"Terry!" Ron waited a few seconds and then tapped his wand again, sending a more intense vibration to his fellow Auror.
This time Terry answered. "Sorry, dozed off. Hey, when did it get dark?"
Ron chuckled softly and tapped back, "About an hour ago. I just saw the Matron's henchmen enter the fissure. They were frogmarching someone between them, a woman who didn't look too happy. I think she might be tonight's entertainment."
Terry's quick reply was, "That's sick. You waiting or leaving immediately?"
"I'll meet you at the top of the steps in ten minutes," Ron answered.
"Roger that," Terry responded. Ron shook his head: Terry's wife was a Muggle-born who had grown up watching police detective shows on the telly and Terry had picked up a few of her witticisms which surfaced every now and then. This was one of them.
Ron went back to the base tent where he, Mary Beth and Brodie had stored their extra supplies. He pocketed several Portkeys—both for the Ministry and St Mungo's—his extra combat wand, some Ministry-sanctioned Wheezes from George's shop, and several bottles of medi-potions protected by Unbreakable Charms. When he was satisfied with his collection, he secured the tent with a spell and went to meet Terry.
His partner seemed likewise prepared. Ron could tell because of the tell-tale bulges in Terry's robe pockets—even with concealing and expansion charms on them, the material moved differently than the rest of the garment. The two greeted each other silently and then proceeded down the steep stairs to the tunnel. As soon as they entered it, first Terry and then Ron cast sealing spells, which could only be breached by the Aurors. Anyone not carrying an Auror's badge would be trapped inside the tunnel.
Terry cast a privacy spell on their immediate area. "What's the plan now? I know we're supposed to wait until Garrett leaves with Scorpius, but other than that I only have the vaguest idea of what we're doing," he whispered.
"That goes for me, too," Ron answered equally quietly. "The last I talked with Mary Beth, the plan was that she, Susan and Brodie were going to wait until the Matron started her experiments on the woman the two assistants brought with them tonight. We need memory evidence of the sorts of experimentation the Matron is doing. I reckon we need to wait until the screaming starts before we show ourselves."
Terry sighed. "More waiting," he muttered, and cancelling his spell, tiptoed down to the tunnel's mouth and sat down on a rock located just outside the patch of dim torchlight, which flickered at the tunnel's mouth.
Ron stayed farther back in the shadows, fighting the urge to fall asleep.
Brodie was the first to hear Garrett and Scorpius leave. "They've gone," he whispered to the others. Then he tapped into his wand, "Ron… Terry… How many suspects now? Any victims?"
"Looks like three suspects and one victim," Terry reported.
"That's all of them according to Ron," Susan whispered to Mary Beth and Brodie.
"The victim looks like a Muggle to me," observed Mary Beth. "I don't like the looks of this."
"I'll take her to St Mungo's," Susan whispered as she tapped her wand to let Ron and Terry know her intentions. "They'll want to know how to treat her so they can do the Obliviation."
Brodie sighed. "I wish that didn't have to happen, but who knows what those two did to her…" He trailed off as Ron spoke through their wands.
"You ready?" he asked as the Muggle woman began to scream.
Brodie and the others tapped their wands in affirmation. He stood up, tested the Silencing Spell on his boots and then slipped silently out of the second cell, sprinting towards the ceiling support pillar closest to the experiment area. He waited until the others had left to take their places behind the other pillars and stone partitions and then recast the modified anti-Disapparation spell they'd disabled to allow Garrett to leave with Scorpius—apparently, the Matron liked to Apparate and Disapparate within the cave, but didn't want to cope with the possibility that her victims might want to Disapparate out of the cave.
His wand vibrated again with a message from Ron: "They're tying the Muggle to the table. On my count, cast to Stun and Subdue. Terry and I will go for the wizard; he's closest. Mary Beth and Brodie, take down the witch. Maintain silence. We need to get the Muggle out before all hell breaks loose. Susan, take her out as soon as you can and come back immediately. Do you need a Portkey?"
Susan answered, "No, I have one with me."
"Very good. Brodie, keep an eye out for the Matron. Do you have a visual on her?"
Brodie swivelled his head to the left, peering round the back of his hiding place. He couldn't see the Matron, because his view of the kitchen area was obstructed by another pillar. "No," he tapped back, adding a shake of his head and pointing in the direction of the kitchen to indicate that he knew she was there somewhere.
