The next morning, when Sorka went back to her quarters after breakfast, a tawny owl was waiting for her return on the windowsill, impatiently tapping the pane with her beak. The young woman opened the window, but the bird didn’t fly in. It just dropped an envelop there and flew away.
"What was that?" she muttered, baffled, her eyes following its flight during a few seconds. Then she opened and read the note.
If you’re not too busy playing matchmaker, maybe this will be of some interest to you: some movements have been reported around the Serpent Nest. About fifteen of them. I’d check out myself, but the Order sent me on a mission. ~S
Severus, she thought, frowning and crumpling the parchment in her fist. No wonder the bird was so foul-tempered! Sorka felt her headache returning with a vengeance. People had been sighted near Malfoy Manor. This can’t be good. Sighing, she made sure she had her wand - As if it had ever left me since the day I bought it -, then she left her room again. She would first tell the Headmistress that she would be absent during a couple of hours, or the whole day, then…
Then I'll do what I have to do.
Down the hall, in his room, Sage too was reading a message.
They are still searching for the boy.
They are regrouping at the old mansion.
The Headmistress had been at a loss to explain how he had come across young Spartan two years before, when the letters and the people from Hogwarts had been looking for the boy for six years and failed. If she knew who were his parents, she hadn’t told Sage. The young professor had seen the boy disapparate one day in a muggle park and waited for him to apparate again. He’d had a hard time to make him trust him. Then he’d tutored him and brought him up to speed - more or less. Spartan was now at Hogwarts, and Sage was glad to see the boy had made a friend, a Gryffindor, like him. Elissandra Potter was an orphan, which could explain why he’d trusted her so quickly. She was a bit of a loner too, neverthess she seemed to have a good influence on Spartan.
And I thought I could relax, Sage thought, sighing.
He took his knives and left his room. Checking both ways along the hall, he set out with one of his fingers caressing the handles of his wands. Seeing that the castle was silent in these early morning hours, he smiled and began jogging down the steps. Halfway down the staircase he decided to have some fun; when he reached a landing, he jumped. He smiled when he saw that he cleared the entire flight of stairs and managed to land on his feet without having to hold onto the rail for support.
He kept jumping down the flights of stairs all the way down.
Sorka was heading towards the front door when someone collided with her - Sage, who had jumped the last flight of stairs.
"What the hell!" He saw the yound woman looking up and made a face. "Oh, shit! I’m sorry, Sorka. Did I hurt you?" he asked, extending a hand to her.
"No, you didn’t." She put her hand in his, and he grasped it firmly to help her up. His fingers laid warm pressure against hers, reminding her of what happened the day before. She quickly took back her hand.
"Uh, look, Sorka, about last night. I’m sorry for going too fast…"
"That’s ok," she quickly interrupted him. "I should never have…"
"Can we talk about this later? I’m in a hurry."
Even if she hadn’t been an empath, Sorka would have sensed he was as much guarded around her at this very moment as she was around him. She finally looked him in the eyes. "Actually, I am, too. I must leave the castle at once."
"I’ve got to get to Hogsmeade… do you want to walk with me?" Sage asked hopefully, before he could stop himself.
He could have kicked himself - his life was already far too complicated. But if she said yes…
"Yes, I’d be happy to walk with you," she answered in spite of herself.
They reached the front door and he held it open for her. As she walked through, he took a breath of her perfume.
"Why can’t I get her out of my head," he muttered through gritted teeth. Then he realised he had said it aloud and made a face. Oh, Merlin, this woman is driving me insane!
Sorka felt herself blushing and feigned she hadn’t heard him. They walked in a strained silence during a few minutes, than they said, at the same time: "I…"
"Please, do continue," Sage said.
"I’ve been wondering… How can a young wizard like your protege hide himself from the wizarding community?"
She saw his jaws clench.
"He didn’t always hide, but thanks to the wizards he… met… he learnt a few tricks to avoid our kind."
Sorka nodded. "Spartan was lucky you found him. And now he’s at Hogwarts, and we all know there’s no safer place in the world."
"It’s not always been that way, Sorka." He said remembering back to some of the tales he heard from his one time friends. "I hope it’s true this time. But he won’t always be at Hogwarts."
She stared at him. "Do you mean those wizards could try to kidnap him?"
"They already did, twice."
His voice was taut and his brow creased with worry. Then he shook his head. They had reached the gates.
"That’s where our ways part, I think," Sorka said. "I'll see you later, Sage."
And she disapparated before he could say a word. A couple of heartbeats later, she apparated close to the ancient Malfoy estate and took out her wand. Fortunately, it was well surrounded by cool woods – woods that almost crept to the front door. But they still left an expanse of lawn large enough. She would have to be careful.
You’re not here to play the heroine, just to check if the Serpent Nest is inhabited again, she told herself, casting a spell on the soles of her shoes so as not to make the dead leaves crunch.
Sorka was half way to the big house when she heard a twig snap. She stopped dead, holding her breath. But the woods were silent, so she set off again. As she was passing by a large tree, a silhouette appear on her right, holding a wand pointed at her. Sorka froze immediately.
