Theophany felt gooseflesh creep over her arms and shifted closer to the fire. Despite the warmth she couldn’t dislodge the unease that had dogged her all day. It wasn’t just the memorial service they’d attended that morning. Another funeral. A young cousin of Korrapati’s. Isha had been unable to respond to condolences.
Theophany had changed quickly back into her everyday robes. The black woolen robes seemed to stick to her unpleasantly, suffocating her. After changing she shoved them into their box in the back of the wardrobe. Theophany disliked seeing them every time she opened the door, a lurking reminder of too many lost.
She hadn’t received a reply from Severus either, but that couldn’t be all that was bothering her. Theophany recrossed her legs and sighed.
“Dad, do that one again?” Silyn asked.
Mr. Knapp glanced up. Silyn had just entered, his snow wet cloak still over his shoulders. Mr. Knapp obligingly turned back to the spinet and began playing ‘I’m Old Fashioned’ again. Prosper sat in a chair nearby, his nose inches from the keyboard, carefully watching his father’s hands. Compline was reading but occasionally lowered her book to listen. Merryn was going over the accounts. Theophany was supposedly doing her own bookkeeping, but her ledger lay in her lap. Her unease was no less abated by Silyn’s arrival. Her brother flung himself onto the couch by Compline and yawned.
“How long are you home for?” Compline asked.
“For a while. Maevan won’t be needing me for a bit. Korrapati’s got things sorted.”
“Is Isha coming?”
Compline sounded surprised. They were all thinking Isha would be excused from Dagda business for at least a little time. Whatever he was doing must be important.
“Maybe in a few days, if everything goes well.” It seemed Silyn wasn’t going to expound on Isha’s role.
“Oh.” Compline went back to her book. “And Zuri said she wanted to talk to you when you got back. She left a message while everyone was out.”
Silyn’s face changed. He looked troubled. Theophany watched him until he glanced at her. She twitched her head at Silyn, and he reluctantly got to his feet and shambled over to her. He knelt down beside her on the hearth rug, and Theophany asked softly, “What’s wrong? Why are you worried about Zuri?”
He shook his head. “It’s not Zuri.”
“Is it about the camp refugees? Can she not hide them?”
“With all four of you planning there are enough places to hide them. They will be safe.”
Theophany watched him for a minute.
“What does Zuri know that I don’t? Is she worried about you? What is your part in all of this?”
“Important, Tiff. But I can’t tell you – and Zuri doesn’t know either, so don’t look at me like that. Everything’s going to be fine. Really.”
“You can’t promise that,” Theophany hissed back.
“I can promise that I’m okay.” Silyn shrugged. “What about you, what’s eating you so much that you can’t sit still?”
“Nothing,” Theophany snapped.
Silyn raised an eyebrow but he didn’t leave. He moved Compline’s dangling feet out of the way and propped his back against the couch. The cold March night was unwelcoming and everyone, without speaking, agreed to stay here by the fire.
Boniface let in a gust of wet wind when he came stamping through the kitchen, shaking rain from his hair. He seemed to catch the mood of the room right away and didn’t speak but leaned against the mantle warming his hands as Dad played ‘You are so Beautiful’ soft and slow.
The peace was short lived. Two days later Isha Korapatti arrived, only staying long enough to pace impatiently in the kitchen while Silyn grabbed his things. Silyn kissed everyone on the cheek goodbye and wished Theophany happy birthday in case he wasn’t back before the fifteenth. Then he was gone.
Lissy would make first contact with the escapees. Merryn would be smuggling the weak and sick by railway. She would then pass on the portion assigned to Theophany, who, as Secret Keeper, would lead them to Dagda wood and Lavinia. Zuri was rehousing the remainder that the wood could not accommodate. She hadn’t revealed where. Maevan hadn’t explained either. Theophany hadn’t even seen him. His cottage was dark, and Loli was staying with Zuri and Sipho. Maevan was never absent for this long. The raid must be soon.
