It felt very strange to be walking into a Muggle medical facility. Even though he’d done so on several occasions in the past to visit sick employees, he'd never done it to visit a friend. That the friend he was visiting today had once been a bitter rival still amazed Draco Malfoy more than he was willing to admit. Time and circumstance did strange things to a person...
He started when the glass and metal front doors of The Groves automatically parted at his approach. He’d have to ask Harry about this bit of Muggle magic, although he probably wouldn’t because he didn’t want to admit his ignorance of the Muggle world.
Nervously, he approached the reception desk.
“May I help you, sir?” the receptionist asked, and Draco noticed she sat in a wheelchair. She also had a wand lying close at hand on her desk and Draco wondered whether it was charmed to look like a letter opener to Muggle visitors.
“Erm, yes. I’m here to see Harry Potter. Can you direct me to his room?” Draco asked stiffly, hoping his nervousness wasn’t showing.
“One moment.” The receptionist rolled over to her computer and looked over her shoulder at Draco. “Name, please? I must check it against Mr Potter’s Approved Visitors List.”
Draco told her and was surprised when the receptionist’s next question was, “Muggle or Wizard?”
Relieved that he seemed to be on the list, Draco leaned closer to the woman and nearly whispered, “Wizard, ma’am. Why do you need to know?”
The receptionist tapped rapidly on her computer keyboard as she answered, “We have a no-wands rule for our magical visitors here at The Groves. I must register your wand, and after I give it back, you will not be able to use it inside the facility without us knowing. It’s standard procedure since security was tightened a few months back.” She held out her hand. “Your wand, please, Mr Malfoy.”
Reluctantly, Draco handed it over and watched as his wand was weighed in much the same manner as it had been the first time he visited the Ministry with his father. When he received it back, he stowed it carefully in its pocket in his jacket and not for the first time today was he glad he’d taken the time to put on a Muggle three-piece suit.
The receptionist now smiled at him. “Thank you for your patience,” she said. “Mr Potter is in Room Ten of the Magical Ward. Follow the blue line past the Matron’s station and turn right. Mr Potter’s room is the last one on the left before the exit. You’ll need to give your name to the guard. I’ve already alerted him that you are coming.”
Wondering when she’d had time to alert the guard and how she’d done so, Draco murmured “Thank you” as he turned to follow the blue line in the floor. When he had last received an owl from Ginny Potter, she had not mentioned the heightened security and he wondered what it meant. As he walked, Draco felt as if he’d been transported back in time twenty years and was going to visit his father in Azkaban Prison.
His apprehension had not abated by the time he entered Harry’s room—the guard outside had given him no trouble, but he still felt self-conscious. For a moment, he stood in the doorway, not bothering to knock, taking in the small room. Its functional furnishings seemed ordinary enough, but the sight of his friend sitting in a Muggle wheelchair brought all the rumours and several very bad memories into sharp clarity. Draco briefly closed his eyes, silently cursing whoever had hurt his friend: he knew that most people never, ever stood up by themselves once they were relegated to a wheelchair. His raggedly inhaled breath alerted Harry to his presence.
Harry looked up from the parchments he was reviewing at the table. “Draco! Ginny told me you were on my visitors list. This is a pleasant surprise!” he exclaimed as his face lit up and he gestured to the two overstuffed chairs underneath the window. “Come in, come in. You’ve caught me at a good time.”
Draco entered and sat in one of the indicated chairs. “Nice room,” he commented just to say something. His brain seemed to have vacated his head all of a sudden.
Harry hurriedly closed the file and then transferred himself from his wheelchair to the other overstuffed chair with a small “oof!” as he slid off a board onto the cushion. Draco had to remind himself not to stare at his friend; he knew it was rude and that Harry probably didn’t want to be gawked at, but his own curiosity was too strong not to stare.
“You seem to be adapting well,” Draco commented when Harry was settled.
Harry cast a glance at his wheelchair, his face registering several unreadable emotions at once. “I’m... coping,” he said. Then, with a forced-sounding laugh he added, “You know, Draco, I promised Ginny eight months ago that I’d stop going on missions and let the younger, eager-to-prove-themselves Aurors endanger their lives. Well, it took a fall down some stairs and a bump on the head to knock some sense into me... I’m perfectly safe and Ginny’s perfectly happy now.”
