The Sugar Quill
Author: Elsha (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Disavowals  Chapter: Agitato (2)
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

A/N: I will try to get the next chapters up in a reasonable amount of time, but in the next seventeen days I have nine Ultra-Im

A/N: I will try to get the next chapters up in a reasonable amount of time, but in the next seventeen days I have nine Ultra-Important-Crucial-To-The-Rest-Of-My-Life exams (or at least crucial to my university entrance), so I’m not sure how much time I’ll be spending on the computer. :P

*crosses fingers that the formatting will work first time round*

Chapter Two: Agitato

An hour or so before dawn, Theo landed in a patch of forest near Cambridge. It was getting light rapidly, and it was still going to take him couple of hours to get to Anne’s. The flight had been long, and he’d jumped at every shadow. He knew that no one would be after him — yet — but if his aunt had gone to his room and found the note – he’d had to leave one, he couldn’t vanish without a trace – but no, she wouldn’t be up until at least seven. It was only six. He had a couple of hours grace, and then they had the country to search for him. He was safe for the moment. But he was cold, hungry, tired, and wanted nothing more than tea — or better yet, coffee — and bed. He heard a Muggle bus rumble past on the nearby road. A car. Or a bus. Now that would be wonderful…

He felt like smacking himself on the head. The Knight Bus. Why hadn’t he thought of it? Of course he couldn’t have taken it straight from home…but once he was a couple of hours away…

Then again, arriving at Anne’s at midnight probably wouldn’t have been a good idea. And he could still catch it now, and arrive there in time for breakfast. Maybe he could catch a bite to eat. Maybe Dumbledore had already sent a note and had somewhere for him to go.

Maybe Anne’s optimism was too bloody infectious when, for all he knew, the Death Eaters were already on his trail, but for the moment it was far preferable to the alternative.

Dragging his still enchanted trunk to the road, Theo stuck out his wand hand. The loud bang of the bus as it appeared seconds later was enough to make him smile.

*

Anne had never been a morning person, but birdsong and her youngest sister had hauled her out of bed sometime around half-past six, so she’d given in to Nicola and arisen. Her sister didn’t really want her to be up for a purpose, she just wanted her up, so Anne was left in relative peace to shower and dress. That had been two hours ago, and she was now sitting in the kitchen with sunlight streaming across the table contemplating the latest attack splashed all over the front page of the Daily Prophet. It made for grim reading. A Muggle-born wizard due to start at Hogwarts in September and his entire family had been found dead in their Suffolk home. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and his Death Eaters were warning the world that even being a Muggle-born was enough to make you the enemy. Being an eleven-year-old child who had received his Hogwarts letter not three weeks ago hadn’t saved Jared Anderson, not when the Death Eaters had come calling.

Anne shivered and looked out the window. The wards surrounding their house were invisible, but gave her a lot of comfort. It had been rather amusing to see her brother’s friends unable to enter the door until Eddie had realised the issue and hastily welcomed them into the house.

She wondered, idly, what Theo was doing. He came of age just a week after they returned to school, and it had been worrying him even back in July. He wanted to avoid being a Death Eater, at all costs; but making the final break with his family was also the last thing he wanted to do. Whenever Anne looked at her parents now, she couldn’t help thinking how lucky she was. She would never have to make that choice between her family and her conscience. If it even was Theo’s conscience. She suspected it was more to do with his desire to not be forced to kill, than moral convictions. Or at least he thought so. Anne wasn't quite so certain that Theo was as disinterested as he claimed to be, but then, she wasn't a mind-reader.

Her second-youngest sister entered the kitchen, yawning. "Morning, Anne."

"Morning, Terry," Anne said absently, turning a page of the paper. "The Prophet’s pretty depressing."

"Isn’t it always, now?" asked Terry, opening the fridge. "Where’s the milk?"

"I used it on my cereal."

"Anne! No fair! Now someone has to go and get some from the shop! And you know Mum and Dad’ll be annoyed if they don’t get their tea."

"Good thing Dad’s already gone to work then, isn’t it? I’ll nip down in a minute, okay?"

"Al-right. But don’t be ages, I’m hungry."

