Chapter 1 : 1- Rotten From the Inside
| ||Rating: Mature||Chapter Reviews: 3|
Background: Font color:
Ministerial Room One was the largest chamber within the Ministry of Magic. Usually, it would only be used by the Minister for Magic and Heads of Departments if a meeting involved too many people to hold in a single office.
Its walls were a glistening emerald green that were said to help calm those who were involved in the meetings that took place within the room. Two chandeliers hovered beneath the cream coloured ceiling, circling each other like two crystallised foes about to engage in a fight to the death. To join the glowing light of the chandeliers, four enchanted windows covered the entirety of one side of the room displaying a view of London as though the meeting room were miles in the air as opposed to its true location deep underground. However, due to the current state of the Magical Maintenance Department, the weather was different in each window.
One of them presented a dark white snowstorm to the scene of London while the two far end windows claimed that a wet thunderstorm had erupted outside. Only the middle-right window showed signs of peace allowing summer sunlight to pour into the room from a cloudless blue sky.
The great meeting room was busy with hushed excited discussion. At the head of the great oval wooden table that resided in the middle sat a large, muscular man with shoulder length, wavy dark hair and whose jet black robes, like the thirty-two others he was seated with, were dirtied with both dust and, unmistakably, dried blood.
“Are you sure there were no signs of his body?” He asked a short bulky woman who sat next to her look-a-like brother. She shook her misshapen head.
“For the last time, Mosby, the only bodies I found were Selwyn’s and Crabbe’s.” Morgana explained in a high throaty voice.
Mosby Elfrin allowed his heavily stubbled square face to sink in into his hands and sighed.
“If Selwyn is gone then who will deliver us the rise to power me and my men were promised?” Said a lanky, thin lipped, tan coloured man whose long nose still showed signs of bleeding and whose hazel eyes glared into Mosby’s own brown ones. As he said this, the large round man sitting next to him - whose dark brown hair was slick with grease and whose circular face sagged like an old bull-dog’s - stopped rolling the golden ruby encrusted ring between his fingers and straightened up to nod violently in agreement.
“For the last time Bomani, I will do everything I can to make sure our victory streak continues and you of all people can be rest assured. The Egyptian Ministry sent many of their Aurors to America who ended up here who ended up dead. They do not pose a threat. And Naldo, the Italian Ministry is terrified of us. It would not even surprise me if that coward of a Minister surrendered to us before this is all over and then you and your men will receive the riches you were promised.”
Both the thin Egyptian and the bull-dog like Italian reclined back into their ornate chairs, eased by his words but Mosby could tell the same question was burning in the minds of every other group Leader around the table. That was, with the exception of an aged skinny man with incredibly curly brown hair protruding from his receding hair line and an unkempt moustache. He seemed to be the only one of them to have far more concerning matters on his mind, staring blankly at the table as Mosby continued “We have come this far, we will not fall short now. I will make sure of that.”
“Will you now?” Said a stern, female voice from the doorway. Cecilia Lox, her long black robes, unlike the rest of them, were clean and showed no visible marks of the latest battle as the hem danced around her ankles. Her straight brown hair split when it met her shoulders so that it dangled both behind and in front of her and her once constant stony-faced expression seemed to have softened somewhat. She walked in, broomstick in hand. Behind her were two women. One was old, short and toad like with dirty grey hair while the other was young and thin with redish-blond hair and whose pale, spot-scarred face surveyed everyone in the room with a blank stare.
Cecilia glared at Mosby directly in the eye as she walked around the table. “You may now be Minister of this Ministry but that does not mean you can lead an army to war, let alone against the entire Confederation. It is bad enough the last of their forces were able to slip pass you when victory was within reach.”
“So you’re the new Minister?” Said the toad like woman though Mosby was too busy glowering at Cecilia and secretly hoping she did not yet know that they had still yet to figure out how the opposition had escaped to notice her.
“Not now, Dolores.” Cecilia hissed.
“We all know the entire Confederation won’t fight.” Mosby said in defiance.
“We all know they will not fight against us.” Cecilia replied confidently. The entire room, including the distracted aged man, stared at Cecilia and a twinkle of awe flashed in most of their cold eyes as they watched her. “They fear us. Whether they want to admit it or not, they are terrified. We are posing a threat that even The Dark Lord did not escalate to. Why do you think they all did not agree to send their own forces to assist America? And what of the Ministries that aren’t a part of the Confederation? They are just as vulnerable, if not more so then the rest.”
