He had managed to avoid Professor Snape although, annoyingly, he seemed to be monopolising Maeve’s time, and Harry barely saw her either. He was rather put out by this; what could they possibly be talking about that took up so much time? All Harry had ever seen them do was argue and snipe at each other in a particularly vindictive way, so he couldn’t understand this sudden closeness. Hagrid was equally preoccupied with something that he was keeping secret from everyone. He had constructed what looked like a stable using wood cut from the forest. There was no doubt he had used a little magic in the building because there wasn’t a nail in sight, and this added further to Harry’s suspicions that Hagrid’s battered umbrella was, indeed, the remnants of the wand that had been snapped years ago when Hagrid had been expelled.
Three days after they had arrived back at Hogwarts, Harry decided to take a walk in the grounds. He came to the conclusion that, as long as he kept close to the school building, he would get away with it. The Ministry had spared two Aurors, who regularly patrolled the grounds and building, but they had been keeping a closer eye on Maeve than on him, which was quite all right as far as Harry was concerned. He could hear the clatter of buckets and the noise of hooves from behind Hagrid’s hut. Harry wondered what Hagrid was doing with the Thestrals, but before he could head off to find out, he heard a slightly raised voice and recognised it as that of the Potions master. The voice came from a bench that was partially shielded by several tall conifers, and he found that if he moved closer, he could hear without being seen.
“You would be mad to even try it,” Severus was saying. “When you mentioned it before I thought you were talking abstractions, not reality.”
“But Dumbledore is convinced it would work.” Harry was unsurprised to hear Maeve’s voice reply.
“Professor Dumbledore is a great man. However, when it comes to Potions he is not an expert. The combination of an untested potion with Wolfsbane could be disastrous.”
Harry was instantly intrigued. They must be talking about something to do with werewolves, and that could mean only one person.
“But he could stop taking the Wolfsbane. We could conduct a controlled experiment; keep Remus safe while we tried the new potion.” She was pleading with Severus now, and Harry could just imagine the tall man’s frosty face as he looked down his long nose at her.
“A controlled experiment on a werewolf? That’s one of the most foolish things I have ever heard you say. And I seem to remember you chastising me when I referred to Lupin as anything other than Remus, yet here you are, planning to use him like a laboratory experiment to prove a point about a potion.”
“That is not true!” Maeve’s voice rose angrily. “It’s to help Remus. I don’t care if I never use the potion again, as long as it’s of some benefit to him.”
“Please, stop indulging in nonsense,” he sneered. “You would be more likely to kill him than cure him. A witch as skilled in Potions as you should be well aware of the dangers inherent in such a rash idea.”
“It was Dumbledore’s idea,” she reminded him. “He mentioned it to me when I first arrived here, and he mentioned it to me again the other day.”
Harry heard her stand up and was about to move away, when Severus seemed to give in a little.
“Where is this formula?” he asked coldly. “I suppose there is little harm in taking a look. At least then I will have firm grounds for dismissing the idea.”
“It’s in my room, in one of my grandmother’s old books. I can fetch it for you later if you’d like,” Maeve replied with a satisfied ring in her voice.
“I don’t particularly like. However, if it stops another of your madcap schemes, then I fear I must,” he replied.
Harry could hear the soft rustle of Severus’ robe as he moved, so Harry quickly stepped back. Unfortunately, he didn’t see the tree stump behind him, and as he flew backwards he couldn’t help but give a small yelp of surprise. A hot feeling crept up his face as he realised he was about to be discovered eavesdropping, but fate stepped in in the form of Hagrid, whose voice rang out just as Severus was about to shoot round the edge of the trees. The slight hesitation caused by Hagrid’s call gave Harry the time to scramble back along the path and round the corner of the school, just as Severus reached the place Harry had been standing.
Severus looked around warily, but the footprints left in the snow only confirmed that someone had been there; they left no indication as to whom that person may have been, although Severus had his suspicions.
“Mr Potter,” he whispered under his breath. “Sneaking around again, are we?”
He quickly returned to Maeve, answering her questioning glance with a shake of his head.
“No idea,” he said. “Probably a stray student, there are a few of them around.”
“Now then!” Hagrid boomed as he reached them. “I’ve got a surprise for you, Professor O’Malley, an’ I think yer goin’ ter like it.”
“Really?” Maeve asked apprehensively. She was only too aware of Hagrid’s reputation when it came to surprises, and she didn’t know whether to be pleased or afraid.
