“Good morning,” he said lightly, receiving a wide smile in return. “Sleep well?”
“Very well, given the circumstances,” she replied, casting a worried glance at the gift-wrapped package in his hand. There was no disguising the gift of a broomstick, and she had an awful feeling that Remus was living up to the promise he had made at the cottage back in the summer.
“I have to leave. We have an errand to run for Dumbledore. I wanted to give you this before I left.” He held out the package to her, and she took it from him almost reluctantly.
“Oh, Remus, you shouldn’t have,” she said, slowly peeling back the wrapping to reveal a stunning, antique hazel broom that was beautifully handcrafted and clearly quite a few years old. At the back of her mind was the thought that he really shouldn’t have, because she would have to use it; it would seem churlish not to.
“I know you lack a broomstick. I also know you don’t particularly like riding them, however, you need to have one, Maeve. You need to be able to move quickly and without the aid of the Floo network or Apparation.” He looked at her face, well aware that she was probably wishing he had given her a nice book or a piece of jewellery, but Remus was ever practical. There would be a time for giving gifts that were pretty rather than useful; now was not that time.
“Thank you, Remus,” she said, and she meant it. Running her fingers down the length of its shaft, she felt the warmth of the wood and the power contained within the well-oiled hazel. Old brooms didn’t have the speed or manoeuvrability of the latest models, but they were unfailingly reliable, especially ones as fine as this one.
“I promise I will practice when I get back to Hogwarts,” she said earnestly.
“When were you last on a broom?” he asked. “Just out of interest.”
“Hmm… probably ten years ago, although it could be a little more.”
He rolled his eyes and laughed.
“You are going to need an awful lot of practice. You really should have kept it up.”
“I hate riding brooms though,” she said with a touch of defiance in her voice. “It’s so cold and draughty.”
“That is no excuse,” he said, giving her one last smile before becoming very serious.
“This errand for Dumbledore,” he began, but his throat became dry and he had to cough before continuing. “It’s serious and potentially dangerous. We have received some intelligence that a serious attack is about to take place. All Aurors and members of the Order are being mobilised. I will probably not be back at Hogwarts this term, and I’m not sure when I will see you again. You must take care of yourself. Better care than you took when you went running off into the forest, or that foolish thing you did yesterday.”
Her face clouded at the mention of the events of Christmas Day, forcing her stubbornness to the surface.
“Maeve,” he said in a very low voice. “You have got to stop putting yourself at risk. It’s not a game, and it’s not a competition between you and Harry as to who can be the most reckless. You have got to slow down and be more cautious.”
She gave a small nod, only partly accepting what he was saying. As far as she could see, both occasions he cited had resulted in something positive. Upsetting though both occurrences had been, without them she would not have met her real father, and Vervain Snape would still be enduring a living death. Admittedly, in both instances, she had fleetingly touched death itself, but ultimately, she had survived.
“I promise,” she said solemnly, “that I will not do anything imprudent or rash.”
Her eyes smiled at him, and although he didn’t quite believe her, he accepted her word without demur. She clapped her hands together, leaping from the covers in a swirl of white silk. Despite their near-fraternal relationship, Remus couldn’t help but avert his eyes at the sudden flash of legs she displayed as she bent to retrieve something from beneath the bed.
“I mustn’t forget your gift,” she said as she pulled out a large package and handed it to him. She leapt back up onto the bed, sitting cross-legged, watching with eager eyes as he began to tear open the silver wrapping paper. She looked on expectantly as he slowly revealed the many folds of light brown serge. It was only when he allowed the wrapping paper to fall away and held the robes up to the light that the delicate, embroidered symbols on the front could be seen. They glinted softly in the candlelight and she allowed herself a moment of pride in her achievement. It had taken two months of painstaking close work to embroider the magic into the fabric, but it was a powerful protective enchantment that would hopefully shield him from some of the danger he would be facing. He looked at her with deep affection.
“Did you do this?” he asked, his fingers skirting over the brown, silken thread that formed shapes and symbols that were beyond his understanding. She nodded and jumped off the bed to throw the robes around his shoulders.
“Do you like it?” she asked, unexpectedly acting like a child seeking approval from its parent. Stepping back, she surveyed the results, and was pleased to see that with a decent set of robes he was quite transformed. “You look very dapper.”
“I love it,” Remus said. He felt the ancient magic running through the warp and the weft of the fabric. It cloaked him with such affection that he was reluctant to remove the garment.
