A/N: At last, the chapter made it into posting, more than a week later than I'd planned. Unfortunately, my father had emergency heart surgery a couple of weeks ago and my life turned into chaos. He's thankfully recovering now and so is my inspiration. I was hoping not to have to split the chapter but it was literally too big for the site to allow to be posted - second half will follow the first just as soon as it's validated. So, I hope you like it.
30 March 1998
Mia had slept for exactly one hour by the time she was woken up by a strange sensation of light hitting her on the face. She groaned. It couldn’t be morning already, could it? Her head felt too heavy for it to be morning.
She tried to ignore it for about ten seconds before realizing that it would be just impossible for her to succeed. When she opened her eyes, her head still resting sideways on her pillow, she realized she was right: it wasn’t sunlight hitting her on the face – sun didn’t rise at four in the morning, as her alarm clock indicated it was at the moment, and it certainly didn’t shine with such a silvery hue as the one illuminating the room.
Was she by any chance in the middle of a vivid dream or something? Mia vaguely thought as she shifted on the bed in order to sit up. As soon as she was done rubbing her eyes, she was sure she was. Because, standing in front of her, was a Patronus. And not just any Patronus. A doe-shaped Patronus.
“Lily?” she whispered, even though she knew it was impossible. It had to be. Lily had been dead for more than a decade and a half and Patronuses didn’t just travel from the afterlife. But still it was so… familiar. Lily was the only person she knew to have that shape for a Patronus. So, who else could it be?
Mia got up slowly, pushing the covers away, and tried to approach the spectral animal. When she was a mere foot away from it, it spoke in a voice she couldn’t recognize, as it was so clearly riddled with all sorts of voice-disguising charms. She couldn’t even tell if it was a man or a woman speaking. But those were mere afterthoughts, of course, as the content of the message caught her full, undivided attention.
“They’re coming for you and your daughter as soon as you leave the castle. Take her and run once you get the chance.”
Later she’d ask herself how long she stood there, even after the Patronus faded, staring at where it used to be and taking in the words – the one thing she knew was that after they registered in her mind, there was panic. Pure, blood-chilling panic.
They were coming for them: for her, for Izzy. Merlin knew what for – nothing good for sure. And she needed to do something to stop it. But what? Go upstairs, take her daughter and run for the gates? That wouldn’t work – the gates wouldn’t open to her and she couldn’t apparate from inside. There was just no way out and still Mia desperately needed there to be one – the ‘how’, however, was something she simply couldn’t think of at the moment. Not while she was panicking.
She tried to calm herself down but seemed unsuccessful after minutes attempting to do so – it seemed she wasn’t getting anywhere. So, in a short moment of clarity, she decided what she had to do – she needed to go to someone else.
First she hurried to get the two-way mirror – Sirius was and would always be, by default, her first choice of ‘someone else’. Nevertheless, after a couple of attempts at contacting him and only getting reflections of darkness through the mirror, she recalled with unbelievable frustration he really wasn’t an option that night – he helping Remus through the full-moon, which meant he must have left the mirror behind at home. While, under normal circumstances, she would have immediately branded that attempt unsuccessful and moved on, the panic made her waste precious time yelling at the mirror, as if it would miraculously make him materialize back home or get someone to help her even though there was no way the mirror could get loud enough to make anyone as much as stir in their sleep.
Though the yelling certainly hadn’t led to the result she’d been illogically hoping for, it did allow her to release just enough tension to give her another moment of clarity – she needed to go to McGonagall. The older woman would know what to do or, if anything, would manage to talk her back into some sanity.
Grabbing her cloak from a hook by the door, she stormed out of her quarters into the freezing hallways. Even though she could see the puffs of her own breath on the air and knew days weren’t even nearly cold enough to make that happen on their own, she didn’t bother to connect that fact with Dementors hovering all over, looking to feed on unauthorized people out of their quarters. Thankfully, the Transfiguration master’s quarters weren’t that far away from Mia’s, leading her to reach them quite quickly.
It took several seconds after Mia started to knock for the lock to click and the door to open, revealing a rather tired and confused-looking McGonagall on the other side. “Mia? What happened? Are you alright?” the woman said.
“For now. Something’s happening today, Minerva,” Mia told her. “They…”
“No,” McGonagall interrupted her. “Come on in. It’s safer to talk inside.”
Mia did so as the older woman poked her head out of the room to check the corridor and then closed the door behind her. Once alone inside, she gestured for Mia to take a seat on one of the chairs in front of her desk, which she gladly did as she was practically dead on her feet.
“Tell me,” she said.
Mia nodded. “I got a message a few minutes ago in my room. I don’t know who it was from. It said… it said they were coming for us. Izzy and I. That they were taking us as soon as we left the castle, so we should run.”
“I assume that by ‘they’ you mean Death Eaters,” the older woman said.
“It didn’t say but I thought as much,” Mia told her.
McGonagall offered an agreeing nod. “Alright. Did it say anything else? Do you have the message on you? We might be able to find a trace of who sent it on the parch…”
Mia shook her head before she could finish. “It was a Patronus. I was sleeping and it woke me up… believe it or not, at first I thought it might be Lily. It was a doe – Lily’s was always a doe, remember? But I know Lily’s gone,” she added once McGonagall started giving her an odd look. “I know it couldn’t be her and I know what this sounds like – that I was dreaming or… imagining it. But I wasn’t! I swear I wasn’t – I was as awake as I am right now and I remember every word it. They’re coming for me and Izzy – that’s what it said. You have to believe me!”
