, at different times. Those responsible aren’t always the same people, and other circumstances would necessitate...no matter. In any case recasting the charm every time would be redundant and no more secure than not having it.”
His answer was firm. This wasn’t some hazy notion they were chasing, but a place he knew about in great detail, yet had never been. So perhaps not exclusively for Death Eaters then. The fact that it was abroad and not located in Britain also spoke to its not being exclusively Death Eater.
The train, continuing straight on despite terrain, forest, and water, was making the journey without reaching the levels of speed a Muggle train would need to make the journey in twice the time. Soon Luneburg was a haze on the horizon. The haze sharpened into bare relief as they drew nearer, becoming black branches and then wide parks and glens.
“It must be absolutely lovely in summer,” Theophany smiled and added, “we must come back one day.”
He didn’t answer. Her hypothesis seemed to hold true that Severus’s weapon of last resort was silence.
They didn’t speak as they disembarked and moved through the barrier to the station, again invisible to Muggle eyes. The wooden walk that turned the expanse of moor into a tourist destination was abandoned at this time of year. The locals would think them mad if they were spotted. Perhaps they were mad. Despite the sensation of searching in a haystack, Theophany followed. Severus seemed to know where he was going, their boots making hollow sounds on the boardwalk.
As the walk entered a stand of spindly trees, Severus stopped. From his robes he drew a letter with a large, ornate seal. Theophany wasn’t close enough to see the design clearly. Severus held it up before him, as if trying to read the contents within. The air thickened before him. He sliced downward with his hand, and the air parted with a whistle around the edges of the letter. The wooded view peeled back to reveal a new path: a bridge that rose gracefully above the boardwalk, ornamented by a large bronze lynx on either side. At the far end of the bridge a single tower rose, round and solid. It was surrounded by smaller, more modern buildings and many greenhouses.
“Clever of Elisaveta,” Severus mused, “to hide industry in the middle of a purported nature reserve.”
“She didn’t preserve magical creatures or plants,” Theophany said slowly, “but used them.”
“Mostly experimental research. Work that continues under her niece, Glinda.”
“Glinda who gave you that letter, I imagine. Both letter of introduction and key?”
“Yes, her ideologies concerning wizard superiority made it simple to acquire an introduction. She’s unharmed, though I had to take her memories concerning my visit…”
Theophany blinked. “Of course. I wasn’t worried.”
She started over the bridge and heard him follow after. But as they drew near the gates, Severus easily gained the lead. Theophany held back. It appeared she would be taking a supporting role.
Severus had been relieved Theophany had proven so reliable. She hadn’t seemed overly put out by his sudden appearance and had adapted to the new plan swiftly. Now she was hanging back and letting him lead. They passed through the bronze gates and approached the guard stationed behind a matching bronze grill. He was stationed outside a single door. No other entrance was apparent. The wizard looked at them narrowly and said something. Severus could guess the meaning and handed over Ginda Herbert’s letter. At the guard's touch the seal snapped and he read the contents briefly.
“Welcome to Pietzmoor,” he said in English. “Identification, please?”
Severus could easily hand over the papers. Not even the Headmaster of Hogwarts was exempt from the Ministry’s new passion for registering everything that moved. But meekly submitting his papers didn’t feel right. Pinching his lips together in a closed sneer he unbuttoned his left cuff. Never removing his glare from the guard, he rolled up his sleeve. The Dark Mark writhed. The black snake doubled back on itself through the skull’s gaping jaws. The Dark Lord’s followers may be exclusive to Britain, but there were pureblood sympathizers everywhere. Including the Herberts.
“Unlike papers, this,” Severus drawled, “is impossible to fake.”
The guard's eyes flicked interestedly over the mark. Most likely the first he’d seen in person.
“I will inform them of your arrival.”
Severus didn’t thank him. Behind the guard was a wall that looked like a Muggle switchboard, only it emitted a constant hum and puffs of purple smoke from multiple brass pipes. Several glass pipes rose from the top and disappeared into the ceiling. The guard flipped one of the many levers and hit a button marked ‘mezzanine’. There were other buttons designating other floors, offices, and personnel. With a musical chime and a loud rattle something rose from the contraption and shot through one of the glass pipes. The guard reached down and pulled another lever. With an efficient click the door swung open.
