She sounded panic-stricken at the sudden change in his condition, but he couldn't concentrate on anything but the unexpected, debilitating pain that swept through his body in waves and seemed to emanate from the middle of his lower back.
"Tell me where it hurts!" she demanded.
His breath coming in ragged gasps, Harry could only squeeze her hand, but that seemed to be enough for the moment as Ginny scrambled frantically for the call button and pressed it several times in quick succession.
As the pain continued to course through his body, he tried to focus on something other than how it was making him feel, just as Silvia had instructed earlier that day, and he was able to stop writhing quite so much. Being still seemed to help, and he began analyzing the source and what he had been doing just before the pain started. It had hit him without a trace of preamble, no warning at all, and the onset had vaguely felt like the beginnings of a torture spell. It was much worse than anything Harry had ever experienced, much worse than the Cruciatus Curse could ever be, he thought numbly. Maybe that was a clue of sorts...
The pain subsided somewhat as his wife anxiously cast her Patronus and sent the horse racing down the hall towards the nurses' station.
The man lurking in the bushes outside Harry Potter's room grinned in satisfaction as his victim thrashed about from the internal torture inflicted upon him. He waited until Potter lay gasping for breath and then cast his spell again. This time Potter bellowed like a stuck pig... which, of course, he was. The man knew certain things about what was going inside Potter's body, things that made his skin crawl should this new kind of torture ever be used on him, and he almost gave himself away laughing aloud at Potter's discomfort. Serves him right for poking his nose where it doesn't belong...
The man watched several facility staff enter Potter's room at a run. They pushed Potter's wife aside and began working on their patient. The man knew he should go, but he was having too much fun aiding his mentor in the slow torture and eventual death of one of their long-time enemies to not inflict one last agonizing surge of pain on his victim. He cast his spell again, changing it subtly to prolong the suffering until the incantation was lifted. Potter passed out and the staff began the process of reviving him. It was time to leave...
Immensely pleased with the success of the last few minutes, the man left his hiding place, crossed the flower garden to the wood surrounding the property and Disapparated.
"Get me Healer O'Donnell and Healer-in-Training Sheridan. NOW!," Healer Stilwell snapped to the startled Welcome Witch in charge of routing fire calls this time of night.
"Yes, sir!" she squeaked and scurried away, leaving Healer Stilwell's head suspended in the fireplace.
She came back several minutes later followed by two green-robed men. They looked equally scared and puzzled as to why they had been called out of Accident and Emergency when they were so desperately needed there tonight.
"Are you the Healers who worked on Auror Potter last week?" Stilwell nearly shouted, causing the two to quail at his obvious anger and the way it seemed everyone in the hospital was now focusing their attention on them.
Healer O'Donnell found his voice first. "We are, Healer Stilwell. What can we do for you?"
"Find your records for the night of October twenty-first and meet me at my office in five minutes!" Stilwell ordered. Without waiting for the two to respond, he withdrew his head, cancelling the call. Then, he dashed back to his office at The Groves, retrieved Harry Potter's file and left the building after notifying the front desk where he'd be if anything happened to his patient while he was absent.
He stepped out of his private Floo at St Mungo's and strode to the door, ignoring the vibrations coming from his mobile phone. He'd call the nurses' station at The Groves later to find out what they wanted. Right now, he had more important matters to attend to.
Yanking the door open, he was satisfied to see that the two A and E Healers were waiting for him. "Thank you for being so prompt," he said in a slightly more civilized voice. "Come in. We have much to talk about."
The two filed in and perched nervously on the edge of the couch. "Why couldn't you wait to talk to us until later?" Trainee Sheridan whined. "It's the middle of the night and all the loonies come in at this time. Besides, the Potter case took place a week ago."
"I know," Healer Stilwell said slowly. "Pass over your records, please." He opened the files they handed him and paged through them for a long moment before deciding how to answer the first question. When he looked up the two Healers before him were obviously sweating. "If I wait, my patient will be dead!"
O'Donnell and Sheridan visibly paled and Healer Stilwell had the satisfaction of knowing they suspected they were being called upon to answer for something serious.
"Why do you say that, sir?" Healer O'Donnell asked.
Stilwell picked up the Admittance Form from his copy of Harry Potter's records and passed it across his desk. Healer O'Donnell took it and began looking it over, with Trainee Sheridan peering over his shoulder.
"Who is this Admittance Form filled out for?" Stilwell asked with exaggerated patience.
"Harry Potter," Sheridan answered, raising his eyes to look at Healer Stilwell.
"Now look at the Occupation Box. What is Harry Potter's occupation?" Stilwell questioned.
"He's an Auror, sir. Everybody here at the hospital knows that," Sheridan continued without looking at the form. "He's admitted on a regular basis because he's always duelling dark wizards."
"Look at the form," Stilwell directed, "and tell me what you see."
