Ben followed Amelia’s pointed finger to the Headmaster’s Tower. Indeed, the lights were still burning brightly despite the fact that it was ten o’ clock. Unlike her predecessor, Minerva McGonagall preferred to follow the old adage of “Early to bed, early to rise…” The fact that she was still awake and in her office at this hour could not bode well.
“Let’s go straight to her office,” Ben suggested and began to lead the way.
Amelia’s heart was beating rapidly as they approached the stone gargoyle – a combination of Ben’s quick pace and the news that Amelia was certain would be dreadful.
Ben spoke the password and allowed Amelia to step onto the stone steps first.
“Ben, what do you think it is?” she whispered in the dark column.
Ben didn’t respond, but took her hand in his and held tightly.
The door opened to Minerva’s office and Ben and Amelia came face-to-face with not only Minerva, but Severus, Remus, and Arthur as well.
“Ah, I was hoping you’d returned,” Minerva said in welcome, offering them a tight smile.
“Minerva, what’s wrong?” Amelia asked, straightforward in her concern.
“Three students are missing,” the Headmistress replied.
Amelia’s eyes widened, her mind considering worst-case scenarios. They had been captured. They were being tortured. They were trapped somewhere. They were dead.
“Who?” Ben demanded.
Severus sank into one of the leather chairs in front of Minerva’s desk.
“Slytherin, all of them,” he said dejectedly. “Vincent Crabbe, Gregory Goyle, and Theodore Nott.”
Amelia’s heart went out to Severus. She knew that, despite his harsh and stoic demeanor, he truly did care about each of his students. Those in Slytherin House held special places of honor.
“Severus,” Amelia said softly.
She walked across the room and put a hand on his shoulder. He did not acknowledge her, but he did not push her hand away.
“At least we know they’ve not been captured,” Ben reasoned.
Amelia shot him a reproachful glare.
“Ben, knowing that they’ve joined the Death Eaters is no better.”
Ben shrugged. “No worse, either.”
“Nothing would be worse,” she countered.
“We don’t know for certain that they’ve fled to join the Death Eaters,” Remus reasoned, halting Ben and Amelia’s bickering.
“Please,” Severus snorted. “Don’t be naïve.”
“If it was so obvious, why wasn’t it prevented?” Ben asked.
Amelia glared at him again. Though his tone was conversational, the words implied blame.
“Don’t give me that look, Amelia,” Ben argued. “We need to address this. What if their departure sparks a chain reaction?”
“As much as I am loathe to admit it,” Severus said drily, “Auden’s correct on both accounts. It should have been prevented and we must keep other students from following their path.”
“Perhaps we thought it was prevented,” Amelia countered. “Students are to stay in their dormitories, teachers patrol halls, the ghosts are on lookout, the castle doors locked… We take precautions to keep all students in the castle at night.”
“So how did they get out?” Remus asked.
“You say they couldn’t have left through any doors?” Arthur asked. “Are you certain they were all locked as they were supposed to be?”
“Quite certain, yes,” Minerva replied. “Though I sent Argus to check all exits, just in case.”
“What about the windows?” Amelia proposed. “That’s how Malfoy and Nott left on Halloween; perhaps Theodore took inspiration from his father and they used brooms.”
“That’s quite possible,” Severus agreed. “In fact, I can’t think of another way they could have left.”
“Then to prevent future escapes, we must address the windows,” Ben concluded. “Either lock them shut or place charms on them that will prevent anyone crossing the pane.”
“But what of Crabbe, Goyle, and Nott?” Amelia demanded. “Do we just write them off as lost causes.”
Severus sighed heavily and looked at Amelia balefully.
“Yes,” he replied shortly, then rose to leave and billowed out of the room.
“We’ll charm the windows tomorrow,” Minerva decided. “Amelia, please determine the best charm to use, then share it at a staff meeting after lunch.”
“Of course,” Amelia murmured, mollified by Severus’ reaction to her previous question.
“If we’re finished here…” Remus began, his voice trailing off once his intention was clear.
“Yes, of course,” Minerva answered his unasked question. “Remus, Arthur, go back to your beds.”