Ron tapped back, "All right. Be careful. On three… One… two… three!"
Brodie's eyes had been glued to the tunnel entrance during the countdown and when he saw Terry emerge from the archway, he too stepped from his hiding place and levelled his wand at his assigned suspect, the witch, and fired off a Stunning Spell. She must have seen either him or the red light of his spell for she turned and hastily cast a Shield Spell around herself. Even before his spell hit it, Brodie was sprinting across the open area towards her, flinging up his own shield and casting again as he saw ropes shoot from Mary Beth's wand and wrap around the witch's ankles. She toppled over with a surprised squeak.
Brodie glanced over at Mary Beth. Nice one, he mouthed.
She smiled back briefly as Susan rushed in, freed the Muggle woman from her bonds and activated the Portkey that would take them both to St Mungo's. As they disappeared, Brodie once again pointed his wand at the witch who was struggling to free herself. She was swearing loudly enough to attract the Matron's attention, but before Brodie or Mary Beth could Silence her, the Matron's voice rang out from another part of the cave.
"Get that wench under control or I'll Cruciate you!"
The witch stopped struggling and almost automatically called back in a monotone, "Yes, Matron," causing Brodie and Mary Beth to exchange a startled glance before taking advantage of her momentary inactivity to Stun her. Then Brodie went to help Ron and Terry with the wizard while Mary Beth further secured the witch with a Leg-Locker Curse.
The wizard had jumped on top of the table and was engaging Ron and Terry in a fierce duel. All three were casting non-verbally and even though the wizard was outnumbered two to one, he was holding his own.
"Mary Beth's guarding the other suspect," Brodie panted as he joined the fray from behind.
Ron grunted as a muddy brown spell hit his shield and sent him reeling backwards. "Good," was all he said as he cast another Stunning Spell at the wizard.
"Tarantallegra!" Brodie yelled, sending the spell zinging towards the wizard. The spell missed, hitting the table and causing the suspect to look down. As he did so, Brodie managed to slip a rope around the wizard's ankle and work his way to Ron's side.
"Good one, Brodie!" Terry gasped as several dark-coloured spells rained down on the three Aurors.
"Can't let him get away," grunted Brodie. He yanked hard on the rope, causing the wizard to stumble as he cast his next spell. It struck the ceiling of the cave, digging a crater in the rock, and sending a shower of debris towards the floor of the cave.
"Mary Beth, watch out!" Ron shouted in warning.
Out of the corner of his eye, Brodie saw Mary Beth hastily casting a Shield Charm over herself and the witch so that the stones slid harmlessly to the ground.
Another yank on the rope separated the wizard from his wand as he toppled off the table with a loud grunt.
All four Aurors froze as the Matron swore loudly and yelled, "Don't make me come out there! You'll suffer the Cruciatus if you don't get the Muggle under control!"
Again, the meek reply of "Yes, Matron" filled the cave and then the wizard began crawling swiftly towards his wand.
Terry was faster, though, snatching it from the wizard's outstretched fingers with a Summoning Spell and Stunning him all in one swift movement. The wizard froze and then crumpled into a heap. The four Aurors stood up simultaneously, silently congratulating each other. Terry handed Ron the wizard's wand and then stared past Mary Beth's shoulder.
"Watch out!" he hollered in alarm.
Something wasn't right. The Muggle woman should have been screaming longer and harder. Beda usually swore like a tavern wench when dealing with the volunteers and she hadn't done much of it tonight. And Ogden, he was always so careless about what he bumped into, making all sorts of noise with the metal instruments when setting up a volunteer for treatment, that she usually had to tell him to be careful; tonight there was a lot less noise. Something was definitely fishier than the smell of the ocean that permeated the air inside the cave…
She listened to the sounds emitting from the treatment room—was that multiple feet she heard—before yelling over her shoulder that she'd Cruciate the lot of them for not subduing the Muggle fast enough. Only Ogden replied… in a monotone. Interesting, that…
Curious as to why Beda and Ogden weren't sounding like themselves, the Matron ventured out of the kitchen just far enough to see the activity in the treatment room. The sight of at least two Aurors engaged in a duel with her assistants instantly made her furious. How dare they infiltrate her cave! She glanced over at the holding cells and discovered her prisoner, the young blond-headed boy she'd had the pleasure of Cruciating a little while ago, was gone! The Aurors had taken him, too! Oh, this was not acceptable at all!
