They travelled through the night and into the following day, which quickly turned into night, with only one break. No drink or a single scrap of food was offered. Rose had said nothing more about the baby and Scorpius had not mentioned it but he stayed close to her, and some part of him was always touching her. Rose slept with her head in his lap and his fingers in her hair. She guessed it was early morning when the truck stopped for what she assumed was a bathroom break. Groggy, she sat up slowly.
“I’ll have a look,” he whispered, creeping to the side of the cage and peering through the small gap in the canvas flap. He turned back to her, his face creased. “They’ve changed drivers. We just passed into Cameroon, Rose; I saw a sign.”
Rose frowned. “We’ve crossed three countries,” she said in wonder, shaking her head and then, she smiled. Scorpius looked at her like she was crazy. “Scorpius, the heart of darkness,” she breathed excitedly. “’They had behind them, to my mind, the terrific suggestiveness of words heard in dreams, of phrases spoken in nightmares’.”
He frowned. “The heart of darkness...”
“It was on those reports, yes,” Rose nodded. “I think it was a reference to The Congo, based off a book written in the 1800’s. That has to be where we are going.”
“So Cass likes classic literature, so what,” Scorpius said, not understanding her excitement.
“So does Albus. Heart of Darkness is one of his favourites,” she said, her smile widening. “He will work it out, I’m sure, and he will come.”
“I hope he’s as smart as you think he is,” Scorpius said, settling back beside her. “And I hope his timing isn’t off.”
They passed into The Congo the following evening; rain dripped lightly onto the canvas roof and it was so humid in their temporary prison Rose was finding it hard to breathe. She was tired, hungry and filled with worry. They were given water, and someone tossed a couple of pieces of over-ripe fruit into the back, which they ate without thought. To Rose, it was the best banana she had ever tasted.
She slept again, a half-sleep, with her head on Scorpius’ thigh. When the truck rolled to a stop suddenly, she was jerked into full consciousness, sitting up quickly. Scorpius clapped his hand over her mouth, rendering her mute and she froze as she heard unfamiliar voices. There were sounds of a scuffle and Rose jumped when a rifle was discharged. She heard the unmistakable sound of a fist hitting flesh and suddenly, the canvas flap was thrown open, the light that flooded in watery and green.
“Rose? Is that you?”
She knew that voice and as the cage was broken open she scrambled forward on hands and knees, throwing herself out of the darkness and into her cousin’s arms, laughing and crying at the same time. “I told you, I told you,” she kept saying to Scorpius, clinging tightly to Albus. He released her, looked her up and down and, satisfied there was no life threatening injuries, turned his attention to Scorpius.
“Did you doubt me, Malfoy?”
Scorpius grinned, rubbing at his face. “You know I’m a pessimist, Potter.”
“You look like death but I am so glad to see you alive, both of you,” Albus stated, throwing his arms around his friend. Rose glanced around as she accepted a mug of water from someone. There were five others with her cousin and she knew not all were wizards. Two carried rifles, the other three, wands and Cass’s hired thugs were out cold, sprawled face down in the mud.
“How did you find us?” Scorpius asked.
“‘The reaches opened before us and closed behind, as if the forest had stepped leisurely across the water to bar the way for our return. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness’,” Albus answered, glancing at Rose. She shivered at the words, at the way he spoke them, with obvious relish. She had found that book disturbing.
“But how? We’re in the middle of nowhere,” Rose pressed.
Her cousin grinned. “Once I got away, I had people looking out for you, contacts I had made in Tangier. There are more sympathisers than Cass could ever guess. A network exists here in Africa to rival hers.”
Rose smiled, and then grabbed at his arm. “Albus, did my parents receive a ransom note? From Cass?”
He shook his head. “No.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. “I guess she meant to just kill us after all.”
