Severus jerked awake. His neck was stiff. Theophany was leaning forward in her seat.
“What is it?” he asked.
“What did you say?”
“Sorry,” they answered together.
There was an awkward silence.
“You said something – but you must have been dreaming. Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”
Severus frowned out the window. A weak light was showing at the horizon.
“How long was I asleep?”
“I’m not sure. I dozed a little myself.”
His mouth felt like dust and his body felt no more rested. Severus was aware he must look like death. He leaned forward and rested his face in his hands, rubbing the drowsiness away. When he looked up, Theophany proffered a brightly wrapped, oblong package.
“The tea and soup cart also sells miscellaneous goods.” She smiled.
It was a toothbrush. Severus regarded it with something like surprise that something so mundane could exist in the same world as Grindelwald and the Elder Wand. Theophany had also acquired toothpaste.
“Brushing my teeth made me feel loads better. I fell asleep with no trouble. Er – there’s a lav just a few compartments towards the engine.”
The wrapper crinkling in his hand, Severus excused himself. It did make him feel at least human to wash his face and remove the fuzzy foulness from his mouth. He didn’t spare the mirror a glance and simply raked his hair out of his face with damp fingers.
The train moved in pre-dawn silence. He crept back to their compartment without meeting anyone. The shades of most of the compartments were drawn, and those that weren’t revealed the slumbering passengers within.
Theophany looked up with a brief, comfortable, smile when he slid the door open. Her bag was still on his seat where it had been his pillow, but she’d taken the opportunity to retrieve other books from it. Had she been waiting for him to wake up, tired of her poems at last? Severus inquired how much he owed her for the toothbrush and she frowned.
“It’s just a few Sickles. Honestly, please don’t. If it makes you feel better, you can buy the tea. The trolley witch promised me she’d be back later with some. I doubt there will be anything like an edible breakfast though.”
Severus only nodded. He tilted his head to read the titles of the books under her hand. One was an obvious work of fiction, but the Von Brause book of poisonous antidotes was a little surprising. Theophany drew her wand, and Severus felt a brief compression in his ears as an Anti-eavesdropping Charm settled over their compartment. It seemed Theophany was done waiting for answers. She stood and changed seats to sit beside him.
“First, since you’re trying to protect the Elder wand from You-Know-Who, is there also a….a Hiding Hood and a Spirit Stone?”
“It’s called the ‘Resurrection Stone,’ I believe. And I have no more idea than you. But the ‘hood’ is actually an invisibility cloak and I can most definitely vouch for its existence.”
“Stories always called it a ‘hood.’ Local colour, I guess. There must be a lot of variance across Britain. Also, it’s a staff, not a wand, in the stories I heard.” Theophany looked at him warily. “You don’t need me to help you find seven league boots or a lamp with a genie in it, do you?”
“I think not.”
“Just checking. Okay, second. Gellert Grindelwald owned the Warlock Wand – I mean Elder – and that makes sense because he was the most powerful wizard, but then Dumbledore got it so he was the most powerful, or was it because he was powerful in the first place that he won it? Anyway, that means Albus Dumbledore used it. That means...you’ve seen it.”
Severus closed his eyes. The bad taste in his mouth was back.
“Then if You-Know-Who wants it, and you’re sure he’ll find Grindelwald, then...Harry Potter doesn’t stand a chance. He should stay in hiding even if people do yammer about him being the so called “Chosen One”. What, why are you looking at me like that?”
Severus glanced away so Theophany wouldn’t see all the guilt and frustration ruining his insides.
“Unless we find it first. Right?” Theophany leaned forward to try and look him in the face. “You said you could only think of obvious places where it could be, but you knew Dumbledore.”
“Apparently...not as well as I thought.”
“Godric’s Hollow,” Theophany spoke up. “I saw on the headstones in the graveyard, that’s where he was from, right?”
“That is my only lead,” Severus said bleakly.
“I could always poke around –”
She sat back in surprise. Severus bit his tongue. There was a rumbling from the engine, and the train slowed as it crossed a bridge. In the east the dawn was just beneath the hills.
“I...appreciate...all that you’ve done,” Severus began carefully. “It has been more than I felt I could ask –”
“A nice way of saying I’m an infernal annoyance,” Theophany interjected calmly. “It’s not necessary to say anything, really.”
“I should say–”
“The point is–”
“It’s over,” Severus finished firmly.
Gratitude was all very well, but what was really important was that she understand her time with this mission had ended.
“I know,” Theophany whispered. “Why do you think I didn’t want to hear it? I knew you couldn’t just be thanking me.”
“Heaven forbid. I’ll spare you the discomfort of my gratitude and get straight to the point — do not contact me, do not seek out Spinner’s End. For your safety, and more importantly the preservation of my mission, there must remain no trace we were ever with Grindelwald. As of the moment we reach London we are strangers again.”
