James waited until long after midnight before he sneaked down the stairs to the fourth year Gryffindors’ room. Pausing just inside the door to make sure all the boys were soundly asleep, he was happy to see that Albus had left his hangings open. James crept to the foot of his brother’s bed, and drawing his wand, whispered the incantation for the prank he and Lily had giggled about for a full five minutes yesterday when she’d found the spell in 501 Ways to Prank Your Siblings. Then, barely holding back a villainous laugh, he sneaked outside and scurried back to his own bed.
At the same time that James was hexing Albus, Lily was busily creating breakfast chaos in the kitchens. For the last hour, she had been methodically dipping the forks to be used by each house table in the potion James had made for their prank and drying them quickly with a flick of her wand. She grinned as she dried the last Ravenclaw fork. Breakfast was going to be fun in the morning.
Let the fun begin, she whispered as she closed the kitchen door and snuck through the shadows back up to Gryffindor Tower.
The cave was quiet except for the whisper of the wind and the lap of the sea coming through the hole in the rocks that made up the cave entrance. It was low tide at the moment; Scorpius could tell because of the amount of wind coming into the cave, as well as the sound of the water. The calmness of the sea at the moment wasn’t good for what he wanted to do because he couldn’t hide behind its noise. What he needed was a good tempest with howling winds and crashing waves that would cover up the sounds he knew he would make in his bid for freedom.
He had thought it all out: how he would let himself down, what spell he would use to unlock the cell door, what his route between the cell and the cave entrance would be (as far as he could see while hanging upside down) using the shadows to conceal his progress towards the mouth of the cave, and whether or not he was willing to brave the frigid water in his attempted escape. This last part of the plan would definitely test his mettle, but he was determined to escape, or at least try. Even if he ultimately had to come back into his cell, he had planned a way of telling his parents and the Aurors where to find him.
He glanced through the bars of his cell to make sure he was alone. He knew for certain that the witch who seemed to be in charge of the place wasn’t in the cave tonight—he had seen her Disapparate just before nightfall—nor was the bloke who liked to Cruciate him present. It appeared that both adults had thought him incapable of attempting an escape and left him alone…
Scorpius took a deep, calming breath. This is it, he thought as he drew his wand from its special pocket in the side seam of his trousers. He pointed the wand first at the floor, muttering a Cushioning Spell, for he knew that no matter how he twisted, he would land on his head once he cancelled the spell that kept him hanging about in the middle of the cell. He didn’t need a headache on top of the lingering effects of the Cruciatus Curse. Next, he raised his wand and pointed it at his feet. He muttered, “Finite Incantatem,” and braced himself for the drop. Nothing happened. He tried again, his wand at a different angle. Still, he remained upside down. Finally, in desperation, he bent at the hips so that his wand was now wedged between his ankles and repeated the spell a third time. The result was instantaneous. As he felt his ankles being released from the spell, he dropped back first towards the floor of the cell and would have been hurt had his head struck the rock. As it was, he bounced once on his charm before coming to a complete stop. He lay still for a moment to let his body become accustomed to being horizontal.
There was another reason he stayed prone on the floor: he couldn’t feel his feet. The long hours of hanging upside down had made his feet go numb soon after he’d arrived in the cave. Scorpius had learned the hard way the first time he’d been let down to relieve himself—his loo was an open hole in a corner of the cell—that getting up too hastily was bad news; not only did all the blood rush from his head and make him dizzy, his numb feet hurt tremendously and were more likely than not to trip him up just as thoroughly as a Trip Jinx would have done.
Very slowly, Scorpius pushed himself up on his elbows; he breathed deeply, testing his equilibrium. His head spun a little, so he closed his eyes, content to allow his body to re-orient itself. Meanwhile, he wiggled his fingers, testing his grip on his wand. He flexed one knee and then the other, even though the movement hurt a little. Finally, he bent his knees and put his feet flat on the floor and wiggled his toes. That hurt! He waited several minutes more and he was happy to discover that he could now feel the bumps in the floor through his shoes. With this happy discovery, he pushed himself upright into a full sitting position and waited a few more seconds while his body adjusted itself again. Then, he stood up and crossed the cell on unsteady legs to door.
His head began spinning as he reached it, and Scorpius made a grab for the wall to steady himself. Bloody hell, he thought angrily, they’ve turned me into damn bat!
