Susan Bones stood next to a stack of jumpers in GladRags Wizardwear watching Megan Jones cajole Hannah into buying clothes. In the year since her mother was killed, Hannah had lost weight, enough that her clothes no longer fit, but she had still not bothered to get anything new. Never a heavy girl, Hannah now looked like a ragamuffin. To fix that Megan believed Hannah needed her friends to give her a push. It was Christmas, a season for parties and fun it was time Hannah joined in.
Susan didn't entirely disagree; she was just more patient. She was a Bones, and an expert on losing family. Hannah didn't want to look pretty. She wasn't ready to stop being sad, which Susan understood. She had seen it before.
"This would look incredible on you, Hannah." Megan said holding up a dress with a plunging neckline and tiny straps.
Susan hid a smile; Megan was so predictable.
"Yes, incredible would be the word for it," Hannah said, barely looking up. She knew what Megan was doing. When she had agreed to go to Gladrags, she had told Susan that the girl would push on her the most clingy and low cut jumper the shop offered. She was close. This time it was a dress.
Picking clothes for Hannah fascinated Megan. It was so much more interesting than choosing her own, coming as it did with a little vicarious thrill-seeking, because even the most boring jumper that lay flat on Susan or Megan in a neat little V took on a new identity full of cleavage and curves when Hannah wore it.
"Besides I don't want anything today," Hannah said.
Susan frowned. Megan was going about this all wrong. Having spent years badgering Hannah out of loose clothes that made her look like a lump, she didn't want to lose ground now. "Megan," Susan began, but stopped. Her attention was caught by a face, young and sharp, framed by a Death Eater's robe, looking in at them through the store window, watching them particularly. Surely Susan was imagining that.
"Now that's ridiculous," said Megan. "You need new clothes. It's Christmas and we're having a party. What about this?" Megan held up another clingy dress. "If you have them, you should show them off," Megan said patting her own bosom. "Don't waste them. Make them good for something."
Hannah walked over to Susan. "Tell me again why I'm here shopping with Miss Boob Obsessed," she whispered.
"Because Megan and I are tired of watching you walk around like a waif from The Tales of Helga Hufflepuff and her Seven Works of Mercy. I swear Hannah, you look like the model for the orphan sitting at Helga's feet in the hall mural. Some mornings I want to hand you a sickle to get your blessing."
Susan turned around before Hannah could answer. Out of the corner of her eye, she had seen the young Death Eater moving. He was making his way to the door of the shop. He had been watching them; she was sure of it and now he was coming. She didn't like that. It was never good to attract the attention of one of them.
"What could he want?" Hannah asked.
The young man walked in pushing back his hood. He hesitated a bit and then marched up to Hannah, smiling an almost shy smile. "You know, you'd be very pretty in that," he said pointing to the dress Megan was holding.
Hannah stared back at him gob-smacked. Megan's mouth was open and even the shop woman standing nearby looked ready to bolt.
Oh my God, Susan thought, he's trying to flirt with Hannah. Did Death Eaters really walk around trying to pick up girls on Hogsmeade weekends?
"No it wouldn't," Hannah said. "It wouldn't look pretty on me at all. It would look terrible."
Megan stared at Hannah as if she'd sprouted feathers and started singing like a fwooper. Susan would have laughed if she weren't so frightened.
"I'll choose my own clothes, thank you." Hannah said, turning her back on him. She crossed over to a truly ugly set of jumpers fit for elderly witches, grabbed one and then carried it into a dressing room.
The Boy-Death-Eater took a step as if making a move to follow her. The shop keeper let out a squeak and started toward him, but before either of them walked far Hannah appeared wearing the ugly bag-like jumper. Crossing her arms over her chest she stared back at the boy. He looked angrily from Hannah to Susan to the shop-keeper and back again before turning and walking out. Susan could see his hood bobbing as he made his way down the street.
"That was extremely foolish," the shop-keeper told Hannah. She didn't ask them to leave the store, but she looked like she would prefer they did.
Susan felt sorry for the shop-keeper. That Boy-Death-Eater would remember the shop now and that was dangerous.
Hannah frowned, looking bright red, squeezing her hands open and shut as she faced the woman. It didn't take much for Hannah to feel embarrassed or guilty. She looked ready to apologize which would be a terrible mistake. No one discussed Death Eaters in public. Most in Hogsmeade wanted to pretend they weren't around. "I think I will buy something," she said.
"You're not getting that -- are you?" Megan asked looking genuinely worried.
Even the shop keeper seemed distressed.
"Now that he's gone? No." Avoiding the dress the Death Eater had liked, Hannah made her guilt purchase of a rather expensive jumper from the shopkeeper, who now looked happier to have had them in the store.