Sheridan looked down this time, although he kept casting nervous glances at his mentor. He ran a finger over the parchment where it stopped under the ticked off "Auror" box.
"This is the original," he said, sounding almost incredulous.
"Yes," Healer Stilwell barked, pouncing on this inflection as a Kneazle kitten would a string. "It is. It took the administrative secretary downstairs two hours to find it! Why wasn't it placed in Mr Potter's file the way it should? Was there something WRONG with it?"
O'Donnell glared at Sheridan who sputtered, "I—I—I guess it just became mixed up in another file I was working on. There wasn't anything wrong with it."
"LIAR!" shouted Healer Stilwell. "You deliberately hid that parchment from me and filed a COPY in Harry Potter's file. Did you think I wouldn't notice it? Well, you're wrong. I did notice. Now... look at the original parchment again and tell me what you see."
"Someone ticked off the 'Auror' box, sir, just like I said."
"All right," Stilwell said evenly. "Do you remember what happens when someone ticks off the 'Auror' occupation box?"
O'Donnell answered, "A series of routine spells to be performed for this specific occupation shows up on the form."
"That's right. Read that section of the form carefully, please," Stilwell instructed. His mobile vibrated again. Angrily, he turned it off as the two began murmuring and conferring with each other. It was almost comical to Healer Stilwell when they both muttered, "Oh, Merlin!" and looked up at him with stricken faces.
Healer Stilwell stared at them expectantly. "Well?"
Healer O'Donnell answered, "The FBDS box has not been ticked off, sir."
"And it looks like someone has erased a tick," added Trainee Sheridan.
"You're right. Now tell me why, since Auror Potter was in such serious condition, neither of you took the time to perform that spell. Or if you did do the spell, why the tick was erased. You know that as soon as the form detects the magic it automatically records the fact that the spell has been performed."
"It was a hectic night, sir," Healer O'Donnell explained, sounding defensive. "There had been a pub fight in Yorkshire and most of the victims had been sent here instead of the local clinic. All the beds in the A and E were filled with patients whose wands had not been confiscated and all the healing staff were dodging spells right and left as the wankers tried to keep hexing each other. Auror Potter and several others arrived in the midst of the chaos and even though his condition warranted our utmost attention, we were constantly being interrupted. It was a wonder we completed the other spells at all."
"Do you mean to tell me that no one sealed the door to Mr Potter's examination room?" Healer Stilwell demanded.
"Yes, sir. The door was left unlocked in case we were needed in another room," O'Donnell stated.
"How many times during the examination were you interrupted?"
"At least ten," answered Trainee Sheridan.
"At any time during the examination was Mr Potter, a critically wounded patient, left completely alone?" Healer Stilwell could feel his blood beginning to boil.
"Maybe... once... or twice," squeaked Sheridan.
Healer Stilwell shot to his feet as he roar ed, "Did it ever occur to you that someone could have hexed, jinxed or enchanted Mr Potter while you were out of sight?Did either of you think that by leaving the door open that someone could have slipped into the room during your absence and harmed him in another way? Did either of you think to perform the FBD Spell because Harry Potter is an AUROR?" When the two Healers in front of him meekly shook their heads, Healer Stilwell continued in a much quieter, but no less furious voice, "Why was the FBDS box added to the form?"
Healer O'Donnell answered, "A year ago, suspects had begun enchanting foreign objects to invade Aurors' bodies during duels, similar to the way shrapnel does but with the power to close the entrance wound immediately. We nearly lost several Aurors to infection and untreated internal injuries because of this."
"That's correct, and has the performance of this spell become a routine part of an Auror's examination that has saved several Aurors' lives?"
"It has, sir."
"THEN WHY DIDN'T YOU NOTICE THE SPELL HAD NOT BEEN CARRIED OUT WHEN THE FORM CLEARLY INDICATED THAT IT HAD NOT BEEN DONE?"
Healer-in-Training Sheridan answered, "Because I was exhausted when I was writing up my charts and decided only to sign them."
"YOU IMBICILE!" Healer Stilwell bellowed, pointing at Sheridan. "YOUR NEGLIGENCE HAS COST HARRY POTTER HIS HEALTH!"
Sheridan's eyes nearly bulged out of his head while O'Donnell buried his face in his hands.
"If I perform the spell and find foreign bodies that you two neglected to detect, you are in serious jeopardy of losing your licenses at the least and being sued for malpractice before the Wizengamot at best," Healer Stilwell hissed. "As of right now, you, Healer O'Donnell, are relieved of your duties for not supervising your trainee properly and will be required to appear before the St Mungo's Disciplinary Board next week. And you, Trainee Sheridan, you will also appear before the Disciplinary Board, which will then review your records and decide whether or not you will be allowed to complete your training. Have I made myself clear?" He skewered the two men with his eyes. They nodded silently.
