Chapter Notes: Don't own anything of J.K. Rowling's.
Boniface was at the Forester’s Cottage before her. It seemed he had brought some supplies for the Honeysetts and had stopped by to visit Jacka. Theophany felt a pang of guilt. She should visit the Honeysetts, not to mention the Pointdexters. As her most recent rescues they deserved more attention.
“Lavinia and Felix are quite comfortable.” Boniface assured her. “That tent has all the comforts of home. And I brought them an old wireless today.”
“Mrs. Honeysett has proven quite resourceful. I’d say she’s no stranger to camping,” Jacka added.
He needed a haircut; his brown curly hair flopped when he nodded his head. Theophany winced. He still called her Mrs. Honeysett. Poor Lavinia. Theophany felt she should definitely visit. Lavinia might have advice about loving difficult and reluctant objects.
“Does she come by often?” she asked casually.
“No. Says she doesn’t want to be troublesome. Says she wants to be self sustaining.”
So she was trying not to be clingy. Perhaps it was an example Theophany should follow? She pondered this while Jacka pressed more tea on both of his guests. He added a plate of fresh bread and honeycomb which Boniface helped himself to liberally.
Theophany shook her head.
“Jacka, I have a question for you.”
Jacka settled himself and raised his eyebrows attentively, looking more like a sweet-tempered bear than ever.
“I’m looking for – someone. Someone who could help me with something. But I think they’re out of the country.”
“I don’t have many contacts abroad…” Jacka replied dubiously.
“No. I know. But I was wondering if you knew anyone who had lived abroad in a – a secret place.”
Boniface paused in mopping up honey from his plate.
“Like Frogs Hollow. An unofficial wizarding community.”
Jacka placed his chin on his folded hands.
“There are many, of course. Communities, I mean. All over the continent. Wizards as a kind have never been very good at trusting governance and order. But that’s just the problem. If you don’t know it, don’t live there, it’s difficult to find.”
“Mmm,” Theophany agreed. “What about places one doesn’t live?”
“Sorry, you’ve lost me.”
“I mean places the locals know not to go. Secret places but....dangerous places.”
Jacka frowned. The sweet bear look was shuttered.
“It would be irresponsible not to ask what this is about.”
“Of course. But I can’t say. Can you trust me?”
Boniface snorted. “Tiff, really–”
“I always will,” Jacka responded at the same time.
Boniface waved a hand in ironic illustration.
“See? Don’t pretend you have to ask, Tiff.”
“What? I do have to ask.” Theophany was affronted. “I’m not in charge of the valley–”
Jacka looked confused. Boniface just stared at her before finding his voice.
“Um. You’re in charge. You’re definitely in charge, Tiff.”
“Oh? Why didn’t someone say – since when?”
“Um, yeah, since Mum died and you became Secret Keeper?”
“But I was seventeen!”
They both just looked at her in surprise. Theophany started to reorganize her ideas of her position and then gave up.
“This – this isn’t important. Could you tell me anything you know, Jacka?”
“I know a few people who came from some....remote areas.”
“Would they talk to me?”
Boniface groaned and rolled his eyes. “Tiff. You’re in charge. Remember?”
“Well, I’m not going to demand they see me.”
“They will be very pleased to talk to you, Theophany,” Jacka interrupted gently. There was an odd smile hiding at the corner of his mouth. “Let me write a list for you. Can you wait?”
“Sure, okay,” Theophany said meekly.
She had the feeling Jacka was laughing at her, which was new for him. Boniface on the other hand wasn’t trying to hide it at all and sniggered thickly into his bread and honey. Jacka produced a raven quill pen and quickly scratched out a few names. There were less than Theophany had hoped. She prayed one of them would tell her something useful.
“Thank you, Jacka. I am going to call on Lavinia before I go, so if there’s anything…?”
Jacka shrugged and shook his head. Poor Lavinia. Jacka would never allow himself to love. Theophany paused with her hand on the door. She wasn’t in a much better position herself.
“Jacka...please take care of Lavinia. I know she’s afraid of burdening you but...she’s not as strong as she pretends.”
Boniface paused behind her. “You okay, Tiff?”
