A/N: Thanks as ever go to all who reviewed and to my Merry Band of Helpers for helping me sort of the ins and outs of the Portal and to Snorkackcatcher for the beta. This chapter takes a little step back to see the events of the morning in the Department of Mysteries from Teddy's POV. :)
9: Through the Looking Glass
Teddy knew something was wrong the moment he stepped out of the Time Division corridor and into the office of the Historical Records Section. Most notably, it had gone nine in the morning but no one had yet touched the coffee.
He'd intended to be early. He'd never beat Rajesh of course, who generally showed up at least half an hour before he needed to, but he'd meant to get in before everyone else to check the state of the Portal once more, to be standing there and waiting, with his broken amulet to hand and an apologetic expression of confusion on his face, when Penny and the others arrived to find their gateway to the past was acting strangely. He'd meant to have time to think.
Instead, he'd got so caught up in that breakfast, a family breakfast cooked by his dad, and in playing at morphing spots and pallor with his mother – Merlin, he'd never had anyone to talk to with experience of morphing before and she was his mum – that instead of being early, he had been forced to rush through the corridors after Flooing into the Atrium and realising he was late.
And one look at the faces of his co-workers was enough to tell Teddy that the Portal had not righted itself overnight.
Bert and Rajesh, huddled together over a vast leather tome that Teddy recognised as the designers' notes for the Portal, both looked up sharply as their young colleague stumbled into the office, rather dishevelled and distinctly out of breath. Lucy was settled at her desk in the middle of the room - touching up her lipstick by hand as usual, since the Portal would strip away any glamour charm she tried - but the air of distraction with which she held the stick and mirror was very different from the usual intensity she devoted to such important business. Rose, sorting through a pile of papers, was the only person to offer Teddy a smile, but it was wan, and tinged with more than a little concern as she abandoned her apparently fruitless task and came to her feet.
"Teddy," she said with an air of weariness. "We were wondering for a minute if you were going to call in sick. And actually…" Her eyes narrowed as she scrutinised his features. "You do look a little pale, dear. Are you okay?"
Teddy shook his head as he dropped into his chair near the door, rubbing one hand across his forehead.
"I do feel a bit rough," he admitted, with the air of one who felt the admission a nuisance. "That's why I overslept this morning. But something strange happened last night when I was using the Portal, so I knew that I'd have to come in…"
Four heads snapped instantly in his direction.
"Strange how?" Rajesh abandoned the huge book that was dominating his desk in the near corner and moved over to perch himself on the edge of Teddy's instead. As his desk was so near both the door and the coffee pot, it was a situation that the young man had long become accustomed to. "Only we came in this morning to find it playing up something chronic, humming and spitting out energy all over the place, and the hourglasses all out of whack. It's never done that before." He shook his head. Teddy knew that along with Bert and Penny, Rajesh had been one of the principal people involved with the Portal's development, and he tended to regard any mishap or fault in its makeup as a personal affront. "Penny and Dennis are in the Portal chamber with Edgar right now looking it over but we're all at a loss. So anything you can tell us about last night…"
Teddy bit his lip. Well, you see I morphed to break the passivity field so I could grab my dead parents out of the past and although my dad got stuck for a while, they're both back now and I had breakfast with them this morning which made me late…
Yep. That'd go down great.
And since the truth had long been established as not an option, a little pre-planned creativity seemed in order.
"I'm not really sure what happened," he said with a weary air as he rested his chin in his hands and plonked his elbows onto the desktop, subtly willing a little more colour out of his skin as he spoke. "I was using the Portal just the same as always, when my amulet started to shudder and suddenly the field felt like it was squeezing me, so of course, I got out straight away. But not before this happened." With a sigh, he drew his broken amulet out of his robes and handed it to a wide-eyed Rajesh. "Next thing I knew, the Portal was humming and looking distinctly unfriendly. I meant to come in early and tell you and Penny all about it, but I overslept and when I woke up feeling so crappy…"
Rajesh waved the rest of the explanation away as he all but snatched the cracked amulet out of Teddy's palm, turning it over in his fingers with an expression that mingled curiosity, disbelief and bewilderment. A moment later, both Bert and Rose had joined him, peering over his shoulders at the broken gemstone nestled in his hands. Only Lucy remained at her desk, although even she was regarding Teddy and his companions with some interest.