Anne stood with a sigh. "I’m going, I’m going. Is there anything in the change jar?"

Her sister looked in the jar on the top of the bench. "Nope. Eddie cleaned it out yesterday. Just use your own money, you can get it back later."

Anne rolled her eyes and left the kitchen, tugging her sister’s pigtail on the way out. "The things I do for you…"

Terry batted her hand away. "Yeah, yeah, I love you for it. Hurry up."

Anne grinned as she jogged up the stairs to get her wallet.

*

Theo rapped smartly on the door, praying he'd got the right house, praying the Death Eaters weren't a step behind him. It didn't seem very different from a wizarding house. Outwardly, anyway. There were a few minor differences - the total lack of anything involving magic in sight - but it seemed the same. That was strange. And almost disappointing. He'd expected a Muggle house to be more…well, different. Interestingly so.

The door opened to reveal someone who was not Anne, but Theo had been prepared for that. With six people in her family, there was every chance it wouldn't be her - and this woman did look a little like her. She was about Anne's height, with greying ash blonde hair in a bun at the base of her neck, and Terry's wide brown eyes. She was also dressed in Muggle clothing - a blouse and skirt - and that was a difference. Theo felt oddly relieved.

"Hello?" she said inquiringly.

"Am I at the right house for Anne Fairleigh?"

The woman's eyes narrowed. "Why do you want to know that?"

Theo recalled that he was dressed in wizarding robes, and Anne's mother - if she was Anne's mother - was a Muggle, and one of the only reasons a wizard would turn up unannounced at a Muggle-born's house in these times was not a good one.

Smooth, Nott, very smooth. He racked his brains for something identifying.

"I know it's a little early, but if she's up, could you tell her that Theodore Nott needs to have a word with her, and -" Anne would get this, and know it was him "- he's quite curious about how the second half of the sarabande is going."

"Nott?" If anything, the woman looked even more suspicious, and she'd withdrawn a few inches from the door. Theo shifted his foot ever so slightly forward and ran into a solid wall. So those wards Anne had mentioned were up. Good. "Forgive me if that name isn't comforting. I read the wizarding paper as well as the Muggle ones, but I suppose now you'll tell me it's no relative."

" If you're talking about the Eric Nott who escaped from Azkaban last summer, actually, that would be my father. That's…partly why I need to talk to Anne. Is she home?"

"I'm afraid you've yet to give me a good reason why you need to talk to her."

Theo sat down hard on his surge of impatience. The woman was being obstructive, and suspicious, and she was a Muggle, but she had every reason to be all of those things. She was Anne's mother. He was not going to be impolite.

But the itch between his shoulder blades that had sat there for the last twelve hours had not gone away, and he couldn't help a nervous glance behind him.

"Look, Mrs. Fairleigh, please tell Anne I need a word with her. That's all. I promise -" it wouldn't work, but saying it couldn't hurt "- the last thing I am trying to do is bring Death Eaters down on your home. The very last thing. I just think Anne may have a message I've been expecting."

"Why would that be?"

Bluntness wasn't working, but he had nothing else left to try. He really wanted to just stride in and find Anne - even Terry would do in a pinch - but the wards prevented him from doing that.

Besides, a small voice was reminding him that it generally did to make a good first impression with your girlfriend's mother.

"Because right now there are about three people I really trust, and she's one of them." He locked eyes with Mrs. Fairleigh, a difficult feat given that she was close on a foot shorter than he was.

The impasse was broken by a small blonde-headed blur. Theo got the impression of Terry in a white shirt with very short sleeves and blue trousers of some sort before she hit him at about fifty miles an hour.

He staggered back a step as Terry gave him an enthusiastic hug and let go again, almost jumping up and down in sheer exuberance.

"Theo, you didn't say you were coming to visit! I haven't seen you for ages! Come in, Anne's gone to get some milk, but she'll be back soon. How did you get here? Are you okay? Do your aunt and uncle know where you are? I hope they don't, they're Death Eaters aren't they? Why aren't you coming in?"

"Hello, Terry, you might want to breathe before you collapse from oxygen deprivation," Theo replied. He'd had enough time to gather himself.

