Theophany Knapp Apparated into a Surrey tomato patch and promptly fell over. Hard as the frosted ground was, it was better to lie still, staring at the grey sky. No part of her body didn’t hurt. The alarms would have been triggered. Let them find her. Moving any further in her condition was madness. Honestly, Apparating was feeling like a bad idea. The thought of Lolli, face creased with worry, finding her blood-spattered remains in his garden made her groan. With many more grunts and hissing she got to her feet, covered her stained robes with her cloak, and staggered to the cottage. The doorknocker failed to rouse anyone, so she went and rapped on the kitchen window. Lolli’s face popped into view, thin grey hair hanging into his eyes, smile as wide as ever. Theophany’s own smile cracked her face painfully, but she had to try. Lolli didn’t deserve to be worried, innocent as he was.
“Whatever you’re cooking smells just heavenly!” she shouted through the window.
Grinning Lolli opened the kitchen door. “If I’d known, I would have made your favorite. Maevan is here, but he just ran outside because the warding spell—oh, I’ve forgotten I’m not supposed to let anyone in without asking the questions.”
“It’s okay, just ask me now. I won’t come in yet.”
Lolli’s face creased into childish worry. “But...we never decided what questions to ask each other.”
“Ask me...what’s my favorite breakfast?”
The elderly wizard became very serious. “You, friend or foe,” he recited faithfully, “who appears before me as Miss Knapp, what is Miss Knapp’s favorite thing I cook?”
“Sunny-side eggs with cheddar sauce.”
Lolli applauded and let her in cheerfully. Theophany was sure he didn’t understand the danger but dutifully followed Maeven’s instructions. He had lived at Maeven’s cottage for years, ever since he had wandered into Frog’s Hollow with only one shoe and one name.
His appearance didn’t make Maevan out to be a bleeding heart. He entered the kitchen and glowered at Theophany. Tall enough he had to stoop through the narrow door, yet he didn’t carry himself as erect as he once did. His shoulders were stooped, and his dark skin was tinged with the grey of exhaustion, but his deep eyes swept keenly over her ruined robes. Maevan noticed everything.
“Lolli, get some tea for Miss Knapp. I’m going to take her to the study.”
While Lolli scurried off, he lowered his voice, “Think you’ll make it that far?”
Maevan didn’t raise an eyebrow at the state of her robes and patiently waited for Lolli to fuss over the tea and bring Theophany some toast. Even after she’d eaten, he didn’t press but watched as Theophany stared into her empty cup. There was only so much she would tell, but so much more she needed to ask. Ask without telling.
“I know that if I needed something that looked legitimate but wasn’t, I would come to you,” she began. “Everyone else knows that too, right?”
“I’ve provided pureblood status registration papers, birth certificates, minor black market items.” He raised a brow, “All for our cause, yes. There are few others so capable, if I say so myself. Do you need something?”
“No...someone approached me,” Theophany said slowly, “looking for something, I think. And if it was for the cause, I would have thought they would come to you. Has anyone reached out to you?”
Maevan leaned forward. “Somebody’s looking for something and you’re wondering if they’re with us and if they asked me first? Why would they ask you? You’re not a provider of goods, not widely known in the organization…”
Theophany shifted a little.
“And why do I have a feeling you’re not going to tell me anything about your injuries?”
She looked him in the eye. “I’ve received treatment, I’ll be fine. But until I know more, I can’t say.”
“Fine.” He sighed. “What was it he wanted? Papers?”
“It was...an artifact.”
“Unusual. What would an artifact have to do with the war?”
She shrugged. “Well, I’ve received only legitimate requests from trusted comrades and they’ve all been papers as required by this puppet regime at the Ministry.”
Maevan looked like he was about to spit but recalled himself. The Ministry left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. Theophany looked into her cup but it didn’t offer further inspiration.
“One more question, Maevan. How would you go about identifying someone without being seen to be?”
“This same person who approached you? Are they dangerous?”
“You don’t have a name? In that case you only have a description, and if you ask around you might find something, but they might also hear you’ve been asking. You could cover your tracks, but it would take some spell work, Confundus maybe, but the Imperius Curse or a memory charm would best withstand questioning.”
“Yes, but it would be obvious such a spell was used, and that would still alert him.”
“Him? What exactly are you afraid of?”
“I want to find out how he fits in, before he finds where I do.”
