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People of the Goddess by Meadowsweet

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Chapter Notes: I am so honored and happy that this fic was nominated for the Quicksilver Awards and even won! Thank you, everyone, and I hope you continue to enjoy.

I don't own it, just playing in Ms. Rowling's sandbox

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Severus kept taking slow breaths. His lungs were ragged, his limbs heavy. He hadn’t wanted Theophany to see their destination, but physically restraining her was not an option in his current state.

“Severus...Severus, this is Nurmengard.” Theophany didn’t move, her eyes stayed fixed on the tower above them. “This is what Mlakar built – or no, he built it, but Mlakar gave him the land – in exchange for a seat at the table, just like you said. Only – only instead of the “greater good” came war, and the Mlakar family was wiped out. Or he–”

“I don’t think he killed them, no.”

“A secret and dangerous place. So the list you gave me, all those names, those were his followers. You knew one of them must have helped him build it.”

Albus’s portrait had been lacking in details. The location of Nurmengard was the sort of state secret that wouldn’t be kept in a portrait any student could access.

“Severus.”

Theophany looked up at him. Her eyes were wide. He could still see she was on edge from the protective charms scraping at her nerves.

“Severus, what are we doing here?”

We are doing nothing. You are staying here.”

Her eyes sharpened and she pulled herself to her feet.

“Don’t be stupid.”

Theophany stepped out of the cover of the trees and slithered down the bank in a crumble of rocks and snow. Severus followed, turning sidewise to keep his balance.

“Anti-Apparition I suppose?” Theophany asked.

He nodded.

“The tower is fully protected and automated.”

Theophany pointed to a tiny speck of light that winked occasionally at the top of the tower.

“That must be the only opening. I suppose any broomsticks brought near it would be jinxed as well?”

“Exactly. Unsupported flight is the only method Nurmengard did not foresee. So it’s impossible for you to come with me. You promised, remember, to cease flying.”

“It’s not just the promise,” Theophany said quietly, “You were right. There was a price to pay for flight and it’s far too costly. But I can still go with you–”

“You were never supposed to come this far!” he snarled. There was no reason to justify himself to her, no point in arguing. “Leave, Knapp! Go home!”

He turned away but her hand caught his wrist.

“This is the golem all over again and ten times worse. You don’t know what spells and safeguards you could run into in there! And you’re too physically drained–”

“–from you dragging us halfway across the continent–”

“–but I got you here and I’m making sure you get out too–”

Severus flung off her hand. With two steps he was already taking flight, but Theophany tackled him again and knocked them both to the ground. She was faster than he remembered. She was up first and even tried to help him to his feet, but he shook her off and drew his wand. Theophany snorted and kicked a rock.

“Oh, come on, we’re going to do this now?

“It was inevitable.”

If he couldn’t shake her off before reaching Nurmengard, he had resolved to force her to turn back. Theophany was quickly moving from indignant to angry. A strange fire was growing in her glare. The ice and snow crackled under her boot as she stomped her foot.

“Are you going to let me get my wand or jinx me where I stand?” she growled.

“I have neither the time nor the inclination to play fair–”

“Oh, we’re not playing fair? That’s good to know.”

It turned out her wand was already in her hand. She must have drawn it before tackling him. A red light burst from it and became a long sparkling ribbon. By its light Theophany changed, the hollows of her face deepened and her eyes didn’t so much reflect the light as seem to burn with their own.

Theophany flicked her wrist, and the red ribbon whipped towards him. Severus dodged but felt a burning sensation as it grazed his skin. The red whip lazily spun over his head and then cracked backwards and caught him in the gut. It was like a stinging hex but with a constricting grip. He gasped once and countered it, breaking its hold, but his skin still burned. The whip split under his counter charm but lengthened again when Theophany moved her wrist.

Keeping a cautious distance, Severus tried to conserve strength. The protective charms around the tower made any magical exertion exhausting. It must be as difficult for her as it was for him, but Theophany didn’t look tired. Her hair was knotted and wild from the wind and her expression feral. Severus pressed in for an attack, launching several different spells. Theophany was forced to abandon her whip to counter them. Taking advantage of the closer range, Severus fired a Memory Charm under her guard, but she caught his feint and avoided it.