“Alright, here’s what we do,” Al was saying when they were sitting beneath the shelter of some trees. It had begun to rain lightly again, and the mist that had arrived with the rain clung to their hair and faces, seeping slowly through their clothes. Rose smiled; the green, equatorial world they found themselves in was a nice change from the heat and wind of the desert. The mercenaries had all been bound tight with magical rope and Rose watched absently as some of Al’s men moved them off the road and under the trees. Albus quickly introduced the people he had brought, and handed out food and more water. “We get you two out of here-”
“No,” Rose interjected. “We have to show up. If we don’t, Cass will know something went wrong. She’ll have them all killed; the others in the camp. She’d rather that than see her little empire start to crumble.”
“Rose is right,” Scorpius said. “We need to arrive, as we were,” he added, refusing the cloth he’d been handed to wash his face and hands with; he’d consented to having his wounds healed and sat still as Sean, a tall, thin wizard with olive skin and dark hair, repaired his damaged flesh. “But this time, we’ll have an escort of our choosing.”
Al ordered his men to strip the guards. “Get everything off them – weapons, radios...leave them nothing. So,” he said, turning to Rose and Scorpius. “Where is this place?”
“We don’t know,” Rose answered quietly.
“Right,” Al frowned, chewing his lip. His eyes brightened and he moved to the man dragged from the driver’s seat. The truck door was open and he peered inside a moment before bending to the African on the ground, Renervating him and imposing a swift Imperius curse. “You will drive us to the camp,” he told the man, “Just as Cass ordered.”
The man nodded and climbed to his feet, lifting his hefty frame back into the truck. Al and his men quickly shed their clothes, pulling on the mismatched military and desert style clothing of the mercenaries.
“How many prisoners have they got out here?” One of the muggles, a thickset man with a deep, rumbling voice, asked.
“At last count, there were at least fifty people,” Rose answered. “Any children over four will have been taken to one of their nursery schools, and I have no idea where they are.”
Albus nodded. “We will deal with that later. Malfoy, do you mind if I take this?”
Rose blinked, confused, until she remembered that Al and Scorpius shared rank. Scorpius made a consenting gesture, and Al continued.
“Okay, when we get there, Rose and Scorpius will be taken inside. Once in, I want you two to alert as many of the prisoners as possible that we are here. I want them ready; we will have to rely on their help and this could end up a fist fight. Rose, it will be up to you to -”
“She’s not fighting,” Scorpius said suddenly.
“What?” Rose practically shouted, climbing to her feet and almost slipping over in the mud. “Of course I am. I am sick of being afraid – the whole time we have been here I have been terrified, Scorpius. I wouldn’t miss this for anything.”
He shook his head, his face and eyes serious. “I understand that, I do, but I won’t have you in danger.”
“You have got to be kidding,” Rose said in disbelief. “I will not stay behind and cower in the shadows like a little girl! I want in this fight!”
“Weasley,” Scorpius barked, sounding more like the man she knew from London. “You will do as I say.”
“Is that an order, Sir?” Rose spat, pointing at him angrily. “Going to lock me up if I refuse?”
She watched as his expression became one of sheer frustration. He stood up, crossed the space between them and grabbed her upper arms, shaking her slightly. “You’re carrying my child!” he yelled, his voice sinking into the jungle around them, startling some birds. “Forgive me if I would like you to stay alive!”
“I’m not sick,” Rose shouted in reply, pushing him away. “I can do this!”
“Rose, please,” he begged painfully, his hands moving to cup her face. “For once, do as I ask.”
Albus cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Um, Rose...”
She turned on him, forgetting rank and protocol. “Don’t you dare tell me what to do, Albus Potter!”
Rose was aware his team were watching them, some wearing little smirks, and one man was laughing openly at the unfolding soap-opera. Albus shook his head, backing away from her anger. “You’re pregnant?”
“Got a problem with that?”
“No, no,” Al breathed, rubbing at his cheek. “I won’t ask and please, spare me the details, but, Malfoy, mate, we do need her.”
Scorpius growled, giving Al a traitorous glare. “If she gets hurt...”
Rose softened. “I won’t, I promise. There’s a woman, Maria. Leave her to me.”
“The scientist,” Albus spat, proving he had read everything Rose had given him. “Is she dangerous?”
“Probably more than anyone else there,” Scorpius said darkly. “But she won’t be armed. She’ll have a guard and Rose can easily deal with him.”