Mrs. Fairleigh sighed in a resigned fashion. "Terry, what's the use of all those wards if you go and bystep them?"

Terry, standing in the doorway by her mother, wrinkled her nose. "It's only Theo, Mum, he's a friend. Oh, wait, you haven't met him, have you?"

"Well, I have now," her mother told her, "but I'm quite curious about why I haven't before."

She gave Theo a significant look.

"Call it a character flaw, but I was putting off being disowned from my family as long as I could, and being seen speaking to a Muggle-b- to the wrong people would have been the quickest way to accomplish it." Theo shrugged. He knew that guilt was going to set in later, and pain, and maybe even second thoughts, but for now he was still running on fear and adrenaline. "My father…well, yes, you probably have some idea about that."

"What are you doing, running away from home?" Mrs. Fairleigh raised an eyebrow.

"Something of the sort, yes," Theo replied blandly.

She rubbed her forehead. "I don't know. It's only nine o'clock, and things are already getting complicated. Well, if you are running away from your family, would you like to come in and have a cup of tea while Anne gets back? I've just put the kettle on."

"And you can see our piano, 'cause it's way better than the school one, and I can tell you how the television works 'cause I looked it up in a book and I do know now, and -"

Theo grinned at Terry. "Ah, but have you found out how real photographs work?"

She nodded proudly. "Yes, and I took some and developed them all by myself. I'll show you. Come on!"

She grabbed him by the hand and pulled him into the house. Her mother followed them, still seeming resigned.

"Yes, she's been brewing up all sorts of dreadful things in the kitchen these holidays. I'm almost afraid to go in there sometimes."

"Snape would be proud of you," Theo told Terry.

"Nah, he wouldn't. He'd say I'd been doing dangerous things unsupervised and was lucky to have not blown anything up," she said dismissively.

"Which from Snape means that you pulled off some very tricky potions without any help and are to be congratulated," Theo reminded her.

They were walking down a hallway, presumably to the kitchen. Theo couldn't help looking around in amazement. This was different. There was a funny wooden bat thing lying on the hall table beside a very small red ball and a thing with buttons Theo dimly recognised as similar to the tele-whatsit at the entry to the Ministry of Magic. He looked up to see not candles but something that looked like a lamp with a round glass thing in the middle dangling from the ceiling. Set into the wall above the skirting were rectangular patches of something shiny with a pattern of slits and a switch in them. Terry took a left into a room at the back of the house, and Theo was completely lost when he followed her in. He recognised it as a kitchen - he could see pots, and the pantry, and someone's empty bowl on the table in the middle - but there were all sorts of box things. One might be an oven. He couldn't see a kettle anywhere, though. It was all utterly strange. Could this really be England?

"You look like Alice in Wonderland," came Mrs. Fairleigh's amused voice from behind him. "Have you never been to a house without magic? Are wizarding houses really that different?"

Theo didn't know the reference, but he caught her meaning. He turned to look at her. "It's just so - I mean - what do all these things do?"

Terry was at the bench, pouring some sort of cereal into a bowl. She looked over her shoulder, grinning. "See, this is what a normal house looks like."

"Well, I hope you can recognise these, at least." Mrs. Fairleigh reached up to fetch two mugs from a cupboard above the bench. "Oh, dear, I just remembered. Anne's getting the milk. Never mind, she'll probably be back before the jug boils. Fill it up, please, Terry?"

"Sure." Terry picked up a white shiny jug off the bench - where was the kettle? - and carried it over to the sink, where she filled it up with water.

" Is that a Muggle kettle?" asked Theo, fascinated.

"'S a jug," Terry said, "not a kettle. It's electric." She put it back on the bench and pushed some sort of cord into the back. A light on the top of the jug came on. How could people see all this and think it was a dreadful threat to the wizarding world? How could you look at this and not be curious?

A tousled head poked around the edge of the door.

"Mum, there's no shampoo in the bathroom."

"I got some yesterday, it's in the cupboard." Mrs. Fairleigh said without turning around.

The speaker - apparently a brown-haired boy taller than everyone in the room except Theo - abruptly focussed on him.

"Who're you?"

"This is Theodore Nott, he's a friend of your sisters'," replied his mother, who was now rummaging in a drawer looking for something. "Theodore, this is my son Edmund."