He took a couple of deep, steadying breaths and blew each one out slowly. His head cleared and he was able to think more clearly about the spells he needed to perform. When he was sure he could stand on his own, he reached up and tapped each of the hinges of the door with his wand while whispering a lubricating spell he’d heard his dad use on the doors of Malfoy Manor. Then, he levelled his wand at the lock and whispered, “Alohomora.” The lock clicked and the door swung open, its hinges swinging it silently inward. Smiling to himself, Scorpius sneaked out of his cell and into the main room of the cavern.
It was bigger than he thought. It was also creepier than he’d imagined. However, he didn’t have time to explore, nor did he want to at the moment. He zeroed in on his goal: the cave’s entrance.
Cautiously, he peered round the rock wall that separated his cell from the one next to it. The cell was empty, just as he had expected, so he quickly crossed in front of the bars to the front wall of the cave and melted into the shadows behind several rock piles. Then, tiptoeing from pile to pile, he made his way over to the drop-off that led to the cave mouth.
The steeply sloping drop of about fifteen feet ended in a narrow ledge that widened a little to Scorpius’ right. Below the ledge lapped the sea. It was the perfect landing place for a small boat, he supposed, although he had not heard or seen anyone enter the cave except by Apparition.
From his observations the last few days, he knew that to his right, directly opposite the mouth of the cave where the bow of the boat might be tied, a set of steps had been carved into the bedrock for easy access to the rooms above. They were completely exposed, however, and Scorpius didn’t want to get caught using them, so he had chosen the more difficult place to make his descent. He’d thought a lot about what charms he’d need to cast at this particular point in his escape while he was suspended in his cell. As silently as he could, he cast a cushioning charm on the ledge directly below where he stood. Then, he pointed his wand at his shoes and whispered a Silencing Spell and his favourite jinx, the Sticky Shoe Jinx, which stuck one’s shoes to the floor and to one’s feet. (The jinx had been useful to him on several occasions last summer when he’d climbed out his bedroom window and down the vine-covered wall of Malfoy Manor to go into the nearby village without his mother’s permission.) Immediately, he felt the bottoms of his shoes conform to his feet a little more snugly. With one last look over his shoulder, Scorpius slipped his wand back into its pocket, tugged his left foot off the ground and began his slow descent to the ledge below.
He reached the ledge without incident and cancelled the Cushioning Charm before attempting to venture out of the cave. What had looked like a substantial opening in the rock from his cell was really a fissure barely three feet wide that ended in a point about seven feet above the water. Below it were several huge boulders, half submerged in the water, which would prevent a boat from gaining access to the cave. At the moment, the water lapped gently against the rocks and provided Scorpius with a reasonable means of at least stepping out of the cave mouth. Smiling to himself he began inching his way from one boulder to the next until he was standing on a wet, slippery rock in the middle of the opening.
One more rock and I’m free! Scorpius thought as he prepared to leap toward a barnacle-encrusted rock several feet away. Excitement filled him as he thought of how he would continue leaping from one rock to another until he reached a place in the cliff where it would safe to climb to safety.
He leaped. Suddenly he was crouching on the rock and realizing that he had been wrong: there were no more boulders in front of him and the water was actually pounding against the cliffs that towered above his head. He almost cried out in despair. All that work, all that planning, only to discover that it would be too dangerous to enter the water and try to swim for it.
Scorpius closed his eyes as he felt hot tears course down his cheeks. Frustrated, he gave in to the self-pity for a few moments before he pulled himself together enough to think.
What would Dad do? he wondered.
Look around, observe your surroundings, said a voice inside his head that sounded like his dad’s. So swiping at the tears that still clouded his vision, Scorpius looked up.
The night was cold and clear with a waning moon casting a thin silver streak on the water that reached to the horizon. It was windy here, too. To Scorpius’ left and right were the walls of a wide cleft in the cliff, and directly in front of him was a tiny peninsula on top of which seemed to be the ruins of several buildings. It would have been a beautiful sight if he hadn’t been so frustrated.
What would Dad do now?
There was only one answer: send a Patronus Message. It seemed like a good idea, but to whom should he send it… if he could manage to cast a corporeal Patronus. He’d only been successful once in class and his scorpion hadn’t lasted very long. He looked out to sea and realized he was becoming chilled as well as frustrated and sad, and with that realization, wondered if he could even think of something happy to sustain the Patronus long enough to send it.
I have to try, he thought, and began searching his memory for a sufficiently happy memory. It was hard, because his thoughts kept returning to the fact that his quiet family life wasn’t steeped in happy memories; most of what he considered happy were just images and feelings of contentment. Finally, he settled on a memory from this past Christmas: the first time he won a Wizards Chess game against his father. It had occurred Christmas afternoon, after presents and the traditional luncheon feast, when his family had been together enjoying themselves in the library by the fire. It had been the first time his father had not made a dumb move towards the end of the game that allowed Scorpius to win; rather, it was a genuine hard-fought battle that had ultimately ended in his triumphant announcement of “Checkmate” followed by his father’s groaning “Well done, Scorpius,” accompanied by his rarely seen and openly proud grin. It had taken a long time that afternoon for that pleasurable feeling of triumph to finally subside into contentment.
