Dorcas walked quickly down the halls of the Ministry. She could still feel the heat in her cheeks, probably flushed crimson by now, but she didn’t care. She’d convinced herself and Moody that she was ready to come back. More time off wasn’t going to make a difference, and she’d already stayed away too long.
Severus had helped more than she was willing to admit with his silent acceptance of her inane rants about the injustices of the world. He’d made her time away from the Ministry more bearable by updating her nightly on his antidote progress. He even sat her down with her folio and made her take notes on his daily attempts to squeeze bits of information out of the Death Eaters. But while Severus pushed himself even harder, doubling his efforts to take down Karkaroff, the Ministry appeared to have responded to their losses by doubling the amount of paperwork required to get anything done.
She shouldn’t have been surprised when she learned that the Ministry had made no official response to the McKinnon incident. The final report had gotten as far as the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, where it had been filed by a clerk who had all the reasoning skills of a turnip, mindlessly shoving it to the end of a long list of completely unrelated reports on events that would eventually be “looked into”.
At that, Dorcas had nearly gone spare, stating in her rising fury that the family could not come in and sign her request to expedite the investigation because there wasn’t anyone in the family left, which should be enough cause for the Ministry to take action. After outright refusing to leave until they did something, anything at all to honor one of their own, Marlene’s family had been bumped ahead of the less severe cases, but the investigation date was still more than six months away.
What were they going to do when Voldemort showed up in front of the Wizengamot and demanded complete control? Give him a form in triplicate and ask him to wait in line?
Back at her own desk, she blinked away angry tears and snatched up her folio. The contents spilled out onto her desk, a jumble of handwritten notes, forms and scraps of evidence. After sifting through it all and stuffing the trivial bits back into the folio, Dorcas took a hard look at exactly what she had.
The eyewitness sightings of Karkaroff in Knockturn Alley over the past few months gave her a general location, but not a specific address. The secret entrance to 14C was listed as a curious unknown, but without the Ministry’s acknowledgement that there ever was a 14C on Knockturn Alley, she couldn’t investigate any further, and the last time she’d tried, she’d ended up somewhere else entirely.
The license inspection report from Borgin & Burkes was disappointingly unsuspicious. Her interview with Mr. Burke mentioned the warehouse that she’d been suspecting for some time, but she had nothing connecting it to her case against Karkaroff.
She’d also compiled her notes on the information that Severus had given her, listed under “anonymous contact” - but she wasn’t sure if the Ministry would qualify it without the name of her informant. He’d confirmed that Karkaroff’s plan matched the date on the stadium ticket she’d nicked from her uncle, or whoever he really was, at the amusement park. He’d also told her how the Death Eaters were using a protection charm on their masks to make them immune to the poison, which was an interesting side note, but still didn’t point to Karkaroff.
All in all, it was a depressing pile of facts that fell a long way short of proving anything about Karkaroff or his plans. That couldn’t be everything, could it? She stared at what she had, wondering how she’d worked so hard for so little information. Dorcas dug around inside her bag for any other scrap of parchment that might have slipped out of the folio. Instead, she found Marlene’s Auror’s badge and the key she was supposed to return.
Probably the only things left that she’d ever owned.
Dorcas turned the badge over in her hand. It felt comforting and sad all at the same time. And she didn’t have to ask what the key was for. All Aurors had access to the evidence room behind Moody’s office.
A rustling of parchment from the other side of her cubicle jolted her out of her brief daze. She’d had a week, she reminded herself, and she couldn’t waste any more time. If the Ministry had its way, six months would go by, all the leads would be cold and Marlene’s death would have been for nothing.
She should return the items. That’s what Marlene had wanted. It was the proper thing to do after all. Just get up, walk over to the Head Auror’s office and knock. Dorcas forced herself to move until she stood in front of Moody’s door, her fist raised to give it a good rap.
Go ahead. It’s what you’re here for.