Theophany stood at the kitchen sink and tested the feeling in her bones. Her gut was a flutter of fear, her heart a storm of maybes, but her bones ached with dread.
The twins had created a nest on the kitchen table for the bat. It crawled about in its awkward way while the twins fed it spiders.
“That,” Theophany said as she washed her hands at the sink, “is a face only a mother could love.”
The bat raised its small gargoyle features eagerly for another leggy snack. Moths and other insects being scarce this time of year, the twins had been inventive with spider traps along all the window panes.
“You may say that, but you found us the sticky paper we needed for traps,” Compline pointed out.
“I don’t want it to starve. Though remember it’s your responsibility–”
“Yeah, yeah. I happen to know the only reason we have rabbits is because you took in every wild one you found since you were six.”
“And Mum started with the ferrets, too,” Compline cut in. “There was a mole family too once living in the cellar behind the cider cask.”
Theophany looked over her shoulder at them.
“You remember that?”
“No, but Dad told us.”
“Right. Okay, admittedly, I might have a bleeding heart to match Mum’s, so it’s from experience when I say it can be a lot of trouble.”
“Don’t worry. He flew onto my bookshelf last night, so I think he’s getting stronger. We have him on the table so Dad will see him when he comes in.”
Theophany dropped the dish towel.
If Mr. Knapp was about to get involved, then the twins were very serious about this bat. If it was named, then it would become a permanent fixture. Theophany frowned at the small interloper as it daintily picked apart a crunchy morsel with its tiny white teeth. Leathery wings and furry pig face; it was fascinating and a little off-putting at the same time.
When Mr. Knapp entered, he brought in guests and the smell of muddy spring. Isha, Sipho and Zuri, Lavinia, Jacka and Col, and at last Maevan.
“Hi, Dad. Oh, I didn’t know to expect anyone, sorry.”
Mr. Knapp dropped his muddy boots in the crate Boniface had charmed to be self cleaning and water resistant.
“It’s all very last minute as I understand. Silyn will explain.”
“No, I won’t.”
Silyn appeared behind Maevan. His eyes were wide and his movements were large and hurried.
“Shouldn’t be here at all really but – well – had a chance to stop so I thought why not – better judgment aside.”
Theophany paused in summoning extra chairs.
“What better judgment? Of course you should come home whenever you’ve got the chance!”
Her brother’s eyes slid a little to one side and he seemed almost embarrassed. He busied himself pulling out a chair for Zuri while Maevan insisted on seating Lavinia. Theophany ushered Jacka to a seat.
“Time for that to go upstairs, and both of you too,” she told the twins, pointing at the bat with her chin.
They obediently gathered their books and parchment, but Silyn stopped Prosper from picking up the bat.
“He’s still here? What have you named him?”
“Well, we were going to ask Dad to take a look, but you’re all busy –”
“Oh, then, put him back. Dad, come on then.”
Lavinia raised her eyebrows at Theophany.
“It’s kind of a tradition, almost a superstition, really,” Theophany explained sotto voce. “Dad has a knack for naming things, the most dreadful names sometimes, but there’s no arguing they fit. I mean, it’s not a usual name for an elf, but can you picture Ike being called anything else?”
“This isn’t really the time...” Dad was protesting.
“No, no, I want to see this. We’re still waiting on someone. We’ve got a little time,” Silyn urged.
The kitchen quieted a little as Mr. Knapp bent over the towel where the bat rummaged for missed legs or other tasty bits. Knapp folded his hands behind his back and whistled soundlessly to himself.
“It’s a Brandt’s bat,” Prosper was explaining to an attentive Col. “Pretty common here. Carnivorous. Usually hibernating this time of year, but something must have disturbed him...”
“Archie,” Mr. Knapp said.
The room leaned forward. Beady eyes and white teeth flashed as the small bat’s face opened in a silent cry. It was a demonic little face but, unquestionably, an Archie sort of face.
“Archie?” Compline tried.
