- Wed Feb 25, 2015 10:48 am
Wandering the castle late at night had become somewhat of a habit lately. Casey found the quiet, dark halls comforting. There were good memories in them, of all the years he had spent at Hogwarts. The good outweighed the bad here. At least, in most parts. Sure, there was the attack on the second floor corridor that had pushed him and Evie closer much faster than even he had anticipated during their sixth year. Sure, there was the attack by Lucius outside the steps of the castle. But what did it matter now? If one or both had not happened, who knew where he and Evie would be now. If they weren’t married, Casey wasn’t so convinced she would have put up with his decision to go undercover without consulting her first. So, he preferred the memories exist. It had made them stronger. Besides, turning Lucius Malfoy into a chicken was quite funny to think of these days. It somehow made dealing with him during meetings slightly more manageable.
Casey scratched his neck at the thought of meetings. Quinton, Arthur… Thankfully, Voldemort hadn’t made him become involved in the interrogations in the two weeks since he’d tortured Quinton, but it didn’t make the knowledge both were now in the Dark Lord’s hands any easier. Not being involved kept him in the dark as to their wellbeing. The fact they were alive didn’t mean they weren’t suffering. That was the missing piece of intel that would help prepare the Order beyond their sweeps of underground tunnels in London. If the two weren’t mobile, they’d need to be prepared so they could make a quick escape without the immobility of their rescuees being an unexpected twist. Granted, Casey was certain they were planning for every scenario: finding dead bodies, finding injured bodies, finding more than Arthur and Quinton down there, etc. He was probably over thinking. Again. He had a tendency for that.
Casey stopped in the foyer as he realized he’d reached it. He had three, no, four options now. He could go into the Great Hall and sit, go down to the kitchens, go outside and brave the rain, or return back to the commons. He knew for sure going out into the torrential downpour outside was not on the menu nor was going back to the commons, but he wasn’t sure where he wanted to go. He wasn’t hungry, but it would lead to more walking.
Before too much consideration could be given, Casey was distracted by the sound of a firm knock on the doors to the castle. It repeated itself more rapidly, almost desperately. Casey stared at the door, confused. Students should be in bed at this time. He certainly had never caught anyone outside this late. In the halls? Certainly. But out in the middle of a rainstorm? Casey didn’t understand it. It didn’t make sense.
Casey readied his wand as he approached the door. He gave it a wave so the door would open just enough for him to see outside. The person on the other side was not one he had expected. “S-serena?” he stammered. It seemed almost impossible that this woman was the girl he had known from school. She seemed darker somehow, definitely more mature. But beyond her stark change in appearance, there was a looming question. “How’d you get here?”
“There’ll be plenty of time for that later. Let me in.”
“I’ll explain everything, Casey. Veritaserum, if you need, but it’s cold out here.”
Casey nodded and stepped back then opened the door enough for Serena to get in. He immediately shut it behind her. Perhaps it was against his better judgment to let Serena in when he hadn’t seen her in a few months’ time. They’d lost contact following his and Evie’s wedding, and she had certainly been much more like herself the last time he’d seen her. But still, Serena was a friend, and he wasn’t going to leave her out in the rain. He certainly wouldn’t let her go without question either, however. No, there was no need for that.
“Can I get you some food?” he offered. May as well make the interrogation amicable. No need for her to be uncomfortable.
“Anything you can offer me would be great, but a fire would be wonderful.”
Casey nodded and began to lead her toward the stairs which led from the main floor down to the dungeons then took the fork toward the Hufflepuff Common Room and the kitchen when appropriate. Serena was quiet, and Casey did nothing to break the silence. He wasn’t sure what to say. “What happened?” was something that came to mind immediately but would possibly strike a nerve with the girl who had always been fairly no-nonsense. He doubted that part had changed over the year that had passed.
Several steps and a tickled peach later and the two entered the kitchens. No house elves were in sight, but Casey imagined they were asleep. “Looks like we’re on our own,” he stated.
Serena looked at him with a slight smile as she lit the fireplace and immediately sat down before its hearth. She shivered at the contact. Casey could only imagine the floor was ice cold beneath her. No matter how thick her pants were, she would feel that.
“What would you like?” he asked, though he wasn’t sure he could provide anything more than a warm drink. Cooking was hardly his forte, but he would try for Serena. It was better than waking a house elf at this ungodly hour.
“Some tea would be nice,” Serena answered.