Theo gave him a nod. Edmund just stared. "Which sister?"

"Me and Anne," said Terry airily, now spooning some brown powder into a mug. "He's from school."

"You're a wizard?" Edmund's tone was an odd mix of accusation and envy.

"That's right."

"Hmph." Edmund gave him one final stare, then removed his head from around the door.

"Do pull up a chair," said Mrs. Fairleigh, having apparently found what she was looking for in the drawer. Terry was tapping the jug impatiently.

Theo sat down carefully. The chairs were different from what he was used to; thin metal bars with a seat and back covered with some shiny, smooth…stuff. Not like the wooden ones of home at all.

"Now, I seem to remember that you play music with Anne, is that right?" asked Mrs. Fairleigh.

Theo nodded, leaning his elbows on the table. The adrenaline was wearing off, and tiredness was creeping in. "Yeah. Yes, Mrs. Fairleigh." He yawned, covering his mouth with his hand. "Mmm.. ***extra period here Excuse me. I bumped into her in the corridor one day, and she had her flute with her, and there aren't too many other people at Hogwarts who play music, so…I decided to talk to her."

"You make it sound like a sacrifice," Anne's mother replied dryly.

Theo flushed. "Well - I mean - she's Muggle-born, and I didn't think - it's hard to learn that what everyone's always told you is wrong. I'm a bit surprised she even talked back, now. I was quite…ah…well, quite rude to her, actually."

"Like you were to me?" said Terry.

Theo gave her a look. "That was different. You just barged in."

"You just didn't like me because I was in Gryffindor."

"Absolutely, and it's a prejudice I reserve the right to bring up at any time I choose."

Terry poked her tongue out at him. She could be very childish.

"Your Houses don't like each other very much, do they?" said Mrs. Fairleigh, now leaning back against the bench waiting for the jug to boil.

"That's because Gryffindors are fatally impetuous -" began Theo

"-and Slytherins are all just nasty," finished Terry.

"I'm hurt," Theo told her.

Terry shrugged. "You're a Slytherin."

"That's not very nice," her mother admonished.

"Neither is he."

Theo smirked, but he was distracted at that moment by a startled exclamation from behind.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

He turned his head to see Anne standing in the kitchen doorway, a blue box that he presumed to be the milk in her hand. She looked positively poleaxed.

"Wonderful to see you again, too," Theo told her. It was. It was stupid. Merely seeing someone walk in could not possibly cheer him up this much. And he wasn't grinning. He wasn't. He wasn't.

"No - I mean, it's great you're here, but - you - oh, no." Anne's eyes flickered towards her mother. "What we talked about at the end of the term -"

"With a vengeance." Theo yawned again, covering his mouth reflexively. He wanted to go over to her, but aside from the fact that her mother was watching him closely, he wasn’t sure he would be able to stand up.

There had been a 'click!' from the direction of the jug - kettle - thing, and Terry was snapping her fingers imperiously. "Anne, the milk!"

"Wha - oh, yes." Anne waved it in her sister's direction, then collapsed onto one of the chairs. "Are you all right?"

Theo considered his reply. "Ah…for a given value of all right, yes."

"How did you get here?"

"Flew."

"All night?"

Theo nodded. Not guiltily. Absolutely not.

Anne shook her head. "You must be exhausted. Was it that urgent?"

Theo checked his watch. Was it really only ten past nine?

"Well, I'm supposed to be…swearing oaths I'd really rather not in about twelve hours, so yes, it was fairly important that I left."

Mrs. Fairleigh handed Theo a mug of tea, and he gave her a grateful smile. It was hot and sweet and helped stop his descent into sleep, which was the most important thing.

"I assumed you took sugar," she said, taking a seat. "Most of my son's friends do - well, the ones that drink tea."

Theo sipped it cautiously. "Thank you very much, Mrs. Fairleigh."

She waved it away. "Anne, do you want a cup?"

"Hmmm? Oh, no thanks Mum." Anne hooked one leg up over the other, the way Theo had seen her do so many times at Hogwarts. It meant she was getting ready for a serious talk.