The bat pushed itself up on its bent forelegs and twisted towards her voice. Lavinia gasped. Archie leapt, agile despite his crooked limbs, and a few slow beats of his wings sailed him into Compline’s outstretched hands. The table applauded. The twins, proud and triumphant, bore Archie away with promises of gnats. Lavinia said softly, “That was incredible. That’s not just a knack for names.”
Maevan spoke unexpectedly.
“Even Muggles have gifts, Mrs. Honeysette.”
Latina flushed. “I didn’t mean to imply anything about that.”
With an uncomfortable grunt Maevan shifted in his seat.
“And I didn’t intend a rebuke, ma’am. I spoke too bluntly.”
He stood and walked around the table to Isha, who was speaking in a low voice to Jacka.
Lavinia looked miserable. “Now I’ve offended him. And I was so pleased I could be of help, even if it’s just organizing tents and such for the refugees.”
Theophany tried a laugh. It sounded rusty from disuse.
“Maevan’s made of sterner stuff. He’s just not the most loquacious of leaders. Let me know if you need anything for the campsites.”
Lavinia promised. Her eyes were already moving from Maevan to Jacka, sitting quietly by Col.
“Discovering a name. Were all your names like that?”
Theophany grinned. “Only the ones that are Dad’s – Boniface and the twins. The rest of us were named long before we met Dad, of course.”
Lavinia looked yet more annoyed with herself. “Of course! I knew that. I wasn’t thinking.”
Theophany patted her arm before making her way over to Silyn, who was one of the few not in conversation. He was sitting quietly, taking in the room. That intense energy hadn’t left him, but he was very still. Theophany touched his shoulder, and it seemed to take him a minute to gather himself. Even then with his eyes focused sharply on her, a little too much so. He took a minute to reply.
“Hmm? What is it?”
Theophany jerked her head towards the pantry.
Silyn shook his head. “No. I’m not going to be interrogated. Everything’s fine. I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine,” Theophany hissed.
Silyn gave a quick glance around the table and then stood up. Grabbing Theophany’s wrist, he pulled her into the pantry after him.
“You’re not fine either – nobody is fine,” he whispered fiercely. “But I can swear to you on anything you like that I am going to be alright. Everything is going to be alright. So please let me enjoy being home and you should try enjoying it too instead of being so miserable!”
“Have you seen something?” Theophany’s heart was sinking fast.
“Not since I shared my vision about you at Christmas, no.” Silyn shook his head. “I’ll say it again, it’s not prophecy. Just images. But it doesn’t take a gift to see you’re knotted up inside.”
“I’m not – I mean, I can’t say.”
Silyn rolled his eyes.
“I’m not asking you to. Merlin, I don’t even want to fight. I just wanted...”
He stopped and gathered himself.
“I just don’t want to add to those knots, Tiff. Whatever’s bothering you, hurting you, it won’t go away, but I can take away any knots for my sake. I’m not hurting, okay? So don’t hurt for me.”
Theophany felt lost. Was her worrying such a burden on him? What did he want to hear?
“Okay. I’ll try.” She nodded. “I’ll try.”
“That’s good.” He smiled. “I should get out there now. I have to talk to Dad too before I go and you need to reassure Maevan the Fidelius Charm is in place. He’s getting more paranoid the closer we get. This is going to be a success, Tiff.”
She worried anyway, but if that bothered him, she could grin and hide it.
“Well, of course it is, you’ll be there.”
Silyn snorted and laughed all the weariness from his face.
“That’s true.” He eased the pantry door open. “Maevan won’t mind me telling you – be prepared by next week.”
He was gone. Theophany slid slowly to the floor. That meant the raid could happen any night now. She never knew, before, when and where Silyn was fighting. Theophany never thought that knowing would make it worse.
Longbottom had stopped attending classes. It seemed he had understood the Carrows would no longer hold back and so had gone into hiding. However, the incidents had slacked off to minor infractions only. Someone in the D.A. had some intelligence. Enough to scale back the attempts at espionage. There were still flares of anger and rebellion in Muggle Studies when Alecto made some of her more ridiculous claims. Amycus’s class was much more sedate. The students, even with looks of distaste, paid very close attention in the Dark Arts though for their own reasons.
