“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
― Gautama Buddha, Sayings Of Buddha
It was a good day for a clandestine meeting -- hot and sluggish, clouds stretching across a colorless sky -- the kind of day that made people dull and irritable and less likely to be looking around at what other people were doing.
And Tonks was late.
This happened a lot. Aurors didn’t really have tidy schedules. At the Ministry this wasn’t a problem, since they were used to it. Unfortunately, those Aurorly habits made it hard to be on time for clandestine meetings.
She Apparated into the little copse of trees in the park on Grimmauld Place. Notice-Me-Not spells gently discouraged Muggles from wandering into the Apparition spot, but they had, of course, no effect on wizards. That was rather the point. The problem occurred when you Apparated at the same time as someone else and, trying to hoof it to the Secret Meeting for which you were already late, ploughed into them and knocked them over.
“Sorry!” she said, stepping on their cloak and then falling over when she tried to jump off. “Sorry, I’m just--urk.”
She wondered what she had done, what horrible transgression she’d committed in a past life, to have set herself up to knock over Snape.
He gave her a filthy look, which carried the suggestion that being also late was the only reason he wasn’t already sharing the park with her corpse.
“Sorry,” she said again, knowing it was useless; but she’d been raised to be polite.
“I suppose I should be grateful it wasn’t worse,” he said, and his was not so much a no-harm-done tone as a dearly-wish-harm-would-come-to-you tone.
Tonks pretended to be brushing some mud and grass off her trousers so she could wait till he’d stalked out of the clearing. It was entirely because she felt that a bit of space would do them both a bit of good, though if asked, she’d say it was because they hardly cut two inconspicuous figures. Snape had worn his black, imposing robes, like always, and Tonks’ long hair was magenta shot through with black and lightning-colored streaks. If anyone saw them standing around together, they’d be looking around for the heavy metal concert, or possibly the circus.
But when she finally tottered across the square to the front door of Number Thirteen, Snape was clearly still feeling that what England needed to make it a place fit for all good wizards and witches was fewer Tonkses.
“If you’re ready,” he said, and raised his wand to rap on the door.
She heard the familiar sinuous clicks of the locks drawing aside. Pausing only to shove his oar in one last time--“Do try to remain upright and not set her off”--Snape swept over the threshold.
Tonks edged into the gloomy interior. She pushed the front door shut, closing off the rectangle of metallic daylight, and stood waiting a moment for her eyes to adjust. Bilious light filtered from the dusty old lamps that Sirius hadn’t cleaned yet, though she knew that was the least of his worries. Over the decades, the Black Drawing Room had become the lair of a carnivorous escritoire that nobody could get near; an Axminster carpet had devoured one of Tonks’ own shoes and then got horrible indigestion, which resulted in a synthetic leather sick-up that all but glued it to the floor; and it was hard to get rid of all the nasty Dark Arts stuff without someone asking where it was coming from. Remus and Mundungus had been carting off small batches since March, but they hadn’t made much of a dent. And it was already June.
She tiptoed past Mrs. Black’s painting and followed Snape down the kitchen steps. If only she’d managed not to step on his cloak, she’d have counted it a win.
“Sorry,” she said again. At least Sirius would find this all very funny. She supposed it was, if you weren’t Nymphadora Tonks. Or Snape, she added fairly.
Snape’s answering glare said that she was on his list, right after blokes named Voldemort, but he said nothing, only turning to enter the kitchen. She reckoned he hadn’t been able to think of anything mean enough. He’d often given off that vibe in the seven years he’d taught her Potions: as if she was so hopeless, he’d run out of ways to describe her.
The meeting room smelled like oven cleaner and overcooked roast. Someone, probably Remus, had packed in as many lamps as they could find, but all the extra light seemed to do was layer the gloom.
The group clustered round the long, pitted, ancient table were chattering amongst themselves as they waited for the meeting to start, but a hush fell across them as Snape glided into the room like the family spectre. With his long, gaunt face and crow’s black hair, he seemed like just the sort of ghost you’d find haunting the Black family mansion; far more than Sirius did. He was slumped at the far end of the table, his unkempt hair and whiskers giving him the look of an aging rock star.
Sirius waved at her. She gladly took a wide orbit around Snape to the spare seat between him and Remus, who helped her pick up her chair after she knocked it over. Sirius grinned at her as she finally, after an ordeal that would have made angels weep, sat down.