“Maybe he simply thought you were dealing in black market items. Resisting You-Know-Who forces some unsavory associations. Use a Repelling or Masking Spell so he cannot find you by owl. Stay close to home in the meantime.”
“Speaking of home, would you mind terribly helping me repair myself a little? If I show up like this, Dad will have apoplexy. I lost my wand.”
“That may be hard to replace with Ollivander missing.”
Theophany dropped her cloak, the Death Eater’s cloak she remembered with a shudder, and presented her robes for repair. She held her arms, bandaged elbow to wrist, out from her sides like she was being fitted for dress robes.
“Maevan, that’s the least of my problems.”
On the side of the hill northmost of Frog’s Hollow stood an old mill. The dam was yet sound, but the mill works were long since dismantled, and a sign proclaimed the property to be featured on the historical register. The croft nearby was owned by a local farmer, Knapp, who acted as steward for the site. Knapp’s pastures were postcard-perfect and rolled away from The Mill and farm into gentle meadows inhabited by a docile cow and a large amount of sheep. The idyllic valley was heavily protected with Anti-Apparition Spells, so Theophany was forced to walk the sloping path up to the house, a weathered stone building with more charm than glamor.
Sweet and trusting Lolli was one thing, her family another. She hoped only the youngest were home. She hesitated at The Mill, longing to just bury herself in her workshop. A Muggle would only see the derelict building, but anyone magical could see otherwise and probably notice the water wheel that turned itself and the gnome burrows in the garden. The garden was bare and ready for winter, but the little greenhouse was slightly fogged with warmth, and against the glass pressed tendrils both poisonous and benign.
Theophany dragged herself away from the soothing creaking of the millwheel and ascended the scrubbed steps to the front door. At least Maevan had repaired her clothing somewhat, and the dittany had faded any obvious wounds.
“Tiff!” The door was torn open from under her hand. Silyn looked like he hadn’t slept, pale hair on end and colorless eyes wide. “What happened? Why didn’t you contact us—”
“Why do we even bother with security if you open the door to the first person who waltzes up the garden path?” roared Merryn, the eldest.
Theophany started to panic. Were all of her brothers here? Merryn had his own family to look after; Lissy his wife wasn’t well. If he was here, they must have been truly worried. Silyn was about to protest when a third brother entered the hall. Boniface crossed his arms and regarded them all sternly, which was annoying as he wasn’t even of age yet.
“Dry up, Merryn. Silyn could sense Tiff a mile away and know it was no trick. Tiff, come into the kitchen. Dad’s having fits.”
“Really, I’ve been gone for days at a time before, I don’t know why you’re all so…”
Silyn pointed a finger at her. Theophany guilty checked her robes. No stains, and Maevan had repaired all the tears. Was the cut on her face still visible?
“You’re different.” Silyn said. And if Silyn sensed something, they all knew better than to dismiss it. “Also, we can see the bandages on your arms.”
Boniface guffawed. “I was really impressed there for a minute, Sils”.
Silyn cuffed his younger brother. “Doesn’t change my previous statement, Bonnie. There is something different about her.”
They continued to bicker while Merryn steered Theophany through to the kitchen. Dad was seated at the table having yet more hot tea pressed on him by a sympathetic house-elf improbably named Ike. Judging by the amount of cold cups sitting on the table, it had been a long night.
“Tiff’s here, Dad.”
Insensible to Ike’s squeal of delight, Mr. Knapp lifted his head from his hands, blinked at Theophany and slowly got to his feet. He was a big man, with something of the old-world squire about him. He might have seemed intimidating to some, but his children knew better. Recently he had grown frailer and moved with more care. Yet Theophany found herself a little nervous as he walked slowly towards her, eyes fixed on her face.
“You could have said something. Sent us something,” he said hoarsely.
“I’m sorry Dad, but I couldn’t. I don’t even have my wand…”
Mr. Knapp grabbed her and crushed her in a hug. Her brothers were in uproar.
“You lost your wand?”
“Taken? Were there Snatchers?”
“Of all the idiotic things—”
“Did you find Jethro?” Mr. Knapp cut them off.
“Briefly.” This was the worst part. “There was something I had to do, and I had to leave him, so he disappeared again.”
The faces around her were grim.
“But I have a really good idea where to start to find him.”
