Lucius turned sharply and almost rose out of the chair. Then as quickly as it came, the shock on his face smoothed out and he repositioned himself carefully with a polite smile.
Severus hoped the visit would remain civil. He went to the fireplace and casually rearranged the logs with the poker, having no idea how much Lucius knew. The fire crackled in the continued silence. He had no intention of giving anything away.
Lucius finally cleared his throat. “My son is a year old today.”
Severus plastered an enthused expression on his face before he turned around. He wasn’t as practiced at Malfoy when it came to feigning interest, but he was learning.
He poured a measure of firewhisky into two glasses and handed one to Lucius.
“To your family.”
Lucius slammed back his drink and set the glass down, causing Severus to look at him shortly before taking a sip of his own. He could see creases of fatigue starting to show around Lucius’ eyes.
“My wife insisted on a party. With guests.”
“How was it?”
“I don’t know,” Lucius stated flatly.
Severus blinked at the unusual admission. He suppressed a flashback to his own mangled childhood and took another sip of his drink. Lucius had to be better than that.
“I heard a great deal of incessant chattering throughout the day and I was offered a slice of cake after lunch. I assumed it was from the small skirmish in the nursery.” Lucius started fingering his empty glass, so Severus passed him the bottle. Lucius poured himself another drink.
“This afternoon, I found a balloon floating through my study.”
He raised the glass to his lips, hesitated, and then put it back down.
“Narcissa is so protective of the boy that I rarely see him, other than right before bedtime. I suppose that I will have to remedy that when he is older.”
Severus could only imagine what kind of father-son time Lucius had in mind. He couldn’t blame the mother for sheltering her boy. Eventually, Lucius would get his way.
“The world will be a different place when he comes of age.” Lucius swallowed down half his drink. “He will have an honored place set aside for him in the new regime.” He nodded to Severus. “As will you.”
Severus snorted quietly into his drink and Lucius raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t sell yourself short. Your position is key to our success.”
He didn’t need any reminding. “I am aware of my position.”
“Are you having regrets?” Lucius issued the question as a challenge and Severus wondered if he might have overstepped a bit.
“My only regret is that this conflict has gone on this long. I want it finished.” Severus stared him down, unflinching.
“We all do.” Lucius downed the remainder of his second drink and his eyes lost focus. “I was looking forward to a quiet evening with my son. Everyone else should have disappeared by now.”
“Then why aren’t you at home?”
Lucius’ lips drew into a thin line. “Her dreadful sister is still there. The woman never knows when to leave and doting in front of visitors isn’t my style. In any case, I am not here for you. I’ve come to see Dorcas Meadowes.”
Severus came to full attention. “She’s not here.”
Lucius set his glass down. “But this is her place. She does live here, I presume?” He paused, thoughtful again. “It was my understanding that she is well connected. I wasn’t aware that it included you.”
Severus ignored the unspoken question. “She won’t be any use. The Ministry had her discharged.”
“Yes, I am aware. I was going to offer to amend that.” He chuckled. “It’s a wonder what a sack of Galleons in the hands of the right people can do. You’d get a high commendation for convincing her to help us. If you think she would…”
“Get someone else.”
“I see.” A smirk played on the side of Lucius’ face. “I wondered about the protection on this place. Are the wards yours?”
“No. That wasn’t me.” Severus had noticed too. It was obvious that Dorcas had been practicing since she’d been left with little to do besides sit around and speculate. For once, he was glad she’d stepped out. He wasn’t sure how much longer Dorcas would be away, or where she was, for that matter. “How did you get in?”
Lucius reached into his pocket and Severus braced for a confrontation. When he held up the object, Severus involuntarily stuck his hand into his own pocket to check that it wasn’t his. He felt the familiar rounded weight in his palm and breathed. Of course it wasn’t his. He’d just used his snow globe to get here.
“Rookwood. He was most helpful. Got us a list of prospects from the Ministry.” Lucius tossed the small plastic dome to him. “Interesting choice for a portkey. I’d say it was unusual, but from what I’ve heard about Meadowes, it seems fitting. Karkaroff tells me that she is extremely resourceful.”
Severus examined the watery Eiffel Tower snow globe, wondering what exactly Lucius had heard... what exactly Rookwood knew… if Rookwood knew about him and where he stood right now.
“Karkaroff seemed pleased when he informed me that you will be joining us. It is good that you are finally taking credit for your contributions. As long as you provide the means.”