“Good evening, Severus, Tonks,” said Dumbledore, as if they were all gathered for a nice, informal family dinner. “I hope you had a pleasant journey in. How is Tom enjoying Narcissa’s hospitality, Severus?”
“A great deal more than Narcissa’s enjoying it,” Snape said with a curl of his lip that settled into the well-trafficked lines around his mouth. “Theirs is the nicest residence of his circle, however, so he’s unlikely to budge until something necessitates it.”
Sirius slouched in his chair, propping his chin in his hand. Behind his fingers, he muttered to Tonks, “Coming in with Snivellus, Tonksie? I thought better of you, my favorite cousin.”
Pretending to be absorbed in the details of Draco Malfoy (her other cousin of the House of Black) being sent off to summer in Austria, Tonks kicked Sirius under the table. He laughed silently. Remus, a pensive crease between his eyebrows, wrote on a scrap of paper and casually nudged it towards her.
Tonks looked down. Remus had written: ‘Kick him once more for me.’
She grinned at the note and took the request. Sirius, rubbing his ankle, muttered something about it biting sharper than a serpent’s tooth to have a thankless cousin, and a thankless werewolf wasn’t any better.
“So, the Malfoys are divided,” Dumbledore said thoughtfully. “Young Draco with family abroad, Narcissa at home, and Lucius, like his son, abroad -- but the details as yet unknown.”
“Could it have to do with You-Know-Who’s interest in the prophecy?” asked Kingsley.
“Possibly,” said Snape. “But the Dark Lord doesn’t content himself with one plot at a time. He’s always been adept at . . . multi-tasking. One of his reasons for making Lucius an errand boy is to show that he can. But he will have a legitimate purpose as well.”
“Narcissa would tell you if she knew?” asked Dumbledore.
“I believe so.”
Sirius snorted. “You can’t trust Narcissa, Sni--Snape,” he said, changing the insult to Snape’s name at the last moment, but (Tonks was sure) only because Dumbledore had shot him a warning look.
“When did I say she was remotely trustworthy?” Snape asked boredly, as if listening to Sirius’ comments was duller than watching that ugly wallpaper in the Black Drawing Room peel. “Narcissa can be trusted to do what she thinks is best for Draco’s interests. That will align with our aims only so long as they’re to her benefit.”
“And his other plans at present,” Dumbledore said. “What are they?”
“He wishes to have the prophecy in full,” said Snape. “Now that he’s satisfied you will not release the memory to me, he is making plans to approach the Ministry itself. . .”
Tonks doubted “satisfied” was the right word. Snape always looked like that family spectre about to pronounce judgment on his descendents, but when she’d first re-met him back in March, he’d looked like he’d clawed his way right out of the ground.
After Snape’s report, they heard from Emmeline Vance and others. Remus made notes, like always; he took them in code, which he’d given to Tonks to try her hand at cracking. She’d had no luck so far; but whatever he was using, Sirius understood at least some of it, because he’d said, “Moony, I thought we were friends.”
Tonks was good at remembering exactly what she heard, thankfully, because she couldn’t take notes in code. Sirius always gave off the impression that he was daydreaming right through every meeting, but when you asked him later, he could rattle off the full specs. Remus said it was a very annoying talent and had always frustrated his professors, who’d hoped to catch him out for not paying attention, only to have Sirius quote them back.
“How is Alastor faring, Miss Tonks?” said Dumbledore, turning so that his light blue gaze fell on her.
“They’re releasing him tomorrow,” she said, trying to keep it professional and not add any dumb jokes about how she expected the Healers to cry with relief. “I’ll be down there to meet him at ten -- Scrimgeour’s already given me the time off.” Even if he only agreed to get me to shut up and leave him alone, she didn’t say.
“Splendid,” said Dumbledore, though the gleam in his eye suggested he had a good idea what she’d held back. “Remus, if you could arrange to be nearby, though not seem to be directly accompanying? There’s the slim possibility that Alastor may present a target.”
“Happy to,” said Remus.
Sirius kicked at the table leg but didn’t say anything.
“Hestia,” said Dumbledore, to the youngest person at the table, after Tonks, “you will be taking over our Harriet Potter watch. If you can leave immediately after our meeting to relieve Mundungus--”
“Fletcher?” said Snape, with a loathing that made Tonks feel suddenly quite well-liked. He seemed about to say something else, but Dumbledore just gave him a mild look and he subsided with an expression that said he’d like to bite a hole through the table.
