A/N: We’ve come to the place that so many of you, my readers, have been anticipating these last few chapters. I must warn you, there are a few time-line jumps in this and the next chapter as I tried to make sure you know what’s happening to everyone all at the same time. This chapter is a continuation of the same day as the last chapter, 8 January 2021 and I’ve come to look at it as a sort of “meanwhile, back at the cave” sort of chapter. I hope I have not disappointed or confused you.
And now for my standard list of thank yous: To my pre-beta team of Jedi34, Mutt n Feathers, RebeccaRipple, Rosina Ferguson and RSS, thank you for all you’ve done to help make this chapter readable. To my beta, Aggiebell, thank you being such an awesome person to help me get my chapters posted week in and week out.
1012 hours 8 January 2021
Ron had only a few minutes before the Aurors were scheduled to leave on surveillance. He raced to the mail room and selected a very fast, direct-flying owl to whose leg he attached a very brief note addressed to Harry at The Groves. As he tossed the bird into the owl entrance he thought, Draco needs to know. He and his wife shouldn’t wait alone. Not now, not when we’re so close…
This wasn’t her first surveillance mission, but it was the first she predicted would end in the capture of the suspects and the rescue of the victim, instead of resulting in more long hours of meetings and more surveillance… and it was all due to the evidence found in Scorpius Malfoy’s Patronus message.
Mary Beth stood next to Susan in the Ministry’s Apparition point and thought about the car park just off the coastal road on A92. When it was her turn, she Disapparated, rematerializing between Susan and Ron as the last of the group to arrive.
Ron looked relieved as he glanced about. Mary Beth remembered that it was on this particular case at another evidence site that the forensics team had been murdered. She knew he and the others were listening for any sign of a hidden aggressor, although how anyone could hide in an empty car park surrounded by open fields—even a Disillusioned aggressor—was beyond her. Finally, Ron said quietly, “We’ll leave in two groups. Mary Beth and Brodie, we three will set up the base camp in the field over there.” He pointed to the right of the just-visible castle. “Garrett, you and the others begin our observations from the castle ruins. If you find a good place inside one of the buildings to set up a second observation tent, do so. When you’re done, set up a watch with two observers and one sleeper. We’ll do the same. We’ve all been awake a tremendously long time and we need to be alert later on. Any questions?”
No one had any, so the six Aurors applied Notice-Me-Not Charms to themselves and began walking towards their objectives. It was cold out in the fields. The wind coming off the sea found its way under the hem and up the sleeves of Mary Beth’s Auror robes, causing her to pull her cloak closer to her body as they walked. She was thankful that she wasn’t going to be out on the peninsula in the ruins.
When her group reached the path leading to the fissure where the cave was located, Ron pointed to a low depression in the middle of the field. “That area is a bit more sheltered than the rest. Let’s erect the tent and set up our observation point a bit closer to the fissure.”
The three made quick work of setting up the headquarters tent and creating the observation point near the secondary footpath that led from the road to the first fissure and finger of rock that extended into the sea. While Ron and Brodie finished casting the security spells on their observation point, Mary Beth took it upon herself to walk the footpath, looking for signs that someone had passed this way recently.
She was rewarded almost immediately. Not far from where the path curved to the left and followed the precipice towards the main path to the castle, Mary Beth found a newly trampled area leading away from the established trail. She followed the faint track, wondering where it would lead, when she began thinking that she really should be somewhere else. The farther she walked, the stronger the suggestion became. She pressed on. Finally, when the suggestion was almost impossible to ignore, she broke through some sort of barrier and found herself staring at a set of roughly hewn steps leading down into the first fissure. Her head was clear of any desire to be elsewhere and she thankfully remembered why she was standing on the cliff top in the first place.
She now took out her wand and cast a non-verbal spell that would turn her words into coded vibrations needed to send silent messages to the members of her team. “Ron, I think I’ve found a land-based entrance to the cave,” she whispered excitedly to her encoded wand.