Which Severus would be taking away shortly, with any luck. “The plan is on track,” he confirmed, deciding that if Lucius was still willing to talk to him about the mission, he must not know anything. “And you?”
“The Aurors won’t be interfering this time. I’ve wrapped them up in a suitable distraction. Once they are in place inside the stadium, we will be rid of them, along with everyone else.”
Severus kept a straight face at that, thinking about how the masks weren’t going to allow the Death Eaters to walk away from the mission either. Lucius would have to see it for himself.
“But we do need another set of eyes on the inside.”
Severus glared at him in silence.
“Very well.” Lucius smiled at him knowingly. “We can find someone else. Please tell her I dropped by, won’t you?”
Lucius stood up and inhaled deeply. “And give her my compliments on the security.” Severus rose and followed him to the front door. After Lucius was gone, he made sure the locks were in place, and then put up a few extra wards, just in case.
Severus set the portkey on the mantle, next to a larger snow globe almost identical to it. If he had to guess, that one was also a portkey and would take her to her uncle’s place. Lucius’ visit could mean that he was still alive and they were using him to get to her, or it could mean that he had outlived his usefulness and they were fishing for someone else. It was lucky that she hadn’t been here. He checked the mark on his wrist, but it still didn’t register anything specific. She was somewhere, but obviously didn’t want to be found.
Then he heard a click from the upper level and Dorcas’ door squeaked open a crack, her voice drifting down the stairs.
“Is he gone?”
Shadows bounced off the bare walls as Dorcas sat on the floor of her flat in the dark, except for the low flame in the fireplace. She’d used every spare moment since Lucius’ visit to pack a bag and a suitcase. Charmed to hold everything she owned.
That was three days ago. The bookcases were empty. Most of the knick knacks were gone. She took one of the remaining snow globes off the mantle and wrapped it carefully in a dish towel. The furniture was still there, but that would be the last to go. She looked at the upholstered chair by the fireplace and felt the chill all over again.
“He was in my home,” Dorcas gave a shudder. “A Death Eater was sitting right there, in my chair.” Severus raised an eyebrow at her from across the room. “You don’t count,” she amended. “You’re always on the couch.” And then she paused, realizing that she’d stopped thinking of Severus as a Death Eater a long time ago.
The chair would stay. She never wanted to sit in that chair again. It was another reason to leave this place – one of many.
She sighed as the snow globe disappeared into the depths of her bag.
She’d done her duty. Once Karkaroff went down, Moody could do the rest. According to Severus, Voldemort had only one second in command and wasn’t in the habit of directing the attacks himself. He was a bit of a recluse and the Death Eaters would need time to reorganize. It would be easier to get at the Dark Lord with Karkaroff out of the way. Or that was the theory.
Dorcas packed the last of the snow globes into her bag and set it down. She looked over at Severus, sifting through a stack of parchment notes that had spilled out of his satchel.
“I think I’m done for now.”
“Good. Let’s go through it again.”
She sighed and plopped down on the couch, reviewing the procedure with him, out loud without the notes… forwards and backwards… in her sleep...
She’d done the same for Moody at their last meeting. They were going to incinerate the entire batch and let it burn out into nothingness. She’d also explained to Moody that the antidote only worked in individual doses and there was only enough for the Auror team.
“Couldn’t you have given them a decoy or something?” She was drained from the effort of keeping up with all the details.
“Karkaroff tests all the samples I give him for potency. He would know instantly if I tried to fake it and I’d be dead, or Netterheim… or both of us.” Severus shrugged; he was trying to explain things matter-of-factly, but was doing a poor job. She could see the worry peeking through from behind his grim expression. “Once more, Dorcas. Please.”
She went through it again. All the scenarios she’d described to Moody. It was strong enough to turn the entire stadium into a graveyard within minutes. And outside the stadium, hundreds would die in the street where they stood. If the wind was right, it would carry the active tendrils of toxic fumes even farther.
She turned her notes over and scribbled calculations. “Since the antidote has to be ingested within three minutes of exposure, it wouldn’t matter if you had enough for the entire stadium. There would be no way to administer it all in time.”
He shook his head. “It was the best I could do in the time we had.”
She thought about the hundreds of goats it would take to develop a widespread antidote… no wonder the potion was included in the notebook. It was nasty and expensive and evil. Now she understood why Severus swore at Karkaroff under his breath all the time.
She looked around at the bag and the suitcase and Severus’ satchel. Everything was ready.