“Good,” she said happily. “My grandmother taught me those symbols. They aren’t failsafe, but they will afford you some reassurance when things become difficult.”
A sharp rap at the door made them both jump, and they heard Kingsley calling for Remus.
“It’s time, Remus,” he said in a composed voice. “We have to go.”
“I’m coming,” Remus replied before stepping closer to Maeve. “Come what may, Maeve, you must remember that, since I’ve known you, my life has been a better thing. I am grateful for everything you have brought me: laughter, a sense of fun, a terrifying few hours in a car, but most of all, love. I wasn’t convinced about the brother/sister act we had to perform, but it really wasn’t so hard to do with someone who feels as close as a real sister could ever have been. Take care.” He touched her cheek with a warm hand and she slipped between the fabric of his robe for one last hug. Beneath the thin silk of her nightdress she felt slender and brittle. Remus once again felt a wave of fear for her safety. She was so light and outwardly insubstantial when compared with the evil they faced that it was hard to see how she could survive.
“You must go,” she said, reluctantly pushing him away from her. “But when you can, you must let me know where you are and what you are doing.”
“Of course,” he replied. There was such finality to this parting that it tore at them both. Remus had a heavy heart; he turned away and opened her bedroom door. With one last flicker of recognition he was gone, and the door closed heavily behind him. She slipped a robe around her shoulders and padded out onto the corridor. Making her way to the head of the stairs, she found them all congregating in the hallway. Molly was weeping softly in the corner, both Charlie and Bill trying to comfort her, unsuccessfully. Arthur seemed to be the one shepherding the troops towards the door. She could see Hermione busily rushing about, handing out last-minute supplies to everyone, a forgotten hat here or an overlooked scarf there. There was something touching about the whole scene as kisses were given and received. The door swung quickly open to allow them all to file out into the dark, bitter morning with their brooms in their hands. Remus did not look back, and for that she was thankful. She would have hated to cry, as she stood alone and shivering on the cold staircase of Grimmauld Place.
The house echoed with emptiness when they had all left, and Maeve slipped silently back to her room to dress before coming down to breakfast. The smell of burnt toast and coffee greeted her as she opened the kitchen door. She was faced with the grim prospect of eating breakfast with a still weeping Molly. Harry sat there with a closed look on his face, Hermione ate in silence, and Ron was busily shoving food into his mouth. There was no one else in the kitchen, and as far as she was aware, the house. Harry gave her a half-smile as she sat next to him and she took a piece of the blackened toast, scraping away the worst of the scorched bread with her knife. Hermione was looking at her curiously, and Ron continued to shovel very dry scrambled eggs onto his fork.
“Is it true?” Harry asked her as she finished her last mouthful of toast.
“Is what true?” She looked at him questioningly. Molly stopped her quiet sobbing to half-heartedly tell Harry to leave Maeve alone, but her eyes were so red and swollen and she seemed so distracted that no one really took any notice of her.
“Did you see Snape’s mother die?” Harry said, and Hermione winced at his tactlessness.
“Yes,” Maeve answered before sipping coffee and regarding Harry with interest. “Why?”
“What was it like?”
“Harry!” Hermione interjected, scandalised by his brutal question.
“It’s all right, Hermione,” Maeve said evenly. “Harry is right to be curious.”
Maeve knew that Harry had felt somehow cheated by Sirius’ death; it had been so abrupt that he hadn’t been allowed to deal with its immediate effects. Sirius had been swept away so quickly that he hadn’t had the chance to spend a few minutes with Harry to explain his death, whereas Vervain had been happy to tell Maeve her reasons for going. That had afforded the woman some level of dignity in death. Crucially, it had been her choice, but Sirius had been torn cruelly from the world and those he loved.
“She was happy to go, Harry,” Maeve explained. “She had hung on for too long, and she needed to know that she could leave with her mind at ease.”
“But why, why was she happy to die? How can she have been happy to die?” Harry looked disbelieving. Despite the comforting words of Professor Dumbledore the previous summer when he had impressed upon Harry that death was merely the beginning of an even greater adventure, Harry still couldn’t understand how death could be anything other than the end.