"Shit! What are you doing here?"
She recognized the voice and felt almost giddy with relief.
"I could ask you the same question," she answered, turning towards him.
Sage lowered his wand. "I could have hexed you!" he whispered intently.
"You have better reflexes than that or you wouldn’t be our Dueling Professor," Sorka observed. "So I just surmise you’re not happy to see me," she added, smiling to soften her tone.
"You’re not going to answer my question, right?"
Sorka opened her mouth to retort: Are you going to answer mine? But he looked at least as much concerned as annoyed, so she said, instead: "I was told there are once again Death Eaters at Malfoy’s Manor."
She waited for him to tell her there were no Death Eaters anymore, but Sage nodded.
"That’s what I was told too… and some of those guys might be the ones who are searching for Spartan. I have to make sure they don’t have a mean to find him."
Sorka stared at him. "And you came here alone? Are you mad?"
"You tell me." Sage shrugged. "You’re here too, and I don’t see your reinforcements."
She rolled her eyes. "I never had the intention to attack the Serpent Nest on my own!
"The Serpent Nest… fitting name." He turned to go. "Anyway, now you know there are Death Eaters, go back to Hogwarts," he added above his shoulder.
But the young woman was already there, beside him. "Did you really think I would let you do that alone, Sage?"
Thinking back to the informations he got from the Headmistress about the Order of the Phoenix and the young woman who was beside him, he shook his head. "You’re much too valuable to lose - I can’t let you do that, Sorka"
"I won’t say it will be a walk in the park, but I’m in good shape and I took part in greater battles… And it’s not like I give you the choice." She thought for an instant. "There were all sorts of spells and wards on this house during the Second War. The Order took care of that after Voldemort's death. But I suppose the Death Eaters will have put some back in place."
Sage nodded. As they were approaching the house, they fell silent. Then, seeing him hesitate, Sorka took the lead, signaling him to follow her, and opened a secret door.
"The Order found it, but I doubt the Death Eaters know about it," she whispered. When she stepped forward to enter, Sage stopped her and went first. They were in an old unused kitchen. He reached the other door, listened intently, and was about to open it when Sorka took him by the wrist. She shook her head when he looked sharply at her.
"Wait," she mouthed.
They did, during a couple of minutes. Then the young woman nodded. Sage opened the door and they walked down a long corridor. Sorka could feel the pressure of five or six malevolent minds against hers. But she didn’t try to shield herself completely, even if it made her sick. They needed her gift - the gift so despised among the wizarding folks because it reeked of muggle "magic".
Sorka and Sage climbed up a stair and reached the first floor. They were already too far from the stairwell when they heard a door open at the far end of the hall. Without thinking, Sage opened the closest one, pushed Sorka inside and followed her… they had to squeeze in, since it was a closet. He closed the door silently, and they waited once again.
He swallowed hard as he could feel her chest against his. Even in the dark contrasts of the cupboard he could identify her sillouette. He could feel her breath and smell her flowery scent again. Jasmine. Sage knew that this was a bad idea. Sorka Dumbledore was his weakness.
Even with all her senses heightened by the danger and her mind on the mission, Sorka couldn’t completely ignore him, as she could feel the heat radiating from his body and her breasts pressing against his chest with each breath she took. But she was at Hogwarts for a good reason, and there was no place in her life for anyone, especially for a man she didn’t know, a man who seemed to have many secrets, even if a part of her was attracted to him. Pushing all thoughts of the day before out of her mind, she leaned closer to him and whispered, her lips almost brushing his ear:
"That was Lucius’s study."
"Let’s go," Sage answered.
They entered the room where Voldemort had branded Draco Malfoy and ordered him to kill Albus Dumbledore. Sorka’s eyes unfocused, then she pointed to a cabinet. "There’s something there that doesn’t belong here… it’s the only white magic I can sense in the whole house."
Sage tried to open the cabinet, but of course, it was protected by warding spell. "Let’s see…" he muttered under his breath, casting a first counterspell. The door opened, but with a loud pop! The young professor grabbed the ring and they quickly left the room.
"They must have heard, musn’t they?" Sorka sighed.
The words had just left her lips when two hooded figures walked out from a nearby room. Sorka and Sage ran down the hall towards the staircase, casting stunning spells behind them. But footsteps could be heard coming from downstairs. There was a window in the middle of the stair. Sage took a look outside.
"What do you think?"
"Do we have the choice?"
Shaking his head, he opened the window and put a foot on the ledge. Sorka waved her wand at him.
"It’ll slow down your fall."
And before he could ask her why she didn’t cast it on herself, she took her Animagus form and flew out. Sage was quick to recover from his surprise and jumped off the window. When he landed, Sorka had already taken back her human form.
"You should have taken cover in the wood!"
"And leave you here?"
They both put up a shield and beat a retreat towards the trees, spells crackling around them. As Sorka was turning around to make sure all was clear, she saw three hooded figures coming out of the woods. One of them cast a spell – fortunately it was one of those spells that had to be said aloud, or they would never have known what had it them. But Sorka knew the counterspell and used it.