The group broke off into segments once the last of the assignments handed out. Tonks expected Snape to sweep out straightaway, like he nearly always did, but he stayed right where he was, talking in a low, fierce voice to Dumbledore. It was probably a diatribe against Mundungus. Tonks just hoped it wasn’t about her.
“So they’re finally releasing old Mad-Eye,” said Sirius. “Bet he’s been going stir-crazy in hospital.”
“I think the hospital’s releasing him in self-defense,” said Tonks.
Sirius grinned. “Do the Healers shed golden tears of gratitude when they see you coming in the door to distract him?”
“Something like that.” She turned as she saw, from the corner of her eye, Dumbledore approaching -- with Snape in tow. Maybe if she stood very still, she wouldn’t run into him again. Or maybe if she hid behind Remus a bit. She recalled that thunderous look from Hogwarts: he was in a really foul mood and was looking for a target.
“I heard you discussing Alastor,” said Dumbledore, smiling. “How is he enjoying his gift?”
“After he asked me about two dozen security questions to make sure it was really me,” said Tonks, trying to keep a straight face, “and had six different Healers scan it for traps, he was only deeply suspicious that it had really come from you, sir.”
“A mysterious Ficus,” Remus said thoughtfully. “Though, considering the ordeal he’s had. . .”
“I’m sure the shadow of the threat accompanying my gift made him feel his old self again,” said Dumbledore. “I’m glad you could make it in tonight, my dear.”
“Sorry I was late--”
“Not at all,” said Dumbledore, sounding sincere. He probably was; he didn’t seem the type of person to be irritated by tardiness. “We are at your disposal.”
With a nod of farewell, he took himself off. Snape stalked beside him, his robes rippling, his cheek a pale, sallow curve around the edge of his hair as he looked up at Dumbledore. Tonks supposed they were off to discuss spy strategy.
“If either of you ever repeat this, I’ll put the curse of the Blacks on you,” said Sirius as the kitchen door shut, leaving the three of them alone. “But even Snivellus can run into the right idea once every hundred years. The idea of Dung looking after Holly-berry fucking gives me nightmares.”
“Unfortunately, Dung has the most open schedule,” Remus said. His voice and his expression were mild, but Tonks would bet her watch that he didn’t like Mundungus’ being on the Harriet Potter Duty Roster any more than Sirius -- or Snape -- did.
“Who knew a life of crime was so flexible,” said Tonks. “They’d better keep that under wraps or more of us will be ditching our office jobs for a career in grand larceny.”
Sirius chuckled, though the hand he dragged through his hair was anything but easy.
“I just want to be able to see how she’s doing,” he muttered. “Not just rely on a damn report, from Dung of all fucking people. And hell if I’m going to ask Dung to take a bloody picture, he’d sell it to some fucking creep reporter or worse--”
“She’s all right, Sirius,” Remus said quietly.
“I want to see it for myself, Moony.”
He pulled the newspaper clipping out of his pocket and unfolded it - or it unfolded itself, along its well-worn creases. Tonks expected it to fall apart any day now. Sirius spread the newsprint on the table with a sigh, not an audible expulsion of breath but a slump of the body, his gaze grim but also full of longing. Tonks leaned her cheek against his shoulder to look, too, even though the picture never changed: a black and white image of Harriet Potter, unsmiling even as she was photographed, just two weeks ago, tying for the Triwizard Cup with Cedric Diggory. Tonks had yet to meet her, but she felt, in a weird way, like she had -- not, in fact, because she’d seen this photo enough times, but because Harriet had a . . . presence. Cedric Diggory was particularly photogenic, handsome and regal; but Harriet was . . .
Well. Something else.
They’d told Tonks that Harriet had fought Voldemort off in February and dragged her best friend Hermione Granger to safety, saving her life. Looking at that girl in the photograph, Tonks could believe she’d been through something like that. Several layers of person seemed to look past those shaggy bangs and thick glasses.
A squishy byline from Harmony Harris, a new reporter whose coverage of the Triwizard Tournament after Rita Skeeter’s sudden disappearance had catapulted her to the front page of the Daily Prophet, titillated the public with the news that Harriet Potter had donated her winnings to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, an up-and-coming enterprise. “‘Everyone could use a laugh,’” Ms. Harris reported Miss Potter saying, “with no hint of a smile.”