“Again with the Memory Charms?” She sounded disappointed.

“It’s obvious you’ve extracted memories —” talking made him more breathless — “though how you viewed them I have no idea – but I would guess...you haven't been....saving your memories lately.”

They were close again, and he sneered at her, “Isn’t that right?”

She wasn’t distracted and parried his next volley.

“Yes!” Theophany broke free again, and they resumed circling each other. The red whip snaked from the tip of her wand again. “Because I lowered my wand that night and said I would trust you. I would trust you so you would learn to trust me and I am going to keep on trusting you.”

Severus twitched and dodged the tail end of the sparkling whip.

This is being trusting?”

Theophany made a sound of frustration and swept her arm around over her head. With a red crack the whip disappeared. She dropped her wand. The aggression fell from her and she looked close to tears. Lost and small. How deceiving could appearances be? Severus didn’t dare lower his wand.

“I said I would trust you – so I will – but you tell me, am I wrong? Am I wrong, Severus Snape?”

True, he had drawn his wand first. Though technically she’d had hers ready. Did she know he would attack? Or had she planned to incapacitate him? Curiosity, or something like it, pricked him. How far would she keep her word? He lowered his wand.

“I won’t hurt you. And I won’t take your memories.”

Theophany took a deep shuddering breath and nodded. Simple as that. He said it and she believed. It wasn’t that she was gullible. She believed because she said she would. There was something powerful in that. There was something powerful in her words. Could words, apart from spells, have that kind of power? Severus pocketed his wand and bent to retrieve hers.

“You may accompany me in, as you say there may be obstacles, but this interview I will conduct alone.” He offered her wand handle first. “When I say turn back–”

“Understood.”

He glanced at her. No fight left in her. She looked as tame as a lamb. Deceptive in manner and appearance. He put out his hand and grabbed her arm. She flinched slightly. So much for trust, he thought irately, it’s not even the arm with the Dark Mark, she needn’t recoil so.

“You need to hang on somehow,” he snarled aloud.

“Oh, of course.”

Without any visible hesitation she came around behind him. Severus felt her hands slip beneath his elbows and then they were clasped below his chest and her head was leaning against his spine. Severus opened his mouth and closed it again. It was the only practical way after all. But how could she be intent on dueling with him one minute and so at ease with him the next?

“Um – I think we’re ready?” she said from somewhere around his left shoulder blade.

“I doubt it,” he answered.

The ground fell away and they ascended. Severus felt an odd numbness creep over him. As they crossed the plain, time felt slow and sluggish but it was really only a matter of seconds before they reached the walls. The gate beneath them was heavily scarred and still bore seals and locks half a century old. Most of the inscription was chiseled off and a new phrase added beneath, Pro Bono Omnium ‘For the Good of All’. The gate was more symbolic than deterrent.

When they passed over the walls, the oppressive atmosphere changed. Instead of pressing against them it now pulled, and Severus had to fight the acceleration. On this side of the wall Nurmengard was concerned with keeping things in rather than out. Their speed carried them curving up the side of the tower and over the top. Severus turned about and circled. Theophany made no noise but was gripping very tightly. The single window burned with a dim light. There seemed to be no charms guarding it. Severus turned his head a little. The resistance of the protective charms was lessened now they were within the bounds, but Theophany had felt it from further away.

“Do you feel anything?”

Theophany hesitated, then he heard a muffled, “...No.”

Severus dove. He dropped directly beneath the window and then started ascending again. The quick change in direction slowed their momentum and he was able to easily step onto the window ledge. Theophany unknotted herself and crept alongside him. The room was dark. They could see no exits. Was this entire tower a support for one solitary room? It couldn’t have been originally built so. It was to have been a fortress but also the home of a new world order.

A single candle burned overhead, too high to shed any great light. Severus made to step into the room but found Theophany was already sliding from the windowsill onto the floor. He almost hissed at her, but she didn’t move from the window, just stood still. He followed her gaze. Amongst the various shadows of the room one was looking back. A pair of eyes glittered at them. Severus stepped down into the room and moved forward. No one moved. It seemed the first move was up to them. Severus took a breath; introductions seemed out of place here, but some amount of formality seemed necessary.

“Will you speak with us?”