"Thank Merlin, now you have something pretty and worth wearing," Megan said when they were out on the pavement outside the store. "Maybe we should thank that Death Eater instead. How fresh do you think his Dark Mark is? I almost feel sorry for him."
"She doesn't understand," Susan said later after Megan had left. "How could she? Megan's never lost anyone."
"She thinks I'm pathetic and should be over my mother by now."
"I told you she doesn't understand. She means well. She wants you to be happy, and she thinks new clothes and looking pretty will make it happen. Megan's right about some things. You do need to buy yourself clothes, more than that jumper, I mean."
"I know. You've told me. I look like a waif. I will – later. " Hannah grew silent as two Death Eaters passed them, turning her head to stare as they walked by. Their hooded figures made a grotesque contrast to the Christmas garlands that decorated the street around them. Hannah watched without saying a word, until finally, nodding in their direction, she asked, "Do you ever wonder, if any of these… could have been the ones who did it – who killed your family I mean?"
Susan jumped as if Hannah pulled her on a string. "No," she said, I don't." Liar, she thought.
"I do," Hannah said. "Every time I see them, I wonder if these are the ones who killed my mother."
Susan knew she should tell her to stop, that thinking that way would lead to no good, but she didn't. She wasn't a hypocrite.
"It's different for our family," Susan said. "We had trials and everything. With my auntie, well -- Scrimgeour came and told us himself." No, Susan didn't have to wonder about strangers; instead she searched packs of Death Eaters for faces and voices she'd memorized years ago.
"I wonder if they know who I am -- what they've taken from me," Hannah said, pink faced and blinking back tears. "Sometimes I think they're laughing at me because they know and I don't."
Hannah nodded toward a pair of hooded men who stood in front of Honeydukes, a cluster of Christmas candles hovering above their heads. "I want to hurt them, and I've never wanted to hurt anyone before in my life. Well, no one other than Draco, fifth year." She gave Susan a weak smile, as tears ran down her cheeks. "I even dream sometimes about doing it. Isn't that creepy?" She wiped her face with the back of her sleeve like a little kid. "I'm a complete freak, perfect for that baby Death Eater in Gladrags, and now look, I'm crying in the street."
"You're not a freak, so forget that, and you're nothing like those people," Susan said. "Let's get out of here. We can go to the Three Broomsticks. It's almost time to meet Ernie. He's on assignment and will love to tell us how it went. While we wait, we'll have some Gillywaters and talk, even if it is only eleven."
The pub was packed. Students had mobbed the place filling the tables and the aisles, hoping to keep the Death Eaters out by sheer force of numbers. Of course they came in anyway, but the mass of students pushed them to the edges, forming little amorphous groups that got in the Death Eater's way, whenever they tried to move.
The kids opened a path for Susan and Hannah as they walked by. The crowd buzzed with gossip about a Death Eater who'd been cursed behind Honeydukes. Megan grabbed her arm as she pushed by her table. "Who ever cursed the Death Eater did a fantastic job," she said bubbly with excitement. "He had leeks in his ears and everything. Lavender told me. They're accusing Neville of doing it."
Susan glanced at Hannah. Surely Neville wasn't in trouble if Megan was so happy.
"He told them he was with Luna buying quills when it happened. Of course they didn't believe either of them and the shop owner, the sneak, wouldn't vouch for him. Too afraid to contradict a Death Eater, I reckon. Luckily Flitwick was there and kept saying he'd seen Neville and they couldn't ignore that."
Megan grinned even more broadly; the whole table was laughing. Apparently the best was yet to come. "Now they're saying the Neville they have, the one Flitwick saw in the shop is someone else Polyjuiced, and that the real Neville did the hexing. So, half the lot is sitting in a circle watching him, waiting for the supposed potion to wear off, while the rest are off looking for the real Neville."
That last development was better than the actual hexing. "See, You don't have to hurt them to win," Susan said as four younger students at a side table stood up to give them a place, probably assuming that they were here on DA business and needed the space. "A good laugh's enough sometimes."
After they sat down, Hannah leaned forward. "I'm sorry I'm dumping all of this on you, but there's nobody else."
"You're not dumping. I want to listen." It was easy for Susan to be patient with Hannah. She understood her. They shared something that she didn't with her other friends. They both knew that death was one thing and murder another. It was damn painful to know that a person you loved died on purpose, that someone killed her out of malice, intending to harm.
"I can't talk to my Dad anymore," Hannah said. "The rest of the family won't talk about Mum's death either. I think they're keeping things from me. It makes me crazy wondering what they know."
Susan nodded. This was a story she could have told herself. When your grandparents, your uncle, his wife, your cousins and your favorite auntie had all been murdered you understood that sometimes in families there were things that no one wanted to talk about. That list in her family was necessarily long and complex and had included her father's childhood, his parents, his brother, really his whole family other than his sister Amelia until she'd been murdered too. Sometimes people stopped talking about others not because they loved them too little, but because they loved them too much. Susan didn't know how to explain that so Hannah understood.