Her wand vibrated almost immediately. “Where is it?” he sent back.
“Follow the footpath to where it curves to the left and then turn right at the trampled area. Follow the vague path south along the cliff for two hundred yards,” she sent back.
“Any suggestion spells?”
“Yes, one. It’s easily ignored if you know what to do.”
“Where are the steps?”
“First fissure. Brodie said the cave’s sea entrance is in the second. I’m going down now.”
“Be careful. Sending him along shortly,” Ron transmitted back.
Mary Beth thanked him and started cautiously down the steep stairs, hugging the cliff as best she could: she didn’t want to stumble and plummet over a hundred feet to her death. Luckily, she came to a man-made archway about half way down the wall. The path curved inward into a narrow tunnel that sloped steeply downward into the darkness. She lit her wand and ventured further down the path a little way, then stopped to listen. At first, all she could hear was silence, but the more she concentrated, the more she thought she heard the sound of waves lapping. She followed the sound, finally coming to another archway that led into a dimly lit room.
She stopped dead in her tracks, still within the protective darkness of the tunnel. The sight before her was like nothing she had ever seen. Before her was an area that looked like a nightmare version of a medieval torture chamber, complete with stocks, work benches, tables and supply cabinets. Beyond this she could see a bright triangle of light. The sound of waves lapping filled the cave.
I found it! she crowed silently. She felt excited by her discovery, but instinct told her to exercise caution, so she stayed hidden and cast several quick revealing spells. She smiled when the body count came back for a single human being and the last spells cast inside the cave seemed to have been cast nearly eight hours previously. That meant whoever was in the cave was alone and was probably asleep.
Mary Beth’s wand vibrated. It was Ron checking in. “Where are you? Brodie can’t see you.”
“Nearly in the cave,” she answered, this time tapping her wand with her finger to form the coded vibrations. “Only one occupant. Leaving now.”
“He’ll wait for you,” came Ron’s answer.
Mary Beth turned and followed the tunnel back up to where it met the steps. Brodie was waiting for her. She smiled at him.
“You all right?” he asked.
“More than all right,” she answered, grinning. Over the whistle of the wind and the crash of the waves from below, she told him what she’d found. “Do you want to go down there?” she ended.
“Might as well, especially if there’s only one person inside. Did your spell indicate where the person might be?”
“Someplace to the left of the tunnel entrance. I didn’t go in, not without back-up.”
“Let’s go in this time and take some photos. Then, if it’s only Scorpius trapped in there, we’ll go get Garrett and have him talk to the boy.”
Mary Beth smiled. “Sounds like a plan,” she said. She turned and led the way down the passage to the cave.
“Same sort of set-up as the cellar in the house in the woods,” Brodie remarked in a whisper as they stopped near the cave entrance to enlarge their photographic gear. “Gave me the collywobbles last time.”
Mary Beth glanced at him. “You doing all right now?” she asked in concern.
“No, I have them again,” he said. His face looked pale in their wandlight.
As he cast a magical hazard detection spell Mary Beth hadn’t used earlier, she said, “Let’s hope this investigation ends better than that last one.”
Brodie didn’t answer. Instead, he turned his back to her. She could hear him fiddling with his camera as if buying for time.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, suddenly realizing what the sight of all this equipment might mean to Brodie.
Brodie sniffed and cleared his throat. “Apology accepted. No traps detected and only an Anti-Apparition spell engaged, so let’s go.”
They entered the cave in single file, and Mary Beth began taking Omniocular films of the general area. When her wand vibrated and identified the caller as Brodie, she stopped what she was doing and looked at him. He inclined his head to the right, indicating the direction he intended to go. She followed him, passing several rock pillars on their left that looked to be support columns for the cave roof.
They found a small potions laboratory on the other side of a high stone wall that seemed to be a partition between the rooms of the cave. They took more footage and then moved on, exploring a small kitchen area and finally what looked like a small bedroom beyond the potions lab. As she turned around to go back the way they’d come, Mary Beth gasped. Brodie’s head whipped in the direction she was pointing.