"Wait here." He crossed his office in three long strides and disappeared into the fireplace to emerge in the Transportation Room at The Groves. He raced to the nurses' station and breathlessly addressed the Matron on duty. "How is Mr Potter?"
The Matron consulted her chart. "Resting, still in a great deal of pain. None of the pain potions he's been given have worked for long."
"What do you mean, 'still in a great deal of pain'?" Healer Stilwell asked in surprise. "What happened to my patient?"
The Matron reported the night's events while Healer Stilwell had been at St Mungo's. "Why didn't you page me?" he demanded when she finished.
"We did, but you had already left the building," she answered.
Healer Stilwell sighed. He had ignored the mobile calls while he was interviewing O'Donnell and Sheridan. Damn it! "I apologize for not being available," he said. "Will you come with me now to Mr Potter's room? I need a witness."
The Matron nodded and followed him to Auror Potter's room. Mrs Potter was sitting on the bed, leaning against the raised head. Her husband lay with his head against her chest looking pale, spent and very much in pain. Before Mrs Potter could ask any questions, Healer Stilwell said gently, "I must request that you leave the room, Mrs Potter. I have a very important spell to cast and it must be cast only on your husband. I will debrief you as soon as I know its results."
Mrs Potter scowled at Healer Stilwell. "I will not leave," she stated quietly but forcefully. "Where were you when my husband's pain started? It's taken hours to make him comfortable enough to lay quietly and block the pain mentally. Nothing the facility Healers have done has been effective for very long, not even the Dreamless Sleep potion. I will not leave."
Healer Stilwell sighed. If Mrs Potter didn't leave he couldn't perform the FBDS. "Mrs Potter... this is a life or death situation. I am asking you one more time to leave the room so I can perform the spell. Otherwise, I will have you removed."
Mrs Potter glared at him. Finally, she murmured something in her husband's ear and slipped carefully from her place. The disturbance caused his patient to cry out piteously. When she'd left the room, Healer Stilwell sealed the door and turned to the Matron.
"Please stand aside where you can see the results of the spell," he directed her as he gently levitated his patient onto his side.
She moved to the side and stood watching him expectantly. He performed the spell. They both gasped. No wonder he was in such pain... Harry Potter's body was riddled with foreign metal objects.
Healer Stilwell swore loudly, spat some instructions at the Matron, wrenched open the door as it was unsealing itself and charged down the corridor to the Transportation Room without pausing to speak to Mrs Potter. The two Healers at St Mungo's were in more trouble than they could ever imagine.
0100 hours, Monday, 2 November 2020
"We're taking your husband to the CT Scanning room, Mrs Potter," one of the attendants announced as he came back into Harry's room a few minutes after Ginny had been let back inside. "Healer Stilwell's orders. He thinks he knows what's causing Mr Potter's paralysis and the pain. He will meet you there in a few minutes. We're to get Mr Potter prepped for the procedure."
Ginny sighed in relief. Something was actually going to be done other than just pour potions that didn't seem to work down Harry's throat. Maybe the CT Scan pictures would show something that Harry's Healer's spells didn't. Mrs Vaughn had explained the purpose of the Imaging Rooms the other day on Ginny's tour of The Groves and what the big machines inside each did. I wish Dad were here, she thought somewhat distractedly. He'd be thrilled to get to see the machines in action... She shook herself out of her reverie because the attendant seemed to be waiting for her response.
"Thank you," she murmured as another attendant began casting spells over Harry. "May I stay with him until we get to the Scanning room?"
The two attendants shared a look. One shrugged. "I don't see why not, but you'll have to leave when we put him on the table," he said as the two transferred Harry to a trolley.
"Fair enough," Ginny said as she reached for Harry's hand, which lay rigidly at his side because of the binding spell that had been cast to keep him from moving. She couldn't resist caressing his cheek as she murmured, "I hope this works, darling. I want this to be over as much as you do."
Harry closed his eyes, the only part of him besides his chest that had been allowed to remain mobile. He blinked twice at her, using their signal for "yes" or "me, too", and she smiled back at him.
The first attendant caught her eye. "Mrs Potter, we will be leaving the magical section of the facility in a moment. Please remember that you are not to draw your wand while in the Muggle-accessible corridors or in the presence of Muggles," he instructed her. He paused, seeming to reconsider his words, and then said, "In fact, I suggest that you leave it here because the Muggle imaging machines are highly sensitive to anything magical."
"All right, I'll leave it here," Ginny agreed reluctantly. She scanned the room for an appropriate place to leave her wand.
"Mrs Potter, put your wand in the top drawer of the bureau," the second attendant suggested. "Then close the drawer and put your hand flat against the middle of the drawer front. There is a magical lock that memorizes your hand print and will only open for your hand once it's been activated."