Severus finished buttoning his sleeve without turning around. No need for Theophany to see it. She was still standing silently behind him. No one questioned her presence. His credentials had been enough for both of them.
They entered into a circular room, bare of any decoration, but clean. At the opposite end were a pair of double doors, the wood painted over in bronze which rather ruined them in Severus’s opinion. They swung open from the inside and a young wizard greeted them.
“Good afternoon. I am Bretz, and I am pleased to welcome you.”
He bowed slightly. Severus nodded.
“I understand you wish to tour the facility?”
“As the letter said,” Severus confirmed brusquely.
“Then we can begin immediately. I must ask you not to touch anything and stay away from cordoned areas. Danke.”
Bretz led them from the anteroom into the tower proper. It too was a circular room but on a much larger scale. The interior seemed to utilize the entire width and height of the tower excepting only offices and smaller rooms that ran the circumference. These were accessed by a small lift that climbed the furthermost side from the entrance. Whole trees dripping lichen were growing around them. Cages of furred and feathered things rose on all sides or hung over them, all gibbering and screaming. The ceiling, several stories above their heads, was a small circle of light the size of a saucer.
“Is that enchantment or glass?” Severus asked. “And does it light the lower levels as well?”
“Glass,” Bretz replied. “We get the best results from our plants with natural light. This is the lower-most level. If you please, we will begin with the Southwest growing station. We have some obscure Conforming Conifers, which were once essentials to potion-making in the seventeenth century–”
“Is that for purification or distillation?” Theophany cut in.
Severus and Bretz turned back. She was pointed over their heads. It was so vast it was unbelievable Severus hadn’t noticed it, but the glass was so pure it was almost invisible. Snaking above their heads, in a craze of angles and loops, was a glass pipe wide enough for a small child to crawl through. It took up every spare space in the canopy above them, bending around trees and twisting through walkways. The glass labyrinth seemed to descend from the very top of the tower and eventually disappeared into a large cistern in the middle of the floor.
“Purification,” Bretz responded briefly. “We process in such quantities that individual systems of separation took more time and space.”
“How do you keep the temperature constant? The potion will cool as it passes through, and a Warming Spell would disrupt the potion–”
“Yes, yes.” Bretz seemed to consider her question elementary. “Any additional spellwork on a potion will affect the result. The majority of our work is in raw ingredients.”
“But even raw ingredients mustn’t be exposed to too much magical influence before use, lest it warp their function. As you said, natural sunlight gives better results than enchantment.”
Bretz eyed her. Clearly he was reevaluating her status from casual observer to professional.
“There are fans set up in the joiners of the pipe. Hot or cool air can be used as required based on the needs of the potion or ingredient. We take temperature readings every ten meters.”
“But the air introduced into the pipe will affect the speed of the contents.” Theophany’s voice was only pleasant, but it was clear she would not be put off. “A basic example would be dittany. It takes three minutes for dittany to separate from the dross in a standard pipe, any longer and you’ve lost potency. How do you factor the fans creating speed or resistance into your purification time?”
Bretz pursed his lips.
“Excuse me,” Severus interrupted. “I don’t have a great deal of time. Who should I speak to at the South growing station?”
“Junge. But perhaps if we might continue this later, I may show you there myself…?”
“Oh, Severus doesn’t mind. He’s not interested in mechanics. He’d rather go on ahead. These fans, how are they operated? If they’re hand operated, surely there’s a margin for error in the timing?”
Bretz turned to answer and Severus moved away. Theophany had provided him the opportunity and he took it. He glanced over his shoulder. Bretz was now providing a stepladder for her to more closely examine the pipe immediately over their heads. Brilliant. Beneath that cheerful, easy manner Theophany possessed a surprising amount of guile – and a hex like a giant’s fist.
Severus strode purposefully towards the far side of the tower. He neither hurried nor crept. People were less inclined to question you if you walked with authority. He passed through a maze of raised planters and carefully tended plots. To one side he could see the Conforming Conifers bending agreeably around each other at right angles. Some of these planters contained plants that were tethered or caged and not for the sake of their growth. Snapping sounds could be heard, and leafy tendrils snaked out to sense him as he passed by.
A young witch carrying a box of live mice paused and asked if she could help him.