“Because she had no life,” Maeve explained. “It is a terrible thing to simply exist, Harry, and be deprived of all the things that make life worth living. To be unable to communicate with loved ones, to be closed off from the world… it is unimaginable.” Maeve looked away then, reminded of her own life spent away from friends and unable to communicate. She had felt a small part of Vervain Snape’s pain and could understand why the woman had wanted to move on.
“Why’d she wait so long then?” Ron asked, after the last remnants of his egg had been swallowed.
“Because she felt she had to pass something on, and once she was happy that had been done she could let go.”
“What did she pass on?” Hermione asked. She was unable to suppress her curiosity now that Maeve seemed happy to answer questions.
“It doesn’t really matter what it was, the point is she felt able to let go.” Her answer was evasive, but Maeve knew she couldn’t share that particular piece of information with anyone.
“Did she speak to you?” Harry continued, his desperation to understand the mechanics of death overriding any thought for Maeve’s feelings.
“Yes, she did, but not in the way we are speaking now. She did it using her mind.” The memory was still vivid in Maeve’s head and she could see the woman as she looked towards the veil; the happiness was undeniable.
“And what did Snape do while you were talking to her?” Harry said, unable to keep the tinge of bitterness out of his voice.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I didn’t see him, although he was very upset, naturally, at his mother’s death.”
“I can’t imagine that slimy git being upset over anything,” Ron said with a smirk.
“Ronald Weasley!” Molly seemed to have been shaken out of her sorrow by her son’s harsh words. “How could you be so cruel? No matter what you think of Professor Snape, he has just lost his mother. A little respect wouldn’t go amiss.”
She swept towards Ron and began collecting the breakfast plates. “We have all got a lot on our minds, Ron, and you would do well to remember that!” she added as the plates clattered together dangerously in her hands.
“I know, Mum, I know.” Ron looked suitably abashed as he thought of his four brothers and father, all of whom had gone out that morning with no guarantees that they would return. It still didn’t allow him to feel any sympathy for Snape though; the Potions teacher still deserved everything he got, as far as Ron was concerned anyway.
Maeve pushed her chair back from the table, signifying the end of the discussion, and with a promise to be back in a minute, dashed up to her room. She returned with a handful of packages, which she immediately handed out to the glum faces that were still sitting around the kitchen table. They instantly brightened up at being given gifts, and Ron was first to have his open. It was a small, thin card wrapped in sparkling amber paper, but if the size of the present was disappointing then what it contained more than made up for it. Ron pulled out a white and orange envelope that, once opened, revealed a golden ticket.
“Oh, WOW!” he gasped as he waved it around in the air. “It’s a season ticket to all the Chudley Cannons’ home games. That’s amazing! They’re almost impossible to get. Thank you so much, Prof!” He grinned at Maeve, who laughed at his delighted response. Hermione opened hers next and discovered a year’s subscription to Witch Books, the monthly review magazine that surveyed all the latest wizarding books. The first magazine was included and she immediately buried her nose in it with a grateful thank you to Maeve. Molly received a voucher for a weekend at ‘The Witches’ Welcome Retreat ~ Perfect Pampering for the Stressed Witch.’ She gave Maeve a tearful hug in appreciation of the thoughtful gift, although secretly she had no idea when she would find the time to go.
Harry sat looking at the large, flat, rectangular package on the table in front of him for a few moments before gingerly pulling away the wrapping to reveal a textbook. It was covered in burgundy leather with the title impressed on the front in gilt letters, Complex Charms for the Advanced Student by Circe Mackintosh. Harry smiled his thanks as he picked up the book, but he was a little disappointed that it wasn’t something more Quidditch orientated. Still, a book of advanced Charms would certainly help him with his studies.
“Open it, Harry,” Maeve said gently.
He flicked open the cover to the flyleaf and could see neat handwriting that formed a message written in blue ink.
‘Property of Lily Evans. Please do not steal this book as it’s Charmed and I can’t be held responsible for the consequences.’
He held his breath as he ruffled a few of the pages. On every one there was some sort of annotation. They were all in the same neat handwriting, all intelligent observations on the Charms and the outcomes of practical experiments. His eyes grew slightly damp as he realised he was holding one of his mother’s schoolbooks in his hands. It was such a personal thing; much more so than photographs or even his father’s Invisibility Cloak. This book contained the essence of his mother, and he could almost smell her in its pages. He glanced up at Maeve with over-bright eyes and murmured a thank you.
