B. March 17, 1979

D. May 2, 1998


At first, they had thought the owl had come with her N.E.W.T. results, and were surprised that it was so early, barely two weeks after her final year at Hogwarts had come to an end. The envelope had been thick and heavy, the Ministry seal emblazoned on it in dark blue wax, but on further inspection, it was from a department no one in the Bell family had ever heard of: the Muggle-Born Registration Commission. Inside, there was a long questionnaire for her father, demanding his genealogy back six generations, and when he hadn't been able to provide every last cousin and relative, much less prove that any of them had been witches or wizards, they had come for him.

The actual arrest was a blur in Katie's memory. It had been after midnight, and she was already asleep when the crash came at the door, then the angry shouting, the harsh voices yelling her father's name. She had grabbed her wand, run to help, but her mother had met her at the bedroom door, a look on her face more hardened than Katie had ever seen on the usually gentle witch as she ordered her eldest to grab the younger children and run. Run and never look back.

It had been the hardest thing she had ever done until that point. The duel downstairs was fierce, she could hear screams, cries, bangs and crashes that sent terror pounding through every nerve and fiber of her body, but somehow, she still didn't really know how, she had kept her cool on the outside. Incredibly, Thomas and Timothy had still been asleep, but she cast Silencio on her four year-old brothers as she woke them, wrapped them in traveling cloaks, hastily stuffed a few things into her old Hogwarts Quidditch bag.

In hindsight, she wished she'd packed more, used a Reducing Charm, but there hadn't been time to really think. Get the twins, get Walter, get Lucy, bite back the wince as she slapped her own ten year-old sister and made her shut up, stop crying, grab her own things. Then it was just cling tight to their hands and turn on the spot and escape with a final prayer, a choked, bitter knowledge that she would never see her home, her parents again.

Strangely, as close as she had been to her mother and father, Katie never grieved for them, not even after she read in the Prophet that her father had been killed while resisting arrest and her mother sent to Azkaban. It wasn't even numbness or disbelief. She knew exactly what it meant, she understood fully and oh, Merlin, but it certainly hurt enough. There simply was no ability to grieve. She was a branded Blood-Traitor now, a danger to anyone who would break the law by offering her aid. Their vault at Gringotts had been seized, and she was unemployed and unemployable, homeless with two small bags of random clothing and stupidly, uselessly sentimental photographs that did nothing to feed or shelter herself and her four young siblings.

After having dozens of doors slammed in her face by terrified-looking business owners and innkeepers, Katie turned to the Muggle world, but there was nothing there for her either. She was a non-person there: no birth certificate, no identification, no schooling. Walter tried to help, tried to go door to door in the Muggle neighborhoods, offering to do chores for anything they were willing to pay, but he knew nothing about how to run a Muggle lawnmower or wash a Muggle car, and that brought about difficult questions when people asked where his parents were, why he looked like he hadn't had a bath in a week, why he stared at a bologna sandwich like he was starving but tucked it into his pocket without a bite.

Within three days, she had become a thief, and she felt no remorse. Remorse was what knotted her stomach and made her skin crawl with self-hatred when the twins cried with hunger, when they had to sleep beneath bridges, when Lucy threw up from eating a chicken salad someone had left on a café table that had turned in the sun. Katie tried not to take too much, not even from a lingering morality, but rather from a fear of getting caught, but a Confundus Charm could make the cashier at the fish and chips stand think she had already paid, and Reducio made it easy to slip tins of peaches and kippers and packets of biscuits into her pockets.

They survived this way through the rest of July, scavenging and stealing, hiding and finding shelter wherever they could, but they couldn't keep it up forever. By the beginning of August, the summer heat was at its peak, and Katie was becoming truly desperate. Walter had nearly killed himself once already, weeding flowerbeds under the blazing sun until he had staggered back, and beet-red and clammy beneath the violent sunburn for the sake of twenty pounds clutched in one shaking fist. Lucy was thirsty all the time, and the twins had broken out into a nasty, oozing rash despite her efforts to keep their clothes Scourgified. For herself, she knew she had lost a shocking amount of weight for two weeks, and twice she had barely escaped very close encounters with Muggle police who were growing increasingly suspicious of them.

