The Witch of the Westmoreland
By Anne B. Walsh
Peter looked up from his quiet conversation with Remus and Snape as James burst into the kitchen. "Yes?" he said politely.
"Your bloody girlfriend just kicked all our arses at darts!" James pointed towards the kitchen door, which Sirius was holding open for Regulus and the Prewetts.
"He did try to warn you, Prongs," Remus said, chuckling. "You get very good, very fast, at things your meals depend on."
"Yes, but..." James broke off incoherently as Evanie slipped between the boys and came into the kitchen, smiling shyly at Peter, who returned the expression wholeheartedly. "I get no respect," he grumbled instead.
"Perhaps you should try earning it, Potter," said Snape acridly.
"You stay out of this."
Two sets of brothers sniggered.
In the cellar directly below, three young women restrained giggles.
"Poor James," said Lily, carefully stirring the oversized cauldron hanging over the fire in one corner. "He thought he’d never have to deal with Severus again, and ever since the middle of October they’ve been stuck in the same house. Though maybe not for too much longer, if we can get that little cottage out in Godric’s Hollow we were looking at..." She glanced at Peri.
Peri smiled. "I do not begrudge you your good fortune," she said. "Far from it. I am glad for you." Her hand hovered for a moment near her stomach, now flat once more, before returning to her side. "But I do wonder why you have not yet told your husband the news."
"Because I don’t want him distracted." Lily drew her wand and cast a spell on the cauldron, nodding to herself at the colors the metal glowed. "Distracted Aurors make mistakes, and James can’t afford a mistake right now, not with the people he goes out to fight. My news will keep for another month, until Severus and I have finished brewing this and we’ve used it to get rid of those." She nodded to the safe in the corner of the room, in which all three women knew rested a jeweled locket, a tarnished diadem, a heavy ring, and a delicate cup. "And whatever the last one is, at Malfoy Manor."
Veri chuckled. "I do hope to see another example of Headmaster Dumbledore’s cleverness in dealing with that family," she said. "Like that which we saw in the treatment of Rabastan Lestrange."
"Yes, that was rather neat, wasn’t it?" Lily grinned, coming to sit with her friends. "Dumbledore promised that if Rabastan would only fetch him out whatever Voldemort had given Bella to keep in the family vault, that we wouldn’t turn him in for being a Death Eater or for using Unforgivables. So off he went and brought us back the cup... and Alice arrests him on the spot for breaking the Code of Secrecy, because Evanie and that poor girl he killed were Muggles!"
"And Professor Dumbledore, in his role as Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, decided that every day M’sieur Lestrange used magic on the girls should be treated as a separate infraction and a separate charge." Peri was almost purring. "And since Evanie was kidnapped near the middle of the summer and not rescued until the beginning of November when Peter went to investigate the information Severus brought, and breaking the Code of Secrecy without intent to Obliviate carries a five-year minimum penalty for every offense..."
"The overall effect, when he is brought to trial, shall be the same as though he had been convicted of what he has truly done," Veri finished with great satisfaction. "He shall never see the light of day again, and we have another piece of this puzzle in our hands."
"And Peter finally has someone who looks up to him, instead of the other way around." Lily stretched luxuriously. "He’s already brought her home once or twice to meet his mother, and they seem to have hit it offâ€”I know I heard them talking the other day about her going to live there after the war’s over, she’s going to start as Mrs. Pettigrew’s â€˜companion’ but I don’t think she’ll stay that for long..."
"If Miss Evanie Mead is not a Mrs. Pettigrew herself within two years, I know nothing of humankind," said Peri firmly. "And that reminds me, sister mine. When does your swain plan to horrify his mother still further?"
"Is it possible he can do so, after taking up with an â€˜inhuman monster’ such as myself and â€˜corrupting the last hope of this House’?" Veri’s eyebrows said what her perfectly polite tone could not as she quoted from Walburga Black’s Howler in response to Sirius’ letter telling his mother what, in general terms, had happened to her sons. "But to answer the question you meant, I do not know. He keeps his own counsel on such matters. Perhaps I should hint to him that it would not go amiss, were he to ask."
"Perhaps you should tell him he’s not allowed in your bed until he asks," Lily suggested.
