It was sometime after Madame Pomfrey’s tremulous report that the amount of injured students in her ward was unacceptable but before Alecto Carrow started screaming that Snape noticed the vial on his desk was moving.
His morning had already been wasted in meaningless correspondence with the Ministry. Yes, he had received their letter and yes, he’d heard that Muggle-borns were going into hiding. No, he was certain none had been spotted within Hogsmeade. Yes, he fully approved searching any suspicious premises and monitoring all modes of transportation. No, he would not submit a concerned statement to that effect to the press.
Shortly after he’d tossed the last Ministry owl from the window, Poppy had turned up. Snape really prefered having these conversations at the teachers’ table in the Great Hall, but the school nurse had formally requested an audience. It seemed he was to be treated with chilly outward respect. So Poppy spoke succinctly, never quite looking at him. Her eyes did flick to the portrait hanging behind the desk with something like horror. Maybe she thought he’d hung it like a trophy. One finger to his temple, he only half listened. His head ached horribly. Unabated Occlumency or sleep deprivation? Just audible under Poppy’s recital something was clicking. He thought all of Albus’s contraptions were still; they appeared to have stopped with their owner. Poppy continued for ten minutes, the tapping sound gradually putting his teeth on edge. They both knew the majority of student injuries were caused by the Carrows, while the remainder were casualties of student guerilla warfare.
Why, why won’t they keep their heads down? The battle isn’t here, what are they accomplishing here?
“The infirmary is well stocked?”
Poppy stammered to a stop. Tick Tick went the noise.
“W-Well, Horace has been brewing everything I need. But we’re well above our average injury intake, and when the school governors see the quarter health report—”
“Are parents complaining? Are the students claiming abuse?”
“I have no idea what the students are saying in their private correspondence,” Poppy replied coldly, “but I’ve received no inquiries or complaints.”
“Then any further discussion is pointless, so if you’ve finished wasting my time…”
His eye fell on the desk lamp. At its base an empty vial was rolling. Or seemingly empty. One long, dark hair was curling over itself inside. It would pull itself forward like an inchworm, taking its glass shell with it, only to be stopped short by the unyielding brass lamp.
“Then I suppose that will be all,” Poppy said tartly, having waited sometime for him to speak.
Snape looked up sharply, bit his tongue against the automatic apology there, and nodded curtly. That was when they heard it. Alecto’s voice, magically augmented, screaming furiously.
“We’ve been too lenient with you! If you will not learn, you will comply! All students are to return to their houses at once. Any student found in the corridors will be punished severely. Any student in or near the dungeons is to report directly to my office, and God help anyone who thinks they can deny they were ever there!”
Poppy’s eyes were teary, her face pale. Snape stood.
“Screaming is so...unnecessary,” he drawled. Under cover of the billowing professors’ robe, so unexpectedly helpful for espionage, he palmed the vial and swept from the office. Whatever attack Dumbledore’s Army had perpetuated had to be dealt with swiftly. He had no idea how long Knapp would be visible. He only hoped it was something harmless, perhaps dungbombs, anything that could be passed over lightly. A detention with Hagrid at most.
They descended the stair and entered the hallway below. Students were filing obediently towards their houses and parted silently for Snape and Madam Pomfrey. As they descended towards the dungeons, the crowd of students became much more scarce. They past the Potions classroom and continued towards the part of the dungeons which, until the Carrows, hadn’t been in use. Alecto was pacing from one locked cell to another while Crabbe kept his wand pointed on the student leaning against the far wall. Longbottom was using his sleeve to mop at a vicious cut on his face.
“Gone!” Alecto hissed. “Would you care to explain how six students held for detention have disappeared?”
“Don’t know, Professor. I was upstairs in class with you—”
“Silence!” she shrieked.
Snape walked to the first cell. It was locked, the key visible from the inside, and a neat little pile of clothes lay on the stone floor as if the student had simply vaporized. Of course no such thing had happened, but someone in the D.A. had a sense of humor. Snape wouldn’t recommend mocking the Carrows. Bloody Gryffindors.
“What exactly has happened?”
Alecto smoothed her face, adopting a concerned oily tone.