When the owl had found them – something that in itself gave her nightmares – informing them that Walter's attendance at Hogwarts would be mandatory that year, and supplying the list of required things for his fourth year that had never looked so sickeningly daunting before, it was the final straw. Once, a lifetime ago, in a world she barely remembered, she had wanted to be an actress, been preparing for her audition to get into the Wizarding Performing Arts Association, but now she had a different role to play.

She stole money for the first time that night, levitating a wallet outside a Muggle pub, and she got them a motel room. It was air conditioning, blessed and cool, it was a real bed with real sheets, but more importantly, it was a shower, and that was something she could no longer afford to do without. Katie barely felt her own body, seemingly looking down on herself from somewhere very far away as she vanished the hair from her legs, dried and curled her hair, transfigured her lips to a vivid scarlet and thickened her lashes almost parodically in the mirror.

Her underthings were utilitarian white cotton, but after a few failed attempts to change them to black lace, she let them stay that way. It was virginal, after all, and it would go with the uniform. Her school uniform had still been in the bottom of her bag when she ran, but she had a feeling it might be an asset. She kept the Gryffindor colors unchanged, but the skirt was shortened to barely cover her knickers, the sweater shrunk ridiculously tight, and she fastened the robes all the way to her throat before she stepped out of the bathroom at last. She didn't want them to know, and Walter would be old enough to guess.

Katie's cynical assumption about the uniform had proved correct. The crimson and gold, combined with the tight set of her shoulders and the pain she couldn't keep from the depths of her eyes were a powerful draw in Knockturn Alley. They reveled in the broken pride of the lion badge on her chest, taunted her, jeered and heckled and rubbed her face in how far she had fallen, but she stopped caring soon enough. She stopped caring what they called her, stopped caring what they wanted her to do, and what they did to her when names weren't enough, because it didn't matter, not when they paid.

She told the children she was working in a pub. It explained the late hours, the lips, the hair, the eyes. Her healing spells had always been good, they never saw bruises or handprints or anything else, and the darkest wounds weren't visible anyway. What they knew, all they would ever know, was that there was food on the table, that the motel was paid for every night, that Walter had his things for school – even if they were second-hand – and that sometimes, she was able to bring them sweets or books or other little things to make it all more bearable.

When Walter came back for Christmas, she even had presents, and she felt something that nearly resembled hope for the first time she could remember when he told her that Neville had reformed the D.A., and that they were no longer the homework club she had been part of, but a real army. For a few hours, as her brother told her about drills and plans, how shockingly the boy she barely remembered had grown to command, how much the Room of Requirement was truly helping them now, she had even believed it might all be okay in the end. Then, of course, the sun had set, and it was back to reality again.

Despite the tears and red-faced reluctance that her clients reveled in, Katie had never actually felt regret for what she did. If anything, she was proud that she had not cowered back from the sacrifices that had been necessary to take care of her family. So on the night Oliver Wood called her name as she crossed Diagon Alley, the shame that burned and cringed so deeply at the shocked horror of his tone caught her completely by surprise.

He had tried to offer her help, offer her money, but she had refused. It wasn't any stupid reluctance to take charity, she had explained, but rather for his sake. Katie was no longer just his friend and former teammate, and if a professional player was caught giving money to a witch like she had become, there would be no saving him from being expelled from the league for misconduct. Even with the stakes that high, persuading him to just forget he had ever seen her had not been possible, but when he did leave her behind at last, the charmed coin clutched in her fist was worth more than every vault in Gringotts.

It went off two months earlier than she had expected, but she was still ready. She packed quickly but thoroughly this time, and kissed her siblings good-bye gently, taking Lucy aside and explaining that she was going to fight with Walter, and that this was going to be it, one way or another. Harry was back, he was making his stand, and by morning, it would all be decided.

If they were victorious, but Katie and Walter did not come back, Lucy was to take the Knight Bus to the Leaky Cauldron and talk to the barkeep, whom Oliver had promised would see that they got to their Aunt in Bristol if it was no longer an invitation to bring Death Eaters to her door. If they lost, however, she was to present herself and her brothers to the Ministry of Magic as orphans and swear allegiance to anything they wanted her to swear it to. It wouldn't matter any more.

Despite all that she had gone through to protect her family, Katie never actually knew if they won or lost. When the Incendio struck her and the flames swept her body into an instant, blazing inferno, she could hear herself screaming, yet she felt no pain. Oddly, in fact, it was the first time in ten months she had really felt clean.