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Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood by CambAngst
Chapter 30 : In Purgatory's Shadow
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 15

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A/N: Sorry that this chapter has taken a bit longer. I had some serious concerns about some of the content and I needed to get a validator's opinion, which in turn required some changes.

The subject matter of this chapter is quite dark. I apologize in advance for that, but it's a necessary part of the story...

Rose awoke to the sensation of cold concrete pressed against the side of her face. Her first thought was to roll over onto her side, but her entire body hurt. She struggled for a moment to remember where she was. The last time she could remember feeling this stiff and sore was after taking a nasty fall from her broom while playing Quidditch. But that was such a long time ago. She searched her memory for something more recent.

Hugo’s message! Yes, she recalled receiving a message from Hugo in her flat in London. Then she and Octavia had slipped out through a window. Oh, Merlin. Had she fallen from the side of her apartment building? Her family was never going to let her live this down.

No, wait. There were other memories after that. They had apparated to the Burrow. And then they were arrested. How humiliating! The Magical Law Enforcement Patrol had taken them to one of its field offices. She couldn’t recall what she had done to get herself arrested, but she desperately hoped that it was some sort of misunderstanding. Otherwise, her parents were going to kill her. Wait, her parents! There was a really grumpy wizard who was asking her questions about them. He wanted to know where her parents and her Uncle Harry had gone. Hell if she knew. It’s not like they ever told her anything.

There was something else, too. She racked her brain, trying to recall what had happened next. There was a witch that she remembered from school who was telling her something about Octavia. That’s right, Octavia was sleeping somewhere in the field office. And Grandpa and Nanna Weasley were going to come and pick her up. But something had gone wrong. Badly wrong. Rose continued to inch forward through her memory. There was a loud bang, and the witch told her to stay in the room, and then...

Rose tried with all her might to sit upright, but only succeeded in rolling onto her back. Every muscle in her body protested and she suddenly realized that her head was pounding. The rest came back to her in an instant. The curse blasting through the door. Jade Corner’s broken body crashing into the table. And then the wizard in the mask pointing his wand at her. From that point on, her memory was truly blank.

“I see that you’ve finally awakened,” came a woman’s voice from somewhere nearby. Rose rolled her head in the direction of the sound and forced her eyes open just a sliver. She could make out the blurry outline of a figure clad in a black robe, illuminated by dim lamplight. “I apologize for the harsh treatment you’ve suffered,” the woman continued. “My followers used excessive and completely unnecessary force when they removed you from the field office in Exeter. Rest assured that I have made them aware of their error. The time it has taken for you to regain consciousness has caused a substantial disruption to my schedule.”

“Where is my daughter?” Rose croaked softly. She realized that her lips and throat were painfully dry and her tongue felt swollen.

“Safe, for now,” the woman replied. “I would like nothing more than for her to stay that way. She’s a wonderful child. Brilliant and talented. And she’s quite concerned for your safety.”

“What do you want?”

The woman came closer and knelt down. Rose could just make out her pale, blond hair spilling from inside her hood. “Your parents and your uncle have something of mine. Something very important. I want it back. But first, I have to know where to find them.”

“Don’t know where,” Rose mumbled. She tried to swallow, but her mouth was so dry that all she felt were the sides of her throat rubbing together like sandpaper. “They didn’t tell anyone.”

Rose heard the woman sigh as she stood and stepped back. “I was hoping that we would be able to do this the easy way. I’m sure you understand that I cannot accept what you’re saying at face value. There is simply too much at stake. Mr. Gamp, will you join us, please?”

Rose heard heavy footsteps approaching from somewhere nearby. The name was unfamiliar, but she reflexively tried to curl up in order to protect herself, not sure what to expect next.

“I find Mr. Gamp to be the most persuasive of my followers,” the woman continued. The sound of her voice moved farther away. “Perhaps he’ll be able to help you understand that things will be so much easier if you simply tell me what I want to know.”

“I don’t know where they are,” Rose said more loudly. She was beginning to feel panicked.

“We shall soon know that for certain, won’t we?” the woman replied airily.

Crucio!” Rose’s world shattered into a swirling kaleidoscope of pain. There were no words to describe it, every inch of her body burned with agony. She heard her own hoarse, choked scream and the sound caused every nerve in her head to pulse. Through the buffeting curtains of pain, it occurred to Rose that Octavia might be somewhere nearby. The idea that her daughter might hear her screams touched a part of her that the physical pain had somehow been unable to penetrate. She bit down hard and smothered the noises rising from her throat. The small token of resistance seemed to frustrate her tormentor, and she felt the intensity of her pain increase. A yelp escaped her clenched jaws, followed by another. She focused as hard as she possibly could on her daughter, willing herself to be silent.