“Bretz has already taken care of me, thank you.”
As long as someone else was responsible for him, it wasn’t her problem. She smiled politely and turned back to the large stalk that bloomed over her head. Its flower was twice the side of a sunflower and was flushed a deep purple. Its leaves trembled excitedly. As Severus moved around her, she Levitated a single squirming mouse from the box. Severus tried to shut his ears to the sudden rustle of leaves and the scrabbling of tiny paws. It seemed he was becoming squeamish of late.
The grounds outside were planted out in gardens or screened in greenhouses. Nothing was hidden there. Severus was interested in what lay under the tower. Despite Bretz’s assurances this was the lowest level, the timber reinforcements were buried deeply and looked broad enough to support subterranean walls in addition to the weight of the tower itself.
The bronze lift raised and lowered workers in white coats or overalls. It stopped on the ground floor. He needed another way to access the rooms he knew were below them. A wizard with a clipboard passed by him. In his wake followed self-propelled carts bearing broken equipment, pottery shards, and discarded plant trimmings. Each cart was so uniformly filled to the brim that Severus wondered what was underneath all the trash. Rather than open sides the carts were covered with canvas, preventing him from seeing more.
He followed them at a distance to a door marked 'Personnel Only' in German, English, French, and Goblin. The wizard held it open for the carts, and as the last few entered, Severus heard them stop immediately on the other side. The wizard entered and shut the door. There was a whirl of machinery and a metallic groan of protest. The service lift.
Severus waited until the noise had stopped before approaching the door. It was a simple, platform lift, meant for much larger objects than he. He shut the cage door and spun the handle to lock it. Examining the panel, he saw there were no helpful labels or names here, but there were far more basement levels than Bretz had admitted to. The obvious choice for anything secret would be the lowest floor, as it was the most secure. As human nature was usually obvious, Severus pushed the button for B15. He dismissed the idea of casting a Disillusionment Charm. It would be harder to explain if he were caught. Best to enter boldly and avoid suspicion in the first place.
Metal struck metal, and the lift stopped. Severus sprung the handle, and the doors slid back. It wasn’t what he had expected.
It was an underground storage vault that seemed, at first glance, to hold only junk. Shelves to rival the Hogwarts library rose on either side of a wide center aisle. Not all the items were shelved but hung from racks or were mounted on walls. Directly before him was a mirror set in a frame resembling a blazing sun. Its rays extended several feet in all directions; the metal cunningly worked seemed to waver with heat.
He passed it by. The first shelves on either hand contained all things glass. Stained windows, beveled dangling ornaments, bubbled vases of impossible thinness and more mirrors. Mirrors that reflected mirrors and the light of a hundred other reflections passing through glass to glass. As he walked by them, little white tags of paper caught the draft from his robes and fluttered entreatingly. He caught one in his fingers and read,Robiere original. Cut glass and moonstone. Paris. Received 1928. He had no idea who this mirror maker was, and no interest. Severus checked tags at random as he went. All followed the same format: an artist, a description, place and date.
After the glassware section came furniture, brooding under dustcovers and sheets. There was enough to refurbish one or two wings of Hogwarts. Some of it was older than antique, ancient even, their carvings arcane. Others were more recent and many even Muggle-made. None of it was dusty or neglected. There was no damp. In fact, as he drew closer to the center, it was growing warmer. There must be a heat source of some kind. Eventually Severus caught a flicker of firelight and pushed through some hanging Persian carpets.
He froze, one foot still entangled behind him. The furnace wasn’t a furnace, or rather just a furnace. A fire rumbled in a great iron box, and that box was embedded in the belly of a mechanical giant. Fifteen or twenty feet if it stood, now it sprawled like an abandoned doll, but this was no toy. Its fingers were iron, as long as Severus’s forearm, and well oiled. Its arms coiled springs and metal pistons, lovingly covered with ceramic plates as a sort of outer armour. The porcelain was beautifully decorated with an embossed design. Its face was a ceramic mask, the jaw and cheeks disproportionately long, giving it a melancholy look. Behind its mask the iron bulk of its head sat low on the shoulders. Dangling over what could be called a temple, like a graduate’s tassel, was a lock. It was the lock that revealed the nature of the giant. Explained too why it needed ceramic, or clay, in its body to hold the spell together.