Now, focusing hard on that afternoon, Scorpius closed his eyes and cast his spell, concentrating hard on the incantation, Expecto Patronum! It surprised him when he opened his eyes that there were two scorpions standing in mid-air before him, seemingly waiting expectantly for instructions.
I am still alive, he thought, sending the sentence to his scorpions. I’m being held in a cave by the sea by a witch and three wizards. There’s a ruined castle high on a cliff across from the cave entrance. I want to come home, but can’t escape. The sea is too dangerous for swimming here! Come get me, PLEASE!
He ended his message and watched his Patronuses scuttle away in two different directions. Then, with one regretful look at the sheer rock walls of the cliff, and hoping he’d managed to provide sufficient information for his father to find him, he made his way sadly back into the cave and back into his cell where he quietly locked himself in. He would wait until morning to cast Levicorpus upon himself so the psycho wouldn’t suspect anything when he brought Scorpius’ breakfast. In the meantime, Scorpius crawled onto the mouldy mattress that occupied one of the side walls and huddled under the thin blanket left there by one of the cell’s previous occupants. All he could do now was hope his Patronuses reached his parents and the Aurors.
Despite the lateness of the hour—or earliness depending on how he looked at it— Draco Malfoy sat in his study at Malfoy Manor, a stack of paperwork for the office spread out before him. He should have been giving it his utmost attention because of the details of the contracts, but in reality, he was mostly staring into space and wondering what was happening to Scorpius. He was deeply worried about what would happen when the kidnappers discovered tomorrow that he had only managed to raise a tenth of what they wanted to release his son… five thousand Galleons.
The owl had brought the second ransom note yesterday and Draco had immediately notified the Aurors. They had sent a young wizard—Draco remembered his name had been Auror Brodie Something—to check the note for spells and be with him and Asteria when they opened the note.
The letter had been as clean as the first; no finger prints, Muggle ink and delivered by the owl that left as soon as the letter was removed from its leg. The letter had given the particulars of where the bag of hex-free Galleons was to be left and by whom. It specified that Draco himself must bring the money to the drop-off location alone and that the kidnappers would know if there were any Aurors lurking in the shadows.
Auror Brodie had then taken possession of the original note, leaving Draco with a copy and the assurances that there would be someone nearby should something happen, even though the kidnappers had specifically said to come alone. This was another thing that was keeping Draco awake.
The door of the study opened and Asteria came in carrying a tea tray. Draco stood and took it from her, recognizing the small decanter of brandy sitting in the middle of the tray. How like his wife to recognize his signs of worry and to know that adding just enough of the spirit to his tea would help him relax enough to finally come to bed. He set the tray on his desk and turned to take his wife in his arms.
“Thank you, my darling,” he said, pulling her close. “You always seem to know when I need you.”
Asteria tightened her arms around his waist, but said nothing. They stood there for a long moment and then she whispered, “Come, Draco, the tea is getting cold.”
They parted, but Draco did not sit down at his desk as he ordinarily would have. Instead, he remained behind her, watching her elegant movements as she first poured tea into two earthenware mugs and then added a small measure of the brandy to his. Their hands touched when she handed him the mug and he looked deeply into her eyes, silently thanking her, once again, for helping him to not feel so horribly alone.
She smiled at him, breaking their eye contact, and led the way to the settee in front of the fireplace. They settled into the worn fabric and Asteria snuggled close to him, her head on his shoulder, his arm holding her close. Draco sighed and wished a happier reason was bringing them together at this time of the morning.
They had almost finished their tea when a large silver scorpion Patronus scuttled through the window and stood before them. Draco barely had time to put his mug down before the scorpion delivered its message. At the end, after the Patronus dissipated, Draco and Asteria clung to each other while silent tears of relief rolled down his cheeks.
“He’s alive,” Draco breathed. “Scorpius is alive!”
The clock in Ron and Hermione’s bedroom at Weasel’s Keep had just chimed three when Ron’s wand buzzed loudly, waking him and Hermione from a sound sleep. Ron yawned and struggled over to the fireplace where he knelt and called the Auror Office.
“What’s up?” he asked the Auror sitting in the Situation Room.