Suddenly, the pain ceased. Rose could hear herself gasping desperately for air, and she suddenly realized that her head was swimming. Multi-colored sparks streaked across her field of vision, complementing the crackling jolts of residual pain that danced across her overstimulated nerve endings. Through the surreal light show, she could just make out the woman in the dark hood drawing near.

“Interesting, isn’t it? Everyone thinks the same thing about the Cruciatus Curse before they feel it for the first time. ‘It can’t be as horrible as they say, can it? I could fight through the pain, if I had to.’ Nobody truly understands fire until they’ve been burned.”

“Go to hell,” Rose hissed.

Crucio!” The pain returned, fourfold more intense. The waves of pain were replaced with an unrelenting agony that never ebbed. She felt her nose smash into the floor as she doubled over. But still, there remained a small part of her mind that the torture was unable to touch. In that one, secluded corner, she saw Octavia, huddled and frightened. She had no idea how long she had been since the attack on the field office, but her daughter had doubtless spent the entire time terrified, wondering whether she would ever see her mother alive again. Rose knew that she had to hold on for Octavia’s sake. She had to resist. And most of all, she had to keep herself from screaming.

After an eternity, the pain once again ceased. As she struggled for air, the woman’s voice came to her again. Rose could feel her warm breath against the side of her head, yet she sounded as though she was speaking from the end of a tunnel. “What is it that’s keeping you from breaking? Most people would be begging for mercy by now. I commend you for being remarkably strong-willed. But consider this: your refusal to tell me what I want to know could expose your daughter to a great deal of danger.”

“My uncle is paranoid,” Rose whispered, disliking the pleading undertone of her own voice. “Nobody knows where they are!”

She heard the mysterious woman sigh. “It’s a shame that a witch with your obvious intelligence and spirit has decided to subject herself to this barbaric treatment. What you fail to grasp is that I will find them eventually, whether or not you help me. It is inevitable. You only prolong your own suffering by being stubborn.” Her tone of voice softened ever so slightly. “I am not without mercy. Tell me what I need to know and I will see to it that you and your daughter are treated humanely.”

In spite of the difficulty she was having in keeping her arms from trembling, Rose made a point of pushing herself up slightly on her elbows, so that she could try to look into the woman’s eyes. She saw only darkness under the cowl of the woman’s hood, but she stared directly at the spot where she imagined that her eyes must be. “I don’t know anything to tell you. And you can take your mercy and stick it up your arse.”

The woman shook her head slightly beneath her hood. “I was told that intractable stubbornness was a trait as common to your family as red hair. It’s going to be such a waste, breaking your mind. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t enjoy watching it happen.”

The mysterious woman slowly backed away. Rose dropped her body back to the floor and rolled onto her side, mentally steeling herself as she heard Gamp take two steps toward her and laugh maniacally.

Rose had no idea how much time had passed. Minutes? Hours? Days? Time had become completely immaterial to her tiny world of desolation and misery. Still, she continued to cling to her thoughts of Octavia. They were the only thing preventing her from succumbing to the depression and agony, the only thing keeping her sane. Her mind had retreated farther and farther into that small space where the torment was unable to touch her. In that place, it was almost as though she could see the smile on Octavia’s face and feel the soft curls of her hair. We’re going to be alright, Mum, just hold out a little longer. She heard her daughter’s clear, musical voice and it somehow made things better.

Farther away, outside of the safe place inside her mind, she could make out other voices. These voices were not friendly. They would bring her only pain and unhappiness. Still, for reasons she couldn’t quite understand, she felt a small desire to remain connected to the outside world. She pulled Octavia close to her and listened.

“Might as well finish her.” It was Gamp’s gravelly, half-crazed voice. “She’s practically drooling already. If she knew anything, she would’ve broken by now.”

“Rather sure of yourself, aren’t you, Mr. Gamp?” came the icy purr of the mysterious woman in the hooded robe. “What you fail to appreciate is that Rose Malfoy is not like the sad, little men you’ve broken so far. She has something to live for. Something to cling to. And I can tell by the way that she refuses to scream that somewhere inside her mind, she’s still clinging to it. But you wouldn’t understand any of that, would you?”

Rose couldn’t see anything from her safe place, but she felt pretty sure that Gamp was stewing. As much as the idea frightened her, she thoroughly enjoyed hearing him be put in his place. Another set of footsteps approached. Apparently the three of them were not alone.

“You wanted to see me, my lady?” The voice was plainly male, thicker than Gamp’s and filled with anxiety. It seemed that she wasn’t the only one with something to fear from her mysterious captor.

