A/N: You're probably tired of reading this, but I still have the best betas ever. And if you've made it to chapter eight with me, there's cookies at the end. Thanks for reading!
Avery sat at his window, rubbing the top of the cigar box in his lap. The crickets on the wall were silent, little frozen corpses stuck with pins He hadn’t added to his collection in weeks. Not since Rosier and Wilkes had gone off on their not-so-secret mission.
His hands still trembled with the aftereffects of Karkaroff’s mind invasion. The empty bottles littering the floor hadn’t helped that. Malfoy’s butterbeer was gone. Avery had managed to find a stash of Rosier’s Firewhisky in the broom closet. Avery swung his foot out and kicked one of the bottles, sending it halfway across the floor. The Firewhisky was almost gone too.
Somewhere in his addled brain, he’d come to the conclusion that the alcohol wasn’t doing him much good. But last week, when he’d tried to Apparate to the Leaky Cauldron for something more than drink, he’d ended up spluttering on the muddy banks of the Thames, accio-ing pasties from the crowds of Muggles and wandering through the streets of London like a homeless invalid.
No one had come to see him. Not even Severus. Avery stared out the window, seeing nothing but the reflection of despair. “He could have done something to help me. I know he could.” He swore out loud, cursing the name of Severus Snape. The bare walls and the dead crickets made no comment to that. Rosier would have had a quick comeback for him, but he was gone. Wilkes too. He stood up, stumbled over to the couch and all but fell on top of it. “He’s not here,” he muttered. “Who the hell told him he was better ‘n the rest of us?”
Avery clutched the cigar box to his chest like it was made of precious metal. It was the one he never showed anyone. The one Severus had seen in his mind.
“Snape has nuthin’ to prove his loyalty to the Dark Lord, but I do.” A thin smile formed on his cracked lips. When he was alone, he could count his worth to the Death Eaters. He was in the process of removing the charmed lock on the box when he heard a loud “crack” outside the flat. Avery jumped at the pounding on the door and shoved the box under the couch.
He tried to get up, but something snapped inside the couch. Avery floundered about and then gave up.
“Come ‘n,” he slurred, sinking further into the stained cushions.
Lucius Malfoy swept into the room and wrinkled his nose. He assessed Avery’s poor condition, the greasy hair matted to his head. “Don’t you have bathing facilities?”
Avery shrugged weakly.
“I was going to send Snape over, but he’s otherwise occupied so I delivered this myself.” Lucius threw a pouch onto the cushion next to Avery.
It was more likely that Snape was too distracted. Avery fumbled to get the pouch open.
“He’s prepared your tonics,” Lucius told him. “By the looks of things, you desperately need them.” Avery’s handler gave him a purposeful look. “Pull yourself together. We’re not through with you yet.”
Avery nodded feebly. “I promised to make a difference,” he whispered, more to himself than to the man towering in front of him. Then he looked straight into Lucius Malfoy’s face, all bleary-eyed and serious. “I’m gonna do it. I don’t need ‘em two. Snape either.” Avery slumped further into the couch with his assortment of potions. “Soon as I sort myself out here.”
Lucius winced as he surveyed the garbage strewn around. “Get this place sorted too. I’ll have to bring in new recruits and I don’t want them turned off by the stench.”
After Lucius left him alone, Avery pulled out his box again. He undid the magic lock and opened the lid. Inside lay the undisputed proof that he’d done everything they’d asked of him. Just in case anyone ever asked.
There was an off chance that maybe some of his victims had managed to escape with a missing digit or three. He wondered how quickly they’d be slaughtered if they were found, or if they’d get a slow and agonizing punishment for refusing to die the first time....
He never stayed long enough to watch them die. An outright Adava Kedavra wasn’t his style – never mind that he hadn’t ever mastered the Unforgivables.
One other person knew his secret. Only one. Otherwise, he’d surely be dead by now. What good was an assassin who couldn’t take down his marks outright?
He had to show Lucius Malfoy that he could do stuff too. There’d be another test soon, another chance to show Lucius that he hadn’t been wasting his efforts. But Avery knew that he’d have to step it up even more to get the Death Eaters’ attention. He knew a few secrets. Perhaps it was time to put them to good use.