Theophany waved to Jacka and pulled her hood over her face. The parchment crackled in her pocket, and she struck out for the path. This evening she would see Lavinia. Someone on this list might hold a key to everything she needed. There couldn’t be much time left. The daylight was short and Theophany could sense the days dwindling.
When Severus Snape stepped out of the hearth into the Headmaster’s office, he found he was expected. Alecto paced excitedly while a stoop-shouldered wizard sat quietly in the armchair by the fire.
“Travers.” Severus greeted him, ignoring Alecto. “What can I do for you?”
“Nothing, Severus, nothing really.” The Death Eater rubbed his hands together though the fire was bright and full. “I only came to deliver some papers. Umbridge is particular about papers. These will have to be returned in the morning so if you could…?”
“Of course. Though you seem too senior to be running papers about.”
“A mistake. Just a mistake.” Travers’s hands continued their agitated washing, but they trembled. “Like I said, Umbridge is particular so I – I had to be certain you were delivered the correct papers posthaste.”
“I told him you would be back shortly –” Alecto cut in. “You’re never gone long, Severus.”
Was Alecto covering for him? The thought was so peculiar it gave him pause. What was the real reason Travers was here?
“If anyone thinks I am neglecting my duty, Alecto, I would prefer to be told so directly.”
“No, no, Severus.” Travers flapped his hands and grimaced. “Nothing of the kind. Truly just here to fix my own stupid mistake.”
Now that Travers had unclasped his hands, Severus could see he was injured. Fine scabbed lines covered the back of his right hand. The sight twitched at a memory but he didn’t have time to unravel it now. If Travers was truly not suspicious, he would be, after Alecto’s blundering attempts to defend him before it was needed.
“Then I won't take offense,” Snape apologized in a tone that meant nothing of the kind. “Please show me what you need.”
It was nonsense as usual. The Muggle-Born Registration Committee must eat parchment, they demanded so much of it. As headmaster he was required to submit some kind of record concerning any Muggle-borns who had attended in the past years he’d taught. As if he could remember. But he nodded at the right times and made sure he knew which boxes to tick. Alecto hovered obviously the whole time. When at last Travers had said his goodbyes, she swooped at Severus.
“It’s not Hogwarts business that takes you away, is it?”
It didn’t sound like a question. Maybe instead of covering for him she had merely wanted to be the one to reveal him.
“What other business would I have, Alecto?”
“Your own,” she whispered impressively. “You have always been ambitious. When I first became a follower of our Lord, you were already a member of his inner circle. Now that you aren’t needed as a spy–”
“I was aware,” Severus cut acidly through, “of speculation concerning my continued usefulness to the Dark Lord. But I did not expect this from you, Alecto.”
Severus moved slowly towards her. He moved with deliberation, not yet threatening but forcing her back.
“You see how much remains to be done before our victory is complete. The Ministry, the Resistance, all of it is only the beginning. We must rebuild the world in the image of our Master’s vision. Years, Alecto. You know this. You and I both play the longer game.”
“So imagine my surprise when I find you questioning me. Do you seek my place? This office?”
She wouldn’t retreat further but her face was shiny with sweat.
“Severus, you misunderstand. I only mean to support you. I believe – I know you will remain key to the future of Hogwarts. I only wish to help you…”
“Is that so?”
“Yes! I only asked because I wondered if you have ambitions beyond the school. If–if you wanted something more,” she hurriedly added, “in which case I would only support you, naturally!”
Alecto looked up at him, desperate to be believed. She was nervous, eyes fixed, but she seemed to be waiting for him to make some move. She wasn’t afraid; she seemed almost eager.
Severus was certain now. She wanted to be headmistress, and if he had his eyes set on some loftier office, so much the better for her. Alecto wasn’t above fighting dirty. If she was unafraid, she probably had some trick ready. He waited another moment before relaxing. He didn’t concede any ground but released the tension.
“You are mistaken. Where would I seek greater power? The Ministry? We both know this is where the real battle for the future takes place. Here is where we change the world, Magical...and Muggle.”
Alecto, instead of looking relieved, actually advanced on him again. What did she want? Was she trying to force him to reveal something?
“If there’s ever anything I can do, Severus, you need only ask.”