“Yes, Mr. Nott. I have grown concerned about Mr. Rosier. The Ministry appears destined to collapse into conflict. Now that he holds the secrets of our organization, we cannot have him being captured,” she paused for half a beat, “or fleeing. Have your men remove him from the Ministry and tuck him away in Rowle’s basement.”

“Yes, my lady,” the man she called Nott replied.

“When that task is complete, do not dismiss them. I will have an additional assignment for all of you very soon. Leave one or two men to keep watch over Mr. Rosier and return here with the others. That will be all.”

Nott’s footsteps disappeared into the distance. From the secluded corner of her mind where she hid, Rose wished that he wouldn’t go. Any presence other than Gamp’s felt like a welcome respite.

“What of her?” Gamp asked. His voice had a bloodthirsty edge to it. He was clearly eager to redeem himself. Rose pulled Octavia closer to her and stroked her hair.

“Have one of Nott’s men administer a revitalizing potion when they return from securing Rosier. Then you may continue your work. And Mr. Gamp, be mindful of the fact that she’s no good to us if she’s dead.”

Deep inside her own mind, Rose was almost overcome with despair. They were keeping her alive just so she could suffer more. She felt herself starting to cry. There was no way to stop it this time. She was going to break. Then Octavia’s voice drifted through her mind. Don’t give up, Mummy. You’re stronger than they are. I believe in you. Rose took a deep breath and curled up tighter inside her safe place. Even though she was ready to give up on herself, she could be strong for her daughter.

Scorpius Malfoy rubbed his hands together and blew on them. He had already tried every warming charm he knew and still his fingers ached from the damp cold. Shifting uncomfortably, he adjusted his position against the crumbling plaster wall and it made soft, crunching noises behind his back. With every passing minute, his appreciation for his father’s composure increased. The old man sat cross-legged on the floor in front of him, impassive and completely still.

“Remind me again why we don’t just wait for him inside the pub?” Scorpius finally asked. He added, “where it’s warm,” under his breath.

“Because the walls have eyes in Knockturn Alley,” his father replied quietly.

“And you’re certain that we can’t conjure a small fire and maybe something more comfortable to sit on?” Scorpius persisted.

Draco responded without turning his head. “As I’ve explained to you repeatedly, this building is supposed to be abandoned, and it’s made entirely of wood. Any hint of fire would immediately give us away. Cast another warming charm and stop complaining.”

Scorpius tried another warming charm on his hands, but the results were still disappointing. He slowly stood and leaned against the decrepit plaster. “You’re certain we’re in the right place? We’ve been here for hours already.”

“Every bit as certain as when you asked half an hour ago,” his father sighed in frustration. “Now pay attention and keep quiet.”

Scorpius tried to arrange himself on the floor in the same position as his father, with his cloak wrapped around his crossed legs and his elbows braced against the inside of his knees. Within ten minutes, he felt his buttocks going numb and his lower back began to ache. He finally leaned backwards onto his elbows. “Bloody hell, how do you do that?” he asked.

“Keep quiet and pay attention? Apparently it’s a skill that they stopped teaching at Hogwarts before you enrolled.”

“No. I mean how do you sit there like that? Isn’t your arse numb?”

“Completely. Hence, it doesn’t trouble me.”

Scorpius closed his eyes and rested his head on the littered floor. “Every muscle in my body is sore.”

“Does your generation ever stop whining?” Draco hissed, his composure slipping just a bit.

“Does yours ever stop reveling in their misery?” Scorpius shot back. “It’s like you all measure your self-worth in terms of how much you can suffer.”

His father snorted in response, a dismissive, almost amused sound. “You call this suffering? You have no idea.”

“Oh, do enlighten me,” Scorpius replied sarcastically, not particularly enthused to receive another lecture from the old man about what a plush life his generation had led.

His father didn’t seem to notice the sarcasm. When he spoke, his voice was eerily quiet. “Suffering is seeing your father dragged away to Azkaban and knowing that you will pay the price for his failure. Suffering is being told that you have to try to kill the most powerful wizard in history and living each day with the knowledge that you’ll die if you don’t succeed. Suffering is having your insane aunt use the Cruciatus Curse on you when she knows that the slightest hint of mercy will only make the Dark Lord more angry. Anything less is merely unpleasant.”

Scorpius sat quietly, listening to his father’s breathing. That was definitely not the lecture he had been expecting. The old man rarely opened up to him about the war. Most of what he knew, he had learned from Al’s family. He slowly pulled himself back into a sitting position and stared out the window for a few minutes. “You’re right. It is easier if you just let your arse go numb.”

Draco suddenly stiffened. “There he is.”