“I do,” McGonagall told her truthfully – and if part of her wasn’t fully convinced, it at least believed Mia believed it. “I do, Mia. But you have to admit it sounds very… odd. And very rash, even for Death Eaters. Don’t see this as me trying to disregard this… warning you received but Death Eaters are known for their twisted minds. This could easily be a sick game the Carrows, Snape or one of the other two decided to play with you.”
“They’ve been here for a long time, Minerva – why would have it taken them so long to start playing this kind of game? Besides, the Patronus reflects the person’s mind somehow – we’ve never seen any of theirs but I doubt they would have anything as tame and as graceful as a doe for a Patronus. They’re sick, cold-blooded people – if anything, I would picture them as vultures or reptiles of some sort.”
McGonagall nodded – she did have a point. “Alright. But we still need to think, Mia. Is there any reason why they would have decided to take you and Isabelle all of a sudden?”
“I don’t know… because it’s convenient, because we because Sirius and most of the Order won’t be here when we head to the train, because they can, because…” Once realization hit her, she went quiet. Of course, she thought. It made every bit of sense. “Payback,” she said out loud. “They want payback for what Sirius did.”
“Sirius?” McGonagall asked in surprise. “What did he do?”
“He helped Harry,” Mia said before taking a breath and making an effort to explain. “Harry was captured by Snatchers earlier tonight.”
“What?!” the other woman said in alarm, shooting to her feet.
“He’s okay now – Harry had a way to contact us in case of emergency, which he did. It told us he was in the Malfoy Manor, which, as you may imagine, is somewhere very warded – so warded that Sirius couldn’t get in. So, he sent Kreacher instead. He did get Harry out and they tell me he’s somewhere safe now. The thing is, Kreacher has been serving the Blacks for a very long time, even before Sirius was born…”
“And Narcissa Malfoy is a Black,” McGonagall gathered, receiving a nod from Mia. “She could’ve recognized the elf.”
“And, if she did, she would have known Sirius was behind it,” Mia told her. “They have to be taking us as payback.”
“And as bait,” the other woman added. “Think of it – do you have any doubt Potter would come running for you and Isabelle if he thought there was a chance you might be taken?”
At that, Mia got up and started to pace around the room – she hadn’t thought of that but it was true. Harry would come for them – no matter how much they’d told him not to, no matter how dangerous it was. That was exactly the kind of thing he’d do. “What do I do, Minerva? I have no way out of here now – not until I’m out of the gates and then it may be too late.”
“Have you tried warning Sirius? So he could get the Order to help?” the woman asked.
Mia nodded. “I can’t get through to him – it’s full moon.”
“He went to help Remus even after this whole matter with Harry?”
“He almost didn’t go,” she said, deep down – as fond as she was of Remus – wishing he hadn’t, in retrospect. “But none of us really had much of a prospect of getting any sleep tonight, even after Kreacher sorted it o…” She paused for a second. “Wait, I could have Kreacher pass…”
“No, don’t!” McGonagall said quickly, before she could finish forming the idea and unconsciously have him summoned.
Mia raised her eyebrows, confused. “Why not?”
The older woman sighed. “It may be nothing but personally, if my home was, so to speak, burgled, the first thing I’d do was to put stronger locks on the door, so to speak” the older woman told her, confusing Mia further. “Death Eaters were tricked by a house-elf tonight, Mia – if there’s a time when they’d take precautions against them, it would be now. And while no wards can definitely keep a house-elf out of somewhere his master orders him to go to, there are very dark ways around that rule. They’re rarely used since having house-elves is becoming an increasingly uncommon practice in Britain but they do exist. For instance, you should never, ever try to send an elf directly into a Gringotts vault.”
“Why? What would happen if I did?”
“Well, nowadays you’d, first of all, be unable to utter the order, then you and the house-elf would be magically immobilized and you’d be arrested, regardless of being in a warded room or not. A few decades ago, though, I’m afraid you wouldn’t live to tell the tale – it took a lot of pressure from the ministry and even Albus himself for the practice to change. It was quite problematic, especially when unknowing people tried to do it with their own vaults in order to skip lines at the bank and ended up dying horribly for it.”
“Merlin,” Mia mumbled. “You mean they can turn house-elves into a sort of taboo? Like the word?”
“When it comes to infiltrating certain places, yes, in a way. The point is that the few ways there are to stop house-elves can be potentially devastating – we shouldn’t risk it so soon after Sirius has used the same method, even if it was somewhere else. I’ll try and think of another way to get the message outside – in the meanwhile, I think it’s best that you get Isabelle here. No one will check if students are in bed at this hour and I’m sure you’ll be less anxious if you have her down here with you.”
Mia nodded. “And the Dementors wandering around?”
“Well, Patronuses were created for something, weren’t they?” she said, reaching for her wand and casting the spell in question, making a cat-shaped silvery form appear out of nowhere. “And besides, it’s not as if Dementors can speak to tell Snape how much we upset we’ve made them with our late-night stroll,” McGonagall argued.
With no need for more arguing, the two were soon on their way to the Gryffindor tower. Being upset led Mia to fail a couple of attempts at casting her own Patronus, as she couldn’t seem to focus on a happy memory without her mind shifting to the threat hovering on her head every few seconds. She finally managed to get the silvery fog to turn into a dog once McGonagall prompted her to think of easier times by remarking how ironic it was that now they had to be the ones sneaking out in the middle of the night when she’d handed more punishments than she could remember to Sirius and his friends for that very same reason.