Suddenly, she got butterflies in her gut, the same nervous feeling she’d had the day her family left. Dorcas had tried forever after that not to think about her mum and brother and how they’d hugged her, teary-eyed and reluctant to leave her behind. Maybe she could finally risk sending them a note once she and Severus got away from here. Her father might even be pleased that she’d come to her senses.
She looked at Severus, all wrapped up in putting his papers back in order, and wondered about his family. He’d probably gone about it the wrong way, but he’d been in kind of the same position.
“She’d be proud of you, Severus.” He looked at her, not understanding. “Your mother.”
Severus’ face turned dark. “She’s dead. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I know. I’m sorry.” She hadn’t meant to push him. He’d have to come to terms with it in his own time.
He nodded and closed his eyes. “They were going to kill my family in front of me,” he told her quietly. “It’s why I joined them in the first place. Not that it helped.” He rubbed at his arm, unaware of the gesture. “I guess I would have done it all over again, just for another chance to save her.”
“I don’t know if I would have done it any differently either." She’d probably have that same argument with her father. Probably would end just as badly.
“Do you think Lucius Malfoy will come here again? Now that he knows you’re here too?”
He set the schematics down on the coffee table and breathed out. "I don't know. Lucius stopped by the shop today and I told him I mentioned the deal to you and you threw me out. But if they’re serious about you, that won’t be the end of it. They’ll try to get at you again. Could be now. Could be later. We’d better leave soon. I don’t want to risk them getting to you when we’re so close.”
Dorcas took one more look around the place. “You don’t have to convince me. I don’t think I can stay here another night anyway.”
Severus stood up and started gathering his things together. Then he handed her bags to her. “Come on then.”
Severus and Dorcas appeared in the deserted alleyway in the dark. He led her into the shop through the side entrance, pressed his hand into the wooden panel in the hallway and followed her up the stairs.
He couldn’t be sure about anything, but he guessed that only Netterheim knew about this room. Dorcas had confirmed that the Ministry had no record of it, and even after having lived in the shop for months, Severus himself had only discovered it after reading Netterheim’s letter. He had to trust that his mentor knew a thing or two about hiding.
Dorcas was sitting on the bed and fidgeting with her bag. He watched her take out her grandmother’s teapot and then wrap it up and place it gingerly back into her bag with everything else.
She was rightfully nervous. They didn’t know if Lucius would try to come for her again. Or if they’d send someone else next time. It wouldn’t matter after tomorrow, but until they were gone, they were taking a chance that the Death Eaters would come for her. Or try to use him to get to her.
He turned the port key over and stared at the little switch on the bottom. “Dorcas.” When she looked up at him, he tossed her the snow globe. “You should go.”
She gripped the snow globe in one hand and hugged her bag with the other. “What? Now?”
“It would be safer.”
“But you can’t do this without me. It takes two people for the plan to work. What would you do?”
“I’ll think of something.” As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t leave yet. He’d earned his place as a member of the Guild. Now he had to act like one.
“Just go now. Visit your family for a while. I’ll take care of things and meet you in a few days.”
Dorcas looked at him like he was crazy. “You have another portkey?”
“No, but I’ll manage.”
“You’re not getting rid of me that easily. You’ve said it a hundred times, Severus. The plan takes two people. I’m staying.”
“It’s too dangerous.”
“When has any of this not been dangerous?” she challenged.
He started to argue, but stopped himself, realizing that it wouldn’t do any good. He looked at her helplessly. “You’re completely daft.”
She smiled. “It’s why I get on so well with you.” She placed the portkey on the small pedestal by the bed. “Tomorrow, we’ll finish it.”
Severus sat down next to her. She took his hand, lacing her fingers between his. “I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to do when we get there.”
“I don’t know. Maybe help plan trips for people that don’t include running for their lives. Gus had a good thing going for him. I could probably do the same.”
Dorcas shrugged. “It would be fun sending people to places they’ve always wanted to go. Honolulu, France, anywhere.” Then she yawned.
Severus felt a slight tingling. He glanced down at his arm, the hint of the swirling mark showing under the cuff of his sleeve. It wasn’t a summons… someone was trying to track him down. They were sure to come looking for him at the shop first, and his absence would only raise suspicion. Better to give them what they wanted,
“Get some sleep,” he told her. “I’ll check the security one more time.”
He went down to the shop, lit a lamp and sat at the counter, staring at the source of his troubles.