“I had just finished teaching, Headmaster, when Crabbe ran in and informed me he’d spotted a few students, known to be in detention, leaving the dungeons. This excellent student was suspicious and came to me at once so as to not alert the culprits. I dismissed my class when this boy, here, this—this blood traitor,” the struggle seemed great but she managed to control her voice again, “asked me, me, that as I had just lectured on the importance of proper registration and documentation of bloodlines, I must know how much Muggle blood I had. Can you believe that, Severus? He practically called me a Mudblood to my face.”
She dabbed her eyes. Feminine distress did not suit her.
“How regrettable. We can’t have students using language like that. This is a school, after all. Poppy, would you please see to Mr. Longbottom’s face? He seems to have hurt himself.”
Madam Pomfrey, restraints released, leapt forward, but Alecto flung out an arm.
“No! Headmaster, seeing this is a personal offence, I ask that I may oversee his punishment myself.”
Longbottom showed no distress but explored his split lip with his tongue like no one else was in the room.
“Certainly, Alecto. It wouldn’t be harmful for Mr. Longbottom to learn a little tact...no matter his family.”
Alecto blanched. She could barely claim half-blood status. Certain relatives had been disregarded in her family tree to raise her to that status. Longbottom, had he been in Slytherin, would have been her pet student.
“We wouldn’t want other parents to hear he had been roughly treated. They might accuse us of abusing our position,” Snape continued calmly.
Blood traitor or not, certain exalted families would not be pleased to hear a pureblood student was severely punished. They expected that status to protect anyone, even a traitor. Alecto drew herself up haughtily.
“I will bear that in mind, Headmaster. Even wounded in spirit, I can be reasonable.”
Snape turned to leave.
“But there is the matter of the accomplice!”
Damn them all to hell with wood nettle in their—
“Accomplice?” he said blandly.
“Obviously Longbottom was providing a distraction. It was another student who actually let them out. Corner. Ravenclaw. I ask you oversee his punishment personally. I don’t trust that moronic mongrel, Hagrid.”
“Fine, send him to my office.” He took a step closer, letting his voice drop. “But I don’t like having my time wasted on petty detentions. If you can’t handle adolescent pranks, then I will find someone who can.”
He couldn’t guess if she was furious or terrified. He hoped she was afraid, hoped he was still seen as having the Dark Lord’s ear. She broke eye contact and he whirled around to leave. The vial was dancing a little jig in his pocket, and the minutes were slipping by.
Alecto must have dispatched Crabbe to fetch Corner, for he arrived in the Headmaster’s office minutes after Snape himself. He was sporting no injuries, unlike Longbottom, and carried his chin high. They stared at each other for a few minutes.
“What do I do with you?”
Corner’s gaze didn’t flinch.
“Answer me when I speak to you.”
“Sorry…Professor. I thought the question was rhetorical.”
“No, I want to know what you think is going to happen.”
The boy’s face looked wary, looking for some trick.
“Nobody really knows what to expect with your detentions, now that you’re headmaster, sir. The Carrows punish most everyone, or Hagrid. And nobody talks about what happens in detention with you, sir.”
Snape stayed silent. It usually worked.
“Some say it’s because of trauma, others reckon you wipe their memories,” Corner finished.
“And why would I do that?”
“Psychological warfare,” Corner replied promptly before remembering to add, “sir.”
“I’m glad to hear I’m putting such effort into it.” He drew his wand and saw Corner’s hand twitch reflexively towards his own. So they were practicing defense in secret. “Today, let’s try something different. Confundo!”
Snape could see the boy relax, then blink.
“You just put the Confundus Charm on me.” He didn’t sound accusing, just interested.
“Oh, very good, considering your state. Yes, you’re right. I do usually Obliviate the students placed in detention, but maybe it’s time someone carried a story back. Now, what do you fear I will do to you?”
Michael Corner frowned in concentration. The charm seemed to make some sleepy, others muddled, a few intoxicated. The boy seemed to be merely unconcerned.
“Well,” he scratched his chin, “you could string me up by my thumbs. It’s the sort of thing the Carrows would do.”
“Surely the student body gives me a little more credit than that?”
“Yah, not enough finesse. You could make me write lines in my own blood like Umbridge did to Harry.”
“Did she? How nauseating.”
“Um. I’m terrified of heights. Maybe you could put the full Body-Bind on me and make me stand on the window ledge.”
“Imaginative but infantile. I’m looking something more befitting a dark wizard – not an Unforgivable Curse.”