"That's not right." Bert was shaking his head in confusion. "That's just… There's no way that should happen…"
Rose's freckled, friendly face looked odd contorted into a frown. "Could the gem have been damaged? Or a natural flaw in the crystal maybe?"
Rajesh was staring down at the battered amulet with a certain hint of offence. "I made this batch of amulets myself. I double – no, triple – checked every one before casting the charms."
"Wear and tear?" Lucy suggested suddenly from the other side of the office, abandoning her seat at last to join the intense little huddle. "My boyfriend Kevin up in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures is always complaining how easily the cages and harnesses of the Capture Team get worn out by constant contact with magical beasts, in spite of all the protective charms cast on them. And those amulets have been through a lot of magical stress in the last couple of years…"
"Maybe…" Rajesh didn't look convinced, his fingers still rubbing over the rough edges of the cracks. "And if the amulet was faulty, it would explain why the field started to collapse on you, Teddy. Bert, have another look in the notes, see what it says about the dealer we imported these gems from. I need to show this to Penny."
Rajesh slid off the desk and moved quickly out of the door in the direction of the Portal room. Bert made his way back over to the giant leather book, nose wrinkling thoughtfully, unnaturally quiet as he settled back at Rajesh's desk and started leafing through the pages. However Lucy and Rose both lingered by Teddy, regarding his artful paleness with creased brows and pursed lips.
"Teddy, don't take this the wrong way, but you look awful." Lucy leaned forwards, her curly blonde hair bobbing around her face as she looked him over. "Are you sure you should be here?"
No, I should be home with my parents talking about what the heck we're going to do, but I can't afford that yet. An hour or so, just an hour, just until I've answered all their questions; if I let them send me home sooner, someone might come to my house to ask instead and find rather more than they bargained for…
"Not really." Teddy pulled a plaintive face. "But I can't go home until this is sorted, can I?"
Rose, who was wearing an expression more than a little reminiscent of Molly Weasley, seemed inclined to disagree. "But still, I'm sure if Penny has any questions she can Floo over to your house to ask. Or maybe we could call your Gran…"
Teddy quickly cut off that train of thought. "Don't bother Gran with this, she's been ill recently and I don't want to risk her catching anything. I'm a big boy now." He shook his head dejectedly. "And anyway, Rose, I'm here now, aren't I? I might as well see it through while I'm still up and about."
A mug was plonked down on his desk, overflowing with milky brown liquid – Lucy, it seemed, had decided that raiding the hitherto unbothered coffee pot was the answer. "Drink up," she commanded with a smile. "Caffeine solves all the world's ills."
Teddy grinned in spite of himself. "I thought that was chocolate."
Lucy snorted. "Not in this office."
Obediently, Teddy lifted the mug and took a hearty slurp. He'd never been much of a coffee drinker but it seemed that one of the greatest mysteries of a Department built upon such things was why no one else here seemed able to get by without it. It was just one of those things.
He glanced up from the warming beverage to find Rose regarding him with uncertainty. Another frown had creased her freckled brow.
"Teddy," she ventured softly. "If you don't mind me saying – are you sure you aren't just overtired? Only I know you've stayed late a lot of nights this last month and Penny told me that you've got permission to work on some private project but are you sure you're not wearing yourself out? Is this project worth it? What's so important anyway?"
Oh, it's worth it. And it's more important than you'll ever know.
Teddy frowned, trying to find a way to skirt the issue, but the creak of the door to the Portal room and Penny's familiar voice, calling out to Rajesh that she'd be back in a moment saved him from having to formulate an answer. A few seconds later, she appeared by his desk, the broken amulet cradled in her hands. Her expression was oddly stiff.
