Chapter 14: Time of Inconvenience
Dorcas sank into her chair by the fireplace and pulled the throw blanket around her to ward off the unsettling chill. She closed her eyes and let her mind drift over recent events. No one had reported anything out of the ordinary at Gringotts to the Ministry – she’d checked. Twice. She propped her feet up on the side table and sank deeper into the cushions. It still hadn’t erased the unnerving memory of Karkaroff staring at her in the bank yesterday.
She needed to get back to following the rules and forget about trying to be clever. It was too dangerous and in all honesty, she wasn’t very good at it.
It would only be a few more weeks, she reminded herself. Then the mission would be finished and he’d be gone. She kept telling herself that it was for the best, but she had a hard time believing that she’d get over him. A part of her just wished that at some level, he was as affected as she was.
He never said anything about how he felt. She figured that it was probably because there wasn’t anything to say. She should let it be what it was and enjoy it while it lasted. If Marlene was still around, she would have given her some sound advice, but Dorcas didn’t have anyone to turn to anymore.
She’d be so alone…
Maybe it would be best if she backed off now and gave herself time to adjust. She could simply explain to him that it had been… whatever it was. Fun probably wasn’t the word she would use, but if they were going to finish the mission and go their separate ways, she was going act like an adult for once.
She heard the distinctive “pop” from behind her. Severus came over and threw his satchel on the couch and then threw himself next to it. Dorcas squinted at him lounging across from her. He looked so relaxed, like he belonged there. She could let him think that for another day, couldn’t she?
“Rough day?” he asked, eyeing her discarded shoes.
“Something like that. You?”
He smiled. “I got it.”
Dorcas sat up in her chair. “You finished the antidote already?”
Severus’ smile disappeared. “No. I don’t want to talk about that.” He grabbed his satchel and started rummaging through it. “Come here. I want to show you.”
She got up and sat down on the far side of the couch, trying to maintain some kind of distance. He brushed his satchel on the floor, scooted over and handed her an official-looking document.
It took Dorcas a minute before she realized she was holding his Potions Master certificate in her hands. She smiled at Netterheim’s signature across the bottom Severus slipped his arm around her waist. He finally had something to be proud of and she didn’t want to ruin the moment for him.
Dorcas tried to concentrate on the fuzzy feelings she got when they were together, since it wasn’t going to last much longer. She gave him her best smile, wanting to be thankful that at least one of them had a future to look forward to. But the fuzzy had gone away and she wasn’t sure it was coming back. He was still here today. What was her problem?
The indecision must have shown on her face, because Severus’ smile faltered. “I thought you’d be happy for me.”
“I am,” she told him. She really was, despite her mixed feelings. “You’ve worked so hard for this.” But he was going to leave. He was going to hurt her. “I just keep thinking about what’s going to happen next.”
“Perhaps you shouldn’t,” he said cheekily.
She made a face at him, more because she wasn’t sure what to say. Should she tell him that she needed to put some space between them so she wouldn’t crumble so badly when he left her?
“I can’t do it anymore, Severus. I can’t take risks like you do every day.”
He frowned. “Nobody is asking you to.”
She shook her head. “I know that. I know this thing we have is just a convenience to you. You know, because I’m here. And you’re here. And there’s no one else.” She watched him sit up straighter and pull away.
“A convenience?” His eyes narrowed. “It’s hardly convenient when you give me all that crap about making a difference.”
”But you have made a difference. More than I ever could. Without you, we wouldn’t be half as close as we are to getting Karkaroff. I just wanted you to know that I…” She wasn’t sure where she was going with this. She needed to grow up. “The Order appreciates the information you’ve given us.”
He looked at her sideways. “Yes, you keep saying that.” He sat there for a minute too long. For a panicked second, she thought that he was going to tell her he was leaving early. She thought she’d be ready for this, that it was the right thing to do, but she felt like crap. She’d effectively ruined the remaining time they had together. And he’d been happy for once. Good going, Dorcas.