Mosby let out a small laugh. “True, but that doesn’t mean any of the Confederation members would agree to join us.”
“Not willingly.” Cecilia corrected. “Not at first.” And Cecilia then began to address the room in general. “I received word from Arable Ambrose that, during the American Aurors pursuit of her and her men, they were able to successfully place the Imperious Curse on many of their Aurors, who are now currently regrouping. She lost more than half her men during the diversion assault but it has proven to be worth the lives lost.”
No one, not even Mosby was interrupting Cecilia now. “We also,” She continued. “Currently have a fellow Dark Wizard Leader imprisoned within the building of the Ministry that poses one of the biggest threats.” She then placed her broom free hand on one of the square shoulders of a thick-bodied, dark-haired Norwegian man, the silver sign of Grindelwald hanging around his neck. “Your leader.”
“He betrayed us.” The man stated in a deep gravelly voice.
“But as you of all people should know, Kristain, he has experience in being a leader and is a powerful wizard in his own right. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer him on our side if we had the choice.” None of the Leaders disagreed. “And anyway, a rescue mission has already been put into action for Akrahn’s return.”
Mosby glared at Cecilia. “What! Who?”
“Marius Yvault and John Nolan.” She answered and many of the others around the table were know looking at one another, some of them grinning with excitement.
“I was told Marius was killed during the battle by Potter.” Mosby said narrowing his eyes as he stared at Cecilia.
“He was beaten by Potter, yes.” Cecilia shrugged. “But I am not without my talents and it is thanks to that he survived.” As she said this, she indicated her broom before allowing it to drop and conveniently lean against the emerald wall.
Some of those who were grinning now showed obvious signs of confidence loss at the remark of Marius’ defeat. “Harry Potter is a powerful wizard.” Cecilia announced. “We would be stupid to ignore this fact. But that does not make him unbeatable. He has his weaknesses like everyone else. Considering he’s still alive of course.” Mosby broke his eye contact with Cecilia and looked away. She knew what this meant.
“Either way, we still need to focus more on the war against the Confederation. Along with Scandinavia and America; Spain, Egypt, Russia and France all sent Aurors to America and have shown, unarguably, their loyalties against us. But, that still leaves a large number of Ministries with Aurors of their own who have yet to act against us. However, if Scandinavia and America fall, there is no denying that other Ministries, whether they’re a member of the Confederation or not, would be at least tempted to join us without a fight regardless of what their people think.”
“What about the other Death Eaters?” Mosby asked, trying to regain control over the conversation.
“The Death Eaters are finished. All those imprisoned within Azkaban were killed by the Aurors during their time trapped within the prison.” Cecilia responded and again there were looks of concern on the faces on the Dark Wizards. The meanest looking man of the group - a bald, muscle bound, Chinese man at least twice the size of Cecilia - glared at Mosby threateningly with his beady grey eyes.
She noticed Mosby shuffling uncomfortably in his seat and it was obvious that Selwyn had also promised the assistance of the Death Eaters to gain the faith of the Dark Wizard leaders in the first place.
“The Death Eaters were a powerful force in their time, but now is our time. We have an army bigger and stronger than anyone has ever seen before, we have the entire Wizarding Confederation on the back foot and we have people on our side powerful and intelligent enough to keep things that way. So there’s no reason to snap Mosby’s neck just yet, Meng.”
The Chinese Part-Giant gave a deep chuckle as an outbreak of muttering broke out between those around the table over what Cecilia said when someone else appeared at the door. A young man, no older then eighteen with neat, bleach blond hair and minor injuries around his face entered with three people behind him: Two men, each with their own battle injuries, and one Asian woman all of whom were bound to each other by a thick rope.
“Here are the D.A people we caught, Mosby.” Bailey Miller sniggered, when he caught sight of Cecilia. “And where the hell have you been?” He demanded though Cecilia ignored him.
“D.A members?” Cecilia looked at Mosby.
“If Potter is alive they may know of his whereabouts.” Mosby explained as he glowered at the three of them.
The two men looked defiantly back at him whereas the woman was staring up at the pale spot-scarred girl that had accompanied Cecilia and Cecilia too was now looking at her. “You were a D.A member too weren’t you?”