Veri smiled. "Ah, but why punish myself for his failing?"
This time none of them bothered to keep the giggles under wraps.
Lucius Malfoy stood surveying the interior of the small Muggle cottage where he and a few of his colleagues had enjoyed an evening’s recreation with satisfaction.
I shall have to speak to Narcissa about remaining behind from now on. His eye lingered on his wife’s form, shapely even in her swathing robes, as she rearranged one of the limp bodies which made such a contrast with the cheery Christmas decorations hung about the room. It would never do to have my heir harmed by a stray curse, or by his mother’s overexertion.
A quiet pop outside the house alerted him. "Aurors," he hissed, waving at the others. "Quickly, to your homes!"
Avery and Nott Disapparated first with barely any sound at all, followed by Crabbe and Goyle with two loud cracks. Lucius winced. If they did not already know we are here, they know it now. But in another moment it will not matter.
Narcissa spun on the spot and vanished. Lucius raised his wand and pointed it towards the ceiling. "Morsmordre," he intoned, and the Dark Mark shot upwards and into the night.
Our calling card. In case anyone doubted.
Smiling under his mask, he leaned his weight on one foot, preparing to turnâ€”
Narcissa exploded back out of thin air. "Not home!" she hissed. "The house is full of Aurors, I barely escaped!"
Aurors? Howâ€”whyâ€”no. No time. "Hogsmeade," Lucius said. "Behind the Hog’s Head."
Narcissa nodded and was gone. Lucius turned quickly to follow her, spying as he did an astonished young face at the window. An apprentice, or a barely qualified Auror, it made no real differenceâ€”
Except that once, they would never have sent anyone with less than five years’ experience out on a case where we were involved. Have we overburdened them to such an extent that they must now send children after us?
Or have we simply become less menacing?
Reality settled into place around him again, the back of a pub to his left, the snowy woods to his right, the moon overhead, and his coughing wife directly in front of him. He caught her shoulder and held her upright until the spasm had passed, plucking off her mask and his own with his free hand. In the darkness, their robes would look ordinary enough.
"Somehow we have come under suspicion," she said when she had enough breath to speak again. "The Dark Lord may help us, but I would not assume that he will."
"Agreed." Assumptions around the Dark Lord could be fatal, if they proved to be wrong. "I will find him and sound him out. Cautiously, of course. You..." Lucius looked at Narcissa musingly. "I think it would be best if I did not know where you were. An owl will still find you even if I am unaware of your exact direction, and what I do not know I cannot tell." To either the Aurors or the Dark Lord. If he decides I merit punishment rather than reward, for erecting such shabby wards that my house could be invaded...
"I understand." She embraced him briefly. "I have a destination in mind already. Travel carefully, Lucius."
"And you, Narcissa." And may we meet again, soon and safely. All three of us.
Narcissa Disapparated again, and Lucius spent a moment looking at the place where she had been before he shook himself and brought to mind the last place he had seen the Dark Lord.
It is unlikely he will still be there, but others of our fraternity will, and they may be able to direct me further.
With a sound like a breaking branch, he was gone.
Narcissa paused between an iced-over pond and a snow-covered garden bed, trying to regain her composure, but it eluded her. Whom she was about to ask a favor of, and what that favor would be, would have been starkly unthinkable to her even ten minutes ago.
So quickly does life change around us.
She strode forward to the front door of the modest house and rapped her knuckles against it.
The man who opened it was fair-haired and cheerful-looking, going to fat in a way Narcissa would ordinarily have considered extremely common.
But I have need tonight. I must mind my manners.
"Good evening," she said. "I am sorry to trouble you so late, but I must speak with my sister. It is very urgent."
Dora crept down the hall, her ears sharpened for listening. Mum thought she was in bed, and so she had been, but the exclamation of "Cissy!" that had come up the stairs a few minutes before had made sleep impossible.
I thought Mum’s sisters didn’t admit we existed. What is one of them doing here?
