A/N: If you know a Scouse/Liverpudlian accent, that is what a certain shop girl in this chapter talks like. She's modelled on two of my step-cousins – don't tell them!
Life went onward the same. During the day. The dull, end-of-winter days were just the same. A round of cooking and carving and making the lamp oil last. The shop in Hogsmeade that stocked their chess pieces had ordered another five sets in beech wood. Tiggy sawed the blocks and Rax spent all his hours whittling. There was nothing new. There was nothing to talk about.
But at night – Anticles was fretful.
Did he know something? No, Cles didn't know anything. He just had fretful spells occasionally, in which he would hide behind the wing chair all day long, and not want to come out at night. Tiggy sat up to hush him. But even when Cles was quiet, she lay awake, staring in the darkness at the wall of the built-in bed. They had no bedrooms. There was a curtained-off box bed in the work room, that had been Grandfather's and was now Tiggy's. Anticles' trundle bed was beside that, and Rax slept in a pile of blankets by the kitchen hearth. The wall was blank. Tiggy stared at those Faces:
Fourteen years. Azkaban had not been kind to those Death Eaters. Fourteen years. Father had been dead for fourteen years. And Mother. And the person who had been Anticles. And somewhere, somewhere out of Azkaban, was the person who had done that.
They had known that all along. But those ten faces made you think of it. Was that person's life 'too good' now? Were they glad to see those ten faces? Did they know why? Was there a why?
Nothing more had been heard of the Azkaban escapees. They knew that without spending any more money on it – even though Tiggy had discovered that Rax had put the remaining twenty-four knuts back in the door frame – because it would have been on the headlines outside the Daily Prophet offices. And those were blank. The ten faces stared down from Wanted posters, but the headlines were full of – nothing.
Tiggy presumed the WWN would be the same. They didn't have a wireless to find out. It had been sold long ago, the winter Grandfather had died.
The chess pieces were all done. Just before the lamp oil was. Tiggy counted out their remaining coins from the charm-protected pot on the dresser. Enough for the postage – and two knuts for the packing paper. Food for this week would depend on the inclination of Bitter & Pitt for selling 'on credit.' Tiggy gathered her worn cloak and basket, and set out down the sixty-nine steps.
Packing paper first. Ali Bashir's rug shop. The shop was dark inside, any light through the windows blocked by the rugs: rugs on the walls, rugs on the floor, rugs on tables, rugs in piles, rugs in rolls, rugs hanging up – even rugs festooned from the ceiling. Some light came through the cut-work doors of the fancy Arabian-nights lantern hanging drunkenly from the middle of the ceiling.
Enough light to see the few notices pinned up on a rug fastened on the back wall:
FLYING CARPETS ARE ILLEGAL IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
That didn't mean they wouldn't get you one.
ALL OUR RUGS ARE FULLY GUARANTEED
From what, they didn't say.
DOXIES ARE NOT A PROBLEM WITH OUR RUGS
Don't ask why.
OLD, VALUBLE RUGS REPAIRED AND RESTORED HERE
Usually without the owner's permission.
And, beneath a calender with photos of dragons:
WE ARE EXPECTING NEW IMPORTS OF RUGS NEXT MONTH.
Don't ask for your dragon eggs, as smuggled in the rugs, until then.
Tiggy looked around. "Hello?"
A rug hanging at the back wobbled, there was a muffled bumping noise and several less muffled swear words, and a girl's head popped out from behind the rug.
"Hel- Oh - Miss Sutch. Good morning."
Tiggy gave her a polite smile. "Hello." Benait Bashir was about the only person apart from Rax who spoke to her as a human being, instead of patronising her poverty or fearing her past.
It had been like that since Tiggy had once gone into Ali Bashir's to collect a bundle of newspapers just after the school holidays had started four years ago. A bright young witch in red and black block-print robes, a total contrast to the usual dusty gloom of the rug shop, had bounced forwards eagerly. "Can I help?"
Tiggy was completely taken aback. "I- I- I'm here to collect a bundle of packaging. Er- old newspaper..."
The girl had bounced off to the central table, where a few cash tins and receipt books still defended one corner against the onslaught of rugs piled across the rest of the surface. "Mm-mm-mm..." The girl flicked through a book. "Oh, 'packaging materials, two knuts, for a Mr Artaxerxes Sutch'?" she read out questioningly.