They walked with Mia’s Patronus in front of them and McGonagall’s behind – the system seemed to work, as the few distant shadows of Dementors they spotted on the way quickly vanished when faced with the Patronuses.
No one other than the Dementors seemed to be patrolling the aisles – the Carrows did it at night sometimes but Mia imagined that at that moment they must be having the best sleep of their lives, dreaming up about all the ways they could ‘take care’ of her and Izzy in the morning. The thought alone disgusted her.
“Happy thoughts, Mia. Happy thoughts,” she suddenly heard McGonagall saying, as if she could read her mind. Except she didn’t need to: in order know what sort of thoughts Mia was thinking she only needed to look at her Patronus, which threatening to fade away. “Think of good things,” the woman simply said. “Think of all the time you’ll spend in my office in a few years once that boy of yours makes it into the school and starts wreaking havoc like his father used to… well, still does, really.”
As much as she was sure in the future (if there was one) she would find such a case anything but funny, Mia couldn’t help feeling a wave of warmth at that. Because it was a future. A normal future with her family. And it was certainly enough, even though it was not a memory, really, to get her Patronus to grow steady again.
They reached the tower a few minutes later and McGonagall chose to stay down in the Common Room waiting and watching out for anyone that might show up while Mia went up to her daughter’s dorm in order to wake her up.
She didn’t bother to turn the lights on inside the room, as she could remember every step inside it by heart – she’d lost count of the times she’d moved around it in the dark back when she was the student because Elizabeth would curse the existence of anyone who dared turning on the lights when she was sleeping. Moving with instinctive silence, even though Izzy and Ginny were the only girls in the room, Mia made her way closer to her daughter’s bed – which, she vaguely noted, just happened to be the one that had belonged to Lily back in the day.
“Izzy,” she whispered softly, trying to wake the girl as she stroke her hair. “Honey, woke up.”
Izzy groaned in sleep and tried to ignore her by turning her back on her.
“Come on, love,” Mia insisted. “You need to wake up. It’s important.”
She groaned again but, that time, she did turn back and open her eyes, which looked hazy and unfocused. “It’s the middle of the night, Mum. What are you doing here?”
“We need to go,” Mia told her. “Do you have all your things packed up for today?”
“Yes. But go where? And why? It’s before dawn.”
“Downstairs,” she replied simply. “And I’ll tell you why when we get there. Just trust me.”
Either she meant to try to do so or not, Mia did notice her daughter shooting her best inquisitive look. “Is it Dad? Is he okay?”
“Your father is fine,” Mia assured her. “Nobody is hurt right now – I just need you to come with me.”
Izzy’s eyes narrowed further. “Wait a second,” she said. “What’s Alex’s favourite food?”
Mia raised her eyebrows for a second before realizing what her daughter was doing – she was checking to see if it was really her. Mia couldn’t blame her, really – she must be sounding extremely odd. “Cookies,” she responded.
“And what does Mary like to do the most during meal-times?”
“Throw food at your father.”
“And what can’t Lulu live without?”
Mia sighed. “Her beloved Muggle microwave.”
At the third answer, Izzy seemed convinced enough that was her mother. “Alright.”
“Wazz goinon?” came a slurring voice from the nearest bed. The two of them turned to find a sleepy Ginny eyeing them confusedly while sitting up on bed.
“I don’t know. Mum says we have to go,” Izzy responded as she got up.
Mia didn’t respond, immediately as she was too busy thinking. It was only in that moment that it occurred to her that, after them, Ginny would be the next great bait for the Death Eaters to use against Harry, even if they believed she wasn’t dating him anymore. She was a Weasley and Harry was close to the Weasleys. He’d risk his life for them, as he already had numerous times before. And Mia knew that if anything were to happen to Ginny because she was too busy saving herself and her daughter, leaving the redhead behind, she’d never forgive herself. So, she knew what she had to do.
“Just downstairs,” she told her daughter’s best friend. “And you’re coming too, Ginny. Do you have everything packed? We need to hurry – the closer we are to sunrise, the bigger odds we may run into someone on the way down.”
“But what’s going on?” Ginny asked as she climbed out of bed.
“I’ll explain when we get there,” Mia promised. “Now hurry up, girls.”
They did and not ten minutes later, they were back in the Common Room, school trunks in a tow. McGonagall, who sat by the fireplace silently, got up and approached them immediately. She raised her eyebrows at Mia for a moment upon noticing Ginny’s presence as well but decided against mentioning it out loud – Mia took that as acceptance from her part.
“Are all your things packed in there?” the older teacher asked the two girls, gesturing to their trunks. They nodded back in response. “Good. Now, ladies, if you’d allow me,” she said, gesturing for them to take a step back from the trunks before reaching for her wand and, with a flick of her hand, turning the bulky luggage into the size of a wallet. The older woman then made another gesture with the wand, summoning both tiny trunks from the floor and handing them to the girls. “Far handier to carry this way, aren’t they?” She then turned to Mia. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea if you did the same once you head to the train. That way it won’t have to leave your belongings behind if you have to dump them during the escape.”
“Escape?!” Izzy asked, alarmed.
“We’ll explain in a little while, honey,” Mia promised, turning to McGonagall before her daughter could even try to insist. “Don’t you think people will notice if they see us heading home without luggage?”
McGonagall looked thoughtful for a second. “You have a point. I suppose I can try and get you all a few unclaimed trunks from lost and found to serve as decoys. I imagine there are plenty – you wouldn’t believe the amount of things students leave behind every school-year.”