He set the open box aside and rifled through the assortment of potions: Pepper Up, useless… something for hangovers, could work… an unidentified vial with murky green stuff in it, probably tasted worse than it looked… Avery scowled at Severus’ so-called contributions to their noble cause and grumbled to himself about the git doing next to nothing and getting off easy.
Avery stared down at his prized collection of stumps wrapped in tissue inside the cigar box. Like Christmas. The last time he’d done someone in, a favor for his friend, he hadn’t had the time to collect a memento; the authorities had come too quickly.
The Dark Lord never demanded blood on Snape’s hands. If they only knew…
Then, like he’d just walked into a brick wall, he got hit with a brilliant idea. Avery flipped the lid closed and reapplied the magical lock. He groped around and untangled his travel cloak from a pile of garbage.
Avery felt around in the cushions for Snape’s pouch, downed the Pepper-Up, chased it with the green stuff and tucked the hangover potion in his pocket for later.
Snape knew Avery’s weakness alright, but Avery had stumbled on his friend’s greatest distraction that kept him from committing wholly to the cause. Well, he knew how to fix that.
His face split into a bleeding grin. Next time Lucius Malfoy gave him an assignment, he’d be ready. He’d need to start practicing straight away. And he knew just where to start.
“Gotta get a bigger box.”
Dorcas crouched down on her back patio in front of a small assortment of potted plants. It was unseasonally warm for early March and likely her last chance to get the pests under control before the weather turned and the rains came. She’d wanted more flowers, but her square of open air was surrounded by a high wooden fence and left barely enough room for a set of chairs and a side table.
The largest of her foliage collection drooped miserably. Bugs had eaten a good portion of the leaves. Nasty things... not the usual pests… impervious to herbicides, magical or otherwise. “Hearty as the plague,” her aunt used to say.
The only thing she’d found that worked on the kernel-sized trouble makers was catching them by hand and popping them between her thumbnails.
As a cool breeze brushed against her face, she thought about how comfortable the coming spring would feel... besides the rain. The sudden change from cool to warm and back again reminded her too much of the enigma that sat comfortably in the shade under the eaves with his nose in a book.
Part of her was a little too pleased that he was still around. In the past few weeks, they’d slipped into a comfortable pattern of cohabitation, but mostly left each other alone. Sometimes she could feel him watching her from across the room. She’d never caught him at it. Maybe it was a fluke, she thought as she snapped another bug. She wiped her hands on a rag at her side.
“I hate these things.” She felt the familiar prickle on the back of her neck and wished he’d say something. Anything.
“What are you doing?” He was so close, peering over her shoulder that she jumped.
She recovered quickly, having gotten used to his odd way of trying to be social. “Killing bugs.”
She stepped back and eyed him. “They’re eating my plants. It’s an infestation. If I don’t do something about it I’ll lose all of them.”
“You’re making a bit of a mess, doing it that way,” he said in a judgmental tone.
“Says the one who scrapes out the bottoms of cauldrons every afternoon. You have a better way of dealing with this?”
“Get a jar. I’ll show you something.”
Dorcas summoned a jar and handed it over to him. Severus brushed by her shoulder and lowered himself down to the ground, pulling out his wand. “What are you doing? They don’t...”
He opened the jar and set it down on its side about a foot away from the plant, waving and whispering around the bush. When the plant started to tremble, Dorcas watched in amazement as a stream of little black and brown bugs flowed single file into the jar.
“Magic,” he said. When she opened her mouth to protest, he held up the capped jar, full of the little beasties. “They don’t like it. I simply put up a containment shield and vibrated it until they couldn’t stand it anymore.”
“And the jar was the closest thing not giving off the vibrations,” she finished, taking the jar.
“Works on rats too.” He got up and went back to the chair in the shade.
“So what do I do with these?” she asked, watching the nasty things climbing all over each other inside their little glass prison.
“Get a blood-sucking spider.”
“Not helpful,” she muttered, turning in time to see his smirk disappear behind his book.
