The Witch of the Westmoreland
By Anne B. Walsh
Severus Snape sat on a park bench, watching brown and gold leaves drift around his feet, recalling the last time he had come to this place.
I took a chance that day. But I could not bear to see her in pain. Not even to humiliate Potter and Black, and know that Lupin was dead. The Dark Lord would hardly have believed that a portion of my mother’s bedtime story could lead to a witch with the power to heal all wounds, and I doubt that he or any of the Death Eaters could have mustered the necessary group to find her, so none can argue that I should have presented him with the knowledge instead. Besides, none but Lily and I, and whomever she may have told, ever knew of it, so on the whole it has done no harm...
Nearby, someone coughed slightly. He looked up.
Lily Evansâ€”Lily Potter now, but he refused to use that name to himselfâ€”stood before him, her hands folded in front of her. Remus Lupin, looking drawn, was a pace behind her, his wand in his hand but not pointed at Severus. Both of them nodded to him politely, and after a moment, he returned the gesture.
"We owe you, Severus," said Lily, gesturing to herself and Lupin. "Without your help, Remus would have died last year. We’re here to pay you back."
"In what coin?"
"Information," said Lupin, his voice hoarse. "And an offer."
Severus sat back against the corner of the bench. "I am listening."
"Voldemortâ€”" Lily’s lips twitched at Severus’ barely-controlled start. "You never did like when I used to say that. But I’m not afraid of the name. Voldemort is on his way out, Severus. We’ve found a way to destroy him. And when he falls, he’s going to take the Death Eaters down with him. Anyone who’s been sighted, anyone whose involvement can be proven, unless they’re rich enough to get away with claiming they were under Imperius, they’re going to go to Azkaban."
The Dark Lord? Destroyed?
If someone else, anyone else had spoken those words to him, Severus would have called them a liar, but he knew Lily would never lie, and doubly never about such an important subject.
She must truly think this plan, whatever it may be, has a chance of working. More than a chanceâ€”she sounds certain of it.
So unless Dumbledore has lied to her, or is mistaken, the Dark Lord is soon to fall.
He followed an eddy of leaves with his eyes, thinking furiously.
They feel indebted to me, so they have come to warn me. But they would not have come themselves were it merely to serve notice that I should flee the country or go into hiding. No, they, or Dumbledore through them, have a task they wish me to perform, in recompense for this information.
And perhaps, in recompense for the task...
"What price on my freedom?" he asked, looking back at them.
Lupin chuckled slightly, though the smile did not reach his eyes. "Straight to the point as always, Severus. Here." He tossed a small glass ball with his left hand. Severus caught it and inspected it. A golden mist swirled within.
"An Audio Recording Spell," said Lily. "It activates wandlessly, there are indentations on the glass so you know where to press. Once to prime itâ€”it’ll turn silver to let you know it’s readyâ€”a second time to start recording, and a third time to stop."
"And what shall I record with it?"
"Voldemort’s a Parselmouth, isn’t he? He speaks to snakes?"
Severus nodded. "There are always a few near him."
"We need a recording of the word â€˜Open’ in Parseltongue," said Lupin. "And we need it without Voldemort knowing we have it. How you get it is up to you, though I would personally prefer a method that left you alive to deliver it."
Severus snorted. "I would prefer that myself."
"Somehow I thought you might." Lupin spread his hands. "So there you have it. Get that word recorded and get it to us, give us any other information you might have that we can use, and we’ll do what we can for you. Hide you from Death Eaters out for revenge, vouch for you to the Ministry, that sort of thing."
Severus ran a finger along the surface of the glass ball, finding the indentations Lily had mentioned, conveniently placed for pressing when the ball was hidden in one’s palm. Such a small thing. And yet on such small things has history always turned.
"I will do it," he said, standing up.
Lily and Lupin nodded, as if it were nothing more than they’d expected.
"Best of luck," Lupin said.
"I hope to see you soon," Lily added.
"And I, you." Severus weighed the moment and decided to speak. "I have always regretted the way in which we parted in school."
"So have I," said Lily softly. "Perhaps, when everything is over..." She left the ending unspoken.
If there is an ending to that sentence. What can James Potter’s wife ever be to me?
"Please be careful, Severus," Lily finished. "Come back safely."
"I will do my best." Severus tucked the glass ball into a pocket of his robes.
"I could ask for nothing better than that."
Severus nodded to her, and to Lupin, and Disapparated.
"Tell me again why you don’t think he’ll just run off and sell us out?" said James, pulling off his Invisibility Cloak behind Lily.
"Because he knows I wouldn’t lie to him." Lily sat down where Snape had been. "If I say Voldemort is going to fall, then Voldemort is going to fall. And he’s more interested in staying alive than anything else."
"And staying out of Azkaban," added Sirius, standing up from his position among the bushes nearby.