Quickly, the Matron ran to her store cupboards in the potion preparation area, intent on opening one and using tonight's potion on the Aurors instead of the Muggle woman. However, when she tried to touch the knobs on one of the cupboard doors, her hands wouldn't close over them, no matter how hard she tried. She grabbed her wand from her pocket and tried several unlocking spells, but they didn't work; in fact, the doors seemed to seal tighter with each successive unlocking spell she tried. She went from cupboard to cupboard trying to open the doors, but no matter what she tried, they remained locked or sealed and inaccessible; and with each failure, she grew increasingly angry and resentful towards the Aurors.
Finally abandoning her search for an open cupboard, she sprinted to her bedroom area. The Aurors couldn't have guessed she'd hidden away a small, covered cauldron containing some of her first nerve toxin, the potion she'd successfully used on the Auror who'd first duelled her nearly a year ago and then again last October when he'd fallen victim to the destroyed steps in the cellar of the fun house. Smiling at the memory, she tapped her wand against the bottom drawer of her beside cabinet. The drawer gave off an amber glow for several seconds and then, with a small shudder, the bottom rose up, revealing the cauldron concealed in the space below the cabinet.
The Matron reached into the space and brought out the cauldron, which she set carefully on the ground beside her. She then replaced the bottom of the drawer with a spell and closed it so no one would find her hiding place. It was only then that she turned her attention to the cauldron, undoing the security spells on it and unsealing the lid. Inside it were several prepared projectiles: long, thin pieces of metal designed to penetrate flesh quickly, and after closing the entry wounds, begin leaking the poison into the victim's system. Smiling to herself, the Matron stood up, the cauldron in one hand, her wand in the other, and made her way nearly silently towards the treatment room.
The situation that met her eyes was even direr than she'd thought. Four Aurors were engaged in duels with Ogden, Beda lay unconscious on the ground and the Muggle woman was nowhere in sight. The Matron now ducked behind the wall separating the potions lab from the treatment room and used her wand to extract several of the projectiles, which she floated carefully in front of her. Then, she chose her first victim, the female Auror who was now guarding Beda's unconscious body.
Before the other Aurors realized what was happening, the Matron ran out of the potions lab and threw the metal pieces at the female Auror. She didn't care where they struck the witch; the metal would do its job as it magically wormed its way through cloth and flesh to nestle securely in the witch's muscles before closing the wounds. By that time, the Matron knew the other Aurors would have seen her.
The female Auror gave a startled cry of surprise as one of the male Aurors sounded a warning, just a hair too late for the Matron's victim to dodge out of the way. Her cry heartened the Matron as she Disapparated from where she stood on the floor of the cavern to reappear on the top of the stone partition separating the potions lab and the treatment room.
"There she is!" cried the ginger-haired Auror.
The Matron sent a blinding hex towards him and then Disapparated again, knowing that even though her security enchantments wouldn't allow her to Apparate out of the cave, she could still Apparate within it. She reappeared on the floor behind one of the support columns holding up the ceiling in front of the boat slip and while the Aurors were looking for her, she cast a percussion hex at the youngest Auror and a Bludgeoning Hex at the tall black-haired Auror.
"Oh no, you don't!" cried the female Auror. "I don't know what you hit me with, but you're paying for it!" And before the Matron could react, the Auror cast a freezing charm, which nearly penetrated the Matron's shield.
That made her angrier than the sight of her assistants laying motionless on the floor of the treatment room or the disappearance of her prisoner and the volunteer. The Matron jumped out from behind the column and, in rapid succession, fired off four different spells, each one aimed at a different Auror. Then, she Disapparated again, landing on top of the partition between the first holding cell and the treatment room. The disoriented Aurors spread out, searching for her, and calling to each other.
"Where is she?"
"No, look down, behind the pillars."
"I think I found her!"
With a triumphant smile, the Matron cast a Leg-locker Curse on the youngest male Auror—the brown-haired one—which harmlessly bounced off his shield, and a cutting hex at ginger-hair. The black-haired Auror finally spotted her and tried to Stun her, but she Disapparated before the spell reached her perch.
The duel continued for several minutes with the Matron casting ever darker spells at the Aurors while Disapparating every few seconds to keep them from finding her. She used the entire cave except for the holding cells; those had been protected with extremely strong anti-escape spells which would impede, but not necessarily prevent, someone without a wand from leaving to go to another part of the cave and thus trying to escape.