This state of affairs only fanned Alecto’s visible frustration. Severus continued making it extremely clear he had not forgiven her failure, but also equally evident that her brother Amycus was clearly back in his good graces. Amycus would give reports on his wireless research, sotto voce, and then glide oily away, casting a triumphant look at his seething sister. They were so childish. Was pettiness really so satisfying? He had once found it so, but Severus wasn’t sure anymore. His head ached. With exhausted eyes he watched Alecto become more impatient until her expected outburst finally came. It might have been sooner, but Severus had been avoiding taking meals with the rest of the staff, and Alecto waited until she could have the audience she wanted.
The staff meeting was unavoidable. The Ministry required minutes and updates every quarter term. Severus delayed as often as he dared, but this time his hand was forced. Hagrid had escaped arrest. The Ministry were all over the school. Now, looking at the assembled staff and the one representative from Magical Law Enforcement, Severus felt his headache building. After he had, for the tenth time, decried Hagrid’s “traitorous” actions, Severus needled Poppy into another sickbay report and demanded Horace explain the worst potions grades, otherwise the faculty would have sat in perfect silence, not looking at him. Horace was in the middle of a long and pompous ramble with little content when Alecto stood up.
“Excuse me for interrupting,” Alecto’s voice was tightly controlled, “but my report is time sensitive.”
Horace blew and puffed a little but was happy to concede the floor. Alecto smiled.
“Thank you, Horace. I know you are aware, Headmaster, that my brother has been doing a little research. Devoted, as you know he is, I am surprised that I wasn’t asked to assist as I am – well, never mind. The point is, we’ve found the new password through a long process of elimination that would have been hopeless without my help. I am much better at such puzzles than Amycus.”
Alecto placed the portable wireless on the desk. Severus rested his forehead in his palm and looked at her wearily.
“It never occurred to Amycus, see, that our fellow staff would be able to identify the voices on this illegal broadcast. Seeing as they are, by their own admission, affiliated with Albus.”
She tapped the radio with her wand and it came to life at Albus’s name.
[“We apologize for our temporary absence from the airways…”]
The room sat transfixed. The Ministry officer took notes.
[“...Every human life is worth the same.”]
Should he order it switched off? Alecto was carefully scrutinizing the room. If she asked him to identify the speaker, could he avoid it?
[“...Harry Potter is still alive?”]
The room sat up and then relaxed as Lupin answered the question. Severus held his breath. Lupin was right, Potter’s death would be highly publicized, but Severus was disappointed that was all the evidence they had. Apparently the Boy Who Yet Lived wasn’t relying even on his closest allies.
There was a tsking sound from the Ministry official when Hagrid’s name was mentioned. He made a short note with his quill. Something about too many loose tongues about Hogwarts School affairs, no doubt. Ever since the half giant had escaped arrest, his name had appeared frequently on the news, to Hogwart’s embarrassment, as a beacon of the new world order. Severus felt a hysterical twinge in his chest and quickly suppressed it.
The voices on the radio changed, and he relaxed. If it was those two idiots, he could be sure no further pertinent information was forthcoming. Still, he didn’t demand Alecto turn it off. As the Weasley twins continued their outrageous crosstalk, the Carrows' faces grew darker. The rest of the staff were keeping straight faces, though Filius was forced to cover his mouth occasionally to hide a smile. Severus watched the staff struggle and the Carrows’ growing outrage with equal enjoyment.
When the wireless dared to speculate on the Dark Lord’s whereabouts, Severus was sure Alecto was about to explode. Amycus gasped and jumped to his feet at the mention of his master. Now Severus could feel the eyes of the room on him. It was now or never. He had to distract them from trying to identify the speakers without betraying himself. Careful. Severus pressed his hand harder into his forehead, knuckling the pain there, and opened his mouth to speak just as the buzzing voice of one of the Weasley brood said punchily, [“–the fact remains he can move faster than Severus Snape confronted with shampoo–”]
There was a dreadful silence from the staff. Severus froze in disbelief. From the mouths of children the perfect distraction was provided. This would be easy. Severus was so weary he felt an absurd amount of gratitude to the two dropouts.
