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Chapter 40 : Buildup: Scorpius POV
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And while Rose was finally back to work, and could’ve served this purpose in just about any other case, it wasn’t prudent. Although I could say with certainty, that the Auror department would’ve gladly chosen her over Healer Lawrence any day.
He was indeed an expert on dark magic curses, a fact he made certain to mention every chance he got. Truth be told, he was pretty much the only person who wasn’t emotionally attached to the case, and although that seemed like it’d be a good thing, his off-putting nature and over-the-top arrogance made most of the Aurors want to send a cleverly aimed stinging hex at him underneath the table.
“I think I’ve sorted most of it out for myself,” Healer Lawrence interjected. Harry pulled in a breath and held it, staring hard at a spot on the wall to avoid looking directly at him. Lawrence’s giant ego wasn’t helping matters.
“If it’s all the same to you, Aphis, we prefer to go over the details on a weekly basis as a team, to stay fresh with the case.”
“As you were, sir.” Lawrence made a show of getting himself settled into his seat as Harry stood from his to address the room. We were still a small group considering the magnitude of everything. We had Harry, Ron and Teddy as the senior Aurors, plus Dom and me as junior Aurors; and Harry allowed the three mentees to continue on with us. They’d all proven themselves with top marks in their first year of the program and were now full-fledged second years.
Albus was still not back to work. No one could possibly blame him for that. Even if he had come back, I’m not sure he would’ve been much help to us. We were getting nowhere; and everyday Rose was getting closer to having the baby and we were getting further from finding any real information. This was all compounded by the fact that the house felt utterly barren without Selenia. She really had been the glue that kept us all together.
Keeping the team small had its pros and cons. On one hand, it freed up the rest of the department to handle all the other cases that still needed tending to. Plus, the fact that the case involved a prophecy called for its own level of secrecy. The Department of Mysteries had a tight fist around who was and was not allowed access to the pertinent information. Ron was intensely insistent about the prophecy being kept as secret as possible, and Harry as well. It was for the best, though, because the less people involved, the less chance there was for a leak to The Prophet, which was, coincidentally, having a field day with our lack of progress.
“Right then,” Harry flicked his wand and glowing purple lines appeared on the wall. They twisted and formed themselves into words and dates. “Let’s start with the facts of the morning of June the twentieth.” I couldn’t stop a stab of pain that pulsed through my heart every time I heard that date. To me, it was the same searing agony that I felt when someone mentioned the eleventh of July - the day my parents had their kitchen accident. Several bulleted points appeared on the wall to mark the timeline of events, along with the death and injury toll.
Harry turned to another wall and made some rather intricate movements with his wand, ending in a pointed jab at the painted brick and an aerial photo of Diagon Alley appeared. The photograph more closely resembled a muggle one than a wizarding one, in that nothing was moving in it. Granted, it was only a still of the shops and the street, with no people in it, but that was about to change.
“We know that Selenia entered the Alley from this point.” Harry tapped the edge of the street and a blue dot appeared. It was wise for him to have the people, especially the victims, represented by something less life-like than human-shaped figures.
Harry added, “We’ve also been able to confirm that there were bystanders at each of these locations.” His wand fluttered so quickly in his hand, it was almost as if it were vibrating on its own, but I knew that wasn’t the case. Harry was just that good. Several other spots appeared at various locations on the map, represented by yellow, green, and blue dots. I wasn’t sure why there were different colors until I realized: he had categorized the civilians into three groups: witnesses in green, injured in yellow and blue for those who didn’t survive the attack. It was a clever technique, because it enabled us to see which locations were targeted by Stannous’s lot.
“The Death Eaters came from somewhere over here,” Harry showed several red dots moving swiftly down the street. “Our best guess is that they apparated directly into the passageway that joins Diagon Alley with Knockturn Alley.”
“Makes sense,” Dom quipped. “That’s the only location that’s large enough for the eight of them to apparate at virtually the same time and still provide enough cover so they’d go unnoticed until the last possible second.” I was amazed at her ability to stay entirely focused on the case. She was a machine, often staying until the wee hours of the morning, poring through the tiniest details. She was really stepping into the role of junior Auror and had been working late with Teddy, Ron and Harry to put together this presentation. I was really proud of her, but I sort of felt like I was dropping the ball a bit.