“Brodie, look! In the cell across the cavern. It’s Scorpius!” she exclaimed in a loud whisper.
“Oh, Merlin!” he exclaimed quietly as he began frantically tapping his wand.
Mary Beth trained her Omnioculars on the first cell, first taking wide-angle photos, and then switching to a zoom setting to take more detailed images. She photographed the boy hanging upside down with the name stamp turned to “on”, the pallet in the corner of the cell and several detailed images of the cell door and its lock.
Brodie nudged her. “Garrett’s coming,” he said and Mary Beth heaved a sigh of relief.
“What’s the plan?” she asked.
“I told Garrett we’d meet him on the steps,” Brodie answered. “Susan’s coming with him.”
“That’s good,” Mary Beth said, and the two quickly crossed the cavern to the archway. As they entered the tunnel, she paused to look back towards the cell, feeling more than a little guilty for leaving the cave now that they’d located the boy. Hang in there, Scorpius. The cavalry is coming, she thought. Then she hurried up the passage after Brodie.
The sound of footsteps approaching the cavern woke Scorpius from the fitful sleep he’d fallen into when he’d returned to his cell after his escape attempt. The footsteps seemed to belong to a single person and were confined to the torture area of the cave. Dreading being caught sleeping on the pallet, he walked to the centre of his cell and thought, Levicorpus. Instantly, he was yanked upside down, even though his wand was in its pocket in his trousers. He listened carefully as his body revolved in mid-air and felt both hope and despair as the footsteps paused and then receded the way they’d come. As they faded away, he closed his eyes and pretended he didn’t care that he’d been left alone in this horrible place.
“Mrs Potter, Ginny, it’s so good of you to come on such short notice!” Madam Offerman gushed as she ushered Ginny into her office.
“What’s going on?” Ginny asked as she sat down at the overflowing work table. “I thought everything was finalized for the March fundraising Ball.”
Madam Offerman grabbed a limp handkerchief off her desk and dabbed at her eyes. “They were, they are, but Madam Nigel saw the plans for the summer auction and wants to switch the spring and summer fundraising events so that the auction is first this year. She thinks dancing under the stars is much more romantic than an auction under the stars!” she wailed. “Now we have to start all over again!”
Ginny sighed heavily. “Madam Offerman, can I ask a few questions?” The chairwitch nodded. “You’ve booked the same venue for both occasions, correct?”
“And we were going to have the same catering company do the food for both events, correct?”
“You’d even engaged the bands for both evenings, am I not correct?”
“You’re correct on all of those points,” Madam Offerman sniffed.
“So why are you so upset?” Ginny asked, feeling rather irritated. “You have the venue, the food and the music. Those are the three major items you must book early. The invitations are easily changed with a flick of your wand, even if you’ve already had them printed, so coordinating the auction won’t be much extra work. Just think… you’ll have the summer ball all planned months before you usually start it.”
“Now that you put it that way,” Madam Offerman conceded, “soliciting the items for the auction won’t be that much more work.” She blew her nose. “I’m sorry, Ginny. This change of events was so sudden, I wasn’t handling it well.” She pulled out a long roll of parchment. “Shall we get down to the business of planning this auction?”
Ginny smiled. Since the auction had been her idea she was more enthusiastic about helping with it. “What should we discuss first?”
“You talked last time about contacting several of the Quidditch teams and their players to donate signed items, tickets, tours, that sort of thing…”
“I’ve already started on that,” Ginny said, pulling out her own roll of parchment. “Several of the team public relations witches have already sent multiple promotional items to me. I have them at home. Where do you want to collect everything?”