What reaction was she hoping for? A raise?
“Of course. I know I can rely on you and Amycus.”
He turned back to his desk and waited for her to leave. Alecto hesitated before admitting the interview was over and bowing silently out. After she’d gone, the room felt befouled. Like a stench that wouldn’t wash out, she would keep coming back until she got what she wanted.
Severus ticked boxes and made neat columns of numbers until after dinner. The numbers were bogus, mostly, but he refused to put any actual work into it. He had the whole set finished by eight o’clock. Travers would be relieved.
Severus had recalled the young Ravenclaw, Corner. He had said something about Umbridge forcing Potter to write using his own blood. Severus had only caught a glimpse but the scabs on Travers’s hand had a look of script. It would also explain his eagerness to rectify his small clerical mistake.
Severus threw down his quill and rubbed his forehead. Hopefully Theophany was having a more productive evening than he. Theophany. Now if only she was as simple to read as Alecto. Severus shuddered. What an idle wish. The world needed no more than one Alecto Carrow, and that was arguably one too many. He could be certain that whatever had angered Theophany, and he refused to believe it was only because she had been worried, she would put the mission first. He could count on her for that.
Despite his mantra of confidence, Severus was beginning to worry when two days passed without hearing from her. He started to doubt. The instructions were too vague. The mission too difficult for one person to fulfill in the short time they had. She had mined her vein of information and found nothing. At last, just after the new year, he received an owl. Breathing the usual password on it he found it brief.
I won’t waste your time again. Confirming the whereabouts of the niece of the godson of Abel Szoke. Also pursuing leads on Struna Prazak and Diana Antal. The moment I know, you will know too.
It wasn’t enough, not nearly enough progress. Of course he should be astonished she found even this many from the list. Those witches and wizards had been struck from the history books, exiled to forgotten nightmares, or carefully covered up by their descendants. Severus almost wrote back but forced himself to wait until she sent something concrete. After lunch two more owls came, nearly on top of each other.
Szoke is out. But either Antal and Prazak may be the one. Also stumbled on something about Marton Petofi that I didn’t expect to find. You’ll hear from me soon.
The second was written in a hurry.
Prazak and Petofi are the same person. The same! Connection with an old pureblood family in Britain, gathering further information, people you may know. Don’t make any similar inquires. Wait for me. Don’t answer to any inquiry you may receive from anyone called Chegwidden or Ludicoat.
Both names were unknown to him. Where was she and what exactly was she doing? Throughout the day he was peppered with more letters. Some haphazardly folded, all securely charmed against invasion.
Prazak/Petofi is of great interest still. Chegwidden and Ludicoat are liars and conmen, don’t go near them. But excellent dealers in estate sales and antiques, should you ever have the need. Does the name Minear mean anything to you? Don’t make any moves without me.
It was unsigned. Immediately after that letter came the addendum.
Minear might be Mynier. Ring any bells?
To which he sent a negative reply. Then after lunch,
Pardon the shaky writing – this train is pushing through some rough weather. Meet me in the village of Tamblyn, tomorrow, after dusk. I’ll bring dinner.
It seemed, after his independent actions the last time, Theophany didn’t trust him not to act on the information she’d discovered. What pureblood family in England was she investigating in connection to Prazak?
Severus had finished his usual patrol through the school and had just settled into an armchair for the night when another owl sailed ominously into the room. He recognized this tawny one as the first she had sent. Did this mean she was back home?
Severus, do not go to Tamblyn! Area under heavy observation. Meet at Spinner’s End, first thing a.m.
This epistolary style was exciting but lacking details. Severus frowned and tossed the letter into the fire. He would have to make sure she understood he had to know everything as soon as she did. There was no way they could discover anything if she made a decision based on her limited information. He held most of the cards. Except Potter’s.
Theophany Knapp, however, didn’t seem impressed by his complaints. He found her sitting on the front steps of Spinner’s End, because letting herself in would be rude, as she explained casually. He didn’t much feel like extending any hospitality but got her inside the foyer before releasing his pent-up frustration.
It didn’t go as he had planned. Theophany remained unaffected by shouting and scathing comments alike. It was so reminiscent of Minerva’s attitude that he was stung into a worse temper.