“I do,” he said, with a very satisfied expression on his face. “An’ I’ll take yer to it now, if you’d like.”
“Ermm.” She glanced at Severus, who allowed a rare, satisfied smile to play on his lips.
“Oh, yes,” he breathed acidly. “I think you should go with Hagrid. I’m sure that whatever it is, you will love it.”
He gave a little snort of amusement, before turning around and heading back to the school. He was still smiling when he walked through the main doors.
“Well then, Hagrid.” Maeve watched Severus walk away with a disgusted expression on her face. He could at least have offered her the moral support of his presence, if he was going to encourage Hagrid in such a way. “I suppose we had better see what you have for me, hadn’t we?” She forced a smile as she followed the shuffling giant of a man back to his hut.
She couldn’t help but be curious when she clapped eyes on the haphazard construction that had been erected behind Hagrid’s home. It was a square structure, which was undoubtedly a stable, but quite unlike any stable that she had ever seen before. The wood was roughly-cut planks that still had their bark on them and the occasional bit of moss, while the roof was made from the branches of fir trees, which sat atop the stable with no obvious means of anchoring them down. The bottom door was closed, but the top door hung open, apparently without the need for hinges or bolts.
“It’s lovely,” she said, looking up at Hagrid with a questioning expression on her face. “But what’s it for?”
“Well, why don’t yer ‘ave a look?” Hagrid asked. His grin grew ever wider, making Maeve even more nervous. There was now a faint rustle coming from the stable as something moved around inside it.
“It won’t bite, will it? Whatever it is?” Maeve asked as she walked hesitantly towards the doors.
Hagrid frowned for a moment, as if the question had never occurred to him before.
“Well now, I don’ know,” he said. “It’s got a lot of teeth, but they’re not right sharp, so yer should be fine.” He gave her an encouraging smile, folding his huge arms across his ample chest.
She reached the door and heard a soft whickering sound as a large head loomed across the open half. Huge brown eyes stared out, and the head suddenly bobbed up and down merrily as the animal pawed the ground in excitement.
“Oh!” Maeve exclaimed. “Oh, I don’t believe it!” Her voice dropped to a whisper as she breathed the horse’s name. “Saoirse.”
Her face radiated happiness as she ran her hand down the warm neck of her horse, which immediately began rooting around in her robes for a treat.
“No, you naughty beast,” she laughed, tapping the chestnut nose playfully.
“See, I knew you’d be pleased,” Hagrid said proudly. “Brought her back meself. Took a ruddy good concealment charm to get her out of that old ‘ouse of yours. There were a few hairy moments, I can tell yeh. But here she is.”
Hagrid watched as Maeve opened the door and led the horse out onto the grass.
“She’s very pretty like,” he said as he watched the happy reunion. “Very pretty, but doesn’t do much. Just eats from wha’ I can see. Do they ‘ave any magic in them?”
“No,” Maeve smiled. “No magic. They are just good friends and fun to ride, exhilarating in fact.”
“And that’s a strange name,” he said. “Saor… whatsit.”
“It’s pronounced Seersha.” She laughed as he struggled to articulate the name.
The horse whirled around her, clearly ready for a trip out that didn’t involve a huge human staring at her waiting for her to do something unusual.
“But how on earth did you know about her? Why get her out now, after all this time?” Maeve was looking at the protruding ribs and the welts that scarred her flank, and with a sinking feeling, realised she had not been treated well.
“It were Professor Dumbledore that ordered it. Said he wanted everything of yours out of that place, and we managed it,” Hagrid said, with a pleased look on his face. “Every last thing. It’s all up in yer rooms now. Well, except yer friend here.”
She shook her head in disbelief.
“I can’t believe Dumbledore would risk someone’s life to get my things away from Abbeylara. That’s just madness, Hagrid.” She looked at him with a puzzled expression on her face.
“He’d ‘ave had a reason. Professor Dumbledore always ‘as a reason. Maybe there’s something in there he thinks you should ‘ave.”
“Well, I can’t imagine what.” She grabbed at the animal’s halter. “Not today, madam,” she said to the horse, before leading her back into the stable and closing the door. The horse’s head dropped sadly, but Maeve rubbed her nose and promised to come back the following day. Saoirse was the perfect name for her. It meant freedom in the Irish language. For many years Maeve had only felt free when she rode the horse across the fields and hills of Abbeylara.