“You are welcome, Harry. She lent it to me during our final term because I was never as good at Charms as she was, and she did everything to help me. Of course, when my… when Niall took me out of school, it was with all my other books. I never did get around to sending it back to her, perhaps I didn’t want to.” She smiled and laid a hand on Harry’s head. “There is no doubt in my mind she would want you to have it.”
Hermione looked a little tearful and Ron muttered something about it being ‘a lovely idea’ before leaving the table to help his mother with the washing up. This was an event so rare that Molly looked at him in shock for a moment before handing him the plates to put away.
“I think I will go and read it in my room,” Harry said with a sigh. He looked around at the four people in the room and felt they had been joined by a fifth. He could feel his mother’s presence as he had never done before, and as his fingers moved over the burgundy leather, he could hear her laughter… not the scream that the Dementors brought, but a faint, joyous, girlish laugh. He glanced quickly at Maeve, and her knowing smile led him to believe she had heard it too.
Maeve looked around quickly, suddenly aware there was someone missing, a fact that was confirmed by the unopened present left on the table.
"Where's Ginny?" she asked.
"Luna and her father came round first thing this morning and asked if she would like to spend a few days with them,” Hermione said as she stood up and took her plates over to Molly. “They seem to be getting on very well, and I think it will be nice for Ginny to have a break from all of this.”
“A break from all of what?” Ron demanded.
“Well it’s not exactly the happiest place at the moment, is it?” she answered, throwing a meaningful look towards Molly Weasley. “Things are a little strained, Ron, or hadn’t you noticed?”
“Yeah,” Ron muttered. “I suppose so.”
The rest of the day was spent in listless boredom. Maeve couldn’t settle to anything and found she was constantly looking out of various windows throughout the house. There was no way of contacting anyone and she had no idea of Severus’ state of mind, so she didn’t want to risk an owl to either the hospital or his house. Harry was happily spending time with his mother, care of the Charms book, and Hermione was busy reading her new magazine, circling anything of interest to persuade her parents to buy at a later date. Ron had resigned himself to reading the History of the Chudley Cannons that the twins had bought him for Christmas, and Molly was knitting furiously in the drawing room. Expectation hung heavy in the air; only Molly knew the true nature of the mission, which was why she had been crying so concertedly throughout the day. Maeve had asked her about it but she had refused to be drawn. As far as Molly was concerned, it was bad enough she carried the burden without passing it on to others.
At five past three Maeve felt such a feeling of melancholy overcome her that tears came unbidden from her eyes and she found herself crying in the hallway, much to her own consternation. A chill had filled the house and the curtain that covered Mrs Black fluttered out between the cloaks. Echoes of the old woman’s poison filled the cold space, making Maeve shiver violently before opening the front door. She had no idea why she had opened it or why, given the sudden temperature drop, she should be allowing even colder air into the house. She stood on the doorstep in full view of the empty square that was shrouded in snow and wondered what was happening to their friends.
The black-robed figure stood out in sharp relief against the winter-white snow, its shoulders hunched against the softly drifting flakes, and without seeing the face Maeve knew it was Severus. With little thought for her safety or the security of Grimmauld Place, and thus failing to heed Remus’ warnings, she stepped out into the darkening December day to meet Severus in the street. He glanced up as he heard her approach, and immediately his face showed displeasure.
“What are you doing outside?” he barked at her, his voice hoarse and his eyes deadened. “The door is open and unguarded.”
He clasped her arm tightly, propelling her towards the open door, muttering curses as he did so. Once inside, he locked the cold out and faced her with a face more chilly than any natural element.
“That was foolish,” he said, unconsciously echoing Remus’ sentiments. “Where are the rest of them?”
“Why?” she asked, awareness creeping over her that this wasn’t a social call. Something in his eyes alerted her to the fact he brought news, and she realised her sudden melancholy had simply been a warning of this.
“I need to speak to you all, including the children.” His face showed real disdain at the mention of the children, but she ignored it and led him up to the drawing room where Molly was still clacking her needles together in fury. When she saw Severus’ foreboding figure, she shot to her feet, sending the ball of knitting wool rolling nervously onto the floor.
“Severus?” The name was a question filled with hope and fear.
“Sit down, Mrs Weasley,” he said abruptly, and she did so with a desperate glance at Maeve, who slipped out into the corridor and shouted for Harry, Hermione and Ron at the top of her voice. Severus rolled his eyes wildly at the racket but he couldn’t help shooting Molly a mildly concerned glance. What he had to divulge would not be easy for her to hear, and he hoped that she could keep her histrionics to a minimum. He hated having to do this sort of thing, so he was considerably happier when Maeve re-entered the room. If Molly Weasley did have hysterics, at least Maeve would be able to deal with her.