Old magic. Once widely and rightly feared. The sheer size of this one dated it to at least over a century old. Gradually they had been outlawed for private use, and then forbidden altogether for their single-minded behaviour. The scroll of spells suspended in its head could dictate purpose, but it couldn’t force behaviour. A Golem would protect by any means. It was a guard dog with a psychosis. But how did it get here? And was a Golem really necessary to protect this glorified estate sale? The accumulated value must be incalculable, but Golems had been outlawed since 1946.
Severus closed his eyes. Clearly he envisioned the little tags, so much gibberish to him except the dates. 1936. 1930. 1944. Paris. Denmark. Warsaw. It all made sense now. He sighed. Plundered goods from murdered families. That was the Herberts’ secret.
There was nothing more here for him to discover. Severus turned to go. A motion, no more than a breeze, shifted the carpets. They swung ponderously. There was no sound, just that single brief stirring of air, but Severus felt his neck prickle. How could something so large move without sound? Severus took slow steps. He was in the main aisle now. He didn’t turn his head. Again a stirring of air that was only a whisper but strong enough to set the carpets billowing behind him. Still he didn’t turn, he couldn’t start acting like prey until the exit was in sight. Even then he could be anticipated and his escape cut off.
The circular racks were beginning to spin in the draft. It was a strong wind now and everything was creaking and driving before it except Severus Snape. It was moving faster, closer, but still made no noise. He had to leave the main aisle. There was a particular turn he needed.
Severus slid between two massive bookcases. The first wardrobe was large enough to hold a man. The door swung open with a creak. There was a silence. Severus felt his pursuer rush forward, the air tunneling towards him. He slammed the wardrobe door shut and threw himself behind the bureau that stood opposite.
An iron-fingered hand swept through the wardrobe like it was taking the top off an egg. The shatter cracked the eerie silence and echoed. Debris showered Severus as the Golem peeled the wardrobe open. It was fast and enchanted to be silent. But this behemoth of metal was not intelligent. Methodical and logical, yes. It would predict his movements to reach the exit. Severus gritted his teeth.
Damn it. Damn it. Damn it.
He didn’t like his choices. But when had that ever mattered? He stood up and ran. The Golem flung the wardrobe aside. The ceramic mask followed his progress impassively, and then, without a sound, it came after him. Its enchantment prevented him from hearing how close it came, and looking would slow him down. Severus chose the smallest opening between two armoires and slid through. As he gained the end of the aisle, he heard the Golem crash through. Fast but clumsy.
Severus kept his path serpentine and narrow. Drawing his wand, he randomly blasted things from the shelves, scattering the path behind him. No longer silent, the vaulted basement was full of terrible crunches and crashes as the Golem pulverized everything in its way. It wasn’t slowed by the obstacles. As Severus caught sight of the lift, he was swallowed in an abrupt silence.
Where was it?
He fell to one side, crawling behind a massive canopy bed. Twisting his neck around to look behind him, he caught sight of the Golem, soaring silent overhead. Its stationary leap had carried it double its height into the air and about fifty meters ahead where it crashed into the mirrors and glass. It had predicted his attempt to reach the exit and now blocked him. Logically he should try and find another exit. Logically.
Too out of breath to curse, Severus crawled out of hiding and whipped his wand at the Golem’s head. His jinx rebounded and shattered more glass. The lock was spelled against breaking, probably unlocking too. The Golem slowed its advance. It hadn’t predicted attack.
The Golem’s limbs froze. There was the scream of metal straining and slowly it began to move forward again. Severus hissed in frustration. The thing had protective spells and anti-jinxes generations deep. He didn’t have time to work through the possibilities.
The Golem continued its stiff progress. Severus continued refreezing it as he thought. Drastic measures like Fiendfyre were not an option. The entire tower and everyone in it would be incinerated. If he couldn’t get through the protective spells, then how did he get around?
“Do not focus on the object as it is, resisting a new form, but rather think of it as you need it to be.”
Minerva. Transfiguration wasn’t his strongest subject, but if she was right and he could change the problem to one more easily solved...take away what was undesired.
“It’s a question of essences.”