Draco didn’t know what to say in response, he was so taken-aback by Harry’s morbid joking. How can Harry scoff at being hurt? he wondered as he cast about the room for inspiration. He used Harry’s file as an excuse to make small talk. “I see you’ve gone back to work,” he observed. “Did they give you desk duty pushing parchment until you can come back to the office?”
Harry glanced over his shoulder. “That? I wish it was work-related, but it isn’t. Actually, I was revising for a test on wheelchair maintenance my physiotherapist is giving me later this afternoon,” he explained.
Slightly bewildered, Draco asked, “Then why did you say I’d caught you at a good time?”
“You’re the best excuse to skive off the revision I’ve had all day,” Harry chuckled, making Draco feel a little more at ease.
“What would your wife say?” Draco asked.
“Ginny? She’d tell me to enjoy myself and then do my best on the test with what I’ve already learned,” Harry answered. “Unfortunately, I really do need to be proficient at caring for my wheels. I never was very fast on the Muggle roller skates my cousin Dudley left in his second bedroom. He had a tendency to roll through mud puddles and then forget to clean the wheels when we were growing up. If I don’t want old ladies to out-sprint me, I’ll have to know how to keep the chair in better repair than Dudley’s old skates were in.”
“Roller... skates? Your cousin? Why are you bringing them up?” Draco sputtered.
Harry shrugged and changed the subject. “How’s the family? Ginny said she saw Asteria in Diagon Alley the other day, and they decided to have tea together on the spur of the moment.”
“Asteria’s good,” Draco commented, feeling a flood of affection for his spirited wife. “She seemed to have enjoyed Ginny’s company last week, especially when your wife dragged her into the new lingerie shop that opened across from The Magical Menagerie for a bit of ‘exploration,’” Draco added with a smirk.
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Do you know if Ginny bought anything?”
“How should I know? Asteria said they were Christmas shopping!”
“Oh... well... erm...” Harry sputtered, making Draco snicker.
“Sorry if I spoiled her surprise,” he said.
“It won’t be a surprise very long if Ginny shows Lily what she purchased,” Harry chuckled, sounding more relaxed. “When it comes to presents, my daughter couldn’t keep a secret even if you paid her.”
Draco smiled and wondered what it must be like to have a daughter as Harry changed the subject, “James and his girlfriend came to see me last Saturday.”
“I wasn’t aware Professor Wolcott gave students permission to leave the school at weekends,” Draco observed.
“Normally, he doesn’t, but I’d requested that James and Kendra both be given permission because another Hogwarts student is now a resident here,” Harry explained. “Our healer thought it might benefit his young patient if he had visitors his age, so I wrote to the headmaster and he agreed the two could come.”
“I’d heard one of the Ravenclaw Quidditch players had taken a tumble. Is your healer’s new patient the student who was hurt?”
“Yes. He’s also a victim of the same criminals who hurt me.” There was an angry edge to Harry’s voice that Draco had never heard before. However, the moment passed and he added in a much calmer tone, “It just makes me so angry...”
“I can imagine. Do you think James’ visit helped?” Draco asked, genuinely concerned.
Harry smiled and glanced out the door. “I talked to the boy’s parents yesterday and they want James and Kendra to come back this coming weekend. But what really helped was the packet of letters that arrived at noon today. I was with Brian and his parents when it was delivered. A letter James wrote told Brian that not only were his Ravenclaw housemates asking where they could send their letters, but students from other houses were inquiring as well. Brian had about twenty letters to read this afternoon, all from friends at Hogwarts.”
“I hope the letter-writing campaign stays strong for him,” Draco commented sincerely.
“I do, too,” Harry agreed.
As they continued to talk about their families, Draco began to relax and really enjoy himself. He realized that even though Harry had been hurt, the accident hadn’t taken away the man Draco had slowly come to respect and call his friend over the last twenty years. He was glad, because Harry had always treated him with kindness and respect when no one else would in the aftermath of the war. Now he wondered if it would be his turn to support Harry once he left the shelter of this hospital and re-entered the Wizarding world.
“I had a letter the other day from Scorpius,” Draco said. “He’s still talking about the prank someone played back in November when they fumigated all of the Quidditch changing rooms with itching powder. He and his mates wanted to know how it was done so they could try it at home, heaven forbid.”