She paused out of habit to listen for voices, in case she was interrupting a meeting. It was so quiet, he probably wasn’t even there. All she had to do was put Marlene’s remaining possessions on his desk and leave. No one was around, which was a good thing because she didn’t want to have to explain to him that Karkaroff’s case was at a complete standstill.
In fact, now that she took the time to notice, the entire floor was empty. All that time banging her head against the cubicle wall, and she’d completely missed the lunch hour announcement. Dorcas peered around the corner of Moody’s office and saw that the back hall was empty as well.
She flipped the key over in her hand. Severus had been risking a lot to bring her information, even though it hadn’t been enough. At least he was doing something instead of fighting through an idiotic bureaucracy. She remembered all the times she’d listened to Marlene complain about stifling rules and neglected resources.
That was it.
Her hand dropped and she headed down the back hall. Perhaps she shouldn’t be ready to move on just yet.
Dorcas had no trouble getting into the evidence room with an Auror’s badge and the key. It only took a moment to find what she was looking for.
She didn’t dwell on what she was doing. There was no time to start feeling guilty about breaking a few inconsequential rules. She’d been straight up until now… mostly. And it hadn’t done Marlene any good.
With the comforting weight of Marlene’s things in her bag, she packed everything away neatly and went straight to the floo network. Really, she couldn’t spend another wasteful hour at her empty desk waiting for evidence to magically turn up.
She was going to continue her investigations the only way she could. She would do it for Marlene.
Diagon Alley seemed more like an abandoned village than the popular Wizarding hub it was only a few months ago. The deserted street was the direct result of the Death Eaters. Dorcas hurried to her destination, hoping that she wouldn’t run into a patrol of masked men bent on harassing whomever they could find.
As she made her way to the marble pillars of Gringotts, a pair of owls flew overhead, one laden with a dozen or so scrolls, the other flopping about as it scrapped its talons along several rooftop shingles in an attempt to wrangle an oversized package. Severus had told her that most of his customers were requesting deliveries now, instead of coming in. She imagined that most of the shops were doing business that way.
Dorcas walked past the long rows of vacant seats through the bank lobby. A lone teller had his head cocked to the side, elbows on the counter, obviously lulled into a semi-trance by the absence of customers. The goblin’s eyes were rolled back, half-closed, and a spot of drool was hanging from his gaping mouth.
“Excuse me,” she said, waving her Ministry badge in his face, which snapped him into the professional disgruntlement that she was more accustomed to. “I’m here to submit the quarterly reports.” The goblin teller motioned her to the side and disappeared. Then a door at the end of the teller counter opened and he ushered her inside.
The goblin led her past the vault access to the end of a darkened corridor. He unlocked the small door and held it open. Dorcas slipped inside, and made her way down the narrow winding stairwell to the room of records. She’d come here a few months ago to enter the Ministry’s budget figures into its quarterly ledgers. It was quicker to access the information here than to fill out volumes of clearances to have the same records delivered to her desk.
The room was smaller than she remembered, or maybe it only seemed that way, being filled from floor to ceiling with precariously stacked ledgers in no particular order. Someone had obviously been slack on the filing. Dorcas blew a stray hair out of her face. Alright then.
She was careful not to disturb the nearest piles as she squeezed her way in and sat down at the wide table that took up the remaining space in the room. She placed her badge in a slot on the right corner and counted to three.
Ministry report first. She’d already prepared it that morning, having spent all of five minutes copying the figures from her neatly-filed records. When the ledger appeared in front of her, it only took her a minute to spellotape the parchment in place. With an additional charm, the spellotape vanished, and the new pages blended in seamlessly with the rest of the bound volume. She checked the time and breathed a small smile. The goblins were accustomed to the hand-entry taking up to an hour. She had plenty of time.
Dorcas took a round stone with the Ministry’s seal out of her bag, the one that she’d borrowed from the evidence room - she could only imagine what Aurors used it for. Right now, she was only interested in getting her answers. She tucked her badge away and put the Ministry Access stone in its place on the table.