They hadn't changed that in the three years since Grandfather had died, because Ali Bashir knew whose granddaughter she was. It suddenly seemed stupid. Tiggy nodded. "Yes. But you could put it down in my name from now on. Antigone Sutch."
The girl produced a quill from behind her ear, and began to write that down. "An-Ti-Go-Ne Sutch... I'm Benait. I'm Ali's step-daughter. I'm what you get from now on here, too. Isn't it nice when you finally get out of school and get to join the family business?" She grinned comradely at Tiggy. "Even just as the odd job girl? I've wanted to for ages and ages and years, really..." she jabbered happily on, "all the time at school listening to teachers nagging you about your homework, and you're thinking – I just want to work with those rugs...! – I don't want to do frilly charms and make useless fancy potions – just teach me a rug cleaning solution! Of course," she giggled suddenly, "I know, I know, Potions should be sacred to a Slytherin..." She wedged the book back on the corner of the table. "What house are you from?"
Tiggy answered without thinking. Grandfather had drummed it into them. "The Sutches have always been in Slytherin-"
She stopped in horror. In eight years the lie had never been caught. Most people drew their own conclusions and steered well clear of you, but this girl – was a Slytherin...
...and had flushed in sudden embarrassment:
"Oh! Oh, Miss Sutch, I- I didn't realise... oh how- how very, oh- rude of me... I didn't- don't really remember the, er- older years in our House, when I first started... I oh- am so sorry- oh, dear..." She fetched the bale of newspaper in a state of utter confusion, and Tiggy had had to remind her of the two knut charge and leave the shop to ease the embarrassment.
Tiggy had never had the heart to tell Benait they had both been eighteen then and were both twenty-two now. She had stayed fixed in Benait's eyes as 'An Older Slytherin,' to be addressed with the friendliness due to House-mate-hood and the respect due to adulthood. Explanation was- impossible. The real reason – had been because the real reason was unspeakable, must be concealed and defended and the remaining shattered fragment of his life preserved. Which left only what the rest of the world thought: that they were too Dark to be willing to go to Hogwarts. And that - Tiggy had no sentiment about Hogwarts, or her education. It was a thing that was. Neither did she care that by Benait's reckoning she, Antigone, would count as nearly thirty. But it was nice to have somebody who didn't see you as a Death Eater's daughter.
This morning, Benait looked disgruntled. "He is," she said, putting her magazine down. "They're right. He's mad."
"Mad?" Tiggy asked absently, thinking of Anticles. "Who's mad?"
Benait sighed. For a Slytherin who lived and worked on Knockturn Alley, she had a curious obsession: "Harry Potter..." She read and saved any mention of his name in the Daily Prophet; had suffered agonies over the interview by Rita Skeeter and the whole TriWizard tournament; and would sigh with swooning regret that she had left school 'too early...' All of which she invariably poured out to 'Miss Sutch' over each bale of newspaper, followed by a hasty apology for her youthful stupidity. This morning, however, she stuffed the magazine with her hero's picture on the front roughly aside. "He's in The Quibbler, The Quibbler, I ask you... ranting on about You-Know-Who coming back..."
"Yeah...you know, the stupid rumours the Ministry's been having to deal with all year, that You-Know-Who is 'active again' or something, even though nobody's died or seen him or anything funny happened at all..."
The room was cold. And grey. And mockingly heavy... From a long way away, Benait's voice rambled on:
"he says He's alive again – not really been dead..."
...Bellatrix Lestrange who had gone through their house '...to try to find him!'...
"and that He's got this huge snake that He can Talk to..."
… those hissing noises Anticles calmed for...
"and that the Death Eaters have all regathered..."
...those ten faces...
"and he even says Sirius Black's innocent!..."
...Rax looking down at the photo – 'we never saw him'...
Were people blind?
Benait produced the usual bale from under a pile of rugs. "I'd hoped and hoped they weren't right and he wasn't mad, but that... I don't want to know, any more. Gives me the creeps – fancy having delusions like that... You-Know-Who, I mean... Here-" She picked up the Quibbler hastily and thrust it under the top string of the bundle. "Use it for packing, please, Miss Sutch. I don't want it in here."