Blasted notebook! He wished he could burn the thing. Avery had come by earlier and asked for it for Karkaroff. Severus had said he needed to add notes to it so Karkaroff could have the whole formula… he was stalling and after a while, even Avery would catch on.
He couldn’t give the notebook back. Now that he’d proved to Karkaroff that the notebook was useful, there would be no stopping their attempts to decipher it.
He flipped through the text randomly… there were a few innocuous charms here and there, like the tracing charm he’d given to Dorcas. But most of the other spells and potions, particularly the powerful ones, the directions were either incomplete or missing. He could see why the man was so interested in it. Obviously Karkaroff had the imagination, even though he lacked the skills to execute his ideas. Even with the Guild in hiding, it would only be a matter of time before he found someone else talented and desperate enough …
The room felt cold suddenly, and his lamp flickered in the stillness. Severus looked up from the notebook.
“Who’s there?” Nothing.
“Dorcas?” Still nothing.
He looked back at the notebook. Maybe he could make a copy of it. But the usual duplication procedures weren't meant to work on ancient texts and Karkaroff knew enough that he could detect blatant trickery…
He looked up sharply at the shadows on the wall. They seemed to grow and then shrink back. Then he glanced at the unaffected flame of the candle. “Well, I would. But I don’t know how.”
You need a decoy.
He squinted at the wall, but the shadows remained still. It didn’t matter where it was coming from. It was correct that he needed something to replace the notebook and he was running out of time and options. Severus rummaged through the shelves behind the counter for something similar in shape. He found an old cookery manual, something he hadn’t bothered packing - and set it next to the ancient notebook. It was approximately the same shape and size.
He wasn’t sure what to do next. He knew the basic duplication charm, but was pretty sure it wouldn’t last long enough to fool anyone, much less Karkaroff. .
If the voices were coming from inside his head, he could dismiss it as a side-effect of his anxiety, but he knew they were something else. He had a strange feeling that they were there to help him and right now, he needed all the help he could get.
He glanced at the unmoving shapes right before he pointed his wand at the book. Then he started the charm and about halfway through, his words changed and the book began to glow and when he was finished, there were two identical ancient texts on the counter in front of him. There was also a small knife, a few drops of blood, and a nick on his arm. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
Be ready when he comes for you. We will not wait long.
There was a rap on the shop door, startling Severus. Before he could move, the lamp flickered again and the shadows were gone.
Severus went to the front door and opened it to a tall gangly hooded man, who eagerly stepped inside.
“I thought you were here. I saw the light on.” Avery postured about, apparently trying for intimidation and failing miserably.
Severus was too tired to play along, too unsettled by the inexplicable magic he’d just performed. He quickly handed the charmed text to the gangly man and herded him back out the door, hoping that was all he’d come for.
“That’s it? Great! I wasn’t looking forward to knocking you around, you being a friend and all.” He kept talking as Severus herded him out the door with a half-grimace. “Would’ve put me right off for the night. Cheers!”
Severus shut the door in his face and waited for the sound of retreating footsteps. Then he locked the door and reset the wards for the night.
The original notebook got tucked under the shop counter as he extinguished the lamp and went upstairs.
Dorcas was already in bed, breathing evenly in her sleep. He wished she didn’t have to be involved in his mess. Maybe when they were finally away from here, he could at least give her that.
The bed creaked to adjust to his weight and he had a fleeting worry, like he did every night, that she had changed her mind about him and he’d be unwelcome. But just like every night before, she stirred enough to turn and bury her head into his chest, leaving a mass of tangled curls under his chin.
As her breathing slowed back to a steady rhythm, his arms couldn't help but clutch desperately around her with an irrational fear that if he let her go, she’d slip away from him forever.
Dorcas had never asked for proof of his commitment to the right side. No one had ever treated him like that… like he mattered. And she had stayed; she was here now, in his arms.
He hated her stubbornness. He should have demanded that she leave, flee to the continent, cross the ocean, whatever it took.
Anything but be here with him.
Dorcas pulled at him, murmuring incoherently before drifting off again. As the silence settled over them, he closed his eyes, but it was no good. His morbid imagination made him restless, dreaming up a thousand unhappy endings. With the night half over, he willed his mind to drift away and forget that tomorrow might be the end of everything.
A/N: Incubus has once again given me inspiration for another chapter title. My muse likes to borrow things. (She promises to return them when she's finished!) And yes, there are more cookies for making it this far with me. I'd love to hear what you think, especially the criticisms, because I strongly believe in growth and improvement. Thank you!
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