It was so much easier to be caustic. Though it took so much energy to work up the irritation. They had at least another hour before they reached King’s Cross, and they could pass it in chilly silence. Theophany kept looking out the window. Probably to avoid his gaze.
“I understand,” Theophany said quietly. “I volunteered. I came because it was important and I wanted to.”
A strange look crossed her face, and then she smiled.
“I’ll keep my promises. The mission comes first. I won’t jeopardize it by contacting you. But if ever for any reason you need me – not just for the mission – please send me an owl. See? I’m being reasonable. There’s no need to try and make me angry.”
Severus raised an eyebrow. “A foolish attempt. Don’t you only get angry with people that matter?”
Theophany’s smile went crooked and she moved to face him.
“Then you should feel flattered by how many times I’ve lost my temper with you.”
Was she trying to manipulate him? She didn’t seem overly upset. Severus felt his way carefully.
“I am aware how...unusual and fortunate it was that you offered to help without knowing the details, that you saw the importance of my mission.”
“That’s not what makes you matter, Severus,” Theophany insisted. “You’re my friend.”
“You can’t claim people as your friend.”
“Then I should say I’m your friend. I don’t need your permission for that. And because I’m your friend, I’ll protect you. I’ll keep my promise.”
Severus wasn’t sure what he was thanking her for, exactly. As long as she stuck by her word and never contacted him again, it was possible this could end safely without any repercussions.
Theophany looked back at Severus for a little longer. Though she was looking directly into his eyes, he didn’t look away. She wished he had slept a little longer. Selfishly, she wanted to be in his company without having to guard her expressions or words.
His eyes had no expression. They just bore her gaze as if they were two observers separated by one way glass. He wasn’t free of his past, of this war, and might never be.
It was inevitable that they would fight, he had said. Theophany agreed. It was. She wouldn’t allow a nothingness to drift between them. She would fight her way closer and be accepted or rejected. That would be her crux; she didn’t fear it. It was coming because she had chosen it.
He did indeed purchase the tea. It seemed he was a stickler for politeness in many ways. They didn’t speak again until the train slowed its pace. King’s Cross, platform seven and one-half would be busy with all kind of magical folk coming into the city for business or pleasure. It was the height of morning traffic.
Theophany buckled her bag shut. She couldn’t look at him when she asked, “I assume we are to leave the train separately?”
“I’ll go first.”
She couldn’t watch him walk away from her not knowing how they would ever meet again. This couldn’t be over. ‘A long road’ Silyn had said. It couldn’t be over yet.
A dark and guarded path – but you walk as if you know the way…but will you want to go? As she told Severus, she had volunteered for this. It was her choice. Theophany hoped she did in fact know her way.
The train swayed from side to side and a shudder ran down its length. Theophany stood and caught the handrail by the door, her bag ready under her arm. Severus’s eyes weren’t on her but looked through her to whatever end he was working towards with dread determination. His mission was secure, but hers was precarious. How could she keep him safe if she wasn’t there? If only she could lay some kind of protection on him.
“I meant what I said.” Her voice was weak and nervous. “If you need me…”
Severus nodded once and gave a tight and grim little smile. No sarcasm, no coldness. It was the first honest smile she’d seen from him. Theophany raised a hand to ward it off. This wasn’t fair, not when she was forced to leave him. She held her mouth tight against the quiver there and impulsively reached out. Her fingertips settled lightly on his forehead. She didn’t know how he reacted. So controlled was his expression. The train screamed and stopped. Theophany removed her hand.
“That’s a blessing – and a prayer.”
Theophany slid the compartment door back and walked swiftly down the length of the train. Passengers were gathering their belongings, stretching and yawning, beginning to crowd the corridor. She had only a few seconds' lead to gain the platform before the crowd would close in around her.
There was a bubble in her throat. Before it could burst, Theophany leapt down the steps to the platform. She was only four cars ahead of their compartment. She could look back but she didn’t. Theophany averted her face and turned on the spot, Disapparating to the soft field of snow that slumbered beneath the Mill. It was her turn to nearly pitch forward, but there was no arm to catch her, so she wiped her face and marched, dry eyed, up to the workshop.
Silyn and Boniface found her in the workshop. A tray of breakfast floated along behind them.
“Ike’s convinced you’ll perish if you don’t eat in the next few minutes,” Boniface said.
“But we admit to some concern ourselves. Where were you last night?” Silyn asked.
Theophany put the tray down and forked up some eggs. The workshop was hot with two cauldrons on the fire.
“I can’t say – had to be somewhere, had to find someone. It’s done now.”
“So what’s all this then?”