“Have they figured it out?” Harry asked. “James and Albus wrote to me about that, too.”
“No, not yet, but they have a fairly good idea because Madam Hooch caught James with some sneezing powder capsules...
“... that his Uncle George gave him,” Harry finished for him. “Yes, I know all about that. The last time George was here he was going on and on about how popular his new Wheeze was going to be when it comes out next weekend. He mentioned you.”
Surprised, Draco muttered, “He did?”
“Uh-huh. He’s rather proud of the fact that you gave him the best price for both the sneezing and itching powders he’s using in his products. He likes the quality of your products, too.”
Draco couldn’t help but grin. “Good. He’s cleaned out my entire supply of both products for the next few months. It’ll take that long to manufacture enough to keep him steadily supplied with enough left over for my other customers.”
Harry grinned back. “That sounds like a brilliant dilemma, Draco. George is ecstatic his invention has worked so well. He credits his success to your products.”
Draco felt his ears heat up. “I’m flattered, Harry, and I’m hoping to get more contracts like George’s in the near future,” he admitted.
“I do, too. Erm, I take it your father-in-law finally let you buy him out?”
“He did. I’m the sole owner of ‘Importations Magique, Inc.’ now. He still comes in once a month to help me with inventory and strangely enough, it’s nice to have his guidance,” Draco admitted. He knew he’d never say such a thing to anyone else because, to him, it was almost an admission of weakness. However, Draco only felt comfortable admitting this to Harry because he knew Harry would never divulge the contents of their conversation without first asking for permission.
“So... how does it feel to be the lone occupant of the Manager’s office?” Harry asked with a smirk.
“Brilliant, scary, mind-numbing and exciting all at the same time,” Draco confessed, knowing that Harry would keep his confidence. “I still can’t believe Lyndon Greengrass believed in me enough to sell me his company. I’m terrified the economy is going to go into recession and no one will buy my products because the price of transporting the goods will force an increase in prices. But at the same time, I feel like all the frantic scrambling to find a place for myself is finally over. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and don’t intend to lose what I’ve worked for.”
“I felt the same way when Old Man Robards retired and the Minister hired me in his place,” Harry said. He added sincerely, “I’m happy for you, Draco. I hope business continues to be good.”
“Thanks,” Draco murmured, sincerely touched. He hadn’t been fishing for compliments or well-wishes, but when they were freely given as these had been, he felt more confident than usual. He felt that now as he said, “Harry, I need your help with something. You’re the only Auror who takes me seriously and doesn’t revile me, even after all these years.”
His serious tone caught Harry’s attention. “What can I do for you?”
“I own a warehouse in North Woolwich, down by the river. It’s where my main office is because most of the goods I purchase overseas come on shore there. The last few weeks I’ve been detained much later than usual—last week something kept me late at the office four nights out of five. Normally, it’s quiet between midnight and two o’clock, but recently the Muggle police have been called about incidents with no real explanation for why they’re occurring.”
“What sorts of incidents?”
“Well, two weeks ago, someone was dumped in a doorway and left for dead several blocks from my warehouse. Not that unusual for the neighbourhood, but the body had strange marks on it that caught the attention of the police and warehouse owners alike. Then a week later someone called the police because one of the other managers heard screaming. They found nothing, but I’ve heard the sounds, too. There have been several other unexplained disturbances, and I’ve discovered they all seem to be coming from a building located at this address.” Draco handed Harry a piece of parchment. “It’s half a block from my warehouse, and near enough that I can see into the upper windows from my office.”
“I know the area,” Harry commented. “Not a place you want to stick around after dark.”
Draco had to agree. “Twenty years ago, when I first started working for Lyndon, the neighbourhood wasn’t so bad, but now it’s become a bit rough.”
“Yes, I can see why you might be concerned,” Harry said. “Has the MLE Squad been called in yet?”
Draco shook his head. “No, because the Muggle police think the warehouse in question is abandoned when it really isn’t. Someone started using the building at night about six weeks ago.”
“Only at night?”
Harry mumbled something under his breath and slid back into his wheelchair, this time groaning a little. He looked up at Draco as he fastened his safety belt and said, “Usually, when one gets old, it’s the eyes that go first before the legs give out. In my case, the legs went before the eyes.”