The two men bade the others good-bye and stepped through the Floo one by one. Minerva turned to Ben and Amelia and told them that they, too, should go to bed.
Amelia and Ben walked quietly back to their rooms.
“Sickle for your thoughts,” Ben offered as they climbed the stairs to their bedroom.
“How many students will we meet in battle, Ben?” Amelia asked morosely. “How many will we have to kill or wound?”
Once again, Ben chose to answer her questions with comforting arms.
By noontime the following day, news had spread throughout the castle that the three Slytherins had fled. Amelia sat at the High Table during lunch and watched each table carefully. The Gryffindors were caught between outrage that they had joined the Death Eaters and joy that they had left. The Ravenclaws were talking quietly, demonstrating neither outrage nor support. The Hufflepuffs were watching the other tables closely and whispering amongst themselves.
But it was the Slytherin table, on the right side of her vision, that had Amelia most concerned. Students were talking quietly in groups and Amelia was horrified to see looks of excitement on the faces of a small number.
Thank Merlin I just gave Minerva the charm to use on the windows. But won’t they only find another way out?
Amelia was caught up in these thoughts when Evander took the seat beside her and startled her.
“Afternoon, Amelia,” he said cheerfully.
“Hello Evander,” Amelia replied, somewhat less jovial.
“Ah, not a top ten day for Hogwarts, is it?” Evander asked, accurately pinpointing Amelia’s focus.
“I just hate to think that we might meet them in battle, you know?”
Evander nodded and took a few bites of his meal.
“Well, I hate to add something to your plate…” he began.
“What is it, Evander?”
“It’s just that this weekend is my mum’s birthday and, um-“
“Oh, I nearly forgot!” Amelia exclaimed, interrupting him.
“It’s all right if you can’t make it to the house anymore,” Evander hemmed.
“No, of course I will make it,” Amelia insisted. “Just tell me where and when to meet you.”
“Let’s say noon on Sunday? We can meet at the front doors and Apparate.”
“Sounds great, Evander,” Amelia said genuinely. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
And she was speaking very honestly. She was looking forward to meeting Mrs. Hywel and hearing about her family. Still, Amelia knew it would be a difficult day as well. She wanted Ben to be there.
That evening, Amelia hesitantly broached the subject with Ben. They were relaxing in the bathtub, Amelia’s back against his chest, when Amelia brought it up. She thought that the relaxing setting and the fact that she had no clothes on might help her position.
“Mhm,” he replied sleepily.
“Remember how Evander asked me to visit his mum?”
“It’s next weekend.”
Well, this isn’t going anywhere.
“Ben,” Amelia said, elbowing him in the side to get his attention.
“Ow, what?” he groaned.
“Did you hear me before?”
Ben didn’t reply, which was a very clear answer for Amelia.
“My visit to the Hywels’ is next weekend.”
“Oh,” Ben said shortly. “I, uh… okay, I guess.”
“You were invited, too,” Amelia reminded him.
“No thanks,” Ben snorted. “I’d really rather not.”
Amelia was disappointed – really disappointed – but she tried to brush it off.
“Okay,” she said quietly, trying to ignore the fact that it upset her more than she realized it would.
Several minutes went by in silence before Ben spoke again. During that time, Amelia had been imagining her meeting with Mrs. Hywel.
“Amelia, what is it?”
“It’s nothing,” she replied. “I’m just tired.”
“Tell me,” Ben demanded gently. “You’re upset about something.”
“I… I was just hoping you would come with me.”
“To the Hywels!”
“Oh. Okay, then I will,” Ben agreed.
“You don’t have to. You made it clear that you don’t want to.”
“I wasn’t thinking before, ‘Melia, that’s all. I forgot how stressful it was going to be for you. Of course I’ll go.”
“I don’t want you to be uncomfortable, Ben.”
“But it’s okay for you to be uncomfortable?”
When Amelia didn’t reply, Ben continued.
“I’m going, no questions asked. Just tell me what time we’re meeting Hywel.”
Saturday arrived quickly and Amelia found herself standing outside the front doors with Ben at precisely five minutes before twelve.