Finally becoming winded from all the jumping about, the Matron perched on top of the rock partition between the potions lab and the treatment room. The Aurors saw her appear and came running, firing Stunning Spells at her in their attempt to keep her engaged long enough to make a mistake that would allow one of them to apprehend her.
With a sudden cry, though, the female Auror fell, doubled-over and screaming in agony as the poison from the projectiles began attacking her nervous system. The Matron smiled, watching her twitch and then lay still, before reengaging the other Aurors in a three-on-one duel. The Matron felt she had the advantage and stayed put to try to inflict more damage as she Summoned the small cauldron. She caught it by the handle as it sailed to her outstretched hand. There was only one more metal piece in the bottom, so she lifted it out with her wand, ready to fling it at one of the Aurors, but she never had the chance to cast her spell because the world went suddenly black.
Their trip to St Mungo's through the Floo Network started out in deference to Harry's inability to Apparate, but as Draco stumbled out of the fireplace at the hospital—something he hadn't done in years—he realized he would have Splinched himself if they'd come the other way. It had nothing to do with Harry and everything to do with his eagerness to see Scorpius and learn what his condition was. Draco was now very glad there were no witnesses to his arrival other than his wife and her parents; Harry had invoked the Aurors' password and the three had arrived in the privacy of the Aurors' arrival room.
"Steady there, mate," Harry said as he offered a steadying hand.
Draco clutched it, took another two steps and finally stayed upright. "Thanks," he said sheepishly as Asteria and May smothered giggles behind their hands.
"Happens to the best of us," Harry said, grinning, "even the Minister."
Asteria's eyebrows rose to the ceiling. "It does?" she asked.
"I'll tell you later," Harry said, smiling. "Right now, we need to get you through the security check so you can go see your son." Both Draco and Asteria nodded. "Follow me."
The next few minutes went by in a blur of questions, wand weighing, and waiting for the healer attending Scorpius to appear in the waiting room. Draco was on his fifteenth trip across the small waiting room when he noticed Harry smiling and rolling towards the corridor.
"Healer Stilwell, what brings you down here?" Harry asked the green-robed wizard who had come to a stop in the archway that separated the waiting area from the corridor.
"Auror Weasley wisely asked that I attend the Malfoy boy," the healer explained, giving Harry a meaningful look. Harry's expression turned stony for a moment. "Are these his parents and grandparents?"
"Yes," Harry made the introductions and then explained to Draco and the others, "He'll tell us what to expect when we see Scorpius," and Draco felt a huge lump form in his throat as he offered his hand to the healer.
"How is he?" Asteria asked tremulously. Draco put his arm around her shoulders and she leaned heavily on him.
Healer Stilwell pointed his wand at the archway and flicked it a few times. The waiting area instantly quieted, giving Draco the impression they were now completely separated from the rest of the hospital.
Harry turned his wheelchair as if to leave and suddenly, Draco wanted him to stay. "Harry, please stay," he requested. Harry came back into the room and parked his chair next to the sofa upon which Draco and Asteria were now seated. Healer Stilwell sat opposite them, glancing at Lyndon and May as if to include them in his report.
"First of all, I need to tell you that Scorpius is a remarkable young wizard," Healer Stilwell began. "I'm not sure many grown wizards would have fared as well as your son has." He paused and then said, "Your son has survived his ordeal in relatively good condition. When Auror Carmichael brought him in earlier, Scorpius was dehydrated and suffering from mild hypothermia. He had no broken bones. However, his captor had just Cruciated him." Draco sucked in a sharp breath as Asteria let out a frustrated wail. Healer Stilwell waited a few seconds and then continued, "I've treated your son for the side-effects of the spell and we're bringing his body temperature back up to normal, continuing the warming treatment started by the Aurors. He's been given small amounts of warmed Rehydration Solution, which we will continue to administer throughout the night. I expect to release him in two to three days' time depending on how he responds to treatment."
Draco sighed heavily. "Thank you, Healer Stilwell. May we see him?" he asked hopefully.
Healer Stilwell smiled and looked at Harry. "Of course. Harry, would you take the family up to my ward, please? I have some things I need to finish before I can join you. Scorpius' bed is the first one on the right. I've separated it from the others with partitions."