Madam Offerman had several ideas and they settled on a mutually agreeable place, which was secure enough and central enough for both her and Ginny to get to. They talked about which items needed to be auctioned off separately in the silent auction and which should be grouped in baskets. They discussed which items should go in the live auction—Ginny had already procured box seat and stadium tour packages from six of the English mainland teams. Madam Offerman was enraptured that her favourite team, the Chudley Canons, had extended their box seats for the entire season, not just a single match, and Ginny had to excuse herself and leave the office for a moment because she was finding it hard not to break out in impolite peals of laughter. She knew Ron and Hermione would be at the fundraiser and she knew Ron was going to have a tough time procuring the Canon’s seats now that he had a rival. She could easily picture him in a bidding war with Madam Offerman as Hermione’s face turned several shades of crimson and the bids soared.
When she re-entered the office, Madam Offerman said, “You found something about the Canons tickets extremely funny. May I ask what it is?”
Ginny grinned as she said, “You are going to have stiff competition for those tickets from my brother, Madam Offerman.”
The chairwitch smirked, “All the better for the hospital, then.”
Ginny couldn’t have agreed more.
The two witches spent nearly an hour talking about where to get the other really big actionable items, finally deciding on asking the Diagon Alley, Edinburgh and Hogsmeade merchants to make generous donations of cruise trips, a custom-designed and built Owlery, week-long resort holidays for two, expensive jewellery items, and special outings just for families, such as a tour of the Hebridean Dragon Preserve. By the time the hour was up, Ginny was feeling excited about the auction, even though she was going to need all of her persuasive skills to actually procure the items they had brainstormed.
“Ginny, darling,” Madam Offerman said as the two stood up and gathered their files, “you’re an absolute gem and a delight to work with. Let me know when you have those things lined up. I’ll do the same on my end. See you next Friday?”
“Yes. It’s been a pleasure,” Ginny said, meaning it. And as she left Madam Offerman’s office, she thought about the coming week and decided that helping with the auction and keeping busy would help her outlook on life a great deal; she’d be doing good things for the hospital as well as herself. I must tell Mr Hale about this later, she thought as she headed for the lifts. I wonder if he’ll approve… Already, without even setting foot in the therapist’s office, she felt more like the old Ginny than the one who had run away on Christmas Day.
The owl found him just as Harry was entering his room after his morning workout. Somehow it had slipped past the Mail Room attendant and flown out into the corridor in search of its quarry where cries of “Stop that bird!” signalled its presence. The owl seemed to know where Harry was going and swooped through the doorway ahead of him, surprising Harry’s guard.
Harry followed it, immediately closing the door and trapping the bird. It didn’t seem to mind, for it settled placidly on the back of one of the chairs at his table and waited patiently for him to approach. Warily, he did, for this was the first time he’d directly received what looked like an official Ministry owl since October. He needed to know which department it belonged to in order to decide how to proceed as well as its level of urgency. The trick was to find the special identifying band on its leg. If the band was silver, the owl would be an ordinary post owl. If the band was blue the owl was a fast flier, often used to carry documents swiftly between non-Ministerial solicitors and barristers and the various departments in the Ministry. A yellow band signified a fast flier bearing time-sensitive materials. The rarest of the owls were those with red bands on their legs, as this one most definitely was. The owl in front of Harry was only used in urgent situations to carry messages of great importance and he wondered who had sent him such a message.
As he took the bird’s scroll, Harry tried to find the department number on the band. The number he found began with a two, signifying the department the owl belonged to was located on the second level of the Ministry building, which housed several departments, including the Auror Office in Magical Law Enforcement.
“Who is sending—” Harry murmured, staring down at the scroll. Then, he recognized Ron’s messier-than-usual scrawl. Could it possibly? This soon? Oh, he hoped so…
Going on surveillance. Parents alone, don’t know. Do not reply.
The brief message was all Harry needed: Ron’s team had found the location where Scorpius Malfoy was being held and an attempt to rescue him was underway. Harry needed to get to Malfoy Manor quickly. Grabbing his wool coat from its peg behind the door, he patted his shoulder, indicating to the owl that it should come with him. It landed gently, its talons digging into the fabric covering his shoulder as it balanced and swayed in rhythm with Harry’s hurried pushing.
“Everything all right, Mr Potter?” asked the guard as Harry passed him.