Wormtail the rat scurried out of the undergrowth behind the bench and turned back into Peter. "I think anyone would want to stay out of Azkaban," he said, shaking his head. "Anyone sane, that is."
"Which leads to my pet theory," said Remus, putting his wand away. "Death Eaters are all insane. Some more than others."
"Thinking of my dear cousin Bella, are you?" Sirius shuddered. "She makes my skin crawl. How she and Cissy could be â€˜Dromeda’s sisters I’ve never figured out..."
She huddled in a corner of the small cellar room, hands over her ears, half of her praying the screaming would stop and the other half hoping it went on. It hurt her to hear the screaming and to think about what caused it, but when it stopped, that meant it was her turn. He would come down the stairs and open the door, and look at her and laugh, and point his stick at her and say that strange-sounding word, and then the pain, the pain, the painâ€”it was worse than falling out of a tree, worse than getting kicked by a horse, worse even than the time she’d slammed her hand in the doorâ€”
But it isn’t worse than remembering.
The memory flooded back over her. She was standing on the train platform with her mum, scuffing at the floor with her foot, hoping the girl of her own age who was the only other passenger waiting at this station didn’t notice that the middle-aged woman in the blue dress smelled like stale beer and walked a bit off-kilterâ€”she’d managed to make back half the grocery money from a man with four pints in him who couldn’t believe a mousy little thing like her could possibly have a better eye than he did, so they might not eat very well this week but at least they wouldn’t starveâ€”just another Friday night, as normal as her life ever gotâ€”
And then it all went wrong.
A crack like a whip behind them, and he was there, small and dark and bearded and wearing what looked like a dress, and her mum turned around and started to say something rudeâ€”he pointed the stick in his hand at her and said two words, and a great green light flashed with a noise like the train coming in, and her mum fell to the floor all limp and bonelessâ€”she dropped down and grabbed her mum’s wrist and felt for a pulse but there was nothing there, and then he had her arm and was pulling her back up, and the girl down the platform was screaming but it didn’t make any differenceâ€”
Nothing made any difference. Not to him. He killed my mum, he’s killing that other girl, he’s going to kill me, and there’s nothing I can do to stop him.
Because he has magic.
It was the only answer that made sense, the only way to put together everything she’d seen. The way he had appeared on the platform out of thin air, his stick that could hurt or kill people with just a word or two, the funny-smelling liquids he sometimes made her drinkâ€”she hadn’t had any real food in as long as she’d been here, just the stuff in the bottlesâ€”
Potions. And his stick is a wand, and the things he does with it are spells, and he must be a wizard. Or maybe his people call it something else, like warlock or mage.
As a child, she’d read every book she could find that had magic in it. Whether it was set in a street so much like her own that she could smell the exhaust fumes or on a planet beyond the farthest star she could see in the nighttime sky, she devoured the stories eagerly, hoping, praying, wishing that someday she might find out they were true.
I should have been more careful what I wished for.
But proverbs and platitudes wouldn’t help her now. The screaming had stopped. He would take a few minutes to rest and recover, and then he would be down the stairs to have his fun with her. He’d said something yesterday about another spell he wanted to try on her, one that would make her do whatever he wanted, and he’d hinted very strongly that he’d want her to start by taking her clothes off.
Maybe that’s why the screaming sounded different today. Because he wasn’t just hurting her, he was...
Her mind shied away from the idea, but she wouldn’t be able to hide from it for long. Soon it would be happening to her.
This isn’t what I thought a world with magic would be like. I thought it would be used for good. I thought magic people would have more fun, laugh more, understand each other better.
She sniffled once, then squeezed her eyes shut.
I should have known. Nothing’s ever as good as you imagine it.
Unbidden, one of her favorite imaginings came to her mind. She was flying, high above the clouds, looking down at the houses and the trees, and behind her, flying with her, holding her up, was a boy. He wasn’t tall or handsome like the musicians and movie stars the other girls at school sighed over, but his eyes were kind and his smile made his whole face look happy and she knew he’d never hurt her and he’d never let anyone else hurt her either.
Besides, it’s not like I’m ever going to get any boy to look at me twice, much less a musician or a movie star. Or a wizard. So I might as well dream of one while I still can.
While I’m still alive.
A little noise from across the room sent her eyes flying open.
He’s hereâ€”he sneaked in while I was blubberingâ€”
She gasped, barely managing to keep herself from screaming. Rat, that’s a rat, oh God there’s a rat in here, it must have got in the window, it’ll bite me or run up my leg or try to chew my face off while I’m sleepingâ€”
But the plump gray rat was doing none of this. It was, in fact, sitting very still on its hind legs and watching her closely. One paw scratched behind its ear for a moment.
She took a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. Rats aren’t always bad. Some people keep them as pets. Maybe this one is somebody’s pet who got loose.
Or maybe it’s just waiting to see what the giant human girl does.
The thought made her smile, shakily, but it was a real smile, her first in what felt like months. Slowly, she held out her hand.