Tiggy gave her the two knuts and took the parcel and walked out of the shop. She had not read the article. It was the Quibbler. But when it came to The-Boy-Who-Lived, Benait repeated what she'd heard. And that – that made cold, clear, blinding sense of – everything.
He's alive again...
Somehow Tiggy was in the kitchen, somehow she had lit the lamp, and a strange voice that sounded hardly hers called "Rax! Rax! Now!"
Rax, varnish and paintbrush in hand, had got quite cross at being so startled before Tiggy could manage to be coherent enough to explain. Then he stared at the Quibbler. "Well... I can't leave this." He waved the brush half-crossly towards the work room. "Come and read it out loud while I get these last pieces varnished."
Rax worked at one end of the bench, Tiggy perched on the other and held the Quibbler up to the light. "We don't want the latest news on Crumple-horned Snorkacks... Harry Potter: He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the night I saw him return..."
Whatever her reputation for sensationalism, Rita Skeeter was a good writer. It grew harder and harder to read. Tiggy could see not only the scene Harry Potter described, but the same ring of cloaked, masked, hooded figures fourteen, fifteen years before. A ring with Father in it. Father- Father had apparated like that; Father had bowed and crawled and kissed the Dark Lord's robes; Father had known those Death Eaters by names as well as faces; had stood with them, had served with them...
And one of them had struck him down, and returned unharmed to stand beside Father's empty space, remorseless...
Tiggy choked out the last few lines, and looked up at Rax. He was staring quite rigidly out of the tiny dormer window. Tiggy swallowed. "Benait says everybody says he's mad or something."
"Mad?" Rax echoed sceptically. They knew mad. The small, dim room was very silent. Rax got up and knelt down beside Tiggy's bed, and pulled out the drawer beneath it.
Tiggy stared. "Rax?" In the drawer were blankets, nothing but their spare, somewhat worn and frayed but precious, blankets – and the two knuts Tiggy had saved towards buying Rax a bar of chocolate for his birthday. But Rax didn't look into the contents. He took the drawer right out. From behind it, he took out a dark wooden box. Memory stirred. Long ago, Tiggy had seen that box – seen it lying haphazardly on the floor after Father had been arrested, amidst the smashed jumble of books and papers where his whole study had been torn apart by the Aurors. "Rax?"
The box came open at his touch. A faint smell of musty leather, long shut in. And he took out a book. A fat book, bound in leather that must once have been white but was now a hideous dead-skin colour. He opened it. Tiggy craned her neck to see the title: "Brewes of Lyfe. Rax? What is that?"
Rax looked up from running his finger down the contents page. "When I asked Grandfather that, he said 'death.' It was Father's. It used to live on the top shelf over the mantelpiece, if you remember."
Tiggy strained to recall anything other than the smashed-up study. "Vaguely. He had a row of books, and the pot that he kept chocolate Galleons in. Mother always said we weren't to touch anything up there." She looked at the book she hadn't known they had, the book that was no way a friend or companion or comrade. "And I always thought it was because of the chocolates... What have you got it for?"
"We have got it," said Rax slowly, "because F- Grandfather said it would do less harm here than if it went out into the world, and it is fireproof. What I am looking for is... here." He opened the book carefully, and smoothed the heavy parchment page flat. "Yes. Bone, blood and flesh... Harry Potter's not mad. 'Brew of Restoration.' He's described it perfectly."
The wizard who had trained his followers to kill traitors was alive again, had his followers again, and even the Benaits of the world believed the eye-witness was making it up. If the famed fifteen year old who had defeated the Dark Lord once could not do anything, what could two Sutches, bankrupt and half-educated, do against the Dark...
There was a funny noise in the kitchen. Tiggy dived off the workbench, across the three strides to the dividing door, and wrenched it open – to a snow-storm of shredded paper. Anticles had got over his fretful spell: she had left the parcel of paper on the kitchen floor, and Cles had torn it to shreds. The floor, the table, every shelf and surface, drifting clouds in the gust of air...
"Oh, ho ho ho..." Rax was laughing behind her, Tiggy leaned on the door frame and laughed helplessly herself, and a flurry of paper rose from a small figure tossing armfuls behind the wing chair.
Harry Potter was not mad. But perhaps Anticles had known that they needed to laugh.
A/N: Okay, okay, I have relented! Expect chapter 4, "Beginner's opening" on Tuesday.