There was no answer. The candle floating over head drifted lower. Its circle of light became stronger but narrower, throwing Severus and Theophany into sharp relief even as the room remained dim. The shadow of a man stayed where he was, but the glitter of his eyes roved from Severus to Theophany and back.

“I am seeking something valuable. It must be protected. Something Albus Dumbledore left behind.”

Grindelwald spoke.

Candles flared alight around the room and, after the darkness, felt very bright. The wizard was old and none too clean. Dingy skin was stretched tight over sharp bones, and his eyes were too shadowed to read. He was wearing a simple robe of rough material. It seemed too large for him, and he was bowed as if even its weight was too much for his shoulders. He leaned forward, and his dark eyes seemed to reflect every light in the room. Severus, only from years from experience, sensed the invasion into his thoughts a second before it came. There was a pause where nobody moved or spoke.

The old wizard said aloud in fascination, “Ah! I cannot see!”

Grindelwald stood up. The room was suddenly too small. Though wasted with age and imprisonment he was tall enough even with his stoop. He strode towards them and paused as if he was afraid to come too close. A thousand different expressions crossed his face, his mouth working as he smiled and nodded to himself. Grindelwald’s feet moved restlessly, but still he came no closer, and Severus realized he seemed to be waiting for some kind of response.

Theophany whispered softly, “Sorry?”

Grindelwald frowned.

“Do you come all this way and not listen? Ah.” His face smoothed. “’I see. After all this time...I forget I’m not speaking aloud. My thoughts are so loud to me – or sometimes I only think to myself and find I have been talking out loud the whole time -–but you...” His hand came up, and it was large and strong without a tremor. He walked swiftly towards them and Severus quashed the urge to grab Theophany and back away.

“It seems you are real.” Grindelwald folded his hands behind his back and bent forward to examine them. “I could create figments that have no thoughts – or figments whose thoughts I can see very well but you –”

He swung back towards Severus.

“I can see your thoughts but dimly. I could not imagine only half another man’s thoughts. So you must be real. You fly – and I know what that means – but you invoke Albus’s name also. So what are you, who are you? I would check. I would see for myself, but your mind is only shadows and I cannot see – how is this?”

“Practice. The one who calls himself the Dark Lord can see only what I choose to show him.”

“Practice!” Grindelwald was moving again. No longer moving toward them directly, he moved with the restless feet of a caged animal. “Practice, he says. Do I believe him? If this self called lord of darkness is your master, you would do well to guard your thoughts, yes. But this one?”

He doubled back to stand before Theophany.

“This one doesn’t fly and doesn’t hide her thoughts, but there’s a charm there preventing me from seeing too much.”

He swooped suddenly to look into Theophany’s face, almost nose to nose. This time Severus did grip his wand, but Theophany made no move. Wide eyed she looked back as Grindelwald muttered to himself.

“It’s a very well kept charm, a long kept charm, but you aren’t that old, are you girl? No not girl, but woman, I see. So small – but no rabbit. And what is she? Albus would never send her here. Faugh! If your thoughts appear only dimly, hers are too bright! She has no need of hiding them, they are too loud to hear. What is she? Have you brought me a wild animal in the form of a witch?”

Severus cautiously put a hand out to Theophany as if to draw her back, saying in a low voice, “This is where you leave. You can be of no further help–”

“So how am I leaving then, jumping out the window?” she hissed back.

Grindelwald looked interestedly from one to the other.

“She cannot leave until you do, if she cannot fly. There is no other way out.” The wizard’s face gathered together in a frown and then spread in a smile that quickly disappeared. “You can trust me there.”

Severus continued in an aside to Theophany, “You must not hear anything that happens here.”

“I can stop my ears…?”

“No!” Grindelwald thundered.

Severus tensed, but the wizard’s bad temper didn’t seem to be violent.

“No. I do not speak – I do not even listen – unless she stays. Unless she hears.”

Grindelwald looked at them in turn. His eyes seemed to drink them in, but Severus suspected his gaze had always been this hungry and wasn’t the result of isolation alone. Grindelwald looked at the world as if he could consume its meaning through his eyes.

“Do you know how long it has been since I have spoken to someone who speaks back? But even longer, yes, it’s been even longer since I have been heard! Even at first they wouldn’t listen. They were paid to guard and stopped their ears in case I corrupted them with evil incantations. Fools!”