“How many people are in that Relocation Camp? One hundred? Two? All without proper care. We will have to treat them as we go -–many won’t be strong enough to travel far. Where are you putting them all?”
Silyn leaned against the table and stole one of the sliced tomatoes off the tray.
“Maevan’s got most of it sorted. But we’ll be counting on you for some help too. That’s why Lissy, Zuri, and Mrs. Honeysett were at the meeting; they’re all finding places to hide or rehouse the escapees we can’t fit.”
Theophany looked at him.
“Just how many people…”
Silyn told her. Theophany felt the need to sit down, but there was no chair handy.
“Four hundred and sixty-five. You said this was big but...how on earth can we hide them all? I mean I can do some but–”
“The Dagda.” Silyn and Boniface spoke together.
“Er, that is, the actual Dagda. The forest, not the civilian army,” Silyn explained. “Lavinia’s organizing campsites like her own. It’s best if most of the escapees disappear completely, assumed names are too dangerous. Problem is only some of the forest is under the Fidelius Charm or the Anti-apparition Jinx.”
Theophany paused in uncorking a bottle of lizard spleen.
“You want me to alter the Fidelius Charm on the valley? That’s never been done. Is this approved?”
“Yes. And, no, not an alteration.. We think a new, additional charm would be best, and since you’re already secret keeper of the valley, it makes sense.”
Theophany nodded and dumped the contents of the bottle into a boiling cauldron. Boniface covered his nose at the smell.
“I’ll start today. It will take a little time.”
“Thank you, Tiff. Do you need any help?”
“Well, um, yes, I’m just trying to stock up on the basics. We don’t know what kind of conditions they have in that camp. Burns, breaks, disease. If you could just stir that…?”
“And when we’re done here, maybe you’ll consider resting a little?”
Theophany briskly washed her hands. The stone basin stayed chilly even when the shop grew hot and stuffy. Resting. She splashed water on the back of her neck and pushed away the hair that stuck to her face.
January was half gone. Maeven wouldn’t give her more details than were necessary. Theophany knew it would be soon. From snatches she’d caught she thought the camp was in the north. It would be a hard journey back for most of the escapees, by broom and rail, mostly. This would perhaps be the single largest act of resistance of the Dagda – perhaps of the war.
Theophany paced the boundary of the Dagda Wood for three days. Jacka joined her and made marks on the map. The Fidelius Charm had to be precise. The twenty-eighth would be a new moon. It was old fashioned, but not disproven, that some charms were stronger in certain lunar phases. The new moon was a good time for secrets and hidden things if Zuri was right. She usually was. Jacka would ask the ceremonial questions, a Tuatha custom if not a necessity, and perform the charm that placed the pledged area in her care.
“Zuri and Lavinia will be there too, I’m not sure why,” Theophany added.
A flicker of something crossed Jacka’s face, but he quickly bent over the map. Theophany debated between pretending she hadn’t seen or being forthright.
“Does that...annoy you? I can ask them not to.”
“No, no. They are trying to help.”
“It’s fine. Why would I mind Lavinia being present? She must be curious. I’m glad, even, that she is coming. Zuri believes you should receive more support, I think. She and your sister Lissy have decided they will help you however they can. Perhaps Lavinia feels that way too.”
Theophany looked up at the night sky.
“I’m sorry to worry everyone.”
“We all worry, about everyone and everything. Nothing can be done about that.”
They walked in silence back to the forester’s cottage. In the still night a distant music floated out to them. The gentle plucking of strings and a snatch of song.
“Tell Col I’m glad he still finds time to practice.”
“He will be mortified you heard, but I will tell him.”
Theophany waved and started up the path. With the Anti-apparition Jinx already in place it was a longer walk back to the Mill, and they’d all sworn that no Knapp would ever fly again. Jacka spoke suddenly, stopping her.
“Theophany.” He cleared his throat. “We all worry because you do so much to make this place possible. In this valley Col doesn’t have to hide. There is the chance...I have even begun to hope he can make a life here.”
“If something happens to me, someone else is in line for Secret Keeper. Frog Hollow won’t be in any danger of being lost.”
“And the Wolfsbane?” Jacka responded quietly. “It’s selfish. But it’s frequently on my mind.”
“That too. I have made provisions for everything.” Theophany smiled and quoted Boniface: “Because I’m in charge.”
She pulled her hood over her face but turned back to ask, “What about you, Jacka? Haven’t you made a life here too?”
An easy smile split his swarthy face, the bushy beard quivered.
“Of course. This much I have and it is enough. But I want more for my son. For me it is too late.”