“Auror Weasley, we just received a Patronus Message sent to us by Scorpius Malfoy giving information about where he’s being held and by whom. I thought you’d like to see the Pensieve memory as soon as possible,” the Auror on duty explained.
“I’ll be right there,” Ron said. “Please notify the rest of my team and have a map of Britain and Scotland ready for us in the small conference room.”
“Will do, sir,” the young man replied.
Ron pulled his head out of the fireplace and looked at Hermione, grinning from ear to ear. “Scorpius Malfoy has made contact with the Auror Office,” he told her. “I have no idea when I’ll be home, but I’m going to bring that boy with me.”
“I know you will, Ron,” his wife said.
He grabbed his Auror robes and disappeared into their en-suite, emerging a few minutes later feeling a little more alert. He kissed his wife and then Disapparated to the Ministry.
“Is the Pensieve ready?” Ron asked as he strode into the Auror Office.
Susan Bones grinned at him from her place at the conference table. “Right here, Ron. I saw the Patronus come in,” she said.
“Why were you here?” asked Ron as he took a seat close to the Pensieve.
“I traded shifts with Reagan O’Mara. She asked me last week if I’d help her out while her in-laws visited from Dublin. With all that’s happened, I’m glad I was here when the message arrived,” Susan explained.
“That makes two of us,” Ron remarked. “So… tell me what happened.”
Susan gave him nearly the same report the other Auror had, concluding, “I left the memory in the Pensieve. Scorpius’ Patronus is rather spectacular.” She tapped the liquid in the basin, bringing forth the scorpion.
Ron had to agree the huge insect was amazing, but he wasn’t that impressed that Scorpius Malfoy had such good control of the spell; after all, Harry had produced his stag at thirteen, a year earlier than Scorpius.
They viewed Susan’s memory twice, with Ron jotting down the details Scorpius provided. They then opened the map of Britain and Scotland and asked it to show all of the known castles. As the two were studying the map for possible sites, Mary Beth Pendergast, Brodie, Garrett and Terry strode into the conference room. Susan played the memory again, causing Brodie to whistle softly.
“The trick with castles,” Ron said, scratching his head, “is that a lot of these supposed ruins are really magical residences. Do we know of any unoccupied castles that really are ruins?”
Terry pointed to several locations on the map. “I’ll use these inland castles as my example,” he said. “This one, this one and this one are on the Muggle Historical Registry as ruins, but in reality are magical residences disguised by enchantments and Muggle Repelling Charms similar to the ones at Hogwarts. This one was built only three hundred-fifty years ago, but it’s enchanted to look as old and run-down as the others, is still occupied and has been ‘Muggle-proofed’ as it were. Finally, this one is a true ruin: no one has lived there for centuries because it would take too much magic to turn it back into a viable residence; there just isn’t enough of the original buildings left.”
“So what we’re looking for are seaside castles that are true ruins and not private residences?” asked Mary Beth. “How do we know?”
“Correct,” Terry answered. “I’d say look for evidence that Muggles don’t live there.” He scratched his head as he studied the map. “I think we’re in for a bit of a search, because all the seaside castles I can see are on the Registry and may or may not be lived in.” He added almost as an afterthought, “Or are museums.”
“What about the topography?” Brodie asked. “Scorpius’ message said his castle is situated on a tall cliff or peninsula. Does that rule out any locations?”
“I think we’ll need a Muggle topographical map for that,” Susan replied. “I’ll see if there’s one listed in the Ministry’s Map Index.”
She hurried from the room and came back fifteen minutes later carrying a large roll of heavy paper. She spread this next to the map of Scotland and then tapped it with her wand. Immediately, the lines printed on the paper rose above the table, showing the hills, valleys, plains, and mountains in relief. Another spell added all the historical sites they needed from the other map. She then colour-coded them to show residences with Muggle-Repelling enchantments, museums and true ruins.
“We won’t need these,” she said, pointing her wand to the sites on the interior of the country. They all disappeared, all except for one: Hogwarts.
Ron had to smile at her nostalgic flare, but asked anyway, “Why did you leave Hogwarts?”
“To give us a proper perspective for distances and something to use as a reference if we need one,” she answered. Then, turning to Mary Beth, she asked, “Would you add the major cities and seaside towns and villages, please? I’ve just thought of something else…” She hurried away again.
Mary Beth waved her wand at the flat map, copying the names and locations of the requested populated areas, adding Edinburgh Castle on its promontory above the city. “The magical community here is quite large and is spread over quite a few city blocks, not just a single street like Diagon Alley,” she explained. “If her new hide-out is anywhere near Edinburgh, the Matron may have visited one or more of the shops there to purchase supplies of some sort. Has the Sketch-wizard finished his rendering of the Pensieve memory witch?”