Grindelwald’s snarl turned quickly to smirk. His face seemed perfectly in time with his thoughts, and expressions and micro-expressions bloomed or shifted with as much speed as his mind.

“They do not even check now. They used to, once, twice a year, and I don’t even know how long ago that was. Now it is fully, what is the English, ‘Automated’. Convenient....”
His eyes turned inward, smile turned sour. “Merciful,” he whispered. “It was....so merciful to spare my life.”

Grindelwald turned away and stalked slowly back to his bare bed. Even in his rags and age he seemed to move with pomp and destiny on his shoulders. They caught a whisper.

Albus, you coward.

With a look Severus nailed Theophany to where she stood. She seemed to understand she wasn’t to move and shrank back a little. Severus moved forward. He couldn’t give too much away, couldn’t allow Grindelwald to manipulate him. Any attempt to interrogate him subtly would be obvious to Grindelwald, insulting even.

“Where is the Elder Wand?” Severus asked simply.

There was no reaction. Theophany, on the other hand, gasped. Grindelwald looked bored.

“And who are you? That you would ask for that?”

“I don’t ask for it. I only need to keep it from being found.”

Grindelwald didn’t answer.

“It is my unpleasant and inescapable duty to finish the tasks Dumbledore left behind. If the Dark – if the wizard once known as Riddle finds the wand, all of Dumbledore’s efforts might be for nothing.”

Grindelwald cupped his mouth in his hand and then rested his elbow on his knee.

“I don’t believe you. Who are you that he should trust you with so much?”

“A teacher.” Severus shrugged.

“A teacher?” Grindelwald repeated in stupification. “A teacher? Was zur Hölle…You aren’t the type of person Albus would trust. He surrounded himself with the talented and charming, the charismatic, the sure to succeed. You are a veryunpleasant man. I don’t see him choosing you at all. What are you to be so special to him? To be so trusted?”

Severus felt an old pain somewhere in his gut. No, he wasn’t the obvious choice for Dumbledore’s right hand. Neither charismatic or successful. It was a pain so old it was more phantom than real.

“He didn’t choose me. Necessity did.” He kept his voice patient. “Not many charming or charismatic former Death Eaters were around willing to be his spy.”

“You tell me nothing I don’t know. You have the mark on your arm, so I know what you are. You are here from Albus, so I know you are a spy too. You talk but tell me nothing.”

“I only answer your questions –”

“I am not this child, Riddle, to be so easily distracted and flattered! Do – not – handle – me! I will not be managed! I ask again, why are you Albus’s trustee on earth?”

Trying to manipulate him would only backfire. Severus reminded himself he had nothing to lose, everything to gain.

“Because I killed him.”

There was a single moment of perfect silence. In this tower far above the earth not even the forest could be heard. Grindelwald rose slowly. His eyes bored into Severus’s. Whatever half thought he saw in Severus’s eyes might tell him the truth or mislead him entirely.

“Those are dangerous words to say to me. But I see you mean them – and that you don’t. You killed him and you didn’t kill him. Is that so?”

He drew level with Severus, who had to tilt his head slightly to look him in the eye. Grindelwald worked his jaw, his fingers flexed.

“So, Albus paid the final price for his principles and asked of you what I once asked of him.”

Severus stopped breathing.

“Albus wouldn’t do it, of course he wouldn’t. I wonder if he remembered that when he asked you to kill him. So. Albus asked you to do something he couldn’t – or wouldn’t – do. Kill a friend.” He leaned uncomfortably close. “What hold did he have over you?”

“None,” Severus said softly. “He only knew that I care for nothing else but the destruction of the Dark Lord. Not even my own life.”

“Then how could you be willing?

“Don’t pretend to be so shocked!” Severus snarled. “Don’t pretend you wouldn’t have done it for the greater good. I would have done anything to avoid it and I almost didn’t – but he was already dead, poisoned twice over, begging me to...and if I didn’t then –”

“Someone else would have. Someone else would have been guilty,” Grindelwald finished. “Yes, yes, I see now. I see your mind better and I was wrong. Albus would have liked you. That is he did – or has…” He rubbed his forehead. “Time is different for me here. It is too long but, sometimes, the past is clearer though it is so far away.”