That was all Draco could take. “Harry,” he growled in exasperation, “if you say another cruel thing about yourself I’m going to leave. Why are you doing this?”
Harry scrubbed a hand over his face. “You want the truth, Draco?” When Draco nodded, Harry continued, “Before the war, when things were getting bad, I gave Fred and George my Triwizard Tournament winnings to open their shop. I gave them the money because the Wizarding world needed to laugh back then.” He sighed. “You, of all people, will understand that I make these dumb jokes because if I don’t laugh, I’m going to go mad. I have to find the humour in the situation just to make the loss bearable.”
“Huh?” Draco asked, genuinely stumped. “I don’t get it.”
“Look, you’re my first visitor who isn’t family,” Harry explained. “I’m really glad you came, but I’m nervous as hell that you’ll decide not to come back now that you’ve seen what I’ve become.”
Draco ran a hand through his carefully-combed hair. “Harry, I’m angry that someone deliberately hurt you, but what you look like doesn’t matter to me and it doesn’t change the fact that I like and respect you. Besides, I don’t agree that ‘what you’ve become’ is anything to be ashamed of. You’re not letting your injuries stop you, and that’s what’s important.” He added shyly, “It’s inspiring, really.”
A look of pure relief registered on Harry’s face. “You mean that, don’t you?” When Draco smiled, Harry said, “You have no idea how good that makes me feel.”
Draco looked Harry in the eyes. “I do know, Harry, because you were my first non-family visitor to keep coming back in the early years after the war. You kept your promise to visit at least once a week and even though I resented your intrusion on my self-imposed exile at first, I eventually realized how much I looked forward to the time we spent together each week. Now it’s my turn to promise you I’ll visit once a week.”
Harry bowed his head for a moment and when he looked up, he was smiling. “Thanks.” He paused and then said, “I do believe we were discussing what you’ve observed, so let me get something to take notes on.”
He went over to his desk and brought back a Muggle fountain pen and some blank paper. He wrote several things on the top sheet and then asked, “What do you know about the bloke that was left for dead?”
As Draco described what he knew, Harry nodded and made more notes. He asked about the screaming and how Draco had deduced which magically-hidden warehouse was being used for possibly odd, out-of-the-ordinary purposes.
“I’ve seen lights flickering in windows that should have been dark,” Draco reported. “During the day, no one enters or exits the building as would happen with a normal business. I’ve also seen several people staggering or being dragged into the shadows between buildings as I’ve locked up and left for home.”
“Why did you use the word ‘staggering’? Was there something wrong with the people you saw?”
Draco struggled to recall what he’d seen in the dim light. “I used that word because it seemed to me that the people were hurt in some way,” he said finally. “They were hunched over and stopped frequently, many times using the building they’d just come from as support. Why do you ask?”
Harry made some notes and then replied, “On the night I was hurt, the Aurors were investigating the location of a possible illegal potions lab. The raid was only partially successful because I was hurt and two of the suspects escaped. From what you’re reporting, it sounds as if the potioneers we raided have set up another lab and have begun their testing procedures again.” He held up the parchment with the address on it. “With your permission, I’d like to send this to Ron who has taken over the investigation. I think this is something worth looking into.”
The mention of Ron Weasley made Draco very uncomfortable. The youngest Weasley brother had never let go of his schoolboy prejudices against him and whenever Draco and Ron shared the same room, it was inevitable Ron would make a cutting remark that never failed to put Draco on the defensive. At the moment, he began to wonder if he should have kept his concerns to himself, if Ron was going to be the one doing the investigating.
“Erm, will I be mentioned by name?” he asked apprehensively.
Harry grinned. “For the moment, you’re my anonymous source and your identity is known only to me,” he said, easing some of Draco’s fears. “However, if at some point we needed you to give more evidence, would you be willing to provide it?”
“Yes, of course, but I’d still appreciate it if my name could remain a secret for as long as possible,” Draco agreed reluctantly. “The rumours now circulating through the district are bad for business. If it were to get out that I was involved...”
“I can imagine,” Harry commented seriously. A Muggle alarm clock on his bedside table chimed and he rolled over to silence it. “My reminder to leave for physiotherapy in twenty minutes,” he explained.