“Yes, thank you. I won’t be returning to my room. Could you lock the door, please?”
“Of course, Mr Potter.”
Harry didn’t stay to talk any longer. Instead, he skidded around the Matron’s station, turned towards the Mail Room and opened the door just wide enough for the owl to fly through. Then he was off to the Transportation Office.
After signing in, Harry took a moment to hastily scribble a note to Draco asking him to open the largest connected fireplace at Malfoy Manor; it was a matter of importance. That done, he rolled to the nearest fireplace, threw in some Floo Powder and waited until someone answered the summons while thrusting his message at her through the connection.
“Who is there?” came Asteria’s cautious inquiry.
“Asteria, it’s Harry Potter. I can’t put my head in this fireplace. Please give this message to Draco,” Harry instructed. He waited until she took it from him and then asked, “Is it possible to keep the connection open?”
“I think so,” she said uncertainly. “Here, hold this.” She shoved what felt like a bellows into his hand and hurried away, leaving Harry leaning awkwardly out of his wheelchair.
A moment later, Draco took the implement from Harry. “What’s all this about? Why the cloak and dagger?”
“It’s classified, Draco. I can’t talk about it where I am. Can I come through?” Harry asked, still keeping his hand in the flames.
“Of course, but the biggest fireplace in the house is in the drawing room,” Draco hedged.
“I’ll have to take my chances on this one, then,” Harry warned. “Stand back,” and propelled himself into the fireplace.
It was a tight squeeze, but he managed to fit both himself and his wheelchair inside just before he called out, “Malfoy Manor!” He hung onto the big wheels of his chair for dear life as he was spun past numerous fireplaces. Seconds later, enveloped in a rather large plume of soot, Harry bounced out of the fireplace and onto the marble hearth of Draco’s sitting room.
Grinning at his accomplishment, he said to his host, “Didn’t think I could do that. Thanks for seeing me.”
“Potter, you can do anything you put your mind to and you know it,” Draco responded, as he waved the soot away with his wand.
Harry grinned sheepishly back at his friend, but said nothing.
To cover the awkward silence that settled over them, Asteria motioned to the two people sitting and introduced them to Harry as her parents, Lyndon and May Greengrass. As her daughter left to put the kettle on, May explained that she and her husband had been on holiday since New Year’s and had just returned home to the news about their grandson.
As soon as they were settled with their tea, Lyndon asked, “What’s going on? What’s so important that you couldn’t talk about it directly?”
Harry told the Malfoys and the Greengrasses about the direct-flying owl. “I’m almost sure this means my department has found where they’re keeping Scorpius,” he said as his audience exchanged glances. “Ron wouldn’t send me that sort of message if there wasn’t some truth behind it. Have you heard anything more from the kidnappers yet?”
Draco shook his head. “No, we haven’t, but we did receive a Patronus Message from Scorpius earlier this morning.”
“How do you know the message was from Scorpius and not the kidnappers?” Harry asked, wondering if this development was setting the family up for a disappointment. “They could have forced your son to send it in order to lure the Aurors into a trap.”
“This was genuine,” Asteria said with conviction. “Scorpius has only just learned to produce a corporeal Patronus over the holiday and it’s the only arachnid I’ve seen.”
Harry was pleased with this news; Scorpius’ Patronus was unique amongst the many animal forms he’d seen over the years. He sat back in his chair, sighing heavily. “That’s about as good as it can get, then. All we can do now is wait,” he said.
The others agreed, and Draco raised his wand and Summoned something as Asteria and her parents returned to their side of the room. When it came, he put it on the table between them and looked expectantly at Harry. “Chess?” he asked.
Harry grinned and inched his chair closer to the table. “What else will help us while away the time?”
The receptionist’s head appeared in his fireplace. “Healer Stilwell, an urgent message has come for you from The Groves,” she said.
“Is the caller still on the network?” the Healer asked as he put down his quill and closed his files.
“Yes, she is. What shall I tell her?”