Most of what she knew about the killings in her family she learned in the library at Hogwarts. She was grateful that Madam Pince was too dense or uncaring to notice the newspapers she signed out. She never wanted to get kind and knowing looks from the woman, and thank God she never had.
Hannah wanted to know more about her mother's death, which worried Susan. Did she suffer? Can you tell me if she suffered at the end? The answer to that question wasn't something you wanted to hear.
"All they do is beg me to stay safe," Hannah said.
"I don't think you can change that," Susan said. "I've been wrapped in cotton-wool all my life. The whole family coddled me, even my hit-wizard, knock-you-down-and-arrest-you, Auntie Amelia. They're all afraid of losing what they have left."
"I know they just want me to stay safe, but I told you I want to hurt those people," Hannah said. "I want to do to them what they do to everyone else."
"No you don't, not really. If you did you would have Cruciated one of them already. You could have. You've come across them alone at night on missions. But you haven't. The worst you've ever done was cast a Jelly-hands curse."
Hannah hitched her shoulders and frowned. "I think about it though," she said. "It scares me sometimes. Do you ever want to…hurt them badly?"
Susan wasn't willing to reveal that answer to anyone, not even Hannah. "No," she said. "I'm a Bones, and that has to mean something. Like I said, making fun of them always helps. Besides, the best way to hurt them is to win. Surely you see that." Of course that attitude was probably why so many of her relatives were dead.
Rosmerta brought Gillywaters to the table without being asked. She was Hannah's older cousin and enjoyed giving her special attention. "Now I can tell your grandmother I saw you," Rosmerta said with a smile before she left. "She's constantly flooing me for news." Hannah smiled back. Susan didn't know if it was real. She wished it was. Susan toasted the Death Eaters sitting around waiting for the real Neville to show up and Hannah's smile seemed a little warmer, a little more relaxed.
Ernie walked over and sat down heavily in the chair next to Susan looking grim. He was clutching a glass of mead with both hands, like it was the elixir of life. "What's the matter?" Susan asked. "Had a hard time proving you weren't the real Neville?"
Ernie shook his head. He wasn't amused. "The Apothecary won't sell us the potion ingredients we need," he told them. "Michael Corner and I were just there and he refused. Things are desperate; the DA's running out of potions."
The idea was ridiculous, like a stationer refusing to sell them quills.
"The Apothecary's scared," Ernie said. "He thinks he's being watched and says he's surrounded. He is practically afraid to breathe. Carrow gave him a list of what students each year normally buy and he expects him every week to give him the names of anyone who deviates from it. He told me they were particularly interested in the ingredients I wanted."
"Snape told them what to look for," Hannah said.
"He's the Old Potions Master," Ernie agreed. "He has probably guessed every potion we're likely to use and every ingredient we'll need to make them. I don't know what the DA's going to do without some decent antidotes." Ernie gulped his mead. He probably needed it.
"The Apothecary apologized, but he refused to lie for me," Ernie said. "He's too afraid he'll be caught. I told him I was grateful he at least warned me. I probably should be. He could turn me in just for asking. Michael Corner's Apparated to Diagon Alley to see if an apothecary there will sell to him."
"Michael will be lucky if he isn't picked up by Snatchers as a truant," Susan said.
"I don't think it will work either," Ernie said. "Potterwatch says the Death Eaters don't want people to be able to protect themselves, so they've closed down all the shops that sell Dark Detectors. I reckon they've expanded to potions too." Ernie stared glumly down at his glass of mead. "I don't know what we'll tell Ginny and Neville."
"Hannah and I could give it a try. We could claim we need the ingredients for love potions," Susan said. Everyone at the table needed to cheer up. "Now, Hannah's love life is doing fine, what with her new admirer and all, but I could tell the Apothecary that I needed some help."
"It's not the same ingredients," he said, through his teeth. He was really not amused now.
"Maybe we'll get some anyway," Susan replied. "We could brew a potion up for the school's Death Eaters, have them fall in love with Alecto."
"Now I like that. But why not give her the potion too?" Hannah asked. "That should make things interesting."
"I see it now," said Susan. "Death Eaters chase Alecto while she's after Snape and he runs away in horror. They are all too busy to bother us." Susan grinned at a frowning Ernie, who did not approve of joking over such a serious matter. She was sure he was forming arguments to explain why the plan was unworkable.
"Summersby," Hannah said out of no where.
"We have Alecto fall for our old Seeker?" Ernie asked looking confused. "I don't see how that would help."
"Summersby works at the apothecary now," Hannah said.
Susan had heard that from Megan. She could see where Hannah was going. "Yes, Summersby could get us the ingredients we need," Susan said.