Draco stood up. “I’d better let you get ready, then.”
Harry asked, “Did you Apparate or take the Knight Bus here?”
“If you can wait a few more minutes while I write a note to Ron and the Assistant Head Auror, I’ll show you a more convenient arrival point.”
Draco sat back down. “I don’t have to be anywhere for another two hours, Harry.”
Harry smiled his thanks. “This won’t take long,” he said as he rolled over to his desk. He wrote quickly, folded his notes and sealed them and the address Draco had given him in an envelope. Then, he handed the letter to Draco. “I’m not allowed to do magic even though I live in the magical ward. Could you seal this so only Ron can open it, please?”
Draco shook his head. “I can’t. I was told at the reception desk that I couldn’t use my wand once it was registered or I’d get into trouble.”
Harry swore, making Draco chuckle. Then he called, “Ellery, please come here.”
The guard who had been standing outside the door came inside. “What can I do for you, Mr Potter?”
“Can you secure permission for Mr Malfoy to use his wand inside this room, please? He’s a friend I trust not to harm me,” Harry told the guard.
“Certainly, sir.” The guard left the room, leaving Draco to stare at Harry in wonder.
I’m a friend Harry trusts... The thought filled him with a peace he’d not felt very often since he’d discovered Asteria had fallen in love with him. It reminded him of his earlier realization that time and circumstance worked a magic of their own in which his life could be transfigured for the better by the mere words of a friend...
The guard returned. “All set, Mr Potter. Mr Malfoy is cleared to perform basic, non-medical spells. Should you require him to do more advanced charm or transfiguration work, both of you will be required to answer some questions as to the purpose of the spells.”
“Agreed,” Harry said. “Draco?”
“Very good.” The guard left and Draco took out his wand.
As he tapped the envelope with a For Eyes Only Spell, Harry straightened the parchments in the folder he’d been perusing earlier and put them in one of his desk drawers. “Come with me. The Mail Room is next to the Transportation Office,” Harry explained as they exited his room.
“Yes. It’s the secure Apparition Point within The Groves. There are also several fireplaces connected to the Floo Network in there,” Harry explained as he led Draco down a corridor. They entered a doorway marked Mail Room and continued on through another marked Owlery. Draco was surprised at the number of owls dozing on the perches.
“I thought this was mostly a Muggle facility,” he remarked.
“It is, but with a dozen magical patients whose healers need to communicate with the magical families, the facility maintains the Owlery just like Hogwarts does. I’m allowed to board one owl to correspond with Ginny and the children,” Harry explained.
“Wouldn’t the mess and the noise alert the Muggles to something out of the ordinary?”
“No. The protective spells on this room are very strong. The Muggles think this room is a storage cupboard.”
“Brilliant,” Draco murmured, curious as to whether the same spells that hid Hogwarts hid this Owlery.
Harry called one of the owls down and attached the envelope to its leg. After it flew away, Harry turned to Draco. “Thanks for coming, Draco,” he said. “I hope I’ll see you again soon.”
Draco replied, “You will. I’ll be back again in January. Should I bring the chess board?”
“Please. It’ll be like old times, then. I’ll let you know what my schedule is after the hols and whether my office requires anything else,” said Harry cryptically as he led the way out of the Mail Room and into the Transportation Office. Draco appreciated Harry’s carefully-chosen words even though there was no need for secrecy at the moment.
At the Transportation Office, Harry introduced Draco to the wizard at the desk and explained that he wanted permission for Draco to Apparate directly to and from the facility. The wizard snatched a form from a stack and handed it to Draco.
“Fill this out and give it back,” the wizard instructed. “After you Apparate in, stop at this desk and sign in. The same goes for when you leave through either the Floo Network or the Apparation point. The sign-in sheet is always here.” He pointed to a clipboard with several sheets of parchment on it.
“Do I sign out now? I’ve concluded my business with Mr Potter,” Draco explained.
“Yes. You have ten minutes to say your good-byes.”
“How come I have that long?”
“It takes an average of ten minutes for the typical Wizarding family to be organized enough to leave,” the wizard chuckled.
“I see.” Draco turned to Harry and extended his hand. The two shook and then Harry left for his appointment.