Jacka knew. He knew what was in Lavinia’s eyes when she looked at him. He knew and had already rejected it. Theophany bit her lips. He met her eyes calmly. There was nothing bitter or unhappy about Jacka. He was, truly, content. Theophany only nodded. He would understand all she felt and couldn’t say. She had rather hoped he would be an example for Col, but it was good to know his father was encouraging him to hope. Hope for a little happiness.
February. Theophany felt no extra burden from the Fidelius Charm, but Zuri, Lissy, and Lavinia were constant callers. It was as if they felt something was off. Lissy, enormously round, was due in late March but was still frequently at the Mill. Theophany reassured them she was fine. She was busy. In her heart she was just pacing the long road SIlyn had foreseen, but it seemed he was wrong about her knowing the way. She had never felt more lost.
It was a rainy February. Not so bitter cold but dreary in its sameness. Theophany bent to pull on her galoshes by the kitchen door. When she stood up, she let out a small sound, and Silyn, who was pouring over some maps by the fire, looked up.
“What is it?”
It came and went. A sudden stab of bereavement. Sometimes she felt almost whole but never fully present.
Just a little heartsickness.
Heartsick was just the right term. Theophany looked out at the rain. It was already growing dark outside. She’d have to light the lamps in the workshop.
“Remember when you said my aura had changed? Is it still changed?”
“It hasn’t changed again, if that’s what you mean.”
“You can see it whenever you want?”
“Whenever you want….sometimes?”
“When I look for it and I see it, I’m definitely seeing it when I wanted to.”
“Hmm.” Theophany mimicked his noncommittal grunt.
She stepped into the rain but didn’t pull up her hood. The cold water trickled down her ears and inside her collar. It woke her up a little. Did heartsickness usually cause this fog in the mind? Perhaps there was heart weather as well. Hers would be alternately sea storms or barren desert. Before she stepped inside the workshop, Theophany remembered to tilt back her head to catch a mouthful of rain.
Severus had Filch light more lamps. The Great Hall was always ablaze with candles, but the rest of the castle seemed under a curse of darkness. February had been dreary, but was March always so dark? He told himself this was the calm before the storm. His mark hadn’t burned. No news had come of Potter or other rebellion. But Severus Snape twitched at every shadow. There was nothing to do but fulfill his promise to protect these students. He took almost every detention. He Confounded students in the midst of mayhem and led them away before the Carrows found them. He sent Filch on long errands to remote parts of the castle, or set him on long involved tasks to keep him from patrolling the corridors. Hagrid practically lived in the forest now, Severus sent him so many detentions.
“Isn’t that oaf too easy on them?” Alecto asked.
Severus was examining the essay she’d brought to him for its alarming anti-pureblood sentiments. He tapped his fingers against his lips thoughtfully, taking his time to answer. He rolled up the parchment and handed it back to her.
“It’s a process, Professor Carrow. A heavy punishment may only fan the fire of rebellion, but a constant drip of menial tasks takes some of the romance out of the fight.”
“So what would you recommend for the student who wrote this hateful pack of lies?”
“Soul-crushing boredom. Ask Filch if there are any long and disgusting chores he can assign.”
“This is a school, not a prison.”
“Of course, Headmaster. But it is our job to quell insurrection and make examples.”
“Which you must do to those students that encourage the rest.”
Alecto smiled. “Then I believe I will soon have good news for you. Amycus and I have a plan to break the ringleader.”
Longbottom. Was he really the cause of all the student warfare?
“Keep me informed,” Severus said disinterestedly.
“I did want a peek at his student record, if I may? I need to know his family. Of course his parents must be just vegetables after all these years, but what other family does he have?”
Snape had a clear image of a green dress and a vulture hat, but instead of irritation he felt panic.
“I’m sure I don’t know. Help yourself.”
He waved towards the large cabinets on his right. Severus unrolled a piece of parchment and started to write quickly. There wasn’t a moment to lose. Alecto hummed and muttered to herself as she sorted through the records. Eventually she paused and he heard the slow turn of parchment pages. His quill paused. He had to have an address.
He’d seen Longbottom’s file before. He’d checked to see if this student was, indeed, that Longbottom. And Severus had met his parents – once. A meeting a long time ago. He believed Augusta Longbottom held the old, pureblood property in London. He could check after Alecto left, of course, but if he could send this before she left his office, it would have a head start on her own agents. A street in...Kensington? That was it. Harrington Gardens. Severus scribbled the address and folded the letter as Alecto shut the cabinet door.
“Thank you, headmaster. You will have my report by tonight, I hope. I believe it will be favorable. In regards to this essay...”
Severus nodded but stopped listening. Until that instant he hadn’t decided, but Alecto’s certainty spurred him to address his anonymous letter as a warning not to Augusta Longbottom, but to Theophany Knapp. While Alecto prattled, he woke the school owl from its perch and tied the letter to its leg. Augusta might ignore an anonymous letter as an attempt to terrorize her. He couldn’t take that chance.