"How far to the limit of the anti-apparition spell?" Sage asked her.
"It covers the estate."
Back to back, the two professors parried and struck at each Death Eater in turn. "Merlin! How many bloody cowards are there?" Sorka said as she ducked a curse. "Our sources say there are around fifteen maximum, but I think we may need to rethink that estimate!"
"Yeah, I'd have to say that was a conservative estimate!" He took aim at one of the cloaked figures and a red curse struck the man and sent him spiraling into the trees. "You know, Sorka, there may be something here that they are wanting to protect. Any ideas?"
"Not really," she replied as they rolled and ducked, taking cover each time they could. Casting all the spells they knew, they finally reached the border of the Malfoy estate. As they were about to disapparate, one of the Death Eaters bellowed: "Sectumsempra!" pointing his wand at Sage. The young woman erected a shield and never saw the branch coming. It smacked her across the face half a second before her companion took her hand.
They apparated close to the gates. Sage turned to her, a look of concern on his face. Tears of pain ran down her cheeks, mingling with the blood sipping between her fingers.
"Let me see," he said, pulling her hand away from her face.
She must have looked like a crazy hag after a catfight, but he didn’t show any reaction.
"I’ll be ok… I…"
"Merlin! What happened?" said Rowena’s shocked voice. She glanced sideways at Sage, then looked at Sorka again. "Who did this to you?"
"I’m responsible…" Sage began.
"No, you’re not," Sorka said. "If it would just stop…"
Sage looked deeply into her eyes. "Do you trust me?"
"I think you know the answer to that question."
He nodded slowly. Then he pointed his wand at her face, and the blood stopped flowing. "Now you should see Madam Pomfrey. Come on."
"I’ll be fine. I don’t need to go to the hospital wing!"
But Rowena and Sage ignored her protests and took her there. Madam Pomfrey shook her head in dismay and clicked her tongue. Then she gave her some foul potion to drink and silently waved her wand in front of the young woman’s face. There was a crunching noise, and the pain subsided immediately.
"It should still hurt for an hour or so," Madam Pomfrey said. Then she walked away, muttering: "And now I have to patch up grown women!"
Rowena made the blood disappear from Sorka's face and clothes – apparantly, it made her nervous. "That’s better," she said with false gaiety.
"I’ll take you back to your quarters," Sage said. "You should lay down for a moment."
"I’m not tired… But I’d love a cup of tea. Will you two have tea with me?" she asked them.
Rowena was about to protest, but Sage nodded.
When they reached her quarters, the house-elves had already left a teapot, three cups, a plate of scones and a jar of orange and pumpkin marmelade on the table.
They sat down, and Rowena asked: "What happened, dear? How…?" She waved her hands, at a loss for word.
"Sage and I fought a few Death Eaters. One of them cast a spell at a tree, and a branch swung and… Well, you saw the result." She grimaced.
"Death Eaters? Where? Oh, Merlin, Merlin, Merlin…"
"Don’t worry, Rowena. They aren’t around here." Sorka glanced sidelong at Sage, who looked thoughtful. "What’s eating you?"
He looked up at her, frowning slightly. "You could have been seriously hurt…"
"Oh, no, please, don’t remind me how stupid it was not to pay attention to all our enemies." She shook her head, more chagrined than embarrassed.
"I’m sorry, but I have every intention of reminding you how much it was stupid." Seeing her eyes narrow, he added quickly: "And should I have payed attention, you wouldn’t have had to cover me. From what I saw, you and I need some practice."
"You mean, in dueling?" She thought about it for a few seconds, but she knew from the start that he was right. And she said so.
"Oh, can I practice with you too?" Rowena asked, clapping her hands.
"Yes, sure," Sorka answered.
Sage cast her a sharp look, then turned to Rowena and nodded.
"All right. We’ll do it by the Shrieking Shack. It’s normally deserted – and I happen to know a couple of secrets about that place." Sage smiled, then grew serious again. "How about tomorrow night?"
Rowena and Sorka nodded.
"Well," the Head of Ravenclaw House said, standing up. "I must reply to a few letters. I’ll see you two at dinner."
As soon as she left the room, silence fell. Finally, Sage cleared his throat and took a breath.
"You didn’t lose it, did you?" Sorka asked him.
He closed his mouth, then opened it again to answer her question. "No. It’s in my pocket."
"Do you think Spartan will be safe now ?"
Sage ran his hand over his neck in anxiety, then sighed. "Safe? No. But safer, yes. Thank you for your help."
"You’re very welcome."
Authors's Note: At first, this chapter wasn't planned that way. We had left the Spartan bit aside, and it just didn't work. But finally, once that bit was added, the pieces fell together and it just felt right. All the more so that it gave Sorka and Sage another reason to spend time together. Hehe. The rest of Spartan's story will be revealed in some chapters from this one, with some reminders in the meantime.
Would you like to read more about Spartan? Did you like the action in this chapter?
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