“All her things are in the hut, the saddle and whatnot. I’ll give ‘em a polish for you later.” Hagrid glanced up at the sky as snow began to fall again. “You’d best be getting yerself back up to the castle; you don’t want ter be out in this weather again.”
Maeve felt the first flakes land on her face and found she couldn’t agree more. The storms they had endured when they had flown up here contained enough snow to last her a lifetime. With several more hurried words of appreciation to Hagrid, Maeve sped away towards the school entrance.
The school was still very much an echoing, empty place, with only a handful of students and one or two teachers. A shadow in an alcove reminded her that there were also two Aurors around and they were dogging her steps wherever she went. They were very good at their job as she rarely saw them, but she could feel their presence, and it was unsettling. Firenze met her as he came out of the staff room and bowed his head to her.
“I was sorry to hear about your friends,” he said quietly.
“Well,” she began, “I barely knew them, although I do know Molly Weasley quite well and, of course, Ron Weasley is one of my students. What happened is a sad, but inevitable, outcome of this war.”
“I understand that Azkaban is now open,” he said, keeping his luminous eyes on her face.
“Yes, apparently so.” Her own eyes wavered as she caught another glimpse of a shadow by the door. “It will be no easy task for the Hit Wizards, keeping track of all those criminals.”
“You seem distracted,” he observed.
“Oh, it’s these Aurors,” she explained. “I know they are here for my own good, but it’s so odd knowing they are following me around. You’d think Harry would be far more important than I am.”
“Ah.” Firenze gave her a knowing look. “You see, Voldemort now knows that you are alive and he must eliminate you before he can get to Harry. For him to face Harry with you alive would be a dangerous move on his part.”
“Well, I don’t know why,” she said irritably. “All these bloody prophecies! It’s all so vague. How can one know what they mean?”
“The future is not for us to know in detail.” Firenze closed his eyes for a moment, as if looking into another world. “It is enough to know that you must keep yourself safe, if only for Harry’s sake.”
She regarded him with dissatisfaction before hurriedly excusing herself. There had been members of her own family who claimed to have the gift when she was growing up, and it had always been so annoying to be told of hazy, distant events that might or might not happen. She would much rather have gone through life blissfully and totally unaware of what could befall her. As she climbed the stairs, she found Harry going in the opposite direction with several library books under his arm. He grinned sheepishly at her, and she couldn’t help wondering why he looked so guilty.
“Loose end, Harry?” she asked brightly.
“Very. All I seem to have are loose ends these days.” He stopped walking, feeling a degree of pleasure at finally finding her alone. “Are you busy?”
“No, not especially,” she admitted. “Do you want to come to my rooms for a pumpkin juice, perhaps a bit of Occlumency practice?”
He grimaced at the latter, but was more than pleased to accept the offer of a drink. With a bit of luck, Severus wouldn’t stick his nose in for a decent interval. They walked together to her rooms and she broached the subject of Ron very gently.
“Have you heard anything from London?” she asked, carefully keeping her voice light.
“Yes,” he replied in a mumble. “Hermione sent me an owl yesterday. Ron’s gone a bit quiet, but it’s Mrs Weasley she’s most worried about.”
“Molly’s had an awful shock,” Maeve acknowledged with a shake of her head. “It’s even worse having poor Arthur in hospital.”
“I think that’s what is really getting to them all. They have to go there every day and just watch him. Hermione says he lies in the bed, all grey-faced and not moving.” Harry stopped walking and looked uncomfortable. He clearly wanted to say something, but having been soundly told off by Hermione a few days before for his bluntness with Maeve over Severus’ mother, he was reluctant to dive in.
“What is it, Harry?” she asked.
“Well, I just wondered if it was anything like… you know… Snape’s mum.” He looked at her in confusion. “If she could just let go, then maybe Mr Weasley could do the same. Maybe he’s tired of lying there and will just give up.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” she said. Her face wore a very intense expression. “I think Arthur Weasley has got far too much to hang on for, don’t you? I don’t think he’s about to walk away from his family now. Let’s hope the Healers can come up with a solution to the problem. I’m positive Arthur will be patient in the meantime.”
“Do you really think they will come up with a cure?” Harry asked doubtfully. His recent experiences had made him believe he shouldn’t expect too much from life.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “There’s nothing certain in life, is there? St Mungo’s has the best Healers in their respective fields, so if they can’t come up with a cure, I shouldn’t imagine anyone can.”