He glanced up and saw the Carrows’ blanched faces and the staff fixed in horrified amusement. He’d planned to feign outrage but, Merlin, their faces. The breath he’d been holding hissed out of him and the flutter in his chest climbed into his throat. Severus put his hand over his eyes and laughed. It wasn’t a good laugh. He could hear, from a distance, that it was grating and exhausted. It rang hard and sharp in the still room. No one, not even the Carrows, dared speak.
Finally, the Ministry officer leaned forward in his creaky chair and said, “Er...Headmaster? Er–?”
“Behold...the enemy,” Severus gasped, waving a hand at the radio. “Switch that thing off.”
Alecto twisted the dial and the room shifted as if waking up.
“S-Severus?” Alecto started hesitantly.
The official cut through her.
“I hope you aren’t taking this matter lightly, Headmaster. In light of
recent events, such an attitude towards propaganda could be seen as careless.”
Severus managed to swallow before the laughter became hysteria. He felt it slither down his throat and settle somewhere above the constant tightness in his chest. Severus waited for it to grow still before speaking.
“Pardon me – no, don’t bother reminding me of your name. Do you know what I do…?” In a soft voice he added, “What I have done?”
He pushed his chair back and rose from the desk, towering easily over the officer.
“What I am capable of doing? Forgive me if I am not alarmed by the cheap words of anonymous children playing war. If you wish to investigate further, please waste your own time. This meeting is over.”
Severus passed unchallenged through the staff and slammed the door behind him. His head was exploding. He’d raid the infirmary for some feverfew and go hide somewhere for a while. He was extraordinarily tired. But, still, fifty points to Gryffindor.
It was raining again. It made the twilight dingy. Theophany stood at the head of the winding path that led down into Frog Hollow and the Dagda wood. She kept her hood over her face. Merryn’s message had come nearly forty minutes ago. ‘Expect us within the hour’ it read. The timing couldn’t have been worse. The original plan had Merryn and Lissy both guiding the escapees by rail, but Lissy had gone into labor two days previously. Now she was at the Mill, one-day-old Comfort Knapp in her arms, and Merryn was working the railway alone.
Theophany could see the first dim figures toiling towards her. She recognized the wizard with them, a member of the Dagda Silyn would regularly bring by for a meal. The young wizard raised a hand but didn’t speak until he was close enough his voice wouldn’t carry. Like most of the resistance he looked prematurely aged. His voice was emotionless.
“They’re going to be coming very slowly. Most are badly hurt or ill and in no condition to Apparate. We’ve got Portkeys set up between here and the station. Merryn is staggering the groups as they arrive but... it’s going to be a long night. You’ll have to wait for each group.”
“I’ll escort each group to the forest. They know to wait here if I’m still not back?”
“Everyone’s been briefed.”
He wished her good luck and turned away. Theophany saw the muffled figures hesitate. Passed off from one person to the next, who could they trust? Surely not her, a small, rain-tossed figure.
“I’m Theophany Knapp. Follow me and we’ll be out of the rain soon.”
It wasn’t soon enough. An eight minute walk became fifteen and then twenty. Even with the healing charms they would have received from Merryn, their condition was bad. Three out of the group were elderly. The fourth was a teenager, a boy whose eyes were already old.
By the time they reached the wood it was full dark. Lavinia had driven a stake into the ground and hung a lantern. The orange light turned her hair bronze, but her smile was brighter still. She appeared domestic and reassuring. Col’s face was equally trustworthy, but Jacka straddled the path, a wary animal. Theophany knew his eyes were busily assessing each refugee.
“You were given a password before you left the camp,” Jacka challenged.