Garrett answered, “Yes, it was finished last night. I’ll have copies on my desk for everyone when we’re done here.”
“Good, we’re going to need them,” Mary Beth said as Susan slipped back in the room looking disappointed. Apparently, she hadn’t found what she was looking for.
Ron said, “Thanks for keeping tabs on that, Garrett. I’d forgotten about the sketch in all the excitement.”
“So… which of the possible castles are located on the right land forms?” Susan asked.
Ron and his team scrutinized the topographical relief map, turning it this way and that with his wand. Finally, he pointed to seven castles he thought might be right. “I vote for Gylen Castle, Broughty Castle, Greenan Castle, Dunure Castle, Culzean Castle, Edinburgh Castle and the magical community, and…” He hesitated, comparing two possible castles. “Dunnottar Castle. We’ll start with those. I realize Edinburgh Castle is too far inland, but like Mary Beth said, it’s a good place to question shop keepers, especially those we know of whose entrances are booby-trapped with spells that momentarily reveal a person’s real identity for theft-deterrent purposes.”
Terry asked, “How come you’re not having us search the English castles? There seem to be several that fit the criteria.”
Ron looked uncomfortable for a moment. “To tell the truth, I’m going with a gut feeling I have about this,” he said sheepishly, looking at Terry. “Something tells me we need to start where the topography is rugged. We’re supposed to be looking for a place with cliffs and a peninsula. A lot of the British castles are either set back from the water or are built on islands. I have a feeling we’d be better served starting with the Scottish castles.”
“As good an answer as I could give you,” Terry said shrugging.
Ron sighed tiredly. He plunged his hands into his pockets, thinking. “All right… assignments… Susan and Mary Beth will go to Broughty Castle, Terry and I will check out Dunure Castle, and Brodie and Garrett get Greenan Cast le. Take your usual gear. We’ll converge back here in a couple of hours and decide whether or not we need to find more castle sites or send a team to Edinburgh’s wizarding district to find out if someone meeting the Matron’s description has been seen in the area.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Brodie quipped. “Is it too early to leave?”
“I don’t think so,” Ron answered. “I think you’ll know whether or not your castle is the one we’re looking for almost as soon as you get there, even though it’s dark.”
Enthusiastically, Brodie rubbed his hands together, saying, “Well, what are we waiting for?”
Chuckling, the rest of the team left the conference room. Ron was the last to leave, taking the time to put his signature locking charm on the door because of all the evidence they’d left inside.
It was bitterly cold when Susan and Mary Beth landed on a dark beach near Broughty Castle. The water lapped calmly on the headland the castle was built on, and Susan immediately knew this was the wrong place. Looking through the gloom at the structure surrounded by car parks and Muggle buildings, she could see that not only was the castle not built on a high cliff, it was definitely not a ruin. She turned to Mary Beth.
“Seen enough?” she asked the other Auror.
“I have,” Mary Beth answered. “Let’s go before I freeze.”
Not needing any more encouragement, Susan nodded and Disapparated back to the Ministry.
Terry pulled the hood of his cloak over his head as the cold wind blowing across the water made its way down the neck of his Auror robes. Beside him, Ron was doing the same thing.
“Bloody kidnappers,” Ron grumbled, making Terry smile. “Why do they have to pick such awful places to imprison their hostages?”
“Makes it hard to escape?” Terry offered.
Ron shook his head and led the way towards the path they’d landed near. “Whatever. I think the ruins are this way,” he said, and Terry thought he could hear Ron’s teeth chattering as they strode towards the remains of Dunure Castle.
After about five minutes, the path ended at a jumble of stone walls that resembled a rock pile more than a group of buildings and Terry wondered why the structure was even on the Historical Registry. It was evident that no one lived here except maybe mice and other furry creatures, especially since the castle was built on a strip of land no more than twenty feet above the beach.
“I vote we rule this one out,” he suggested.
Ron shook his head. “Not yet. I’m Apparating onto the beach,” he said. “I’ll be back in a moment,” and before Terry could reply, he’d popped out of existence. A few seconds later, he was back.
“Find anything?” Terry asked.
“Nope. Let’s go. It’s bloody cold here, mate,” Ron said.
The two walked quickly back the way they’d come and upon reaching the Apparition point, Disapparated back to the warmth of their Ministry office.