“Dark Arts but not an Unforgivable? That’s tough.”
Snape raised an eyebrow.
“Thank you for noticing.”
“Got it! You interrogate me for hours, asking the same questions over again. Names, where we meet, that sort of thing. I’m exhausted and thirsty and you make me stand until I collapse.”
“Then you regain consciousness on my office floor, I’ve forgotten all about you and gone about my business, and your memories of the whole affair are vague. But you know it happened.”
Corner was nodding.
“You can see it in your mind.”
Snape stood. “Well done. You have a bright future, though it may not come to pass, should you continue jailbreaking classmates. The Carrows shouldn’t be pushed; restrain your activities to minor infringements.”
Corner was frowning in confusion. Snape sighed. Nothing he said would stick anyway. He appreciated the ridiculousness of the situation, but that didn’t make it bearable.
“Much as I’ve enjoyed this little chat, I’d rather not have it repeated.”
He brought his wand up. The Stunning Spell hit Corner between the eyes, and he toppled heavily to the floor. Snape walked over and felt his pulse. There’d be a few bruises to lend credence to the story. He quickly locked the office door, though no one was likely to come. Corner was breathing softly.
“Poppy will murder me.” He shook his head. “If no one else does first.”
Snape pulled the vial from his pocket. The hair inside was still active, but it was impossible to know how much longer. He opened the window, and the cold wind howled into the room. It was daylight for a few hours yet. Holding the vial in his hand he balanced his wand on top.
The wand spun and then stopped. Southwest. London? Or closer. Apparating would be faster, but he could overshoot his target. Best keep an eye on the wand point, and should it reverse, he’d know he’d gone too far. Snape sighed; this was going to be tedious. Stepping from the window, he took flight over the forest and was out of sight before Corner began to snore.
It seemed Theophany’s excitement was visible; Allsop kept glancing sideways at her. Fortunately the Honeysetts prevented any private conversation. Lavinia was wonderful. She swung along, unselfconscious, in her borrowed wizard’s robes. It was strange to see Silyn, faux Silyn at least, without his wide-eyed smile. Theophany only had one critique.
“Don’t look worried for him,” she whispered.
“Felix. You keep checking on him and looking anxious when he’s walking ahead. Look annoyed, like he’s your kid brother.”
Lavina put on a bored scowl and widened the distance between herself and her son. Their tickets were booked in advance, and the conductor paid them no extra attention. Within a few minutes they were seated in a nearly empty compartment. Their companions were an elderly couple and a young witch buried in a book with the partially visible title ‘Entwined—’.
Theophany itched for ink and parchment. If only she could write it neat and orderly, maybe something would make sense. Severus Snape, Headmaster of Hogwarts, Death Eater...spy? It was a leap; she could almost laugh at herself. But that night in Reading she had come to the front lines, and instead of the enemy she had found, what exactly? An ally who would most certainly hunt her down.
After a delay, security checks were interminable, the train slowly pulled out. Felix, chin in hand, watched the scenery. He was fantastic, even looked bored. Theophany glanced at him sharply; he was bored. Maybe this was all a little anticlimactic. With Silyn’s long legs stretched in front of her, Lavinia perused The Daily Prophet, but she was tense. Theophany felt the reassuring crinkle in her pocket of the Prophet article. It contained little to no useful information, but the picture might be important. An hour after their departure Felix dug into his bag and pulled out a packet of sandwiches. Bless Allsop. Felix politely offered one to Theophany, but she declined and volunteered a game of gobstones. She had lost two games when the train shuddered to a stop.
“We can’t be there already,” Lavina said sharply.
“Probably a rural station, shouldn’t be a long delay,” the old wizard volunteered.
Theophany smiled and nodded. Felix took his turn and captured two more of her pieces. She stared at the board but wasn’t really playing. There were footsteps further down the corridor, still a few compartments down. Should she alter their tickets so they could disembark immediately? But any official would check for forgery if the train was really being searched. The party of footsteps slowly grew closer. If they were pausing in each compartment, then it was surely a search. Manhunt or random check? Don’t change a thing, do nothing defensive.
Theophany paused, halfway to choosing a piece, when the compartment door slid open. Two wizards entered. Neither wore the uniform of the train. Definitely Magical Law Enforcement. One wizard leaned against the door, wand drawn but at his side, while the other checked papers and tickets. Felix was the only one with false papers; Prosper’s name was there but the picture and information were false.
