After the Battle
The cloaked man limped hurriedly through the tall dark trees, tripping over their roots as he cursed the little witch whose jinx had seared his leg. Exhausted, Yaxley leaned against the tree as he once again tried to disapparate. “Still inside the grounds,” the wizard muttered under his breath as he once again began to limp another one hundred meters before repeating the procedure.
Through his cursing, Yaxley suddenly heard the distant sound of pursuit — snapping twigs and the shouting of young voices. Yaxley broke into a desperate shuffling run. He was the only one of the inner circle who had not been on the front lines earlier that night—the only one likely to escape, certainly with his freedom, and perhaps with his life. If he did not escape the Hogwarts grounds, all that was not already lost would be gone. The sounds of those cursed students told Yaxley that they were taking two long steps to each of his short tortured ones. Yaxley would fight if he must, but it was better to run. Someone had to reach the girl before the Ministry found her, and he was the only one left. Just as Yaxley thought that he had somehow lost his way, he felt a sensation like passing through a single sheet of mist and Yaxley let out a soft sigh of relief. He was free.
Long before his pursuers could ever have seen him, Yaxley disapparated hundreds of kilometers away into a small side alley off a busy London street. The smell of dank air assaulted his nose, as small creatures scurried away from the intruder. The alley that was usually lifeless tonight held a sleeping beggar who had been awakened by the sharp crack of Yaxley’s arrival. The small old man wrapped in a ragged blanket blinked blearily at the strange sight before him. A man in a long black cloak with a silver mask hanging from his belt. Even more disturbing was the hole in his leg that was seeping blood. But most disturbing of all to the beggar, though he could not have explained why, was the polished black stick that was currently being brandished at his face.
Yaxley was as startled by the beggar in the alley as the beggar was by Yaxley. “Bloody Hell!” he exclaimed as he hastily trained his wand on the old muggle’s face. Usually, the Death Eater would have just ignored both the complex orders of the Dark Lord and the muggle in the alley, but tonight of all nights protocol must be followed. No evidence can be left behind of my passage, thought Yaxley.
The tip of the wand glowed and Yaxley whispered “Obliviate.” The muggle’s eyes glazed over and he slumped back to the ground, all traces of Yaxley wiped from his mind. Leaving the muggle behind, Yaxley cast a disillusionment charm upon himself and joined the crowd moving along the street for the requisite kilometer. Satisfied that he was not being followed, Yaxley again disapparated to another alley, and there walked along unnoticed. This operation was to be repeated three times before an approach was ever made to the house. Some had said the Dark Lord had grown paranoid near the end, but tonight, thought Yaxley, the precautions do not seem quite as silly as they had in the past.
The house was at the end of a long wooded drive, and it relied on the anonymity provided by the hundreds of muggle houses surrounding it for protection rather than layers of charms. As Yaxley strode up the drive he tried to decide where to go after he collected the child. They could not stay here, that was a certainty. The number of Death Eaters who knew the secret the house contained had always seemed small, too small at times. With the defeat a few hours earlier, that number had multiplied into nothing but potential traitors. Even someone who would rather die than reveal the existence of the child might not have that choice. Not in the hands of the Ministry.
The door of the house was heavy and could only be opened with a wand as there was no keyhole. This was considered a necessary precaution, as although the child’s squib caretaker was bound by loyalty as well as spells, one could never be too careful. This was yet another precaution taken by the Dark Lord that Yaxley was intensely grateful for tonight, as news of the defeat would travel on the wings of rumor. It may have even beaten me here, Yaxley thought. The woman…I can never remember her name… might have tried to flee the house before the Ministry inevitably found it. It was better that she could not take the child even if she wanted to.
Yaxley sensed two heartbeats in the house, one slow and labored, and the other the quick light beats of the very young. The sounds emanated from the largest room on the second floor of the house. They were in the child’s nursery then. Yaxley climbed the stairs to the second floor, wincing occasionally when his wounded leg twinged as it hit the treads.