Hot and cold, she thought. A breeze picked up and blew through her, sending a small chill along her back. Or maybe it was because he’d been staring again.
She found herself looking forward to the very rare occasions when he’d open up just a tiny bit and actually talk to her. But then all too soon, he’d catch himself and revert back to the overly reserved potions apprentice that he showed to the rest of the world.
It frustrated her when he clammed up and didn’t talk for days... hours... alright, so she was exaggerating... long enough for her to lose her patience in any case. She found herself attempting to start conversations, mostly resorting to babbling about things she normally wouldn’t, just to get a reaction.
“Last night’s meeting was interesting,” she said out loud, moving on to the next plant. It wasn’t exactly true, but it was all she could think to say at the moment.
“They’re still speculating about Karkaroff and what he may be planning. No one has any new information since last time. Moody wants him really bad and it’s frustrating everyone.”
She paused; there wasn’t much more to say about that. Most of the people he knew in the Order hadn’t exactly gotten along with him in school. Which was a gross understatement. She summoned another jar and muttered at the bugs.
He’s not at all like they thought he was. He may be socially inept, but whose fault was that really? No one she knew had ever really tried to get to know him.
She remembered the one person who had, for a while, given him the benefit of the doubt. She stole a glance back at the black hair over the top of the book. “I saw Lily there. At the meeting.”
He raised an eyebrow, keeping his head down.
“She doesn’t get out much anymore because of the baby. Especially after what happened at the Ministry last month. Lily was telling Marlene about the weird accidents at her place. All the wards are up, all the precautions in place, and still things keep happening. They can’t figure it out.”
“Mmm.” came from Severus’ direction. Did his brows furrow? She couldn’t tell, but she continued to recount the girls’ conversation after the meeting.
“Last Saturday was particularly bad. The baby almost got hurt and Lily nearly got knocked out from a flying griddle. She’s still recovering from this nasty bump to her head. James nearly had a heart attack, but she insists she’s fine. He’s really worried.”
Severus looked up sharply. “When did this happen?”
“The last few Saturdays, just about. Mostly in the afternoons. Why?”
Severus said something under his breath and got up. This was not the reaction she had expected.
Dorcas said a few choice words herself as she watched him leave and then followed him up the stairs. When she reached the landing, his door was closed and she could hear shuffling inside his room. She took a breath and knocked on his door. “Severus, what are you doing?”
He opened the door and stepped back into his room, rummaging through his things. “I’m sorry,” she said, stepping into the room. “I know you used to care about her and I shouldn’t have...”
“I do care.” he said, throwing things in his satchel. “I’ve always cared.”
She looked at him, surprised that he would just leave like that. Not surprised at all that she knew exactly where he was going.
“You do realize,” she said, thrown by her own disappointment and feeling more than a little hurt, “that she has a husband, a family. And she probably doesn’t even think of you anymore at all.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Then what is it like, exactly?” She didn’t know where that came from. It was her own fault for mentioning anything.
“It’s Saturday.” he said simply, as if that was all she needed to know. “Almost noon.”
“I’m sorry I brought it up...” She leaned against his doorframe, silently willing him to stop whatever he was planning.
He sighed heavily, not speaking, staring at the floor as if he was willing the explanation to come out of the air all by itself. “I’ll be back later.” He gave her a look of apology before he disappeared.
He hadn’t even asked. It was like he knew where Lily was all this time. She and her family were in hiding, moving around to avoid detection because they’d been targeted too many times. But Lily had said this time felt more like someone was playing with them…
Had it been him? Had he been obsessing over her still?
It reminded her of that day back in seventh year Potions where she’d caught him staring at the back of Lily’s head during their mid-term assignment. It had cost them both a perfect score and she’d ribbed him about it for ages... And then he’d blamed the next ruined batch on her ineptness. But she’d had a proper excuse, being flustered over a bad breakup.
She’d gotten over it and moved on to other, more fantastically failed relationships. Apparently, he had not. It seemed like such a long time ago… years. And she shouldn’t care because he was a Death Eater.
And then the voice inside her head reminded her that her last mistake had been an Auror, and look how badly that had turned out.