My thoughts were invaded by Harry’s voice. “At approximately fourteen hundred hours eleven minutes, Ms. Cooper left Madam Malkin’s here,” Harry said as the blue dot emerged from a dark, boxy-shaped building that lined one of the streets. “She headed east toward The Quaffle. At that time, the eight Death Eaters were already positioned at various locations up and down the Alley.” He tapped eight times to indicate where the Death Eaters were poised. Selenia hadn’t had a chance. If one of them hadn’t seen her walking toward the pub, at least three others would’ve spotted her within mere seconds of each other. I swallowed hard and tried to suppress the guilt and pain that stirred inside me when I thought of who their actual target was. My hand instinctively reached to the back of my neck and massaged the tensing muscle that spread its length.
Selenia was dead but Rose was alive. Nearly three months had passed and I still didn’t know how exactly to feel about that. Most of that time had been taken up by taking care that Rose and Albus were doing alright. Anything left over was devoted to solving the case. My brain simply didn’t have time for me to process much more than that.
Dom and I’d talked a few times, and I was amazed at her ability to compartmentalize. She was able to focus almost solely on the case. At home, she did take time to check up on Rose and Al, but I think she felt she could do the most good by helping to catch Stannous. She had a focus like none other and I could easily see her being head of the department one day.
Harry continued, “Based on our reconstruction, it seems that the Death Eaters coordinated their attack to a certain extent, but not enough to single out their target entirely.”
“What do you mean?” Healer Lawrence asked. His eyes were wide and for once, he seemed to shut up a bit and recognize the fact that perhaps someone knew more than he did about something.
“He means,” Ron cut in bitterly, “that strategically, in an organized attack like this one, the goal is typically to ambush only one, single target-” he cleared his throat as it caught on the last word. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one having a hard time grappling with the scene in front of us. The expression on his face was severe, but his reddening skin gave away the turmoil he was trying to tamp down.
“This lot obviously knew what they were after, but instead of waiting a few extra seconds so that they could convene on a… erm… s-specific mark, th-they jumped the gun and just started an all out blitz on anyone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Ron jabbed his wand at the image on the wall a little too roughly, and white sparks streamed from the tip and landed on the map, freezing all the dots in time. Ron swore loudly as he lowered his wand and stared at it, clearly frustrated with himself.
“Like this,” Harry said softly, with a lot more strength to his voice that I could’ve mustered. His wand fluttered in the air, showing amazing control and accuracy, while the dots on the map glided around the streets of Diagon Alley. Four of the eight red dots were headed for Selenia. The others seemed to take their cue from the lead group and simply began attacking anyone and everyone who happened to be standing, walking, eating or breathing in the area.
Selenia’s blue dot flickered and turned to black, followed quickly by a few others. But the attackers didn’t stop there. The red villains spread out, rushing the street in an onslaught of terror and death. Many of the green dots retreated into the stores or behind lampposts or bins on the street. It was eerie to see the yellow dots lie still, after they’d been hit and even more surreal to see each blue dot turn to black. My heart ached staring at how still her dot was, while the attackers simply turned their wands on the other bystanders. The incursion continued until a handful of white dots appeared at the far end of the street and, one by one, each of the red dots apparated away.
Harry froze the scene, “And that marks fourteen hundred hours forty seven minutes, when the first team of Aurors arrived on sight.” He cleared his throat and all the rest of the team turned to look at him, still standing at the head of the long table. But not me. I still couldn’t tear my eyes from the wall. It could’ve been Rose.
“So this is where you come in, Healer Lawrence.” Harry said loudly, not completely hiding the tension in his voice. “We need to learn a bit more about these curses that were used on the victims.
The magnanimous arse stood up, cleared his throat, and basically stood in front of Harry, causing my boss to take a step back. As always, Harry was gracious in the face of being in front of all his charges and gestured to Healer Lawrence, that he had the floor.
“Well it seems that you lot have finally come to your senses and realized the benefit of using experts in your investigations, instead of random guesswork.”
I chanced a peek around the room. Teddy rolled his eyes, as did Kali. Colleen and Dom exchanged a glance, but Harry stood attentive to the speaker. Only Ron let out a disgusted grunt, which went ignored by the Healer, as he continued to speak.
“The three main curses used by this particular faction are verbero scalpere, violenti totalis, and of course, cruciatus flagrate. While all of these curses are latin-based in their names, they also closely resemble Bulgarian dark curses that date back as old as magic itself. Let’s break them down one by one, shall we?”