Harry murmured, "Of course," as Draco and Asteria stood up and Healer Stilwell cancelled his spells.
Draco could hardly keep the emotion from his voice as he said, "Thank you, Healer Stilwell, for taking care of Scorpius."
"I was happy to do it. We'll talk some more after you've seen your son," Healer Stilwell said before he left.
Draco slipped his hand into Asteria's and looked at Harry. "Which way?" he asked.
"Follow me to the lift," was Harry's reply.
The lift doors opened and a young, haggard-looking wizard in Auror's robes stepped out. He looked surprised and pleased to see them. "Harry! I'm glad I caught you," he said. "I just finished taking the Malfoy boy's statement. Are you going up to see him?"
Harry answered affirmatively and introduced Draco and Asteria and her parents to Auror Carmichael.
"You have a brave and courageous son, Mr and Mrs Malfoy," Auror Carmichael said as he shook hands with Draco. "He's anxious to see you. I'd go back up with you, but I'm needed elsewhere. It was a pleasure to meet you."
Draco smiled tightly and followed Harry into the lift as the Auror sprinted towards the Auror arrival room. "Where might he be going in such a hurry?" he asked curiously.
"Auror Carmichael left the mission to bring Scorpius here," Harry answered as the lift began to move. "I imagine he's going back to help the rest of Ron's team with the apprehension of the kidnappers. Ah, this is our floor."
The five exited the lift and Harry led them to a set of double doors guarded by a young Auror. Harry spoke to him and the Auror nodded and opened one of the doors for them. Harry allowed Draco, Asteria, Lyndon and May to pass through into the ward before following them into the room, and Draco waited until his friend joined them, noticing that Harry was hanging back talking quietly to Lyndon and May, before turning his attention to his son's section of the room.
Scorpius' bed was surrounded by partitions and Draco hesitantly parted the curtains, even though he was anxious to see his son. He shouldn't have been concerned. Scorpius lay on the bed with his eyes closed. He face was pale and there were dark circles under his eyes, which seemed to have sunken into their sockets a little.
Asteria let go of Draco's hand and immediately crossed to the bed. Draco stood behind her, his hand resting on his son's as his wife gently brushed the blond hair off their son's forehead. Scorpius stirred and a moment later opened his eyes.
"Mum! Dad!" he whispered. "You're… here!"
Those four little words were the sweetest Draco had heard in a long time.
The tunnel was still dark, but no longer silent as he approached the cave. Instead, it was filled with the sounds of duelling; shouted words, the cries of the wounded and the sound of spells bouncing off the walls and the protective barriers his colleagues had set up earlier. He was glad to have been a major source of comfort for Scorpius Malfoy and to have met his family, but now it was time to support his team members.
Silently, Garrett approached the tunnel entrance into the experiment lab, no, torture chamber, part of the cave and quickly assessed the situation. The Matron was now perched on top of one of the stone partitions with her back to the tunnel entrance, firing spells at Ron, Terry and Brodie in rapid succession. Mary Beth was lying crumpled on the ground. Garrett saw no sign of Susan, so he thought she might be with the night's victim—he vaguely remembered someone saying she was a Muggle.
Smiling, Garrett took careful aim at the Matron. He stayed hidden in the shadows of the tunnel until the very last moment and then stepped out into the light and fired off a Stunning Spell. The spell hit the Matron in the back and before she could cry out, she toppled out of sight into the room beyond. Garrett heard the wooden clatter of a wand hitting stone followed by exclamations of surprise and joy from the other Aurors.
"Garrett, mate! Your timing is brilliant!" Ron exclaimed as Garrett stepped out of the tunnel.
"Glad I could be of service. Need help securing the prisoners?" Garrett asked.
"Yes. We Stunned the two assistants earlier, but I think we should to revive them now," Ron said, pointing his wand to the two prisoners who were lying stiffly under the experiment table. It was a good hiding place since it acted like a natural barrier that would protect them from stray spells, but Garrett wondered if such protection had been necessary. A moment later, though, he felt a twinge of guilt for thinking that the "bad guys" didn't need to be protected long enough to stand trial.
"Before I cast the counter curse, would you tie the prisoners up, please?" Ron asked.
Garrett nodded and quickly bound the two together back to back. Then Ron cast the counter curse, followed by a Silencing Charm. The two Aurors stepped back and surveyed their handiwork.