"Teddy," she said, addressing him with a formality that he could only suspect did not mean anything good. "Can I please have a word with you in my office?"
He did his best to nod with apparent innocence as he came to his feet and followed her across the room to the door of her private office, his heartbeat thumping in his ears, his blood racing. Did she know? Had she worked it out, worked out what he'd done and how he'd done it? Was he about to be blamed for the damage to the Portal? Was he about to be thrown in prison for breaking the absolute law?
And what would become of his parents if he were?
Closing the door quietly, Penny tapped her fingers on the damaged amulet as she turned to the pale young man her spousal family had always regarded as one of their own, and sighed.
"Teddy," she said softly. "I need you to tell me exactly what happened."
He told the tale as best he could, a story of truth by omission – he'd gone back one final time, a last goodbye to his parents before stepping away from haunting their past, and while he'd been there, the field had started to close on him and squeeze on him, the amulet had shattered and he'd been forced to flee, leaving the Portal in the same odd state in which it had apparently been found that morning. It was much as it had truly been, the tale he told, but for the crucial removal of any mention of his parents or his mission to save them. By the time his recital was done, Penny was staring grimly down at her desktop with narrowed eyes.
"And that's really all that happened?" she queried softly, her voice not quite concealing an alarming edge of suspicion. "Because Teddy…" Her eyes rose, meeting his with deliberate firmness, and it was all he could do to hold her gaze, to try to smile and pretend that all was well. "Do you remember the discussion we had about you morphing inside the Portal? How we agreed it was to be avoided?"
A cold wash of fear slithered its way down Teddy's spine. "Of course."
"It's just…" It was there, behind her eyes, suspicion ticking away like a bomb as her mind fitted together the pieces. She's sussed it. She's worked out how the Portal could have got damaged and she knows it could only be me. And maybe I'm not the only one who's worked out what could happen, maybe she knows too that I could touch the past… "Teddy, I've looked into what effects your morphing inside the Portal could have." Oh sweet Merlin… "And it could be dangerous, very dangerous indeed, for you and anyone else who's there with you." One hand rose gently, resting softly and compassionately across his wrist. "I don't want to risk losing you from the Section, Teddy – you're an excellent researcher with a good grasp of history and you work hard and well. But if it turns out that you've disobeyed an explicit request I made for your own safety…" She sighed deeply, but her intense, uncomfortably probing gaze did not waver. "I need you to tell me honestly; did you morph inside the Portal last night?"
Oh no. Not again.
I lied to Harry. I lied to Victoire. Can I look Penny in the eye and lie to her as well? Gods, all I need is to lie to Gran and I'll have the set…
But it's for mum and dad. Maybe she'll accept it if I just say…
"I said I wouldn't, didn't I?" He'd held her gaze. That was important. He'd maintained a look of serious sincerity. But Penny's eyes were narrowing once more and the sight of it was chilling.
She knew. She knew he'd dodged the question. Truth by omission turned on its head; what he hadn't said had told her the rest.
Oh God, oh no, oh God… Ice shivers wracked Teddy's bones. Maybe if I say I was experimenting but nothing happened, maybe she won't realise the truth and I'll just get a rap on the wrist or at worst I'll be fired, but mum and dad will be safe and okay…
"Penny?" The rap on the door that shattered the terrifying silence could not have been more fortuitously timed. Dennis did not wait for a reply, simply pushing the door open and peering round it as Penny tore her eyes away from Teddy and swung them in his direction.
"Bert and Rajesh think they've fixed it," he exclaimed, apparently oblivious to the depths of tension he'd just shattered. "At least, Rajesh says they've balanced the hourglasses again and Bert's purged out that bloody hum. They reckon Teddy had a dodgy amulet and it threw the passivity field out of alignment when it cracked under the stress. But Bert said you didn't want anyone going in to test it except you so…"
"Yes, of course." Still fingering the broken amulet, Penny turned towards the door, pausing only to glance with steely eyes over her shoulder. "Teddy, come with me if you would."
The thoughts of a quick escape that had been shimmering unbidden in Teddy's mind, came apart like sodden paper. Apparently, it wasn't going to be that easy.