A lone figure made its way down the grimy pavement of Knockturn Alley. The heavyset wizard stole furtive glances as he drew closer, clearly worried that somebody might be following him. He stopped in front of the entrance to Borgin & Burkes, took three large steps to the left and abruptly disappeared.

“What happened? Where did he go?” Scorpius hissed, feeling panicked. They had gotten so close.

“Inside,” Draco replied simply. He took his walking stick from his lap and used it to pull himself to his feet while Scorpius scrambled to loosen his leg muscles. “I want your wand out and concealed inside your sleeve. This place is dangerous, but people mind their own business. Just do as I do, don’t make eye contact with anyone, and we shouldn’t have any problems. If somebody does accost you, curse them first and ask questions later. Understood?”

Scorpius nodded nervously and the two men made their way into the seamy alley. Draco crossed briskly and stood in front of Borgin and Burkes. “Three large steps to your left,” he hissed softly. Scorpius did as he was told and suddenly the dingy stone wall seemed to part in front of him, revealing an equally neglected-looking wooden doorway. A crudely painted sign identified the premises as the Ragged Fang, established in 1635. It appeared unlikely that the door had been repainted since the grand opening.

Draco entered with Scorpius close behind. The inside of the Ragged Fang was dank and smoky. The room was filled with wretched-looking wizards and witches huddled around rough-hewn, rickety wooden tables. Service was provided by a burly, grey-haired witch in a thread-bare smock who reminded Scorpius of an ill-mannered pack animal he had seen at a muggle zoo. A couple of the patrons gave them side-long glances as they entered, but that was the only reaction he observed.

His father paid no mind to anyone. He walked calmly and deliberately to the bar and came to a stop behind the stool where Goyle had seated himself. Even though Scorpius was standing directly behind his father, he barely heard the curse fall from his lips. “Imperio.” Goyle straightened up in his seat and stared blankly forward.

“This should cover his usual consumption,” Draco said to the barman, tossing five Sickles onto the bar. “He and I have business together. Come, Goyle. We have much to discuss.”

Scorpius spun on his heel and began to make his way back toward the entrance. He stole a glance over his shoulder and found the fat wizard following his father obediently.

They were almost to the door when a grizzled, surly-looking wizard in a soiled, weather-beaten frock coat called out to them from the bar. “Bein’ decent folk in this establishment, we don’t approve o’ the use o’ forbidden curses.”

“Mind your place, Simon,” the barkeep warned, stepping nervously back towards the wall. The wizard in the frock coat ignored him.

“We could, o’ course, be persuaded ta look the other way, provided ya compensate us for the mental distress ya just inflicted.” The man gave them a grin that managed to be both toothless and menacing at the same time. Scorpius noticed several of the bar’s other customers looking on with interest. Subconsciously, his hand moved towards his coin purse. Perhaps buying a round would smooth over the situation.

His father’s movements were almost too fast for Scorpius’s eye to follow. In one motion, he slid his wand from his walking stick and slashed it towards the wizard at the bar. A jet of purple flame struck the man and sent him crashing into the wooden countertop. He crumpled to the floor, holding his chest and moaning in pain.

“Does anyone else feel overly put out?” Draco asked loudly, glaring around the bar. The few patrons who had bothered to look up from their drinks quickly looked away. “Out, now,” Draco hissed, and Scorpius was only too happy to comply.

As they emerged into the cold darkness of the alley, Scorpius spun around to face his father. “You used the Imperius Curse on him!”

“Say it a bit louder. There are probably a few people in Diagon Alley who didn’t hear you the first time.”

“No, it’s not that,” Scorpius mumbled. He was having a hard time putting his finger on exactly what he was trying to say. “It’s just that... I’ve never seen you use dark magic before. Even when grandfather was alive.”

“It’s not something that proper wizards do in the light of day,” Draco replied dismissively. “Now come along. Let’s get away from here in case our chum Simon wasn’t alone.”

They began to walk towards the entrance to the alley, but Scorpius wasn’t ready to let the conversation go. “When did you learn all of this? You’ve never mentioned any of it.” He noticed that his father had fallen a bit behind, and slowed his pace to match.

“Your Great Aunt Bellatrix encouraged me to learn many things during the war. She wanted me to be a better servant to the Dark Lord, and not a disappointment like your grandfather.”

Scorpius was stunned by his father’s words. “Grandfather was a disappointment? He went to his grave believing in all that pure blood, anti-muggle rubbish. How could he have disappointed the Dark Lord?”