Ginny smiled her thanks and swiftly crossed the room to deposit her wand in the drawer. Her hand tingled a little when she flattened it in the middle of the wooden drawer front, and when she tried to pull it open again, the drawer remained closed. "Thank you. I'm ready now," she said.
The group left the room and was soon in the deserted corridor outside the CT Scanning room. At the attendant's knock, Healer Stilwell opened the door from the inside and the little procession entered. The space was dominated by an enormous white machine that reminded Ginny of a square pastry with a round hole in the middle. There was a platform that resembled a bed located in front of the hole and she supposed it slid the patient into the hole during the scan. Ginny stayed with Harry until she was told to enter the control room.
"You will be able to see everything that is happening to Harry as well as what the machine is scanning," Healer Stilwell told her as she turned to go. "I'll come in as soon as he's settled." He pulled out his wand. "Your communication system... Two blinks for 'yes'? One for 'no'?"
"Correct," Ginny confirmed and she shut the door between them and went to sit in one of the swivel chairs behind the technician running the machine.
The scanning of Harry's head, neck and "trunk" took nearly an hour as thousands of images were snapped by the giant machine. Healer Stilwell kept up a running commentary throughout the process so that both Ginny and Harry knew what was happening all along. At long last, Harry was rolled out of the machine and placed back on the trolley. Ginny stood up.
Healer Stilwell held up a hand, stopping Ginny from going to her husband. "Harry will be fine for a few minutes without you," he said. "I want you to help me look for anything unusual you might see in the images."
Ginny raised an eyebrow at this, but sat back down in her chair as the technician began scrolling slowly through the images. Healer Stilwell sat next to Ginny, again explaining what she was seeing, and pointing out the clotted blood that was still collecting at the back of Harry's head.
"The blood causes pressure on the brain which in turn is causing Harry's blindness," he said as he pointed to a spot on the image. "Later in the week, I'm going to siphon this clot magically. Hopefully, we'll see some improvement in your husband's eyesight."
There was nothing unusual in the neck and upper spine images and Ginny began wondering just what she was supposed to be looking for when a very long, thin, sword-shaped object began taking shape on the screen. The object had pierced the lung and was within a hair's breath of reaching the heart. Both Ginny and Healer Stilwell reacted at the same time.
"What the bloody hell is that?" Ginny exclaimed, rising out of her chair to point to the object. "How did it get in Harry's body?"
"Richard, isolate this set of images and keep going," the Healer barked at the radiographer. The startled man typed frantically on the computer's keyboard and two more screens suddenly illuminated, showing various side views, front views and the original set of images. Ginny's hands flew to her face as Healer Stilwell said, "It's an unknown foreign body, Mrs Potter. Until it can be removed surgically, we won't know quite what it is. However, I assume someone introduced a needle-like object into your husband's body and charmed it to worm its way into his heart."
The terrible truth was in front of them. Someone was trying to kill Harry!
Ginny stared in horror at the screen.
"Let's see what else there is," Healer Stilwell said grimly and the radiographer activated the original screen again.
As the images continued travelling down Harry's body, more of the needle-like objects began showing up. Most had been placed in his lower back, with many of them sticking directly into the spinal cord, while others balanced between the bones and seemed to be leaking droplets of fluid into the area between the bone and Harry's spinal cord. In all, Ginny counted a total of five needles that were deeply embedded in the cord itself and another ten that were balanced between the bones. She pointed to the needles.
"Those aren't supposed to be there, are they?" she asked incredulously. "This is what you wanted me to look for."
Healer Stilwell stared at the images as he said, "You are correct. I suspected something like this, but not so many. Your husband's paralysis is being caused by the embedded needles and most likely, the pain he suffered tonight was related to the needles positioned in the spinal canal.
"Mrs Potter, if your husband is to get well or even stay alive longer than a day, I must take him back to St Mungo's for emergency surgery. The hospital has the magnifying equipment I must use to extract the foreign bodies. I do not want to attempt removal of the objects—especially not the one close to the heart—with simple Summoning Charms. I need to see what I'm doing, so I must make an incision in the skin and manipulate the objects under magnification. Do you consent to this surgery?"
"I do, sir," Ginny stated emphatically. "Are there papers I must sign to make the surgery legal?"
"Yes, but you can take care of that while Harry is in the operating theatre. I want to begin the surgery as soon as possible." He stood and indicated that Ginny do the same. He led her out of the control room before he continued almost in a whisper, "I will also inform the Auror Department that they now have an attempted murder case on their hands."
Ginny gasped and leant against the nearest wall. "Why?" she managed to squeak as the horror of the situation hit her full force. "Why would someone do such a thing?"
"I don't know, Mrs Potter," Healer Stilwell replied. "It is now a matter for the Aurors to figure out."
Arthur jumped as his daughter's head appeared in the fire and screamed, "MUM! DAD! HELP!"