“ – jeopardizing our chances of success to satisfy your own need to feel useful and involved is childish to the point of delusion –”
“Fine, Severus,” Theophany replied. “Then you have a choice. Torture whatever I’ve discovered out of me and continue on your own, or pluck the information from my unwilling mind. I will, of course, fight you tooth and nail.”
She hadn’t given any ground the whole time he’d shouted, and now they were standing quite close so he heard every word though she spoke gently.
“If you are reluctant to do either, you’ll have to compromise and work with me. I tell you everything and you promise not to go off alone anymore.”
He could. He could so easily get the information he needed from her, but what if it wasn’t right? What if they had to keep looking and she refused to help?
“You won’t stop helping me. You’ve promised,” he sneered.
“True. But I’ll help you my way. As much as I like. Revealing as much as I like, when I like. Unless you force me.”
And he couldn’t. She knew he wouldn't stoop to it. Severus rapidly reorganized his plans. When at last they discovered their object, he would have to make sure she wasn’t there. He must prevent her from learning too much by any means he could.
“Promise?” she asked.
And Theophany changed before his eyes. She seemed to thaw, and the air between them warmed and brightened.
“Alright. I know a safe place outside Tamblyn. We can make our plans from there.”
She grinned, and it looked both eager and a little dangerous.
Morning found Theophany less eager. Disappointment, again. Theophany sighted along a dart at the piece of parchment stuck fast to the workshop wall. Her list had many notes in the margins, crossings out, and underlines. She flicked her wrist but the dart flew wide and only pinned the upper corner, by Abel Szoke’s name. A washout. Like Herber and Mlakar. Like Prazak/Petofi. Last night in Tamblyn had drawn a blank. Again. Theophany threw another dart at her list of names and it thrummed as it struck wood.
It had taken hours to observe, circumvent surveillance, and risk a Confundus Charm or two. Severus was very good at those. They were able to speak to the right people but….again a false lead. They had returned to Spinner’s End at dark. There hadn’t been explicit plans to rendezvous there, but Theophany had automatically followed when he’d Disapparated.
He’d been put out, maybe, but hadn’t refused her a cup of tea. Perhaps that was more surprising. Severus hadn’t been bitterly disappointed or angered by their lack of progress. Worried and preoccupied, he hadn’t blamed her. Especially odd given his earlier black mood. It was obvious he’d really tried to terrify her. She knew it wasn’t concern for her well being. He intended to hide whatever it was he was looking for, right to the end.
The next dart flew crookedly, caught in the draft as an owl glided silently through the open window. Theophany retrieved her list, ready to compare it to whatever news the owl had brought. She shook her head free of muzzy thoughts and concentrated. She had a feeling these next few days would be busy and strange.
Severus was used to living double lives, just not so close together. Or with another person. At all odd hours Theophany would send him a note and he would depart immediately. She was capable of investigating on her own, but he had to be there at the critical moment of discovery to prevent her seeing too much. The term would be starting in a little over a week, and any sudden absences on his part would become noticed. He was at the same time both frustrated in making progress and in a state of constant activity.
Slowly, the days acquired their own unique rhythm. It was no longer strange to be at breakfast one hour with the cold and unrelenting Hogwarts faculty and on a train rattling towards the far reaches of Ireland the next, or on an abandoned moor with Theophany pulling windswept hair from her face, or crouched stiffly for hours in surveillance, ice dripping through their cloaks, wands frozen in their hands, standing in darkness so deep it was only by their breathing they could find the other. And each day ended the same, slipping back at night or in the early hours to reconvene at Spinner’s End.
The ugly old house became the habitual end to their day. A halfway point between lives. It was better than that awful pub in Brixton where they had been forced to stay while London was under an anti-Disapparation freeze for four hours. The wireless had been turned up so everyone could listen silently to the reports of wanted wizards spotted in the area and repeated calls for any witnesses to come forward. It had been nightmarish. Theophany had been unusually silent in that place. He had a sense she was listening for certain names. In this respect only was she secretive. Severus had learned nothing more of the self-named Dagda.
