Chapter 8: Like a Stone
After the Mediwitches took the bodies away and the proper forms were completed and filed, Moody dismissed Dorcas with the understanding that she “go home, or at least go somewhere that someone can look after you.” Although still shaken, she was fine; she’d told Moody so. He’d stomped his foot at Marlene too, except Marlene was determined to make the most of her final day at the Ministry and stayed for debriefing before going on leave. There was an eerie calm within the Auror’s Department after that, with everyone going through the motions of efficiency and taking care of things. Dorcas wondered if that was what it was like out in the field. If that was how they coped with all the danger… and the blood.
Even Moody, once he finished snapping orders at the rest of them, was strangely subdued. He nodded to Dorcas and patted her stiffly on the shoulder as she headed to the lifts. He probably thought that she’d meet Marlene later to hang out at the McKinnon Estate for a quiet afternoon, painting toenails and baking cupcakes.
Dorcas grimaced. Not bloody likely.
The Death Eaters were stronger than ever and now they were brazen enough to infiltrate her department. She’d been scared witless, almost killed by her ex, and on top of it all, Karkaroff had escaped because she couldn’t hold her own in a fight. Maybe she just didn’t have what it took to make a difference like she’d so desperately wanted.
If she had the opportunity, she’d be digging through the archives until she had enough evidence to incriminate most of the Death Eaters on the watch list and enable Moody to authorize a search of that warehouse she’d been after for so long. But they weren’t going to let her go back. Moody had told her to go home and hide.
The more she thought about it, the angrier she got. She didn’t care what Moody wanted. Dorcas couldn’t just go back to an empty flat and sit around. Someone had just tried to kill her. She had to do something.
The license inspections still had to be finished. It was a mundane enough task… what good was she if she couldn’t even manage to finish off a stack of forms? As she made her way through Diagon Alley, she saw Mr. Ollivander standing in front of his shop, frowning at the hairline crack that had formed in the corner of his shiny new window. As she got closer, she saw that the front window of the shop next door had been bashed in and the entrance was charred to a crisp, like dragon fire.
She’d dealt with all the incident reports she could handle today. Leaving the Ministry when she did might not have been such a bad thing after all.
The crooked multi-story buildings nearly blocked the afternoon sun as she turned the corner into Knockturn Alley and made her way down the narrow street. Dorcas tucked the folio under her arm and felt an unusual ache in her shoulder… she rearranged the leather case under the other arm. The wind picked up when she was about halfway down the street, sending a chill through her. Dorcas glanced up briefly at the Seer’s billowing awning as her anger started to defuse.
It felt wrong. She really should have gone home. Even Marlene probably wouldn’t have taken a chance like this with Karkaroff still out there. She didn’t need to start acting stupid about things, especially after what happened with Josef.
What exactly had happened to Josef? At first, he’d seemed all brave and noble and then he turned into an irritating, arrogant prick with a noble cause and the next thing she knew, he was a bastard traitor trying to kill her. And now he was dead. Her stomach rolled over. “God, what am I doing here?”
As Dorcas turned to go back, two men in black cloaks with masks on – Death Eaters - bustled in from the other street. A moment of dread swept through her. Maybe they had tracked her down and come to finish her off. Dorcas swallowed down her panic and backed under the awning’s deep shadows. She cast a silencing charm on herself and stood very still.
The two men looked briefly about and, satisfied, they knocked on a section of wall directly across the street from her. A dim outline of a door appeared out of the nothingness and a symbol glowed at eye level. The men hastily entered, whispering to each other. When the door closed, she let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Her heart was beating so fast she could hear it pounding in her ears.
The symbol pulsed and then dimmed. Dorcas took a step out of the shadows to get a better look at it; it was an address. Fourteen C.
Dorcas frowned. There was no such address on the Ministry’s list. She double-checked her street map. It wasn't there either. The only thing that remained in the brick wall was the fading address – she scribbled it down in the margin of the map before it could disappear.