They drove east, passing through dense grasslands, the rain constant and never-ending. They followed the steady flowing Congo River, the truck winding along soggy paths and treacherous terrain. Rose and Scorpius sat in the back, maintaining their prisoner status, and she studied the shifting scenery as they moved slowly through the landscape: the way the grasslands stretched as far as she could see; the mist that rose from the surface of the river, dancing lightly as it spiralled into the air; and the mountains in the distance, mere specks against a horizon streaked with grey and green. The rhythmic rocking and swaying of the truck reminded her of being on board a boat, and as she watched the river snaking alongside them, it was easy to imagine they were indeed ship bound.
The Imperiused driver took them further east, leaving the river behind and heading closer to the mountains. They passed through villages of mismatched colours and stopped for food and water on the outskirts of one, pulling the truck off the muddy road and into the softness of the jungle. Rose ate hungrily; the life growing inside her needed food and so she ate only for that, not for herself. She found she had no appetite, her stomach in knots. The plan was relatively flawless – no one was expecting the truck to arrive in the hands of the enemy but things could still go wrong. Rose had a stash of spare wands concealed in a fresh magical pouch around her middle; Scorpius had been given one of the same.
She didn’t talk to Scorpius much at all. Now that things had changed, that their fate had changed, there seemed little to say to him that wasn’t about the mission. She could feel Albus watching her, sense the worry in his gaze and more often than not, he was watching Scorpius too. She wondered did he expect them to declare their love for one another, falling to their knees in the African mud. Al had always had a touch of the romantic inside him.
Rose swallowed the remains of her lunch and moved back to the truck, getting ready to climb in. She paused, turning and letting her eyes swing wide across her surroundings. It was surreal. They had come so far – the Rwandan border was close, and they were preparing to enter the forest. Here, in the evolutionary home of mankind, they were preparing to walk willingly into a death camp, and she wondered if Cass had chosen the Rift Valley purely for its convenience, or whether she was making a grand statement.
She felt Scorpius come up behind her, felt him hesitate, before he moved to her side, looking across the panoramic landscape much as she was. “What are you thinking?” he asked her quietly. She glanced at him; in the subaqueous world of The Congo, his skin and hair glowed, and in the drowned light, Rose could see every cut and scrape on his face, every bruise and smudge of blood. She reached up and touched his face absent-mindedly, and he smiled slightly. “I look terrible, I bet.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” she answered gently, feeling oddly dazed by him. “You look like a warrior.”
He blushed uncharacteristically and turned his eyes away, gesturing to the world around them. “It’s strangely beautiful here, considering.”
“Yes,” Rose agreed. It began to rain again, heavier this time, droplets catching on their hair and lashes, sinking deep into their skin. She watched the rain smash into the already sodden earth, the drops unfurling instantly into little rivulets, flowing around her feet. She shook her hair, wiped the water from her face and climbed into the truck.
They moved further into the wilderness, the truck rumbling gently beneath them. The ground was wet, the tyres slipping and sliding out from under them on occasions, but the driver manoeuvred the vehicle with expert precision. It was late in the day when the truck rolled to a stop, the engine purring contentedly, waiting, as expectant as its passengers.
Albus threw open the canvas flaps suddenly, startling Rose. “Let’s do this,” he said in a low voice, and Rose felt the pit of her stomach turn over. She nodded, and Al turned around, shouting at the man guarding a twisted congregation of wire and wood that served as a gate. “Open up; two more.”
The man nodded, slinging his rifle over his shoulder as he swung open the gate. The driver backed the truck proficiently into the camp, and the gate swung closed behind him. Rose and Scorpius shared a glance before Sean opened their cage.
“Out,” he ordered gruffly, lifting his rifle and pointing it at them. Carefully, Rose climbed from the truck, Scorpius following her. She blinked the rain from her lashes and licked her lips, her feet moving slowly over the muddy ground. Through the rain, the first of the buildings came into view. No more than shabby huts, their roofs were suffering under the weight of the water, which poured over their lips and onto the ground below. As they were led through the camp, people emerged from the huts and Rose glanced at them, trying not to think about what they had been through. There would be time to grieve, to mourn for her people, later. She needed to remain focused.