Poor kid, Tonks thought, wanting to meet her. Sirius gushed when sober and grew melancholy when drunk; Remus clearly adored her, in his cautious way; and if Snape’s extra-snappish behavior wasn’t bloody protective, she’d eat her shoe like the Axminster carpet had tried to do.
“I know no one can approach her straight so nobody knows we’re watching,” Sirius said, his fingers brushing the fraying creases on the newspaper. “But Tonks, you can look like anyone. You could--”
“Sirius,” Remus started in warning.
A thud from upstairs made them all look up.
Sirius was sliding the clipping back into his pocket and Remus was half out of chair when Dumbledore’s phoenix Patronus burst through the wall in a glitter of starlight.
“Come at once,” he said, “the Black Drawing-room.”
Tonks knocked over her chair as she darted after them, but she didn’t stop to pick it up.
The wind passed hot and dry across Harriet’s sticky forehead and rustled the edges of her letter. She flattened her hand across the paper until it stilled again.
Another breeze, she wrote, the pen damp in her palm. It’s been hot, too hot to rain, apparently, according to the weather. I have no idea what that even means. I lie under the bushes sometimes, listening to the weather report. Why do weathermen have to put such a cheerful spin on everything? There’s nothing good about it being this bloody hot. The grass cracks and prickles when I lie on it. The dirt burns. I’m sitting in the shade and it still burns. My feet are always dirty these days. I go barefoot everywhere because I haven’t found any sandals that fit. Plus it pisses off Aunt Petunia. Maybe that’s reason number one. The pavement scorches, so I walk in the dry, crackling, prickly grass or on the hot dirt.
The wind came again, ruffling through her hair. She closed her eyes -- not because it was cool or felt good, but to picture Hermione in hospital. Her right hand would be shaking as she tried to move the geometric pieces around the board. She’d try to mouth the words on the cards silently to herself so that she wouldn’t fumble them when she read them aloud.
I hope they’re giving you lots of soft blankets, Harriet wrote to her. I hope they’re keeping it cool in there. And bringing you loads of books, obviously. Remus sent me a whole box of romance novels -- he got them secondhand, he said they had weird labels on them like “Interspecies Dating Problems” and “The Absolute Definition of Guilty Pleasure” and he picked the box he thought I’d like best.
She closed her eyes, not against the dusty wind this time, but to picture Remus. There was a big scar on the side of his face now, tracing from above his eyebrow down to his chin. He’d come back just before the Third Task, held out his hand, and with a funny smile said, “Look at what you’ve lived through while we’ve been gone, dear one.”
“You, too,” she’d said, running her finger down the side of her own face, where the scar would be if it was on herself.
In the negligent shade of the old tree, she opened her eyes and pressed her pen against the paper again.
I wish I could come by the hospital, she wrote, but they’ve told me I have to stay here because of the Riddler. I miss you. Say hi to your parents and baby Hugh for me. I’ll write again tomorrow.
She folded the paper into threes, stuffed it into a paper envelope, printed the hospital address by memory and stuck on the stamp. Dr. Granger -- Jean -- had given Harriet the stationery when she’d picked her up at King’s Cross. It was printed with psychedelic cartoon animals. Jean had said, “I thought of you when I saw it.” Harriet couldn’t fault her; she did like it.
Standing, she tucked the envelope into her notebook and dropped her pen in the pocket of the sundress she’d bought at Oxfam. It was some floral smocked thing, probably pretty ugly, if she had an eye for that sort of thing -- and she wasn’t sure she did -- but it had pockets. She kept her wand in one.
The trip to the postbox wasn’t familiar because she wrote the letters in a different place every day -- in the shade of the empty local school, on the creaking swings at the playground, in the underground station where it was almost cool when the trains blew past -- and she liked to find new postboxes when she could. The search took her out on long walks that lasted the days, so she wouldn’t have to spend them in Privet Drive. The Dursleys were fine with that. They didn’t say anything at all.
She swung her shoes -- ugly old trainers that she put on when she needed to -- by their laces as she walked. Her dress stuck to the small of her back, her sweat acting as adhesive. She closed her eyes as another breeze whispered, crunching, through the grass.