Draco thanked the guard who cancelled a spell, which opened the door behind him. Draco then Apparated back to his office feeling as if he’d accomplished something significant.
Thursday, 10 December 2020, 0925 hours
Ron and Brodie stood outside the interrogation room looking through the one-way wall. On the other side, Susan was finessing her way through the Matron’s Assistant’s defences. He had not responded well to either Ron’s easy-going interrogation techniques or Brodie’s more direct methods, so they had appealed to Susan to try her skills on the prisoner. So far, she seemed to be succeeding; the prisoner was actually answering her questions rather than clamming up or falling asleep as the other two had done.
“Can you tell me your name? I have one on file, but I don’t think it’s right,” Susan said as she leafed through a thin file on her lap. “The powers that be upstairs think you’re Buford Beauregard, age forty-two, second husband of Maisie Beauregard and father of ten children ages six months to twenty-two years. Maisie is your third wife... oh, and you’re a blacksmith by trade.”
Ron had a hard time not laughing at the ridiculousness of Susan’s imaginary bio, but it seemed to have worked. The suspect’s eyes had widened at the mention of the number of children and the second and third marriages.
“NO! Th-th- they got that w-w-wrong!” he stammered. The real information seemed to tumble from him as he nearly shouted, “I’m M-Mark H-Huntley. I’m twenty-five, single, and I’m studying for my Healer’s certificate while working full time at St Mungo’s in the Non-Magical Injuries Ward.”
Ron exchanged knowing smiles with Brodie while Susan made notes in Huntley’s file.
“Mark, may I call you that?” she continued. The suspect nodded. “Do you like working in the... Non-Magical Injuries Ward?”
The suspect hung his head. “I used to. Before she came,” he mumbled.
The three Aurors’ interest was suddenly piqued.
“Who is ‘she’?” Susan asked carefully as she put down her quill in a special holder attached to her chair—prisoners weren’t allowed anything in the interrogation rooms and the Aurors were always careful to keep their possessions far away from them.
“The Matron,” Huntley answered.
“Ah, I see. Did you like working on the ward before the Matron came?”
“What was it like?”
“The Non-Magical Injuries Ward was always a hopeful place, unlike the long-term ward I began my apprenticeship in. Patients in NMI ward always went home if not totally cured, then so close to being well it was just a matter of time.”
“What changed about the ward and when?”
“After Matron took over the ward nine months ago, fewer patients responded to treatment. Healer Stilwell had no idea why and was short-tempered, especially when straight-forward cases seemed to get worse instead of better. Then, the patients began contracting strange illnesses and several of the other assistants started acting strangely.”
“What do you mean by ‘acting strangely’?”
“I had made a friend of one of the other Assistants and one day, he just stopped being friendly to me. It wasn’t long after that I observed him spacing out or daydreaming in the break room when he should have been attending to patients. From time to time, I noticed other ward workers behaving similarly.”
“Did you mention your observations to anyone?”
“No. I kept pretty much to myself. I didn’t want to get into trouble with the Matron. She has a hair-trigger temper and isn’t very pleasant to work with when she’s angry.”
“But weren’t you curious?”
Mark didn’t answer right away. Finally, he said, “I tried to find out, but Matron caught me and threatened to have me fired.”
“How did that make you feel?”
“Scared. I can’t lose my job, not when I'm so close to completing my education.”
Susan consulted her notes. “Does the Matron have a name?”
“If she does, I don’t know it. All the ward workers were instructed to address her as ‘Matron’ and nothing else.”
“Ah... Are you always paired with another assistant or do you work mostly by yourself?”
“It depends on the patient and what we’re supposed to do for him or her.” A pause, then, “Mostly I care for patients by myself, but if Matron needs me to assist her, then I’m to drop what I’m doing and do what she says.”
“I see,” Susan paused and leafed through the file. “Were you ever assigned to work with Harry Potter?”
The prisoner’s eyes widened. “Yes,” he breathed, sounding awe-struck. “I felt awful for what was done to him.”
Susan made a note. “The Aurors feel the same, Mark. Auror Potter is our friend as well as our supervisor... What duties were you assigned to do with or for him?”
Huntley listed the various duties he performed for Harry and the ward’s other patients, most of whom were being treated by Healer Stilwell. The prisoner was passionate about the pride he felt when the things he did for the injured made their suffering more bearable.