Once all the inhabitants of the house were congregated in the drawing room with faces that displayed a mixture of alarm and dislike, Maeve closed the door with an ominous crack. She stood at Severus’ side in a subconscious display of support that, although he didn’t openly acknowledge it, he certainly felt.
“I have news,” he said brusquely. “It is not good.”
Molly quivered and pulled Ron closer to her.
“Azkaban has fallen,” he said, his icy tones making the news even more excruciating. “There was a battle. We lost several people.”
“Oh no,” Molly’s voice was weak with dread. “The children?” She thought of the clock that she had brought with her from the Burrow. She had left it in the kitchen, all its hands pointing to Mortal Peril; they never pointed anywhere else any more.
“Who, Professor?” Hermione asked urgently.
“Several people that you don’t know,” he said curtly to Hermione before returning his attention to Molly. “But,” he hesitated only briefly, “I’m afraid Bill was killed by one of the Dark Lord’s servants.”
He turned away from the blank faces that bored into him, wanting more information than he could give. Death seemed to be everywhere and with death came people seeking comfort. He felt Maeve’s presence beside him and knew he had yet to deal with her and the circumstances surrounding his mother’s death, a prospect that he wasn’t relishing.
Everyone and everything in the house heard Molly’s keening cry while Ron’s horrified face looked at his friends in disbelief.
“Not my Bill?” Molly said finally when her cry had died down. “That’s not possible, he can’t be dead… not my boy. It can’t be true!”
“Oh, Mrs Weasley,” Hermione said as she rose from the chair and went to comfort the distraught woman.
“What happened to the Death Eaters in Azkaban?” Harry said in a hard voice; he could visualise the triumphant face of both Lucius and Draco Malfoy. The thought made him feel sick inside.
Severus turned slowly.
“What do you think happened to them, Mr Potter? They are free.” Severus glared at Harry, who immediately leapt to his feet in anger.
“And I bet you’re pleased about that, aren’t you? All your old friends out of prison!” His green eyes blazed as he squared up to his former Potions master. “Is it tempting to join them again?”
“Harry!” Maeve snapped suddenly. “Don’t do this.”
“No, let him continue with his fantasies,” Severus said, looking at Harry with contempt. “His father was just the same; couldn’t see the truth even when it was placed before him.”
“The only truth is that you killed Sirius,” Harry said, his voice rising dramatically. “You did nothing to help him, or the Order, and it resulted in his death.”
“Harry, you know that’s not true!” Maeve immediately put herself between Severus and Harry. She was aware that at this time, a confrontation would not be helpful, especially as Molly had just learned of the death of her son. “I suggest you help Ron, you of all people should be able to offer him some comfort now.”
Harry glanced across at his friend, who was watching them with a blank expression on his face; he was busy pretending he hadn’t heard the bad news and that it would all be put right in a few minutes. Harry made a move towards Severus and then thought better of it. Instead, he walked across to his friend and took him by the arm.
“C’mon, Ron,” he said. “Let’s get out of here, give your mum some time to talk about things.”
Whatever those things were, Ron didn’t care as he stood up and allowed Harry to lead him from the room while Hermione watched them go with an anguished look. Molly continued to grip her arm tightly and Hermione felt the pressing need to stay with her.
“How, Severus?” Molly asked. “How did my son die?”
“I don’t know the details. It was a hurried owl from Professor Dumbledore. Azkaban is deserted, the prisoners have fled and there were a number of casualties. We will have to wait for more details.” He watched her warily, still expecting a further outburst of emotion.
She began to sob quietly again. Severus gave Maeve a look that clearly said he didn’t like all this weeping and wailing. Hermione seemed to be doing an admirable job of comforting the distressed Molly, so Maeve hurriedly led Severus from the room and down into the kitchen. It was warmer and there was the promise of some liquid refreshment.
“Have you heard anything from Remus?” she asked as she poured him a glass of Firewhisky.
“No,” he said quickly, wincing at the mention of Lupin “I have heard as much as I have already told you.”
He took in her hurt expression and he experienced a moment of remorse for his curt manner.