No more mistakes, she promised herself.
Dorcas found herself picking at the chipped paint by his doorframe. At some level she understood what he must have gone through. Constantly being in the presence of something he wanted but couldn’t have. She felt a slight twinge and shook herself. After crumbling the chips into dust, she blew them back onto the wall and muttered a soft Reparo to fix it. “Get a grip, Dorcas. You’re not sixteen anymore.”
It was easy to push her thoughts aside during the following week when she was busy with work and had little time to dwell on things. But when the next Saturday came around and he disappeared again, she beat herself up for feeling disappointed all over again.
At least this time she didn’t have time to mope about. She was due to meet Marlene any second – they’d just had an Order meeting where the results of Severus’ potion were revealed. She’d intended to mention it to Severus, but he hadn’t left his room all morning and then run off before she could say anything.
Dorcas heard the distinctive “pop” outside her front door and grabbed her wand as a flurry of alarms went off. She moved quickly around the flat, shutting them off, and remembered to check through the peephole before opening the door to a grinning Marlene McKinnon.
“You were too close, Marlene. I had to reset everything.”
“Well, now you know the alarms work. Consider it a drill.” Marlene was still grinning and Dorcas couldn’t help but grin back. She stepped around the side of Marlene’s belly for a hug. Marlene was practically the only family that Dorcas had left, at least the only family she could count on.
“You’re looking good,” she said to her best friend. “Very glowy.” Marlene smiled brightly. Dorcas didn’t get to see her very often since she started her leave, but Marlene still attempted to get out when she could – she wouldn’t be able to much longer.
“I haven’t been to your place in ages,” Marlene said, stepping inside the entry hall.
Dorcas bustled about, trying to find her misplaced bag. “The McKinnons have excellent security. And my little place is nothing compared to yours.” She finally located her bag and almost had to push her friend outside so she could secure the door.
“Yes,” Marlene said, “but it’s cozy and you always have a great selection of herbal teas.”
Dorcas patted her bag. “I brought some with me.” She double-checked the door, flicked her wand at it to be sure, and turned back to her friend. “Alright. Let’s go.”
Marlene gave her a look. “What’s the rush? Did you get another pack of those incredible fudge bars? I promise I wasn’t going to eat the whole package.”
“Brought those too.” Dorcas took Marlene’s arm and led her away from the flat. “You can have as many as you like. My treat.”
Marlene eyed her suspiciously. “Wait a sec. What are you hiding?” Then her eyes got big. “That cloak in the hall wasn’t yours, was it?”
Dorcas hesitated long enough for her best friend to notice. “We can’t work on your nursery out here. Besides, there are a few color combinations I think you should consider before we start painting.”
Marlene snapped her fingers. “You have a new flatmate. I knew it!”
“I’ve been looking at your wallpaper samples,” Dorcas offered, pulling her along so they could get far enough away from her flat to Apparate to Marlene’s without setting off any alarms. And to get her friend’s wandering mind back on decorating the nursery instead of prying into Dorcas’ life.
“You didn’t run that advert, did you? I hope it’s someone you know.” Marlene continued.
Dorcas didn’t want to have that conversation again. She didn’t want to have any conversation that involved her flat or who was currently occupying her spare room. Especially with Marlene. “I know you like the green, but it narrows down your color palate and the pattern is quite busy.”
Marlene nudged her. “Is it someone from the Ministry? When can I meet him?”
Dorcas stopped with her at the street corner and waited for the traffic to clear. “Not interesting. Eats too much. Smelly socks. Never home most of the time.”
Marlene grinned. “So it is a ‘him’! Is he one of those bookish types from Research and Development?”
“I was thinking that you should do that split wall thing, with a…” Dorcas searched for the word… “…chair rail.” She patted Marlene’s arm. “And paint the top half a solid color so the room won’t seem so cluttered.”
“He’s not from the Department of Mysteries, is he? Please tell me he’s not!”
The street signal changed and they started walking again. “Almost there.”
“Is he in the Order? Maybe that’s why you can’t say anything.”
“Peach or yellow, I’m thinking. Everyone always does blue. It’s too traditional for you.”