"What is it, Ginny?" he asked his nearly hysterical daughter. He hastened over to the fireplace to talk with her face to face.
"Dad, I'm so glad I caught you," his daughter cried. "Something terrible has happened to Harry and I need you to meet me at St Mungo's morgue in a half hour."
Arthur raised an eyebrow. "Why the morgue?" he asked in alarm. "Is Harry dead?"
"Not yet," Ginny said cryptically. "Just get Mum and get over here. I'll tell you what I can when you get there. I need to call Hermione now."
"We'll be there," Arthur answered as Ginny withdrew her head.
He glanced at the family clock: Harry's hand rested on Mortal Peril as it had the first night. They needed to get to St Mungo's fast.
"Molly!" he yelled as he raced up the stairs. "Get up, we're needed at St Mungo's again."
"All right. You two know best what went on inside that night," Ron said to Susan Bones and Brodie Carmichael as they stood in the wood surrounding the house, just as they had on the night of the raid. It looked very different in the early morning sunlight, making it appear less sinister and more dilapidated than it had by moonlight. Ron found it easier to quell his fears about what they might find inside.
"Ron," Brodie asked, "What exactly do you expect to find here?"
Ron sighed and shook his head. "I have no expectations at the moment. I'm open to anything that might help us solve this case, though."
Susan and Brodie exchanged a concerned look and then nodded.
"Right... let's go, then," Ron said, knowing he should have said something more, like Harry usually did to encourage his fellow team members, but at the moment, Ron was feeling rather overwhelmed and far too inadequate to find the appropriate words.
The three of them crossed the expanse of weeds the same way Harry's team of Aurors had on the night of the raid. As they reached the steps leading up to the front porch, Ron cancelled the Aurors' security charms. He then turned to Susan.
"What happened before you entered the house?" he asked.
Susan repeated her recollections and the three proceeded up the stairs. They entered, leaving the door open for more light in the gloomy entrance.
"We found nothing upstairs," Brodie volunteered as they faced the staircase. "The rooms are completely empty up there; bare floors and a lot of water and animal damage to the walls. We found no traces of blood or other signs of torture having been carried out up there. As our report stated, we suspected the perpetrators didn't use the upper rooms."
"I still want to see what's up there," Ron said, putting his foot on the first tread, not catching the hurt look on Brodie's face. "Someone please close the front door." Susan flicked her wand at it and it shut with a squelching noise that told Ron she'd used a sealing charm on it. Then, the three proceeded up the stairs.
The three bedrooms were as Brodie had reported, their bare floors and damaged walls showing no traces of lingering magic at all. Nevertheless, Ron walked the perimeter of each room, scanning for anything that might shed light on how the rooms had been used. He found nothing worth taking a second look at.
Finally, he wandered into the bathroom. He did a quick visual inspection before casting a series of spells. When nothing immediately caught his attention, he turned to leave.
"Hold on, Ron," Susan said suddenly. "What's that?" She pointed to a faint pink glow coming from the back corner of the tub.
"Good eye, Susan," he said.
Susan flashed him an appreciative smile.
Ron lit his wand and directed the shaft of light towards the pink light emanating from the tub. On the floor lay a clear vial. Brodie bent to pick it up.
"Use your wand, Brodie," Ron instructed. "You're not wearing protective gloves and there might be traces of poison on the vial. I don't want to have to find a replacement for you just yet."
In answer, Brodie levitated the vial to eye level while Susan cast a Residue Detection Charm first on the tub and then on the vial, causing them to glow a violent shade of fluorescent pink. The tub showed numerous dried drips as well as a splash mark just above where the vial had come to rest. The vial itself glowed brightly, the contents at the bottom sparkling in the light from Ron's wand when he shone it on the vial.
"Hand me an evidence bag, please," Ron ordered. "This could be something and it could be nothing. Do you agree with me that whatever is in here is poison of some sort?"
"Yes, it's the correct colour for a poison," Susan agreed.
"Then let's bag it," Ron told Brodie. "Please label the bag with location, the detection spells used, and the spell used to reveal the evidence. Do everything using magic, then take a picture of the tub before the RDC wears off."
"Yes, sir," Brodie answered as he went to work and Ron and Susan stepped out of the bathroom.
"What do you think?" Susan asked.
"Nothing at the moment, but if we find other similar vials somewhere in the house, that may point to the manufacture or use of poisonous potions which could explain the condition of some of the previous victims," Ron said, thinking out loud.
Brodie came out of the bathroom. "All done. I've Banished the vial to Evidence," he reported, referring to the room at the Ministry where evidence from the Aurors' active cases was kept.
"Very good. Let's go back down and have a look on the ground floor," Ron said.