Greenan Castle’s light-coloured stone walls gleamed in what little moonlight there was, casting a long shadow over the beach forty feet below. The cliff it was perched on was eroded on one side so the land sloped gently towards the beach. On the other side, the precipice was much more pronounced, but it, too, eventually melted into the beach. Off in the distance in a north-easterly direction, a sleepy little village was just distinguishable by the lights shining in the streets.
Brodie looked up at the ruined structure from where they’d appeared on the beach and murmured to Garrett in a disappointed tone, “This is more like a promontory than a cliff. And Scorpius didn’t say a thing about seeing a village. Do you think it’s worth hiking up there?”
Garrett turned his back to the waves that were lapping gently onto the beach some twenty feet away and lit his wand. “Let’s at least check out the base of the cliff,” he suggested. “I doubt we’ll find anything, though. It’s unusual to find beach entrances to medieval castles, ya know.”
Brodie grunted through gritted teeth as though he was trying to keep them from chattering, “Let’s get this over with. The sooner we get out of this wind the better.”
They lit their wands and the two Aurors followed the base of the cliff as it curved east towards the lights of the village. They illuminated as much of the rocks as they could, but to no avail.
“You’d think there would be some sort of repelling charm in place,” Brodie commented quietly. “If the lab is here, if Scorpius is here, wouldn’t it stand to reason that there’d be at least something to suggest we steer clear of the place?”
Garrett extinguished his wand and tucked it into its holster. “There’s nothing here. I checked. Let’s go,” he said. “See you back at headquarters.” Then he turned on the spot and disappeared from sight.
Brodie followed suit, feeling more than a little disappointed.
Mary Beth had always known Auror work would be tedious, whether the job called for surveillance work or interviews or research of one type or another. Her father had certainly done enough of those things for the Aurors before he was killed in the second war; he’d always seemed to have the patience of a saint when it came to ferreting out the truth, and he’d passed his love for justice and his sense of fairness along to his daughter.
As she and Susan materialized at the Ministry she sighed and asked, “Write the report now or wait until later?”
“Let’s get it over with,” Susan suggested. “It doesn’t look like the boys are back.”
Mary Beth smiled; she liked Susan’s straight-forward approach to investigative work and the mounds of parchment work it generated. “I’ll get the forms and meet you in your cubicle. Ron probably has the conference room locked up tighter than a drum.”
Susan took off her cloak, smiled her assent and turned left down an aisle between two sets of cubicles. Mary Beth went straight to her own cubicle and had the required parchments in her hand when she heard voices. Curious, she craned her neck over the partition to see who’d arrived.
“Hey Ron, Terry!” she called, waving her hand. The men looked up. “Where are we meeting?”
“Conference room,” Ron grunted.
“I’ll get Susan,” Mary Beth said.
“No need,” Susan said. “I know they’re here.”
The four Aurors had to wait another ten minutes for Garrett and Brodie to arrive. In the meantime, Mary Beth sat quietly in a corner, her quill scratching busily, until the door opened, admitting the two stragglers.
“Find anything?” Ron’s question was hopeful.
“Nope,” Brodie answered. “We found a whole lot of nothin’.”
Mary Beth put down her quill and joined the others crowded around the maps. Ron looked at her, his face expectant.
“Broughty Castle looks inhabited and like it's used as either a hotel or a museum,” she reported. “We didn’t stick around once we found the car park and saw lights in the windows.”
Ron pointed his wand at the raised form of Broughty Castle. It winked out of existence as had the other inhabited castles earlier. Without looking up, he said, “Dunure Castle’s just a rock pile, really, and can’t be more than twenty feet above the beach, so it’s out, too.” The little castle picture disappeared from the relief map as its counterpart had just seconds before.
“Same goes for Greenan Castle,” Brodie said with a yawn. “It had promise for about two seconds until we figured out that it’s on the only cliff for several miles. The rest of the area is covered in sandy beaches.”
“It’s also within viewing distance of a village,” Garrett added. “I don’t think the Matron would have picked such an easily escapable place. Even at high tide the water level isn’t more than a couple of feet high according to the markings on the rocks.”
Ron stuck his hands in his pockets and stared thoughtfully at the relief map. Finally, he pointed to three more castles. “Let’s investigate these this time,” he said wearily. “Mary Beth, you and Susan take Gylen Castle on Kerrnan Island. Brodie, you and Garrett take Dunnottar south of Aberdeen, and Terry and I will take Culzean.”
“Why are Brodie and Garrett going to Dunnottar?” Mary Beth asked. “All the other castles we’ve investigated are on the west coast. Dunnottar’s on the east.”
Ron used his wand as a pointer. “The topography here is right, Mary Beth,” he said. “I picked it because there are cliffs and beaches running north and south of the castle for miles. From the looks of them, they’re quite high above the water.”