Draco snorted dismissively. “You think that the Dark Lord was impressed by a bit of muggle-baiting and a lot of rhetoric? Your grandfather was far out of his depth. He dabbled in dark magic. He liked the idea of being a Death Eater, the way that it made other people afraid of him. The Dark Lord’s inner circle was composed of bloodthirsty, vicious killers, and most of them were mental besides. Azkaban nearly destroyed Father, while the others came out even more fanatical than they went in.” He paused for a couple of steps, then spoke so softly that he almost seemed to be talking to himself. “Your grandfather was no killer. And neither was I.”

They walked on in silence for another few seconds. “Then you regret the things you did during the war?” Scorpius asked.

“I did what I had to do to survive,” Draco answered plainly. “For that, I will not apologize.”

“And what you did just now?”

“As I told you in my study, I will do whatever it takes to rescue Octavia. If that means reliving the worst memories of my life then so be it.”

They reached the end of the alley and Draco turned to face Goyle. “Take my arm,” he directed, and the heavyset wizard complied. “Let’s get him back to the manor and find out what he knows.”

Just as Scorpius was about to turn, he felt a curse slam into his back and knock him off of his feet. He landed on the cold pavement with a thud, unable to move. Straining his eyes as much as he could, he saw three gruff-looking wizards with their wands pointed at his father. The one standing in the middle wore a patch over his eye and seemed to be the leader of the group. “Where do ye think yer takin’ the fat one?” he demanded.

His father’s voice betrayed no emotion. “He and I have business together. Why, is he a friend of yours?”

The wizard with the eye patch snorted and elbowed one of his companions. “Hardly. But that don’ mean ye can jus waltz outta here with him. Let’s jus say that we’ve got an interest in his well bein’.”

“What sort of interest might that be?” his father asked. “Perhaps we can come to an understanding that allows us to avoid any unpleasant confrontations.”

“An’ what is it about killin’ you an’ tha nancy-boy on tha ground here that ya think we’d find unpleasant?” The wizard’s companions sniggered evilly. Scorpius strained with all his might against the Body-Bind Curse holding him, but he was unable to move a muscle. His father had already demonstrated magical abilities beyond anything Scorpius had ever given him credit for, but it seemed unlikely that he would be able to defeat all three of them. Scorpius thought about Rose and Octavia, and the fact that his death would let them down was worse than any fear he felt for his own life.

“There’s no need to make threats. I’m sure we can all be reasonable.” Anxiety was beginning to creep into his father’s voice. Scorpius was completely unaccustomed to it and the gloom he felt grew even worse.

One of the wizard’s companions traced a crimson scar running across his face with his finger. “Do ya remember me, Malfoy? Remember tha night ya gave me this? I’m gonna make ya bleed slow. Gonna enjoy this a lot.”

The three wizards pointed their wands at the spot where Scorpius could only assume that his father was standing. He closed his eyes, unable to watch.

STUPEFY!” His eyes snapped open again just in time to see one of the two companions crash into the wizard with the eye patch. The wizard with the scar spun around to face the new threat, firing a curse that hit the side of a building with a loud crack. “Sectumsempra!” Scorpius couldn’t see his father, but he clearly recognized the the old man’s voice. The wizard with the scar cried out and fell to the pavement. The wizard with the eye patch managed to fire another curse at his father, but Scorpius heard it deflect off of a shield charm. Another jet of purple flame struck the wizard in the side and the fight ended as abruptly as it had begun.

Finite.” Scorpius felt his limbs relax and rolled onto his side to look at his father. He was shocked to find his father’s face buried in the hood of a robe worn by a slender, female figure. One of her arms was wrapped around his shoulders while her gloved hand smoothed the hair on the back of his head.

“Father, are you mental?” Scorpius shouted. “Mum is going to be...”

“I’m going to be what?” his mother’s voice answered. The female figure stepped away from his father and lowered her hood. His mother’s face was filled with a mix of annoyance and relief.

“Mum, what are you doing here?” Scorpius demanded, pulling himself to his feet.

“Keeping the two of you alive, it would appear,” she replied. Her voice took on a hard edge. “And I might ask the same of you.”

“This man was involved in swindling money from my mother,” his father deadpanned, looking severely towards Scorpius. “We were just about to...”

“Father, that’s enough,” Scorpius shot back. He was completely fed up with his father’s lies. “She just saved our lives. She has the right to know the truth.” He ignored his father’s murderous glare and turned to his mother. “Rose and Octavia have been taken prisoner by the Blood Order. Harry believes that they’re being held in a muggle warehouse that’s been placed under a Fidelius Charm. Mr. Goyle, here,” he gestured towards the glassy-eyed man standing beside his father, “can hopefully tell us who the Secret Keeper is.”

A number of emotions crossed his mother’s face as he spoke. For a split second, Scorpius was afraid that she was either going to break into sobs or start hurling curses at his father. But she rapidly regained her composure. “You shouldn’t have kept this from me, Draco,” she said, her voice dangerously low.