The way back down seemed far much easier and less stressful than the way up, Mia thought. She imagined it might related, at least in her part, to the relief of having her daughter on sight – and surely, the two extra patronuses that had joined the previous two did a much better job keeping Dementors away.
Once inside Mia’s quarters – McGonagall barely had the chance to close the door –, the girls were quick to yet again demand an explanation, which, that time, they didn’t deny them. It didn’t take very long for Mia to explain the whole thing, being only interrupted for short interludes of Izzy or Ginny asking incessant questions about Harry’s capture and subsequent rescue.
“But I just don’t get one thing,” Ginny mumbled once Mia was done. “If they’re trying to get back to Sirius, why would they take me? Not to say that it’s okay to take you instead or anything – it just doesn’t seem to make much sense.”
Mia had been dreading that question – she had, conveniently, allowed Ginny to believe her name had also been mentioned in the patronus message, mostly because she could picture the girl wanting to remain in Hogwarts unless she was opposed to a direct threat. Mia hated lying – or at the very least misleading – to her but, honestly, she would rather lie and make sure Ginny was safe than tell the truth and potentially have to leave her to fend for herself. Ginny was family: her daughter’s best friend, her son’s girlfriend. She’d be damned if it wasn’t her job to look after her too.
Before she could offer the girl any answer, though, McGonagall jumped in. “Well, I’d say you’d make some excellent bait for Potter as well, wouldn’t you agree, Miss Weasley?
“Bait? But everyone th…” Ginny paused for a second. “I mean, we’ve split up.”
McGonagall eyes. “Miss Weasley, even if I try to pretend to believe that charade, there’s a precedent that shows that even when you’re not romantically connected, Potter would risk his life for you.”
Ginny looked confused for a second before realization dawned on her. “You mean the chamber,” she concluded. “But that was different – I was eleven then.”
“He’d come running to save you even if you were a hundred,” Izzy said, receiving a glare from her friend. “What? It’s the truth! Or are we not talking about the same Harry Potter?”
“I’m afraid Miss Black is right,” McGonagall said. “That boy would go around the world twice for a friend or family.”
“Well, he won’t have to this time,” Mia said, putting on a brave face for the younger girls. “We know they’re coming and we’ll be ready for them.”
“Is Dad helping? The Order?” Izzy asked.
“I haven’t been able to get through to them yet – your father is with Remus now. He doesn’t have the mirror on him. But we’ll find another way,” Mia assured her even though she felt a bit doubtful. Owls were too dangerous and would never reach them in time. The floo was cut. And a Patronus would never make it through the school’s ward barrier.
Ginny and Izzy looked at each other, simultaneously thinking of the same thing.
“Actually,” Izzy said. “I don’t think you’ll need to.”
“What do you mean?” Mia asked.
“We may have a way to reach the Order – well, the twins, really. But they can sound the alarm bells for us,” Ginny told them. “We’ll just be passing on a message, though. We’ll have to hope they find it in time, which they only will if they check… well, you could call it the ‘recipient’. Getting through by the mirror would be much more effective.”
Mia nodded. “I can try again in the morning but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to reach Sirius.”
“Well, it doesn’t hurt to use their way as well, does it? It is safe, isn’t it, ladies?” McGonagall asked.
“About as safe as it is to write stuff down,” Izzy remarked.
“Then I suppose that does it, doesn’t it?” the older woman said. “How does it work?”
Ginny reached into her pocket for her reduced trunk and used her free hand to scratch her head. “Well, I suppose we should start by getting this back to a regular size.”
It was a miserable, grey and sunless day – that was the first thing Mia noticed once she stepped out of the castle with McGonagall later in the day. It seemed appropriate, given the tension attached to the whole occasion, which seemed to grow by the second. As if breakfast in the Great Hall with a target on her and her daughter’s head hadn’t been tense enough, Mia thought – McGonagall had argued they couldn’t miss it, though, as their absences were bound to be noticed by the Death Eaters in the Great Hall if they really were after them. They couldn’t risk the Death Eaters knowing they’d been warned – subverting the surprise element of the potential capture was really their only trump at the moment since, aside from Izzy and Ginny’s attempt at contacting the twins through the papyrus, they had been unable to get through to the Order to organize some sort of set up.
So, for that very same reason of keeping appearances, she’d been forced (with much protest) to keep her distance from Izzy and Ginny on their way to the school gates and instead join her fellow staff members a few yards ahead of the students, as she usually would. She made a point of looking back every few minutes, though, trying to spot her daughter and Ginny in the midst of the crowd.
“I’m sure it will all work out,” McGonagall told her once they stopped near the gates, pretending to be taking care of their farewells, since Mia was set on not leaving until she was sure the girls were right behind her. “Just keep it simple like we planned.”
Mia nodded, reciting the plan back to herself in her mind. She’d get the girls and apparate away as soon as the three of them stepped foot outside. Without flourish, without warning. They’d never see it coming. Clean and easy. Somewhat too easy… “Do you know when sometimes you feel like a plan appears too simple and easy to work?” she said.
The older woman shook her head. “Nonsense, Mia. You’ll have luck on your side today.”
She would, Mia knew. Quite literally, she thought as she slipped her hand into her pocket and felt the little vial her daughter had all but forced her to take. Where Izzy had gotten herself Felix Felicis was just beyond her but, as much as she had protested that Izzy and Ginny should split it among themselves, the girls had been firm that she’d share it too, to the point of promising they’d throw the third that was meant for her down the toilet if she didn’t take it. She’d given in, eventually, and taken the little extra vial they’d poured her third into. They couldn’t, however, take it until they were just about to step out: there was a very small amount of potion – it might last for half an hour at the most and every minute outside the gates would count.