Healer Stilwell stood up. “I’ll come out.” Two minutes later he stood before the small communications fireplace facing a very agitated Mrs Vaughan.
“Harry Potter! He’s gone, sir. Just up and left! No one can find him anywhere!” she exclaimed excitedly.
Puzzled he asked, “There’s no clue as to where Mr Potter has gone? Has he been kidnapped?”
“It doesn’t look like a kidnapping,” she reported. “We had an owl escape the Mail Room earlier. It flew directly to Mr Potter’s room and met him in the doorway. The guard reported it had a note tied to its leg. Mr Potter left his room shortly thereafter, telling the guard to lock the room; he signed himself into the Transportation Room and never came out.”
“Is there a record of whom he talked to? Where he might have gone?”
“The Transportation Officer said he called Malfoy Manor.”
“I see,” Healer Stilwell said thoughtfully. The name sounded familiar, but that could have been because of the infamous Death Eater by that same name from twenty years ago. Why would Harry be mixed up with them? he wondered.
“Have you contacted Mrs Potter?”
“I’ve left a message with her parents, but she’s not at her contact fireplaces. Shall I keep trying to reach her?”
Healer Stilwell shook his head. “No, I don’t think that will be necessary. I’ll do some checking myself. Thank you for informing me. I’ll check in a little later.”
Mrs Vaughan thanked him and withdrew her head. Healer Stilwell sighed in frustration. “I’m going to lunch,” he said to the receptionist who frowned because she’d heard his entire conversation. He ignored her raised eyebrow and entered the lift when it stopped on his floor, turning his back to the other two occupants.
Two floors down, the lift stopped. The two healers exited, leaving Healer Stilwell alone. Just as the doors were closing, a familiar voice called out, “Don’t let it leave! Wait!”
He pressed the button to keep the doors open and a very familiar witch, her arms filled with files, dashed in.
“Thank you,” she said breathlessly. “Oh, Healer Stilwell, how nice to see you today!”
“Mrs Potter, you’re just the person I’m looking for,” he said, feeling very relieved.
“Oh?” She seemed surprised.
“I’ve just had an urgent message from The Groves telling me that Harry might have gone somewhere called Malfoy Manor. Is that a familiar place to you?” he asked.
Ginny Potter’s eyes widened. “They’ve found him!” she breathed, sounding relieved.
“Scorpius Malfoy, Draco Malfoy’s son. He was kidnapped last Saturday. Harry’s probably had word that the Aurors have found him. He must have gone to be with Draco and Asteria so they won’t be alone while waiting for more news of their son,” she explained. “They have very few friends and her parents are out of the country right now.”
Healer Stilwell thought about this as the lift doors opened, showing the ground floor corridor. It made sense to him that Harry would do something kind like that, even if it meant leaving The Groves without notifying anyone. The two exited the lift. “I’ll let the facility know where Harry is. Do you know if your husband will be returning tonight?”
“It all depends on how the Auror mission goes,” Mrs Potter said quietly. She paused and cast a wary glance about the bustling corridor. Then she added, “I doubt he’ll go back until they know Scorpius and the Aurors are safe and the criminals are locked up. You’d better let Mrs Vaughan know Harry might not return until Monday.”
“I will,” Healer Stilwell said. Then, as an afterthought, he asked, “Who might have done this?”
“My brother thinks it’s the same group that hurt Harry and Brian Nelson.”
Healer Stilwell ran a hand through his sparse hair. “I sincerely hope the Aurors succeed.” He bade Mrs Potter good-bye and headed back to the lifts. He had a Floo call to make.
She was glad to get out of the wind. All the warming charms in the world couldn’t keep her warm enough on this mission, but if the result was the apprehension of a group of criminals and the rescue of a kidnap victim, Susan was willing to endure whatever the weather threw at her to get the job done. There was always the promise of a long soak in the bath followed by one of Justin’s wonderful massages. Just thinking about her husband brought a smile to her lips as she and Garrett followed Mary Beth and Brodie down a footpath that skirted the edge of the cliff towards the land entrance to the cave.