It wouldn’t have mattered if her eyes were open, she thought later, as the blow came from behind.
Stunner, she thought as magic electrified straight to her bones. Her eyes shot open and caught the bleached-out sky tilting wildly overhead before the black slammed down and the heat was finally gone.
When Tonks nearly tripped over Sirius and Remus heels on their sudden screeching halt into the Black Drawing-room, Snape was slumped on a settee, looking like death scraped off the bottom of a frying pan. Dumbledore seemed to be keeping him from oozing to the floor only by an iron grip on his shoulder.
“What the hell?” asked Sirius, and the others had to hear the Why’d you drag us here to help Snape? because Tonks sure could.
“It’s the Vow,” Snape said, his voice rasping like he’d been gargling gravel.
Tonks didn’t know what that meant, but Sirius was at Snape’s side in an instant, actually dropping to kneel by his chair. In a voice sharp like the edge of broken glass, he said, “What’s happened to her?”
“I don’t--” Snape breathed in like it seared; Dumbledore was running spells over him, too fast for Tonks to count. The magical streaks flickered over Snape like a lightning storm.
“He collapsed,” said Dumbledore, “and lost consciousness for approximately thirteen seconds.”
“She’s in danger, but it--” Snape coughed, and it sounded like a punch in the lung.
“We’ll go,” said Remus. It took Tonks a second to realize he meant that she’d be going with him.
Sirius stood, clenching his fists, his shoulders rigid as iron. He turned toward her and Remus, his face full of fury and helplessness --
“Fuck the Dursleys,” said Sirius, “and fuck the security detail. She comes back here.”
Dumbledore said, “Sirius,” just like Remus had downstairs.
“I’m her godfather,” Sirius said, twisting his chin to glare at him over his shoulder.
Dumbledore looked at him, but Remus tapped Tonks on the shoulder and tipped his chin at the door with clear meaning: “Let’s go.”
As she left the room, she heard Dumbledore say quietly, “As you wish, Sirius.”
The trip across Grimmauld Place to the Apparition spot was quite familiar, as if Tonks had been there only an hour ago. She re-materialized in a cramped Apparition vestibule by herself, Remus already having stepped out. After taking a moment to switch her hair from the lightning stripes to a nondescript dark brown, she sidled through the glamored brick.
The sickly yellow lights overhead looked bizarre after the antique gloom of Twelve Grimmauld Place; so too the rubbish bins and the bored woman reading a magazine on a bench.
“What happened to Snape?” Tonks asked Remus as they climbed the dirty concrete steps up to street level. A blast of hot wind made her grimace and fumble in her pocket for her sunglasses. The sky was a colorless void in the heat; around them, the endless rows of identical houses looked surreal.
Remus had a way of sighing soundlessly, which he often did when Sirius and Snape were having a go at each other.
“He wouldn’t like you knowing,” he said, brushing his graying fringe out of his eyes, “or anyone, for that matter -- which I only say to let you know that you should probably not bring it up in front of him. He swore an Unbreakable Vow to protect Harriet.”
Tonks almost ran into a postbox. Remus put out a hand and gently steered her around it, and then out of a path of a little old lady trundling a shopping cart behind herself down the pavement.
“An Unbr--” She closed her teeth around the words, Is he bloody stupid? because swearing an oath to the death when its object was marked by You-Know-Who was at best masochistic, at worse - fatally idiotic.
Of course, Snape was a spy. He was squirrelly, dark and weird.
“It was Sirius’ idea,” said Remus in a tone as dry as the dust puddles where water once had lain in the street gutter.
“Huh,” Tonks said. “I wouldn’t have thought they’d get along long enough to cast it.” Oops, she hadn’t meant to say that. But Remus looked up the street with the shadow of a smile, though it faded as they turned beneath the sign marked Privet Drive.
“Have you ever met Harriet’s relatives?” he asked quietly.
“Only seen them from a distance.” When Tonks was on Harriet Patrol, she followed her around the neighborhood and surrounding fields at a discreet distance; Harriet went home only late in the evening, when the sky darkened like a bruise. (And by the way, they really needed to teach Harriet some counter-surveillance moves; she always appeared totally oblivious to being tailed.)
“They look like a family of shits,” she added.
Remus’ smile that time was slender, with a grim edge. “You’re not wrong,” he murmured.