This particular evening they had needed to stop at Spinner’s End so Theophany could change out of her Muggle clothes before returning home. They had visited a resident of a Muggle retirement home and Theophany seemed the better choice of the two not to raise eyebrows.
“I thought Yan seemed quite promising a candidate,” she sighed, removing a cap and windbreaker she’d borrowed from her endless supply of brothers, “especially when I found he was still living but–”
“You couldn’t know how badly his memory had deteriorated.”
“Even then, could he still be the right person? Just because he doesn’t remember whatever it is you hoped he would–?”
“No. Not right. Not the right timing. His nurse confirmed he’d left the continent long before...the relevant time.”
“Timing of what?” Theophany sighed irritably.
She wasn’t really asking though, she knew he wouldn’t answer. Theophany dug her robes out of her bag and before disappearing into the bathroom said over her shoulder, “Perhaps I should just leave the bag here. It’d be convenient.”
“Theophany Knapp, you are not moving in.”
She turned back to look at him, wide eyed.
“Severus Snape. What an idea.” She then winked and shut the door.
They were in and out of Spinners End three more times in the first week of the new year. Each time they returned empty handed. Now in the dark hours of Friday night, or was it Saturday morning?
Severus blinked around his headache. Perhaps he should have let her leave the bag. She’d have something unstained and fit to change into. They’d narrowly escaped a raid of Snatchers en route to London. While daubing dittany on some of her nastier injuries Theophany kept murmuring, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I was sure it was right this time…”
Severus stoked the fire, hoping the warmth would drive away some of the dull pain that had settled behind his eyes and gripped his neck. Theophany shook her head.
“If not Radic or Ivaylo–”
“It must be Adrijan or Morton.” He too had the list memorized now.
“Right. Must be.”
But the list was running out. They were out of options, and he could see Theophany was terrified she had missed something. If she had made a mistake, it were better she discovered it sooner rather than later. Severus held back any further words of comfort. Let her stew a little, it might result in inspiration. It usually worked with students.
“I need to sit. Need to think.”
He waved a hand and she sat stiffly on the sofa. Severus absent-mindedly fixed the clock on the mantel to the correct time. It never stayed wound. The thing was losing almost as much time as he was.
He heard Theophany make a soft sound and glanced over his shoulder. Her eyes were pinched shut and she worked her fingers against her scalp. Severus didn’t bother with the potions cabinet but pulled open the drawer of the library table. There he retrieved a small bottle with a dosage cap and gave it wordlessly to Theophany. She looked up and he could see the evidence of a headache in her dimmed eyes and strained lines around her mouth.
“Feverfew?” she asked. “Oh Merlin, yes. Thank you.”
She poured a dose into the cap and tossed it back, carefully not touching it to her lips. Severus sat, or rather fell slowly, into the armchair facing the sofa and tilted his head back to look at the ceiling. Theophany made to place the bottle on the library table, but he held out a hand for it. The firelight lit the dark glass enough for him to see it was almost empty. He would have to restock. Severus considered the bottle for a moment before flicking off the cap and swigging back the last of the potion.
Theophany smiled a little. “Fine pair we are. Not a clear head between us.”
Severus tried to focus on the blurred ceiling. He blinked and waited for the potion to ease the pain in his temples and neck.
“When you consider the miles we’ve traveled today...not to mention squatting in that rain-flooded culvert for an eternity…”
Theophany made a small sound of agreement. The silence between them was tired; limp with disappointment. Neither of them spoke. Perhaps Theophany too felt that a moment of, if not peace, at least rest was deserved. A moment longer and Theophany shifted slightly in preparation of getting up.
“Don’t go yet.” Severus closed his eyes. The ceiling wasn’t getting any clearer. “Wait for the feverfew. Don’t risk getting that vertigo again by Apparating too soon. Just – sit for a moment.”
She turned sidewise and folded her legs under herself. He could hear her pulling her robes over her feet and arranging her head against the armrest. But her breathing didn’t change. Tight and shallow, she didn’t realize how loud it seemed in this house which had always been so silent. She was still thinking on it, wringing the same ragged thought dry over and over again. Was letting her blame herself really the best thing?
Her silence became expectant.