Casey was almost surprised at the directness. Serena had been becoming increasingly more direct over the few months before his and Evie’s wedding. She’d been a great support and seemingly had thrived on helping others and the acceptance and friendships it had gained her, but this? There was no hesitation.
Casey nodded at Serena’s request then put some water in a kettle and set it to heat upon the wood stove at the far corner of the room. There was no need to hurry it with magic. Serena had a fire to warm her until the kettle whistled, and in the meantime they could talk while she had nothing to hide behind. It was strange to be somewhat suspicious of a friend, but when someone showed up at Hogwarts’ doorstep in the middle of the night, it was worthy of being cautious.
Casey began to browse through the pantry as he began to speak, hoping to not seem confrontational. Besides, even if Serena hadn’t asked for food, he was sure some soup would be nice. Hopefully they had some. “So, long time no see.”
Serena nodded. “It has been a long time,” she agreed whilst setting her gloves beside the fire. She rubbed her hands together then breathed into them before opening them and placing them palm-down over the fire.
They were quiet for a few moments as Casey found some soup and put it on the burner next to the kettle. Casey walked over toward the fireplace and eased himself down next to Serena. Then, he turned his body so that he could comfortably look at her. It was then that he noticed how broken she looked. Yet Serena’s battered, disheveled appearance did not hide the depth of determination and fight in her eyes. The split lip, bruises, and running make-up were only signs she was in trouble. Despite wanting to offer her promises of protection, Casey still needed to know what was going on. “Not to be rude or anything, but why are you here?”
Serena shook her head. “Not rude. I’d ask the same thing, if I were you,” she assured him. She took a few moments to speak. “I saw you and Evie in the papers recently, teaching and all. I didn’t know if Skeeter was lying for material, but I had to try.”
“I need somewhere to hide, somewhere safe.”
“You-know-who,” Serena whispered. She was quiet after that, and Casey didn’t prod. The kettle chose that moment of waiting to whistle.
“Hold that thought,” he told Serena. He gave her hand a squeeze before standing and walking over. He readied a tea bag in a cup and then poured hot water over it. She immediately cupped it in her hands and brought it close to her face, though she did not drink. Casey levitated the cup over to Serena then prepared a bowl of soup for her. This, he carried to her and handed to her before sitting back down.
Casey took a moment to choose his next question. He had the why, but he didn’t have the how. Simply having been friends with him and Evie during school would not have been enough to place Serena on Voldemort’s radar. “You disappeared after our wedding day, Serena. Why?”
“I needed to figure out what to do with my life,” Serena replied. “I decided to try my hand in the muggle world, but that didn’t feel right. So, I returned to the wizarding world. In April, I accidentally ran into a Death Eater meeting. They caught me, and I barely escaped. Since then, I’ve changed from town to town. No more than a month at most. They always found me if I stayed too long. At first, he sent amateurs, but then, he realized they weren’t enough. He started sending higher ranked followers after me. I didn’t know where else to go, Casey.”
Casey nodded. It was honestly a miracle Serena was alive and free rather than being held with Arthur and Quinton unbeknownst to them. “How long ago was the last attack?” he asked after a few moments. Serena’s wounds might look bad, but they had healed some. It was clear she hadn’t fled an attack tonight.
“A few days ago,” Serena replied, daring to take a sip from the tea. She winced a little, but Casey wasn’t sure if it was because she’d burned her tongue or because the liquid or its temperature had hurt her split lip. Perhaps both. “They sent trolls. I hid in a cave for a few days and then came here.”
“Why didn’t you come to us sooner?”
Serena shook her head. “Didn’t want to jeopardize anyone else. I was hesitant about coming here even now. Don’t want to draw more attention to the school. Probably be in and out in a week or two. I just need time to recover and figure out where to go next. The Ministry won’t grant protection for false harm. They’d probably send me to Mungo’s for mental investigation…” Serena took another sip of her tea before picking up the soup bowl she’d set beside her. It was gone quicker than Casey could decide what to say next.
“Do you want some more?” he offered.
Serena nodded enthusiastically. “Please.”
Casey got her some more soup then returned to his spot beside her. “Do you really think we’re going to let you go back out there after only a week or two?” he asked as Serena scarfed down some more of the chicken noodle soup. Casey smirked and shook his head at the idea. “Serena, you know what we’ve been through, Evie and me. The castle’s already in jeopardy even without you here. Don’t you think you stand a better chance with us?”