“Darling, I...”

“But it’s neither here nor there. I had already gleaned most of it from the conversation I overheard last night outside of your study. I only hoped that perhaps the situation wasn’t as grave as you were making it out to be. Clearly, our priority is getting them back. Let’s take Mr. Goyle here back to the manor and get to the bottom of this secret.” Without another word, she turned and disapparated.

Draco glared at Scorpius. “You heard her!” Scorpius replied. “She’d figured it all out anyway. What are you giving me the evil eye for?”

“Just don’t let it go to your head,” his father snapped. Then he took Goyle’s arm and disappeared with a pop.

Scorpius stood all alone in the alley for a moment, trying to internalize everything that had happened that evening as the three wizards who had attacked them lay moaning and bleeding on the pavement. It occurred to him that it would probably be best if the Blood Order didn’t find out that they had captured Goyle, and he bent over and picked up the scarred wizard’s wand from the ground. “I really have no idea what I’m doing,” he mumbled softly, “so I’m sorry if I don’t get this quite right. Obliviate.” He repeated the spell on the other two assailants and dropped the wand on the ground, then disapparated back to Malfoy Manor.

“You’re sure this is the place?” Harry asked, staring at the hulking facade of the muggle self storage warehouse.

“Positive,” Esme replied. The chain of Elena Porcher’s locket was wrapped around her wand, which rested on the palm of her hand. Using a series of tricky spells that she and Hermione had devised, Esme had tapped into the protean charm that bound the locket to its sister. It controlled the direction of her wand, much like a Four-Point Spell. They had managed to triangulate on the warehouse, first traveling via Neville’s abandoned broom and eventually on foot. He hadn’t mentioned anything to Esme, but Harry had a very bad feeling about the fact that the warehouse was less than a quarter-mile from the muggle jail where Edwin Stoops had met his end.

“Let’s go, then,” Harry said, gesturing toward the main entrance, but she had already stepped past him. He hadn’t seen her so single-minded since her arrival in Britain. There was something immensely personal for her about Katerina’s Porcher’s disappearance, and he felt a bit bad that their investigation had been delayed, first by Susan’s injuries and then by their search for Rose and Octavia. Now that they were so close to finding the sister locket, Esme exuded nervous energy.

Inside, they found a bored-looking clerk sitting behind a counter, reading a magazine. Harry casually flicked his wand and the man’s eyes glassed over. “We were never here,” Harry whispered as he and Esme strolled through the double doors that led into the storage area.

Once they were inside, Esme spotted the sign for the stairs and grabbed his hand. “This way,” she whispered, dragging him along. He stole a glance at her small hand wrapped around his while he struggled to keep up with her rapid pace. The sight brought a dilemma to the forefront of his mind, one that he’d been carefully avoiding since they returned from France. Esme was a beautiful and captivating woman. More importantly, at least to Harry, she was an equal, not one of the dim socialites slathered in beauty potions who always seemed to maneuver their way to his side at Ministry events and fundraisers. She had awakened feelings in him that he never expected to experience again. He was torn between many competing emotions; exhilaration and desire fought with confusion and doubt. But running beneath them all were guilt and fear.

After Ginny died, he had sworn to himself that he would never fall in love again. At the time, it made perfect sense. He was certain that he would never find another woman who captured his heart the way that Ginny had. That was what he told himself, at least, and in the strictest sense it was absolutely correct. But there was another reason, one that he was a lot less comfortable with. Truthfully, he was scared. Terrified, in fact, of reliving the pain and grief that he felt after Ginny’s death. Harry had no idea whether he was really in love with Esme or just enthralled by the possibility of no longer being alone, but the prospects were real enough that he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He wished that he could talk to Hermione about it since she could probably help him sort it out, but he was afraid to ask. The moment that he did, it would be like admitting that Ginny was truly dead.

They began to ascend the steps and Esme tilted her palm as they climbed, allowing her wand to move more freely. When they reached the third floor, her wand stopped angling upward. “This is it,” she whispered.

Harry drew his own wand and they began to move slowly down the hallway, carefully watching Esme’s wand twist and turn. After several passes, it became plainly apparent that the spells were centering on one particular spot. Unfortunately, that spot happened to be an empty wall.

“The rooms must be bigger than they look on the inside,” Harry whispered. He stepped over to the storage room on the left-hand side and waved his wand over the lock, causing it to release with a soft click. Esme leveled her wand at the door. Harry held up three fingers, then slowly counted down. When he reached one, he turned the knob and flung the door open. From the doorway, all they could see were stacks of moving boxes.