She should tell him how she felt at least, that she was going to miss him, but before she could say anything, he blurted out, “Netterheim’s gone.”
This time it took Dorcas a minute to catch up. “He’s gone?”
“He left me a letter. The shop too. Little good that will do for me.”
He reached in his pocket and pulled out a crumpled paper bag. “I got this yesterday. I’d been meaning to show it to you.”
He handed it to her. It had something small and hard inside. When she pulled out the small miniature snow globe, she recognized the custom workmanship. He’d gone to see Gus.
Maybe he was leaving sooner than she thought. Maybe he was leaving now… “It’s beautiful,” she said, admiring the quaint cliff-side cottage next to a flowing river, sheltered inside the plastic dome. Gus always did good work.
“It’s a little place in southern France. Very secure. No one can get on the property without one of those. Kind of how it is here.”
Gus had access to a lot of rental properties. “Whose is it?” she asked.
“Mine. They have the down payment and I’m stuck here until...” He shrugged, a boyish gesture.
It was where he was going after the mission. This time she tried really hard to look happy for him.
“So that’s where you’ll be going. It really is lovely, Severus.” She tried to give it back to him, but he refused, wrapping his hand over hers, the tiny cottage resting sideways in her palm.
“I didn’t mean that I was stuck here. I want to be here. You’re not just a convenience. It’s yours if you want it. I mean, if you want to…” His face colored. “I’d hoped maybe…” He trailed off and Dorcas was lost in the conversation again.
He gripped her hand harder. “Come with me.”
Dorcas blinked, thinking she’d missed something. “You want me to come with you?” She stared into his face, looking for confirmation that maybe he did care. He looked so hopeful, so unsure of himself and she lost her words, stunned into silence.
He pulled his hand away. “I’m sorry. You’re staying. I understand.”
“No,” she said quickly. Her best friend was dead and her family was missing, and when it was all over her job would be obsolete. “There won’t be anything for me here when you leave.”
He breathed out and stared at her, unmoving, and she was about to ask him what was wrong with him until he whispered, “There’s a switch on the bottom that activates it. And it looks just like this. The small shed in the yard is perfect for a laboratory and there’s a garden. I think you’ll like it.”
“As long as you’re there,” she whispered back, as if saying it louder would make it untrue.
He pulled her closer. “How could you think that you meant nothing to me?”
She remained still, stunned that he’d thought it all through, more stunned that he wanted to include her in his plans. Then her arms went around him as it all sank in. “I thought you were going to leave me,” she said into his chest and she felt his arms tighten around her.
“The cottage doesn’t have a lot of room.” He spoke barely above a whisper. “You’ll clog up the closets with all your stuff. You’re going to complain about the smell of potions in the kitchen and unless I make stew every once in a while, we’ll be living on cold sandwiches.” She felt him inhale against her neck. “You’re probably going to insist on taking along that useless case of canned tripe on the top shelf of the cupboard… God knows why.”
“You never know when you’re going to need a can of tripe,” she teased back. “I guess I’ve been too busy trying to help end the war that I never allowed myself to think past it.” His arms started moving down and she slapped his hands away. “I’m trying to be serious, Severus.”
He chuckled softly. “Why are we still talking?” he breathed next to her ear. “You’re warm.” He ran his hands slowly up her sides, the way she could never resist. “And soft.” When he squeezed her, she closed her eyes and melted into him a little more. In another minute, he’d have her convinced that there were much better things than being serious.
She poked at him. “You…” He interrupted her with a kiss. “…are a difficult man, Severus Snape,” she finished off at the earliest opportunity.
“Damned inconvenient you are, Dorcas Meadowes,” he retorted and then he kissed her again.
The next morning, Dorcas had received a curious note from Moody, asking her to meet him at ten o’clock in the morning in a Muggle eatery. So, instead of heading to the Ministry, she sat at a table away from the front window with a cup of coffee, sifting through her notes , hoping to find that elusive connection that would hand her the Death Eaters’ Master Plan on a silver platter.