“For a short time, yes.” The woman said quietly as she returned the prisoner’s glare.
“Marietta,” The Asian woman panted. “How could you?”
“You made your choices, Cho, and now I’ve made mine.” Marietta replied bitterly.
“So you know who these people are?” Mosby asked and Marietta nodded quickly, still not taking her eyes off of the woman called Cho.
“This is Cho Chang. She works for the Muggle Liaison Office which is convenient because her current boyfriend works for the Muggle British government.” Many of those in the room glared, hissed and spat at Cho at the detail of her choice in lover as she shook her head at Marietta, tears rolling down her face as she silently begged her to stop. “But,” Marietta continued. “She is also the ex of one Harry Potter.” Everyone’s gaze suddenly flicked off of Cho and on to Marietta. Sniggers of laughter were now filling the room from many of the leaders but Mosby shook his head.
“Potter is married to Ginevra Potter with two sons. He would hardly see her as a loss.”
Marietta laughed slightly. “Potter would risk his life for anyone he even slightly cares about. She will be no different.”
The sniggering continued as Mosby asked “And the others?”
“That is Lee Jordan.” She stated, indicating the lanky, dark skinned wizard whose cheek was dripping blood onto the floor from a deep gash as he continued to glower at Mosby with his light brown eyes. “He used to work for the Weasley joke shop, gaining a stronger friendship with Potter and now works for the Wizarding Wireless Network as a broadcaster. And that one,” She continued indicating the skinnier, brown-haired man whose menacing stare seemed somewhat pitiful compared to that of his friend’s. “Is Dennis Creevey. He works as a reporter for the Daily Prophet.” Dennis then began to struggle against his binds, baring his teeth at Marietta. “His brother was killed during the Battle of Hogwarts so again, he too would have quite the emotional tug on Potter.”
“Traitor!” Dennis finally shouted and he spat at Marietta leaving a trail of phlegm to dribble down her new robes. Marietta recoiled in disgust as Cecilia backhanded him hard across the side of his head.
Mosby grinned as he stood up and strode towards the three prisoners. “I am only going to ask this once.” He said quietly, drawing his wand and cutting the ropes so that, though no longer bound to each other, they were still unable to use their hands. “Where is Harry Potter?” And with a slash of his wand and a flash of white light that illuminated the room, Dennis was blasted through the air and he slammed into the wall. Cho squealed and closed her eyes tightly, tears still streaming while Lee clenched his teeth.
“We don’t know.” Lee replied and Mosby raised his wand again.
“What about the rest of your little gang? Dumbledore’s Army, or maybe the Order of the Phoenix or Albert Kaman’s All Blood Militia? Any of them ring a bell?” Though Lee remained silent.
“So it’s going to be like that is it? Bailey,” Mosby ordered. “See if we can’t get it out of them by more forceful means. I want them guarded by as many as possible. Oh, and I’ll need you to prepare our more… honoured prisoners for their trial and for the last time, find yourself a wand.” Bailey nodded, smiling slightly and left the room tugging on the rope that bound the two conscious prisoners, leaving the third to remain face down on the floor.
“Where is Felicia?” Mosby asked, turning to Cecilia.
“She’s sorting out the Azkaban prisoners we broke out. We estimate there are more than a hundred in total but I told her to make her way to Saint Mungo’s afterwards. Her cursed wounds have been acting up.” She answered as Mosby turned to sit back down.
“Well make sure she brings a few accomplices with her. We have yet to announce the new regime to the public and we’d be wise to send some of our people to places such as Gringotts and Saint Mungo’s before we do so.” He then turned his attention to the short stumpy woman that sat around the table. “Morgana, as the new Head of Magical Law Enforcement, I expect you will arrange such actions. Take your pick of who you wish to work for you.” Morgana bowed her head and got up to leave as Mosby indicated Cecilia, Marietta and Dolores to take a seat. “Oh, and while you’re on that, Morgana,” Mosby added casually. “Since we’re at war with the Confederation, the Supreme Mugwump, Aaron Kirke, tell Felicia he’s all hers.” Morgana grinned sinisterly and bowed her head a second time before leaving the office as Mosby addressed the rest of the Leaders.