In turn each refugee shuffled forward and whispered into Jacka’s ear. He nodded and stepped aside. Col and Lavinia hurried to receive them, and Theophany was left behind.
She ran back through the anti-Apparition jinxed wood until she gained the summit of Phiny’s peak. Further down the path she could see hunched figures making their painful ascent. Theophany threw back her hood. She couldn’t display the same warmth and glow as Lavinia, but she could at least show her face.
The groups were irregular in size. Some were whole families, others a mix of strangers all equally wary and distrustful. Theophany had no names, but she kept a tally, fearful someone would be lost along the way. Col eventually came to help her hurry them from Phiny’s peak to the wood. There were too many too slow, old, or sick. The dark fell early this time of the year, which would give more cover to move them, but dawn was creeping closer. At last, Theophany muttering her tally at every step, she could report the end was near.
“Ten more,” Theophany whispered to Jacka. “Ten more will account for all of them.”
“Can we be sure no one else will be coming? Plans change.”
“I have to confirm with Merryn.”
They shared a tired smile between them before Theophany trudged away. Her legs were aching; she didn’t know how many miles she’d covered by going back and forth. She gained the peak and sat down, not caring the grass was hummocky and wet. Minutes passed. She’d stopped thinking really, just staring tiredly down the road. When she saw movement she got to her feet, ready to receive, but this was different. There was only one figure hurrying towards her, too tall and full of energy to be a refugee.
She kept her wand ready just in case.
Isha Korapatti stopped just short of her, panting.
“I just checked in at the station. Merryn says there are just ten left, but Maevan wants to speak to you.”
“Yes, he said to wait for him.”
“What’s going on? Where is he?”
“We’ve cleared the camp and have only just got all our people out. I’m to help you with the last.”
Theophany’s mind turned sluggishly. She couldn't guess what Maeven needed. Extending the Fidelius Charm? Three more refugees appeared on the path, an old umbrella serving as a Portkey. Theophany quashed her thoughts and strove to greet them calmly. Seven more to go.
Half an hour later left just two more. Theophany paced, chilled despite her rain repellant charms. Isha stood quietly. Maybe that was why Compline liked him. He was so quiet and gentle and the Knapps were so, well, unruly. Except thoughtful Prosper. Despite being so close, Theophany felt a pang of homesickness. She wanted to have a hot picnic breakfast with the twins and listen to Dad play the piano. Theophany looked at her watch. The glass was still cracked, but Boniface had got it running for her again. It had been twenty-eight minutes since the last group. Theophany savagely bit her nails.
“What was the camp like?” she asked abruptly.
“Hell,” Isha responded briefly.
“Neglect? Or – or torture?”
“Inadequate care, housing, food...the occasional cruelty from whatever human troll was posted there. It was considered a cushy post, I understand.”
“Not anymore,” she muttered. “I hope they’re in a great deal of trouble.”
“That’s why it was important it look like an escape and not an outside job.”
There was a crack, and Maeven Apparated on the path before them. Blood from his forehead stood out starkly from his pale face. Theophany exclaimed and started forward, but he pushed her hand away, looking almost guilty.
“Are the last ones through?”
“Two more still.”
“What happened?” Isha interrupted. His voice didn’t rise, but Theophany could hear it tighten.
“Snatchers. Didn’t like finding us so near the camp, I suppose. We scattered...resisted arrest. Edwards and Onwudiwe are making sure everyone’s out. Isha–”
“How many were scattered? What were the Snatchers doing there?”
Maeven shook his head at Isha and then winced. He avoided their eyes and wiped at the blood on his forehead.
“One of the escapees let off a trap, got too near the road. Anyway, there was a flash and suddenly the area was swarming. Isha, perhaps you could…? I need to talk with Theophany.”
Theophany felt her stomach drop. In a moment she felt that odd shift in reality, becoming acutely aware of her surroundings. Her mind was marking this moment as important even as she realized what was wrong. The rain made a dull sound in the mud. Wind blew sharply from the north.