“In any case,” McGonagall continued as she reached into her pocket in order to get something out. “You might want to take this with you,” she said, slipping the item in question into Mia’s hand. “For afterwards.”
When the younger woman peaked down into her hand, she found herself looking at what seemed to be some sort of parchment leaflet publicizing a pie-shop in Glasgow. She couldn’t help shooting McGonagall a confused look.
“That has the same charm I used on that message I sent you over the Summer,” McGonagall explained. “The real message is on the back – it won’t show until Sirius touches it, just in case it gets intercepted.”
“What is it?”
“Instructions. To cast the Fidelius Charm,” the older woman explained. “I had Filius writing them down before breakfast.”
“You know you need to do it,” McGonagall told her. “The charm will make you the safest you can possibly be while on the run. Follow the instructions religiously. And choose a good secret-keeper – someone you could trust your children’s lives with. Alright?”
Mia nodded. “Thank you. For everything.”
“There’s no need for…”
“Professors,” an unwelcome voice said, making both of them turn to see Alecto Carrow approaching with her brother on a tow, as she pulled a terrified first-year Gryffindor behind her by the arm, in a rather awkward way.
“Professors,” McGonagall replied in the same manner, making her disgust of them wearing such a title known by her tone. “How can we help you?”
“This one,” Amycus said as his sister all but shoved the little girl further – she looked positively terrified with glassy eyes and a pale tone on her skin, “needs your assistance, McGonagall.”
“It’s Professor McGonagall to you,” the older woman replied. “What seems to be the problem, Miss Fitch?”
“I… I can’t find my friend. Sarah,” the girl said, her voice trembling.
“Sarah Hooper?” Mia asked, receiving a nod in return. “What happened? Maybe she just went back to the tower in order to get something.”
The girl shook her head. “I went looking for her there already. We were in the loo and then I came out to wait and then I… I don’t know. She just wasn’t there when I checked and I looked everywhere.”
Something in the girl’s narrative had both Mia and McGonagall immediately eyeing Alecto and Amycus with suspicion.
“What? Don’t look at us – we’re helping the girl,” Amycus said almost mockingly.
“Yes, you have such golden hearts,” the older woman said sarcastically.
The two of them just smiled in a rather disturbing way.
“Professor, please! We need to find her or she’ll miss the train,” the girl said, worriedly.
McGonagall pursed her lips. The girl was right to be anxious, of course, but something about that whole thing just stunk badly. Very, very badly. She turned to Mia for a second and saw the suspicion on her face as well.
“You should go handle this, Minerva,” she said, nevertheless. Regardless of any suspicions she might have on the Carrows’ intentions, a child’s whereabouts were unknown – and if they were behind her vanishing, Merlin knew what they might have done to the poor girl. They just couldn’t ignore it.
“Maybe both of us should,” McGonagall suggested.
“So soon before the train’s to leave?” Alecto said sceptically. “I hope you don’t forget that teachers are no longer allowed the leave the castle unless they’re to take the train home. No exceptions. It’d be a pity if Professor Black were to miss it, though Easter in Hogwarts might be awfully interesting.”
Mia pursed her lips – even though she was most certainly not planning on taking the train, she certainly needed to leave the grounds to get the girls and flee. She couldn’t let them go outside on their own. She glanced over at the crowd of students out of instinct and, after a moment looking, quickly found Izzy standing with Ginny still quite a distance away from leaving the gates.
McGonagall seemed to realize as well that making Mia come along wasn’t really an option – she supposed her only hope then would be to turn her plan around altogether. “I don’t suppose you’d like to give a hand finding the girl, would you?” she asked the Carrows instead. At least if they were with her, they were away from Mia.
They looked at her like she was insane. “Wasn’t bringing the brat to you enough? We’re not babysitters,” Amycus told her.
“And, she’s in your house,” Alecto remarked. “Therefore, your problem.”
It seemed there was no other choice – McGonagall had to help the girl, Mia had to stay behind and the Carrows didn’t seem intent on leaving her alone. “I’m sure it’ll be okay,” Mia told her friend. “Finding the girl, I mean,” she added to cover herself. “It’s probably just a misunderstanding. Luck is set to be on our side for once, after all.” She hoped the little mention of the Felix would soothe her colleague’s mind – she just needed to find a moment to take it and then everything would be fine.
“Hopefully,” McGonagall said, shooting Mia a look of apology. “Come along, Miss Fitch,” she urged the girl before turning to walk away with her by her side.
As soon as she found herself alone with the Carrows, Mia didn’t wait a second before starting thinking up an excuse to get away from them. “Well, I suppose this matter is handled. If you don’t mind…?”
“What? Going anywhere?” Alecto asked in a mock-hurt tone.
“As, a matter of fact, yes. Like you’ve pointed out before, there’s a train to catch and some of the students seem to be struggling with their luggage. Believe it or not, a teacher’s services can extend beyond lecturing and intimidating.”
“How thoughtful of you,” Amycus said dryly. “But I’m afraid they’ll have to manage on their own. We need a word before the train leaves.”
“I have nothing to say to you,” Mia told them bluntly, praying she could get away just long enough to drink the potion that would, hopefully, put the plan back on track. “Nothing you’d like to hear, at least.”