"How's Scorpius?" Ron asked.
"Pretty good, considering. I saw his family at the lifts as I was leaving. Harry was with them, which I was glad to see," Garrett said. "Did you alert him?"
"I did." Ron looked relieved as he said, "I'm glad Harry received my message. Well done, Garrett. Now let's go see to the Matron."
They left the two assistants bound together under several more strong security spells and wandered over to where Brodie and Terry were guarding her.
The Matron levelled a glare at Garrett. Just to aggravate her, he flashed her a cheeky smile. "I ought to make a pin cushion out of you, Auror, like I did your lady friend over there!" she spat. "That would teach you not to Stun people from behind!"
Garrett grinned at her. "I'm afraid you're all out of pins," he said. He looked at Ron. "Tie her up?"
"Please, and then take her over to the others. We're going straight to Azkaban," Ron said as Susan arrived.
"Did I miss all the fun?" she asked from where she stood in the tunnel entrance.
"Some," Terry replied. "You should have seen Garrett. He stepped out of the tunnel and hit her in the back with a Stunning Spell. Dropped her like a stone and made it easy for the rest of us to apprehend her."
"Good. Where's Mary Beth?" Susan asked.
"Brodie's with her. Looks like she was hit," Garrett said. "I think that's the excitement we both missed."
"Susan, I need you and Brodie to take Mary Beth to St Mungo's," Ron said. "The rest of us will be going straight to Azkaban with the prisoners."
Susan agreed and walked over to speak with Brodie. Garrett watched her for a moment and then asked, "Are we done here, Ron?"
"Yes, let's get this lot where they belong," he said.
The feeling of soft fingers stroking his forehead gradually brought him out of his potion-induced slumber and he wondered absently whether it was Auror Bones touching him again to remind him that he wasn't alone in the cave. Then he heard a sniff and some murmured words. The voices were familiar and comforting and he knew without a doubt that he was not still in the cave and that the hand holding his belonged to his father and the fingers stroking his forehead were his mother's.
He swallowed the lump that formed in his throat and willed his eyes to stop stinging; he wasn't going to cry, not in front of his father who he knew had suffered the Cruciatus Curse more times than he dared report. Scorpius wanted to be brave like his father, so instead of showing how scared he still was, he opened his eyes and focused on greeting his parents.
The sight of his parents standing by his bed with his grandparents and Mr Potter waiting in the background was a welcome sight indeed. His mother was crying softly and she smiled at him through her tears, just as Scorpius had expected her to. What nearly undid his own resolve was the fact that his father, the stoic Draco Malfoy, had tears coursing silently down his cheeks as well.
"How are you, son?" his father asked, his voice squeaking a little.
Scorpius closed his eyes again, this time doing a quick assessment of how he felt. He was still cold and still thirsty, but not so much that it was unbearable. His head hurt more than his body did and he chalked it up to all the potions Healer Stilwell had made him swallow, so he opened his eyes again and replied, "I've been better."
That made Dad smile. "Spoken like a true Malfoy," he said, chuckling.
"So now tell us how you really feel," Grandfather Greengrass spoke up as he and Grandmother approached Scorpius' bed.
Scorpius hesitated. His mother was crying hard enough as it was, and he didn't want to worry her more.
"Scorpius, darling," Grandmother said encouragingly, "if you don't tell us, how will we know what to ask your healers to do to help you feel better?"
With a sigh, Scorpius admitted his symptoms, adding at the end, "I'm light-headed and sleepy right now because the healers made me swallow so many potions, I think."
Mum spoke through her tears, "Then we'll let you rest. Would you mind if we stayed with you?"
Scorpius smiled at her. "I'd like that very much," he said as his eyes drifted shut of their own accord. He heard, rather than saw, his parents and grandparents transfiguring small objects into chairs. The sound of the chair legs hitting the floor was almost as comforting as his father's and his grandmother's hands holding his. He didn't want to let go, even to sleep, because if he did let go, they might not be there when he woke up and right now, being alone was just too terrifying. He squeezed his grandmother's hand and was rewarded with one in return from her. However, the steady pressure of his father's hand in his was more reassuring than anything else, and Scorpius finally released the last of the tension that had kept him aware even through the effects of the potions he'd taken. With one last sigh, he let the darkness take over and finally let himself really sleep.