“You’re brothers and sister?”
“That’s right,” Lavinia replied hoarsely. Silyn’s pale eyes and hair were nothing like Theophany’s dark ones, but they both had their mother’s pointed face and short nose.
After a moment he returned their papers.
“Report to the official at Frog’s Hollow when you disembark.”
He wanted the local Ministry rat to confirm, as he could easily ask around about the Knapp family. Silyn-who-was-not-Silyn nodded, lips tight in annoyance or fear.
“Is there something wrong with our—” Theophany began.
“Report to your local census official,” he repeated curtly.
They moved on. The other passengers avoided eye contact like erroneous papers were catching. A while later the second ministry official returned and took up a position two compartments down from theirs. Random arrests weren’t unknown. Anyone could be detained for questioning at any time without evidence. If they were stopped and the Polyjuice wore off, it would be over. Theophany checked her watch as the train began to move again.
“Was there something wrong with the sandwich?” she said softly to Felix.
He looked up in confusion.
“You’re looking a little green.”
“Oh? oh! Just a little motion sick, I guess.”
Theophany smiled at him. He looked carefully back and she winked. Over the next quarter of an hour Felix did an admirable job of becoming listless. He slumped further back in his seat and Theophany saw him surreptitiously pinch his face for flush.
“I–I think I need to go to the loo,” Felix mumbled.
Theophany leaned forward and felt his face.
“Do you feel chilled?”
“Silyn, go with him.”
“Why do I have to—”
Lavinia sighed tragically. “Come on.”
The two of them left the compartment. Theophany packed up the gobstones into Felix’s bag and placed the bag on the overhead shelf. Then she settled herself with the newspaper. She made herself really read it, just to pass the time. They would be worried, she knew, but they wouldn’t budge from the loo without instruction. After a few pages she leaned over to try and look into the corridor, checked her watch with a frown, and went back to reading. She’d finished the headlines and started the editorial when she folded the paper with a sigh and stood up. Conspicuously leaving Felix’s bag on the shelf, she left the compartment and edged down the corridor to the toilets. She knocked on the men’s loo.
“Felix? Felix, are you okay?”
The door opened an inch. Lavinia peered out.
“Oh poor thing. I’ll come in, you wait out here.”
They changed places, and Theophany squeezed into the tiny closet where Felix was sitting on the covered toilet.
“There’s an empty compartment three back, not as far as our own. We’re going there, ok?”
Felix looked like he had questions but kept quiet. Theophany took his hand and led him out to Lavinia.
“Maybe something cold will help. Let’s find the refreshment cart.”
The fake Silyn was looking definitely pale and panicky. Please let the compartment still be empty, Theophany prayed desperately. There was no one else in the corridor or, better still, the compartment. Theophany pulled Felix in and Lavinia shut the door. Theophany walked over the to window and unlocked it.
“Wait, what are we doing—”
“This is where we get off, kids,” Theophany said and winced inwardly. She always sounded more manic than hearty whenever she tried. True, her own heartbeat was thundering, but best not to show that to the refugees. Don’t get excited, be steady.
“Through the window?”
The scenery ripped by. Dusk had fallen by four o‘clock and now it was almost complete dark.
“Cast a Shield Charm on yourself and Felix.”
“But the speed—”
“I’ll handle the speed. You just protect yourselves from being battered.”
Lavinia pulled out her wand and Felix held still, his eyes fixed on the window.
“When I open this window, it’ll be too loud to talk much, so let’s get this clear. I’m going to guide your fall. Felix first.”
“Who’s guiding your fall?”
“When you land, this is important, lie flat. Do not look back. Do not look for me. I’ll be there.”
And before she had any further doubts, Theophany tore the window open. The wind was cutting, the howl deafening. Theophany drew her wand and held out her hand to Felix, but he shook his head and climbed onto the sill. She pounded his shoulder briefly and mouthed jump. Felix, face screwed up fearsomely, leapt from the sill.
“Aresto momentum!” Theophany shouted, the wind almost forcing the spell back down her throat.
Felix, as if swimming not falling, slid into the bushes below. Lavinia, hovering anxiously, barely waited for him to land before flinging herself after him. The larger the object, the heavier the fall, but Lavinia rolled out of sight seemingly uninjured. Theophany put away her wand and pulled herself onto the sill. It was tempting but she’d promised.