“Now, while we wait to hear from Marius, we must make plans. Is that not right, Milot?” And the silent aged skinny man finally looked up at Mosby and met his eyes before nervously nodding his agreement as the last remaining clear-skyed window began being taken over by its neighbour’s storms.
The people of Staden Trollkarl appeared to scurry like ants from the height Marius Yvault looked down at them from. A strong wind blew hard through the mountainous town, ruffling his shoulder length straight brown hair as it did so. Were any other man perched from this height in these conditions, he would have fallen, Marius thought coldly. He gave a muffled cough and grabbed his stomach which felt as though it had been punched by a metal fist. He could not decide which hurt most: the injury or the fact that he had lost the dual in which he had received it in.
“Everything’s ready, Marius.” An ill looking, gangly man said to him from the doorway of the roof exit. His dark-red hair was dirtied to the point of leaving dark stains on his pale forehead and his grey Azkaban clothing hung loosely on his skinny figure.
Taking in a deep breath of the mountain air in an attempt to calm himself from the pain, Marius turned away from the edge of the roof, away from the mountain embedded Scandinavian Ministry of Magic and followed John Nolan down the stairs.
When they reached the bottom floor of the closed shop, five people stood in a line, all gazing dreamily in different directions. “Word of the British Ministry’s downfall would already have reached them, so they’ll be on high alert. Though, they’ve yet to announce it to the public.” Nolan warned as he passed a vial of a thick mud-like potion that he had acquired through thievery from the back room of the local apothecary.
“We best be both careful and quick zen.” Marius remarked lethargically, adjusting the belt that held several poison coated knives within it. “Make sure zey are scattered before zey act.” Marius added. “And not until we are ‘idden.”
“I know, Marius.” Nolan snapped and the edges of Marius’ mouth twitched in a smile at Nolan’s nerves.
Marius tapped the top of his head with his wand and what looked like water began to trickle down him, camouflaging him into the background. Nolan did the same and, with a flick of his wand, made the five people begin to move to the outside.
“I know just the place.” Marius said, following them, and Nolan followed the sound of his voice. The crowds outside the Ministry were thinning as the evening settled in so it was all too easy for the two of them to reach their hiding spot undetected. They hid down the alley of the cafe that was right next to the Ministry.
“Ready?” Nolan asked, readying his wand.
“Do it.” Marius commanded and, a second after Nolan flicked his wand a second time, the sounds of loud bangs, crashes and people screaming filled the area. They watched as people ran past them, too focussed on getting away from the attack to look down the seemingly deserted alleyway.
They heard someone shout in a language Nolan did not understand though Marius smiled and readied his wand.
“Get ready.” He said. Nolan obeyed and, right on cue, one of the men they had sent out came sprinting around the corner, three more people giving chase right behind him. All four wizards ran past Marius and Nolan, unaware of their presence as they moved away from the wall and pointed their wands. After the alleyway was illuminated with flashes of red, the three Aurors fell to the floor.
“Now, quickly.” Marius muttered as he removed his Disillusionment charm and the two ran to the unconscious bodies. Withdrawing his wand and pulling out the mud like potion Nolan had given him, Marius leaned over one of the men and pulled out a strand of hair. Nolan did the same and, simultaneously, they drank the Polyjuice potion. Ignoring the sickening feelings they were both experiencing, they both began completely changing physically.
“Imperio” Marius gasped after the side-effects of the potion wore off and the three men got to their feet and the two Marius and Nolan now doubled, began to strip. “Time to get rid of zose prison rags.” Marius smirked as he too removed his now oversized, brown robes.
The two continued to change quickly in silence and when Marius had replaced his knives within his new robes, he waved his wand a second time and the two Aurors ran off into hiding with their clothes while the third grasped the Imperiused civilian he had been chasing. “Lead ze way.” Marius ordered and the Auror nodded allowing a bulkier golden haired Nolan to grab the civilians other shoulder and marched towards the Ministry.
As they walked to the entrance of the large building, they noticed three of the other decoys trying to escape the Scandinavian Aurors while the fourth lay face down on the ground. Many of the Aurors who had arrived at the scene were nodding their approval at Nolan and Marius’ supposed capture and allowed them to pass through without challenge. A few even offered their assistance which was rejected by Marius in their respective language.