Their plan was simple: enter the cave, cast preservation spells on anything that might yield evidence without touching anything, make contact with Scorpius. It sounded easy, but Susan had been on enough missions to know that even the least complicated of plans could go very wrong. Her mind wandered for a moment as she reflected on the mission that had robbed her department of its head…
Susan bumped into Mary Beth. The younger witch scowled and pointed to the steps: they were about to enter the cave and she needed to pay attention. Pulling her wand out of her sleeve just enough to send Mary Beth a communication, she tapped, “I’m sorry. I was thinking about the last time Harry and I went down into the Matron’s cellar. I’m a bit nervous.”
“I am, too,” Mary Beth sent back. “Watch your step. It’s pretty steep. Oh, since we’re going in, cancel your concealment spell. I’d like to notice you again.”
“Thanks,” Susan transmitted. “I’d forgotten about that, too. Must be lack of sleep.”
The four Aurors gained entrance into the cave without incident and Susan and Garrett hastened to the cell containing Scorpius Malfoy. Mary Beth and Brodie remained behind to cast protective spells on everything they thought might be broken by wayward spells during the battle that was sure to come.
All of the Aurors had studied Mary Beth’s photos of the cell door and lock, including the special photo, which revealed the types of spells cast on the metal. Garrett and Susan now worked together to cancel the layers of alarms and curses which were protecting the cell from the outside—all evidence suggested there were no curses on the bars or door from within, which was a good sign. It took a few minutes, but they managed to eliminate them all, and with a satisfying click, the lock disengaged and the door swung outward.
Susan cautiously crossed the threshold into the cell and when nothing happened, she beckoned to Garrett. The two of them approached the hanging boy, staying quiet, but not so soft that Scorpius wouldn’t know someone was in his cell.
“Scorpius,” Susan whispered as she knelt beside the red-faced boy, “Scorpius, can you hear me? I’m Auror Susan Bones. My partner, Auror Carmichael, wants to let you down, but he doesn’t want to drop you on your head. May we touch you?”
All the while she had been speaking Scorpius had kept his eyes closed. Now he cautiously opened his eyes. “Don’t hurt me!” he pleaded.
Garrett knelt beside Susan. “We’re going to let you down now, Scorpius,” he said softly, “I promise not to hurt you. Will you trust us to catch you and let you down gently?”
Scorpius closed his eyes and swallowed with great effort. “Yeah. The counter spell is Liberacorpus,” he whispered finally.
Susan rose to her feet. “Thank you for sharing that. Now on my count of two, Auror Carmichael will put his arms around your back and under your neck and on three, I’ll cast the counter spell. Are you ready?”
The boy nodded and as Garrett moved into place, Susan noticed Scorpius had begun to tremble. “One… two…” Garrett supported the boy’s neck and back. “Three.” She cast the non-verbal spell and Scorpius dropped neatly into Garrett’s waiting arms. Susan caught Scorpius’ legs and together the two Aurors carried him to a pallet located near one of the side walls of the cell. Once he was settled, Susan conjured a pillow, which she slipped under the boy’s head while Garrett covered him with warm blankets.
Several minutes went by in silence and then Scorpius asked, “A-are you t-two real?”
Susan smiled. “We’re very real, Scorpius. In a few minutes, Auror Carmichael will take you to St Mungo’s where you’ll be reunited with your parents. The rest of us will remain here to apprehend your kidnappers,” she said, patting his shoulder. When he didn’t flinch or shy from her touch, she tapped her wand, sending Garrett the message, “Not physically abused, at least not through contact.”
Garrett nodded almost imperceptibly. “Are you ready to go?”
Scorpius answered, “No, I can’t go and neither can you.”
“Why?” Susan and Garrett asked together.
“You’ll never catch that crazy lady and the other two she works with,” he explained slowly, as if concentrating hard to gather his thoughts. “The first thing she does when she arrives is come to check on me. If I’m not here she’ll know something is wrong and Disapparate.”