“You’d better be right about this flying thing, Severus Snape. Because it would be really useful right now.”
She pointed her wand at the night sky.
It was dark enough to prevent anyone seeing a mad witch rocket from the train. Once she was in the air, Theophany twisted herself forward, guiding her body away from the train.
Just like Silyn had taught her. Maintain control. The trees offered some screen; as long as she landed safely, it would be fine. She could feel her momentum lessening and, with a lurch in her stomach, started to fall.
The trees were rushing towards her; she swiped branches out of her way with her wand.
Theophany shrieked and threw up her left hand. Trees threw themselves out of her way, wildlife scattered, branches snapped. The Cushioning Charm had to wait until the last second, the exact spot she was going to land. Her wand hand shot out and the next minute she was bouncing, a little too hard for comfort, in suddenly spongy dirt and moss. She lay for a second listening. The train was already rattling away, growing faint. It hadn’t stopped. Nobody had seen. Theophany whooped and bounced gleefully. A forceful bounce landed her on her feet and she posed like a gymnast.
“Ladies and gentlemen, hold your applause.”
An owl burst into flight and reminded her of the immediate predicament. She had to rendezvous with the Honeysetts. The forest here was ancient, and Muggles had proclaimed it a reserve, deploring its shrunken size due to deforestation, and would have been horrified to know a train ran through it, though they couldn’t see the train, or how large the wood really was. It was indeed a preserve, but for creatures not found on any Muggle endangered list.
Theophany found her way back to the rail and followed it back. Only a quarter of an hour after her own landing she saw her two charges walking towards her.
“How did you do it?” Felix demanded.
Theophany winked jauntily though truthfully she was exhausted.
“All right, Felix?”
“What now?” Lavinia still looked like Silyn, but the potion wouldn’t last halfway through the night.
“We get you to your hosts.”
“But what about the census?”
“I, Silyn, and Prosper will report. Our paperwork is perfectly in order; he just chose us at random. Come on. You’ve done Side-along before?”
Felix nodded and gripped her arm. Theophany took Lavinia’s hand.
“Sorry, location to remain undisclosed a little longer.”
They Disapparated from the lonely tracks, and Theophany tried to ignore the fleeting sensation she’d seen something in the sky above them.
Frog’s Hollow wasn’t a roaring metropolis at the busiest of times, and the dinner hour saw it nearly abandoned. Light came from the Whistling Ghoul, but all the other houses were shuttered tight against the cold. Theophany peered from the shadows behind the robes shop; no patrol was present.
“Okay, just one door down, opposite side of the street. But we should avoid being seen; we’re supposed to be on a train after all.”
Theophany stepped out from their cover and turned the corner. She just as quickly stepped back, pushing the two behind her close to the wall.
“There’s someone there,” she hissed.
Cautiously she looked around the corner. Every wizard in his right mind was toasting his toes at the pub or home having dinner. This one was stamping his feet in the cold, right across from the Hughes's tearoom, and wearing a terribly official-looking badge. Magical Law Enforcement. They must have heard the Hughes were expecting company and came to investigate.
Theophany couldn’t take them to The Mill; no refugee was allowed to see the center of operations. Too many Ministry spies were posing as Muggle-borns. Theophany took Lavinia’s hand, then Felix’s, and squeezed them tight. Responding to her pressure, they clung on as she Disapparated. Lavinia looked about her. They were back in the woods, by the train tracks again. Theophany was already striding ahead, leaving the tracks behind.
“Come on, I’m taking you to a friend. I have to see you safe first, then I can find out if the Hughes are secure or not.”
“But if they knew we were coming—”
“They knew the Hughes were expecting guests, that’s all. But we couldn’t be seen.”
Theophany moved quickly. She should have had the Honeysetts safely settled by now. How could she help them when her time ran out? Felix trotted after her.
“We can’t Apparate there?”
“There’s an Anti-Apparition jinx that covers this part of the forest. For security.”
“So...are we going to your house then?”
“No, though I’m nearby. That’s also under the Anti-Apparition jinx.”
“So no one here can Apparate? For how far?”
“Felix…!” Lavinia warned.
They had left the path and were walking west, away from the Valley and The Mill.