Isha was saying, “I could help Edwards and Onwudiwe.”
“No, I think you should take over for Theophany. I need to talk to her.”
“Silyn.” Theophany’s voice cracked. “It’s SIlyn.”
Maeven dropped his bloodied hands to his sides. The gruff mask was gone and his voice was thick.
“He and Drakes are missing. Onwudiwe and the others are looking...Theophany, we’ll find him. I’m going back and–”
“No,” Theophany heard herself say. “No, you’re going to the Mill to get your head looked at. Isha, go find Silyn.”
Isha nodded once and Disapparated before Maeven could order otherwise.
“Go to the Mill, Maeven.”
“We can finish here, you don’t need to do this alone –”
There was the sound of muffled feet. The last of the refugees had arrived, a wizard and his elderly mother.
“Go, Maeven,” she hissed.
Theophany stepped past him, her hands outstretched. The elderly witch could barely walk and caught hold to steady herself.
“You’re almost there,” Theophany said softly. “Come with me.”
She kept her face still and her feet steady, but she couldn’t speak any more. The escapees were too weary to ask questions, and they struggled down the path in silence. The wizard’s arm was tied up in a rudimentary sling, and he walked with difficulty as if his feet pained him. Theophany bore the weight of the elderly witch alone until Jacka saw them coming. He came running and swiftly bent and scooped up the witch. In faltering tones they gave the password. Theophany was already turning away.
“Theophany,” Lavinia called out, “my tent is nearby, you should rest.”
Theophany didn’t answer. She felt her legs had been freed from leaden weights though her mind was still sluggish and distant. She kicked her sodden robes away from her feet and ran. She had no flight. No Apparition. Just her cold and clumsy feet.
Her breath was ragged by the time she cleared the wood, and though a stitch was pinching her side, she didn’t stop until she reached the Mill. She fell on the steps but staggered upright and pushed through the front door. The family was gathered together. Merryn and Lissy held hands in silence. Boniface sat, hands useless at his sides, staring at the floor. Compline was sitting with Dad, tearstained face pressed into his shoulder. Prosper, red eyed, was biting his nails. Maeven, with a bandage wrapped around his head, stood up when she entered.
“I waited until I saw you back safe. I’m leaving now.”
“I’m going with you.”
Merryn stood up, but Lissy didn’t let go of his hand. Boniface followed suit, but Theophany walked past him to grab a spare cloak from the hook. She felt the tears pricking at her eyes and didn’t dare make eye contact with any of the family.
“Boniface, stay here.”
“I can help! I’m sixteen!”
Theophany blazed up, all the fog in her brain burning away.
“You need to be safe. If you or the kids got hurt – there’d be no point in winning this war.” Theophany shrugged into her dry cloak, hurriedly doing up buttons. “Merryn, you’re staying too.”
“You can’t make me stay.”
“You have three little girls. One just born. You stay or, by Merlin, you will find out I can make you!”
“It’s not right!” Merryn continued to protest. “It’s not that you shouldn’t go, Tiff, but I shouldn’t stay.”
Theophany spun around.
“Who is holding your hand?”
“What?” Merryn looked down at Lissy in confusion. “Lissy…”
“Yes, your wife. Is anyone holding my hand? No, because I’m – I’m the best choice to go. You have to be safe, Merryn, for your family. I don’t have – I can go.”
Mr. Knapp looked over Compline’s head. Theophany saw the pain in his eyes just once before lowering her gaze.
“Merryn can’t go. And Jethro’s not here, Dad. I have to go.”
It wasn’t his permission she was asking but his understanding. Mr. Knapp stretched out a hand and Theophany obediently came close so he could rest it on her head. A blessing and a prayer was placed on her head with Maeven at her side.
After a moment Dad said softly, “Go get your brother, Tiff."
Chapter Endnotes: Thank you for reading! For all my reviewers, thanks a ton. You always make me rethink and see it through different eyes. Even if it's just two words, it feels amazing that someone takes the time to leave a review. For everyone who reads, thanks!