“I’m sorry,” he said in a rare display of apology. “We knew this would come, so we shouldn’t be surprised.” He drank deeply from the glass; the bitter sting hit the back of his throat, working its way to his stomach, where it burned like a dormant flame.
“I can’t believe Bill is dead,” she said, remembering the laughing young man of just a few nights ago and his comforting words to his mother that very morning. It had taken a death to bring home the terror they were about to face; until you knew someone who had died, it was all just a vague threat, an uncomfortable thought at the back of your mind. But now it was real and it meant they were all vulnerable.
“We knew,” he insisted. “We knew what this war would mean.”
“But that doesn’t make it any easier!” she shouted. “It doesn’t make it any less dreadful or futile or unnecessary.”
“Don’t be such an idealist, Maeve,” he said bitterly. “How can you be so naïve, with your background? I would have thought that amount of reality would prepare you for anything. Your father having your mother killed, your grandmother dying for you… surely you must realise that life is one big series of sacrifices and disappointments.”
“What did you say?” she said, her eyes burning dangerously as she looked into Severus’ clouded face.
“Must I repeat it?” he sighed.
“What did you say about my father killing my mother?” She crossed the kitchen and grabbed his arms with such ferocity that he dropped his glass and it shattered against the hard stone of the kitchen floor. He looked into her for a few moments and it was long enough for him to realise that she had no idea about the moral crime Niall O’Malley had committed all those years ago. He couldn’t understand why Dumbledore hadn’t told her; it hadn’t been common knowledge and there had been no trial, but it had been recognised that the death of Grainne O’Malley had been a direct result of her husband’s imprudence.
“Niall killed my mother?” she said. “That man killed my mother?” Her face twisted in hatred and pain. Severus felt her nails dig into his flesh through his robe.
“I thought you knew,” he said, carefully prising her hands from his arms.
“No, of course I didn’t know.” Her face hardened and she bit down hard on her bottom lip. “What did he do?”
Severus sighed. It seemed he had inadvertently walked from one emotional minefield into another, and he was beginning to wish he had never opened his mouth.
“He lost her in a bet,” he began reluctantly. “He gambled heavily, and not just within his own circle of friends. He bet her life on the turn of a card and he lost. It was pure wickedness that killed your mother… a particularly nasty wizard who insisted he claim his winnings.”
“What was that wizard’s name?” she asked, her voice a rasp.
“I never knew, but Dumbledore would know,” Severus said as she bored into him with eyes that burned with undisguised hatred for Niall O’Malley.
“How could he bet my mother’s life? What sort of evil game was he playing, and what sort of twisted soul would claim the life of another because they won a card game? This is never-ending,” she said despairingly. “Do the lies go on forever? Do the revelations never stop? At least you knew all the things your father did; at least you were under no illusions about your family. I always knew mine were a little unusual, but this… it’s like hearing of her death all over again.”
“No, the lies don’t go on forever,” he said, a gentle note creeping into his voice. “But you have to learn to deflect the hurt they caused and continue to cause, even when you know the truth.”
A noise from the hallway brought their conversation to an abrupt halt and Severus quickly drew his wand. He rushed from the kitchen in a flurry of black robes and Maeve followed him with her wand at the ready. They needn’t have worried though, because standing in the hall was a weary-looking Professor Dumbledore with his hat slightly askew and snow clinging to his long beard.
“Where is Molly?” he asked resignedly, as they both put their wands away.
“In the drawing room,” Maeve said from behind Severus. “Why?”
“I’m afraid the news is much worse than we first thought. It’s Arthur.” Dumbledore looked more distressed than she had ever seen him and she found herself clutching at Severus’ robes. For once, he didn’t twitch them out of her hands. In fact, as Dumbledore mounted the stairs to the drawing room, Severus took her in his arms and allowed her to stay there. Strangely, she found little comfort in the gesture, and as fresh wails of despair came from the drawing room, she recognised the fact that in order to get through the immediate future she would have to harden her heart to the bad news that would undoubtedly continue to arrive.
Severus was relieved to find she did not dissolve into tears and was more than a little thankful when she pulled away from him, straightening her shoulders defiantly.
Dumbledore, having delivered his bombshell, was now making his way down the stairs as Harry and Ron came running at the sound of Molly’s fresh cries.
“What’s happened now?” Harry asked.
“Ron, I think you should go and see your mother,” Dumbledore said flatly. As Ron obediently turned towards the drawing room Harry made to follow him, but Dumbledore called his name.