“Maybe we should stop trying.” Merryn looked at Mr. Knapp. “We can’t force him to come home.”
Their father sighed. “I honestly thought he’d come home out of starvation. Did he look well?”
“Well enough. He seems to be getting work.”
“Doing what?” Silyn looked baffled. “The little snot—sorry…”
Mr. Knapp waved it away. “Your mother always insisted he was talented; he may be more capable than we gave him credit for. Theophany, don’t go out for a little yet. There’s bad news. The Hughes boy was killed in a skirmish last night. Reading was attacked.”
They all froze.
“About Reading. Not—not Hughes. I’m sorry...when is the funeral?”
“They haven’t set a date.”
Theophany looked around at them all and sighed. “You all must have been—I’m sorry I didn’t send word.”
She shifted awkwardly. Maybe a tearful embrace would be appropriate but it felt beyond her.
“I’m—I’m taking a bath. Then I am going to eat.”
With that she marched upstairs, refusing all questions. The bath proved a little tricky. First, she had Ike place an Impervius Spell on her bandages to repel bath water and ordered the borrowed cloak burned. Safest not to keep anything that could tie her to the burnt-out shack in Knockturn. Next she categorically refused anyone’s assistance in climbing into the old stone tub. Once in she felt muscles yet knotted and sore from the Cruciatus Curse relax a little, though it would be some time before that curse left her entirely. The cut on her face was nearly invisible, but she soaked a cloth in dittany and laid it over her face. Except for the occasional ripple it was blessedly silent, and Theophany let herself think for the first time in twenty-four hours.
What looks like a Death Eater but doesn’t act like a Death Eater? A spy. What spy is unconnected to a body of resistance? He had to be connected to someone. Then why hadn’t he reached out to his own contacts instead of coming to Jethro, a stranger? Jethro who’d barely escaped Reading in time. Graeham Tricklebank, the Dagda’s contact in Reading, had gone missing in August. Jethro probably chose Reading for that reason to better evade his family. Without Tricklebank, information concerning the area was dodgy, though Jacka and his contacts did their best. When she had finally tracked him down, Jethro said some wizards had been forewarned scant hours before and had tried to evacuate Muggles and Muggle-borns alike. The destruction could have been worse, but it was hard to imagine. The poor Hughes. There had been so many funerals of late. Her only black dress robes hung permanently pressed, ready for condolence calls, funerals, wakes and vigils. At least the Hughes boy had been killed outright. She’d been at the bedside of too many too broken for repair, like the poor apothecary last night.
Still, some had managed to escape thanks to...a few wizards with mysterious foresight? Jacka’s people perhaps? Theophany lifted the washcloth from her face and stared at the ceiling. A few minutes later she ran into the kitchen with her hair streaming puddles on the tile.
“That’s my robe!” Boniface said indignantly.
Theophany ignored him and fixed her eyes on Merryn. “How did Reading know they were about to be attacked?” she demanded.
The Carrows were in high spirits all morning. Apparently they had caught some students in the act of sabotage. Maybe it was because he wasn’t viewing them through a sleep-deprived fog, but Snape was finding it more difficult than usual to stomach them. They were like anti-poisons, becoming more lethal with exposure instead of building immunity. He couldn’t look at the teachers on either side. McGonagall was like a burning torch to his right, and he could only shield himself from her anger and disgust. Snape jerked his head towards Carrow, who was trying to speak to him.
“I merely asked if you would be joining us in the dungeons, Headmaster.”
“Do you expect a couple of adolescents to give you so much trouble?” he snarled.
Carrow muttered a negative.
“Good.” Then, after a pause, “I’m happy to let you deal punishment. Those menial tasks are behind me at last. Albus was never one to get his hands dirty.”
Another nail in his own coffin. McGonagall changed from a blaze to a mortally cold wind. She never said anything, couldn’t make herself speak to him at all. The others weren’t so disciplined, and Snape could hear uncomfortable shifting and whispers from the rest at table.
He returned to making the students uncomfortable under his glare, but his gaze was really inward. He’d tried sending an owl to Theophany Knapp, merely a preliminary step. She had, of course, warded herself from being traced by post. He’d spent the morning casting Priori Incantatem on her wand. Thirteen inches, ash wood, rigid. The reverse spell effect had recalled a certain amount of defensive spells, household charms, and a few arcane spells of protection that were interesting but not revealing. He would have to use the hair he’d found—an involved business that would require more time than he could spare.