For a few moments, Casey wondered if Serena was going to acknowledge his offer at all. Her focus seemed to be on finishing the soup and then the tea. He wondered how long it had been since she had last eaten a suitable meal rather than what she could find outdoors.
“Casey, I appreciate it. I really do, but you know I can’t do that. Sitting around the school just for protection? I can’t teach, and I refuse to be the next groundskeeper.”
Casey knew what she was saying. She was saying she didn’t want to be useless. He couldn’t blame her. There was something about doing that kept your mind off stuff like this. He knew that even though he wasn’t running but rather hiding in plain sight.
“What about runes?” Casey asked after a few moments had been spent in thought. “We need a permanent placement for that class. And if not, we could use someone with your skills in the Order fighting against Voldemort” Casey knew he couldn’t force Serena to do anything she didn’t want to, but he wasn’t going to give up without trying. To do so would undermine how much he valued her. She had always been a good friend, and her presence whether here at the school or at the Order safe house would not escalate the immediate threat. It had been since April. Voldemort might want her dead on principle, but whatever plans he’d discussed at the meeting Serena had overheard had surely been changed just in case. The Dark Lord was hardly stupid. He knew keeping her on her toes and on the run would likely keep her from the Order, but he also had to know it was only a matter of time before they found her or she found them.
Serena shook her head. “Not qualified. I never took runes, and I don’t know the first thing about teaching.”
“Then what about the other option?” Casey asked. “I’m sure McGonagall would find a place for you here with us or elsewhere with someone else.”
Serena snorted lightly. “I’m useless, Casey. I don’t hunt Death Eaters, and I don’t kill unless I have to. I’m no good here or in your group.”
Ok, time for another angle. If push came to shove, Serena would run into Evie if she stayed past tonight, and Evie would set her straight. His wife was nothing if not persistent. She didn’t back down until she got what she wanted. Still, Casey wasn’t giving up yet. “Serena,” he said, a thought coming to him. “You strategized for our Quidditch team, and you did an excellent job. Perhaps you could help us with that. We could use a good strategist, and it is a strong point of yours. Please consider it?” He did his best attempt at doe eyes. Maybe he was bordering on begging at this point, but he didn’t want to see Serena killed.
Serena laughed then and actually smiled. Casey smiled back at her. With a sigh, Serena shook her head then took a sip of tea. “I’ll consider it, Winslow, but it’s not because of that face of yours. That’s enough to make young children scream in fear or laugh hysterically. I’m not quite sure which. But that still doesn’t solve what I’d do for cover here.”
“Aw, it seems I’m losing my charm,” he teased with a chuckle. He stood and decided to get himself some tea as he thought about her question as to suitable cover. “Sometimes I need some assistance in NEWT defense to demonstrate,” he mused as he dipped the bag in and out of the hot water. “It’s better than using Zeke,” he continued as he walked back and sat down, careful not to spill the tea. “You wouldn’t have to talk to the class or teach, just help demonstrate or something. You could sit back and read the rest of the time or something. That could be your cover or helping with Evie’s charms class, though you do seem skilled in defense if you’ve kept the Death Eaters off this long.”
Serena sighed. “I don’t mind talking. People don’t scare me anymore, Casey. They seem more scared of me than anything. Something about leather and spikes, I suppose. I just don’t know the first thing about teaching.”
Casey nodded. “It”s not that I mind you speaking. I just thought…well.” He sighed. “It’s a lot of work, and I wouldn’t mind help in other ways either. First and second years, third and fourth years, fifth years, then NEWT students. So many papers to grade and tests. The hardest part at first was fielding off all the questions and banning anything related to a certain dingbat of a reporter.”
Serena sighed. “You two still not boring enough for her?”
Casey shook his head. “I’m beginning to doubt we’ll ever be,” he replied. “So, what do you say? Will you help the world’s most interesting defense professor?”’
Serena gave it a moment’s thought. “I still think I’ll be more of a nuisance than a help, but ok…”
“Trust me, you’ll be fine.”
Serena smiled, and for a moment it was like looking back at a familiar friend.
Casey recovered from his momentary stare. “We should probably get some sleep,” he said. “You need somewhere to stay? There are some empty quarters in the professor’s commons.”
“Anywhere would be better than dirt.”
“I’d imagine so,” Casey replied as he stood. He offered Serena a hand, which she took. “C’mon.”[/justify]