Dorcas glanced around the room, half-expecting a Ministry official to appear and admonish her, but there was nothing. That was easy. “Ignatius Rookwood,” she stated clearly. A ledger appeared on the table and flipped pages rapidly to the most recent entry. She could have accessed any of the low-level Ministry employee accounts even without the stone, but the access forms were still at least a week away from being approved. Surely, they couldn’t fault her for wanting the information sooner.
Dorcas buckled down and scanned the entries. There hadn’t been any withdrawals since his disappearance, and certainly no record of purchasing that large block of tickets. She charmed a copy of the records for her folio. This may help to clear her uncle’s name.
She breathed and looked around. Still no sign of anyone appearing to haul her off. Yet.
Might as well check on another dead end in her investigations. “Theodorus Netterheim,” she stated. The ledgers were swapped out and she scanned the records for something… anything. But it was irritatingly clean, reminding her of Mr. Burke’s reports. She briefly wondered if they used the same accountant.
There wasn’t much else in the shop ledger besides the typical accounting of his deposits and withdrawals, none of it suspicious. No names either. All the transactions were in weekly lump sums and in remarkably similar amounts. She leafed through the ledger, hoping for anything out of the ordinary, but she only found confirmation that he owned the property where the shop was located, purchased on the same date as the initial ledger entry ten years ago.
Severus had told her that Netterheim could be trusted. It made her feel better, now that she had proof, or rather, no proof to think otherwise. But it didn’t add to her evidence against Karkaroff.
She slammed the ledger book closed and tapped her fingers on the thick binding, unwilling to leave the place empty-handed. Then it occurred to her that she hadn’t looked into the man that she was most interested in. Probably because she hadn’t been authorized to even request it.
Dorcas glanced nervously around the room. Still no one from the Ministry. Not even a goblin to come in and question her. Well, she was here, and she had the means, and she wasn’t going to get another chance at this.
“Igor Karkaroff,” she stated. When Netterheim’s ledger disappeared and the table remained empty, she tried to shrug away her disappointment and figure out her next move. A full minute later, as she was deciding to leave, a large volume landed with a thud on the table. Dorcas hesitated, and then quickly opened the book before she lost her nerve. She found purchase records for an industrial warehouse and checked it against the one that she’d been suspecting for months. It was his.
She found records of the transfer of funds on a certain date – and double checked that with the notes in her folio. It was the date that the block of Muggle tickets had been purchased – and the amount matched. She scanned the rest of the ledger for anything else, but the only other entries that made her pause were the reoccurring monthly payments for “potions services rendered” to Severus Snape.
Of course he was doing business with Karkaroff. He ran the potions shop, for goodness sake. Where else was Karkaroff, or anyone else going to get potions?
She could reasonably explain it however she wanted, and it still chilled her to see tangible evidence of Severus’ connection to the Death Eaters. Even though he had been quite cooperative, it made her realize just how much he hadn’t shared with her. She still had no idea what had actually happened on the afternoon of the memorial. He’d assured her that he’d taken care of it and the Potters wouldn’t be bothered anymore. But he hadn’t told her exactly what “it” entailed.
She charmed a copy of the relevant pages from Karkaroff’s ledger and added them to her folio. It might not be enough, but it was more than she’d had before. She’d try anything, including cobbling together enough circumstantial evidence to make a case against him. The time was getting short and they had to act soon, before Karkaroff put his plan into motion.
Dorcas scooped up the Ministry access stone, threw it into her bag and gathered up her folio as Karkaroff’s ledger “poofed” back into the tall stacks from where it had come.
She was done. Still no Ministry. Still no goblins to accuse her. She placed the chair carefully back in its place and peeked out the door. Nothing. Dorcas smiled to herself. The Ministry Access stone had worked brilliantly and it seemed that she’d be able to leave the bank and return it to the evidence room with no one the wiser. But when she rounded the corner and stepped into the lobby, her good fortune evaporated.