Snape had hoped for an uneventful day, for a little breathing space, but it wasn’t to be. As the late autumn light faded to dusk, the Dark Mark burned. Time, he thought briefly as he stepped from the window into the night, to once again have time that is my own.
“We have no idea where the warning came from?” Theophany repeated. “It wasn’t Jacka or—?"
“Well, it was, but not directly,” Merryn hedged. “Someone heard something and told someone else, and so on. I think it was someone in Kent who told Jacka. People must guard their sources, Jacka more so than others. It’s a murky business, counterintelligence.”
“Tricklebank has been missing for four months, so we have no ground operative in Reading, and you’re telling me the Dagda, a so-called organized resistance, is operating on hearsay?”
“Not hearsay but a—a trusted source.”
Theophany stared at Merryn. “You’re just as uncomfortable about this as I am, aren’t you? If this really was a proper source, then surely our response would have been more prepared?”
“It may have been too late.”
“From Kent?” Theophany retorted. “If a trusted source in Kent knew about it, we should have been prepared days ago.”
“If you go about inferring that someone has an unproven source—” Merryn began again, but Silyn cut him off.
“No one is trusted, no one, who hasn’t been interviewed by three members of the organization. If someone is flouting protocol, it could be a trap or—”
“I don’t care.” Theophany looked around at them all. “Really, I couldn’t care less about someone breaking protocol. There’s something much bigger going on, and I’m in danger because I came too close."
"Then surely the safest thing is not to get involved," her father interjected.
"I'm involved, Dad.” Her gaze stared beyond them at something they couldn’t guess. “I can either inform myself, or wait to be discovered. I mean, I could always turn a Memory Charm on myself, but I doubt that would protect me.”
“That’s not funny—”
“And you are protected, you will be here,” Merryn declared. “Protected by us.”
“You forget Boniface is only fifteen, and what of the twins?” Theophany shook her head. “This isn’t a fortress. It’s a home and an important meeting place. I can’t endanger it. Too many people depend on us being here. Where else would they go if The Mill was discovered?”
She stood up from the table and carried her empty breakfast plate to the kitchen where Ike was doing dishes, making the high buzzing sound which was the house-elf’s hum. What would she do when she was discovered? She had no doubts the wizard from last night would ensure her silence somehow.
“Silyn?” she called from the kitchen. “I’m going to need a replacement wand, just something to get by for a while. And Merryn? I need a name, just one name, of someone who knew about Reading before anyone else did.”
Merryn came into the kitchen, ducking his head to get through the door.
“Silyn says he can probably get a captured wand for you; a wand from a defeated wizard is easier to use than a found wand.”
He closed the kitchen door. “If you start questioning about how the Dagda does things, you’ll be out on your ear, Secret-Keeper or not.”
“I know that. I also know I can get someone else to answer my questions.”
“You’ll ignore my advice on this? Your brother?”
Theophany swallowed. “If you make me.”
Merryn scrubbed his face with his hand. “Well, if you’re going to go talking to people at—at least I can make sure they can keep a secret. Look, I heard about Reading from Otho. I don’t know how he heard, or if he knew beforehand. Tiff,” Merryn put a hand on her shoulder, “I know you don’t behave rashly—”
Theophany flushed in shame. Merryn kept talking. “I agree, you need to be prepared. But don’t go out again, not right away. You need to heal and, please, just be safe for us for a little while.”
She nodded. Ike wiped his hands on his tartan dishcloth kilt.
“Everything alright, miss?”
“As it can be.”
Between all the Knapps this was the answer when one couldn’t say more. Ike hopped from his stool and started Levitating plates to the cabinets.
“I promise,” Theophany continued in a low voice to Merryn. “I have things I need to do here. It’ll take a few days.”
Before Silyn returned with a wand, there was only so much she could accomplish. The workshop beckoned. The door unlocked under her touch, and Theophany stepped gratefully into the old mill. Shelves of ingredients were on the western wall, potion bottles on the southern. A large hearth dominated the north wall, capable of encompassing whole trees. A cellar, kept cool by the nearby stream, had been dug beneath, and there heat sensitive potions were stored. A pile of mail was on the work table, and Hero, a barn owl, was asleep in her cage.