"Did you get to say goodbye?" she asked quietly. Over by the bench, Terry was stirring her cup of - brown powder stuff and adding milk.

Theo looked down at his mug. He hadn't, properly. He couldn't, he rationalised hastily. Of course he couldn't have said goodbye properly because then they'd know he was going and where would he be?

"I left a note."

Mrs. Fairleigh seemed to find this amusing, but Anne just nodded. "How long do you think you've got before they find it?"

"Another hour, maybe two, but my trail should have gone cold by then. Unless someone saw me - and it was night - they can't track me; I don't care how many contacts they have in the Ministry, I didn't Floo or Apparate, so they have no way of knowing where I went."

"Can I establish something?" Mrs. Fairleigh interjected, setting her mug down on the table. "You flew on a broomstick, all last night, from…"

"Wales," Anne and Theo chimed. "North Wales," Theo added for the sake of clarity.

"Right. North Wales." Mrs. Fairleigh looked incredulous. Theo had no idea why; it wasn't a very long flight. Not compared to, say, the Atlantic crossing. "Wasn't there an easier way?"

"But that was the easy way," Theo said. "I can't Apparate, I couldn't use the Floo Network, so how else was I supposed to leave?"

Mrs. Fairleigh just sighed. "Never mind. We poor Muggles just have other ways of doing things."

"Of course you do," Theo shrugged. Mrs. Fairleigh wasn't at all what he'd expected of a Muggle, even for Anne's mother. She was so…normal.

"Was there anyone you could send a message to?" Anne prompted.

"Dumbledore." Theo took another sip of tea. "I'm presuming he has an interest in the welfare of his students, so hopefully he can help me. Otherwise…"

"Two weeks is starting to seem like a long time, isn't it?" agreed Anne, biting her lip. "Well. It's funny, two years ago if you'd told me I'd get this involved in the war - that there'd be a war -"

"Don't we all feel that way."

"You two are so depressing," complained Terry from her current perch on the windowsill. "It can't be all that bad. Stuff like that doesn't happen to us."

Theo almost choked on his tea. "I assure you, Terry, stuff like that most certainly can happen to us. There were a lot of people who thought the same way you do, but not any more."

"Why not?"

"They aren't around to do so," Anne said grimly.

Mrs. Fairleigh set her mug down on the table loudly. "All right. At this point I am very confused, so would you two mind starting from the beginning and explaining why Theodore is here and what, precisely, it has to do with this war? I'm getting the general outline but the details are escaping me."

Anne folded her hands in her lap, looking penitent. That was a new one; Theo had seen meek, quiet, and even frightened, but not penitent. "Sorry, Mum. I keep forgetting that you don't really know about…all this." Her gesture took in Theo and the whole war.

"And why don't I?" her mother said.

"Yeah, Anne, why haven't you talked to Mum about it?" echoed Terry from the windowsill. Theo shot her a quelling look. It was behaviour he'd seen from Lucas and Celia over the summer; one sibling moving in for the kill when another was in their parents' bad books.

Anne appeared to think the same. "Be quiet, Terry. Because…ah…" she couldn't quite meet her mother's eyes. "It wasn't really your business up until now, it was nobody's business except Theo's, and what you didn't know…"

Her mother's eyebrows lifted. Theo winced for Anne. "I see. What we didn't know wouldn't hurt us?"

Anne gave a half-shrug. "Umm…yeah. I mean, you knew about the war, because of the Martins, so it wasn't like you weren't forewarned, just…um. Yes."

"Well, why don't we start from the beginning then?" said Mrs. Fairleigh.

Theo exchanged glances with Anne. He was willing to explain, he just sensed this had the potential for huge embarrassment.

Especially with Terry in the room.

*

The first thing Anne had noticed about Theo, once she'd got over the shock of him being there at all, was the weariness that seemed to hover around him like a cloud. It made her want to yawn, and she was well awake. That, and the confusion. He looked like someone skating on ice in complete fog - no real idea where he was going, or if he'd get there, just painfully aware of how thin the ice under him was.