“...I read some of the ridiculous accusations to the class and the Slytherin students were horrified. We mustn't allow that sort of slander to stand–”
He strode to the window and swung his arm out. The owl soared clear and was soon lost to sight. Severus ran through a few possible scenarios. The logical thing to do, as a Death Eater, would be to go and interrogate students as to Longbottom’s whereabouts. Or better yet, to summon him to the office and keep him there to await Alecto. But if Longbottom somehow went into hiding before that summons? Then he would have done his apparent duty as headmaster, but both Longbottoms would be safe from the Carrows. Someone would have to warn him. Any Gryffindor Severus interrogated would warn him, but there would always be the question why Severus gave that student the chance to squeal. Unless it was a student nobody could accuse of warning a blood traitor. Severus shut the window. He needed to find Astoria Greengrass.
“As I said, speak to Filch. But as it is a Gryffindor student, I would suggest something particularly menial and overseen by a Slytherin. Excuse me.”
Alecto’s smile was gloating, and she insisted on walking with him as he descending the gargoyle stair. Severus managed to shake her off on the third floor before taking the stair to the dungeons. It was half past three, Potions would just be finishing. The familiar dry, still, smell rose up to meet him. He hadn’t minded it. In fact, having his quarters so far away from the rest of the castle had been fortunate. After the Potters had been murdered, after Azkaban and the trial, a little privacy had been necessary for recovery. Of course the isolation had been for security rather than privacy. The staff hadn’t been subtle in their initial distrust of him.
Slughorn had rearranged the classroom a great deal. There was even enchanted sunlight moving over the mossy green stone walls. It was sixth year Slytherin and Ravenclaws for Potions that afternoon. Severus waited until the bell went, then flung open the door. Sunlight or not, he must have brought the darkness with him, for the faces around him changed the moment they saw him. The Slytherins’ showed only interest. Horace looked worried.
“Good afternoon, Horace...I do hope I haven’t interrupted…?”
“No. No, Headmaster. We have just finished. A cure for boils.”
Severus swept a practiced eye over the still steaming cauldrons. Some were lumpy with badly blended ingredients, some a virulent yellow, others muddy.
“...or perhaps a cause of boils.” He smirked.
He stood to one side, and the students began obediently filing from the classroom. Severus let his eyes rest on each as they went by. Some visibly relaxed after they passed. The Slytherins looked boldly back or made a show of greeting him familiarly. Horace stepped towards him anxiously.
“If there was something you needed, Headmaster?”
“Not from you – ah – Miss Greengrass.”
Astoria Greengrass paused.
“Come with me.”
She raised an eyebrow in polite inquiry and followed after. Poised and cool. She would be wondering if he recognized her, if he’d discovered her charade as a Gryffindor. Severus ascended behind the class to the upper level. The students dispersed in all directions, some casting curious glances over their shoulders, others looking stoically ahead. The entrance hall was empty. Severus paused.
“Miss Greengrass, how well do you think I know this school?”
“I’d expect pretty well, sir.”
“And yet there are aspects – perhaps whole rooms – I have never found.”
Astoria rubbed her thumb along her bag strap. She listened politely but seemed bored. If she was afraid, she was an excellent actress.
“You see, there are so few teachers and so many students. It’s a question of odds. The students will find far more than the staff ever will. And you know how information and rumors can spread through the student body.”
“I’ve heard a few.” She smiled with casual ease.
“So, it would be neither dishonorable nor any particular betrayal to pass on a rumor to me. The Professors Carrow are both very….blunt….and would do better to listen more.”
Astoria looked amused and a little interested.
“How could I possibly help?”
“Where do the Gryffindor’s sneak off to? I don’t expect you to know much, but what have you observed? When a Gryffindor is looking for Longbottom and Weasley, who do they ask? Who fetches them?”
“But headmaster, why are you asking me?”
“I expect you to answer truthfully. You have no petty ambitions and you are from a good family. I can...trust you.”
“Surely a prefect or–”
“What student trusts prefects? They know as little as the staff do.”
Astoria smiled slyly.
“Well, that’s true. Sir, I – I don’t have a clear idea, just –” She hesitated. “I may be wrong, but the dungeons have always been a favourite hiding place since I was a first year, and I see that Ravenclaw, Corner, around there a lot. He seems close with Weasley.”
She wasn’t telling him anything the whole school didn’t know.
“And what about Longbottom?” Severus pressed. “Where does he frequent? He doesn’t seem confined to the Gryffindor common room.”
“No. Odd that, isn’t it? It would seem the safest place. Too obvious, I suppose. I’ve been wondering how he manages to slip away from Professor Carrow – Professor Amycus Carrow, that is.”