It didn't make sense... her research hadn't shown any registered private quarters on Knockturn Alley in the last two hundred years. She thought of Moody and whether she could justify asking around about the hidden door without looking suspicious; she wasn’t about to simply go over there and knock on the wall and demand an explanation.
Her curiosity got the better of her and she took a chance, hurrying across the street. The address was still visible on the concealed door panel, a faded etching in the wood that was slowly melting back into the brick wall. She touched the wood tentatively, and finding it solid, she put her ear against the door.
The voices behind Fourteen C were unintelligible but she could make out the shouts of a heated argument. Then the voices got louder, one of them repeating the question "When?". By the time she could understand snatches of the conversation, she realized that they were on their way out.
She scrambled back from the wall. They couldn’t see her here! An image of Josef’s lifeless eyes popped into her head and the panic began to bubble up again.
The Seer’s eye stared at her from the rustling awning and below it, she saw a light through the window. She clutched her folio and hurried back across the street, hoping for the best.
Dorcas struggled with the door, wincing as her arm strained. It finally budged, squeaking in defiance, and she bolted inside, running straight into a frizzy-haired woman with large bug-eyed glasses and a startled expression.
The folio flew out of her grasp and scattered loose parchment all over the floor. Dorcas hastily gathered up the documents, trying to keep her hands from shaking.
"Excuse me," said the woman, clutching her threadbare shawl. She brushed past Dorcas to the street.
The woman seemed unthreatening and vaguely familiar, Dorcas decided as she shoved the parchment back into her folio. She took a few breaths and willed herself to calm down.
The place looked like a disorganized lot of cast offs and useless items. Shelves on the walls sagged with the weight of assorted crystal balls. She cautiously maneuvered through bins and piles of odds and ends, then ducked as a large crystal ball floated past her head. Another wall of bookcases met her at the back near the counter, overflowing with packets of cards and oddly-sized books.
The woman re-entered the shop and almost tripped over a loose pile of manuscripts, scattering them from their heap as she made her way up to Dorcas, managing not to fall.
"Oh, there you are!" She stared through the glasses. "Good. Sit down! I’ve been expecting you!"
Dorcas didn’t see any place to sit, so she stood there, clutching her folio to her chest. She watched the woman take a sip from a small vial and tuck it in her pocket. Then she did a little spin and raise her arms up to the ceiling like wings.
"Twenty-five years here, on this earth," she mused dreamily. "You never know what the universe has in store for you..." She looked sharply at Dorcas. "Unless you're me. That's why they come..." She leaned within inches of Dorcas' nose. "For the Future."
This woman looked remarkably similar to the fortune teller from the Leaky Cauldron, but Dorcas couldn’t recall the name. "I see," said Dorcas. The only clear thing was that the woman might be going mental.
"Do you? Because I do. Here, I'll show you!" The woman hastily brushed a table clear with an arm, stacks of papers and books falling to the ground in a jumbled mass.
"Wait here. Don't touch anything!" She leapt over boxes to the back of the store, returning with a ridiculously large hat made with brightly colored ostrich feathers and plopped it on Dorcas' head. "There. Now we can begin."
Dorcas didn't even ask about the hat. She was too worried about the cloaked men that had taken up residence across the street and a muffled squeaking that seemed to come from a hole in the wall across the room. She shuffled a few steps back. If she had to choose between rats and Death Eaters, Dorcas decided that she would have to deal with the creepy rodents. And whoever this loony woman was…
The woman reached into the pocket of her skirt and pulled out a deck of cards, shuffling them hastily. The deck was shoved into Dorcas' hands. "Cut it."
You've got to be kidding me, Dorcas thought as she split the deck in half and handed it back to the loon. Most fortune tellers were a half-crock of old cheese; Dorcas kept her opinion to herself and shuffled in her folio, looking for the Seer’s license inspection form. She might as well make use of her time while she was here
Before Dorcas could pull the parchment out of her folio, the fortune teller slammed the cards down on the bare table.