Lumos.” Harry lit his wand and swept it back and forth. The stacks of boxes filled the entire room. Esme laid her wand back across her palm and it swiveled to the right.

“This must be the one,” Harry declared, moving to the door on the right. Again, he unlocked the door and flung it open, only to find two large palettes filled with boxes of stationery. Esme checked her wand again and discovered that it was now pointing towards the left.

“Are you sure about the homing spell?” Harry asked, feeling frustrated.

“Of course I am sure,” Esme snapped softly. “‘ermione and I tested them carefully. I am certain that the sister locket is somewhere nearby.”

Harry ignored her outburst and studied the hallway around them. It took him a moment to see it, but when he did, everything made sense. “Esme,” he whispered, “the room numbers.”

The room to the left was numbered thirty-three and the one to the right was numbered thirty-seven. She looked back and forth and nodded. “Number thirty-five is missing.”

“Or concealed,” Harry replied. He swept the empty wall with a revealing spell, and observed small flashes of yellow light along an almost imperceptible crack running from floor to ceiling.

Esme slid the locket off of her wand and pointed it at the wall. “Finite incantatem.” The wall slowly spread before their eyes, and eventually parted to reveal the missing door number thirty-five.

Homenum Revelio.” Harry swept the apparent width of the formerly concealed room, turning up nothing.

“It could be a trap,” Esme whispered. She cast a series of revealing charms over the doorway, but found no lingering dangerous spells. Harry carefully unlocked the door with his wand and eased it open.

The room was empty, save for two wooden chairs next to a small folding table and a black trunk in one corner. Harry stepped cautiously into the room with Esme behind him. Sitting on the table were pieces from a muggle board game. Esme looked at it quizzically.

“You use these wooden tiles to spell words,” Harry explained. He could recall peeking out from his cupboard beneath the stairs, watching his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon play the game in the kitchen. It occurred to Harry that only eleven of the tiles were resting on the lid of the box while the rest were still in their bag. He studied them for a moment. “Three A’s, a B, a D, an E, an L, an N, an R, a T and a Y,” he mumbled to himself. The pattern suddenly clicked in his head and he rearranged the tiles so that they spelled L-A-D-Y T-E-N-A-B-R-A. “She was here,” he said grimly, showing the tiles to Esme.

“What is this, she is taunting us?” Esme asked disgustedly, screwing up her face.

“It’s possible,” Harry replied thoughtfully. “Sometimes serial criminals leave a recognizable token behind as a way of claiming credit for their crimes. The muggle authorities refer to it as a calling card. But that doesn’t seem like her. She’s killed several people so far just to cover her tracks.”

Esme stared at the letters. “Per’aps this is ‘ow she made up ‘er secret identity. She grabbed a ‘andful of letters from the bag and looked for a name she could spell?”

“Again, doesn’t sound like her. She’s very exacting. She doesn’t like leaving things to chance.”

Esme suddenly stiffened as she noticed something on the floor by Harry’s foot. He kneeled down, following her eyes, and realized that it was a wand, snapped in two. Esme looked shaken as Harry picked up the pieces and studied them closely. “It was willow, ten and a half inches...”

“...unicorn hair core,” Esme finished his sentence. “I know that wand. It belonged to Katerina.”

Their attention turned to the trunk, which suddenly seemed to loom much larger than its actual size. “Let me,” Harry offered.

“No,” Esme replied simply. “I need to do this.”

She slowly lifted the lid of the trunk, then closed her eyes and turned away. Harry peered over her shoulder and recognized a badly decomposed set of human remains. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, laying his hand on her shoulder. She didn’t seem to notice the gesture, and continued to stare at the floor.

Harry reached into the trunk with the tip of the broken wand and nudged the neckline of the dead witch’s blouse aside. Around her neck hung a silver locket, the other half of the Taoist yin and yang. He pointed his own wand at the clasp of the chain and whispered “Relashio.” Then he summoned the locket to his palm.

Esme had regained enough of her composure to face Harry. She pulled Elena’s locket from her robes and placed it next to Katerina’s so that the yin and yang were reunited. Both lockets began to glow. Suddenly a woman’s voice spoke from inside Katerina’s locket. Esme translated the French words softly for Harry.

Hello, Elena. If you are hearing this message, my worst fears have come to pass. The woman who brought me to England is not what she seemed. She is involved in very dark business, and I do not know what will happen when she no longer needs my help. I have never told you this, but you are my inspiration. Surrounded by magic and unable to touch it, you are the bravest person I have ever known. I will always love you. Your sister, Katerina.

Harry turned to look at Esme, unsure of what to expect. She stared at the lockets for a long moment, then hurled them across the room. “I am going to kill ‘er. I am going to find the bitch who did this to Katerina and kill ‘er.”