Grindelwald’s gaze focused again. He instinctively looked towards the window. It was the only thing that broke the monotony of the stone walls. Theophany was leaning against the sill, her eyes wide and dark. The old wizard's voice changed, suddenly warmer and softer.

“Come here, dear, it’s cold by the window. Would you believe I have named every tree I see from that window? After so many years I know where to look for each flower in the spring, where the badgers nest and the deer graze. It’s beautiful in spring, but it is sad too -–like – like that piece of poetry that keeps going through your mind. Why do you like it so? Why does it make you sad?”

“Sometimes sadness is happiness, too,” Theophany replied guardedly.

Grindelwald nodded as if he expected such a cryptic answer. Severus disliked not being included, Theophany wasn’t properly prepared for Grindelwald’s manipulations. If this was some part of his plan, Grindelwald didn’t push the issue. He kept his eyes on the window.

“I haven't set foot in those woods since – since…”

“1943,” Theophany supplied.

Grindelwald wrinkled his forehead.

“You’re too young, how can you be sure?”

“You were captured in London in ‘45 and you hadn’t been on the continent for two years. Is that blanket all you have to keep you warm?” Theophany added.

His eyes darkened deeper as he gazed at her. Severus held his breath, ready to draw his wand if need be. Grindelwald propped his chin on his fist.

“Maybe it isn’t your thoughts that are so bright – maybe it is your heart that colours them so.”

Severus saw Theophany reflexively raise a hand as if to shield herself.

“Then please...don’t share what it says.”

“I won’t, since you seem so concerned for my welfare. I requested the one blanket. There were more but I found I prefered to feel imprisoned. It frees my mind.”

Grindelwald kept his chin on his hand but pivoted to look at Severus.

“Watch this one closely. She will ruin all of your plans.”

Severus refused to look away from Grindelwald. Theophany? Sabotage his plans? No, she would keep her promises. She would put the mission first. Grindelwald was trying to sow doubt in his mind, acting like he knew something Severus didn’t. The dark wizard grinned briefly at him, wolfish and smug, but then he sobered.

“I cannot tell you where the Elder Wand is. Albus took it with him.”

“Took it?” Severus breathed.

His heart stopped. Albus had kept it. Foolish, foolish pride, Albus. Were you not already strong enough?

“If I know – If I knew Albus at all,” Grindelwald was saying. “Of course he did. But that is not what you want me to say when this Riddle comes, no?”

“I must ask you to deny you ever had the wand since I have failed to find it myself. Right now there is nothing to link you to it, the chain of ownership was broken after Gregorovitch. But I fear it is inevitable he will guess. He will find you and he will torture you.”

Grindelwald nodded.

“In which case you think I will be forced to reveal all? Are you so sure I am so weak?”

“I know only what he is capable of.”

The old wizard started to laugh, and it was a young man’s laugh. It boomed through the empty room and shook his slight frame. It was a victorious laugh, mirthful with power and easy cruelty.

“Do you think I have not felt pain? I do not speak of duels, or battles, but the deepest depths of darkness I plumbed for the glory of Wizardkind. The agonies I learned, the twisted rituals I performed, and even after they took my wand – when they mercifully spared my life – I was not powerless. Blood can do as much as a wand.”

He lifted his hands, palms facing inwards, the sleeves fell back baring arms that were scarred and burnt. The tips of his left hand fingers were missing, bitten off. His right hand hand had only a few nails. Severus remembered the portrait warning him there were depths of the Dark Arts only Grindelwald had plumbed. In case the dark wizard was intent on demonstrating this wandless skill, Severus moved back towards Theophany.

“They tried, you know, removing everything. Even these stone walls were enchanted to be soft and cushioning. But they could not win while I had my teeth.”

Grindelwald snapped his jaws, showing teeth long and yellowed with age. “This child, Riddle, can show me no pain I have not subjected myself to long before he was born.”

He tossed his head but eyed them in a sidelong glance.

“Oh, mein Gott, leave her – I am not going to hurt her. It’s clear she’s had no proper training, she’d be no challenge – besides I need what blood I have left to keep me warm.”