“There’s nothing more you can do. We covered everything, checked everything. We’ll find it. But there’s nothing more you can do just now.”
“Okay,” she whispered.
After a few minutes he heard her arm slip from the sofa and her breathing deepen. Why had he excused their failure, her failure? To make her feel better? That was unlikely. Severus opened his eyes and turned his head slightly, feeling the ache ebb. Theophany’s hair was over her face, fluttering with her breath. Her eyes were only half closed. Severus turned his face back to the ceiling. Neither of them slept but sat in shared silence for a little time.
Eventually she stood. Severus kept his eyes closed and heard her tiptoe out. The front door opened and shut softly. He got to his feet, pleased to find he wasn’t as stiff and light-headed as he would have been a few weeks ago, and took the Floo to Hogwarts. Despite his refusal to acknowledge it, Severus had taken Theophany’s warning under advisement. He still had no appetite and barely slept, but he forced himself to lie down once a day and managed slightly more regular meals. As he climbed out of the fireplace in the Headmaster’s office, Albus looked up from his eternal reading and gave a smile no less radiant for being made of paint.
“Ah. Many happy returns, Severus. I’m a little late, I’m afraid.”
What a strange life he was leading.
Theophany Knapp was trapped on a kitchen chair. She supposed she could get up if she wanted, but until the twins got back she would have to stay here. She had intended to be alone in the workshop this morning to brood. It was already the twelfth of January. Last week there had been only two names left on the list. Adrijan or Morton. But now it seemed to be neither. She was still waiting on further information about Morton, but it didn’t look likely. She’d missed something, somewhere.
Theophany had been on her way to consult her notes in the shop when the twins had rushed in with a tea towel bundle and had sternly admonished her to hold it while they found an appropriate box and consulted the encyclopedia. Ike, used to the Knapp family, was calmly creating a breakfast of monstrous proportions.
“Are we expecting people? Or an army?”
“Exactly that,” Silyn responded from the kitchen door. Maeven and Col were just behind him. Silyn unwound his scarf and peered at the bundle Theophany was cradling. He raised his hands helplessly and walked from the room. Maeven and Col leaned forward to see, and Theophany gently raised the tea towel.
“Not your usual refugee,” Col grinned. “Shouldn’t it be hibernating anyway?”
The bat yawned and burrowed deeper into the towel.
“Not mine – the twins. It must have been frightened out of hibernation. Anyway, Compline found it nearly dead this morning, and now she and Prosper are arguing about what sort of hospitality to offer it.”
“We’re not arguing,” Compline retorted. She entered carrying an old birdcage. “I’m just saying everyone knows even baby bats sleep upside down.”
“I didn’t, thought they had to learn it,” Prosper responded quietly. He had the ‘B’ volume of the encyclopedia under his arm. “There are eighteen species of bat in Great Britain. This one could be anything from carnivorous to omnivorous or –”
“He could even –” Maeven said impressively, “Be vampiric…”
Compline turned pale. Prosper looked thoughtful.
“Vampire or no, he’s your responsibility now. Here.” Theophany pushed the bat into the cage where he extended one claw and was soon dangling from the perch like a furry umbrella.
“Now Silyn and the rest have important business, so let’s leave them to it.”
The twins politely wished Maeven good morning and bore the cage carefully away. Maeven put out a hand to stop Theophany.
“Don’t let us put you out – we’re still waiting for Zuri and the rest.”
“It’s no trouble. This has always been a place for the Dagda to meet; the fact I’m no longer a member doesn’t change that.”
“Theophany, I’m sorry.”
She was surprised. Maeven didn’t speak often, and never of his own feelings. Col distracted himself with his bootlace while Maeven looked sadly at her; his bulldog appearance had something of the sad puppy about it. Putting her, the Secret Keeper, out of the Dagda must have been a harder decision than she had realized. Theophany had thought he would be glad to be rid of her, but it seemed she had been underestimating her own importance to Maeven .
Boniface was right. It wasn’t just because the Mill was her home, or because she represented her mother. She was in charge, a figure of importance, and Maeven had gone against all that. Theophany had to make him understand somehow that it was all as it should be. She had made her decision.