She had dressed with care that morning, choosing a light floral tea dress for the warm April day topped with a cream-colored cardigan and matching pumps. Amelia hoped that she looked nice and wasn’t overdressed; Ben seemed to approve but he wasn’t difficult to please.
Amelia dragged her fingers through her loose curls for the eighteenth time at least and adjusted her necklace (the one with the eagle wings) at least fourteen times.
“Amelia, relax,” Ben finally cried in exasperation. “Your hair is perfect and your necklace is straight. Your make-up is not smudged and your dress is not too dressy. Your shoes match and so does your jumper. In short, you look beautiful. Just relax and enjoy today.”
Amelia rolled her eyes.
“I don’t know how much I’ll ‘enjoy’ spending the day talking about my dead family,” Amelia grumbled.
Ben wisely kept his mouth shut at the comment.
“Oy, you two,” Evander called, emerging from the castle doors. “All set?”
Amelia nodded nervously and followed Evander and Ben to the apparition point.
“All right, I’ll side-along you two but I can only do one at a time. Who’s first?”
Ben, sensing Amelia’s hesitancy, volunteered to go first. When Evander returned and retrieved Amelia, she shut her eyes and opened them again to find herself looking up at a tall, narrow townhouse of traditional red brick.
“Where are we?” Ben asked.
“East Earls Court, London,” Evander replied. “Collingham Gardens to be specific.”
“Not far from Chelsea,” Amelia commented to herself.
“What’s in Chelsea?” Evander asked.
Lost in thought, Amelia didn’t hear the question.
“Her flat,” Ben replied before turning to Amelia. “Ready to go, love?”
She nodded slowly.
Evander rapped twice on the door to announce his arrival, then let himself into the homey foyer.
As soon as they stepped through the door they were met with a pleasantly plump woman with greying hair and a kind smile.
“Happy Birthday, Mum,” Evander said cheerfully.
“Evander,” she cried as she crushed him into a hug, pecking a kiss on each cheek.
Amelia noticed Ben smirk at Evander’s discomfort.
“Oy, Mum, enough,” Evander laughed sheepishly.
“Oh, you never visit,” Mrs. Hywel scolded. “I need to get my fill when I can.”
“It’s busy, Mum,” Evander sighed. “Anyways, I brought guests today.”
“Oh, that’s right. You owled me about that. Where are my manners?
“Mum, this is Amelia and Ben,” Evander said vaguely, not ready to drop the surprise on his mother yet.
Amelia was grateful.
“A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Hywel,” Amelia replied, and Ben echoed.
“Oh, you’ll call me Delia, of course,” she replied cheerfully. “Now come in and have spot of tea.”
Amelia and Ben dutifully sat down in the parlor that they were led to and sipped their tea, allowing Evander to lead the conversation.
“Now Mum,” he began. “You know how you are so very difficult to buy gifts for?”
“And I always tell you that you needn’t get me anything.”
Evander rolled his eyes good-naturedly.
“Yes, well, I’ve brought you a surprise today.”
“Oh? Where is it?”
Evander looked expectantly at Amelia who blushed.
“I believe that I’m your surprise, Delia,” Amelia said shyly.
“Mum, this is my colleague, Amelia. Amelia Mason.”
Delia’s brows immediately furrowed in confusion.
“I’m not sure I understand,” she said slowly.
“I… I’m Amelia Mason,” Amelia repeated. “My aunt was Camilla Mason-Birch.”
Delia stood from her seat on the settee.
“No. No, that’s not possible.”
Turning to Evander, she said, “And this is not amusing in the least bit, young man.”
She had turned to leave the room but Evander rose quickly and caught her arm.
“Mum, sit back down. Please? We’ll explain.”
Amelia’s stomach felt as though it were tied in knots and she was gripping Ben’s knee like a lifeline.
“It’s true, ma’am,” Amelia said, nearly whispering. “My name is Amelia Mason. My parents were James and Charlotte Mason. My father’s sister was Camilla Mason who married Charles Birch. They had two children, Max and Serena. I had a little sister, too… Georgia.”