The reunion of the Malfoy family was one of the best things Harry had witnessed in his professional life. True, he hadn't been acting in an official capacity today, but just knowing his Aurors had successfully whisked Scorpius from the clutches of the Matron and her followers gave him a deep sense of pride in a job well done. The only thing that would be more satisfying than the reunion would be the capture of the kidnappers by Ron and the rest of his team.
Harry stayed with Scorpius and his family for only a few minutes, just long enough for Healer Stilwell to join them again. Then, he bid them good-bye and went upstairs to the dining room in search of a cup of coffee. He needed a few minutes to himself before he found a secluded corner from which to send Ginny a Patronus message to tell her where he was.
Twenty minutes later, Harry rolled into a deserted waiting area and conjured his stag. He told Ginny where he was and that he wanted her to come to the hospital. As the Patronus galloped off, Harry took the lift down to the A and E and settled in to wait for news of Ron's team, hoping that his vigil in this place was for naught.
0026 hours, 9 January 2021
Ron stood over the three Silenced suspects who were bound back to back in an awkward triangular configuration. The Matron was still mouthing expletives as he opened an evidence bag and dropped three wands into it. As the bag vanished with a wave of his wand, the woman closest to him scowled fiercely at him and tugged at her bonds.
"Nope, I'm not letting you go," he said. Looking up at Garrett, he asked, "Are the Portkeys ready?"
Garrett smiled tiredly. "Nearly," he answered. A piece of rope suddenly glowed blue, indicating the creation of the last Portkey. However, instead of handing it and two others to Ron, he walked over to Susan and Brodie who were kneeling beside Mary Beth. "This will take you to St Mungo's," he said.
"Thanks, but I have one," Susan said, indicating the glove lying on Mary Beth's stomach. "You ready, Brodie?" she asked.
"I am," he said. "Make sure I don't drop her." He scooped up his wounded colleague in his arms and when he was standing, Susan activated the Portkey and the three disappeared, leaving Garrett standing there, holding the piece of rope.
Terry walked over to him. "Let's use that one later when we go see Mary Beth," he said.
Garrett smiled tiredly. "Yes. Long day," he murmured and they walked back to where Ron was waiting.
Ron levelled his wand at the three suspects. "Shirley Gorman, Beda Bardsley and Ogden Sperry, you are under arrest for violence against the person of Harry James Potter of Snidget's Haven, Godric's Hollow, in the County of Gwent, in the Country of Wales and Brian Conrad Nelson of 24 Verona Place, Borough of Brentwood, in the County of Essex and for the kidnapping of Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy of Malfoy Manor, in the County of Wiltshire. You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defense if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence." He paused and then asked, "Have I made myself clear?" All three stared stonily ahead, prompting him to repeat his question. Finally, the three prisoners nodded. "Very good. Auror Boot, Auror Carmichael, we're ready."
The three Aurors each grabbed the arm of their assigned suspect and with a tap of Terry's wand, the six disappeared from the cave to appear seconds later in the processing room of Azkaban prison.
As soon as his feet touched ground, Ron strode over to the desk and began conversing with the Auror sitting behind it. Terry interrupted their conversation a moment later.
"Ron, what are your orders?" he asked.
Ron thought a moment and then replied, "Go back to the base site. Secure it and then break down the tents. There are two; one's an observation post closer to the footpath, both are under concealing charms. Do the same with your base in the castle. Make sure nothing is left in either the field or the castle and cancel any spells you may have used to conceal your equipment. Then seal the cave, but not before recovering that tiny cauldron she was Summoning." He indicated the Matron with his head. "Oh, if you can find it, secure that last piece of metal, too. Forensics will like us if we can make their job simpler."
"You'll stay here and see these three through processing?" Terry asked.
"Yes. I'll also be filing my own report through this office before I go over to the hospital. I need to find out about Mary Beth," he said. What he didn't add was that he was going to keep Tim Dawson company during his final hours. He'd just received a message that the wizard had been admitted to St Mungo's. "You can go home once you've written your reports," he added.
"Thanks, Ron." Terry turned and walked over to Garrett. They held a short conversation and then walked out into the outside corridor where the arrival and departure fireplaces were located. A chime signalled the activation of the Floo Network and Ron knew they were on their way to the prison's Apparition point.
The Auror on duty now shoved a stack of parchment at Ron. With a weary sigh, he picked up a quill and began filling out the forms.