They were told to halt, and Scorpius was ordered in one direction, Rose in the other. She went, turning her back on him, her heart in her throat. She was terrified she would never see him again, though every ounce of her common sense told her not to be ridiculous – they were here for liberation, not liquidation, and once Al gave the signal, everything would run like clockwork.
Rose was taken to the women’s quarters, a collection of five huts on the far side of the camp. There, her guard simply left her and marched off. Slowly, the witches emerged, to see who else had come to share their fate. They were thin, starved creatures and Rose had to stamp down on her fury when she noticed one held a mewling infant in her arms. Feeling miserable, Rose allowed them to lead her inside one of the huts, which had no furniture and only woven mats to sleep on. The floor of the hut was woven reed, and was soaked through.
“Where did they catch you?” one of the women asked in broken English. She had beautiful dark skin, her hair long and in braids. Her clothes were thin and she shivered in the damp. Rose swallowed, looking around, noticing the utter despair in the eyes that looked back at her. After checking there was no guard hovering outside the hut, she took a deep breath.
“I’m here to rescue you,” she said and in a quiet voice, told them who she was and where she had come from. She outlined Albus’ plan and slowly, the feeling of desolation that had cloaked the witches like a blanket lifted. “I don’t have wands for all of you,” Rose told them, “but if you are prepared to fight...”
“I will,” the woman with the baby said and Rose shook her head.
“You need to look after that child,” she replied gently, “let us look after you.”
There were fifteen witches in the camp, and they all had horror stories to share. While waiting for Albus’ signal – a flash of red sparks in the sky – Rose passed around what wands she had with her, and sat and listened as the women spoke. They told Rose there were only seven guards in the camp, as well as the scientist, whom they called a butcher. They told Rose they had all been forced into giving blood samples, skin cell samples, and tissue samples. There had been talk, they said, about harvesting, and Rose resisted the urge to vomit, knowing just what Maria wanted that genetic material for.
“We’ve been totally defenceless without our wands,” one of the witches said, cradling her borrowed wand between her grubby hands. “Two wizards were killed for trying to rise up against them. They were hung, and we were all made to watch as an ‘example was made’ of them.”
Rose shuddered, pushing aside her anger once more, sitting down on the damp floor to wait for Albus, not caring that the cold water was slowly seeping through her pants and onto her skin. She relished it, the sudden cold, for it helped to squash the fire that threatened to explode out of her.
As night was falling, a shout was heard from the other side of the camp and Rose rushed into the open, withdrawing her wand as red sparks jumped into the darkening sky. The women all knew where the main gate was, and it was there they were to move towards, staying out of sight as much as possible. The growing dark and the constant grey of everything around them would provide the witches with some cover, and Rose hoped it was enough. It was up to Albus and the others to draw attention to the men’s huts, and allow the witches to reach the entrance undetected. They would fight from there, taking down any guards who tried to stop the men from reaching the gates. Rose watched them go, flitting away into the shadows, and went in search of Maria.
She ducked through the camp, ears and eyes screaming; there were shouts, the rapid burst of bullets and all around her, the air was filled with bright flashes of wandfire. She swallowed, slipping between two huts, preying that everyone was still alive. They expected causalities.
Rose found Maria in her laboratory; the only real building in the whole camp. She Stunned the guard without a sound, took his weapons and bound the man before she stepped quietly into the white room, hiding her wand in her pocket. Maria was standing near the window, watching calmly as the world around her collapsed. She turned, hearing Rose’s footfall on the grey linoleum.
“Rebecca,” she said.
“My name isn’t Rebecca; it’s Rose, and it’s over, Maria.”
“So Cass found you out as a sympathiser,” Maria said simply. “I had my suspicions. You were too soft.”
“I’m not a sympathiser,” Rose said, sliding the wand from her pocket slowly. She cradled it in her hands, aware Maria was watching her every move. “I’m a witch.”
“And you’ve come to kill me?” Maria guessed, showing no surprise or fear. No emotion crossed her face at all.