Theophany was drawn to the unsealed bottles of potions in progress but made herself open the mail first. There were numerous orders of common types, a few personal letters, and three encrypted only for her eyes. Two were appeals for sanctuary, five people all together. A family of three and a Muggle-born mother with a Squib son. Theophany frowned. Two people could maybe stay together, but where would she put the family? The third letter was brief and hastily scrawled.
Your father wrote to me asking if I’d seen you. Are you all right? How long do you intend to be gone? I hope there is no emergency. Please forgive my selfish panic, but as you know it will be a full moon next week. Let us know when you are safely back. Col sends his best.
This was something she could handle right away and use to further her own plans. She called for Hero and quickly wrote on the reverse side of the letter.
I’m fine. Please don’t worry. Expect me in three days time. –T.K.
Theophany sent the message with Hero and turned to the shelves. She had potions in progress; the wolfsbane would take another day to complete before the final stage. Theophany carefully decanted it into a small cauldron. It would need to sit over low embers until tomorrow. She hesitated, then opened another. It wouldn’t hurt to see they were well supplied, given her uncertain future.
Theophany spent the rest of the morning starting new batches of wolfsbane in addition to sleeping draughts and burn healing paste, and purifying both Bundimun secretion and dittany for use.
She let herself take a break while waiting for the dittany to cool and must have nodded off. It could only have been for a few minutes, but she woke in a cold sweat from some nightmare. For a moment she was confused where she was and looked about her for the thing that had chased her in the dream. Just a dream. A manifestation of her own worries. A vial of dittany, the sample drawn to check purity, was still in her hand. Theophany tucked it into her pocket, allowing herself a wry smile. If she would be meeting him again anyway, might as well pay him back.
His desire for secrecy was obvious; he wouldn’t let a loose end like her go free, but what did he intend to do exactly? He could have killed her many times over and instead patched her up so diligently and thoroughly. She could only lie low and try to discover what was really going on before he caught up with her. Theophany pushed the thought aside; she couldn’t do anything until Silyn got back.
She ate lunch with Mr. Knapp and the twins, Compline and Prosper, who, at ten years old, hadn’t been unduly worried by her recent disappearance. The afternoon went quickly in writing letters to different farms and businesses who were interested in taking on extra “help,” or rather wizards and witches fleeing the Ministry’s Muggle-born Registration Department. How many had been sent to Azkaban already? And how many had died there, driven to death and insanity by those things. Her nib broke and she impatiently sharpened another quill.
“You’ll use up the entire bird at that rate.”
Silyn stood in the open door. Theophany was surprised to see it was dark out, but the days were so short now.
“Just trying to find space to put them all; the refugees keep coming.” Theophany waved a hand at the letters. “Do you think we brought this on ourselves? I think it’s punishment for the decades Azkaban has been in use, exiling people to be fed on by those creatures. I can’t believe it’s more merciful than death. I know which I would prefer.”
Silyn put a hand on her head. “It’s more than just Azkaban. The doctrine of blood purity, high office only for the privileged, derision of non-humans, all of it. As a society we’ve been dying of a cancer for years.”
“What do we do?”
Silyn scoffed, “Glad you asked, I have a master plan ready to go after I become Minister of Magic.”
“I was serious!”
Her brother smiled down at her. “Try and fix the world tomorrow, Tiff. Tonight,” he leaned over and placed a wand on the workbench, “you try and master this. Willow and dragon heartstring, whippy. I’d say start with some simpler spells, level one stuff.”
Theophany grinned wryly. “Thanks. I’ll just be here practicing my swish and flick.”
She followed Silyn’s advice and tried a few basic spells. Her own wand was so rigid she found herself forcing the new willow wand—too much like trying to use putty as a battering ram. When they called her for dinner she came, more for appearances sake than out of hunger. Ike had been happy to take over meals for the next few days while Theophany was recovering.
Merryn left after dinner, stopping at Theophany’s side to whisper, “Remember what I said.”
“Won’t move a muscle without warning you,” Theophany reassured him.
Merryn had his own family, his own work to worry about. He worked in the depot, working with the magical express trains that crisscrossed Britain. Being in transportation, he had excellent reason to travel, listen, and carry messages.
Silyn preferred to be in the front lines. Wherever Death Eater activity was reported, there he would be. Theophany suspected he also used his talent for Divination for the cause, but he didn’t speak of it.