“There’s not many people out here. Of course we can Apparate in the village, but the farms in the Valley and the eastside of the wood are covered by the jinx. You can Apparate from the path between the woods and the valley.”
“So is the Valley Frog’s Hollow too?”
“The Valley doesn’t have a name anymore. But the forest still has the old name, Dagda Wood.”
Felix seemed to be out of questions until they passed through a clearing. It was a stone circle. The rocks were worn smooth by water and half covered by moss.
“How old is that? What’s it doing here?”
“Only a few years actually, though the stones are old. Lavinia, should something happen, the circle marks where you can Apparate.”
Lavinia looked up at the stars through the bare trees, and Theophany could see she was orienting herself should she need to find her way back.
“Don’t worry. You’ll be perfectly safe with my friend.”
The further in they went, the larger the forest became. The fauna changed from tame conservation landscaping to wilderness. Theophany nearly stumbled into the low meadow—it opened so suddenly beneath their feet. It wasn’t very large but deep. On the opposite side a cottage protruded, its back half submerged in the meadowbank. Theophany slid down the bank, releasing a fragrant haze of crushed leaves and herbs from the frosted ground. Felix tumbled after her with Lavinia more cautiously behind. Theophany climbed the erratic steps cut into the opposite bank and gained the cottage door.
“Jacka!” She rattled the knocker, a griffin’s head. “Jacka!”
The door opened and she heard Felix gulp. The wizard was easily over six feet and seemed at least half that again across the chest. His rough, curly hair and beard completed the impression of a large friendly bear. His expression was neither alarmed nor annoyed, but deep worry lines creased his swarthy face as if he was perpetually expecting bad news. Jacka lightened a little when he saw his guests.
“Theophany?” Jacka’s voice was surprisingly soft for his size. “We didn’t expect you until tomorrow at the best. I see you brought Silyn with you, but who’s this?”
“It isn’t Silyn. It’s Polyjuice. Jacka, the Ministry is watching the tea shop. Have you heard anything?”
Jacka was shaking his head. “Not been into town for weeks. Was that their host family?”
“Yes. I have to ask you a favor. Could they please wait with you while I scout it out?”
Jacka seemed a little embarrassed.
“We don’t have many guests, so I don’t have a lot to offer, but of course, come in. I can at least make some tea and something to eat, yes?”
Felix grinned. “Yeah, thanks!”
The interior was humble. Built into the hill, one would expect it to be rather like a cave or a cellar, but it was really like the inside of a tree. The walls and furniture were made of wood, beautifully crafted and lovingly polished. Jacka certainly favored the utilitarian over the decorative, but the natural beauty did much to turn the space from a cabin into a home. While the Honeysetts gratefully moved towards the fire, Theophany stayed by the door and caught Jacka by the arm.
“I’ll be back soon as I can. Jacka, thank you. I know it’s a lot to ask.”
“Always happy to help...when I’m capable,” he added softly.
Theophany waved to Felix and tried to smile reassuringly at Lavinia, who was making Silyn’s face look more drawn and worried than she’d ever seen her brother.
Theophany tore through the wood. She would Apparate from the stone circle to the path. She had to go to The Mill, they would fill her in, and she had to ensure those vials of memories were complete before...before whatever happened. Once out of the wood and in the valley, the path to The Mill seemed distortedly long.
“Dad?” Theophany flung open the front door. “Silyn?”
Silyn hurried down the stairs, his hair damp from the bath.
“What is it? What’s happening, Tiff? Dad went into town and that Ministry bloke was asking for you.”
“Did he see you? You’re supposed to have been on a train with me.”
“No, I stayed in all day. Out of sight. Dad spoke to him.”
“I don’t know what’s going on. Someone’s watching the Hughes tea room. Silyn, has there been any suspicious activity in town? We got spot-checked on the train and have to report to the registrar...Mr. Smithers? Or was it Withers? Wake up Prosper and take him with you to the station—”
“Prosper?” Mr. Knapp entered from the kitchen; he’d probably just come in from the barn. “Theophany, I don’t like involving the children.”
“I know, Dad, this is the first and last time I use their papers. But I can’t present a fake brother tonight. Silyn, the train is due in...forty-three minutes. I’ll meet you there to report to what’s-his-name.”
“Heathers. Mr. Heathers is our local gestapo—”
Mr. Knapp raised a finger. “Be careful in your language, even privately, you don’t want to slip—”
Theophany threw up her hands. “This can wait. Silyn, has there been any news? How did the Ministry know I was taking people to the Hughes' tonight?"