Amycus let out a spiteful laugh. “Well, then you’ll just have to listen,” he stated firmly.
She could see they weren’t going to leave her alone until they had what they wanted. She could only hope that what they wanted for the moment was just to annoy her. “Fine! Then say it now and be done with it,” Mia said in an exasperated tone.
“We were actually hoping to take it outside,” Alecto said. “Too many students here.” She might as well have been referring to trolls, so much was the disgust she in her tone when she uttered the word ‘students’. “It’s a private matter, you see?”
So, there it was, Mia thought. Any doubt she had at the moment that the anonymous warning might be fake vanished at that moment – they wanted her outside and away from the crowd in order to take her. “Well, I wasn’t born yesterday and we both know I don’t trust you, so you’ll have to understand why I’m not planning to go anywhere outside those gates with you,” she told them boldly.
“Oh, but you are going,” Amycus told her, his tone taking a nastier turn. “Because if you aren’t, we are going to have Mulciber and Jugson get your precious little daughter and, well, let’s just say you wouldn’t like it if they did.”
“Same applies if you cause a scene,” Alecto added.
Mia felt as if they’d just sent a knife through her heart at the mention of her daughter – she knew Izzy was a target as well but, Merlin, did the direct threat make it all so much more petrifying… She pursed her lips together, unsure of what to say for a second. At that moment, she just wished she’d taken the damn potion already, regardless of how long it would last – that ought to have made her lucky enough to escape that situation. “What assures me that you won’t do that anyway even if I join you?” she managed to ask after a while.
Amycus raised his eyebrows for a second before shrugging carelessly. “Fair enough. Let’s up the stakes, then: there’s a friend of ours who likes to play with her food. And the more interesting she finds it, the more she plays. I’d personally say she’d find a meal consisting of her blood-traitor cousin’s little girl very interesting.”
The knife twisted and dug deeper until she felt nearly out of breath. They didn’t even need to utter the name for her to be sure they were talking of Bellatrix. And she knew they weren’t lying about how excited that twisted woman would feel at having Izzy at her mercy. But still, she forced herself to remain firm, even though she could feel herself crumbling. “Once again, why should I believe you won’t do so anyway?”
Alecto shrugged. “Bella may be a friend but her hit list is starting to put ours to shame. We’d rather not give her more fuel to burn if we don’t have to.”
“And, honestly, Black, even if you don’t believe our motives, are you that willing to gamble your baby girl’s future? Bad mummy, Black. Bad mummy.”
She eyed the area where she’d last seen her daughter but at that point it was too crowded for her to discern anyone in the middle. She couldn’t take it anymore – they were right. She wasn’t willing to gamble Izzy’s future. She knew her daughter had some Felix too but she knew better than to trust it blindly when the consequences of it not leading to the expected results could be so horrible. She had to go with the Carrows and she had to hope that Izzy and Ginny would find a way to run without her or, hopefully, with the Order’s help if the twins had read the message the girls had left for them on the papyrus. If they didn’t manage to run, she had to at least hope she wouldn’t be the person responsible for Izzy being handed to Bellatrix Lestrange on a silver platter.
“You two disgust me,” she said, knowing she was defeated.
Amycus chuckled. “Honestly, Black, we take that as a compliment from people like you.”
“But tnough, flattery now,” Alecto declared. “Do we need to do this the hard way?” she asked Mia.
Mia didn’t answer. She just started walking to the gates, turning her back on them – she didn’t need to look back to know they were following her. And, once she reached the student-filled area by the gates, the Carrows were no longer just following her – Alecto effectively moved to walk by her side, grabbing her arm in a rather abrupt way as if she expected her to try and disappear in the middle of the crowd, which, now that Mia thought of it, might have been a decent idea. Maybe then she would have managed to get the Felix without them seeing and drink it.
“Mum?!” she heard Izzy’s alarmed voice calling all of a sudden. She turned to the direction her voice had come from and spotted Izzy by Ginny’s side on the line leading up to the gates, looking at her being walked out of the school by the Carrows with absolute horror on her face.
“I’m just heading out to help Professors Carrow with something, honey,” she lied for the sake of appearance, which, to her own relief, she saw Izzy didn’t buy. And, since the girl seemed to be in a rather perceptive mood, she tried to pass another message along. “Don’t bother waiting for me to come back to head your way, okay?”
“I’ll see you later, love,” she said, hoping that would be the case and, if it indeed was, that it would under positive circumstances.
She didn’t have a choice other than walking away towards the gates since Alecto was making her impatience known by grasping her arm so tightly, she might just be cutting off her circulation. Before she was able to step foot outside, though, Alecto yanked her arm back, making her stop.
“What?” Mia shouted in a frustrated tone. “I thought you wanted me out.”
“We do,” Amycus confirmed. “But you’ll have to hand over the wand first.”
Mia eyed them both with wide eyes – it seemed they were past the point of hiding their real plans.
“What? Did you think we’d just let you walk out with your wand so you could apparate away on us?” Alecto inquired with a snort.
“I would never run and leave my daughter behind,” she hissed.
“Regardless,” the other woman said, leaving her hand open in front of her so she could deposit the wand on it. “You don’t want to be difficult, Black. You really don’t. Or else, well, you can apply our earlier threat to this new situation. Hand it over and get on with it.”
With her lips pursed in an attempt to fight back an urge to punch the woman right on the face, Mia did what she was told. For Izzy’s sake, she told herself. Just for that.