"Absolutely not," Mum said crisply. "You’re overreacting, Cissy. You can’t be sureâ€”"
"They would not dare invade our home unless they had proof that could not be denied," the unknown woman, obviously her Aunt Narcissa, retorted. "Not with the influence Lucius holds at the Ministry. And our people are beginning to disappear. Regulus Black during the summer, Severus Snape two months ago, Rabastan Lestrange last month... the tide is turning, Andromeda, and I have no desire to watch my child drown." A little, humorless laugh. "If you will pardon a painfully mixed metaphor."
"I understand completely, but don’t you think what you’re asking is a bit extreme? There must be another wayâ€”"
"There is not," Aunt Narcissa interrupted. "None that is sure, in any case. Even should I be able to hide from all those who will seek me for the time required, what would become of my baby? What sort of life would he have, orphaned almost before he was born, despised by those of my circle for his father’s incompetence and by those of yours for his parents’ loyalties? And do not lie to me!" This rose almost to a shout. "I can see it in your face, you are about to tell me it would not be so, but we both know that it would, Andromeda. I will not condemn my son to that fate any more than I will allow him to die in the presence of dementors."
Dementors. Brr. Dora shivered with mingled fear and perverse delight in it. I’ll have to get used to them someday, if I want to be an Auror, but that’s a long, long time awayâ€”I don’t even start Hogwarts for five more years, and then seven years there, and three years as an apprenticeâ€”
"Cissy, you’re borrowing trouble," Mum’s voice cut into Dora’s mathematical musings. "Stay here tonight, get some sleep, and we’ll talk about this again in the morning."
"You do not understand, Andromeda. There are Aurors in my home at this very moment. They saw me Apparate in, and it was only by luck that I escaped them. They will even now be investigating all the places it is most likely I would be, eliminating them from consideration, and moving on to the less likely. Soon or late, your home will be visited, and I must believe it will be soon." The sound of a chair scraping across the floor. "If you will not help me, I will do this myself."
"Sit down, Narcissa," Mum said wearily. "I didn’t say I wouldn’t help you. But I want to be absolutely sure you understand what you’re asking of me. It goes against all my oathsâ€”"
"You are a Healer," Aunt Narcissa interrupted. "You are sworn to prevent harm. And you know well that dementors destroy human souls, and tax human bodies to the point where any pregnant woman who is near them for more than a few minutes, an hour at the most, invariably loses her child from the shock. If that should happen to meâ€”if my son dies in Azkabanâ€”his soul will never reach whatever is beyond this world, Andromeda, for he will never have the strength to escape the dementors’ pull. They will capture him and devour him, and he will be lost forever." A shuddering sob. "I would rather he die here and now, at your hands or my own, than that."
Dora leaned forward, fascinatedâ€”
And lost her balance and fell into the kitchen with a crash.
The blonde and aristocratic woman standing beside the kitchen table spun around, apparently not unbalanced at all by her four months’ pregnancy, to look down her nose, and her wand, at Dora. Mum, still sitting in her usual chair, sighed deeply. "Cissy, I don’t believe you’ve met my daughter," she said. "Nymphadora, this is your Aunt Narcissa."
"Good evening, Nymphadora," Aunt Narcissa said stiffly.
Dora considered saying hello, but settled for a little wave from her current position.
"Now, young lady, you are going back to bed," Mum said, standing up and drawing her own wand. "And if you do not, I will make you, so do not push meâ€”"
"But Mum, I have an idea!" Dora burst out.
Both women stared at her. "An idea?" Mum said finally. "An idea about what, exactly?"
"About Aunt Narcissa’s problem." Dora sat up and scooted back until she was sitting tailor-fashion with her back against the wall. "There might be somebody who could help."
"Help," repeated Aunt Narcissa, as though she were tasting the word. "In what way?"
"I don’t know, but she might. They might." Dora looked at her mum. "Veri and Peri, Mum, who came to visit just last week. You remember." You told me the story about them after they’d gone home, about how Cousin Sirius and his friends went to find them because his friend Moony would have died otherwise. She smiled, thinking of Moony. He’s handsome, and really nice too. Peri’s lucky she got there first, or I would have married him when I grew up...
"That is true," Mum said slowly. "They are something out of the common way." She looked over at her sister. "Narcissa, are you willing to wait a little while before you do anything irreversible? A few minutes, no more. Long enough for a firecall."