The two rooms on either side of the entrance were sparsely furnished. One had clearly been a dining room at one point while the other had served as a lounge. Revealing spells showed nothing in the lounge except for a few faint pink footprints, but there was ample evidence that something had been going on in the dining room, although without the detection spell the room was clean. They spent several minutes photographing the signs of struggle and the variously coloured splash, drip and puddle residues that marked the walls and floor before moving on to the kitchen.
"Did you use these revealing spells that night?" Ron asked as he cast another revealing spell he'd just remembered. The three of them recoiled as the bright red of the Blood Residue Revealing Spell added its frightening presence to the fluorescent pink of the RDC.
"Merlin preserve us!" breathed Brodie. "What were they doing in here?"
"Nothing good, I can tell you that," Ron returned dryly. He flicked his wand at the door separating the dining room from the kitchen, not wanting to disturb any of the gruesome evidence smeared across its surface. He was beginning to suspect that what they'd find in the basement wasn't going to be very easy on the stomach.
"I reported to Harry that the cooker was still warm in here," Susan stated as they surveyed the sunny room. "At the time, we both assumed that the suspects were only using the kitchen for cooking meals. We had no evidence to the contrary."
"Then what made Harry decide to go down the basement stairs first?" Ron asked.
Susan frowned. "I can only tell you it was one of Harry's hunches. Because of the Anti-Disapparation Charms set on the house, we all knew the suspects had decided to go to the basement when the ground and first floors were vacant. I think we were all a little apprehensive and rather grateful to him that he decided he needed to lead us down."
"All right, let's pull the curtains and see if we can make this place darker. We can't see the revealing spells with this much light," Ron said, raising his wand and flicking it at the blinds.
With the blinds drawn, it was much easier to see the results of the detection spells they cast. The sight that greeted them made them sick. The entire kitchen, especially the work surface, the table and the top of the cooker were covered in multi-coloured splashes, each representing the residue of several types of potions. In addition, there was more blood residue smeared on the floor leaving a trail from the dining room to the door to the basement. Ron, Susan and Brodie just stared in horror at the sight.
After a moment, Ron cleared his throat. "The most prominent potion seems to be a poison of some sort," he said, trying to be professional when all he really wanted to do was go outside and vomit. From the victims' accounts, he'd known the suspects were sadistic, but this was just plain sick. "It matches the hue of the potion splashes we found upstairs and in the vial we found there."
Susan added, "As well as what's in the dining room." Her voice held the revolted tone Ron had been trying to keep out of his.
"If I'm correct, the blue-hued droplets represent class one anaesthetics while the green represents class two," Brodie volunteered, pointing to one specific section of the work surface where there was a cluster of blue and green rings. They probably were the result of the potions dripping down the sides of the containers they were being put in.
"But what about the orange over there?" Susan asked. She walked over to the opposite side of the work top. "It's some sort of medicinal narcotic, I think. Possibly derived from some Muggle-based drug." She put her hands on her hips and shook her head, adding almost to herself, "They certainly weren't very clean about their potion making."
The three of them looked at each other and then through the doorway to the dining room.
"If the suspects were experimenting with poisons, anaesthetics and narcotics," Ron said slowly, "that would explain some of the torture victims' injuries. Right?"
Brodie shuddered. "That's really sick, you know?"
Susan murmured, "Yeah, it is."
Ron cast a Patronus and sent it on its way. "I just called the forensics team. They need to get in here and take samples before the evidence deteriorates any further." He wished the first forensics team had known about the potions lab and torture chamber... Why hadn't they seen the equipment and suspected something? Or rather, why hadn't there been a better description of the basement in the original reports he'd read? Ron sighed inwardly; he now had another thing to investigate!
"How long before they get here?" Susan asked.
"I told them to give us an hour," Ron said as he took three tiny lanterns from his pocket. As he enlarged them and handed them to his companions, he said, "I don't relish going down there, but we need whatever clues the basement can give us concerning how this house was used and why."
"I'll go first," Susan volunteered. "I weigh the least... just in case the staircase is still unstable."
Ron exchanged his lantern for hers. "You take the more powerful one, then," he suggested. He gestured to the door. "After you."
Susan lit her lantern and opened the door to the basement with her wand. Ron and Brodie followed her, also having lit their lanterns. The three lights lit the stairwell quite well at first, but as they descended the wobbly stairs, the gloom from below seemed to swallow the brilliance. Ron held his lantern over Susan's head, trying to see further into the darkness. This only caused long shadows to form ahead of them and he put it down again.
Ron felt something bang gently against his leg and put his hand in his pocket. The Deluminator! He'd forgotten he had it with him. He pulled it out and held it ready to click.
"Susan, stop, please. We need better light. Hang on a minute," he said, making his voice deliberately calm. "Lights out." He clicked the Deluminator, immediately plunging the three into complete darkness as it sucked the flames from the lanterns. He clicked it again, this time directing the three balls of light out into the room below them. To their surprise, three torches flared to life. Ron thought there might be a few more, so he relit the lanterns and again sent the flames out into the room to light three more torches. With six torches lit, the basement was revealed in all its gruesome glory.