A commotion in the corridor alerted Harry to the Auror team's arrival. He pushed his wheelchair out of the alcove he'd been waiting in and watched as Susan and Brodie stumbled out of the arrival room carrying one of the younger Aurors.
"Someone help, we need a trolley, fast!" Susan called and three healers with a trolley floating behind them appeared out of nowhere. They swiftly placed the injured Auror on the trolley and disappeared into one of the examination rooms.
"Susan!" Harry called softly.
"Harry, what are you doing here?" Susan asked, coming over to him while Brodie followed the trolley.
"I was with the Malfoys when Garrett brought Scorpius in," Harry replied. "Have all the arrests been made?"
Susan smiled tiredly. "Yes, we subdued the Matron and the other two about ten minutes ago. Ron, Terry and Garrett have taken them to Azkaban," she said.
"Thank goodness they're finally in custody," Harry said, letting out a huge sigh of relief. He glanced down the corridor. "What happened?" he asked, jerking his head towards the examination room.
Susan looked troubled. "Mary Beth was hit during the fight. We didn't realize she'd been hurt until just now. The only evidence is some strange rips in her Auror robes. The edges look like they've been singed."
Harry felt the blood drain from his face. "Bloody hell!" he exclaimed.
"What's wrong?" Susan asked in alarm as Harry began wheeling himself frantically down the corridor towards the room Mary Beth had been taken into.
"How long since she was hit?" Harry threw the words over his shoulder.
"A half hour maybe," Susan answered as they skidded through the doorway of Mary Beth's examination room.
The young Auror lay unconscious on the examination table with four healers working frantically to revive her. Her Auror robes had been carelessly cast aside near the rubbish bin. Harry rolled over and picked them up. Frantically, he turned them in his hands until he found what he was looking for, the rents made by the Matron's projectiles. Just as he feared, the edges of the rips looked as if they'd been singed by hot coals; but instead of being rounded in shape like a normal spark would have caused, the tears were elongated and rectangular, exactly like the slashes had been in his own robes nearly a year before.
"Brodie," he barked, "guard this room and make sure only authorized personnel are admitted."
Startled, Brodie reacted by swiftly striding to the door. As he left, he replied over his shoulder, "Yes, sir!"
"Have you done the Foreign Body Detection Spell yet?" Harry barked at the nearest healer. He held up the tattered robes for the healer to see. "She's been poisoned by metal projectiles!"
The healer blinked once, turned, and performed the spell. Immediately a bright blue glow with angry red trails emanating from the sources surrounded the back of his patient's legs.
"Rip those bloody objects out of her body right now!" Harry ordered. "They're soaked in poison!"
The healers reacted immediately and Harry sagged in his chair, his mission complete.
"Harry, how did you know?" Susan asked, coming up beside him and kneeling, took Mary Beth's robes from him.
He looked at her as memories flooded his brain. "Remember a year ago when we started having problems with Aurors becoming ill after duelling certain criminals?"
Susan nodded. "I do. We were all so frustrated that so many of us were being hurt or becoming ill so mysteriously."
Harry pointed to the robes in her hands. "The damage done to those robes is the reason, Susan," he said. "The Matron's followers were given jars of metal pieces soaking in experimental poisons which, when flung at an opponent or a partner's opponent during a duel, would sicken or attempt to kill the one receiving the wounds via nerve or blood poisoning." He stopped, hardly able to go on. "Susan, I was struck by one of the poisoned projectiles and nearly died before the healers found and removed it."
"I remember," she said softly. "We were all so afraid for you."
He looked into her eyes and said sadly, "Now we worry for Mary Beth."
A/N: I made it! I promised so many of my readers that I'd post this chapter today that I've been writing nearly non-stop for a week! I sincerely hope this end to the kidnapping passes muster because not only did I type like a fiend, I asked my pre-beta team of Miz636, Mutt n Feathers, RebeccaRipple, Rosina Ferguson, and RSS to drop everything Sunday afternoon and get this chapter back to me in time for me to send it to Aggiebell on Monday evening. Thank you, everyone, for the time you took to read the chapter and give me your suggestions in so little time. You five are truly the best. And Aggiebell, thanks for getting the chapter back so quickly, too. You gave me the time to think about the questions you raised and make the changes you thought necessary. We haven't had to do that very often with this story… and hopefully, the quality hasn't suffered… much.