“Harry, I need you,” he said quietly. “And you and Maeve,” he added, turning to Severus.
As Harry joined the trio in the hallway Dumbledore laid a hand on Harry’s shoulder.
“I need you to return to Hogwarts. It is the safest place I can think of for all of you. There is no doubt that you are probably very high up on Voldemort’s list of people he wants dead, and whilst I think Harry is not in immediate danger, I still need you safe.”
He turned to Maeve and gave her a sad look.
“We have to move now, and move quickly. From what we can gather from information gained during this skirmish at Azkaban, you are being actively hunted, and we must move you immediately. I am fairly sure Grimmauld Place is secure, but I can’t take any chances, and Hagrid is waiting outside to escort you all back to Hogwarts. Between the four of you, I am confident you will be able to protect yourselves against an attack. The Death Eaters will be too busy celebrating their escape to move tonight, but you never know,” he mused. “I wouldn’t put it past Lucius Malfoy to try and gain some glory from this. He needs to regain Voldemort’s trust.”
“Very well, Professor,” Severus said calmly. He reached across to the coat stand and took down Maeve’s robe, handing it to her as Harry grabbed his own.
“Make sure you all have your wands. Everything else will be sent on to you,” Dumbledore said to the sombre threesome as he opened the door and looked uneasily out into the darkness.
Hagrid’s huge figure stood there with three Thestrals cropping the grass in the middle of the square, and by his side stood the unmistakable figure of Buckbeak. The Hippogriff was an abrupt reminder to Harry of the events of two years ago when they had rescued Sirius from the clutches of the Dementors with the help of Buckbeak and a Time-Turner. The pain of the memory was tempered somewhat by the sight of Hagrid, and Harry’s eyes lit up as he took in the gigantic figure of their Care of Magical Creatures teacher. He had been absent for so long that Harry had been more concerned for his safety than at any other time. He grinned widely as Harry peered out from behind Maeve and Severus.
“Well then, ‘Arry. Long time no see, eh?” He grinned from ear to ear and Harry rushed out into the night to give him a huge, grateful hug. “Seems I’m always swoopin’ down to get you out of some tight spot now, doesn’t it?”
He stepped back and nodded towards the professors, who stood watching from the doorway.
“Come along then?” he said, nodding at the Thestrals. “I’ll be ridin’ Buckbeak and the rest of you will be takin’ the Thestrals. D’you think you can manage all right?” he asked, looking doubtfully at Maeve and Severus, who both nodded, although Maeve’s nod was considerably more confident than Severus’. Maeve paused for a moment, looking towards Dumbledore with questioning eyes. The news about her mother had made her hungry for some sort of revenge, despite the fact she wasn’t a vengeful person. As the headmaster gazed back at her, she realised now wasn’t the time. She would put this to the back of her mind for now and let it fester, but at some point she would need to take care of it.
Severus and Maeve moved quickly out into the pale moonlight to join Harry, who immediately grasped the mane of the nearest Thestral and flung himself up onto the creature’s back. Maeve followed suit; her years spent on horseback meant she could easily lift herself onto the back of the creature. She looked instantly at home. The same could not be said for Severus, however, who took several minutes to get on top of the thing as it moved away from him and attempted to butt his legs as he endeavoured to mount it. Once up on the back of the black being, he looked extremely uncomfortable and gave a low groan as it suddenly thrashed its wings and rose into the dark sky.
The three Thestrals flew in complete synchronisation behind Hagrid, who the lead on Buckbeak. Their wings beat in unison as they made their way through the cold and unwelcoming night towards Hogwarts and the relative safety of its walls. The moon dipped and flickered behind clouds as they occasionally flew through a snowstorm, which left them clinging to their mounts in shivering misery. Only Hagrid seemed unconcerned by the discomfort caused by the journey as he kept a close eye on his charges. Maeve occasionally stole a glance at Severus, but in the darkness she could see nothing more than a black outline occasionally brought into focus by the appearance of the waning moon. She was thankful the Thestrals knew where they were going because in this blackness she would have had no idea.
The journey proved to be a long one. The first warm tinges of dawn were streaking the sky when they caught their first flash of the lake, and Harry gave a relieved cry when the shimmering turrets of Hogwarts finally came into view. It was the end of the beginning of the war, and they were all grimly aware that things were about to get much worse.