Boniface knew that at fifteen he couldn't expect more than to help his father on the farm and Theophany with rehousing refugees, but he chafed anyway.
And I hold everything together, Theophany reminded herself as she returned to the workshop. After Mum died, she had become mistress of the house in a ceremonial as well as practical role. Such was the tradition of the Tuatha De Danann. Who warded the house? Who was Secret-Keeper for the community? Her mother, and now her.
Theophany picked up the willow wand and Summoned potions at random. When she could both Summon and return them to the shelf without a wobble, she tried a little Transfiguration. Never her best skill and now nearly impossible. After an hour she did manage to turn a mousetrap into a very stiff mouse which creaked away under a pile of parchment. Theophany walked to the window and checked the path. The lanterns of her father and Boniface were bobbing gently in the meadow below. She sat by the fire and made a list.
The Spiny Serpent
Theophany had checked the name of the street before she’d Disapparated. It was in Cokeworth of all places. This was the list of events which she had to make sense of, somehow. Perhaps writing it down was too dangerous if someone found it. Theophany remembered her dream of being hunted and shuddered. Maybe she had gone too far and learned too much. But there was no going back, only forward. If there was only a way to secure this list…
Theophany raised her head. It was crazy. She hadn’t done it before. She didn’t even have her own wand. But—
She looked at the list again. As long as she could picture it all exactly. Everything until the Spiny Serpent was easy, but after she had been captured and tortured, it had been harder to pay attention. The memories were foggier. Theophany tried mentally isolating each item on her list. If she focused on one detail too much, would it distort the memory? She had to remember every word that was said. Theophany forced herself to be still. This wasn’t her forte at all.
After an interminable time she glanced at the clock and found it was after eleven. She reached for the wand but held back. Finish the list. Make sure you have it all. It was another half of an hour before she felt sufficiently prepared.
Swiftly she gathered as many empty vials as she could, made sure they were clean, and then reached for the wand. Trying this for the first time with a borrowed wand probably wasn’t the smartest thing. She just hoped she didn’t take an ear off. Wand tip at her temple, she focused her mind on Edinburgh, on speaking with the landlady of the Crooked Broomstick and learning Jethro had left for Reading. The memory solidified in her mind; it was suddenly crystal clear. She drew the wand away and opened her eyes. Dangling from the tip was a twisting silver thread. Theophany crowed aloud, then bit her tongue. Six more, and they mightn’t be as easy.
The shed proved the hardest. Her eyes had been closed in pain and resistance much of the time, her ears stopped against listening to their promises that it was in her power to stop the pain. Her head had been pounding so painfully that Gringotts was a blur, though she had overheard everything.
In contrast, the library flowed smoothly from her mind to her wand. Every word, every expression was there. Doubtfully she regarded the little helix of memory in its jar. Had it been too easy? Had she really been paying such close attention? Theophany closed her eyes. The library came into being around her, the sofa comfortable yet dusty, and a face frowning over her in sharp relief. Theophany shook her head and opened her eyes. She was almost certain she’d seen him before somewhere, but who was he?
At twenty past twelve she put her memory vials in a jar, sealed it, and lowered into the the larger jar of frogspawn. How long before he located her? Better not count on more than twenty-four hours. So much to do, and she didn’t even know his name yet. Theophany blew out her candle and locked the workshop behind her. Her healing body needed rest, and if she would indeed be facing a Memory Charm, best be in fighting form.
Malfoy Manor was looking the worse for wear even since last September. It was as if the presence of so much evil corroded. The Dark Lord had been in fine spirits then, planning the fall of the Ministry and the capture of Potter. Tonight he had been less so, though Snape himself was rejoicing in Mulciber’s obvious discomfort. If Mulciber had nothing to report, then Potter was yet well hidden and there was still time. Following Mulciber’s report, or noticeable lack of, Voldemort cast his eyes around the table. The silence tightened, each relieved when his gaze passed them.
“The wandmaker,” the Dark Lord said at last. “You all know he has been a fellow guest of our own friend Lucius for some time.”
Lucius braced. Narcissa paled. Snape kept an eye on Draco, who appeared so colorless he might fade away in a moment.
“I learned something of interest from him…” Voldemort watched their every breath. “And so was forced to go abroad to meet someone.”
He’s not going to tell us. Unless... Snape kept his mind echo empty, simply absorbing information.