"Susan and I will sneak over to the back door of the shop to try to ask him for help. If anyone catches us we'll make it look like we fancy him and want to get a look at Hufflepuff's old seeker."
Ernie stared at them like he didn't much like the idea, which made Susan like it even more. "He must have a break sometime," she said. "Hannah and I'll invite him to meet us here. When he comes he brings everything we need with him. He's a Hufflepuff; he won't turn us in."
Ernie was shaking his head, trying to form arguments against their excellent plan.
"We know him Ernie. He can't have changed that much," Hannah said. "He was always nice to us, when he was in school. He didn't have to be, but he was."
"We don't really fancy him," said Susan. "It's just an act to explain we're hanging around the Apothecary's assistant. We'll tell him quick enough why we're meeting him."
Hannah leaned forward and put her hand on Ernie's arm. "I'll make it look like I'm the one who fancies him and Susan's just along to back me up."
Susan smiled because that remark made Ernie blush.
"All right, tell him we need boomslang if nothing else," Ernie said. "That's the most important -- after that Graphorn parts and moonstone powder. Bicorn powder would be wonderful if he can give it to you, but the boomslang is imperative. You won't forget?"
Susan rolled her eyes, "Honestly, how stupid do you think we are?"
Ernie shrugged and didn't answer but took a drink of his mead, smiling at her over the top of his glass. He looked really quite cute. Finally he said, "Your cleverer than I am that's for sure. So assuming you can get the ingredients, how are you getting them into Hogwarts? I thought I'd just carry them in, but now? They'll show up on Filch's Secrecy Sensor."
"We'll take the route through the kitchens like the good Hufflepuffs we are," Susan answered. There was a short cut through the kitchens, used by Hufflepuffs in a rush to get to their Common Room. Few students from the other houses knew about it, most were barely aware Hogwarts had kitchens.
"I'll buy some booze from Rosmerta for our Christmas party," Hannah said. "If they're in the kitchen and catch us we'll use the booze as our excuse for why we're sneaking in. We get in trouble with Sprout and maybe Snape, but smuggling booze should have nothing to do with the Carrows."
In the end Ernie had to agree. How could he stop them? They set the plan in motion and recruited Eleanor and Laura to keep the Apothecary busy examining cauldrons, silver knives and mortars at the front of the store, while Hannah and Susan nipped by the back to talk with Summersby.
When they found him, Summersby refused to let Susan and Hannah inside the store, stepping out into the alley to meet with them instead. He claimed it would look more innocent that way, convinced that they'd raise more suspicion if they were seen sneaking into the shop.
Unfortunately that required Hannah to simper like a love-struck fourth year, which was embarrassing. Susan muffled their conversation under Ginny's Muffliato charm.
"I can get most of what you need; I'm not afraid, unlike him in there," Summersby said with a jerk of his head toward the shop. He smiled. "Besides, I have to help you. Huffs stand by other Huffs."
Susan and Hannah grinned at each other. They knew this was a great idea.
"How will I bring it to you?" Summersby asked. "I have a girl friend. I don't want her to think I sneak off to flirt with Hogwarts girls. Plus I've been out of school for too long to be seen hanging around kids."
Susan wasn't sure she liked the insinuation that they were not mature enough to be seen with Summersby.
"We'll bring Megan," Hannah said. "She's the seeker now. You can come and give her some pointers."
"That'll work," Summersby said. "I saw the Ravenclaw game. Your Seeker has no business even attempting the Wronski Feint and someone needs to correct her Sloth Grip Roll. I'll definitely be there."
When they turned to leave they noticed the young Death Eater from Gladrags standing at the end of the alley watching them. Susan wondered how long he'd been standing there. Without saying a word, he turned and walked away.
"Thank God for the Muffliato charm," Hannah said.
Megan wasn't upset at all to hear that Hannah and Susan had arranged for Summersby to come to coach her over her Quidditch moves. She was thrilled and told every Hufflepuff she could find in town about the help Summersby was going to give her. Word spread and students from every year of Hufflepuff collected in the Three Broomsticks glad to see their former Seeker again, who while no Cedric Diggory, was good enough to be a star. The crowd believed Summersby wanted nothing more than a chance to help them win the Quidditch cup.
Ernie was the only Hufflepuff not waiting to greet Summersby. (Except for Zacharias but no one expected him. He hated not being the center of attention.) Ernie was staying as far away as possible, protecting the plan from his failed attempt to buy the ingredients.
Summersby walked into the pub carrying his broom and was met with cheers. He waved at the girls and hurried over to sit down at the table next to Susan. After greeting Megan he went immediately to the point. "I watched you play and you're not bad, but who taught you the Sloth Grip? They went about it all wrong."