Although the entire entrance hall of the Ministry begged for their attention with its crystalized decorations and eye-drawing water features on a background of golden walls, the Auror leading them continued past the two statue wizards wand saluting and began leading them up several flights of stairs. Marius knew he must look focussed and undistracted like a Scandinavian Auror would but he couldn’t help but notice how exhausted the many Ministry workers they passed looked.
“You would have thought they’d have a lift for this place.” Nolan remarked but Marius quickly raised a hand to silence him.
“Take us to Akrahn.” Marius whispered in the Auror’s ear who nodded his understanding and led them to a large hall with several cubicles with pictures of Dark Witches and Wizards and they knew they were now in the Auror Office which, at the moment, was almost empty. They turned a corner down a long, narrow corridor and walked past several numbered black doors. They stopped at a door numbered sixteen and the Auror nodded towards the door.
“Make sure we are not interrupted.” Marius said and the Auror walked off to the entrance of the corridor. Marius grabbed the Imperiused civilian and threw him into an empty interrogation room before turning to Nolan. “Ready?” Nolan nodded and the two went through the door.
The two Aurors that were inside the dark miserable room raised their wands as the door opened but halted at the sight of their colleagues, lowering their guard. Two, simultaneous jets of red lights hit them in the stomachs and they crumpled to the floor.
An elderly man who sat at a table in the middle of the candle-lit room looked up at the two men who both still had their wands out. His bald, wrinkled head gleamed with sweat and the long, shoulder length black hair that protruded from the sides and back of his head was dry and dirtied and they noticed how pale and ill looking he was now that he stared up at them.
“And to whom do I thank for this act of nobility?” Akrahn Colby asked. Marius and Nolan glanced at each other before Nolan pulled out a small vial of dark yellow liquid. Nolan took a sip before passing it to Marius, who did the same and the Polyjuice disguise melted away revealing their identities. “Marius.” Akrahn greeted and he turned to face Nolan who had his wand pointed directly at his chest.
“What did Potter tell you in exchange for details on us?” Nolan asked threateningly.
Akrahn glared at Nolan, considering him for a moment before replying “Just some privet information that I’d been vishing to know for some time.” Nolan did not lower his wand.
“Not a good answer.” He said and Akrahn gave a small chuckle before continuing “Trust me, Selvyn vould not vant me dead. Not ven I know exactly how his beloved master fell.”
Nolan too gave a small smile. “Shame Selwyn’s dead then, isn’t it.” Akrahn raised his thinning eyebrows in moderate surprise.
“We can chit-chat when we get out of ‘ere.” Marius stated and with a flick of his wand, Akrahn’s bindings fell.
“And how do ve do that?” Akrahn asked rubbing his raw wrists. Marius placed his wand free hand into his robes and pulled out a small blue orb that’s inside colour seem to continuously change the longer Akrahn stared at it. As Marius presented it, there was a knock at the door and Nolan and Marius spun around, wands at the ready.
“The Minister is talking to his Aurors about vat just happened outside. He vill soon be accompanied to his office by the Head of the Law Enforcement Department.” Said the Auror Marius had Imperiused mere moments ago.
“Excellent,” Marius grinned and he turned to face Akrahn. “I zink it is about time you became a free man, Akrahn.” Akrahn returned the malicious grin.
“I vill need a vand.” Marius aimed his wand at the two Aurors unconscious behind them and after muttering “Imperio” they both got to their feet and held out their wands allowing Akrahn to take his pick.
“Are you sure we can trust him.” Nolan whispered to Marius as Akrahn picked a wand out of the Auror’s hand.
“Why would he betray us now? We’re ze winning side.”
“I think,” Akrahn said, examining the two wands. “This von.”
“Zen give ze ozer one ‘is wand back. Ze more Aurors on our side, ze better.” Akrahn obeyed and he and the Auror approached Marius.
“Ready?” Marius asked holding out the Amethyst Orb. Akrahn and the Auror both placed their hands on it shortly followed by Nolan. “Tail ze Minister and when he enters ‘is office make sure we are not disturbed.” Marius commanded the remaining Auror who nodded and left the room.
“Do you know what the Minister’s office looks like?” Nolan asked and Marius grinned again.
“I did more zan just enjoy the view on zat rooftop, Nolan.” And as he turned on the spot, the four men vanished with a pop.
The small dark room flooded with light as Bailey Miller opened the door and threw the final frail prisoner relentlessly onto the stone floor.