Yaxley’s eyes scanned the room as he stepped through the door, and he found the old woman sitting in a rocking chair facing the window. The first buds of spring were just visible on the branches of an oak tree through the panes of glass. She was holding the sleeping child in her arms, rocking slowly back and forth. It took a moment for her to notice Yaxley in the doorway, and she gave a little jump of fright, although she really should be used to strange people appearing unexpectedly at all hours of the day and night. The woman shook herself, stood up, and laid the child in a crib that was pushed against the wall next to the window. Hannah…that was her name, thought Yaxley as she cautiously approached him.
Yaxley was still standing in the doorway, and as Hannah approached the Death Eater, the moonlight filtering through the leaves of the tree outside the window illuminated his face enough to render him recognizable. She let out the breath that she had been holding since she sensed the other presence in the room. It was only Yaxley. Not exactly a welcome visitor, but not as bad as it could have been. Not nearly as bad as it could have been. “Hello Sir,” said Hannah, valiantly keeping her voice from shaking. Almost.
The moonlight also illuminated the squib’s face for Yaxley. She was tense, as she should be, he thought to himself with a little flicker of pleasure. All the things this woman has seen and she still fears me. However, she was not terrified, as she would have been if the news of the defeat had already reached her ears. But how could she have known, a squib and a baby locked alone in a house? Yaxley cleared his throat and ordered “Come downstairs, I have need of you in the kitchen.” He turned and stalked out of the room and down the stairs, trying vainly not to limp. He did not even wait to see if Hannah would follow him.
When he reached the kitchen, Yaxley flicked his wand at the lights, and they flared into sudden brightness. He collapsed into the nearest chair, and finally allowed his eyes to close for a few moments until he heard her heavy tread on the bottom stair. Yaxley propped his leg, still bleeding, on the other wicker chair and watched the open doorway. His eyes followed Hannah as she entered the room and he saw her eyes widen as they fell upon his leg. Hannah had not really been surprised when Yaxley had appeared upstairs, because for the past five months they had always come unexpectedly. Ever since she took this job to keep her granddaughter out of Azkaban for ‘stealing magic’ every few days one or another of them had shown up to check on the baby. It was not the visits of the ordinary Death Eaters that she had come to truly dread. But this was not what usually happened. This was so far outside the norm as to be as frightening as the other visits. No injured Death Eater had ever come to check on the child. The whispers of a battle that she had been hearing for the past three weeks must have been true. And by the looks of it, things had not gone well for her masters. These thoughts passed through Hannah’s head in the few seconds that Yaxley’s eyes had been boring into hers. She felt her blood turn to ice.
The woman stood frozen just over the threshold and Yaxley was suddenly filled with annoyance at his situation. “You were a muggle midwife before we found you, were you not squib…using your small knowledge of potions to trick them?” he growled. Hannah’s head started to nod feverishly and Yaxley grinned a sickly smile. “What are you waiting for then?” She scurried out of the room, looking for the basket that she had brought with her into this new existence.
The woven basket was on the top shelf of the hall closet, and she had to climb onto a living room armchair in order to reach it. It is at times like these, Hannah reflected, feeling a twinge of annoyance despite the circumstances, that being born a squib is a real pain. When she at last grasped the handle and had brought the basket to rest on the armchair, Hannah considered her options. There is a vial of essence of Murtlap, and some bandages. That would heal the awful Yaxley, but there is also a little left in the bottom of the hemlock bottle. A little of that on his wound and well… my Yaxley problem would be gone forever. Hannah stared at the two little bottles winking up at her from their velvety nest and deliberated. After a few seconds she picked up the bandages and the Murtlap. It is probably better not to risk it. The Death Eaters—awful as they are—have never harmed me, and if Yaxley caught me I would be the one gone forever.