The sooner they caught Karkaroff, the sooner she could leave and do something more pleasant with her life other than hunting down mass-murdering criminals. And she’d be with Severus. Just the thought of it made her ridiculously happy.
Dorcas tamped down the giddiness and forced herself to refocus on her work. Before her she could allow her brain to go all sappy, she had to prove that all her loosely related facts were undisputed proof that Karkaroff belonged in Azkaban prison.
Keep staring at the parchment, Dorcas. You can do it.
No, she couldn’t.
Dorcas put down her quill and stared at the half-empty piece of parchment in front of her. Unless she was going to fabricate additional evidence, it was all she had. Even with the risk she took at Gringotts, the Ministry would find some excuse, some kind of stupid procedure to delay Moody from bringing in Karkaroff on charges of treason and attempted terrorist activity. The most recent information she’d gathered was still buzzing around in her head when the frowning man in overalls sat down at her table. Moody scanned the establishment for anything out of the ordinary as the waitress bustled up to them. He pointed at the display case and ordered something.
Dorcas frowned. Some agent she was, not even having thought to order too, to blend in better. After her initial cup of coffee, she’d forgotten where she was and got pulled into her work.
The waitress returned with a plate. Moody picked up his fork and dug in. After a few minutes, he spoke. “Sorry about the short notice this morning. Something came up.”
Something that obviously required pie, she thought as she watched him stab at his plate again. Probably not a good sign. They still hadn’t found the person responsible for leaking the McKinnon plan. Maybe that was it. Regardless, it was already half-past ten and she couldn’t wait a minute longer. Dorcas snapped her wand out and cast a muting charm around their table.
Moody nodded his approval. She was getting better at this. “Do we have a location yet?” he asked.
“Yes. And a date.” She handed him a note with the basics. The pieces were coming together… based solely on a nicked sports event ticket and a warehouse in Karkaroff’s name. But unless Severus’ word on the rest of it was good enough, that was all she had.
Moody scanned the parchment and then tucked it away in his coat. His face didn’t let anything show, but his words carried veiled surprise. “This is going to be a problem.”
“It seems that we already have the location and date of the attack.” He sat back in the chair.
She leaned over the table. “We do? Why haven’t I heard about it?”
“It came in early this morning.”
And Moody had specifically told Dorcas to meet him here at ten o’clock instead of coming in. She’d missed getting critical information. She should have been there.
“A very prominent tip off. They’ve got the entire Aurors’ department attending this sporting event just in case someone tries something.”
“But that means…”
“I know. They’re targeting fifty-thousand Muggles and the entire Aurors’ department in one go.”
“But can’t you…”
“The Ministry isn’t going to budge. They’re too worried about losing the funding for the new forensics laboratory. We’ll have to come up with something, I agree, but it’s not going to be easy to get out of this.”
“Did he tell you that the Death Eaters think they’ve worked out a way to survive the poison?”
“No. What is it?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know, exactly. Something about charming the silver in their masks to filter the air.”
“Not going to work, Meadowes.”
“My people have tried that. All the charm tests failed.”
“I don’t question the Department of Mysteries. We’re going to have to rely on that antidote of yours as a backup. How’s that coming?”
He scraped the last crumbs off his plate and set his fork down. Dorcas stared at the table. She swallowed the last of her coffee, not even caring that it had gone cold.
“Fine. Capital. Brilliant.” She was clearly not any of those things, now that the entire Aurors’ Department was on a death watch. And using increasingly stronger adjectives wasn’t making her imagined upbeat mood any more believable.
Then she looked up and realized that he was waiting for her to continue.
“The antidote isn’t finished yet. I’m not sure we’re going to have a backup plan.”
Moody gave her a hard glare. “Well, that’s just brilliant. I thought you said this contact of yours was the best shot we had.”
“He is. But there are issues…” She trailed off. Moody didn’t want to hear the details, and for once, she didn’t feel like explaining them. “I’m fairly certain he’ll come through with something.”
“You got a statistical analysis on that certainty?”
“Thank God.” He rubbed his face with his hands. “I don’t need the charts and probability counts, just get me the facts. And an antidote before this all blows to hell. Do you have anything else? Anything at all?”