He stood up and motioned to her to join him. While Hufflepuffs cleared space for the two in the aisle, Summersby stood by Megan showing her how to place her hands on his broom and where to balance her weight. Susan noticed two small packages left on the seat of Summersby's chair. Just as Megan executed a perfect Sloth Grip Roll and the Hufflepuff crowd cheered, Susan slowly slid her hands over and grabbed the packets stashing them in her robes. This Quidditch idea was brilliant.
They ducked behind the Three Broomsticks hoping to find a place to look over the ingredients Summersby had given them. If it had been summer they could have simply walked into the hills to find a quiet place but it was cold and soggy, and what was more, there seemed no sensible excuse for them to go walking on snowy hills.
Before they had pulled out the packet of potions ingredients, or even begun to talk about them, the young Death Eater who'd approached Hannah in Gladrags stepped out from behind some bins where he had been hiding.
My God, how long has he been following us? Susan felt sick. This bloke wasn't just a Death Eater; he was a Nutter.
"I watched you with that apothecary bloke," the Nutter said. "You talk to him, but you won't talk to me. You didn't give him the cold shoulder, no not him." He took a step toward Hannah. He was very close to her now. "You're so thick. He's there to spy on the apothecary. Why do you think his boss is so frightened? He watches people for Carrow's lot just like I do. But you talk to him. Why? Because he's good looking and played Quidditch? Because he's a Hufflepuff like you?" He gave Hannah a shove.
Hannah, Susan silently begged, don't hex this Nutter, not while we have the ingredients on us.
Hannah was glaring at the Nutter. "Whether we trust him or don't trust him doesn't have anything to do with you," she said.
A door into the kitchens popped open and Rosmerta stuck her head out. "Girls, what are you doing out here? You know I don't like loitering behind my pub." Rosmerta scowled at the two of them like a mother who caught her daughter sneaking a boy into her bedroom a three AM. "Hannah, I have some news from your father. I've been looking all over for you," she said, gesturing for them to come in.
Susan could feel the Death Eater's eyes on her back as she and Hannah pushed past him and into Rosmerta's kitchen. The door closed with a bang and the click of bolts drawing behind them as Rosmerta muttered quick locking charms.
"Stay away from that boy," Rosmerta said, as if they had wanted to meet with him. "He helped smash up Dervish and Banges when the Death Eaters closed the place. He's trouble."
"We want to stay away from him. He followed us," Susan said. Rosmerta wasn't normally this unfair. She was afraid, Susan reckoned.
"Rosmerta, Susan and I need to talk," Hannah said. "We need a place where we can get away from blokes like that, where we won't be seen. It's important"
They needed a private place to examine the potions ingredients, and even more they needed to figure out what they thought about the Death Eater Nutter's accusations against Summersby.
Rosmerta eyes narrowed. "Does this have something to do with trouble at the Castle?" She put her hand up. "Wait don't tell me. Not that either of you would." She sighed. "I have a snug you can have. Business is down so it's not a sacrifice."
She grabbed a key from a hook on the wall and led them through a back service corridor, to a small room. She left them there and was half way through the door when she turned back shutting it behind her. "Girls, please be careful. You have no idea what someone like that boy can do, especially if you underestimate him," Rosmerta said. "Protect your mind," she added before leaving.
"I'm grateful to Rosmerta, but does she really think we need her to tell us to watch out for the Nutter?" Susan asked as she dumped the potions ingredients from their packages onto a table. They all looked right to her, but she was hardly an expert. "We're surrounded by Death Eaters everyday at school," Susan said as she applied an anti-tracking-spell her Aunt Amelia had taught her.
"We're lucky she interrupted us when she did," Hannah said as she tested the boomslang with a false identity spell. "Things were turning ugly."
Nothing appeared to be amiss. The boomslang seemed to be unadulterated boomslang, as did the Graphorn parts and moonstone powder. Summersby had even thrown in some Murtlap essence which looked fine too. Susan still wasn't sure. She wasn't a Potions student and neither was Hannah. Their knowledge only went so far.
Susan rubbed her face. "What do you think about what the Nutter said, Hannah? Should we trust Summersby?"
"We have to now. What are we going to do—dump this stuff? We can't; we need it too much. Besides he was a Hufflepuff and good to us. It'll take more than that Death Eater to convince me."
The Nutter was jealous and paranoid enough to want them to hate Summersby for no reason.
"Would he tell us the truth and give away a fellow Death Eater just because he was angry?" Hannah asked. "That doesn't seem likely."
"Depends on how stupid and how insane the Nutter is," Susan said. "From what I can tell it could go either way. He seems pretty stupid and pretty insane."
Someone knocked on the door and the girls threw their cloaks over the material on the table. Rosmerta walked in carrying Hannah's booze and a small bag. "I have something for you," she said as she pulled open the draw-sting bag. Several small blue feathers floated in the air around her. "Jobberknoll feathers, I want you girls to have them."