“Do you think Longbottom has any special talent for escape? Or do you think it’s planned
“Well, he never seemed very bright in class. I’d think it’s Weasley looking out for him. She’s probably sneaking him around when the Carrows are looking for him.”
“Thank you, Miss Greengrass, for your intelligent observations. It is of the utmost importance that the Carrows...talk...with Longbottom.”
“Of course, sir.”
Astoria had played carefully indeed by talking so freely and yet saying nothing he didn’t already know. Severus watched her walk away, going to warn the rest of Dumbledore’s Army, he hoped. So, Weasley was to be the decoy, and while they were waiting for her to lead them to Longbottom, the boy would be smuggled away. Severus spun around. Time to get Amycus involved. He certainly hoped Miss Weasley was up to the challenge, but everyone knew her Bat Bogey Hex was unparalleled.
Three hours later the school was in uproar. Longbottom had gone underground and the student body had scattered. The Houses had been ordered to their respective quarters, but many had resisted or delayed, no doubt in an effort to give Longbottom a head start. Filch and the staff, with differing enthusiasm, were rounding up the rebellious or straggling. Severus wasn’t participating in the witch hunt but waiting in his office. Perhaps it was the lofty height, or the security spells, but the sounds of resistance below didn’t reach him. He leaned his head against the cold glass and waited. Someone knocked. He ignored it. They knocked again. Severus flicked his wand and sent a paperweight hurtling against the door. It shattered spectacularly. The knocking did not resume. But there was a new tapping. Severus spun around and saw the tawny owl had returned. When he wrenched open the window, the owl fluttered away, startled, and he had to coax it back. Seizing the letter he tore it open.
All is well. I can only think you sent me to Harrington Gardens for a pleasant day trip. Or maybe you missed hearing from me? My presence was entirely unnecessary. It was all over by the time I got there. Mrs. Augusta Longbottom, whose acquaintance I haven’t made, had already left the premises, and there was a very sorry-looking wizard moaning on the floor. I stayed to observe until someone came to collect him. One of our mutual acquaintances from Durham showed up just now and is carting him off to St. Mungo’s in mostly one piece.
I’m not complaining. I’m pleased nothing more dramatic occurred. I expected the worst after reading your letter. As ever, I am happy to hear from you and be of any assistance I can. I am and will remain,
Such was his relief that Severus felt a hysterical laugh climbing up his throat. So Neville’s dear Granny had sent a Death Eater to St. Mungo’s and was now on the run. He coughed, and the laugh erupted into a short bark. Had she hit him with her alligator bag? Perhaps that wretched boggart of Lupin’s making had been a kind of compliment. Though Albus had never let him forget it, vulture hat and all.
Severus wiped the letter clean with a touch of his wand and put it in his pocket. He needed its reassurance as he descended the stair. He passed Madam Pince escorting a line of Ravenclaws to their tower quarters, her lips pinched together tightly. A few students’ heads were lowered, a few tear-stained. Severus spotted Filch hustling two Gryffindors along.
“Argus!” Severus snapped. “Give those two to Pince. You and Amycus find the Weasley girl. The rest of the staff?”
“In the entrance hall, Headmaster,” Filch muttered.
Minerva and the staff were intercepting students in a desultory way and sending them to their Houses. It wasn’t the most rigid of efforts. As Severus descended the stair, they pointedly ignored him and continued gently admonishing students. They were all facing the doors, then, when Alecto Carrow entered. Severus greeted her with a smile and strode quickly towards her.
“Ah, Alecto, I hope you have good news for me.”
Theophany’s letter crinkled in his pocket. A little of his earlier amusement tickled at his throat. Alecto couldn’t know, but he did, and he couldn’t resist burying her further in it.
“We attempted to have Longbottom secured and waiting for you but, as you can see, the student body has proven to be...surprisingly well organized. However it’s crumbling quickly – Amycus is fetching Miss Weasley–”
There was a shriek of rage and a howl of pain from upstairs. Amycus could be heard sputtering curses.
“It would seem he’s found her,” Severus remarked distantly. Alecto’s face twitched. “Of course, now that you’ve returned, interrogating her would be redundant. Longbottom will be forced to give himself up.”
Alecto, who had been looking more and more wretched throughout this performance, muttered something. Severus kept his voice pleasant.
“Er – it – it might not be so...simple, Headmaster.”
Severus let his brow furrow. He took a few steps forward.
“Forgive me, Alecto, I understood that you intended to secure Mrs. Longbottom –”
There was a hiss from amongst the staff. Severus caught a murderous glance from Minerva.
“– to convince her grandson to cease and desist his regrettable troublemaking. Now do you mean to tell me you have...failed...in this…simple task?”
In the silence his footsteps sounded hollow as he closed on Alecto.