Aunt Narcissa nodded, sitting down. "Perhaps I can use the time to become acquainted with my niece," she said with a faint smile. "Since I am unlikely to have another opportunity."
Mum shook her head in the same way she did when Dora came home covered in scratches and bee stings, and went into the living room where the Floo was.
Dora looked at her aunt. Her aunt looked back, and frowned.
"What’s wrong?" Dora asked.
"Your hair was brown when you came in," Aunt Narcissa said. "Now it is blonde."
Dora grinned and willed it pink. Her aunt jumped, then sighed in what sounded like exasperation. "Of all the children to inherit our great-grandfather’s Metamorphmagic, it would have to be you."
"Why shouldn’t it be me?" Dora asked, deciding this might be a good time to get answers to a few of the questions Mum didn’t like her to ask. "Why do you think I’m bad?"
"I do not think you are bad."
"My dad, then. Why don’t you like him?"
"It has nothing to do with liking and not liking. I simply do not believe that wizards who appear without warning from a Muggle line of descent can possibly have the same degree of magic as those whose ancestors have been magical through history."
Dora sorted through the big words and came up with a puzzling conclusion. "So you think because my gran and granddad are Muggles, that Dad isn’t as good a wizard?"
"In essence, yes."
Dora folded her arms and glared. "You don’t even know my dad. How do you know how good a wizard he is?"
Aunt Narcissa matched the glare. "Do not speak of subjects you do not understand."
"I bet you’d lose a duel with my dad," Dora muttered.
"Let us not test that theory."
Mum reentered the kitchen in the midst of the uneasy silence that followed. "I caught Sirius on his way out, and he said he’d send their resident Witches right over," she said. "And Cissy, please, for heaven’s sake be polite to them."
Aunt Narcissa’s eyebrows had gone up at the mention of Cousin Sirius’ name. "I will, if you will tell me why you think I would allow creatures which are not even human to come near meâ€”if, as I assume, these â€˜Witches’ you have summoned are the same ones over whom our Aunt Walburga has been so incensed lately..."
"Because, as usual, she has the wrong end of the wand," said Mum irritably. "They’re as human as we are, Narcissa, I examined them myself. They just express their magic differently than we do, and that’s more by training than by any difference in blood. More than that, their ancestors as far back as they can trace them have all been magical. What does that make them, pray tell?"
Aunt Narcissa didn’t seem to have an answer ready, but she didn’t need one, as Veri came through the door at this moment, Peri just behind her. "Good evening, Andromeda," said the tall, dark Witch, nodding to Mum. "Dora." A smile, which Dora returnedâ€”Veri’d remembered about her horrible name. "And you, I believe, are Narcissa Malfoy."
"You have the advantage of me," said Aunt Narcissa in a brittle tone, standing up with her hand on her wand.
"I am called Veritas, and my sister is Pericula." Peri dropped a brief curtsey, then came around the table to stand near Dora as Veri approached Aunt Narcissa, stopping a pace or two away. "You have no need to fear me," the Witch said softly. "I wish only to help you, though I will ask payment for my services."
"And what sort of payment would that be?"
"Information." Veri’s eyes were steady, her hands hanging calmly at her sides. "Your husband seeks his Master this night, to beg his help. When he has found him, he will inform you of their location, that you may join them there. Is this so?"
Aunt Narcissa gave a small, jerky nod.
"If you will share this information with us, we will give you what you desire most." Veri directed her gaze over Aunt Narcissa’s shoulder to Peri, who smiled as Aunt Narcissa turned to see her. "We have the power to save your son, and to ensure he suffers no harm from your choices. If he does not grow to manhood and live out his full term of years, it shall not be for lack of help from us."
"What is the catch?" Aunt Narcissa asked in a rough whisper.
"No catch," said Peri, drawing Aunt Narcissa’s eyes back to her. "It is a true offer. I will raise him myself, and love him most dearly, and none will blame him for what you have done."
"You will raise him." Aunt Narcissa’s voice turned cool. "And train him up in your own philosophies, no doubt."
"If you choose to see that as a catch, I cannot stop you." Peri’s brown eyes met Aunt Narcissa’s blue evenly. "He will still live, where otherwise he would die. The choice is yours."
The silence seemed to stretch into years.