Harry watched in silence as she stormed around the room, alternating between French and English as her rage poured out. “An animal who would do this to a child like Katerina does not deserve to live. She is twisted and evil.” Esme paused and then stormed across the room, kicking over the table and scattering the wooden tiles all over the floor. “What kind of inhuman swine plays games with a person and then takes her life? I am going to kill ‘er, you ‘ear me, ‘arry Potter? She is the daughter of a thousand filthy whores and she is going to die. Die for what she did to Katerina.” Her voice began to get softer and Harry slowly moved behind her. “For what she did to Katerina.” Harry laid his hand gently on Esme’s shoulder. She turned to face him, and her eyes welled with tears. “She was just a girl, ‘arry. An innocent, wide-eyed girl with ‘er whole life in front of ‘er. And now she is...”

Her anger completely spent, Esme collapsed into Harry’s arms and sobbed.

From deep inside her mind, Rose suddenly felt the most unusual sensation. Everything became cool and wet. The sensation was at first immensely pleasurable. She couldn’t remember the last time that water had touched her parched lips and tongue and suddenly there was cold, delicious dampness everywhere. Almost as suddenly, it began to change. She felt trapped, overwhelmed, suffocated... She was drowning.

Rose’s burst out of the safe, secluded corner of her mind and coughed violently, expelling water from her lungs. The pain that she had been avoiding came rushing back, and every gasping breath sent sharp jolts through her ribs. She forced her swollen eyes open and saw Gamp standing over her, holding an empty pail. His leering stare made her feel instantly vulnerable, and she instinctively curled up more tightly on the floor.

“Good morning, mudblood,” he crowed, making her aching head throb from the noise. “I see you’re still with us.”

“No thanks to you,” she mumbled. He moved his arm and Rose cursed herself when she flinched involuntarily. Gamp apparently noticed the look of disappointment on her face.

“Don’t be too hard on yourself, mudblood. Everyone does that once they get to know me.”

“Eat shit and die,” Rose muttered, forcing herself to look away from him.

Gamp chuckled mirthlessly. “I like you, mudblood. I’m gonna tell you something that I’d never admit to any of these useless nobs that Tenabra surrounds herself with. You,” he nudged her leg with the toe of his boot, “have more guts in your big toe than most of these so-called pure bloods have in their whole body. Makes you wonder how many muggles they got swinging through the branches of their family trees.”

Rose snorted dismissively. Apparently, that was Gamp’s idea of a compliment.

He continued as though he hadn’t heard her. “At any rate, I’d say that we’re done here. You plainly don’t know anything or you would have spilled it already. You’re free to go.”

Rose turned to face him so quickly that her neck muscles cried out in protest. Was he being serious? They were just going to let her go?

He seemed to read her mind. “This isn’t a joke. Go, now, before I change my mind or she comes back and changes it for me.”

Nobody needed to tell her twice. Rose scrambled to her hands and knees, and promptly tumbled over sideways as her pain-ravaged nerves and exhausted muscles refused to cooperate properly. Gamp laughed at her as she struggled to right herself, but she ignored him. Several feet away, she could make out an entrance of some sort and after several failed attempts, she managed to begin crawling stiffly towards it.

“Where is my daughter?” she croaked between breaths. Even the simple effort of crawling was exhausting to her.

“Your daughter?” Gamp replied, the humor suddenly disappearing from his voice. “I said you’re free to go. I still need to find out whether she knows anything.”

Rose felt her heart sink. Slowly, she turned herself around so that she could look Gamp in the face. His sadistic leer chilled her blood. “Please, let her go. She doesn’t know anything. She’s just a child...”

“I’ll have to decide that for myself. You don’t have much time. Go, before she returns.”

That moment was the closest Rose came to breaking. She simply wanted to throw herself on the floor and sob. But she knew what she had to do. What had to be done to keep Octavia safe. Slowly, painfully, she crawled back towards him like an abused animal. She looked up into his cold, evil eyes. “I know where they are. But you’ll never make me tell you.”

Gamp was grinning fiendishly from ear to ear. “I’m so glad you’ve decided to stay with me, mudblood. I love a challenge.”

Rose began to crawl back into the safe place inside her mind as he drew his wand.

Sorry for all of the disturbing aspects of this chapter. As I said, it's part of the story and unfortunately, it must be told. The chapter title comes from an episode of Deep Space Nine, which deals with some similar themes of captivity, suffering and clinging to slim hopes. As always, my beta reader sophie_hatter was instrumental in making this chapter the best that it could be. If you haven't read her story, Evolution (M), it's wonderful.

The characters, places and spells which you recognize belong to JK Rowling.

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