“I don’t know why the Hughes specifically, but there seems to be some new initiative; we heard it on the wireless. There was a massive search on the railway, delays all day on every line. The Floo was also being spontaneously rerouted and checked. Then this evening Heathers stopped Dad on the street, said someone was looking for you. Didn’t say who, but he seemed pretty agitated.”
Theophany felt her breath knocked out of her. She’d run out of time. Severus Snape, or an associate, had found her. Just under a day.
She looked up at Silyn, still halfway down the staircase.
“Silyn, be at the station.”
He looked at her curiously but only nodded once. Theophany started towards the kitchen, headed for the back door.
“They’ll be safe with Jacka for tonight. Why don’t you come with us to the station and settle any suspicions Heathers and the Ministry goon have?”
I don’t think Heathers’ guest is from the Ministry.
“I have to take care of this.” She didn’t turn around. “I’ll be there, don’t worry.”
From the back door she ran through the garden to the workshop. Locking the door behind her she took a piece of parchment and wrote.
“Speak to Jacka.”
Touching her wand to it, she wiped it clean, only to be read by her. Next to it she placed the copied photo from the newspaper. Quickly retrieving the spawn-slimy jar of stored memories, she sat down and tried to compose herself. No time to rehearse. Bringing her wand to her temple, she extracted it all. Allsopp, the Honeysetts, the Prophet archives. One long curl of memory, the past twenty-four hours, dancing from the wand tip. If she needed to wipe her memories, they would all be here, waiting for her. She sealed the recent memory in the last bottle and put it with the others in a satchel. Satchel over her shoulder, she locked the workshop behind her, even against family members interfering, and turned down the path. She would have even a greater favor to ask tonight.
Theophany scanned the sky as she walked down the path. The valley was under the Fidelius Charm, but she would be unprotected the brief moment she was on the path before she Disapparated to the stone circle.
Back in the woods she ran for the safety of the cottage, unmappable, feeling eyes on her back.
The cosy tableau broke up as she burst through the door. Felix and Jacka’s son, Col, were toasting cheese and rolls in the fire, Lavinia not yet in her own form was sipping tea, while Jacka sat in the farthest corner, a beneficent observer. Lavinia looked up questioningly and Theophany tried to appear unconcerned.
“Jacka, a quick word.”
He followed her outside. Theophany looked up at him, lost for words. She offered her bag.
“I need you to keep these for me.”
Jacka pulled the flap open and quickly closed it. “What — Theophany, I can keep these but—”
“Yes, I know. If I need these, that means I’ll need a Pensieve, and I know it’s against the rules, but maybe if you use it with me…”
“That won’t be necessary.”
Jacka put out a hand, then dropped it. Theophany blinked in surprise. Jacka wasn’t really one for physical contact; she was flattered he would even attempt to comfort her. Already a little overwrought, she found herself tearing up.
“Whatever you’re running from, whatever’s out there tonight, stay safe. And if you need these, if you need me, we’ll be here.”
“Thanks.” Theophany pressed her cold hands to her cheeks, trying to compose herself. “Can the Honeysetts stay tonight?”
“Jacka, I’m — thanks. Thank you.”
“Go. It’s no trouble. Keep everyone safe.”
That was her job. Theophany stepped back into the cottage, smile in place.
“Okay, you’re staying the night here. Trust Jacka like you would me. I’ll be back tomorrow. Okay? Cheers, then. Well done today, the worst is over.”
She ducked quickly out, hearing Felix say to Col, “Is she always like that?”
“Kind of, you know, excited. Manic. Today I was—I was scared, but she was totally cool with it. Like she liked it…”
Do I like it? Theophany scaled the deep bank, up to her elbows in dead leaves and half-dead herbs sleeping under the frost. Do I enjoy danger? For the first time in what felt like days, she paused. A few stars were visible through the bare-branched trees. No, I don’t like anything about this situation, she thought. But I am happy to do it. I like that I am fighting.
Theophany released a long breath and stepped from the woods onto the path. Please, please, no matter what happens tonight, let me remember that I was protecting everyone. It was time to be found.
Thank you for reading! Reviews, comments, questions, complaints, confessions, any feedback at all is welcomed :)