There stood Karkaroff and his minions at the teller’s desk, arguing with the goblin.
“What do you mean, my account is not available? This is preposterous!”
The goblin’s reply was hushed, but Karkaroff’s response was not. “Being accessed? By whom?” Karkaroff’s demanding tone echoed through the marbled archway.
Dorcas tried to find another way but realized that she’d have to walk right by the scene in order to exit the bank. Another goblin pushed past her and hurried up to the teller at the counter. There were hushed words and gestures and then he hurried away through another door.
The teller looked relieved. “Your accounts are now available. Right this way.”
As he led Karkaroff to the door, Dorcas looked around, trying to find a place to stay out of sight, anywhere, but the door was already sealed and they were coming her way. She straightened and tried to look like she belonged. She had every right to be here, just like anyone else.
When they passed, Karkaroff glanced her way and their eyes locked. He didn’t stop, but a slow smile of recognition bloomed on his face. As the goblin ushered him to the door, he turned back around and tipped his cane at her. “I did not mean to make trouble earlier,” he told the goblin. “It is always a pleasure cooperating with the Ministry.”
In a small pub on the outskirts of town, Severus blanked out everything except the movement of a little silver ball as it flew up into a bonus goal, causing the metal box to shudder with whistles and beeps. This was a much more entertaining way of going round in circles and getting nowhere than being cooped up in the lab, staring at an unwilling antidote formula. His hands gripped the side of the case and flipped the ball forward again, aiming it for the hoops.
A thug-like Muggle brushed past him to the new game a few feet away. Severus ignored the pawing in pockets and the muffled “humpf”. His hands eased on the flappers as the man moved away.
Severus nodded and handed off a package to the uneasy voice behind him. It had been the usual every week for the past few weeks. Gus’ orders were simple concoctions, like calming drought to keep the restless crowds under control. He wished all of his customers were this easy. The pinball finally completed its run and rested against the flappers, waiting for his command.
Severus swore at the invention of the change machine and tried to concentrate on his own game. How much skill was involved in staring at pixilated images and pre-programmed blinking lights? He figured that anyone who stared at that lit up box long enough would likely walk away with a nasty case of eye-strain. Would serve him right.
Pakka pakka pakka pakka…
The little silver ball flew past his flappers and disappeared. Severus delivered a foul gesture to the local man yanking at the rotating stick on the console. On the screen, the yellow chomping head maneuvered through a maze, gobbling up the pulsing dots of light. He waited testily for the other machine to quit its incessant noises. With the new games, it usually didn’t take long. After a few agonizing minutes, he grunted distastefully as the high score screen flashed on. The man punched in his initials and turned away from the machine, grinning like an idiot until he knocked his head on a low hanging hockey stick.
Severus shook his head, shot his remaining ball and caught it with the plastic flapper, carefully releasing the side button so the ball rolled slowly down. Then, when it was at the right angle, he whacked the side of his old standby with the palm of his hand. The ball whooshed through the final hoops, rolling the mechanical scoreboard over for the third time that hour.
Take that, Muggle man.
Severus left the bonus ball for someone else, having wasted enough time for one day. He made his way over to an empty booth, ducking under the wall-mounted handlebars of a bicycle. A snowboard hung above him, and a strange display of Muggle street signs hung on the adjacent wall. The locals thought it was a bit of clever decorating, covering the walls with their Muggle oddities.
A drink appeared in front of him, along with the daily lunch special. Severus eyed the bowl of stew. The menu here wasn’t as good as the Leaky Cauldron, but he figured most of Gus’ clients didn’t come for the food. To passers by, the place looked every bit like any other Muggle hole-in-the-wall, but Gus didn’t discriminate. He served both kinds here.
As if on cue, a nervous couple entered the pub, whispering to one another in poorly-fitting Muggle clothes. The woman looked so out of place she could have slipped out of her own skin. The man kept an arm around her and his head down. Gus had started coming his way, but at the sight of the newcomers, he detoured back to the bar and poured two drinks, unwrapping Severus’ package and adding a drop into each mug before handing them over.