“Don’t worry, Black,” Alecto said with a snicker as Amycus barked at a number of students to make way so they could step out through the gates. “You’ll have the wand back once we let you go.”
“Don’t insult me,” Mia told the woman, eyeing her with disgust. “We both know you’re not letting me go back.”
Alecto raised her eyebrows. “Well, you’re not as stupid as we pegged you,” she simply observed in response.
And, just like that, there was her absolute confirmation. Not that she’d had many doubts at that point, anyway, Mia had to admit. Discretely, when they were already out of school grounds, she brushed her hand against the outside of her pocket in order to feel the little vial of potion inside and make sure it was still there – she didn’t dare try to get her hand inside to get it. Amycus was walking behind her at the moment and Merlin knew he might spot the move and catch her in the act. “You don’t need to take her too,” she couldn’t help saying. “Izzy, I mean. Whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish, I’m sure you’ll achieve it if you take just me. She hasn’t done anything. She’s just…”
“Listen to that, Amycus. Pleading. So pathetic,” Alecto mocked as they made her walk to the woods surrounding the path that led to Hogsmeade station.
Amycus chuckled from behind them, soon rushing to walk by Alecto’s side. “Pathetic and useless,” he added. “Put one thing in your head, Black. When we’re given orders by our master, we get it done. Period.”
“And do you?” Mia asked, hoping one last time the warning was somewhat wrong. “Have the orders to take her, I mean?”
The man’s lips curled. “I guess you’ll just have to wait and see.”
Mia’s heart sunk – he might as well have said ‘yes’. And, at that moment, Mia knew that her daughter’s safety depended on her alone: McGonagall was nowhere in sight, the Order showed no signs of making it in time and, the farther they walked away from the Death Eater-covered path, the least hope she had that a good Samaritan might show up. At that point, her only chance of escaping the Carrows before them deciding they were par enough to apparate her wherever they wanted to take her was the Felix – she needed all the luck she could get if she had any hope of overpowering them without a wand and make it back to the gates in order to run with the girls. So, very slowly in order not call any attention to her movements by her part, she started trying to reach inside her pocket.
“Am I at least allowed to ask where you’re taking me?” she asked, for the sake of keeping them distracted as she tried to do her thing.
“You can ask all you want – doesn’t mean we’ll tell you,” Amycus told her. “For now you could just say we’re ‘keeping it discreet’,” he said with disgust.
“Snape’s idea,” Alecto added, as if she was defending their reputation from being somehow tainted by the notion that they would ever worry about discretion. “He seems to think we need to do this quietly to avoid uprising.”
“Bloody coward, that’s what he is,” Amycus said. “Those little brats should see it all – that way they’d know what was waiting for them if they don’t submit to the Dark Lord. They’ll have it all coming.”
“Like that little girl you made disappear before? Sarah? Did she have it coming?” Mia asked, eyeing them with accusation at the same time she managed to use two fingers to slowly fish the vial out of her pocket and hold it inside her closed fist. She nearly dropped it, though, when Alecto burst into unexpected laughter.
“Please, the brat?” she asked. “She’s not even missing! She wasn’t going home in the first place – it was her friend we messed with. Little Miss Fitch, isn’t it? It’s amazing how easily those kids get… confused – just a wave of a wand and she was running for McGonagall.”
Mia narrowed her eyes. It took much more than a simple Confundus charm to get anyone’s mind to spin such an elaborate tale about a friend going missing – she had no doubt in her mind the Imperius Curse had to be involved. “I thought Snape didn’t allow Unforgivables to be used on students,” she said. “Not even by you.”
Alecto rolled her eyes. “Don’t think we don’t know he only does that to annoy us. The Dark Lord only lets him get away with it because he offed Dumbledore. But who’s going to tell Snape now? You?”
“Minerva will realize that girl is cursed sooner or later,” Mia said, formulating the plan to drink the Felix in her mind: get the cap off the vial, fake a cough and drink the liquid once she turned her face away from them.
“Even if she does, what will Snape do? Fire us?” Amycus pointed out.
Mia didn’t respond, making them snort once she looked away in disgust – they seemed to be reeling on her decency. That didn’t bother, her, though, as it distracted them enough from paying attention to what she was doing for her to start putting the plan into practice.
Just as soon as it began, though, it crashed and burned: keeping her arm down by her side, she used her thumb to pry the glass cap out of the vial… however, instead of falling silently on the grassy ground under her feet, it just happened to fall onto a rock, bursting instantly into pieces. And, just like that, two wands were pointed at her face.
“What was that?!” Amycus shouted as his sister kneelt to examine the broken pieces of glass.
“What is that?” Alecto asked once, upon looking up just a little, she found Mia grasping the little uncapped vial in her hand. Before Mia could even try to hide it, the Death Eater used her wand to paralyze her arm, forcing her rigid hand to open so she could get the vial. “Look,” she told her brother as she approached him. “It’s some sort of potion.”
“A potion?” Amycus asked, eyeing the vial with suspicion before turning to Mia and glaring, still pointing his wand at her. “What is this for?” he hissed.
Mia didn’t respond him. There was no way she was going to let him know he was currently holding luck in his hand – Merlin knew what horrid things might happen if it turned out to be a lucky day for one of the Carrows.
“Answer him!” Alecto yelled.
She still didn’t.