Susan stared at the feathers amazed. Extremely valuable, they were used in everything from Veritaserum to its antidotes to mind-strengthening potions.
"I got them for protection after… well… anyway. I decided you need protection from these monsters more than I do," Rosmerta said looking red-faced and pained.
"You're giving us these?" Hannah asked, amazed. Jobberknoll parts were expensive.
Rosmerta shook her head and waved her hand at them. "Send some of what you make over to me. I can't brew the potions myself. I thought after some practice I'd be able to; I had a fair hand back in school, but it's been a long time." She smiled the same embarrassed smile Susan had seen on Hannah's face many times.
She stepped in closer and gently tapped Hannah on the forehead. "Protect your mind. That's the most important thing. Don't forget."
Hannah stood up and hugged Rosmerta, who hugged her back and then pushed her away asking, "Hannah, you won't embarrass me with the booze you bought? You will be careful with it; won't you?"
"Unbelievably careful," Hannah said. "You'll approve of what I'm going to do with that booze believe me."
After she left the two looked at their collection of potions and laughed. "I think we did pretty well by Ernie," Susan said, holding up the bag of feathers. "But how are we going to carry these into the school? Put them in the bag with the booze?" She blew at it and one floated up in front of her face. Hannah snatched it out of the air. "I have an idea." She pulled her new jumper out of its bag and laid the feather on top of it. She conjured a needle and thread. "We sew the feathers onto the neckline and I'll wear them into school." She grinned at Susan. "I have an idea for the rest too – wait till you see," Hannah said. "Get the coin out. Tell Ernie we have his stuff. God, it feels good to do this. It is even better than hurting them, I think."
The door to the Hogwarts kitchens was not really a door; the kitchens were staffed by house-elves who didn't need them, so the entry was nothing but a round hatch for the delivery of supplies. Anyone who wanted to use it had to ask very politely and explain very clearly why they needed to enter. Manners were always expected.
Susan and Hannah asked the hatch to please be good enough to open for two Hufflepuffs who needed to get to their common room very quickly. Rock scraped against rock, sliding back to reveal a chute leading to the kitchen larder. The girls crawled through and slid down into the brightly lit storeroom, Hannah tightly clutching to her chest the bag full of bottles and her old jumper. The floor when they landed eased around them like a bolster. Susan sprang up thanking the long forgotten Hufflepuffs who'd cast such an effective cushioning charm.
"I laugh every time I do that," Hannah said. "Remember when we were first years and did it just for fun? One time I was homesick and one of the house-elves kept Apparating me to the hatch, so I could slide over and over again, just to cheer me up." She gave Susan a small chagrined smile. "Merlin, I'm babbling -- are you as scared as I am?"
"More," Susan said. The thought that Summersby, like any Hufflepuff, knew about the kitchen entrance weighed on her.
"I thought of hiding the packets here and having some house-elf who likes us deliver it, but I can't," Hannah said. "They'd have to punish themselves horribly to do it."
Susan shuddered just thinking of the burned hands and stabbed eyes that would follow. "Time for the DA members closest friend," she said as she and Hannah cast Disillusionment charms on themselves. "Let's see if Summersby can be trusted."
The doorway from the larder was just large enough to fit a house-elf carrying supplies; Susan and Hannah had to crawl through on their hands and knees. They made their way carefully, avoiding the house-elves who walked by carrying trays of food and sizzling hot fry pans. The room looked normal. One or two elves disappeared with great pops as they left to make deliveries to different parts of the castle. A drunken elf-girl sat muttering in a corner. She stared straight at them over her butter-beer bottle almost as if she could see them. Though a pathetic sight, she was a familiar one.
As they passed the last work table, someone screamed, no, something screamed – a Caterwauling Charm had gone off. Before she could shield herself a voice shouted Homenum revelio and her Disillusionment charm melted away. Her wand flew out of her hand and she pitched forward as if a force had shoved her from behind. She caught herself from falling, taking rapid steps to recover herself and remain upright. To her left she heard the crash of bottles hitting the floor as Hannah fell to the ground. Susan could smell no booze; no puddle of firewhiskey pooled beside her; apparently no bottle had smashed. Rosmerta must have spelled them with unbreakable charms.
Susan's arms were pressed close against her sides. She could feel ropes wrap around her body, binding her tightly, but she could not see them. Two Death Eaters appeared out of empty space in front of her. Disilusionment Charms for them too, she thought. Without the Caterwauling Charm she and Hannah might have walked past the Death Eaters without knowing they were there, invisible to them too. They thought was funny. She almost laughed and wondered if that meant she was hysterical.