"Oh, Merlin..." breathed Brodie from behind Ron. His whisper echoed several times, causing shivers to run down Ron's back.
The space below them was a huge cavern, easily three times the size of the house's footprint. Directly below them was the pit Harry had fallen into. It was so deep, the torchlight was swallowed by its depths. Ron yanked his gaze from the pit and swept the rest of the basement with his eyes.
We've found the 'where', he thought bleakly. We have two of the suspects. We sort of know the 'how' and suspect the 'why', but this... this is SICK!
Indeed it was, but before Ron would let the others help him inspect the basement, there was one more thing they had to do. He cast the RDC and clicked the Deluminator at the same time, again plunging the basement into darkness. All three gasped. The magical mess below them was testament to the fact that the basement had indeed been the place the suspects used for their potions testing and torture experimentation. The floor, walls and even the ceiling were splattered with blue, green and pink residue. Ron glanced down into the depths of the pit and nearly vomited. The potions had been used down there, too.
Brodie muttered, "It's gonna take a lot of Mrs Scower's to clean this mess up."
Ron was glad for the young Auror's remark; it had been a long time since he'd been able to make comments like that in situations like this. "Thanks, Brodie. I needed that," he whispered back.
Brodie answered, "Any time."
He looked back up in time to see Susan cast another non-verbal spell. The colour red was now added, showing up in great puddles in several corners of the basement and as drips and splatters on the furnishings and the walls.
"What on earth were they doing down here?" squeaked Susan.
"I think we've found where they tortured and experimented on their victims," Ron said. "Let's Apparate down there." He felt the stairs shake as Susan and Brodie nodded. "Let me light the basement again." He clicked the Deluminator and once more the torches flared to life. The three of them Apparated. When he was certain they were both next to him he clicked the Deluminator five times, leaving only one of the torches lit. The phosphorescent glow of the Revealing spell still dominated the space, and they could now see the entirety of the basement.
The pit dominated the centre of the space as an enormous black void. A gigantic pile of dirt and rocks filled the space to one side, almost to the ceiling. Opposite the pile, the space was largely empty except for a set of wooden stocks—used to restrain the head and hands of a standing victim—and several pairs of manacles that were attached by iron pegs to the wall at two different heights. All of this equipment was drenched in blood residue.
"The holding area?" Susan guessed, gesturing towards the equipment. She was standing so close to him that Ron felt her shiver at the idea.
Ron replied, "Your guess is as good as mine."
"It's like something out of the Medieval Period," Brodie remarked, his childhood Muggle education making itself known.
"Actually," Ron remarked, "it reminds me of the haunted barn Harry and I took the kids to at Halloween a couple of years ago. The Muggles had splattered fluorescent paint all over the floor and walls of several of the scenes and then used special lights to make it all glow in the dark, much like our detection spells are doing now."
"Were the kids scared?" Susan asked.
"Lily and Hugo were," Ron replied, "but then, they were only eight at the time. Rose and Albus thought the whole thing was pretty funny, even though it was somewhat gruesome."
"I can see why the older kids would find something like that humorous, but when it's real, I don't know... it gets to you," Brodie commented, and Ron could hear him taking several deep, calming breaths.
Ron exhaled forcefully, gathering his courage. "I guess we'd better start looking the place over."
Susan sighed. "I really don't want to know what's behind us, but I guess I must."
That makes two of us, Ron thought as they slowly turned around and looked behind them.
A long table sat in the middle of the floor. On both sides of it were a dilapidated chest of drawers and a tall cupboard unit. In back of this set-up were another set of stocks—this one for a seated victim—as well as six more sets of manacles that were, again, chained to the wall. In the dim light emitted from the torch and revealing spells, it was evident that this was where the main experimentation had taken place. The sight caused Ron's stomach to lurch uncomfortably again.
He walked over to the edge of the pit and lit his lantern. Then, levitating it cautiously over the edge, he lowered it into the chasm, looking carefully at the walls and finally the floor when the light was near enough.
"What's down there?" Brodie asked. He had not followed Ron.
"Boulders, just like Harry's rescue team reported. I'm going down," he said determinedly as he caught the lantern. "You two start taking notes about what's here as inventory. See if there's anything in the wardrobe and chest of drawers we might send to Evidence. Use magic whenever you can and put on your dragon hide gloves, too." He pulled a pair out of his pocket and put them on.
"Gotcha, Boss," Brodie quipped as he moved towards the holding space.
"Be careful," cautioned Susan. "Those rocks could be unstable."