Delia stared at Amelia with wide eyes and a disbelieving stare. Evander’s eyes darted between Amelia and Delia. Ben only had eyes for Amelia, watching her carefully and slipping an arm around her for support.
“I don’t understand,” Delia finally said.
Amelia sighed internally. She really hoped that she wouldn’t need to tell the entire story again.
“I survived that night,” she began simply.
“No,” Delia countered. “I was at your funeral.”
“It wasn’t me. Albus Dumbledore cast the Geminio charm so that people would believe me dead and the Death Eaters would not seek me out.”
“But how did you...?”
“I was playing hide-and-seek. No one found me.”
Amelia was giving the most straightforward, simplest answers possible They seemed to work though.
“We were placed with adoptive families.”
“We?” Delia echoed. “Who else survived?”
“Max,” Amelia replied.
Delia choked back a sob and it tore at Amelia’s heart.
“Where is he?” she gasped.
Amelia shifted her gaze to the ceiling, trying to blink her tears away. She didn’t trust her voice to speak so she squeezed Ben’s knee in a silent plea.
“He passed away,” Ben said, speaking on Amelia’s behalf. “He approached Bellatrix Lestrange to avenge his family’s deaths. He didn’t survive. Amelia’s the only one now.”
Delia gazed at Amelia for what seemed like hours. Finally, she rose from her chair. Instead of approaching Amelia though, Delia walked out the door.
Amelia sat beside Ben, stunned. Evander ran a nervous hand through his hair.
“Perhaps this wasn’t a good idea,” he said morosely.
“You shouldn’t have asked Amelia to do this,” Ben said bitterly.
Evander looked down at his feet in shame.
“Ben,” Amelia reprimanded. “Don’t. I agreed to come. I… I didn’t think it would be like this either.”
“Like what?” Delia asked from the doorway, startling the three seated in the room.
“Mum, where did you go?”
“To the attic,” she replied, holding a box out in front of her as proof.
Amelia stared at the box in interest and horror.
“A box of newspaper clipping, obituaries, and photographs?” Delia supplied. “Yes.”
Delia opened the box and rummaged through, offering a slip of paper to Amelia that had clearly been cut out of a Muggle paper.
It was with shaky hands that Amelia took her own obituary. She scanned the page quickly and handed it back to Delia as if it were on fire.
“I-I can’t,” she stammered.
“Is there anything you want to see?”
Amelia gazed at the box for a long while.
“No. I know what happened, who they were,” Amelia finally decided. “Ben you can look if you want.”
Ben glanced at Amelia dubiously, but stood and sat next to Delia and the box. After peering at a few newspaper clippings and articles, he returned to Ameila’s side without a word.
When the box had been put away, Delia served another pot of tea as well as sandwiches. As the trio prepared to depart for Hogwarts, Delia pulled Amelia aside.
“I haven’t been a very good hostess, but you’ve caught me by surprise. It brings up a lot of old pains, you see.”
Amelia nodded, understanding. It certainly brought up pains for her as well.
“Make no mistake though,” Delia continued. “I am so very glad that you came, and so very happy that you’re alive. It’s good to see your Camilla’s legacy carried on…”
Amelia offered a small smile.
“I wish I had known earlier that you and M-Max… I would have taken you both, you know. In a heartbeat.”
“That would have been nice,” Amelia replied softly, finally finding her voice.
Delia kissed each of them on their cheek and sent them out the door where they Apparated back to Hogwarts.
“Amelia, really, thank you,” Evander said genuinely. “She wasn’t as, well, effusive as I expected, but I could tell that she was really touched.”
“As was I, Evander,” Amelia replied honestly. “Thank you.”
Ben nodded to Evander in good-bye and pulled Amelia away, leading her up to their rooms. When they were safely ensconced in their private quarters, he wrapped his arms tightly around her and Amelia released the torrent of tears she had been holding in all day.
Sniffling, Amelia whispered, “You’ve become remarkably good at comforting me.”
Ben grinned and held her even more tightly.
Thank you for reading and please review. We're in the home stretch now... just a few chapters more.