Severus was none too reassured but stopped his backward progress towards Theophany. He kept his hand on his wand. Grindelwald rolled his shoulders in a shrug.

“All this is academic, yes? You do not know he will discover I was once the master of the wand. Why has he not come to me sooner?”

“It’s true – had he considered the problem carefully, you would be the likeliest candidate – but he has been distracted. The Dark Lord –”

Grindelwald made a rude noise. Severus gritted his teeth.

“–Tom Riddle was once a brilliant wizard, an unparalleled strategist. But over time he has come to rely on power over ingenuity. He’s grown paranoid, fixated. Don’t doubt that he will find you.”

“The ‘dark lord’,” Grindelwald scoffed. “Surrounding himself with fanatics and thugs. Of course he would eventually absorb their ways and thinking. We become the people we choose to be with, yes? It’s why I chose my comrades so carefully...I thought.”

He looked up at Snape.

“Is that why you surrounded yourself with young students? Hoping to acquire a little of their innocence?”

“Of their stupidity you mean, no.”

“Still. Much is said by the company you keep.” Now he was looking at Theophany. He raised his eyebrows, suddenly comic, like a grandfather trying to make a child laugh. “I’ve only been keeping my own and look what it’s done to me.”

Mercurial, his face fell again with his mood and he whispered, “And you are the last company I shall ever have, excepting my murderer, it seems.”

“No!”

Severus jerked his head at Theophany. She spoke quickly but her voice was sure.

“You won’t be left here, alone. I can’t – I can’t know when it will happen, when he’ll come, but I will come as soon as I can.”

Grindelwald’s mouth twisted, surprised and amused.

“You will come and keep vigil over me? Lay me out for death and say a prayer?”

“So you’re not alone. And he may leave you before...”

“Before I’m actually dead? I doubt that. He will greatly enjoy defeating the previous most powerful wizard of the age. I’m sure you mean well, but the gesture is meaningless.” Grindelwald snorted, but he added, “You may come. Just so he is not my final companion.”

Theophany reached into her her pocket and withdrew her notepad. She tore out a sheet of paper and then ripped it in half. She held it out but Severus intercepted it and handed it to Grindelwald.

“Without a wand...can you use that?” Theophany asked.

The wizard rubbed the parchment between finger and thumb.

“Yes…” he said quietly. “Yes, keep that other piece with you and you will know when I am dead.”

It seemed he knew, despite his boasting, that Voldemort would kill him. Grindelwald looked at Severus from under his lashless eyes.

“I think, now that you know he used it, you have a good idea where to seek the wand, no?”

“Only the obvious places. I don’t think he would have been so foolish to have it anywhere near the school –”

“So you will watch. Watch and wait.”

“It is all I can do, at times,” Severus replied shortly.

Though it made the back of his neck prickle, he turned his back on Grindelwald and strode towards the window. He had accomplished all he could here.

“Wait.”

Grindelwald spoke, and it was more than a command and almost a spell. Theophany had the opposite reaction intended and recoiled, looking as if she was an inch from leaping from the window. Severus set his teeth and took a few more steps to make clear he wouldn’t be commanded. Then he paused and said cooly over his shoulder, “Yes?”

The aged wizard had risen from his low bed and was advancing towards them again. The room was far too small, and he was a pace from Severus in seconds.

“No. Now – now you must give me my due. I have been compliant. I have been hospitable. In return you will tell me what Albus planned. How is a great victory accomplished by you, a – a teacher and this – this untrained peasant girl? Why?” His voice rose sharply and he shook his fists in frustration. “For what reason did Albus sacrifice himself?

Severus took a step back. Grindelwald raised a trembling hand as if to stop him.

“There must be...there must be some plan?”

“Not one other living soul can know –”

The hand shot to Severus’s throat and it no longer trembled. Theophany cried out as Grindelwald squeezed viciously, shouting, “But I am already dead!”

He raised his other hand, but Severus wasn’t watching him. He couldn’t see Theophany and struggled to gasp, “No! Don’t–”

“Even if you beg –”

“Not you,” Severus gasped. “Her.”

He wanted to scrabble at the hand pressing against his windpipe but kept his hands clenched at his sides. To Theophany he croaked, “Don’t move. Do nothing.”