Mary Beth had to agree. “That makes sense.” She looked at Susan. “You ready to get cold again, partner?”
Susan shivered and rubbed her upper arms. “Come on, gents, let’s get this over with,” she said.
Ron looked over at Mary Beth. “Is your report done?”
She smiled as she picked up the parchment and handed it to him. “All that’s lacking is Susan’s signature,” she said.
Ron handed the report to Susan who signed it. “Nice work, Pendergast, nice work,” he said as they left the office. “See you in a bit.”
He sealed the door and then turned left to go deeper into the Auror office while the others headed right towards the corridor leading to the lifts.
“Kiss-up,” Brodie teased her.
Mary Beth flashed him a smile. “Susan and I will be going home long before you three will,” she said sweetly as the five crowded into a lift.
Brodie just rolled his eyes and punched the button for the Atrium level.
Ron stayed outside the conference room only long enough to lock the door again. He hoped Terry would go on ahead of him to Culzean Castle because the faster they ruled out each inhabited or publicly used castle the closer he and his team would be to zeroing in on the Matron’s cave.
He looked at his watch, noticing that three hours had passed since he’d first come to the office. Deputy Director Robards would be in soon and Ron didn’t feel like telling him his team had so far come up with a whole lot of nothing. He hastened to the lifts and had to smile as he glimpsed his superior emerging from the far car. The doors to Ron’s lift closed as he heaved a sigh of relief.
Terry, it turned out, had not waited for Ron and had gone ahead. When Ron’s feet touched solid ground, he came face to face with the manicured lawns and carefully-tended gardens of a very public castle. In an area this big, he reasoned, it would be easier to locate Terry from the air using a heat-seeking spell, so he quickly made his way to a grove of pine trees, took his broom from his pocket and camouflaged himself and the broom before taking to the air.
The castle was spectacular from the air, almost as glorious as Hogwarts, he reckoned, and before he looked for Terry, Ron took a moment to appreciate its beauty. The main building was a huge, sprawling five-story thing that looked as if the original large mansion with its many turrets and towers had been added onto several times over the years. It looked like something Hermione might want to come to later in the spring when the gardens were in full flower.
Finally, he cast his spell. The only warm-bodied, two-legged object large enough to be Terry was standing on the other side of the castle near the edge of the cliff the castle was built on. Ron turned his broom towards the sea and flew close to the water while inspecting the cliff for fissures big enough to admit a person. When he found none, he cancelled his Disillusionment Charms and cast a spell, which alerted Terry of his presence.
“This one’s a big bust,” Terry commented as Ron landed beside him.
“Yeah, I wonder how the others are faring,” Ron said. He shoved his hands into his pockets to keep them warm.
“No idea. You ready to go back?”
“Yes. I need to brief Robards on what’s been happening.”
“You go on ahead, then,” Terry said. “I’ll be along in a minute.”
“All right, see you in a few.” Ron turned on the spot and left the castle with his usual quiet pop.
The desolate beauty of Kerrera Island was evident as soon as Susan and Mary Beth arrived. Susan supposed she should feel lucky to watch the spectacular sunrise that was forming on the eastern horizon, but the top of the hill they’d landed on was too cold and windy to warrant staying in one place long enough to appreciate the rolling hills and craggy outcroppings looming above Gylen Castle.
She motioned to Mary Beth to Disillusion herself and the younger Auror did so asking, “There isn’t anyone around, Susan. Why all the caution?”
“I feel very exposed here,” Susan admitted. “This castle was put on that rock to guard the Firths on either side of the island. It can be seen from the water and if we’re going to Apparate down to it, I don’t want any Muggle ship captains saying they saw ghosts or something.”
Mary Beth smiled at her. “Susan, I think you need more sleep. Your imagination is running away from you. C’mon, let’s get this over with.” She Disapparated, leaving Susan standing there with her retort unsaid. Growling in irritation, Susan followed her to the water.
From the shore, Gylen Castle was a beautiful rustic ruin that cast long shadows into the cold winter morning. As the sky lightened, Susan cast several revealing spells, which didn’t react, causing both witches to sigh in disappointment. They took the time to walk through the ground floor of the castle as well as comb the base of the outcropping it was built on. They found no evidence of a cave or an entrance to one.
Finally, as the sky turned light yellow above the hills, Susan admitted defeat.
“Let’s go back to London, Mary Beth. We have yet another report to write,” she said.
Mary Beth groaned. “You get to write it, Susan. I wrote the last one,” she said.