Uncertain but determined, Theophany flung caution to the winds and her arms around Maeven’s neck. She instantly regretted the contact but could only commit now. Maeven himself was frozen, so she quickly babbled, “I’m so sorry! I had no idea you were so worried about it – it’s not your fault, Maeven. I did it to myself! I’m not in a snit about it – promise – and of course you can continue to meet here. You’re always welcome.”
Maeven disentangled himself and squinted at her suspiciously. She was telling the truth, she had chosen which mission to support, and while the Dagda had many hands to help it, Severus Snape had none. After she’d refused to fully explain her actions, Maeven had had every right to bar her from the Dagda.
“It’s really okay,” Theophany insisted. “I’ll make myself scarce now. I’ll see you afterwards.”
She smiled and waved at Col, here to represent his father, Jacka, who didn’t like crowds exceeding three people, and hurried from the kitchen.
“Theophany!” Maeven called after her.
Pausing in the hallway she looked back. Maeven looked squarely at her.
“We’re planning a raid on a Muggle-Born Relocation Camp,” he said bluntly.
The breath was knocked out of her. That meant hours of surveillance and inside information. Such a large scale mission would require everyone.
“He is key.”
“...and you shouldn’t be telling me this. I’m no longer in the Dagda.”
“No, you aren’t,” Maeven conceded. “But we’ll need all the help we can trying to rehouse the escapees. And...I felt you should be kept informed. Not because you were once Dagda but because you’re Theophany.”
He shrugged and smiled. A rare sight. His slate eyes lightened a little, and she remembered he used to laugh more, once. The doorbell rang and Ike hurried past them to admit Zuri, who was closely followed by Lavinia and Lissy.
“Thank you for telling me,” Theophany said softly.
Maeven nodded abruptly. In front of company he was a gruff bulldog again. Lavinia smiled and introduced herself, but Maeven only grunted. It wasn’t surprising, Theophany reflected, considering that she herself had only just won Maeven’s trust.
Col came to find her in the workshop after the meeting. Theophany quickly reshuffled the parchment she was looking at and called for him to come in.
“How is your search going? You know, for secret places abroad,” he asked.
“Well...everyone’s been helpful but nothing yet.”
Col fidgeted for a moment.
“I’m not breaking a confidence here – it’s just she’s kind of private about it...I don’t think even Dad knows.”
Jacka knew everything about everyone. Theophany leaned forward.
“Have you spoken with Elaine Boergenpoeffer? She breeds kneazles just over towards St. Austell’s.”
“Yes...yes I know her.”
Col looked down. “It’s not a secret, like I said, she just doesn’t talk about it. You’re looking for secret places abroad, and, well, she wasn’t born here, you see. In England. I was fixing some shingles on her cottage last year. Anyway that’s how I found out, and she might be able to help you. I don’t know the details.”
“Do you think she’ll tell me?”
“I think you have a better chance than anyone.”
Theophany raised an eyebrow. “Because I’m ‘in charge’?”
Col shrugged. “Because you’re you. If Dad trusts and talks to you – anyone can.”
“I can promise you that is not the case.”
“Whoa, you’ve found someone less trusting than even Dad?”
“Yeah,” Theophany sighed. “I really have.”
Elaine opened the door the merest crack and poked her hawkish face through.
“Oh, hello. Um, I’m going to open it very quickly and you’ll have to rush in. Ready?”
Theophany affirmed she was prepared. The door swung back and Theophany charged through and found herself in the midst of scattering furry puffballs no bigger than her fist.
“Sorry,” Elaine was saying, “An unexpected litter and they are intent on getting outside. It’s too cold for them in the barn so I’m keeping them in with me and they are -–no, no, you stop that! Anyway – what can I do for you? I said no–”
The kneazle kitten desisted trying to eat Elaine’s slipper.
“Is it Polyjuice again? I can just grab a bit off my hairbrush – I haven’t been anywhere since Christmas so no worries about me being seen in two places at once.”
Theophany, who had asked Elaine for a hair for her Godric’s Hallow disguise, demurred.
“I try not to ask anyone twice, but thank you again for doing so.”
“Of course, no trouble. Well, come through and I can get you some tea.”