Susan fought rising panic as the Death Eaters approached. They pulled off their hoods but said nothing; their silence more frightening than threats. The first, a sandy haired man with freckles grabbed the bag full of bottles of firewhiskey and carried it over to the sink, where he emptied each bottle as Hannah and Susan watched impassively. His friend, a handsome man with very blue eyes, held the empty bottles up to the light and peered at them.
They think there's something hidden in the bottles, Susan thought in a panic. They know. Summersby must have told; he must have betrayed them. That's how they knew to wait in the kitchen.
Freckled man walked over to Hannah. "What's in the bag?"
"A jumper," she said.
"If I worked on that jumper and broke the transfiguration, what would I find?" he asked.
"A jumper," Hannah answered. "I needed some clothes, so I bought some. That's all."
"We know. We know everything." Freckle man told Hannah. "It's silly to keep this up. Just tell me. Where are you hiding it?"
"Hiding what? I'm not hiding anything," she answered. "You already found the booze."
The booze was their salvation. If they could keep these two focused on the booze, convinced that was all they had, then they might not look for anything else.
The handsome blue eyed one walked over to Susan, his smile looking almost concerned. "You know, it'll be a lot better for you, if you give us the goods now, rather than wait for us to find it -- a lot better."
Susan stared back, trying her best to look confused by his words. She didn't know if she could trust her voice.
"So, are you going to tell me what you know?" Blue-eyes asked.
She shook her head. "I don't know anything." Her voice shook. She didn't think she sounded like she was lying; she sounded scared, because she was scared, very scared.
"Well that's too bad," Blue-eyes said. He turned to Hannah, "How about you? Are you going to talk?"
"I had the booze, and you found it," Hannah said, her face red, her eyes tearful. "I have nothing else to talk about."
Freckled-face sighed, "Very well, if you have nothing to say." He turned to Blue-eyes and said, "I'll search this one, and you search the blond." He and Blue-eyes pointed their wands at Hannah and Susan. "Langlock"
Susan flinched and closed her eyes; she could do nothing to defend herself from the curse. Her tongue rose and stuck itself to the roof of her mouth gagging and choking her.
Hands patted over her legs, her bum -- her whole body. Fingers wiggled under her clothes, between the magical ropes and under her arms. Behind her a house-elf was whimpering.
She heard a muffled squeak from Hannah and looked over. Blue-eyes was sliding his hands under her jumper, while she tried to kick at him until she fell over backwards onto the floor.
"Miss Abbott is not hiding bottles of firewhisky in her undergarments. Neither is Miss Bones. There is no need to grope either of them. I suggest you step away from those girls." McGonagall and Sprout stood wands out in the open doorway to the kitchen.
Relief flooded over Susan as the Freckled-face stopped his search, but then he glanced back at her before turning toward McGonagall and Susan realized horribly that he knew who she was. He hadn't before, but he did now. He'd recognized the name Bones, probably because of her auntie, and maybe for the rest of the family too. A sick memory of her earlier conversation with Hannah rushed back. Did he just recognize the name, or was the look a sign of a more sinister connection?
Sprout ran forward, pushing past Blue-eyes to help Hannah up off the floor, while McGonagall summoned their wands. Sprout attempted to break the spell binding Hannah but couldn't. Angrily she turned to the two Death Eaters. "Take the spells off these girls," she said. "They won't run off while we're standing here."
Hannah wasn't looking at Sprout her rescuer or the Death Eater who'd searched her but at the doorway, where Snape stood like a giant bat watching them.
"Wands out Professors? Challenging staff executing their duty? I am surprised. Do you support students smuggling contraband into school?"
"They were manhandling the girls. Groping girls isn't part of their duty," Sprout said.
"A necessary search," Blue-eyes replied. Susan could not tell if the name Abbott had been familiar to him. She found herself wondering for Hannah if these Death Eaters recognized the name of her mother.
"A search for bottles of alcohol in a girl's jumper?" McGonagall said.
Snape glanced at Hannah; his eyes sharpened. He was the old Potions Master. Could he recognize Jobberknoll feathers at this distance?
"And why are these men searching students?" McGonagall asked. "That's Filch's job."
"Filch is a Squib," Blue-eyes answered as if that was all that needed to be said.
"In the past, students have found Filch easy to overwhelm," Snape answered.
"The girls were caught bringing in bottles of firewhiskey," said Sprout. "Students have done it before. Students will do it again. It's a house matter. I will notify the parents, take one hundred and fifty points from Hufflepuff and ban them from Hogsmeade. That should be the end of it, as it has been in the past for other students."
Carrow showed up walking into the kitchen to stand next to Snape, smiling at Susan, who he'd had in detention just a few days before.
"This is about more than firewhiskey," said the Freckled Death Eater. "They're hiding something."
"You don't know that," McGonagall snapped.
"You, Professor don't know that their smuggling was limited to alcohol," the Freckled Death Eater replied smoothly. Carrow laughed.