“She’s almost never at home,” Tonks said as they stepped onto the tidy lawn of Number Four. Remus deliberately trod across the grass, not the walkway to the front door. “I mean, I know why we’re here, but--” She was an Auror; she knew that you had to start with the last place you knew they’d been.
“Yes,” Remus said, his voice empty of emotion, and raised his hand to ring the bell.
Severus’ head felt like someone had poured one of Longbottom’s potions into his ears and set it on fire. Were he so inclined, he might find it interesting that different kinds of danger to Harriet produced different results of pain. When the Dark Lord had returned, Crouch’s Cruciatus had been almost a reprieve. The Third Task of that damned, bloody tournament, had mimicked the tingling jackhammer of a migraine. Now, he thought he’d got a good idea of what it felt like to be hit by a car while running a high fever.
Black was stomping around on the periphery, muttering to himself like a madman. It was irritating. Severus wanted to kill him more than usual.
“Black.” His voice came out like he’d scraped it across a cheese grater. “Kindly throw yourself out the window.”
“Oh, shut the fuck up,” said Black. The floor creaked as he came to hover over Severus, who, little as he liked having his eyes shut around Black, couldn’t be arsed to open them and look at his stupid fucking face.
“Is this really all you’re good for?” Black asked, like he couldn’t believe it.
Once, Severus had cut Potter’s nose off his face. He took a moment to imagine doing the same thing to Black. It almost made him feel better. He shivered on the settee and wondered what Harriet had got herself into this time.
The mark on his arm did not burn. The Dark Lord did not have her, then. That was his only comfort, as the pain chilled and burned and hammered at his organs, his skull, his flesh.
But anyone else could --
“Snape,” said Black, with an edge that sounded like the dark side of concern.
Snape breathed in. “You’re the fucking brilliant arsehole who cast this curse on me.”
“I wanted it to kill you, obviously,” Black said, because they were alone. Without looking, Severus knew he was dragging his hand through his hair: a gesture he was growing more familiar with than he liked, because it meant he was spending too much time with the bastard. “I didn’t realize it’d be…”
“Totally fucking useless?”
“You can’t figure out where she is?” Black asked, his voice tight, pacing away as the floor creaked.
Useless useless use -- “Not through this spell.”
The floor stopped groaning. The house, a dusty tomb of a family who’d lost everything it had ever possessed, waited in silence that pressed on Severus’ pounding head.
“. . . But there’s another one,” said Black in a low voice. “Isn’t there?”
Severus slitted his eyes open. The room was dark around them, like streaks of soot on glass.
Black knelt beside the settee, a sharp, knowing look on his unkempt face, his dark eye gleaming past the tumbled thread of his hair.
“Albus left,” he said, sliding his gaze away and then back, sharper and more knowing than before. “Gone to find Dung.”
Severus stared at him, thinking he shouldn’t have been surprised. “You’ll have to help me cast it.”
“Fine,” Black said immediately.
“And it will only work if you have some image of her.”
Black’s face tightened. “Not a problem.”
Severus breathed out. “You’ll need to gather some . . . supplies.”
Harriet woke up on a dirty floor. It wasn’t a trade-up from the hot field she’d fallen face-first into. The room was dim and stuffy and smelled of dust and wet wood.
At least her glasses were still on her face. She sat up, wincing -- just because you got hit with magic didn’t mean you hadn’t been hit with something, and Stunners were a full-body smackdown -- and squinted around. The room would have given Aunt Petunia a heart attack: peeling mustard-colored wallpaper, dusty floorboards, a soot-streaked fireplace, a sealed window with filthy panes. Her shoes were missing.
So was her wand.
Okay, so, she’d been kidnapped. Maybe whoever had taken her had been dumb enough to leave the door unlocked. . .
Hobbling across the creaking floorboards, she grabbed the doorknob. It didn’t sting her with any kind of spell, but it didn’t turn, either. Peering through the keyhole revealed a hallway as decrepit as the room around her and nothing more.
The window was her next point of possible escape, but it had been sealed at the edges with some kind of caulk. Using her skirt, which was barely cleaner than the window at this point, she rubbed a spot on the dusty pane so she could see into the garden.
Wherever she was, the place was huge. A sprawling garden stretched around the side of the house in both directions and didn’t seem to end there. A tall, black hedge boxed it in, and running down the middle of the wide yard was an algae-spotted fountain big enough that at first she thought it might have been a swimming pool. But everything was overgrown and derelict, matching the room and the hallway beyond.