Harry began to walk on again, looking tired and ill at ease, and she followed him. If she was having trouble coping with the realisation that this was the start of the real horror, then how on earth was he managing?
“Hermione’s asked if I will be going to Bill’s funeral,” he said, stopping outside her door and waiting for her to push it open.
“And do you want to?”
“It’s not a question of wanting to, is it?” he retorted. “Professor Dumbledore won’t let me; I’m not allowed to leave Hogwarts.”
She made a sympathetic face and closed the door behind them, knowing only too well that enforced confinement was hard to take. Harry gasped at the scene that greeted them, and even Maeve took a step back.
“What happened?” Harry said, his mouth gaping at the mess that covered every conceivable surface in the office.
“Hagrid happened,” she said, reaching down to touch the edge of a dark table that stood between them and the rest of the room. “These are all my things from home. Hagrid was sent to get them.” She couldn’t believe how much had been deposited on the floor. There were tables and chairs, books, clothes, curtains, items of silver, and huge oak chests that she knew would be stuffed with linen and sewing items. As she moved through the disorder, she could see a few items that weren’t even hers; there was a gold pen that belonged to Niall, and a painting that she knew belonged to the older O’Malleys, but which had always been her favourite.
“You have a lot of stuff!” Harry exclaimed, as he followed her through to the other room. She had gone on through to the bedroom, and her scream made Harry run after her to find her hugging an oldish man with greying hair, tears of joy rolling down her face and gibberish coming from her mouth. Harry’s face clouded. He couldn’t believe this — just when he had thought he would be able to have a few hours of her company to himself, he found he was thwarted yet again. He stood clenching and unclenching his fists in frustration as she continued gabbling in a language he didn’t understand, and from the sound of it, didn’t want to. He guessed it was Irish. It was the old man who finally coughed and pushed her gently away, bringing her to her senses. She turned round to Harry with glistening eyes.
“This is Liam,” she said breathlessly. “He was my butler at Abbeylara. I just can’t believe it.”
Harry nodded sullenly, but she didn’t notice his dark mood and turned back to Liam, who stood there thoroughly embarrassed, yet pleased that he was receiving such a warm welcome.
“Liam, this is Harry Potter.” She introduced Harry with a proud gleam in her eye. “He may not be my best student, but he’s certainly my favourite.”
“Pleased to meet you, Harry.” Liam inclined his head towards Harry, who immediately felt like he was being very selfish for begrudging her this reunion.
“Pleased to meet you too,” he said in a shy voice.
“Liam has known me since I was a child,” she said to Harry. “If you want to know what a horrid child I was, Liam is your man. He could tell you all the stories.”
It was only then that she noticed Liam was holding a duster. As she looked around the bedroom, she realised it was immaculately tidy and filled with appropriate items from Abbeylara. A cut glass vase filled with flowers and foliage stood on the windowsill, and the large portrait of her mother took pride of place over the fire.
“Oh my goodness,” she said, as her mother smiled down on her. Grainne O’Malley then gave Harry a very affectionate look, and he didn’t need telling who she was. The eyes said it all. Maeve felt a surge of wild anger across her heart as Grainne’s peaceful eyes gazed down. It was far harder to deal with her death now that she knew the truth. She couldn’t help wondering if Liam knew the truth. He had been with the family all her life. She would have to ask him at some point, but only when she was ready to deal with it.
“I’m having a tidy up, Miss,” Liam said. “It’s a bit of a midden at the moment, what with all the things we brought, but sure, I’ll have it sorted out soon. Why don’t you take Mr Potter away out somewhere while I finish up here? It’ll not take me long.” He winked at Harry, who smiled back in gratitude.
“Well, if you are sure.” She looked again at the old man. “We have a lot of catching up to do, don’t we? I want to know everything.”
“Aye, well,” he said with a bitter look on his face. “I’m not certain you do, Miss, not certain you do at all.”
Abbeylara was dressed in a shadow of darkness that had been growing in intensity since Niall O’Malley had returned, brandishing a piece of parchment bearing Maeve’s signature. This was the one thing he’d needed before he felt Abbeylara could be used for the purposes he intended. Not only would he gain a degree of power by allowing the house to be used as a gathering place, he would also become something of a confidant to the head of the rising force of Dark magic that threatened to eclipse all else. He had only seen the black-cloaked figure once; it had been the briefest of glimpses, as Voldemort swept through the entrance and up the stairs with a gibbering man and a tall, once splendid-looking woman trailing in his wake. He had felt the potency of their darkness as they made his house their home, and he had the occasional moment of delicious fear when he thought of the path he had taken. This made his earlier escapades with Dark magic pale into insignificance; the dalliances with mysterious figures in dingy inns had been nothing compared to his current situation.