"Let's see..." the woman mused, flipping cards over in a traditional Seer's pattern. "Then we have..." The bug-eyed woman looked up and regarded Dorcas as if for the first time. "Hmmm..." She flipped the last of the cards and stared at them, clicking her tongue.
Dorcas wasn't paying attention to the cards, too busy keeping one eye on the hole in the wall and watching the woman for signs of the coming apocalypse. The mismatched socks and leather sandals and a long flowing patchwork skirt made her seem harmless. Regardless, Dorcas wasn’t about to stay here all afternoon. She shuffled the loose parchment around some more and found the one she’d been looking for.
"I'm from the Ministry..." she began.
"I KNOW who you are." The woman straightened a half-head taller than Dorcas. “What exactly does the Ministry have you do?”
The Seer’s act was getting to be too much. Dorcas wanted to smack the woman. “Funny, you can’t see it?” she prodded.
“I can’t see it if you’re not doing it. Clearly, you’re not doing it.” The woman put a hand on her hip and pushed her glasses up on her nose.
“License inspections,” Dorcas said.
The impossible woman seemed uninterested until Dorcas set the ostrich hat down on the counter, along with a handful of coins.
“And Import authorizations for controlled substances.”
The woman widened her eyes. She leaned in. "No," she whispered over-loudly. Then she reached over Dorcas’ shoulder, grabbing a sack from the counter and hiding it behind her back. "That man at Thirteen B has very suspicious things going on all the time!" She fanned herself with an empty palm.
"I saw Ministry officials over there last month. You remember when the Floo network had gone down for hours? And I overheard them arguing. Mr. Burke was upset that they brought a package to his front door.” She paused for an effect that Dorcas apparently missed. “Instead of the private entrance around the back!” she whispered in mock-secrecy. “Mr. Burke was so red in the face from shouting about the Floo.” She waved her hands around, nearly hitting a floating crystal ball. “Curse the Floo! Why is the Floo mucked up! Can’t you people fix the Floo?” The woman nodded eagerly, head bobbling on her scrawny neck. “The Ministry made quite a scene, Floo powder everywhere and the authorization form, oh my word! It went on forever. Twelve feet of parchment at least!"
"Noted," Dorcas said. So this woman actually saw things. That could prove useful. She’d have to check out last month’s authorization forms… when she went back to the Ministry… hopefully after the weekend. "Your business license. May I see it?" Dorcas wore her most professional voice. She hoped she didn’t sound as shaken as she felt.
The woman cocked her head to the side. "If you must. It’s on the wall behind you."
Dorcas noticed a beaten up piece of paper stuck on the back wall, probably with a recently applied sticking charm. She made her notes and returned her attention to the woman, who had already scooped up the coins from the counter and slipped them into a skirt pocket.
"You've been in business for…” Dorcas checked the date. “…three months?"
“This time,” the woman answered. “I spend most of my days teaching.” She made a face. “They make me reapply for the shop every season… I don’t quite understand why.”
Dorcas paused long enough to wonder how this woman got her license approved at all, with the state of things around her. She reread the name on the wall. "You are Cassandra then?"
"No, that was my great-grandmother," she said, almost blushing. "I liked the name and it's better for business. See?" She snapped her fingers three times and was transmorphed into the visage of an older woman with silvery hair. "The very likeness of my beloved ancestor. Don't you agree?" She stepped over a pile of books near a portrait of an older woman. The portrait looked forlornly at the disguised fortune teller and rolled her eyes at her doppelganger.
Dorcas silently agreed with the portrait. "I'm sorry. I will have to report your real name to the Ministry, if this is your establishment."
The woman blanched. "Yes, of course. Must abide by the law." She snapped her fingers again, returning to her original appearance. "Sybill..." she leaned in and blew a few strands of frizzy hair out of her face.”...with TWO ells. Last name’s the same"
"Thank you," Dorcas said in relief. There were a few more blanks to fill, but nothing out of the ordinary and in a few minutes, she had come to the end of her form. Surely the Alley would be cleared out by now. She felt like she’d been in the Seer’s shop for hours. "The Ministry appreciates your cooperation. Have a good day."