“People are pretty desperate these days… not that I’m saying you’re desperate or anything.” Marlene’s face lit up. “Oh, I know! He’s one of those dark and brooding blokes that doesn’t talk much, isn’t he? You two probably sit around at night staring at each other because he’s so ruggedly handsome and you’re so…”
“Peach!” Dorcas said firmly. “I bet we can find loads of accessories to go with peach walls.”
“You’re no fun to be around anymore! Aren’t you going to give me anything?”
“Later,” Dorcas said, turning away. Much later. After he leaves and it doesn’t matter anymore. They walked on in silence. Which was odd for Marlene. Dorcas finally looked at her.
Marlene’s grin widened. “You like him. That always matters.” She winked.
Dorcas couldn’t stop the heat that crept up her neck. Apparently she’d said that last part out loud. “Stop it. I’m not saying another word.”
“Fine, yellow,” Dorcas relented. “Let’s hurry. That nursery isn’t going to decorate itself.”
Severus had gotten back to the flat hours before Dorcas, throwing himself into his work up in his room, like he did nearly every night, unless he was called away for something or had to catch up on shop business when Netterheim was gone. Not that he minded the work, but he preferred Dorcas’ flat to the basement of the Potions Shop. He’d been delaying the completion on Karkaroff’s project for weeks now, but he wouldn’t be able to fool the man forever.
Once his Master’s Project was submitted to the Guild, Karkaroff would know. The Guild had granted him a year, but his mentor wasn’t giving him that luxury. Netterheim had been breathing down his neck about it, complaining that with his history over the last year, he should be finished by now.
The rules never seemed to apply to Severus Snape. People always expected him to be different. He’d stopped counting the ways in which life had been so unfair to him years ago. Not likely that it was going to change anytime soon.
His brooding was interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Come in,” he said without thinking, and then kicked himself. It was only Dorcas, but he’d let his guard down. He should have at least checked first. He’d grown too comfortable over the last few weeks, which would never have happened if he’d stayed at Malfoy Manor. At least he didn’t have to worry about house elves rummaging through his belongings.
Dorcas stuck her head in and saw him in the middle of a pile of scattered parchment notes. The mess on his conjured desk was separated into two piles of parchment that spread out so much he’d had to levitate the shop lamp off of the work surface to make more room.
He was so engrossed in his work that he almost didn’t notice that she’d said anything. Severus reached dangerously over his manuscript to get to his quill, having pushed the inkwell and a small sack of beetle eyes to the very edge of the desk.
Dorcas cleared her throat. “I didn’t mean to bother you, but I have something you’ll want to see.”
He looked up briefly. “I’ll be down in a moment.”
Severus took a pinch of the tiny beetle eyes and crushed them between his fingers over the ink pot. Netterheim said it gave the lettering a professional sheen. He stirred the ink carefully with his quill, wondering how long he’d be able to convince Karkaroff that he needed more time. The man was growing impatient with Severus’ excuses. Perhaps another sample would do for now. It would be weeks, more like another month or two before Severus could produce the quantity that Karkaroff required. That would buy the Order more time.
He hoped by then that they could find out what the Death Eaters were going to use it for.
The desk started to shimmer and Severus scrambled to gather up his stack of parchment in one hand and scoop up the inkwell in the other. As the desk hovered on the brink of reality, Severus quickly set the inkwell down to free a hand. As soon as he rescued his bag of beetle eyes, the desk dissolved into nothingness. And he was sitting in front of an empty space.
His conjuring must have gotten sloppy this time. Either that, or… he checked the clock on the wall… he’d been at it longer than he’d thought.
Severus went down the stairs, shuffling his pages back in some semblance of order. Dorcas was at the fireplace, adjusting something on the mantle. She turned and smiled at him and he sat down hard on the couch.
“I’m not going to be able to fake this much longer,” he said. “Karkaroff is getting impatient with me. I think he knows that I’m stalling.”
“Has anyone told you what the plans are for your potion yet?” Dorcas asked.