Severus watched as he whispered reassuring words and bade them to sit down and drink up. After a few sips, they both settled in.
“I thought about your offer,” Gus told Severus when he returned from the bar. “I don’t like it, but I’ll do it.”
Severus nodded. “The gold I gave you?”
Gus half-smiled. “More than enough. Let me sort those two out first.”
It better be enough. Severus thought about the tidy sum he’d handed over last week with his special request. If the man was as good as he’d heard from Dorcas, it would be worth it. He watched as Gus made his way back to the couple, now visibly calmer than they had first been, and gestured to the wall next to the bar. A shiny hubcap was selected, and they were ushered into a poorly-lit storeroom that hummed with magical wards. “Extra generators,” he’d explained once to a curious Muggle, which got a shrug.
Severus figured that a man like him must be getting a lot of business nowadays, and a fair amount from the Order, especially since Voldemort’s threat had grown and more and more people wanted to get out of the country without notice. It was a risky venture, and entirely likely that agreements had been made with the Order to ensure some protection.
In the aftermath of the McKinnon tragedy, Severus had gone to see him. When he’d explained to Gus that he wanted a non-traceable portkey with the additional assurance of anonymity from the Order, Gus had balked at the idea, proving his suspicions.
He hadn’t intended to mention it to Dorcas either. By the way she had practically ignored him after Marlene’s death, he figured she would want him gone as soon as possible anyway. It would be easier to just take off without an explanation. And he would have one less thing to owe her and the Order. He’d rationalized that by keeping her in the dark, he was somehow protecting her, but he knew that wasn’t true. She was in as much danger as anyone else, and by simply associating with him, she was in more danger than most.
Gus’ trademark items were small, inconsequential things; bells that didn’t ring, tiny spoons that were too small to be useful and shoes that had lost their mates. His collection of larger Muggle items was equally useful for special orders.
Severus thought about coming back later, since the man was obviously busy with clients, but he wasn’t sure when he’d get the next opportunity to come out this way – and Gus didn’t trust owl post for his wares. Neither did Severus. He stayed in the booth, deciding that a few more minutes wouldn’t hurt.
Dorcas had been telling him that he was doing the right thing. He didn’t know what that meant anymore. She probably wouldn’t take it well if he told her exactly what he’d done to Avery. He had a hard time justifying it to himself… wondered if he’d taken it too far this time.
He stood and jangled the loose change in his pocket, debating whether he should give the game another go. The place was getting stuffy with the late afternoon crowd, and the perspiration and noise were rising uncomfortably. He had to get back to the shop anyway.
It wasn’t that he didn’t trust her, he did. He’d trusted her with his life every day that he stayed and she gave him every reason to assume that wasn’t going to change.
Severus loitered at the bar for a while longer and finally, Gus came out of the storeroom. The couple wasn’t with him any more. If they were lucky, no one here would lay eyes on them ever again. Gus motioned him over and handed him a small brown bag.
He pushed the pub door open and stepped into the bleak afternoon. The bag felt heavy in his hand, and he wondered if it would be one more thing he would come to regret. He should have offered Dorcas some kind of comfort, no matter what she thought of him. Instead, he’d only returned her silence, and in his selfishness, he’d put distance between them so that it would hurt less when she finally saw him for who he truly was.
She deserved more. And it was time to stop holding back. He was going to have to tell her the truth.
Later that evening, Netterheim read about Severus’ unanimous acceptance by the Guild and took all of two minutes to be pleased with his apprentice’s accomplishments. “I told them he was different,” he said to the shadows crowded in his tiny office. “He has earned his title. Hopefully, he can stay alive long enough to benefit from it.”
The dark shapes on the wall danced slightly to the left in unison and Netterheim grumbled under his breath. Severus would get his certificate first thing in the morning, but now the Potions Master had the unpleasant task of reviewing the rest of the Guild’s business. He picked up the letter that had accompanied the good news and read the results of the second vote with mixed feelings. The most prestigious Seers in the area had predicted a nasty turn in the war and the Guild had decided to vacate England before Voldemort took hold of the country with both hands.