“Headmaster I – I have no authority outside this school. I had to go through the proper channels! I turned it over to Magical Law Enforcement – as a concerned citizen and teacher – and it’s not my fault they sent Dawlish. That – that incompetent ape has got himself nearly killed and is in St. Mungo’s, unable to to speak. It’s not my fault...”
Perfectly at ease, Severus let the silence stretch.
“I am...disappointed, Professor Carrow.”
Her mouth opened and closed. The resemblance to a fish was overwhelming.
Amycus came stumbling down the stairs. His face was partially covered in boils, only one eye was half open, and his left arm was angry red with burns.
“I got her, but some Ravenclaw boy came out of nowhere, they’ve got the corridor rigged with some kind of swamp trap and then that Weasley –”
His stream of epithets concerning Ginny Weasley was cut off.
“Carrow!” Minerva thundered.
Severus turned around. For a moment he and Minerva looked right at each other. Perhaps for the first time since Albus’s death. Then her gaze unfocused and he was invisible again. Severus drew his wand. Enough of this. He swept past Amycus and climbed the stair. The staff followed after him in a suspicious herd, most likely with the intent of throwing themselves bodily between him and any students. Pinching his lips a la Madam Pince, Severus whipped up the stair and ignored them. This had to end. The next time he might not be so lucky in intervening. Any student’s family might be in danger next.
The upper corridor was indeed rigged. It was like the entire stock of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes had been shaken up and disgorged. The swamp stretched from wall to wall and extended some meters down the length, but it bubbled with more than sticky mud. Unctuous potions swirled through the murk, and fine wires ran through the morass. Severus doubted they were attached to something as innocuous as dungbombs. Burns would be the least of his worries if he, were he stupid as Amycus, stuck an arm in that.
He stopped at the edge and regarded the students at the opposite end. There was a small cluster of them around Michael Corner who was eyeing him grimly, clutching a few tripwire ends. Weasley was on his left, chafing her wrist, which was starting to bruise. Amycus hadn’t been gentle in fetching her. Severus gave them a look of sincere exasperation. So much bravado accomplished nothing other than endangering their families. They had to stop this. They had to learn to be covert. He raised his wand.
A soundless blast burst from his wand, followed by a delayed clap of thunder. The swamp rolled into a carpet with the sound of tripwires snapping like piano strings. It flowed towards the students in a tidal wave, reaching as high as the ceiling.
Flitwick needn’t have worried. Severus waited a moment and then lifted his wand hand. The tidal wave collapsed onto itself and flopped into a ball that began a wobbly ascent. Severus released it to the collective gasp of the staff. Whipping his wand arm back he flung a fireball at it before it fell many inches. The unstable potions combusted despite the soggy swamp contents, and the lot was consumed in a moment. Ash snowed gently on the corridor. Severus lowered his wand.
He didn’t turn back to the staff. In this moment, at least, he could be honest.
“Do you think your actions carry any weight? You’ve wasted a little of my time –” he stepped forward – “delayed me writing a letter perhaps, maybe interrupted a class or two, and you think that makes you soldiers?”
He stopped walking. They didn’t back away.
“Children carry no weight in war. And you are infants in comparison to what you fight. There shall be no more of this. Weasley – to my office. The rest of you report to Professor Alecto Carrow for detention.”
“Headmaster?” Amycus whined, clutching his burnt arm. “Headmaster, please let me? The girl–”
Amycus always did prefer punishing the female students. Severus didn’t let him finish.
“The girl – as you can see – is meekly walking towards my office. A feat I accomplished in under two minutes, whereas you...”
He turned at last to acknowledge the staff. Alecto shrank back and Amycus turned sulky.
“You could not constrain one teenaged witch,” he snarled, “a girl barely one third your size! You are nearly as worthless as your sister – who let an elderly witch evade arrest and escape. Without both of you, today might have been a success. Get out of my sight...now.”
Amycus might have protested further, but Alecto hurried him away, two bright spots of anger on her cheeks. Severus would have preferred she cowered more. Alecto was growing bolder. Speaking of which, Miss Weasley was standing on the staircase with an impatient look. No trembling there either.
He swept past the staff without a glance, and he and Weasley ascended the stairs to the headmaster’s office without speaking. He would have to actually punish her. Such public rebellion couldn’t be overlooked, and a Memory Charm would be too suspicious. Something truly painful would be expected. But he refused. He wouldn’t stoop. Not even to preserve his lies.
Weasley stood calmly in the center of the office. She looked neither sullen nor frightened, but wary. A child waiting at the dentist’s. Just a child.
He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t. Only a child.
Severus strode to Albus’s desk.
“Sit,” he hissed.