“Fair’s fair,” Susan said. “I’ll buy you a pot of tea to thaw you out.”
Mary Beth grinned. “You’re on,” she said as Susan Disapparated.
Garrett knew he and Brodie had found the right place as soon as he heard the waves; he could hear them crashing far below their landing spot. He remained still for a few moments, finding his bearings and admiring the desolate wind-swept plain that seemed to disappear into the sea some distance away. He looked at his watch, surprised to see that it was nearly seven o’clock; it was still dark this far north. Looking up, he saw that the sky was clear and still full of stars, although the eastern horizon was beginning to show signs of lightening.
Turning to Brodie, he asked, “What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” the other wizard said. “I think this might be it, but I want to look around some more… you know, just in case.”
“I agree,” Garrett murmured. “Stick together or explore separately?”
“Together. If the Matron is in the vicinity, I wouldn’t want to face her alone. Not after reading the report Stilwell wrote describing her abilities and knowing what she’s done to our colleagues,” answered Brodie. “Which way should we go?”
Garret peered into the night. “Let’s find the castle first,” he suggested. “I think it’s that way.” He pointed towards the water and after Disillusioning himself and Brodie, began walking towards the sound of the waves.
Eventually, they found a precariously narrow path leading to the ruins; on both sides, the cliff dropped away alarmingly towards the water. The Muggles had installed safety railings, so Garrett was able to suppress his fear of heights enough to lead the way out to the middle of the path where he and Brodie found they could see the coastline for several miles on either side.
“If you were the Matron, where do you think you’d hide your cave?” Brodie asked.
“I vote for over that way,” Garrett said, pointing to his left, momentarily forgetting that Brodie couldn’t see the gesture. “Sorry, look left. I’m seeing shadows in the cliffs over there. There are none to our right. Shall we check them out?”
“Might as well,” Brodie agreed. They pulled miniaturized brooms out of their pockets, enlarged them and took off, flying towards the first set of folds in the rock.
As they approached, Garrett knew this wasn’t the right place for the cave because there was a slim stretch of beach at the base of the cliffs. “Let’s keep looking,” he said and flew farther down the coast to the next set of folds in the rock face.
As they approached, they suddenly encountered the feeling they needed to be elsewhere.
“Do you feel that?” Brodie called about the waves. “There’s magic trying to keep us away from these cliffs.”
Garrett turned his broom back towards the way they’d come. He was rewarded with a spectacular view of the small isthmus Dunnottar Castle was built upon.
“I have no doubt we’ve found what we’re looking for, Brodie,” he said. “With magic this strong trying to discourage us from going any closer, plus this view, I know this is the place the Matron is holding Scorpius Malfoy. I’m going to fly as close as I can to see if I can find the entrance. If there is one, we’ll need to record the location on the Omnioculars.”
“I’ll start with the castle and pan back this way while you’re doing that,” Brodie said, taking his standard issue pair of the glasses from under his cloak and bringing them to his eyes.
Garrett thought momentarily how funny it looked to see the instrument hanging in mid-air, then he turned and began flying towards the crevice in the rock. The walls were nearly vertical and at their base were large seaweed-covered boulders. He flew lower, fighting the suggestion to leave even though it was quite strong. When the urge was nearly unbearable, he hovered just above the waves, pulled out his Omnioculars and brought them to his eyes after setting them to the Night Vision setting. He smiled when he found a small crack in the wall behind the boulders. He recorded several images and then turned on the Heat Seek feature. Again, he smiled: the opening showed warmer air leaking out of the cave mouth. Warm air wasn’t leaking between the rocks anywhere else. Garrett made a few notations and then rejoined Brodie.
“If this isn’t the place, I’ll eat my hat,” he told Brodie.
The other Auror grinned. “I don’t think you’ll have to do that, Garrett. Let’s go back to headquarters. Ron will want to see this.”
They flew back to the safety of the cliff top where it was a matter of seconds to stow their gear and Disapparate to London.
A/N: For all of my readers who love the Auror action in this story, most of this chapter is centred on the search for Scorpius Malfoy. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about their adventures because I had a lot of fun doing the research.
Many thanks go to my pre-beta team of Jedi34, Mutt n Feathers, Rebecca Ripple and RSS who always do such a great job of commenting, proof reading and questioning various aspects of the chapters I send them. I want to single out Rosina Ferguson because she not only helped me with getting rid of my Americanisms, but sent me three more destinations which made the Aurors’ search for Scorpius much more tedious. Finally, thank you Aggiebell, my beta, for catching things the other readers didn’t. Your question about Scotland only made me think. I’m glad I had time to revise this chapter one more time before today.