Satisfied he had surprised them, the Dark Lord avidly watched the responses. Recognition, confusion, a few presuming to comprehend. Snape’s eyes were blank. The model servant patiently waiting to be instructed.
“I see he is known to some of you.”
“My lord,” Rowle all hesitancy, “Why would you require another wandmaker when Ollivander is here?”
“Fool!” Yaxley broke in, “Gregorovitch has long been known to experiment beyond anything that timid whittler has attempted. If anyone may approach being worthy of making a wand for our lord, it is not that blood traitor but Gregorovitch.”
Further protest and speculation erupted. Draco didn’t seem to hear; he was attentive but somehow not wholly present.
“Silence,” Voldemort hushed them almost lazily. “You are like fishwives gabbling over what is fresher. I do not require a wand to be made, I have no interest in a blood traitor wandmaker or a foreign mongrel who is also very dead. I do have interest in something Gregorovitch possessed.”
Snape felt the spell at work and quickly countered any attempt to search his thoughts. Voldemort’s eyes moved hungrily among them.
“I must know who it was that stole from Gregorovitch. I want his name, and I want him. I don’t care in what order or how.”
No one reacted, no one had any idea what he was talking about, and apparently his Legilimency hadn’t yielded any results, for the Dark Lord jerked his head and his followers stood as one. They bowed, and Voldemort added, “Let me stress I want this thief alive. Whoever harms him will watch themselves fed in pieces to Nagini.”
Slowly rising, they filed from the hall, with murmured honorifics. Snape fell into step beside Draco. The boy didn’t respond, didn’t seem to notice him.
“Professor, er, that is, Headmaster. I’m sorry, I didn’t see you.”
He made eye contact, he spoke confidently, but Snape could sense Draco was still withdrawn into some inner place.
“I’m sorry, Headmaster, but my father is waiting.”
Snape saw Narcissa watching them and let him go. She looked pained, her eyes anxious. He didn’t dare answer her aloud, only barely shook his head. Draco was giving up, withdrawing to a place they couldn’t reach him. Behold what you have wrought, Narcissa. You tried to protect him too late.
“Any ideas, Severus? Your duties will prevent you from actively joining the search, but I know you would contribute any theories you have for the sake of our master.”
Snape turned towards Mulciber. He couldn’t refuse to respond to Mulciber’s taunt, though he resented the blatant attempt to pick his brain and take the credit.
“Surely your own search takes priority? A further lack of results would be unfortunate.”
Mulciber clenched his teeth. “No reason why I can’t keep an open mind while searching for Potter.” He tried to smile, “Might hear something.”
“One never knows,” Snape drawled. “Gregorovich, while a talented wand maker, was never a proficient wizard. He was Stunned while trying to prevent his own shop from being robbed. I would assume a petty thief could have managed it, but, as he was looking for something in particular and didn’t harm Gregorovich, I’d look for someone personally connected to the family.”
It was all so plausible. He returned Mulciber’s tight smile, bowed, and left. It was disturbing how many of his fellow Death Eaters assumed his appointment to Headmaster was some kind of punishment. Albus had foreseen his promotion, had counted on it, even insisted that Snape make this ambition common knowledge. If the Death Eaters saw it as being sidelined, did the Dark Lord too intend it that way? Was he no longer trusted, or was it because he was still the most trusted?
Snape nodded curtly to Lucius, standing pale sentinel at the door, and stepped into the night. More alarming, did the Dark Lord guess it was his preferred occupation? That he didn’t enjoy the raids, didn’t hunger after destruction and thuggery like the others? Was that counted against him? He’d always offered his intelligence for service over his dueling abilities.
Once, he felt, the Dark Lord might have confided to him what he was seeking. But he’d become more secretive of late, even paranoid. Albus hadn’t counted on Voldemort learning of the Elder Wand, but now that he knew, he would never stop looking. Snape had wondered what the Dark Lord was seeking when he’d left the country but hadn’t suspected, not until the portrait had told him of Gregorovich’s significance. He had to prevent this. The Dark Lord could not, must not, make the connection between Gregorovich and Grindelwald. Snape would have to consult Albus how best to obfuscate this search.
He returned to Hogwarts and locked himself in the headmaster's study. From a drawer he took the vial with Theophany’s hair and placed it on his desk. So many loose ends to tie up.