Weasley raised an eyebrow but didn’t move. Severus yanked open the drawer and found a bundle of letters and newsprint. He’d been saving these for other reasons entirely, but they would serve another purpose now.
“Then remain standing until you have finished all of these.”
He thrust the stack of papers into her hands. She managed not to flinch too much. They were reports, private or public, of resistance. All ended in death. The tone of the letters crowed over the bodies of the Dark Lord’s enemies, smugly regretting Severus’s absence and forced exile at the school.
The newspapers were little better. Journalists shook their heads over foolish “fundamentalists” who refused to embrace the new enlightened world order. It would take her some time to read all of them. Maybe then, maybe, she could see how foolish their childish warfare was, in comparison to the numbers dying every day to protect their families.
Severus returned to his desk and sat down. He reached into his pocket and pulled out Theophany’s letter. He wouldn’t respond. Wouldn’t encourage contact. After all, he’d been the one to insist they be strangers. Severus refolded it and stuck it back in the drawer with his private correspondence. He’d burn it when he was done with Weasley. A glance showed tears steadily dripping down the girl’s face. There was a long way to go yet.
For the next two hours he had the perfect excuse to fend off the staff. Whenever a knock came at the door, he would snap that Miss Weasley’s detention was not finished, and they would fade away. Except Minerva. For the first time since he had been elected Headmaster, she came bursting into the office. Had Weasley shown any signs of physical harm, Severus was sure Minerva would have thrown consequences aside and hexed him into oblivion. However, Miss Weasley, despite swaying a little on her feet, had stopped crying and only looked back at Minerva with a clenched jaw. Mcgonagle quivered for a moment, her eyes fixed on the papers in the girl’s hands. Severus thought she would forcefully tear them away.
With a tight inhalation of breath Minerva nodded at Weasley and muttered, “Headmaster.” And left without looking at him. Severus wasn’t sure if that counted as speaking to him or not.
Ginny Weasley resumed reading, and her posture was stronger. Severus was intending to let her off in another twenty minutes when a second disruption occurred. Amycus sidled oily into the room. Severus eyed him. The man was either brave or stupid. Amycus’s right arm was wrapped in bandages, but the boils were gone from his face, leaving it an uncomfortable shade of red. In his other hand he was carrying a portable wireless.
“Sever – ah – Headmaster. If I might have a word?”
“Since you have invited yourself in...make it quick.”
“For sometime I’ve noticed... well, we didn’t used to need to confiscate quite so many radios, wizarding wireless being banned at Hogwarts for years, but they’ve seem to become extraordinarily popular. I started paying some attention to what the students were listening to, but every radio I confiscated was set to an empty station. My next guess was that they were somehow using the radios to communicate.”
“Carrow, taking me through your undoubtedly slow and laborious – for a lack of better word – thought process will take all day.”
Amycus suppressed the ugly look that crossed his face.
“Then in summary, Headmaster, I have discovered this.”
He set the wireless on the desk and switched it on. A burst of static startled half the portraits into hiding. At first there was only buzz and pops, and then a voice cut through. It was so strange, so utterly unexpected. Severus pushed back from the desk a fraction, but his mind shuttered itself before thought, before expression, could betray him.
“...in the area...please stay in your homes…”
Lupin. The voice was so very unexpected and yet so familiar it gave Severus a jolt. He kept his face attentive, trying not to show how he wanted to recoil but at the same time how desperately he wanted to hear any voice besides the Carrows.
The radio crackled, faded in and out.
“...never lose hope.”
Amycus switched it off as the voice was lost in static.
“Whoever that was, he seems to be broadcasting regularly via a password-guarded station. I stumbled on it at first. The password seems to change all the time.”
Severus cut him off.
“Weasley, get out. Report back to this office this time tomorrow. I will expect two scrolls of parchment in response to your reading.”
Ginny Weasley cast Amycus a contemptuous glance. Carrow bared his teeth, but she looked back boldly before walking confidently from the office. Severus looked at the radio with distaste. This discovery was all too convenient. He guessed Carrow had been sitting on this information until a profitable moment came to reveal it and win favour.
“Have you heard anything besides this...motivational drivel?”
He let the sneer creep across his mouth, let Amycus interpret it how he may. It was so unlike Lupin, he would have thought, this public speaking.
“Well, until they reveal their location – or the whereabout of other wanted wizards – don’t waste my time with it.”
Amycus nodded fervently. “I will keep you informed, Headmaster. Er...should I notify Alecto of this?”
Severus looked thoughtful. “Alecto seems incapable of even the simplest tasks. Let us keep it between us for now.”
Rewarded for bringing his master a bone, Amycus relaxed. Alecto would be furious when she found out her brother was keeping secrets from her, but, Severus smiled a little grimly, everyone needs humbling now and then.