“If they had, you’d already know about it.” Severus told her. “Besides, the more information they give me, the more they expect me to be involved. You know what kinds of things these people do.” He thought of Avery and Wilkes’ ghastly descriptions of past missions. “I can’t do that.”
“But your potion could,” she told him.
He frowned, squaring up his manuscript pile. “The whole purpose of the project was to suspend the potency of the ingredient. While it’s in solution, it remains inert... until you are ready to do something with it.”
She nodded and put the Order’s analysis of his potion in front of him. “And in the hands of the wrong people, it could do a lot.”
Severus looked at the report. Each bullet point described in detail the effects Karkaroff’s main ingredient had on the human body. Most of it Severus was aware of. None of it was pleasant. “What is all this?”
“A compilation of all the possible practical applications.”
Severus went still. The more he read through the report, the paler he became. The sample he’d given her for the Order was from his very first trial, before he’d worked out the potency formula. And his tests had been in an enclosed environment. But their analysis showed how the suspended ingredient remained active longer with the cooling effect of moving air and how the dissipation was delayed because the mist formed long tendrils instead of breaking apart. The list of potential uses was more devastating than he’d first thought. And now that he’d managed to increase the concentration more than tenfold… “I can’t let this happen,” he said softly.
“Is there a way,” Dorcas said gently, “that you could just not give it to him? Or replace it with something else?” She sounded so hopeful.
“Karkaroff knows too much and has everything tested. The only chance I have now of stopping this is to find out what they’re going to do with it and then somehow get there first.” He looked at her helplessly. “If I quit, or disappear… or they kill me, they’ll get someone else to finish it. The only thing to do now is get them to trust me more.”
Dorcas looked concerned. “Won’t they make you, you know… wear a mask?”
And probably more. There really wasn’t any other way. The Guild wouldn’t help him, and neither would Netterheim. “Whatever I have to do, I’ll do it.”
Every time he thought he’d gotten ahead, something dragged him back down into the muck. He watched Dorcas’ back as she left the room and wanted to tear up the Order’s report, but he set it down on the side table instead. It was too much to hope that she’d understand. He wondered when it had started to matter to him what she thought and then shoved the thought back down from wherever it came. He should have known it was too late for any kind of redemption.
He hated to think what the Guild would do if they knew he’d used his Master’s Project thesis to concoct an instant plague. Because that’s what the Order’s report made it out to be.
And they were right.
He felt a nudge at his shoulder. “Thought you could use this,” Dorcas said and handed him a glass of something strong. He took it and part of him thought so she hasn’t turned her back on me yet.
Dorcas sat down next to him. Her hair brushed up against his arm and he tried to ignore it. Instead, he sipped his drink and stared into the fire. He’d outlive his usefulness eventually, or end up doing something she’d never forgive him for. It was just a matter of time.
Severus looked down in his lap where he was still holding the collection of parchment. He’d forgotten all about it.
“It’s my submission to the Guild. Netterheim wants to see it tomorrow.” He’d penned everything neatly; the clear script glistened in the flickering light of the fire. At least it was one of the last things he could be proud of. Though he really should read through it once more.
Dorcas was leaning over his shoulder. “Do you think I could see that?” Severus handed it over and watched her start to read, wondering if she’d be impressed by any of it. He hadn’t used the same ingredients as Karkaroff’s notebook. Instead, he’d replaced the poison with a simple healing potion. But the general technique was the same.
She was staring at his title page. He frowned. Now what?
Dorcas chewed a nail. “You’ve misspelled the title.”
“I did not,” Severus retorted, leaning in to take a look. “That’s correct.”
She shook her head, curls bouncing in all directions. “No. See here? It reads, ‘The Solvation of Super-saturated Solutions’. Didn’t you mean ‘salvation’?”
Severus rolled his eyes. “Do you take me for a religious philosopher?”
“Solvency, Meadowes. It’s a treatise for the Potion Master’s Guild, not a crack article for Divination Weekly.”
Dorcas wrinkled her nose at him. “Sorry, Snape. I’m not familiar with the terminology.”