"Wait," Sybill said, looking bug-eyed and crazy again. "You didn't ask about the reading."
Sybill frowned and Dorcas put out a few more coins, just in case, because she wanted to get out of there without a curse thrown at her back. Who knew what this woman was capable of? This was Knockturn Alley after all. "It's alright. I really must be..."
"It always goes better when Cassandra does the reading..." the woman muttered and then her face brightened. ”You should know these are the happiest days of your life. Live them, before they are gone!"
Crock of cheese, Dorcas thought as she navigated through the maze of boxes to the front door. Unless I‘m supposed to be happy about someone trying to kill me…
"And the one you seek will appear right before your very eyes..." Sybill called after her.
Dorcas thought about the secret door and the Death Eaters and wondered if Sybill hadn’t been spying on her through the window earlier… she hoped the coins on the counter had been enough.
Sybill with two ells hummed tunelessly as Dorcas peered through the window to make sure the street was clear. Back in the Alley, she checked her watch. Nearly an hour had been wasted with that nutter.
Shops had pulled their blinds and the Alley was darker now. Dorcas reached the corner by the time the street lamps lit up, casting early shadows on the cobblestones. A cloaked form was locking the Potions Shop, which was odd because it was too early for Severus – he usually worked later than this.
Dorcas stood where she was until he turned and saw her. She couldn’t help but smile when he came right over. He hesitated a few feet away from her. Then he stepped closer into the pool of light, looking at her critically.
“What are you doing here?”
Severus couldn’t figure out why she had come, especially after Karkaroff had shown him the vision of his man at the Ministry aiming a wand straight at her. He’d bolted out of the Manor as soon as he was able and checked that the tracing charm on his wrist was still strong. He’d assumed she was safe then and returned to the Potions Shop. After that, Netterheim had demanded his full attention for the rest of the afternoon and he hadn’t gotten a chance to check on her whereabouts since. This was the last place he’d thought she’d be.
But here she was, staring at him. Dorcas still hadn’t answered his question. “Are you alright? The Ministry…”
Whatever silent spell she’d been under finally broke. “Karkaroff got away.”
“Almost had him. Moody let him go. It was an accident. My fault really.”
Severus shook his head. “It wasn’t your fault. They had it all planned out.”
He searched her face for any sign of harm. She didn’t have any visible scratches, didn’t seem to be in any pain, still had all her limbs intact. Relief washed over him as he discovered that she appeared to be unhurt.
He wanted to ask her about the attack, to ease his mind about what had happened, but all he could think about was how close she was. She’d been looking at him with a strange expression on her face. People didn’t look at him that way. Especially people like her. Instead of stepping away, he met her gaze and looked at her, really looked at her. There was something different, or maybe it was there all along and he simply hadn’t noticed.
A light breeze pushed some curls into her face. She didn't move, just stood there clutching her folio with both hands. And then he finally saw it for the first time. He could have kicked himself for not having noticed before. He moved her hair gently out of the way. "Your eyes..." he said. "They're blue."
There was something he wanted, no... had to do. He leaned closer, breathing her in, giving in to the rushing feeling in his veins and letting it move him to...
He jerked back at the wild shriek of a lanky crazed woman in baggy clothes striding up to them. Severus groaned inwardly and reached for his wand. He felt Dorcas cringe beside him and take a step back. Of all the...
"Mocked me! Scorned me! Made me crazy!"
"I think she's done that last one all by herself." muttered Dorcas under her breath, causing Severus to smirk.
Then his eyes narrowed at the intrusion. "What do you want, Sybill?"
The shadowy form joined them under the lamplight. Over-sized, glittering baubles swung from her ears like disturbed chandeliers, and her glasses made her eyes larger than life. "What I want," she peered at them with accusation, "is to see clearly. What I want is... oh, wait a sec."