Dorcas wished she did. “I haven’t managed to solve the connection between the Death Eaters and the sighting of my uncle, or whoever that was. I’m fairly certain that it wasn’t really him, but that’s about it. Can we get someone to search for him and bring him in?”
“I looked into it, even filed the damned missing person’s report while you were out, and you know what they told me? They told me that they can’t send out a search party for Rookwood because witnesses saw him outside the McKinnons’ on the day of the party, and the Personnel Board has him scheduled on a two month leave. According to them, that means he’s supposed to be missing. Maybe all the Death Eaters should get Ministry jobs and go on leave. War over. Everyone can go home.” He rubbed his face again. “I can see if anyone in the Order has heard anything, but they’re stretched so thin there’s no one to spare.”
This was stupid. There had to be something she could do. “Someone in the Records Division owes me a favor. Maybe I can get those Ministry idiots to reconsider.” She’d do that first thing. At least it was a start. “If we’re done here, I should be getting back to the office. I’ve got work to do.”
“About those Ministry idiots,” Moody said, and pushed the empty plate aside. “There is something else I have to tell you.”
Severus got back to the flat later than his usual late. The antidote trial had failed again and he’d tried everything, including a new bezoar. He didn’t know if he was going to survive banging his head uselessly against the proverbial wall again tomorrow without a new plan.
Dorcas was sitting in her favorite chair by the fireplace again. But he didn’t see any shoes and she wasn’t in her usual clothes from work. And she looked miserable.
“They threw me out,” she started, and then she kept going. “Because of the paperwork I filed on my uncle, the Department of Threat Assessment thinks any of his relations could be a potential threat, and so they pushed through my immediate suspension. And the stupid part is that they’re not even looking for my uncle because the Department of Personnel insists that they can’t declare him ‘missing’ until he doesn’t return from holiday, and the Department of Incident Reports doesn’t think he’s missing because someone reported seeing him turned away at the McKinnons’ party right before they, you know. The Department of Personnel is obviously not talking to the Department of Threat Assessment, and the stupid Department of Stupid People Who Should Be Sacked For Not Keeping Up With Current Events are treating my suspension as a low priority case because all the Death Eater threats are making them crazy. The Department of Magical Anomalies has mucked up the flow of information throughout the entire organization. No one is talking to anyone about anything. They’re all too scared about spies infiltrating their departments, so no one’s getting anything done. It’s all stupid.”
He sat down on the couch. “What does Moody say about that?” She’d always talked about him like he was a level-headed fellow. He wouldn’t stand for this kind of nonsense.
“I met with him this morning. Not at the Ministry, obviously. He’s trying to sort things out. Says that the suspension is pending an investigation, and that could take weeks. I had to turn in all of my access badges, so I told him to send everything home. That way, I could keep working on things.” Severus saw a few boxes on the floor, partially unpacked. “Knowing the Ministry, it’s going to take them ages to reverse this. I’ve been stuck here all day.” Dorcas handed him some loose parchment. “Here.”
He looked at the parchment and was surprised to see a copy of his antidote formula calculations. From the amount of ink on the page, she’d spent a lot of time on it.
“The quantities are correct,” she said. “I don’t see why it’s not working.”
Severus stared at Dorcas. Of course it wasn’t working. He’d spent all day himself staring at the same thing.
“And when I was done going crazy over that, I cleaned. Dusted the bookshelves. Twice. And roasted a chicken.” She huffed. “I hate this! I feel so useless.”
She came over and flopped down next to him. He set the parchment on the table. “I know the calculations are correct,” he quipped. “I always double-check those. You didn’t have to do all this.”
“What did you expect me to do, sit around and wait for someone else to win this war for me? Apparently that’s what the Ministry expects of me.”
“You’re not the only one trying to stop them. You’re not sitting around either. You’ve been gathering information for the Order.” She’d been acting dangerously and recklessly, in his opinion, but it wasn’t a good time to get into that. “And you’re…” Severus looked around the flat at the gleaming windows, the dust-free bookshelves and the sparkling snow globes from her desk that had found a new home on the mantle. He didn’t know what else to say.