After what seemed to be an interminably long interval to Yaxley and his throbbing leg, Hannah reappeared with her arms full of bandages and glass bottles. His eyes followed her as she took a few little bowls out of the cupboards and filled one of them with water. The old woman took a seat on the other wicker chair and examined his leg. It did not look overly pleasant, as little bits of sticks and leaves from the Forbidden Forest had become encrusted upon the still-bleeding wound in his flight from the castle.
Hannah began to clean the wound with the water and her precious potions. As she worked, her fear of Yaxley began to dissipate. He could not even keep still as she worked on his leg. He was constantly flinching slightly away from her as she pulled off the leaves and scrubbed away the dirt. The Death Eater almost pulled his leg off the table when she rubbed the Murtlap on the leg before wrapping and pinning it. Comforted by the familiar routine, when she had finished Hannah brusquely said, “You can take off the bandages by morning, and you can walk on it in about half an hour.”
Yaxley gave a tight little smile at this. He had been afraid that he would have to wait to leave the house until morning. His leg would not have held his weight much longer, much less that of a child who would soon no longer be a baby. Besides, before he left he would need some more information before he could take the child away from this place forever. “How long have you been with the child?” asked Yaxley.
Hannah started at the unusual question. Most of the time her visitors confined their few questions to ‘Is the child healthy’ and ‘Does she need anything’. Hannah’s answers usually amounted to yes, and no…the money and the quick trips to the shops in Diagon Alley with her escort of the week were more than enough. In fact in the months of the child’s life this routine had only been broken once, when at six weeks the baby had fought a chill. After that experience, Hannah would gladly pray to any god who would listen that the baby would never so much as sneeze again. Busying herself for a few seconds of clearing away the bowls and scraps of cloth she decided that the truth in as few words as possible was her best option. “I was hired because I was working as a midwife, and after the birth they kept me on to care for the baby,” replied Hannah. She returned to her seat by the table.
“You helped at the birth?” asked Yaxley. That was the end of the squib then. If she could provide proof of the child’s parentage she could not be allowed to leave alive, even with her memory modified. Not that there was ever much chance of Hannah being allowed to leave alive even before the disastrous events of the last few hours.“Yes,” Hannah replied suddenly reading a slight change in Yaxley…one that she did not like. She hurried on, “I am essential to the child’s well being, I have been her nanny from her first breath.”
Yaxley eagerly leaned forward in his seat and continued to question the woman. “What exactly do you do for the child? What does she need?”
So Hannah told him. Because she had sensed that when she finally ran out of things to say a decision would be made, she told him as much as she could remember in extreme detail. Every feeding and story that had gone into the child’s short life went into her tale. When she finally ran out of things to say she looked into Yaxley’s eyes.
Yaxley stood up on his half-mended leg. “Thank you,” he said to the woman. As he brought up his wand her eyes widened and she bolted for the door, instinct taking over even as she must have known that it would not open for her. Yaxley’s wand finally pointed at her chest and his whispered spell flew into her heart, stopping it in an instant. He was already turning to leave the room as her body fell to the floor. Once again in the girl’s nursery, he approached the crib under the window. She must have heard something of the scuffle downstairs because she was sitting up in her crib. In the moonlight, Yaxley could see her blinking those strange eyes—green as the leaves on the tree outside her window. Some said those strange eyes, so unlike her parents’, were what had caused her exile to the little house. Others said that she would have been hidden away even if she had been the reincarnation of Salazar Slytherin himself. She made no protest as Yaxley lifted her from her crib and took her out of the only house she had ever known. She was asleep before Yaxley’s feet stopped crunching on the gravel of the drive. As soon as they were at a safe distance he turned to face the house one last time. When he turned back, a fire was already consuming it.
Tomorrow he would decide where to take her. Some would surely escape Azkaban, through flight or simply through the Ministry’s helpful insistence on evidence in trials. Even the Malfoys would probably wriggle out of things again. They could always simply bribe themselves out of trouble. All Yaxley had to do was keep the last hope hidden until things settled down.