Sybill took her glasses off and breathed on them, rubbing the lenses into her shawl. Then she hastily popped them back on her nose, and her bug-eyed appearance returned.
"Smudge. Better now. Back to you... you bloody backstabbing git who sold me a load of crap and YOU..." she turned to Dorcas. "Stay away from HIM." She lowered her voice and leaned in. "He's a wretched excuse for a decent wizard. He gives no guarantees on his work." She bit off the last word with much spite, emphasizing the hard “k”.
She tapped herself in the chest with her thumb, looking Severus up and down. "I speak from experience. His products are nothing more than watered down rip-offs. By the way, I’m out.” She held out her hand expectantly.
Severus swallowed a biting retort that had jumped to the tip of his tongue. Instead, he dug into his satchel for a small dark red vial. It was the only thing that would make the witch leave, and he wanted her gone. She snatched it up in a death grip, clutching it to her chest. “I’ll pay you later,” she muttered. “If… the headaches go away!” She stepped back, her glare on Severus fixed. "This... she pointed back and forth between Severus and Dorcas, "will end in death."
Dorcas let out a nervous laugh. "Doesn't everything?"
Sybill jabbed a finger in the air towards Dorcas. "You. Mark. My. Words." Satisfied with her tirade, she straightened her shawl and popped out of existence.
"What was that all about?" Dorcas asked. "Did you sell her a bad potion?"
"No. The last one was quite potent, in fact. The first time I gave her one was about a year ago," he shuffled his feet on the cobblestone. "The second time was a mistake."
“Second time?” Dorcas raised her eyebrows. The lamplight shone in her face and Severus momentarily lost his place in the conversation.
“It wasn’t my idea.” He cleared his throat, pushing his mind back to Sybill. “I didn’t want to get involved, but they said she might... know something and... I had to make sure she didn’t. Because if she did, they’d…” He took a step back. “And now she kind of… needs them. Or she gets these fantastic headaches.” He didn’t want to say too much, but he didn’t want Dorcas to think the worst of him. “I keep giving her less each time. She gets cranky about it, but I think she’ll be over it soon.” Severus shook his head. "She doesn’t, by the way. Know anything. She's nothing but a hack."
“Guess that’s something I shouldn’t know about either, right?”
He nodded and then wondered what she’d been doing out there in the first place. “You never said why you came. Why you were there…” he motioned to the darkened alley behind her.
“I just need... I had a horrible day and...” Dorcas stopped herself and stared at the ground. “I need to go home.”
Severus had followed Dorcas into her kitchen and watched her hover over the kettle, fumbling with her wand. She looked tired and shaken and not her usual self.
Thinking back on what happened in the Alley, he leaned up against the pantry door and silently thanked Sybill for the interruption. He had to be more careful around her.
Dorcas looked at him sideways and a flurry of unwanted thoughts ran through his head. He stiffened and pushed them aside.
“I have to ask you something,” she said. “Did you know, when you told me about the Ministry attack, that it would be Josef?”
“No. Wasn’t he the one who tried to abduct you the other night?”
“He’s dead.” She looked down at the floor. “He tried to kill me.”
Severus clenched his teeth.
“There were two others. You probably knew them,” Dorcas said as she rummaged through an assortment of tea bags.
“Wilkes and Rosier. I knew about them.” Severus understood why they hadn’t shown up for the interrogation. Karkaroff’s announcement had made that perfectly clear.
Dorcas turned her back to him. “I’ve never seen a dead body up close before. His eyes were so…”
Vacant. Empty. Severus had seen it too. He remembered the body lying on the table in the Ministry, cold and still. The face was pale and stared back at him with a void that chilled him. He had reached out and closed the dulled eyes, putting Netterheim’s coins over them.
“We… and he was going to kill me. Did he hate me that much?”
“It’s war, Dorcas. If it wasn’t him, it would have been someone else.” Surely, she’d realized they were all in danger, no matter who they were, or what they did or didn’t do.