Together they stumbled through an explanation to Anne's mother as to why, precisely, Theo had turned up on the Fairleighs' doorstep. Theo kept yawning; Anne caught herself holding his hand and dropped it hastily before her mother noticed. Terry had sat on her windowsill and been…provoking, but she'd kept her mouth shut about the important things.

The conversation had been cut off when Theo had fallen soundly asleep with his head on the table. Anne had looked around at Terry, and when she looked back Theo was dead to the world.

"He was tired, wasn't he?" commented her mother. "Poor boy. It sounds like he was lucky not to fall asleep on the way here." She stood and began to collect the mugs.

Theo was slumped on the table, fringe hanging half over his face. Anne sat on her hands. The sun had moved while they'd been talking; it was streaming in through Terry's window, sparking glints in Theo's dark hair. He looked young, Anne thought absent-mindedly. Did she look that young when she slept? Was it possible that either of them could be that young anymore? Sixteen wasn't very old, in the Muggle world. Not very old at all.

"Thanks, Mum," she said. "I mean - for listening, and all that. I know this must be a bit strange."

"Just a little," agreed Mary Fairleigh, who was now stacking the cups in the dishwasher. "Terry, can you go and get your brother? He hasn't finished emptying the dishwasher."

"Sure." Terry slipped with a thump onto the floor and breezed out of the room.

"Right. Anne, do you think we can manage to move Theodore onto the couch? I don't think he's going to be very comfortable if he sleeps like that."

"Uh. No. No, probably not," Anne said. This was…weird. She was prepared for sharp looks and sharper questions, but calm practicality was unsettling.

Between Anne and her mother they got Theo on his feet and moving towards the living room. Anne didn't think he was conscious, precisely, but he was walking. Sort of. As soon as she guided him onto the couch he flopped down like a rag doll. Anne propped his legs up onto the couch. Behind her she heard her mother's footsteps tapping out of the room, so she took the opportunity to push Theo's hair out of his face. And if her hand maybe lingered, there wasn't anyone to notice. Theo looked so out of place on their old couch. It had been white once, before they had moved to Essex - before her parents had had children - but now it was faded ivory, and it sat comfortingly against the wall next to the bay window. One window was open, and the breeze Anne had noticed on her way to the shops was curling in, making the curtains shiver.

Theo didn't look comfortable, Anne thought, or a faded shade of pale, like the furniture. Theo was all too odd lying their on the couch with his dark robes and slightly-too-long dark hair and shaded circles under his eyes. Anne let her hand drift down his cheek. For five years she'd had two worlds. The world of magic, and the world of Muggles. Theo was magic brought home and lying asleep on her couch. Seeing him again was worth the strangeness, but - that didn't remove it.

"I brought a blanket," came her mother's voice from behind her. "Looks like being quite a warm day, but you never know."

Anne jumped about a foot in the air. Only the sight of Theo prevented her from letting out an exclamation, too. She whirled around defensively.

"Oh. Mum. I didn't hear you." Theo seemed well asleep, but she kept her voice low. Her mother was…dammit, she was smirking, and Anne tried her best not to blush. "Here, let me." She spread the blanket over Theo carefully - not too carefully, not with her mother watching - and followed her out of the room. She clearly wanted a word.

Eddie was in the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher and singing along to the radio he'd switched on, so Anne followed her mother on down the hall. They stopped in front of the small laundry-cum-broom closet.

"So." Mary Fairleigh tilted her head to regard her daughter. Anne felt herself squaring her shoulders, and fixed her eyes on a flaking crack in the paint of the door. "What are you going to do about this, Anne?"

Her friend, her responsibility. It was a better start than she'd expected.

"Theo needs to wait here until he gets a reply from Dumbledore," Anne began. "He'll know what to do, I hope; it shouldn't take very long. Owls are much faster than Muggle post. We'll be safe. We should be. No one knows he's here."

That had been another area they'd avoided; safety. Theo had tried to plough bluntly into it but Anne had skirted the area. She wanted Theo here, and safe, and that wasn't likely if Mary Fairleigh decided her family was endangered by him.

"How much danger is he really in?" her mother asked.

"Do you remember what they did to the Martins?" Anne replied, fiddling with the pocket of her jeans. "Because comparatively, that would be friendly."