Rose shook her head, stepping further into the room until only a metal trolley filled with medical instruments separated her from the other woman. “We don’t want to kill anyone. We’re about preserving life, Maria, not creating death.” Unconsciously, Rose’s spare hand dropped to her belly protectively. Maria followed her movement, a small smile appearing on her face.
“Does he know? Scott? He must love you if he’s willing to let a witch bear his child.”
“Yes he knows and his name is Scorpius,” Rose answered. “And there is a chance this child will not be magical. Non-magical children can be born to two magical parents, just as a magical child can be born to two non-magical parents.”
“Two magical parents?” Maria murmured and then laughed. “You really did a brilliant job, both of you, convincing us you were human.”
“But we are human,” Rose said wearily. “Maria, you know this. All your tests, all your work, your experiments – they have shown nothing! We are biologically exactly the same as you.”
“Maybe I haven’t done the right tests yet,” Maria said simply.
Rose shook her head, her frustration growing. “Magical children have been born since the beginning of history,” she said. “They will continue to be born and there is nothing you can do about it. Who’s to say that magic is not simply another branch on the evolutionary tree?”
“It’s a genetic anomaly,” Maria stated and Rose sighed, lifting her wand. Their conversation was over. She shook her head slightly at herself, knowing she was a fool for thinking she could reason with this woman.
“You need to come with me,” she ordered quietly. Maria held her head high, folding her arms. “I won’t kill you, but I can hurt you,” Rose added. “Don’t make me. There has been enough suffering.”
The door opened suddenly and Rose tensed, relaxing when she heard her cousin’s voice. “We need to go, Rose,” Al said. “Bring the...doctor.”
Maria swept from the room proudly, the white of her lab coat stark against the dark of the camp. Al spent a moment searching for any useful information as Rose marched Maria towards the entrance, where all the guards and officials were lined up, some still unconscious and on the ground. All had been disarmed and not a single one was dead, but two were badly wounded. One of the muggle men was tending to them. Maria took her place in the line and Rose bound her hands with magical rope.
“I hope one day you will see the truth,” she said quietly to the older woman, who looked back at her with hard eyes. Rose turned away, searching for Scorpius, who she found with Sean. He was having his arm repaired and Rose rolled her eyes, going over. “Did you get shot again?”
He smiled and then winced when Sean pointed his wand at the wound. “Just a flesh wound, and I wasn’t even trying to save you.” He paused, giving her a serious look. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” she said curtly. “I’m just sick of this place. I’m sick of them.”
The prisoners were marched or levitated out the gates, where they were made to turn and look back at the camp. The liberated witches and wizards stood a little way off; most were crying with exhaustion and exhilaration and were watching their jailers with a pity Rose knew she would not be feeling if she was in their situation.
“What you are about to witness is the beginning of the end,” Albus said in a clear voice. “We will find and destroy your camps, your schools and we will break down your operation. We will take back our freedom and perhaps, one day, you will look back on this time as one of the darkest times in your life.”
“We will wipe you out,” shouted one man. “Magical filth!”
“You can kill us all,” Scorpius said, his voice firm and serious. “But you will not eradicate us. It might take a hundred years or more, but magic would return to the world, and your efforts would be for nothing. We have been here, existing alongside of you since the dawn of time, and we will be here at the end.”
Rose, Scorpius and Albus, along with Sean and the other two wizards Al had brought with him, turned and lifted their wands. “Incendio,” Albus said in a clear voice.
“Incendio,” Rose echoed, hearing Scorpius’ voice chime along beside hers. In seconds, the camp was ablaze, fire creeping steadily along the roofs of the huts, the door of Maria’s lab and the dreadful hanging platform. They stood and watched as everything crumbled, consumed by the magical fire that was hungry for its own retribution. Ash floated on the air, touching gently down on faces and hair, on the grass and mud and Rose felt Scorpius slip his hand in hers, squeezing it tight.
“Now,” he said softly, “I want to go home.”
A big thanks to Jack (Inti) on TGS for giving me the perfect Conrad quote. Both quotes in this chapter are from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.