“Have you ever deliberately hurt a patient?”
Huntley gasped. “I never wanted to!” he nearly yelled.
Taken aback, Susan scribbled furiously, even as she asked calmly, “What makes you say that?”
“Matron... Matron threatens the staff.”
“What does she do specifically?”
“Threatens to Imperius us.”
“So we’ll do what she tells us, even if we know what we’re doing is wrong or will hurt a patient.”
“Have you ever disobeyed the Matron and refused to hurt a patient?”
The prisoner hung his head. His answer of “yes” was spoken so softly that Susan asked him to repeat his answer. He yelled, “YES, I DID AND I WAS PUNISHED FOR IT!”
“How were you punished?”
Mark began to shake. He closed his eyes and slowly raised the front of his prison uniform, exposing his abdomen. Ron heard Susan gasp and couldn’t help gaping himself: the man’s abdominal area was crisscrossed with red, ropey scars. After he lowered the uniform, he said, “There are more on my back.”
“Who did this to you?”
“Matron and a couple of other people she had working for her.”
Susan’s face was white, but she stayed where she sat and continued the interview. Ron wanted to hug her for it, even as he wondered why the prisoner’s condition hadn’t been noted on his entry parchmentwork. Her voice was full of compassion as she said, “I’ll understand if you can’t tell me what they did to you, but it might help others if we knew more.”
Mark pushed his chair back from the table far enough to rest his head in his hands and asked, “Can I have a glass of water, please?”
“Certainly.” Susan conjured a paper cup and filled it with water from her wand.
Mark sipped it as Ron wondered if he had at last found the reason the other two prisoners had acted so strangely during their interrogation sessions.
Finally, Huntley took up his story again. His tone was detached, as if he was trying to distance himself from the memories. “About a month after Matron took over the ward, I refused to give a patient two potions that weren’t on the list approved by Healer Stilwell. That night, I was kidnapped by two of the other Assistants as I walked to my flat.”
When he didn’t continue for over a minute, Susan prompted, “Where did they take you?”
Mark shuddered. “They took me to a big house in some woods,” he whispered.
“Do you think you would recognize the house from a picture?”
“I don’t know. I could try.”
Susan pushed three photographs across the table towards the prisoner, one taken in daylight, the other taken at night, the third of a completely different house. “Do you recognize any of these houses?” Ron stepped close to the wall in excited anticipation of the prisoner’s answer.
The prisoner pointed to the photo taken at night. “The moonlit house looks familiar,” he whispered.
On his side of the wall, Ron silently pumped his fist. He loved this prisoner.
Susan pressed on. “You seem afraid, Mark. What happened at that house?”
It was a long time before Mark answered. “They chained me to a wall in the cellar and made me watch as they threw pieces of broken glass at a bloke’s feet. They had a Silencing Spell on him, but it was clear he was in agony.”
At this, Ron commented to Brodie, “I remember reading about that bloke. He was one of the mystery cases the A and E healers called us about.” He grabbed a quill and dashed off a memo to Terry Boot, marked it “Top Secret, URGENT,” and sent it zooming upstairs at top speed.
“Why were they hurting the man, Mark?”
“I... I really can’t say other than he’d angered someone, and the Matron was teaching him a lesson... they... they were experimenting with self-closing wounds and needed a guinea pig, I guess.”
“Why were they experimenting with that type of wound?”
“They didn’t want evidence, I reckon.”
“Evidence of what?”
“Entry points to wounds made by objects that would cause sickness and infection.”
“How did you learn all this?”
“I see... So, when they were through with the other man, you were next?”
Mark swallowed convulsively. “Yeah, I was,” he whispered.
“What did they do to cause those scars?”
The prisoner closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around himself. He rocked back and forth in his chair, clearly struggling with the memory. “That first time,” he began, “that first t-time... th-they chained me to the ceiling facing the stairs leading out of the cellar. I heard them talking before they started; they were going to use a different potion to coat the glass than the one they used on the other bloke. Then they ripped off my shirt and cast glass shards at my stomach with their wands. I passed out from the pain, I think. When I regained consciousness I was chained to a wall and was kept there for four days while I healed. The wounds healed over very slowly, sealing the glass inside my abdomen. I was threatened repeatedly that if told anyone what they were doing they wouldn’t hesitate to kill me.”