Lucy Barns glowered at him from the chair she was bound to. She felt blood trickling down her face from a cut she had received on her temple and dribble over her swollen eye. Her once spherical shaped brown hair was frayed and tangled and the low hairline now dangled in front of her one working eye, though she was still able to make out the smug look on his face. The look made her bony fist shaped hands pull against the ropes that bound them to the back of her seat.
“Now, now Madam Barns,” Bailey giggled. “We’ve had to teach you not to struggle once and I recommend not making us do so again.”
“You mean you’ll set your muscle on me seeing as you’re too afraid to do it yourself.” Lucy corrected with a sneer.
Bailey’s face flushed red as he drew her own wand on her. “Too a- I’ll show you who’s too afraid!” He aimed directly at her battle-worn face when a silhouette appeared at the doorway, blocking the light.
“Hold it, Bailey!” An all too familiar voice ordered and Bailey turned to face the slim shadow. “Mosby’s looking for you, he’s got a new project he needs you working on.”
Bailey withdrew Lucy’s wand and left after giving her a wicked smile and closed the door behind him.
“It’s nice of you to visit me.” Lucy snarled at Marietta Edgcombe. “Or have you come to Imperius me again, you treacherous waste of space.”
Marietta gave a small laugh a spoke quickly but quietly as she started breathing heavily. “And you wander why I despise you so much? Six years of working for you and that attitude of yours and for what? No respect. No prospects. Nothing! Well now look at me. I’ve just been given your job.” This stung Lucy more than she would have believed.
“I didn’t respect you because you never gave me, or anyone else for that matter, reason to and you had no prospects because you were a hopeless assistant. I was always running after you, clearing up your mistakes while you squeaked your half-arsed apologies. If you hated it so much you should’ve left, Merlin knows I wouldn’t have stopped you.”
“You know I had nowhere else to go!” Marietta shouted at her and as she moved into in the light Lucy was able to see her blue eyes watering. “The only reason you kept me was because of that favour you owed my mother.”
“And what a way to repay her. I’m sure she’ll be very proud when she finds out what you’ve done.” Lucy spat at her. “You could have salvaged yourself. You could have turned Selwyn in and stopped all of this. I always thought you useless, yes, but even I couldn’t have dreamed you’d stoop this low.”
Marietta’s eyes widened and stared at Lucy as though she was insane. “Stoop this low?” The girl whispered as she started twitching a smile with every breath. “Stoop this low? WE’VE WON!” She shouted and she then indicated Lucy’s fellow captives, all four of them unconscious and bound. “Five of the Ministry’s best and brightest at our mercy. Its forces beaten and scattered and this is just the start of it.” Tears then started rolling down her cheek though she was smiling more broadly than Lucy had ever seen. “All those people who looked down on me, who despised me, who treated me like I didn’t exist are all finally gone. I can finally have a good life.”
Lucy stared at her, unable to believe what she was witnessing. “And you,” Marietta continued. “Will have no part in it.”
“You stupid girl.” Lucy said in a low voice as she looked Marietta in the eye. “You stupid, stupid girl. You’ve not saved your life; you’ve damned it along with who knows how many others.”
“Maybe,” Marietta said the quiet voice Lucy remembered. “But it’s still better than the one I had with you.”
Lucy’s head was then fuelled with a sudden burst of anger. “Very well,” She said with a slow contempt. “But know this, when your downfall happens, and it will happen, you will have earned every second of it. Whatever pain you feel, whatever loss you suffer, you earned it.”
Marietta returned the hard look of loathing. “Then know that you will never live to see it.”
Then, as quickly as she could, she drew her wand, aimed it directly at Lucy’s heart and cried “Crucio!”
The chair Lucy was strapped to was sent through the air by the force of the spell as Lucy herself forced her lips shut to hold in the wail of pain that every other inch of her body was screaming. She would not give Marietta the satisfaction.
The chair and the back of Lucy’s head collided with the brick wall behind her before falling face down to the floor, still in the humiliating involuntary sitting position her bounds held her in. Her head was spinning from the bump against the wall and the pain from the curse and she watched as Marietta left, panting heavily, as Lucy repeated in a whisper “You’ve damned yourself you stupid girl, damned yourself.”
Other Similar Stories
The First Haven
Death, and t...