Now when had Theophany said that? Pearlwort. Substituting the cold of the moon for warmth. Cold for hot. Unbreakable for fragile.
Severus’s eye fell on the ring of broken glass that surrounded the Golem. Curious and exhausted, he spoke.
It wasn’t a Transfigurative Spell, in all strictness. It was a switch. The glass trembled as if the floor was shaking. The shards emitted a high ringing and grew brighter before falling still. Now dull and grey their glitter was gone. The lock dangling from the Golem’s head hummed with that same ringing tone. It was a perfectly made lock cast in twinkling glass. Severus flung a jinx at it, but the Golem raised its hands protectively, waving away spells like gnats. Expensive property, its protocols were-self preservation over attack.
Severus pocketed his wand, cursed once, and ran. Flying in closed spaces wasn’t the easiest thing. Fortunately he need only propel himself towards the Golem, a more than large enough target that would stop his trajectory before he became soup against the far wall. He flew under the Golem’s waving arm and alighted on the shoulder under the lock. There were handgrips here and steps inserted into the side of the neck. Alarmed, the Golem swung around.
Severus’s feet flew out from under him, but he had already caught hold of a grip. Swearing savagely through his teeth, he pulled himself back onto the shoulder and up the steps. Clinging behind the scrollwork that suggested an ear, he heaved himself up and brought a heel down on the lock. The glass shattered under his heel. A wheelbarrow-sized hand tried to seize him, but he immobilized it. Wrenching open the hatch door atop the iron skull, Severus grasped the small scroll that was suspended there. He lifted it free and the Golem froze. With heavy precision it fell to its knees and was still.
Severus gasped and hooked an arm around the ear to steady himself. A good deal had been damaged in the Golem’s methodical rampage. There was no way to hide the struggle that had taken place. Best if it look like a defect in the Golem. Severus unrolled the scroll and scanned the text. His modern languages were nil and his ancient languages rather rusty, but he found the line of text he wanted.
With his thumb he rubbed at the faded scroll. The old ink flaked away leaving only a shadow. He resealed it and placed it back into the Golem’s iron skull. Its eyes lit. With a groaning of machinery it rose to its feet. Best not stay for the next bit.
Severus leapt from its shoulder and flew to the ground. He landed only a meter from the lift and had swung the cage door shut by the time the Golem’s missing protocol began to take effect.
The Golem reached up and peeled off the iron hatch on its skull. Using the broken door it attacked its own beautifully crafted joints and limbs, punching holes into its furnace belly and stripping away sheets of metal. Digging out its own life source. It had orders to destroy any animated thing in the vicinity. Now that he had erased the clause preventing self harm, its defensive protocols would target itself. No evidence of his external tampering would remain. Murder disguised as suicide. A first for him. Severus turned away and hit the button marked ‘mezzanine’.
A Cleaning Charm removed any dust or remaining debris from his robes. By the time the lift stopped, he looked much the same as always. Slipping from the lift, he regained the small forest of potted carnivorous plants and found a young wizard trying to water a particularly feisty specimen. The wizard was too engaged to see the Confundus Charm hit him.
“What’s your name?” Severus asked him.
“Right. We’ve been talking for quite a while, Mr. Krukle.”
“Oh, have we?”
“I got lost looking for the Conforming Conifers and asked if you were Junge–”
“No, you’re Eberhart Krukle.”
Krukle frowned. “If you say so.”
“So you answered my questions–”
“The conifers! And we’ve been talking quite a while now.”
“Have we? That’s no good, I have three more of these bastards to water.”
“Then you should say that it’s growing late and you should take me back to Bretz.”
The young wizard was nodding. “Yes. Yes. I should–”
Snape twitched his wand and pocketed it while Eberhart blinked and nodded. The wizard frowned and checked his watch.
“Sir. It’s growing late. I should take you back to Bretz.”
“Of course, I am sorry to have troubled you.”
With much politeness, Eberhart guided him back to the far side of the tower. The sunlight above was dimming, but the bustle inside the tower was as high as ever. The glass piping system was active too. Some translucent solution sloshed through it, bursting into fine spray at turns and sometimes slowing to barely a trickle. In its wake a fine sediment was left, the dross separated out.
