Hello! Sorry about the cliff-hanger (though I do love a good cliff-hanger)
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter but JK's world is the Patronus of my life.
Patronuses and the Failures of Courage
Penny's teeth chattered, needling her lower lip as she spoke.
"They took Ben Copper."
But my Patronus … Why hadn't he fled with the others?
I froze, my entire body going cold as I sought Charlie's gaze.
His eyes widened; his jaw set hard with a mixture of shock and realisation. The cowardly boy that we'd known had grown, and he had probably died for it, went the unsaid.
"How did you escape? Were you followed?" Rowan asked as Penny began to dissolve into heavy sobs, leaning on Andre for support as he flashed Rowan a quick "not now" sort-of-look.
"Let's get you inside," he hummed instead, his voice soft and gentle. Andre had always had a sort of calming affect on people but Penny shook her head.
"I n-need to find Bea; Mum and Dad … they're all in danger … Oh Merlin, why didn't I go straight home? I should be with my family, keeping them safe …"
She bit her lip as she tried in vain to collect herself.
I remembered the way she'd first been when Beatrice had gone missing. She looked like that now: frantic, lost … broken.
But we freed Beatrice and broke the curse, I reminded myself.
"Hey it'll be okay," I said, my voice oddly calm as I squeezed her shoulder, "You're in no shape to go anywhere at the moment."
"Bethany's right," Rowan agreed, "According to my calculations if you leave in your current state of fatigue the chances of survival are limited to just …"
"Not helping Rowan," I hissed between my teeth.
"What Rowan is trying to say is that it's too bloody cold out here and we rather you didn't freeze to death," Andre supplied as he helped the witch to her feet.
"Come on," I murmured, "It's a lot warmer inside."
The sun had fully risen by the time that we had coaxed Penny back into the house. Rowan busied herself making tea while the rest of us gathered in the living room. Charlie lit the fireplace while Andre wrapped a blanket over Penny's shoulders before I began attending to the various cuts and bruises on her arms.
"I know it's hard but I need you to tell us exactly what happened."
She flinched; her expression flickering as she averted her eyes towards the now crackling fire as Charlie settled beside me.
"Surely we can leave that 'til morning, can't we?" Andre countered sharply.
I shook my head, "Numbing the pain for a while will only make it worse when you finally feel it," I found myself recalling the same words that Professor Dumbledore had once spoken to me a long time ago, "You've been so brave Penny. I need you to demonstrate that courage one more time." I squeezed her clammy hand in mine as if to strengthen her. "Please."
Penny took in a deep, shuddering breath before she began to speak.
"We were talking … we had both finished our rounds and I was trying to convince him to go home for the night when they just burst through the doors …" Penny shuddered, squeezing her eyes shut as she fell silent again and it seemed that she'd fallen asleep but she continued.
"It was awful … they just started f-flinging curses everywhere … saying that he was a thief and a 'mudblood' …" Her voice wobbled, "He was half-dead when they dragged him out and I tried to stop them but one of them rounded on me … he had these wolfish teeth and … and these eyes and said that he'd bite me if I did anything and I just f-froze …"
The air was momentarily sucked out of my lungs.
"Greyback," I whispered.
Charlie's head snapped to attention at the name, his hand trembling ever so slightly as he gripped my shoulder so tightly that it almost hurt.
Fenrir Greyback was a werewolf who specialised in biting young children and was the one responsible for brutally savaging Bill last June. I had only faced Greyback once in my first year but could still remember it clearly: his gaze – the crazed flicker of madness and greed for blood … it wasn't something that one could ever forget.
Penny nodded, "It was like Scarlet all over again."
The living room fell silent as she broke off.
"B-blimey," Andre ran a hand over his face, looking almost as shaken as Penny, "I'd heard about officials bringing in Muggle-borns but I figured it was all just a farce. I didn't realise that they were so …"
Brutal. Went the unsaid.
Penny opened her eyes; her lower lip trembling as her gaze returned to the fire: slack and haunted.
"I could talk to my dad," Charlie offered, "Or Kingsley …"
"No, no, absolutely not." Rowan appeared from the kitchen as she came in levitating a tray of biscuits and tea, "Don't forget that everybody related to the Order is under scrutiny – your Dad included."
"What about Tulip?" Andre suggested, "She's not connected to the Order and her parents work in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement don't they?"
"It's worth a shot but their Head of Department's a Death Eater," Charlie grumbled, "One of the same Death Eaters I might add that attacked Bethany at Gringotts …"
"And probably one of the Death Eaters that attacked us again in Romania," Rowan added as the kettle poured itself out into five separate cups.
"Well there must be something we can do," Andre said.
"I mean I can look into it sure but if what you're saying is true then he's probably already …" she trailed off when Penny let out a tiny sob, "Sorry, I didn't mean to imply …"
"You don't get it," she whimpered, "I'm the one in charge of the Research for Magical Maladies Department – I'm his boss. I'm supposed to ensure my employees' safety at all times and I failed … "
Everything turned silent again as I sought Charlie's gaze. His jaw was still set hard yet his gaze was soft and full of understanding.
"Rowan, send a letter to Jae," I instructed, "Make sure you use the code we created and the usual passwords so it can't be traced. Tell him that Penny is with us and that she and her family will be joining him in a few hours. He'll be able to set up a safe house for them to lay low until we figure out a more permanent solution."
Rowan opened her mouth to protest but closed it again.
She passed us all biscuits and tea from the tray before she swept out of the living room again.
"Don't worry," Andre gave Penny's shoulder another reassuring squeeze, "It'll be okay. You'll see: after this is all over I'll even buy you a Pride of Portree scarf of your own."
Charlie raised an eyebrow with an expression that asked "What is it with this guy and scarves?"
"Okay, get some rest," I replied as I set down my tea, "I'll go re-strengthen the magical barriers."
"Protego Maxima. Fianto Duri. Repello Inimicum."
"This isn't on you, you know that right?" Charlie said as he joined me outside.
"Salvio Hexia. Protego Totalum," I continued to cast different various protective charms as I averted my gaze, "That's the thing though Charlie. I should have sent a Patronus as soon as the Ministry had fallen …"
"You mean during the attack at the Burrow?" Charlie shook his head, "You wouldn't have got the chance; not with the Death Eaters' interrogations and besides, if Ben got captured now it means that he did get your Patronus but made the decision not to go into hiding."
"And what if that's because I didn't give him enough warning?" I asked, my chest constricting with the guilt that choked me. Charlie sighed, as he brought me into a strong embrace.
"We're going to work this out Bethany, I promise," he replied, "What ever we have to face: Snatchers, Werewolves ... Wait that's it!" he grinned so suddenly that it made my heart skip a beat, "Expecto Patronum."
Charlie's Patronus rose from his wand in the form of a dragon and disappeared into the forest. I raised an eyebrow. "I'm guessing you didn't cast that Patronus just for the sake of it."
"We haven't seen Tonks in a while."
"Yes. But what does that have to do with …"
"Bethany, think. If the Snatchers were with Greyback then we'd need to track down a werewolf, and who knows more about werewolves than any of us combined ..."
"Oh my gosh, you're brilliant!"
Charlie laughed as I kissed his lips, "So I've been told."
So we're going to Tonks' next 'cause A) Ben's AMI after being dragged off by Snatchers and a blood-thirsty werewolf and B) I'm in need of a little Tonks/Remus humour
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Lots of love,