And so, mind whirling and heart pounding, Teddy followed Penny and Dennis back through the office, smiling half-heartedly at Rose and Lucy as his mind raced from one scenario to the next - getting punished, getting fired, getting locked up, watching as they tossed his parents back to their deaths to correct a history not even damaged, before dragging him off to Azkaban…
No. No, I can't let them.
But how can I stop it now? All I can do is take the blame and pray my parents won't be found…
They had reached the Portal room by now, where Rajesh and Bert were waiting with an unusually sombre Edgar Fortescue at their side. In spite of Dennis' proclamation that the Portal had been fixed, the air in the room felt heavy, sickly and though the noise of the hum had vanished, he could almost feel it silently rippling in his bones. No, no, it still wasn't right…
Penny's shiver implied that she felt it too, but nonetheless she got straight to the point, taking an undamaged amulet out of Bert's outstretched hand and fitting it to her wrist. "Have you set a test destination?"
Rajesh looked distinctly uncomfortable. "Not yet. But Penny, I don't think this is a good idea, it still feels off to me…"
Penny regarded him from under raised brows. "Rajesh, is there any more we can do to the Portal now? Is there any charm or fix we know of that we haven't tried already?"
"Well, no, but…"
"And is there any other way to tell from here exactly what is going on?"
"Probably not, but if we gave it a little more time… It's only been a couple of hours since I got in and found it like this…"
Penny secured the amulet with a final tug and looked up to meet the eyes of her friend and workmate. "Rajesh, you and I know this Portal back to front and inside out. And we both know that the only way to really get to the bottom of what's going on is for someone to go inside. And that's my responsibility."
Rajesh sighed in apparent submission, but Edgar was not so easily dissuaded.
"But if it's still damaged, Penelope, just barrelling in…" He smiled wryly. "Health and safety will have my head if you get blown up."
Penny smiled gently in return. "We've balanced it, Edgar. As long as it's balanced, I should be fine. Trust me. Now Bert, if you would set me a destination, I'd be most grateful."
Bert didn't seem any more convinced than his two colleagues, but he was also a man who knew a losing battle when he saw one. "Got one in mind?"
Teddy felt rather than saw Penny's eyes shift slightly in his direction. "The simplest possible. This room, last night. If nothing else, I might see something that helps us learn what happened."
The cold shivers turned instantly glacial. She'll see them. Oh Merlin, she'll see them, she'll know…
He wanted to shout. He wanted to scream. He wanted to leap forwards, drag her back, prevent her from stepping through the shimmering curtain that had just flickered into uncertain life before she saw his secret, saw his parents, saw what he'd done and condemned them all…
But the freezing cold had trapped him. He couldn't move, couldn't do a single thing but watch, watch Dennis standing just to his left, watch Bert and Rajesh exchange a worried glance as they moved back from the archway, watch Edgar, pale and silent just near the corridor entrance as Penny walked over to the Portal, her face stern and resolved as she stepped inevitably forwards…
And the world slipped into slow motion.
He heard the sound first, that terrible, physical sound that battered against his eardrums and drove him back against the wall with a bruisingly painful thud. He saw Dennis tumble to the ground, saw Edgar reeling backwards, Bert stumbling over his robes as he fell and Rajesh shouting, screaming, his words ripped away, inaudible over the sudden din as he fought to batter his way forwards through the raging barricade of noise. The curtain was twisting and writhing and he could see Penny caught within its grasp, a silhouette just as his dad had been, as the serpentine red light tore and seared its way around her suddenly frozen body. And then, with an agonising pulse of scarlet, every hourglass on the arch exploded.
"Protego!" Teddy had absolutely no idea how the hell he managed to get hold of his wand, let alone erect the spell he needed, but the invisible barrier shot up just in time to shield both him and Dennis from the sudden rain of glassy shrapnel hurtling through the air. Bert, it seemed, was less lucky – Teddy heard the older man cry out in pain from the other side of the chamber. A flurry of robes told Teddy that Edgar had successfully dived through the door into the corridor, and a distant slam told him Rajesh had managed the same with the office access. The tinkle of raining glass and falling sand filled the room for an eternal moment longer as the red glow dimmed, faded and allowed normal sight, normal, sound, normal time to resume once more.