"I won’t hurt you," she whispered. "You can come here."
The rat’s nose twitched. Then it dropped to all fours and scampered across the room to sniff at her fingertips. She laughed under her breathâ€”its whiskers tickled.
And it’s been even longer since I had anything to laugh about...
Hesitantly, she brought her other hand around and stroked the top of the rat’s head, between its ears. It quivered all over, but did not run away.
"I wish I had something to feed you," she murmured. "Maybe then you’d stay. You could be my friend." The thought of the man upstairs made her swallow nervously. "But you shouldn’t stay too long. I wouldn’t want you to get hurt. He likes hurting me, he’d like hurting you too, so when he comes you’ll need to run and hideâ€”"
The door at the top of the stairs banged. Her mouth dried up, her heart switched into double-time, her hands went damp and cold. The rat pulled away from her and darted across the cellar, into the shadows of the opposite corner from her own.
Good. Smart rat. Stay hidden. He can’t hurt you then. He’ll hurt me, but not youâ€”
Loud footsteps on the stairs, the rattle of the lock on the outside of the door, and then he was there, smirking at her, shutting the door behind himself, his stickâ€”wandâ€”never moving from her chest. "I hope you’re a bit more durable than the other one," he said, starting towards her. "She barely lasted an hour. I’ve got a few games left to play stillâ€”"
"Stupefy!" shouted a new voice, and red light flashed all around her tormentor, sending him keeling over onto his face. She stared at his fallen figure for an instant, then looked up.
The young man across the room was about her own age, maybe a few years older. He had brown hair and close-set blue eyes, and he too was holding a wand in his hand, but it was pointing at the fallen man, not at her, and the expression on his face was one of disgust.
"Dirtbag," said the voice which had shouted a moment before. "Incarcerous." Ropes flew from the end of the wand, ropes that wrapped themselves around the man and tied themselves off behind him, and a silent wave of the wand sent the bound figure skidding into the corner of the room nearest the door.
Is thisâ€”it can’t beâ€”
She was reeling from the suddenness of it all, her thoughts tumbling over each other, only fragments coming to the surface of her mind. With some fraction of her attention, she registered that the young man was kneeling beside her, looking down at her in concern. "Miss?" he said, touching her arm lightly. "Are you all right?"
"Who are you?" The words came out without her conscious intention.
"My name’s Peter. I’ve come to help you. I was looking for him, to start with." A jab of the wand towards the figure in the corner. "His name is Rabastan Lestrange, and he can get at something my friends need, something that will help us stop people like him. But then I saw you, and I couldn’t leave you here. I’m sorry he hurt you. Can I take you home? Will your parents want to know you’re all right?"
"No parents." She found her breath coming more easily as she spoke. "My dad’s been gone for years, and my mum’s dead. He killed her the day he took me."
"I’m sorry." The words were simple, but she could hear in their very awkwardness that he meant it, that he really wished her mum hadn’t been killed, and suddenly everything fell in on top of her and she burst out cryingâ€”her mum was dead and she had nowhere to go now, magic was real but bad people used itâ€”
But so do good people. Peter has magic, and he’s good. He’s helping me.
And he was holding her now, holding her as awkwardly as he’d spoken to her, but holding her.
He doesn’t look like the kind of boy who’s used to holding girls.
The thought made her laugh again, laugh in the middle of her crying, and then she was doing both and she couldn’t stop eitherâ€”Peter was standing up, pulling her upright with him, gripping her arms tightly and turning aroundâ€”
Everything was black and tight, she couldn’t move, she couldn’t breatheâ€”
I’ve done this beforeâ€”he did it with us, when he brought us hereâ€”
Except that "here" was no longer "here," but "there," because "here" had just become a well-lit hallway, and Peter was talking quickly and urgently to someone, and then there were other hands on her arms, pulling her loose from him, starting to lead her awayâ€”
"No!" She yanked free and clutched at Peter. "Don’t let themâ€”"
"It’s all right," he told her, pressing her hand. "You’re safe now. These are my friends. They’ll help you. I have to go, to show them where that man is, the one who hurt you. To make sure he doesn’t do it again."
"Will you come back?"
By the look on his face, the question surprised him. "If you want me to."
She nodded hard.
"All right. I will. But I do have to go now. Will you go with Veri? She’s a Healer, she can help you feel better."
She turned to see that "Veri" was a tall girl of Peter’s age with dark skin and a kind smile, and nodded again. Veri took her hand and guided her down the hall, into a quiet room with a soft couch, and sat down on it with her. "You are safe now," she said as Peter had, "and I am terribly sorry for what has happened to you. May I know your name?"
Name. Do I have a name?
Don’t be stupid, everybody has a name...
She made herself calm down and remember. Of course she had a name. Her mum had given it to her, her teachers at school had called her by it, and she would need to know it to tell it to Peter when he came backâ€”
"Evanie," she said. "My name is Evanie."