“That’s what’s so horrible about all of this. Everyone knows everyone. And it doesn’t stop us from trying to kill each other. What kind of world is this, where we turn against our neighbors and friends… and for what?”
He didn’t know the answer to that. But she was right. After what she’d been through, if Josef hadn’t died, Severus would have considered finishing him off.
Dorcas stood in front of her pantry and gripped the doorknob so tightly that the whites of her knuckles showed.
Severus swallowed hard and fought the urge to go to her. He couldn’t understand why he needed to make it better.
“There’s no bread,” she said, as if that explained everything.
Letting go of the pantry door, Dorcas picked up the teapot. The porcelain lid rattled around as she started to shake.
His feet moved on their own and without thinking, he was behind her and gently squeezed her arms to steady the teapot before it slipped away. He hated to see her like that, hated that he was part of what had threatened her.
She leaned back against him and he shut his eyes, afraid to move.
“I could have died,” she whispered and his breath caught because it was the one thought that he’d been pushing away all day.
“You didn’t.” His hands squeezed her harder.
She winced and pulled away, setting the teapot down gingerly on the countertop. “I’m sorry I’m such a mess.” Dorcas wiped at her face.
Severus frowned at her back as she favored her arm. “You’re hurt.”
She shrugged away his concern and strained to lift her arm up to pull down the tea cups. He held the cabinet open, trying to help. She mumbled a thanks in his general direction, but otherwise avoided looking at him. He touched her shoulder and when she winced again, he had enough.
“Let me see it.”
She faced him, ready to argue but he sent her such a glare that it stopped her from saying anything. When she reluctantly removed her cardigan, it revealed a deep purple welt on her upper arm.
He brushed the loose sleeve of her blouse up and out of the way.
She touched the welt tentatively. “I didn’t think it was that bad.”
Before she could protest any further, he’d summoned his satchel and started applying a thick yellow paste to her injury. He tried to be as gentle as possible, holding her arm steady with his other hand.
It was a nasty bruise. If this was all she had after a Death Eater attack, she’d been very lucky.
His fingers lingered on a soft unmarred spot above the inside of her elbow. It was like the rest of her, soft and smooth in contrast to the nasty welt he’d just treated.
He should have done more than simply given her the information.
He let go, maybe too abruptly, not wanting to offend her by touching her for too long. When she looked at him curiously, he had no words for his shortcomings and turned away to wash his hands.
“I have something for you,” she said and went to the table where she’d put her Ministry folio. “It’s the documents you need to leave. When you’re ready.” She dropped a large envelope on the table.
He picked it up, not missing the small frown on her face. He didn’t feel too good about it either.
“Oh, and this too.” Dorcas dug around in her pants pocket and tossed him a plastic trinket. “It’s a Portkey to the flat. It bypasses the security that the Order set up for me here. Don’t try to Apparate inside the flat. It’ll be bad.” She turned away. “Anyway, use it as long as you need to. I guess.” She looked like she wanted to say something else, but stopped and sighed. “It’s late. I’m going to bed.” And she left him alone in the kitchen with the boiled water and the abandoned attempt at dinner.
After tucking the envelope inside his satchel, Severus turned the Portkey over in his palm. It was a miniature half-domed snow globe with a bobbling lady in a grass skirt whose hips swayed with the motion of the water. Glitter sparkled around her as she danced. He made a mental note to ask Dorcas later why she’d put a likeness of herself inside a plastic dome and what kind of effect the spell “Honolulu” had.
He had temporarily forgotten about his intent to leave. Actually, he couldn’t remember if he’d agreed to the papers or not. Apparently, it was what she expected of him. Maybe she was better off if he did. The Order had done a fair job of securing the flat. He could almost smell the strength of the wards.
Severus hadn’t planned on things being the way they were. He hadn’t had a plan for any of it. Well, he had a plan, but it hadn’t included Dorcas Meadowes.
Stay away, he reminded himself. She doesn’t need you anymore.