“So that’s how you want to play it, Black?” Amycus asked, an odd glint suddenly showing up on his eyes, as if he was actually… excited. Mia knew that couldn’t be good but she still didn’t give in. “Alright – then don’t come saying that we didn’t give you a chance.” The hold on his wand became firmer and a sadistic little smile covered his face. All of a sudden, before he started to say the word, Mia already knew what it was going to be. “Cru…”
Before he could finish uttering the curse, Amycus was tumbling forward, unconscious after a burst of red seemed to hit him on the back.
Alecto reacted immediately, motioning to turn to where the spell had come from, intent on attacking – before she could even spot her opponent, though, another flash of red knocked her out cold, causing her to fall down on the floor, dropping the little uncapped vial of Felix Felicis.
Relieved, Mia didn’t even care that the precious potion was currently wasting down on the ground. “Thank Merlin,” she said, motioning to turn. “I thought you guys would never co…”
She went speechless all of a sudden when she found herself facing her saviour, standing at a distance behind where the Carrows had been. She’d been expecting Sirius, Kingsley, Gabe or anyone else from the Order. She really had. And yet it was none of them, she thought with disbelief – it was about the last person she would have expected to be saved by those days.
“Snape?” she whispered.
The headmaster didn’t respond. He simply walked closer to the Carrows’ unconscious bodies, reaching down in order to retrieve their wands, as well as the one sticking out of Alecto’s pocket. “I believe this belongs to you,” he told her, handing the last wand back to her.
She took it silently, still staring at him. “What…?”
“They’re already here, by the way,” he stated, his voice with its usual bland tone. “The Order – I believe you were expecting them. They’re headed this way as we speak. Not fast enough, though.”
She didn’t understand it. Any of it. Why was he talking to her like that? Why had he just saved her? Why? “It was you, wasn’t it?” she asked suddenly, as something clicked in her mind. “It was you who sent the warning.”
He didn’t say anything immediately, instead putting the Carrow’s wands away inside his robes, pledging to later burn them to a crisp, mostly for the sake of witnessing their humiliation over losing their wands to what they’d believe would be an unarmed woman (after he was done messing with their memory, that was).
“But why would…?” She didn’t finish the question, though, as, upon recalling the way said message reached her, it all unravelled. “The doe. Your patronus is a doe.”
“Like Lily’s,” she added.
“Yes again,” he repeated.
“But then…” She paused again, unsure of how to process it all. “Merlin, Severus, all this time and now… what are you doing? Why are you with them?!”
“Would I be helping you if I were with them, Amelia?” he replied.
“So you’re with us, then?”
“I’m with her,” he stated firmly. “But I’m afraid this discussion won’t be leading anywhere.”
“Not leading anywhere? This changes everything, Severus!”
Snape sighed. “It doesn’t. Because you won’t be remembering any of this.”
She never saw the stunner coming since he cast it wordlessly, just as the cushioning charm he used before she could hit the ground.
He wished it could have gone another way, potentially ending that exhausting string of deception he’d had to put up – Merlin knew he could use a rest – but the plan he’d carefully crafted with Dumbledore was far from over. And for it to flow as it should, he had to keep his true allegiance hidden, which meant making sure Amelia Black wouldn’t recall that particular event.
He was careful placing the memory charm, making sure it didn’t erase more than a few hours. He knew he didn’t have much time to clean up after himself, though. Upon seeing the Order arrive, well secluded as he kept an eye on things, he’d left a few clues behind to make sure they would have found their way to the Carrows, which, he hoped, they must be following at that moment. He’d hoped not to have to intervene himself but matters had gotten far too complicated for him to leave them to chance.
So, quickly, as he started hearing voices at a distance – voices he certainly didn’t recognize from his Death Eater acquaintances – he moved closer to Alecto and Amycus’s unconscious bodies, forcing himself to touch each of them so he could bring them along once he apparated away from there – as much as, personally, he wouldn’t have lost any sleep over leaving them to die or be captured, explaining how such a thing had happened to the Dark Lord would be a bother. He supposed he had to stick with their disgrace for the moment.
He didn’t go too far, though, wanting to make sure those idiots at the Order did what they were supposed to. Apparating to the specific spot behind some bushes he’d been hiding in before, Snape watched the whole scene unfold. Shacklebolt was the first to show up, followed by Amelia’s father, McKinnon, and, later, her mother. He was surprised for a moment that Black wasn’t with them but then recalled his daughter was in risk too – he must be helping her instead.
Voices were inaudible there as, unlike the Carrows, the Order seemed to know the importance of being quiet. A point in their favour. Still, Snape could imagine they might be wondering about what had led to Amelia Black being alone, unharmed and unconscious in the middle of the woods.
They didn’t waste too much time wondering, though, as McKinnon soon lifted his daughter off the floor and apparated away with Amelia’s mother. Shacklebolt stayed, though, likely to oversee the rest of the operations.
Snape didn’t pay much attention to it, though, as he needed to set things up so his little covert work wouldn’t lead to exposure
He quickly placed the Carrows back where he’d knocked them out after making sure they wouldn’t remember a fourth person attacking them – he was sure someone would eventually stumble upon them though, deep down, he wished that wouldn’t happen for a while so they could rot, as they deserve. And, with that thought in his mind, he was off to the gates.
His part was almost done, he told himself. For the moment, at least. All he needed to do then was keeping an eye on things… provided the Order didn’t screw it up saving the girl, that was.
And then that bloody day would be over. Just yet another one in a long line of exhausting ones.
A/N: I'll confess that without the second half (I see it as the heart of it), the chapter feels a bit... choppy . As I said, it will follow as closely as possible, so stay tuned. Feedback is welcome! Review!