Ahead Severus could see Bretz and two other wizards, technicians it would seem, standing atop a great tank. It seemed the end goal of the pipe. A protective railing ran around the edge, but Theophany was, unsurprisingly, leaning a little too far over it. Someone had produced a small stool to minimize the difference between the high railing and Theophany’s low stature. It seemed Theophany had managed to finagle a demonstration out of Bretz. As Severus watched, Bretz put out a hand to steady her atop her stool, but Theophany waved him away, flashing a brilliant smile.
“Bretz!” Eberhart called, “I’ve got one of yours here.”
Bretz didn’t seem overly concerned about Severus’s absence and welcomed him back with equanimity. Theophany greeted him with much more excitement.
“Severus! You’ve missed it; this is ingenious.”
“I’m sure you can tell me everything about it. However, it seems you have not been watching the time.”
Theophany pulled out her watch.
“Oh! It’s that late? Oh, Mr. Bretz, you should have said something.”
“We have some time yet before visitors are no longer allowed. There is a great deal of heavy machinery and work that must be done in the evening shift, and we can’t have any guests present. Did you find Junge?”
“No. Mr. Krukle answered my questions. My thanks for your time.”
Severus whirled about to go, but Theophany stopped him.
“Severus, surely we have a little time to see the rest?”
Theophany’s smile was bright. Didn’t her face hurt from smiling like that? And her eyes were a little too wide. She was playing innocent, and the effort of appearing so was cracking. She knew there was a reason he wanted to leave in such a hurry but was throwing sand in any suspicious eyes by appearing reluctant. Bretz came to her side and she cast him another glowing smile.
“Well, sir,” Bretz stammered, “if you can muster an interest in mechanics, we have time for another demonstration.”
Severus bowed his head slightly and let his hand wander to his left forearm.
“Thank you. Unfortunately my time isn’t my own today.”
Bretz’s eyes went from Severus’s forearm to his face and back.
“Of course, sir. Regrettable, but I hope you will come again.”
Severus only nodded tersely. They were led out by the guard, and Bretz wished them a safe journey. He lingered for a moment in the entry, but Theophany only flashed a last radiant smile before striding across the bronze bridge. Severus easily caught her up.
“As soon as we cross the bridge, we can Apparate. The train station.”
Theophany kept her eyes fixed ahead.
“Are you alright? Something happened. Are you hurt?” she whispered.
She didn’t ask anything further. In silence they passed between the bronze lynx guardians and as one turned on the spot. The smell of dead grass and snow became concrete and tar. The train’s whistle drowned out Theophany’s words. She grabbed his arm and repeated herself.
“Sure you’re alright?”
The train shrieked, and Severus saved his breath and merely nodded once. Their tickets were return so they evaded the queue and boarded. They would be departing in twenty minutes. Looking for an empty compartment reminded Severus of the Hogwarts Express. Everyone wanted their own compartment for themselves and their friends. He’d always pushed a way through, punching holes through crowds with a glare, Lily keeping close behind, trying not to be trampled and saying she wouldn’t mind where they sat. But he minded.
A small fat witch carrying too many bags pushed passed him to get into her compartment. Severus fell back and felt his shoulder collide with the wall. It was unusually painful; he must have been badly bruised by the Golem. He hissed under his breath and felt Theophany put out a hand to steady him.
They found a compartment, and he sat back and closed his eyes. He could feel Theophany’s questions building up, but she didn’t speak. When the train finally started to move, he opened his eyes. She was frowning at him. He noticed her fingers were clenched tightly together.
“Yes.” He blew out a breath. “But it wasn’t there. What we’re looking for. It wasn’t the right place.”
“I suppose the odds were against us being right on the first try. I was so sure they were hiding something-”
“They are. Just not what we wanted. Art and antiques from all over Europe in the 30’s and 40’s.”
Theophany’s frown deepened from puzzlement to disgust.
“So it seems the Herbert family was in agreement with any pureblood agenda, including Muggle ones. But to go through so much trouble for some antiques?”
“It’s several fortune’s worth. A Golem was guarding the vault.”
Theophany went white.
“A Golem? As in–”
“Yes, an original. Quite sickening but efficient to guard stolen artifacts with the victims’ own magic.”
“A Golem. How are you not hurt? No, you must be hurt.”
“It was a close thing.”
