Mergen, one of the Graves family house-elves, heard the crisp knock at the front door and apparated to the foyer to open it. He had noticed the unfamiliar disturbance in the warding moments earlier and had cast about for intruders, sensing only a single person--not a relative, not anyone who he could recall ever coming to Gravesend before. He opened the door.
Facing him was a tallish man with light brown hair, a high forehead, and hooded yet piercing eyes. Mergen recognized him as Gareth Adams, Mrs. Lilith's new husband. Yet Adams' eyes and the expression of alarm and temper on his face made a chill of shock run down Mergen's spine. The eyes and expression made him look like someone else entirely--someone who was dead.
"Good morning, Mr. Adams. Won't you come in?" Mergen asked. The Graveses had taught him and his family to use proper English--to refer to themselves in the first person rather than in the third when speaking.
"Mergen, I need to see Seth now," the man said.
Mergen stared. He hadn't realised that Lilith's husband knew how to correctly pronounce his name--as "Mair-ghen," with a faint roll of the 'r' rather than as "Mur-ghen," which was how most people outside the family--even Mrs. Lilith--pronounced it.
It couldn't possibly be, could it? But no. This man had none of the ties of blood magic that a Graves family member would have. And yet...
"Of course, Mr. Adams. If you will wait in the sitting room, I will see if Mr. Graves is in."
"He's in, Mergen; he just wrote a message in his journal. Get him down here. Or I will go up there."
Again, Mergen paused to study Adams. "Sir, if I may say so, you sound very much like--"
"Hurry," Adams said, cutting Mergen off. "Before he does something disastrously stupid."
Mergen arched an eyebrow--as much as any house-elf could be said to have eyebrows. "Right away, sir." He apparated out.
Mergen reappeared at the young master's bedroom door and knocked. Moments later the door opened. "Hello, Mergen. What's up?"
"You have a visitor, Mr. Seth, Mr. Gareth Addams. He's waiting downstairs and is most anxious to speak with you."
Seth shot Mergen a wry look. "I gathered; I just saw the comment he left in my journal. I guess he really did apparate over. I didn't think he was serious."
Mergen nodded. "He seems quite worried, sir."
"Yeah." Seth groaned. "Could you ask Magirsa to bring some tea and breakfast things into the sitting room? We might as well eat while he chews me out."
"May I ask what you have done, sir?" Mergen inquired.
Seth gave a humourless chuckle. "Stupidly alarmed my relatives, apparently--unless Lilith hasn't seen my post yet, and Adams came on his own."
"You're being deliberately vague, sir."
Seth sighed. "I feel an urgent need to follow in my father's footsteps to find Erszebet, Mergen. Apparently, saner heads want to convince me it's a bad idea--as if I didn't already know that."
Mergen went pale. "It is a bad idea, Mr. Seth. It destroyed your father--long before his death. It would destroy you faster. Please do not."
Seth shot a look at him and nodded, unable to speak.
Not at all to Mergen's surprise, Gareth Adams was waiting in the sitting room, not in the foyer, when they entered.
"Mariah, quit bothering our guest," Seth exclaimed at seeing the family's greyhound pressing up against Adams, begging to be petted. He didn't speak more forcefully, however, as Adams was giving her a vigourous rub-down. At the sight of Seth, however, Adams immediately broke off the petting and pointed for Mariah to lie down. To Seth's shock, she obeyed.
"Thank you, Mergen," Adams said.
"Hello Professor Adams. Would you like some tea? I've asked one of our house-elves to have breakfast things brought; I haven't eaten yet."
"Stalling, Seth?" Adams inquired with a raised eyebrow and a look of dangerous warning in his eyes.
"Hungry," Seth shot back.
"I would rather we speak first, without the interruption of food," Adams said.
Seth gave him a look. "You don't have to eat if you'd rather not, Professor. I'm having sausages."
"I'll bring two plates, just in case," Mergen said and closed the door as he left.
* * *
Paul Graves realised, to his startlement, that Seth was now taller than he by at least two inches. "You've grown," he blurted, the comment passing his lips before he could halt it. Then he caught himself. "What is the meaning of that journal post you wrote?"
Seth sighed. "I thought I was quite clear. The only way I'm going to find Erszebet is to go into the DE. That's where her ancestor went."
"Yes, I suspect someone will need to go in. Not you."
"And why not me? Who will be as dedicated to finding Erszebet as I will be? Who will take risks to find her that others might not take--?"
"Probably stupid risks!"
"Not your call," Seth told him.
"It damned well is my call! You're--" Paul caught his words just in time. "Lilith cares about you. Your mother loves you deeply. Your father broke her heart once. Don't you dare break it again!"
Seth gave Adams a curious look. "I appreciate that you care so much. And honestly, if I could think of any other way, I'd rather not frighten my Mum. I'd rather have more people in on this. But all of my friends are scattered to the four winds, and they have their own lives now. I know they would help, but...we're not at Hogwarts anymore, and we've all got responsibilities. Megan's got a pub to run. I've got the business, but they can do without me for a time if they must. Justin and Lav are in Nottingham. Nathan's--" Seth's lips twitched. "Nathan's...in a persistent vegetative state, or as bad as. Piotr and Izzy are together and happy, and I can't ask them to risk that--and I sure as Hell don't want Piotr to risk falling into the hands of people who would harm him if they had him in their power. He's suffered more than enough for several lifetimes, already." He paused. "I've even considered asking Millicent, Blaise, and Draco, but they've gone underground. If they feel it's necessary to hide that deeply, then I'm wouldn't expose them, even if I could."
Adams looked at him almost gently. "And you don't think the DE would harm you, if you fell into their clutches? They're not stupid, Seth. They knew what your father was like before the DMLE apprehended him. They knew he opposed them; it is not the sort of thing that can be hidden during DE training. They surely knew your attitudes, knew that you wanted to become an auror."
"Yes, I know they would harm me; it scares the crap out of me! I don't have my Dad's temperament; I can't...turn my feelings off, the way he could. But I do know that Erszebet's ancestor cannot be allowed to continue controlling her body and doing God knows what with it!"
"Yes, that is the one sensible thing you said in your journal entry," Adams agreed. "The rest of it was a rather confused stream-of-consciousness mess. During parts of it I thought you meant to go back in time yourself to retrieve Erszebet, and you were dithering as to whether it would be the right thing to do." Adams peered at Seth out of hard eyes. "Is that what you propose?"
Seth shook his head. "Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. Not planning to repeat the experience of time travel, thank you. What I want to do is get inside the DE, find Erszebet's ancestor, and get that person to drink the Vox Antiquas potion."
"Good; I was concerned you might have entirely taken leave of your senses," Adams said. "You said you have leads. Show them to me."
"You're willing to help?" Seth peered at Adams. "Lilith will have kittens if she finds out."
"I am not in the habit of hiding things from my wife, any more than your father was," Gareth said. "Lilith and I both have contacts in the DMLE--trustworthy contacts, unlike the situation when your father made his choice. So we shall look at your leads, assess them, and think things through. You showed promise as a student, Seth, but you are not trained in the work of infiltration, and I agree that you lack the temperament for it. I think, instead, you will have to permit yourself to be captured."
Seth shuddered. "I was afraid you'd say that." He let out a breath. "Let me get my notes."