There was no sound from her. He couldn’t turn his head and look. Grindelwald eased his pressure but didn’t let go. Severus met his stare and held it.

“Albus...was so entrapped by his enemies...had received too many blows.” Severus forced the words past the pressure on his throat. “He was already dying. So he found a way to use it in his favour.”

Grindelwald smiled.

“He would. You do realize that I could kill you &nash; and that would compromise your mission as much as telling me everything.”

Severus didn’t answer.

“Unless you think she is some match for me?”

“She would give me enough time... without even drawing her wand.”

Grindelwald was distracted. His quick and curious mind darted after the breadcrumb and his hand relaxed. Severus didn’t twitch an eyelid.

“Ah, some kind of ignorant savant? Very useful. Yes, I see now why you keep her. Come here child – I think we need more light.”

He dropped his hand and turned to summon the candle. Severus said softly and calmly, “The window.”

Would she understand? Severus turned his head and looked at Theophany. She was staring back, frozen. When they made eye contact, he saw understanding cross her face. Theophany gave him one terrified look before she turned and ran. She was only three steps from the window. She closed the space and leapt into the night without breaking step.

Severus spun about and tore after her. He didn’t look back. In the darkness he could lose sight of Theophany quickly. He expected to be stopped, a howl of rage, a grasping hand, something, but there wasn’t a sound from Grindelwald.

The protective charms held both Severus and Theophany tight to the tower, surely there would be other spells to deter suicidal leaps or Grindelwald would have done this years ago. Severus had the advantage of control and acceleration but he didn’t breathe properly until he spotted her. She was falling backwards, eyes open to the sky, arms spread. She was falling more slowly than he. Thank the Ministry, there were protective charms in place to slow a fall.

Severus dove. He wanted to catch her without losing any acceleration. Hopefully it would carry them over the walls and past the boundaries of the protective charms in one go. He turned sharply, changing direction out from the tower like a swimmer kicking away from the wall.

He intercepted Theophany from the side, her shoulder banging painfully against his chest. She managed to get one arm around him and he around her and together they spiraled crazily out from the tower and over the cliff’s edge. The icy wind peeled at his eyelids but he’d fixed on their direction and needed only to put his efforts into speeding them beyond the boundary before he ran out of strength.

After a minute he realized Theophany was flailing a little. Suspended by her arms beneath him it wasn’t the most secure grip. He twisted so he could support her with his side and she shouted something. He shook his head and she pulled herself closer to his ear, arms trembling, and shouted, “Down! We’re out!”

Severus couldn’t continue much further so he hoped she was right and descended. There were no cleared fields at this elevation, the woods were remote and unsettled. The branches tore at their faces and robes but their speed carried them through and they tumbled to the ground. Severus would have been deeply shamed by such an ungainly landing had the circumstances been other than they were. As it was, he gladly released Theophany and rolled to one side, catching his breath. Theophany crawled towards him.

“Are you hurt? Can you breathe?”

Severus waved her away without opening his eyes.

“Theo...phany,” he managed weakly, “I...for one...am relieved...you are...small.”

Theophany sputtered and laughed. She collapsed onto her side and laughed until she was breathless. Severus knew it was a nervous release. He wasn’t funny. Despite the snow they both lay still for some minutes. There seemed to be too much to say to even begin to speak.

“Did he try and stop you?” she asked.

“No – perhaps he is already wondering if he imagined us.”

“Wouldn’t the fact we visited him be revealed if – if’s he tortured?”

Severus shook his head.

“Unlikely he’ll be asked that question. And he will be able to guard his thoughts. But it’s a risk I took. One you didn’t have to take.”

Theophany was quiet again.

“I would have believed him,” Theophany said finally. Her voice was small. “I would have believed he could withstand anything but – but for what I saw in Godric’s Hollow.”

“You find the Dark – Riddle –” Severus sighed. “Whatever you want to call him. You find him more terrible?”

Theophany sat up.

“We both felt the evil here and he, Grindelwald, was...I’m not even sure what he was. Cold, mad, and clever… but he was still a man with human emotions and thoughts. When I saw You-Know-Who he wasn’t human. He’s lost that.”

The portrait had said much the same thing. Was Grindelwald so easily read or was Theophany so perceptive? Or did Grindelwald want to be seen this way? Severus got to his feet. He hurt everywhere and he was tired of thinking in circles. Theophany picked a twig out of her hair, twice as wild and tangled as was usual.