Theophany looked like she was about to say more, but she only clenched her hands again.
“What is it?”
She was looking white about the lips. Theophany moved her gaze to the window, probably to avoid his. He was certain now she was hiding something. There was a thought, a something she was keeping reined tight when around him. His suspicious glare seemed to have little effect, and he had to wait until she reached a decision. Theophany turned away from the window and glanced up at him.
“I was going to scold you.”
She smiled. Not the radiant smile she tossed at Bretz, but the one-corner-down smile.
“I was going to verbally flay you for leaving me so long. I didn’t – I didn’t know what to do. I kept buying time thinking any moment I’d say the wrong thing. I thought I should look for clues, signs, but I don’t know what to look for or what to do when we find it. I was terrified, Severus.”
So the brilliant smile for Bretz was a mere radiance born of nerves. Theophany unfolded her hands and held them out, palm down. They were strong, bony, hands but they were trembling.
“I can’t stop shaking. I was terrified of a few wizards, and you were fighting a Golem.” Theophany made a tsking sound and shook her head. “I thought I was being so brave and helpful.”
“Would you prefer I hurried back upstairs and dragged you back with me with no explanation so we could fight it together?”
“Yes. At least I’d know where you were.”
“You didn’t look terrified.”
“Well, obviously I was trying not to!” Theophany snapped. “I take back all the nasty things I wanted to say, but Severus, sometimes you make my back teeth ache...I’m just glad you’re alright.”
She drew herself back, deeper into her seat. The subject appeared closed, but Severus felt she was still upset. By the time they arrived at King’s Cross Theophany was a little thawed, but her smile lacked conviction. She felt around in her pockets,
“I know a sublime Thai place just around – but it seems I gave all my Muggle money to the twins for school lunches.”
It might be a peace offering, but Severus still wasn’t sure what they were fighting about. He just shook his head.
“I don’t have the time.”
“Are you eating properly? Sleeping? Remember what I said –”
“I’ve taken it under consideration.”
She couldn’t be too angry if she was still concerned about his health.
“Let me help you, Severus.”
“I was under the impression that’s what you have been doing.”
“I mean, don’t disappear on your own to go fight Golems or dragons – or whatever. Don’t leave me behind. One day you’re going to need me there.”
He refused to answer. Theophany snorted and muttered, “Fine. Since you won’t reassure me, don’t complain if I stick to you like a bur.”
“Preventing you from following me would be the easiest –”
“You could try!” she snapped.
That nebulous something from the train had returned. Theophany was ablaze with temper, but it hid whatever the real issue was, preventing her from an honest argument.
While he was still trying to parse her actions, Theophany took a deep breath and jerked her head. “You’ll hear from me soon.”
She turned on the spot and Disapparated. Impossible individual. Just like dealing with a temperamental student. Severus glanced about platform 7 ½ and was satisfied no one had noticed him. He would take the Floo back to Hogwarts, directly to the headmaster’s office. He didn’t want to bump into anyone on the way.
Theophany kicked a tree soundly. She had Apparated a little further from The Mill than necessary. She needed a little privacy to throw an entirely immature and overdue tantrum. Would Severus Snape ever not fling himself into near death situations without help? The odds of survival against a Golem were low, even in groups.
Terrified. She had been so terrified. He’d been gone so long. Bretz had asked many probing questions, and she’d barely breathed the whole time. Hearing about the Golem had floored her. Apparently she could still be worried about him after the fact.
Theophany wrapped her arms around herself and shuddered. It had been all she could do not to fling her arms around him and scream at him never to do that again. Love, it seemed, was far harder than it was pleasant. Strange. She still hadn’t questioned if it was worth it. Not once. Theophany looked down at the fingernail marks she’d left on her palms. She could have picked an easier person to love. She winced in sudden embarrassment. The Thai shop had been such a desperate attempt to keep him close a little longer; reassure herself he was alright. Theophany scrubbed her fingers through her hair as if to rub away the shameful blush.
Focus on the mission. Atol Szoke was the next name on the list. She’d give much to know where Severus had got that list and what these names had in common besides pureblood ideology. If only she had some other source of information, one more way to be sure before wasting time. Theophany pushed her hair out of her face and pulled up her hood. It was an off-chance, but she would go talk to Jacka.