A few kittens occupied the chair by the fire. Theophany lifted one to remove it and found a very large cat glaring her down. Its mother, most likely. Carefully replacing the kitten Theophany sat in the straight backed chair instead. The kneazle-cat hybrid continued to eye her suspiciously. It probably sensed she was a little nervous.
“There.” Elaine set a tray carrying a crisp white porcelain tea service on the table. An exploratory paw crept from underneath the tablecloth and Elaine flicked it away.
“Now, what can I do for you?”
“A great deal, if you can.”
Theophany stirred her tea, turned the cup around in the saucer, and eventually just put it down.
“If you’d rather not answer, I’ll just go away, but I’m in great need of knowing, so I hope you’ll help me.”
Elaine’s face tightened in apprehension.
“I’m trying to find something – somewhere actually – and I understand that you were born abroad. You lived somewhere remote?”
The witch’s gaze turned inwards and her smile lay forgotten across her mouth.
“Was it a place not marked on any Ministry or Muggle map? The place I’m looking for, it’s a secret place. A dangerous place.”
Elaine bowed her head.
“I don’t know the name. Maybe it never had one,” she said in a low voice, “but I know where you mean.”
Theophany’s heart seemed to stop and then start racing.
“You do?” she whispered.
“I was a child. I wasn’t really aware what was going on. But that place, it was a bad place.”
There was a silence.
“Will you tell me?”
Elaine glanced up and blinked at her.
“Of course. I was just...it’s a bad memory. People were forced to leave, you see. It was 1937. I was nine. The village was built on ancestral land. In the old, feudal days, you know, a community sort of grew up around a castle and just stayed. The pureblood family still owned the estate, but the ancestral house was long gone. Then, overnight it seemed, it was over. The young master, youngest son of the family, he was seen walking about with some friends. Inspecting, he called it. Then the word got out that he was selling the land or building on it, something like that, and the village would have to go.”
“That couldn’t have been legal even if they technically owned the land.”
“Who cared? It was the 30’s. Pureblood families still ruled throughout Europe and in Britain too. Everyone received some minimal ‘compensation’ but nothing worth the price of their homes, their land and lives. It seemed too fantastic to be true, but one day it was. The young master arrived with a squadron of laborers and carpenters equipped with all kinds of frightful equipment. And architects – goblins mostly. Strange enough, the goblins were the ones who gave us a little hope, though they were only doing business. Honest people, goblins, though suspicious. They said the site was all wrong and it would be better to build above the village on the upland. But it seemed the project was so extensive the site would encompass the entire area. So the village was destroyed.”
“What was it they were building?”
“A summer home? Pleasure gardens? I don’t know. I kept asking what was going on but my father couldn’t – or wouldn’t – answer. The young master came and went with his friends, making plans, up all hours, talking late into the night. Then another wizard came. It seemed they had been waiting for him. The place became evil. People started having nightmares, reporting strange sights. They started avoiding the building site. Even the trees changed. It wasn’t the wood I knew. I felt it was watching me. A malaise blighted my home and clung like a fog. I stopped asking questions and started keeping to my room. Stopped speaking altogether.”
Elaine looked squarely at Theophany for the first time.
“You can’t do anything good in that place. It will only poison anything you do there.”
“I won’t. I don’t intend to –”
“It’s best you don’t tell me. I don’t want to know what’s happened there since. The nightmares will only come back.”
“Can you tell me how to find it?”
“Only generally. I was sent to live with an aunt in France, for the sake of my well-being. Then my parents died and I – well, shed my past and came here.”
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Losing your home and then your family is unimaginable.”
Elaine’s gaze was steady. “I didn’t lose my family, Theophany. I forsook them when I changed my name in France. My family never left.”
“Weren’t they forced out of their home too?”
“No.” Elaine’s face was flinty. “My nightmares didn’t come from the wood, or the village, they came from the guest my brother brought home to see his pet project.”
“The young master was my elder brother. Yes. My family did this. Drove out their own tenants and invited an evil into their home – an evil none of them survived.”
Theophany swallowed. Herbert, Solzke, Molnar, Radic, Adrijan...
“What was your name, before you changed it?”
Chapter Endnotes: Thank you for reading!