“If you tell me to roast more chickens, I swear someone else is going to lose a head.”
He sighed. “Look, I appreciate that you want to help me. But I’ve been at this for weeks and nothing is working. I don’t know what to do.” He slumped back into the couch.
“You’ll figure it out,” she said quietly. “I just wish I could do more.”
“I know.” He was at a total loss. If he didn’t come up with something soon, time would run out and there’d be no antidote. He scratched the back of his head. One of Dorcas’ irritatingly brilliant ideas would be useful right about now.
Dorcas leaned on his shoulder and he grunted at her, still staring at the wall. He felt her nuzzle at his neck, but he looked away, pretending to ignore her. “We could have something here, if you’d stop pissing on the moment.”
He didn’t have time for distractions, but he couldn’t think of anything productive to do and kissing her was far better than sulking. It wasn’t her fault that the antidote formula was flawed somehow. She’d tried to help. He draped his arm around her and pulled her into his lap and she pressed closer to him. But his mind was still racing... pissing on the moment, she’d said.
It was a shame too. He’d wasted all that effort to harvest that bezoar cleanly from the goat. No blood, no bile, no urine... and then no results Whereas Netterheim would have simply gutted the thing and probably used the contents of the bladder to rinse it off afterwards…
And then he got it. “You’re absolutely right,” he said, pulling away and grabbing his notebook out of his satchel. She slid off onto the cushions as he snatched a quill from the table and started scribbling.
“Well, that wasn’t what I had in mind,” he barely heard her say, and felt a flick on his ear. It wouldn’t take too long to test his theory, maybe an hour or two. All he had to do was get another goat and get messy… add a little piss to it all.
When he finished writing it all down, he felt better. And then he remembered Dorcas and wondered what he had to do to make up for dumping her on the couch. He glanced up at the stairs and found her at the top, watching him. “Thanks,” he said to her. “I think I know what to do now.” When she laughed at him, he figured that he wasn’t too badly off.
It was the last comforting thought he remembered when he found himself writhing on the floor of Netterheim’s laboratory, gasping for air. Severus rolled over and hauled himself to his feet to survey the damage. One rat lay still in its cage, obviously expired, while the other two that he’d given the antidote to earlier were still digging at the bars, trying to find their way out of the miniature prison he’d put them in. The bowl on the lab table was empty: the small drop of poison he’d activated was completely evaporated.
He tore off the silver mask and waved it over his head to break up the remaining wisps of vapor that still swirled above him. The experiment had proven several things: the antidote worked on the first two rats, and continued working even after a second exposure to the poison.
The mask clattered onto the table next to the empty bowl where he’d tossed it. Additionally, the charmed masks were complete crap. The Death Eaters had grossly underestimated the strength of his potion… he coughed out forcefully, trying to clear his lungs… or they’d used Avery as their Charms expert.
Either way, Severus decided that he wasn’t going to challenge their false sense of security. He picked up the empty antidote vial from the floor where it had rolled away from him and placed it along side the shallow bowl. He probably hadn’t needed the entire dose, but he didn’t want to risk his life on the word of the Death Eaters with no backup. Luckily for him, his instincts were correct.
He’d been right about the bezoar. With the added organic ingredients, his formula had finally started absorbing the toxin and now that he’d run a significant battery of tests, he’d have time to create a full batch of antidote, which should cover himself, Dorcas and Moody’s team of Aurors.
At the end of the day, he hastily closed up the shop and apparated back to the flat with the good news, but when the port key deposited him at the foot of the stairs, he knew something was wrong.
It was supposed to be Dorcas in the comfortable chair with her shoes kicked off and her hair everywhere. The charm on his wrist told him that she was thankfully unhurt, but nothing more. Severus took an uneasy breath and composed himself.
He really shouldn’t have been surprised. These things were always happening to him. He approached the man sitting by the fire.