"Anne…" Her mother sounded as tired as Theo had looked. "I know the wizards are at war, but…why have you been dragged into it? Why our neighbours?"

"I'm Muggle-born." Had she been this naēve? Probably. "That's like saying…Mum, why did your dad get killed in World War II? Why was your mum a refugee? It was about them being Jewish, not what they did. "

Her mother folded her arms. "Anne."

Anne looked up to meet her eyes.

Mary Fairleigh stared right back. “I know who your Theodore is, and why he's here, and why he can't be anywhere else. And it all sounds wildly strange and improbable, and I would much rather it wasn't happening, but I do trust your judgement about your own friends. I just want you to answer three questions for me."

Anne nodded. "Okay."

Oh, god. Here we go.

"First. What do you think is going to happen next?"

"Dumbledore will know somewhere safe," Anne replied readily. Their headmaster seemed to be omniscient; hopefully it was not an illusion. "He'll want to keep a student safe, and school starts again in a week and a half."

"Good." Her mother nodded. "Theodore seems to be a nice young man. So, two. How safe are we?"

Anne was ready for that one, too. "Pretty safe." She couldn't hedge now. "I don't…Theo flew here, so I don't think he could have been followed, and nobody except us knows he's here. If the worst came to the worst, we've got that Portkey. And I think if…they…were going to come, they'd be here by now." At the beginning of the summer every Muggle-born family had been quietly issued with a Portkey that took them to Hogwarts. It could only be used by family members. Anne didn't know if the mysterious Order of the Phoenix was behind it or the Ministry, but either way it was a lifeline. (Rumours had leaked out in the Prophet about the Order, and Theo had told her what he knew; apparently, they were the people who had believed Dumbledore the year before. The ones who had rescued Harry Potter and his friends at the Ministry of Magic a year ago.)

The lines on her mother's forehead grew more shallow. "I just hope this Portkey thing works, if we need it. Now, three."

Anne knew what the question would be, and she tried to keep her gaze steady. The fact that she ended up examining one of her mother's earrings was beside the point.

"Are you going out with him?"

Anne could feel herself going red. She coughed. "Er…wellll…um, no, I wouldn't call it that, exactly, I mean, it's not like we're going on dates or anything, you know, um…yeah."

Her mother laughed. "Is that a yes?"

Anne muttered something that could be taken for affirmation, if closely examined. She hadn't realised the carpet was so worn down this end of the hall. It must be because of the back door.

"For goodness' sake, there's nothing wrong with it." Her mother sounded very amused. "We knew you'd be getting a boyfriend sometime. Have you been seeing him very long?"

The back door was getting a bit flaky, too. It needed painting. "Yes. No. Not really. I mean, I've been friends with him for ages - well, a year and a half - but we've only been…um…yeah…for a little while. And it's not like anyone knows. Really. Apart from Terry. And some people in…well, a few people, but no one in my class. Or Theo's. I s'pose that'll be different, this year. Theo's blown his cover a bit."

"Anne, it's all right, really." She looked at her mother again, and was relieved to see only a gentle smile. "If you discount all this business with the war, he seems like a very polite boy. Although he did seem a bit surprised by me."

That was explicable. Anne shrugged. "Oh, that's just because you're the first Muggle he's met, and he's spent his whole life being told Muggles aren't proper people, and of course you are, really, so he was surprised."

"Is that why he commented that I was just like a witch?"

Anne had never been embarrassed by Theo before - embarrassed for him, that was - but that had come close. "Yes."

Her mother shook her head. "Stop looking so nervous, I wasn't angry about it." Her gaze grew thoughtful. "We're proper people?"

Anne reviewed what she'd said. "I meant - oh, Mum, I didn't mean it like that - but I'm not a Muggle, and -"

"I know." Her mother put a hand on her shoulder. "I know you and Terry are different from us, dear, but it's just hard to deal with sometimes."

Anne nearly threw herself at her mother. "Mum, I don't want to be different to you and Dad. I never did. It just…happened."

Her mother patted her on the back, holding her tightly. "I know. We're proud of you both. Even if you do bring home a boyfriend with homicidal relatives -"

"Mum!"

Mary Fairleigh chuckled.

 

 

//
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