Severus took a breath. He probably deserved that so he let it go. If she was going to pick his work apart, he might as well get some use out of it. He stood up and held out a quill to her, not the least bit in the mood to stick around and watch. “Note anything you see that looks out of place. If you don’t understand something, I can make up a terms sheet.”
“Make me a drink instead.” Dorcas took the quill and settled into the couch, crossing her eyes. “I think I’m going to need a few to get through this thing.”
Another week passed and Dorcas had hoped that Severus would come through with something more on Karkaroff by now, though she knew that when he did and it was over, he wouldn’t be around anymore. It was probably better that way. Even with all the staring and the gradual friendliness he’d eased into over the last few months, she was pretty sure it didn’t mean anything. She should count herself lucky that he’d been so cooperative. And helpful. And kind of protective, sometimes rivaling even Moody’s concern. Which was irritating because he never told her where he was going or what he was up to… and he’d disappear without a word and come back without an explanation.
On the occasions that he was around, she’d started asking him about his progress on the formula, which he seemed most comfortable talking about until she inevitably challenged his reagent assumptions. And when she needed someone to talk to about her work, he listened. He understood, better than anyone, that if they were going to take down Karkaroff, they’d have to dig him out from whatever rock he’d been hiding under and that meant getting their hands dirty.
And so she found herself back in Knockturn Alley.
The Seer’s yellow eyed awning waved in the breeze, but the window was dark. Dorcas wondered how anyone could run a business with such odd hours. A rat scuttled across the cobblestones in front of her and she stopped short, wondering if Sybill’s shop had an infestation – maybe she might report it to the Ministry… maybe it wasn’t worth mentioning. Not that she wanted to run into Sybill again anytime soon. The woman was more than a bit creepy.
It wasn’t like Dorcas to take so long on a simple inspections assignment and Moody scowled at her every time she mentioned it. Mr. Burke was the last one on her list. She shuffled back to the end of the street and hoped that he was in, and that he would be cooperative enough to let her get through the inspection and then get out without too much trouble.
Her luck held and within minutes, she was done with Borgin & Burkes, not caring anymore if she missed an opportunity to pry. On her way out of the Alley, she paused at the long expanse of brick wall where she’d seen the men and the door.
She hadn’t had the time to research the incident. Without sufficient evidence to get the Ministry involved, she hadn’t wanted to ask around and raise suspicion either. Moody would have to wait, having just sent teams out on another lengthy mission.
Someone had to look into it. It had been too long since anyone had seen Karkaroff around.
It was late morning. Perhaps just a cursory examination while she was here wouldn’t hurt. If he was in there, he’d probably be too caught up in nefarious plans or his mid-day toast and jam to notice someone poking around outside…
She ran her fingers innocently over the expanse of bricks, feeling for any strange or unusual textures, stretching her awareness just in case there was a magical trigger somewhere. Sometimes it was as easy as that. Sometimes, just the thought of the door opening would do it… where had it been?
And then, a few feet over from where she’d anticipated, her fingers hit something soft. It was fascinating, so smooth. She pushed through the opening until she felt wood paneling instead of brick, and stepped over the threshold without thinking, caught up in the strange sensations that her fingers felt but her eyes didn’t see and before she knew it, she found herself in a darkened hall.
The doorway was gone, closing her off to the light outside. She found herself pressing into a shelf of … stuff. After feeling around for the soft spot, she only encountered wood and metal and… Dorcas pulled back with a start and wiped her hands on her cloak. They smelled like sulfur.
She slumped against the wall. And where exactly was she now? With the door gone, she couldn’t go back the way she’d come in. It hadn’t acted like a one-way passage when she saw those men go in and out. Which meant… she had no idea whose door she’d gone into.
She rubbed at her wrist nervously. Maybe she should contact Severus for help?
Dorcas pictured his reaction to that – and how much better it would go over once she explained that she’d meant to find Karkaroff without any backup and ended up trapped Merlin knew where. The "I'm sorry, I must have been looking for the other secret entrance" line sounded incredibly unconvincing in her head.
Perhaps she should explore further before she jumped to any conclusions. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as the prickling on the back of her neck made it out to be.
"Who's there?" a gruff voice called out and Dorcas stiffened in the dark.
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