Penelope Weasley lay spread-eagled at the centre of a fan of broken glass and red scorches, her amulet shattered and smoking, her body pockmarked with blisters of blood against skin that was utterly, deathly pale. She was motionless.
Oh god. What have I done? Penny, what have I done?
The world became a blur, a raging torrent of sight and sound. It began with Rajesh's horrified cry as he rushed back from the office door and hurtled to her side, with Rose and Lucy a step behind as they stared in bewildered horror at the devastation laid out before them. Edgar stood frozen in the doorframe, hands clasped across his mouth but as curious faces from other Divisions began to cluster in the corridor behind him, he turned and started barking orders to call St Mungo's, find a Healer, get a stretcher, get Percy, for God's sake get some help. Dennis had rushed over to the bloodstained Bert, but he insisted the damage was superfluous, that it was nothing, that they should help Penny, they had to help Penny…
Rajesh's voice cut frantically through the chaos. Penny wasn't breathing. What should he do, what should he do?
I've killed her. I broke the Portal out of selfish need and Gods, I've killed her for it…
Elijah Whistler the Potions Master shoved his way inside in a flourish of stained robes and grasped vials, Petroc Mercer from the Thought Division a step behind. Edgar was rushing Petroc forward for yes, he could help, he'd been a healer in Spell Damage before he'd taken a position studying memory and brainpower in the Department of Mysteries…
Spells and potions, one after another, frantically, desperately applied. A charm to force air into her lungs, to massage her heart into beating, potions to cure shock, to revive someone near death…
Someone was touching Teddy's shoulder, whispering his name… Rose, it was Rose, but he could not face her, could not face any of them knowing this was all his fault; he could only stand and stare and watch Penny's unresponsive face as all the magic at their command was hurled into the fray to save her. He could not move, could barely breathe, they had to help her, they had to save her…
A breath. She'd taken a breath.
She was breathing!
The euphoria lasted barely a second. Petroc was shaking his head; it was only because he'd forced it, she wasn't breathing on her own…
And suddenly, there was Percy. Ignoring the broken glass beneath him, he plunged to his knees at his wife's side, pale and shaking behind his horn-rimmed glasses and stuffy robes. Teddy was used to Percy the confident, Percy the efficient, Percy the bossy, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic, liked and respected if laughed at affectionately in private. He'd never seen this Percy, frightened, at a loss, almost frail as he stared at his unmoving wife…
And it's my fault.
The stretcher arrived. Penny was lifted with all care on board and, with her husband clasping her hand and Petroc hovering at her side, she was rushed out towards the Floo and St Mungo's. The battered Bert quickly followed, propped up by an obliging Dennis.
Edgar was still shaking as he stared at the detritus left in the wake of Penny's departure. And then with a sharp exclamation, he turned to Rose, Lucy and Teddy and ordered them all home. Until further notice, he said, the Historical Records Section was closed. Rajesh, and Dennis when he returned, would help him to investigate the disaster. The rest of them were to go. He'd call them if he needed them.
And that was what Teddy did, walking with Rose and Lucy up to the Floo, ignoring their questions until they stood in the Atrium and bid each other an uncertain goodbye.
Into the green flames he went. Going home just as he'd wanted. But not how he'd wanted. Not like this.
And as he travelled through the fire, all he could hear was the pounding of his blood in his veins and a guilty voice at the back of his head, reciting over and over again: it's your fault, it's your fault, it's your fault.
If she dies, it's your fault.
And then the sooty emerald of the Floo cleared and he found himself home, facing his anxious father, the man for whom he had risked so much and possibly sacrificed another life for in turn, and all he could do was blurt out the truth.
"Dad," he whispered, his voice trembling almost as much as his body. "I think I might have just got Penny Weasley killed."