If she had ten years to spend in here, she might be able to chip the sealant away. Or she might go out of her mind with boredom. She didn’t have nails, anyway; she’d bitten them all down last term, Hermione in hospital, and Snape . . .
Turning, she surveyed the room for anything that could help her bust out. She could always punch out the window panes, she supposed -- wrap her dress around her elbow, maybe. And get a really nice cut, maybe bleed to death.
Her eyes fell on the fireplace.
It was boarded up. . . but the nail on the top right corner of the board had been torn loose, and there was a jagged gap in the wood.
Her hand fit into it. She curled her palm around the shredded edge, smiling as the edge bit into her skin.
Bracing her foot against the brick, she wriggled both her hands into the gap and pulled as hard as she could.
“Okay,” said Black, in the blackness behind Severus’ closed eyes. “I’ve got all the freaky dark arts shit you asked for.”
Severus forced his eyes open. Black was standing over him, his mouth twisted like he was about to muck out a hippogriff pen.
This . . . was going to be extremely unpleasant.
Black was going to have to touch him, and Severus had to let him.
“. . . Help me up,” he said with extreme distaste.
Black leaned down and, with a grimace, grabbed his arm. Severus just managed to control the urge to kick him in the knee, mostly because he was too weak to work his leg properly.
Black hauled him upright, then to his feet. Severus lurched forward and slammed his hip into the table when he tried to slide into the chair Black had pulled out.
Black hovered, for the sake of his goddaughter prepared to catch Severus if he started to fall.
Gripping the edge of the table, Severus managed to collapse properly into the chair.
Black tugged the flat, wide silver bowl to the center of the table. He’d dredged up an old candle end and properly melted it a bit in the bowl’s center so that it stuck upright. It was just as well he’d done the job properly; Severus didn’t have the energy to bitch at him. His lungs felt as if they were being pumped like a bellows every time he took a breath.
Black pulled a folded newspaper clipping from his pocket: snipped from the Daily Prophet that had carried the story of Harriet’s tieing the Triwizard Championship with Diggory.
Severus had read it. He had not kept a copy of it.
Black held the tattered clipping over the bowl but did not move to burn it. “How come you had to do that crazy spell to find Wormtail, but this will work for Harriet?”
“That spell was . . . to find and bind, idiot,” Severus said, leaning his weight on his trembling, folded arms. If he was lucky, he wouldn’t face-plant onto the table and smash his own nose. “This is merely . . . to locate. Now set the damn picture on fire.”
Shrugging, Black used his wand to light the candle stub, and then pressed the tip of the clipping to the flame. It ate up the newspaper, the newsprint turning to ash, Harriet’s face flaking apart. Severus wanted to look away, and felt extremely stupid.
Pain spiked through his head like a knife into his eye socket.
He reached forward and swirled his shaking fingers through the ash. Drawing his fingers upward in a spiral, he raised the ash to dance around the flame. For a moment, the rush of dark magic seared through the prickling agony of the Unbreakable Vow, colder and deeper. For a moment, he breathed ice and fire and felt peace as blinding as a solar flare.
And then his vision wavered, like mist seeping across a sky that had been until that moment quite clear, and he saw her, an image of smoke and shadow: prying a board off a brick fireplace, pulling it back enough to squeeze behind it
“More,” he thought, or perhaps said, and he was inside the black chimney, watching her press her back against the bricks on one side and her feet against the other and push herself up, soot streaking her pale dress, her hands, her feet, her glasses, her fierce expression of concentration that echoed the searing thrill of dark magic in his blood --
And a flint, a certainty, embedded itself in his chest, pointed in the direction of the one he sought.
Something rough and prickly was scraping his cheek. He cracked open his eyes.
He’d fallen out of his chair and was lying in a heap on the rug under the table. Black was leaning over him, his face grey-green in Grimmauld Place’s bilge-water light.
“Did it work?” he asked, his fingers digging into Severus’ shoulder, almost as if he needed to hold onto something.
Severus’ head whirled; the light danced on the edges of the room; his skin felt like it burned at every one of his pores.
“It worked,” he said, his voice gripping his throat like a closed fist. “Help me up. We have . . . a little journey to take.”