“The charm he sensed that hid some of my thoughts. It was the Fidelius Charm, wasn’t it? He couldn’t see where I was from. Or my family.”

“Yes. That information can only be...betrayed. Not found, even by Legilimency.”

“Alright then.” Theophany got to her feet. She was holding herself stiffly. “Since I won’t be revealing any secrets but my own – do it. Take my memory. I shouldn’t know about the Elder Wand, should I? I see now why you wouldn’t explain.”

It was sensible. She was giving him permission to sort through her mind and remove only the pertinent memories, but in doing so she would reveal everything about herself except what was protected by the Fidelius Charm.

Severus nodded, suppressing a rueful thought that all his energy had been wasted. If he had just waited, Theophany would have volunteered herself and her memories. Now that he knew her, he should have expected this. Expected to be surprised. Severus drew his wand.

“Ready?”

Theophany looked at him. He had the feeling she was trying to imprint this moment on her mind, even though this wasn’t the memory in question. Did she think everything would change after this? Severus returned her gaze, watched her eyes become an open map of thoughts just on the verge of being made legible. He had only to cast the spell. It came so easily to him now, he could feel the moment just before another’s thoughts became clear and their impressions became concrete feelings. What had she been thinking when the dark wizard had looked in her mind? What was she thinking now? There were words just beyond the edge of his perception. Theophany’s eyes were full – were they tears? Then they closed. Severus lost the tentative connection. Her shoulders were raised defensively but her hands stayed clenched at her sides.

“You might – you might not like what you find.” Her voice was a little high.

“I need you to open your eyes.”

“Oh.” She looked back at him. “That makes it a little harder.”

It did. It made it much harder. He had no scruples against it. It was the wisest course of action. Neither did he feel any concern for Theophany’s discomfort, but he found he simply didn’t want to. Theophany’s eyes were frightened, but Severus was the one who looked away.

“I believe the first train is at five a.m. We should go if we don’t want to miss it.”

He didn’t know why. It just seemed such a waste. Severus started walking, feeling the need to get away from her before she said anything. Theophany made a sound. It was almost a gasp or nearly a laugh. Surprise and delight. Severus closed his ears and kept trudging forward. Theophany hurried to catch up with him and offered her hand.

“Here. Just Apparate with me. You’ve exhausted yourself.”

Once more wouldn’t hurt. Severus took her hand and they Disapparated. The warmth of the station was like a hothouse after the biting winds of the Rog. Severus’s head spun. He felt himself pitch forward, and Theophany put a hand under his elbow.

“Whoa! Severus you shouldn’t have – I knew you’d be the sort to push yourself too far–”

He didn’t hear much else. He was vaguely aware of his leaden feet moving under him. He stumbled along the platform and up the boarding steps. Everything was foggy. The time he was forced to walk felt interminable, but finally he felt Theophany push him gently back and he folded into a soft seat. Gratefully, Severus slumped to one side, holding his head with one hand. It kept pounding. It was over though. It was done.

He squinted. Even the dim light of the compartment hurt his head. He felt Theophany’s hand tuck her bag under his head and then the light was switched off. In the half light he saw Theophany settle herself opposite him. She took the torn piece of parchment from her pocket and folded it into a small square. From the collar of her robes she pulled out a silver chain and strung the square of parchment on it before tucking it safely away. She seemed to feel his eyes on her and whispered, “Rest. We’ll depart soon.”

She lit the tip of her wand to read by. Severus half closed his eyes, waiting for his equilibrium to return. He didn’t sleep. The train jerked and shuddered as it pulled from the platform. Theophany lowered her book to look out the window. Severus could see the cover. It was poetry. Grindelwald had mentioned a poem, something he’d caught from Theophany’s thoughts. Was it the same words Severus had glimpsed before she’d closed her eyes? One sentence, one repeating sentence. From under his eyelids Severus watched her and pondered meanings and motives while repeating it to himself.

Give me that dark moment. I will carry it everywhere like a mouthful of rain.
Chapter Endnotes: The poetry quote at the end is from Mary Oliver's collecton Blue Pastures, published 1995.
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