Niall allowed himself to dream. He dreamt of playing host to the legendary Death Eaters of the past and the new heroes of the future. He could see the stunning dark witches that would pander to his every need. He could see the money and the influence he would have, courtesy of Voldemort, and best of all, he would make Voldemort give him that bitch, Maeve. He would see that the daughter went the same way as the mother, only this time he would watch it himself and take a great deal of pleasure from it.
Niall had never been a very clever man. He made endless, ill-advised gambles, and had managed to lose most of the O’Malley fortune. Despite spending years trying to find it, he had never located Grainne’s money, and so wresting the house from her daughter had been something of a coup for him. At least he now had an asset to be used if things ever got really out of hand. His last crop of friends had all drifted on as the man’s money had dwindled, and so when Malachy Meany had approached him with this current plan, he had been only to happy too comply.
He knew something serious was about to happen when the flock of Death Eaters had gathered on the main lawn on the morning of St Stephen’s day. The day before had been spent not opening Christmas presents or eating large dinners, but poring over plans and lots of loud battle practice in the paddock, which was now pockmarked from the effects of many stray spells. There was a low buzz of excitement from the younger men and women; the newest faces were the keenest to get started that morning as they received their instructions. Niall watched as the imperious-looking woman he had seen trailing behind Voldemort assembled them all in front of the steps and began to bark out last-minute instructions and encouragement. She finished her pep talk, sweeping back into the house with a click of shoes on the parquet floor and the vague odour of lilies floating around her. She slipped into the library, and he quietly left his position in the ballroom, crossing the entrance hall so that he was in a position to listen to her ensuing conversation.
“Are they ready, Bella?” The voice made him shiver with excitement. It had a slick quality to it, but always with an undertone of immense control. This was the sort of man Niall would have liked to have been had he not been born a Squib. He had told no one about this yet, and it was a problem he was repeatedly pushing to the back of his mind, but if things carried on the way they were going, he might never be found out.
“They are.” Her voice was cold. When she spoke it was like being bathed in a shower of ice, and he could only imagine what it was like to look directly into her hooded eyes.
“And we will succeed.” The last word came out in a long hiss that coiled through the air. It wasn’t a question; it was a declaration of intent.
“Of course. Our preparations are complete,” she said silkily. “Do you have any last minute instructions for me?”
“If the half-blood Lupin is there, I want him alive. I feel he may be of use to us.” There was a long, rasping intake of breath. “If we cannot kill the woman, and Meany fails, then he will be the perfect lure.”
“Meany will not fail, my Lord.” The assurance was immediate, and to Niall perfectly convincing, although apparently it wasn’t enough for Lord Voldemort.
“He has failed once already.” The chill in the hiss was threatening in its intensity. “If he fails again, my use for him will be over.”
“Yes, yes, Master.” She was impatient now. Bella was eager to get on with the job she had been asked to do. The sounds of cheers and jeers from outside were getting louder; the troops were becoming restless.
“Go then, and I expect nothing but the very best news.”
Niall shrank away from his hiding place and began to climb the stairs, but he couldn’t fail to catch the last thing Voldemort said. “And if that traitorous coward is there, you may kill him. You know his weaknesses, so play to them.”
“Would he not perhaps make a better lure for the woman?” she asked quietly.
“Yes, probably, however, I want him dead, and as long as we have one piece of bait it will be enough.”
Niall had reached the first floor by the time Bellatrix Lestrange left the library, with her broom clutched in a skeletal, long-fingered hand. He listened as the sound of the crowd diminished. From the balcony window, he watched them stream across the sky like a huge group of bats braving the daylight in order to gain a very exceptional prize.
“Mr O’Malley.” The voice from the foot of the stairs caught him unawares and he reeled round quickly. The ghastly red eyes burned through him, and it was only with a great effort of will that he managed to retain his composure. “I don’t believe we have met.”
Niall O’Malley had been waiting for this moment with eager expectancy, so he couldn’t understand why he was suddenly filled with a fear that was beyond all comprehension.
“And off the house-elf went,” Liam said as he swigged his Butterbeer. “I’ve never seen a man so angry in all my life. I thought O’Malley was going to have a fit.”