The Guild was going to meet in Slavia and rally support from the rest of Europe, which they couldn’t do if they stayed long enough to become trapped in a country where the Dark Lord’s propaganda had gotten out of hand. He shook his head sadly. “Leave it to the Guild to clean up after other people’s stupidity.” The darkness at his left pulsed in agreement.
There was something else in the letter, a new proposition that left a bad taste in his mouth. Someone had suggested that they leave a Guild member behind to keep tabs on things. Someone, and Netterheim could only guess who, had suggested that it be Severus.
He carefully folded the letter and tucked it into his coat pocket. Netterheim stared thoughtfully at the new letter on his desk, the one that had come under an hour ago from Gringotts. He’d paid them a monthly retainer for good reason, he supposed. The notification that someone had gotten too curious and accessed his personal records proved that whether he liked it or not, it was indeed time to go.
Netterheim folded the Gringotts letter too and tucked it in carefully with the other one, then grabbed a ring of keys from his desk drawer. The rest of his tiny office had been cleared out earlier, and all that remained were the shop records. He couldn’t afford the kind of trouble it would cause if they pushed too hard into his past.
The Guild letter was a formality. He ran a finger over the book of orders and then got up and wandered down the hall. Most of his associates had already pulled out of England. He wouldn’t be surprised if he was the last one within the borders, not including Severus. He’d hoped to stay a little longer, just in case his apprentice needed support.
Netterheim shrugged away the shadows that crowded around him in the hall. He pressed into one of the panels along the wall in the hidden groove, too tired to deal with any more business tonight. “I’ll send my reply to the Guild in the morning,” he grumbled while the panel slid aside to reveal a door. “Not going to pay the extra gold for a midnight owl delivery when a few more hours won’t make a difference.”
With a jangle of the key ring, the door swung open and Netterheim drew his wand to brighten the stairwell with a Lumos.
He stepped into the hidden alcove and addressed the darkness. “He is one of us now. You should try giving him assistance instead of a premature condemnation.”
He started up the stairs as the panel slid shut behind him and entered the small living space above the shop: a bed and a desk with a brightly lit gas lamp. The closet was bare except for his travel cloak on a lone hanger. A packed suitcase lay on the bed and he patted it with a thick hand before moving it to the floor.
The wards hummed strongly as he rechecked them, making sure that they resonated to the key that hung around his neck. He’d give all of it to Severus tomorrow. One couldn’t be too careful around those so-called patrols of masked idiots running rampant with their misplaced ideals and their out-of-control hexes. Severus might need a shelter to hole up for a while until he could get out, perhaps a place to make his last stand, though Netterheim hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
Everything was prepared. The transfer records were drawn up for the property and his accounts. The note that explained everything was sitting downstairs on the shop counter for Severus to find in the morning. He’d be back for the young Potions Master after his task was completed. He gathered up his things, slinging his bags over his shoulders and putting on his cloak. His work here was done.
The Potions Master turned sharply on his heel, and stumbled sideways, catching himself against the wall. “Always hated the spinning,” he muttered. Instead of attempting apparition a second time, he opted for a gentler mode of travel, drawing his cloak around himself tightly and closing his eyes. As he exhaled, the candle in the room went out and Master Theodorus Netterheim faded into the shadows.
A/N: I haven't thanked my betas in a while, but you two are just as wonderful as you were at the beginning, so thank you again. Also, I must credit the brilliance of 1917Farmgirl for her inspiration for Severus' hobbies. I appologize for the ommission of marathon running and curling, but Severus wasn't too keen to work up a sweat and I had to give him a break on something.
To everyone who has left a review so far, thank you doubly for your words! I love to hear your reactions to the story and, good or bad, any comments that help me improve my writing are most appreciated!
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