"After groping the girls, you found nothing. I'd say that was evidence," McGonagall said.
"We were…" he started to say.
"You don't know they haven't sent what they had ahead," Snape said cutting in. "This buffoonery has come to an end. We've already had one time-wasting farce today. I don't want another. You're arguing over two tippling Hufflepuff girls while most of the school's troublemakers traipse through the front doors with no protections but a Squib and what men we have left not manning other posts." Snape was shouting now. "These two have done a fine job of creating a diversion."
The two Death Eaters looked for support from Carrow, who was staring resentfully at Snape.
"We will take one hundred and fifty points from Hufflepuff. Not that it will make any difference; they are already in negative numbers," Snape said. "Yes, the parents will be notified and no, Bones and Abbott will not be going to Hogsmeade again." He turned to Sprout and sneered. "But no, it will not end there. Nothing is a house matter anymore."
He narrowed his eyes and stared down his nose at Hannah like a great dark hawk about to eat a mouse. "Abbott and Bones will have one afternoon of detention with Professor Carrow for every bottle smuggled."
"That man has nothing to do with this," McGonagall said, her voice like ice. "He's not their head of house and the indiscretion did not occur in his classroom."
"The Professor's duties have expanded," Snape said. "He will be in charge of administering discipline. This is as good a time for him to begin as any."
Carrow turned to Snape and smiled. Susan was sure he had just been given something he wanted.
With a few flicks of his wand, Snape released Susan and Hannah from the spell binding them. "Now go to your common room. I'm finished with this nonsense."
McGonagall walked out before Hannah and Susan, casting Snape a look of pure contempt. Hannah followed, her body pulled as far from the Headmaster as possible. His eyes weren't on the Jobberknoll feathers which surrounded her neck, but on the Death Eater who had slipped over to talk to Carrow. A feather floated in the air behind Hannah, Susan snatched it up as she walked by and stowed it quickly in her pocket. The skin on her back and neck tingled as she walked. She felt like a target. They knew she was a Bones.
Outside the kitchen McGongall gave her back her wand. Susan gripped hers tightly, grateful to have it. During every detention she feared she would never get it back again. She rubbed her arms and moved her tongue around inside her mouth. She felt awful. Even as she stepped through the house painting her insides sunk down into a pit so deep she thought she was going to be sick. Extra days of detention with Carrow, how would she handle it? She wanted to scream and not stop.
The whole house seemed to crowd around them in the common room, asking if they were alright. Eleanor and Laura pushed their way forward. "A house-elf came and told Sprout and McGonagall you were in trouble," Eleanor said. "We saw him," said Laura. "He looked like a hedgehog poor thing. He had to stab himself in the arm with forks to do it."
Susan just shook her head; she couldn't think about that now. She and Hannah pushed their way into their bedroom. Once inside they hugged each other. "I can't believe we're here," Susan said. She looked around the room. "Amazing. I never thought we would get out of there."
They should get on the coin with Ernie, and tell him they were all right, but she just couldn't do anything yet. There was a room full of Hufflepuffs downstairs who could tell him. She didn't want to do anything but lock the door and hide under the bed until she was sure that those bastards weren't coming after her, but that was stupid. If they came there was nothing she could do to hide anyway. They knew who she was, but what did that matter? They'd known who she was in the kitchen and she was still here now. She pulled away from Hannah and smiled. She wasn't going to let herself to even begin to think about detention with Carrow tomorrow.
"How could Summersby have turned us in?" Hannah asked. "I can hardly believe it."
"We don't know he did it," Susan said. "They could have been bluffing about us hiding something, and anyone could have told them about the kitchens. They might even be ex-Hufflepuffs." That would be as horrible a betrayal as Summersby their old Seeker turning them in.
Hannah shook her head. "I don't think we can trust him anymore, but that doesn't matter, not now. We'd better get started, before we call Ernie." She reached down to pull up her jumper when Megan burst into the room.
"Circe on a stick! You had to stand in your scanties in front of Snape? While some Death Eater touched you up? They better give you an Order of Merlin after the war – First Class – that's all I can say. In your scanties in front of Snape! Auggh!" Megan shuddered.
"It wasn't that bad," Susan said laughing. "We weren't in out scanties." Moving her mouth felt wonderful. She laughed again just because she could.
"They searched us," Hannah said. "It was close." She pulled her Jobberknoll feathered jumper off and lifted up her breasts. There under her heavily wired bra, taped against her skin and almost covered by her breasts were the packets of potion ingredients.
"See Megan -- you said I should make these work for me," Hannah said.
"Will you look at that. They searched you and still didn't find it," said. Megan. "But Hannah you need new bras too. That one doesn't fit you anymore either."
"I know Megan. I know," Hannah said shaking her head. She was smiling.