“We don’t want that to happen,” Garrett remarked. “What time does she usually arrive?”
“Usually late afternoon,” Scorpius answered. He rubbed his temples, a pained expression on his face. “Headache,” he murmured. Susan watched him carefully, making mental notes on his condition for her report later.
“Does she usually have someone with her?” Garrett continued.
“No. She always comes alone. But sometimes the others come together and bring someone to torture.” Scorpius spoke slowly, again seeming to concentrate on forming his words.
Susan looked at Garrett. “We’ll need to remain here until they’ve all seen him,” she said.
The whisper of silenced footsteps made all three look towards the cell door. Mary Beth and Brodie entered and came to stand at the foot of the pallet. Susan introduced them to Scorpius and together the five settled on a plan, which they relayed to Terry and Ron who were still watching the entrances.
Susan added to the end of her conversation with Ron, “We have between three to three and a half hours before the Matron gets off work. What’s your recommendation?”
“Sleep in half-hour shifts. Make sure the Anti-Apparation Spell is disabled and have one from each team lie down and get some rest. Terry and I will work out our sleep schedule up here,” Ron replied. Susan was about to comment when he added, “As much as I’d like to have one of you go back to the office to get some Polyjuice Potion so that someone can impersonate Scorpius and we could get him to St Mungo’s faster, I’d rather not have us undermanned and vulnerable should the suspects decide to appear early.”
“All right. I’ll tell the others,” she answered.
Ron thanked her and didn’t add anything more, so Susan relayed his orders. The adults decided Mary Beth and Garrett would be the first to get an hour’s sleep.
The two had just left for the second cell when Susan looked at Scorpius and asked, “Are you hungry, Scorpius? Thirsty?” She had pulled out her water bottle to quench her own thirst and it suddenly occurred to her that Scorpius might need a drink and something to eat, too.
He scowled and pushed himself into a sitting position. “Just a drink of water, please. If I have to hang upside down again I’ll feel sick if I eat,” he said, sounding rueful.
Susan refilled her water bottle with warm water and handed it to Scorpius. He leaned against the wall of the cell with his eyes closed and sipped the water slowly until it was half gone, then handed the bottle back. “Thanks, Auror Bones,” he said, “that’s the first water I’ve had since last night.”
“Do you want more?” Susan asked, rather concerned by his actions.
“I’d better not,” Scorpius answered. “Maybe later if I’m feeling better? I’m rather dizzy right now.”
“All you have to do is ask,” she answered, setting the bottle between them. Surreptitiously, she tapped a wand message to Garrett that she thought Scorpius was dehydrated. He agreed.
The group settled into silence. Scorpius lay down again, pulled the blankets up to his chin and closed his eyes. He was shivering again. Susan cast warming charms on them all; it was very chilly in the cave.
“How did you know where I was?” Scorpius asked an hour later as the triangle of light from outside began to fade into dusk.
Susan answered, “I received your Patronus message at the Auror Office. Your scorpion is very impressive.”
Scorpius’ eyes grew wide. “You m-mean… the s-spell really worked?” he asked, sounding incredulous.
“It did, and your message gave us enough clues that we eventually found the sea entrance to the cave,” Brodie answered.
“So… so… my parents…”
“Received your message, too.”
At this news, Scorpius’ eyes glistened in the Aurors’ wand light, but his tears did not fall. Susan’s heart swelled with compassion and it was all she could do to keep her composure. She didn’t like the plan they’d decided on, but it was the only way to ensure the Matron’s capture. There was no way to prepare except wait and keep Scorpius warm and calm. He was going to need every bit of courage he had within him.
Beta's Note: I need to apologize for the delay in posting, since it's completely my fault. Yesterday was just crazy, with weird things happening at weird times, and I just never really clued in to the fact that (1) it was Thursday and (2) Thursday is the day we post Arnel's chapters. *hangs head in shame* I'll try to be on time next week.