Maeve laughed at the memory of the time she had set free their house-elf, Prinny. Her father had threatened to whip her, causing her mother to make one of her rare interventions. She had got off lightly in the end, with just a week of chores and no puddings. Harry smiled at the thought of a rebellious ten-year-old Maeve handing over her t-shirt and giving the gift of freedom. It reminded him vividly of the time he had set Lucius Malfoy’s house-elf free. The look of anger on Malfoy’s face had been priceless when he realised he had been tricked, and it had been a rare moment of triumph over the worst wizarding family Harry had the displeasure to know.
They had gathered in Maeve’s sitting room and she had drinks brought up for them all. Liam proved to be a very entertaining storyteller. Harry couldn’t remember laughing this much in a long time. It was true that laughter was the best medicine as he forgot all his worries and troubles for an evening. He allowed the warm atmosphere and the happy company to cheer him up. Candles flickered as the fire blazed warmly in the grate. Snow was falling thickly outside, muffling all sound from beyond the castle walls. Liam had spent a very busy afternoon sorting through all of Maeve’s many possessions, working a minor miracle in bringing order to the rooms. For the first time in months, Maeve allowed herself to sink back into the sofa and be truly happy, with only the faintest touch of sadness that there were some people absent who would also have enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere.
It was approaching nine o’clock when Harry yawned widely, standing up with considerable reluctance.
“I should get to bed,” he announced. “It’s late and I shouldn’t be roaming the corridors at this time.”
“I’ll escort you back, young Mr Potter,” Liam said. The old man stood stiffly, suddenly becoming the butler again. He brushed invisible crumbs off his coat and quickly tidied away the glasses, before standing by the door to wait for Harry.
“Thank you, Harry, I’ve really enjoyed your company tonight,” Maeve said as she stood up to give Harry a hug. He hugged her back so that she didn’t see the guilty look on his face as he looked over her shoulder. They parted, and she was sad that the evening had broken up so abruptly. She was just about to close the door when she heard footsteps coming down the corridor. Maeve peeped out, expecting to see an Auror float by. Instead, Severus came flapping down on her with a smirk on his face.
“Guests gone?” he asked when he reached her door.
“How did you know I had guests?” she enquired defensively.
“It’s my business to know what you are doing,” he said. “And I did come by earlier, however, I heard laughter, so I left.”
“How like you to avoid a bit of fun,” she said, stepping aside to allow him into the room. She heard a rustle in the corridor and knew that this time it was an Auror moving around.
“I thought I would drop by and pick up this book of yours,” he said, sitting on her desk chair and smoothing his robes down. He looked around the room with an appraising look in his eye. “Been shopping?”
“No, these are my things from home. Hagrid was sent out to get them by Dumbledore, for some reason known only to him.”
“Professor Dumbledore risked Hagrid for a few trinkets?” Severus looked incredulous.
“I know, that’s exactly what I thought,” she agreed as she crossed to the bookcase to get her grandmother’s book containing the formula for Remus’ potion. “Hagrid seemed to be of the opinion there would be something in all of this that I need to have. It’s all very mysterious.”
“Nice clock,” he said, his eye caught by the timepiece that now hung where the portrait of the unnamed wizard had once been. The flirtatious painting had been disgusted with his sudden demotion to a corridor on the first floor. He had given Maeve a very wounded look as he was moved from the room, but she was glad to see the back of him. His eyes had followed her everywhere in a very lascivious fashion.
“It was my mother’s,” she said absently, her fingers running along the spines of the books in a searching manner.
“What’s that wood? It looks black.”
“Bog oak… now that is really funny,” she said, straightening up.
“Bog oak is funny?” Severus arched an eyebrow.
“No, I can’t find my book.” She looked perplexed for a few moments. “Perhaps Liam moved it when he tidied up. I’ll have to ask him tomorrow.”
“I’ve had a wasted journey then?” he queried.
“I’m sorry, but it would seem so, Severus. It was there this morning.” She frowned and turned away from the books. “You could stay for a drink, just to make the walk up here worth your while.”
“Hmm, I suppose there will be no harm in it,” he acquiesced, almost reluctantly.
Maeve poured a couple of drinks, her eyes occasionally sliding to the bookcase with a concerned expression in their glowing depths. They settled down for a companionable chat and it was eleven before Severus left, leaving her tired and ready for bed. As she closed the door behind him, the last thing she saw was a shadow at the end of the corridor, a flick of red that disappeared into the darkness.