"Thanks. I'll call if I find anything," Ron promised, clicking the Deluminator again to relight the other torches for them. He clicked it again to capture his lantern's flame, and then visualizing the smooth dirt floor he had seen next to the pile of rocks, he Apparated. When his feet touched bottom, he opened his eyes, lit his lantern again and looked about carefully.
The pit was a rough rectangle, fifteen by about twenty feet. In the middle of the floor was a fairly flat pile of boulders that, on second glance, looked arranged. Ron cast a magic-revealing spell. To his surprise, the stones in front of him seemed to be held together with magic, they were so widely spaced. It was as if they were hiding something...
Ron walked the perimeter of the pit, examining the rock slabs carefully before he cast the RDC once again. The phosphorescent glow he'd seen from the staircase wasn't coming from the middle of the pit he was standing in, but from another, smaller pit that was dug in the centre of the larger one. He hadn't seen it (or noticed it, maybe) before because it was covered by the rock pile! Feeling sick, he spent a few moments searching for the entrance to the second pit. He found it directly under the ruined staircase.
Here goes nothing... he thought as he descended into the second pit. At the bottom, he stopped and captured his lantern's flame before he cast a different version of the RDC they'd been using so far. This spell was more sensitive to trace amounts of potion residue and caused it to fluoresce more readily than the other spell. He also cast an Object Detection Charm, a useful tool for dark places such as this one. Ron was glad he had because directly in front of his feet were three yellow-highlighted vials filled with blue and green residue.
He scanned the space again to determine its length, width and depth, coming to the conclusion that it was ten feet wide by fifteen feet long by six feet deep. Directly under the centre opening in the boulders above his head was a curious line of three, two-foot high, roughly hewn stone blocks that divided the floor into two halves. The blocks were just wide enough to be used as a step. The multi-coloured splashes he'd seen earlier decorated this feature. Apprehensively, he cast the BRDC Susan had used to determine where blood had been shed. There was blood here as well.
Ron pulled several collection bags from his pocket and began labelling them. When he was done, he levitated the three vials at his feet to eye level and peered at them. His eyes widened as he realized there were needle-like objects still in these vials. His wand hand shook as he lowered the three vials into one of the evidence bags. He set it to one side on the steps behind him and ventured further into the space. When he reached the line of stone blocks, he looked up. He had been expecting the covering stones to be thick, but in reality, they were only a hand-width high. It was tempting to step up on the smooth-topped stones without collecting the evidence first, but he managed to stop himself; Auror-crushed evidence was not admitted to the Evidence Room because it never revealed clues correctly. Instead, he stooped and examined the yellow-highlighted objects littering the stones and the floor around them. He found more vials, several more needles... and Harry's holly and phoenix feather wand! He'd recognize it anywhere...
"Godric's gonads!" he muttered to himself. How could the wand have been dislodged from its special shoulder holster?
Ron felt sick. When he had joined the Aurors, Harry had elected to have Mr Ollivander make him a heavy-duty work wand along with a special shoulder holster in which to carry his original wand. He used the holly wand only in dire emergencies and at home and kept it secured in the holster while he was working. Ron knew Harry's work wand and the holster had been returned to Ginny, but neither of them had thought to look inside it.
What happened that night that would dislodge the wand from its hiding place under Harry's Auror robes?
As he tried to puzzle through the clues he was finding, Ron collected the loose needles and the potion vials and put them in separate bags. When he was certain that he'd collected all the evidence, he stepped up on the stones and had a look around. The numerous bloody drips on the sides of the overhead stones were too much for Ron: quickly conjuring a basin, he vomited violently into it. Without a doubt, the blood running down those stones and splattered on the stone blocks at Ron's feet was Harry Potter's. His best friend was undoubtedly one of the victims whose injuries had puzzled the St Mungo's Healers for so long.
He had seen the Aurors enter the house, but he had not seen them come out. That was bad news, he decided. He would wait for a few more minutes and then report in.
He was about to leave, when the forest echoed with the sounds of Apparition. He glanced up to find a group of four witches and wizards standing in a tight circle not six strides from his hiding place. They all held identical white cases. Two of them had their backs to him... the Killing Curse is quiet... He took careful aim and cast the first curse. His victim never knew what hit her. The wizard quickly aimed again, felled his second victim, and sighted on the third Auror as the victims' companions raised their wands, casting spells in his direction. Wildly, he cast the Killing Curse again and then Disapparated, kicking himself for not killing all the Aurors, and without knowing that all four Aurors were dead.
A/N: I had a very pleasant surprise this week when Rosina Ferguson contacted me. I welcome her to my pre-beta team and thank her, RSS, RebeccaRipple, Mutt n Feathers and Jedi34 for their hard work, comments and suggestions which made this chapter not only better, but gave it a more authentic feel. I also thank my beta, Aggiebell, for making me think about how I want my characters to come across in various situations. To my readers, I appreciate your thoughts and questions more than you know. I look forward to Thursdays as much as you do.