Brodie whispered to Ron, “That’s just sick. But it explains what we found in that cellar.”
Ron breathed deeply and then murmured, “Yeah, it does.” He turned his attention back to Susan and the prisoner.
“How is it that you’re still alive?” Susan asked.
“I’ve Summoned or Vanished every piece of glass except three out of my body,” he said with a paroxysmal shudder. “Those last three are so deeply embedded that I didn’t dare rip them out and I can’t see the area they’re in well enough to properly Vanish them without harming myself further. They have to work their way out of my body on their own or I’ll die.”
Susan was silent for a time during which time the prisoner alternately sipped the water and scrubbed his face with his hands. Finally, she said, “You said there was a second incident. Hadn’t you learned not to defy the Matron by then?”
“I had, but I’d been returned to my job under the Imperius Curse and for several months, even though I was in terrible pain, I obeyed every order I was given.”
“Did that include casting harmful spells at some of the patients?”
The prisoner nodded. “I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t help myself with Matron’s voice prompting me in my head.”
“So why did Matron experiment on you again and when was this?”
Ron knew the question wasn’t one of Susan’s better ones because it assumed too much, but the prisoner answered anyway.
“One day, in September, I think, without Matron knowing it, I was able to shake off the spell because the pain in my abdomen made it hard for me to work. I was in the break room when it happened and I think Tim, the other Assistant who sometimes shares my shift, saw what happened to me. Anyway, it was a great relief to not have Matron’s voice constantly in my head, but... but there were consequences...” He shoved the cup towards Susan and asked for more water. He drained the cup and held it out for more. As she refilled it, Susan asked him to continue.
The prisoner’s voice sounded defeated as he said, “A couple of hours later, I refused to give several patients unapproved potions and that night I was taken back to the dungeon.”
“The Matron cast more glass, this time at my back and then switched to tiny pieces of metal that were again soaked in different potions and magically enhanced with several experimental spells. Later, after my head and hands had been locked in some stocks, one of Matron’s assistants would walk by and cast a spell...”
“What would happen then?”
The prisoner’s answer was barely audible. “When the spell is spoken the metal reacts... causing horrible pain.”
Ron groped for a chair and sat down hard. His mind racing, he heard none of the rest of Susan’s interview.
A/N: I realize some of you are wondering why I put Draco Malfoy in this chapter. Since DH came out in 2007 I’ve done a lot of thinking about what has happened to various characters: Draco Malfoy is one of them. I wrote the first section from Draco's point of view so that we could get into his head. I based how he acts and thinks on my interpretation of the possible changes wrought in Draco during the nineteen years between the last chapter of DH and the glimpse we get of him in the Epilogue. While he was still somewhat arrogant during the scene in the Room of Hidden Things, JKR portrayed the Malfoy family as huddling together in the Great Hall after the battle, not really knowing what to do. From this, I am guessing that they suffered greatly during the first few years after the Battle of Hogwarts, even though Harry Potter most likely said a few words in Narcissa’s favor at whatever trials the Malfoy family were subjected to. I also think Draco eventually recovered better than his parents: most likely he lived on the Continent the great majority of the time, since in the Epilogue Ron Weasley remarks, "So that's little Scorpius." Therefore, in the three years between the Epilogue and my story, Harry and Draco could have developed the friendship I wrote about in this chapter.
Also, I feel the need to address the issue of how to spell Draco’s wife’s name and why I chose to spell it the way I do. When in doubt, my philosophy is to go to the source and my research at the HP Lexicon and on JK Rowling’s website corroborate each other: in two places—the website and an ITV documentary—the name is spelled with one ‘o’ and one ‘e’, even though it’s reported that JKR pronounces the name as if it has two ‘Os’. Therefore, I feel I have made an informed choice and do not wish to debate the issue in the reviews.
That said, I will now take the opportunity to thank my pre-beta team of Jedi34, RebeccaRipple, RSS and Mutt n Feathers for all their hard work. Thank you, too, to Aggiebell for encouraging me to rewrite certain sections for clarity and readability. I appreciate the little prods in her comments that get me thinking about how to convey my ideas better.