And he was off explaining the origin of the worst dark magic imaginable. He truly looked like he was enjoying every bit of this. From the glint in his eye, it almost seemed like he got a sick sense of pleasure from simply talking about these horrible magical creations. What I gathered from his ambling was that these were modern day ‘improvements’ on regular, run-of-the-mill dark curses, just to add a bit of an edge to them.
“While the other two curses had been recorded as being used in a few places in Eastern Europe over the past one hundred years or so, cruciatus flagrate is an entirely new and rather intense version of the unforgivable cruciatus, so to speak,” he chuckled mildly and I felt my insides boil at his impertinent tone. That curse nearly did Rose in, both physically and emotionally. It gave her those nasty scars and made her doubt her own abilities.
It was also the curse that had murdered Selenia.
Before I could stop myself, I was rising out of my chair, poised to charge at the insensitive bastard, but Harry beat me to it.
“Aphis,” he said sharply. I could tell he was just this side of brandishing his wand. He carefully maneuvered himself in between me and the Healer. Something else made me stop my advance and it was a moment before I realized that Dom had placed a comforting hand on my arm.
Harry continued loudly, “It would do well for you to remember that this case is still active and happens to involve loved ones of many of the Aurors in this room. We’re all under a great deal of stress, and it’s taking every bit of resolve for us to act as professionals. I implore you not to speak in such a flippant manner about this grave matter. I’ll not ask you again and you’d do well to remember that you serve here at the pleasure of this department. While we value your judgement and expertise, I’ll not compromise unity for egotism.” Harry sniffed as he said his last phrase, clearly holding back what he truly wanted to say.
“Very well,” Lawrence shuffled uncomfortably at Harry’s stare. But he only looked agitated and annoyed, rather than ashamed. “From what I’ve ascertained, the curse uses the victim’s own pain and suffering against them. For example, if the victim were to yell or cry out in pain, it would amplify the intensity of the agony experienced. And unlike the cruciatus, this curse leaves scars that penetrate from the inside out. It takes much concentration to maintain the focus long enough to have a scar appear on the surface of the skin, so Miss Weasley’s scars must have been a result of several sessions of torture that lasted for quite a while, as she confirmed to us regarding her six-day kidnapping three years ago.” He looked around the room and paused when he met the eyes of each Auror. I was getting more and more trapped within my thoughts. I scratched vigorously at my head to try and clear it.
“So, can you tell us anything else?” Caesar chimed in. “I mean, we pretty much knew most of this stuff anyway.” I should’ve thought of that question. How was everyone else able to keep their emotions in check? I was finding it hard to breathe.
Lawrence nodded to him, but didn’t look up. “Based on the wounds of the victims, I can easily map out that five different Death Eaters were using verbero scalpere and three, including L’erge Stannous, were using violenti totalis - all combined with other, standard offensive spells, of course. But I’ll wager the violenti totalis users were more senior in the organization, as that curse is much more difficult to master and is nearly always deadly as well - if placed directly over the heart or aimed at the head.”
“Makes sense,” Dom piped in, calmly. She was the real rock in the room, whereas I felt like I was about to go to pieces. “Every witch and wizard has their favorite curses - and we all have jinxes, hexes and blocks that work better for us and we’ve perfected over the years. So it stands to reason that the Death Eaters all have certain curses they use more often than others.”
Somewhere in the back of my mind, it registered that I’d taken a direct hit to the heart with violenti totalis and survived, but another, much, much more pressing question rose in my throat.
“Healer Lawrence,” I knew my voice sounded weak, but it was so much mental effort to get the words out, I couldn’t be bothered by it. “That sort of curse, cruciatus flagrate, erm… wh-what could it have done to the baby? I mean, if Rose had been hit?” Another wave of guilt washed over me simply asking the question, but I couldn’t stop myself. I needed to know the answer. I was already spending nights awake worried that there’d be residual effects on Rose or the baby from the dark curse she’d been hit with that caused her heart problems.
The Healer paused and gave me a solid stare. I don’t think he was trying to be rude or offended. I think it was just his way of sizing up the situation. But my head was swimming so much in emotion, it was taking all my energy to focus and hear his reply. His voice had the tiniest bit of raspiness when he spoke directly to me, “I can’t say for certain, Scorpius. But I do know this: that baby - and Rose too - are both incredibly strong. I’ll admit, I didn’t give either one of them much of a fighting chance after she’d been hit with dekompensirana sŭrdechna na skorostta, but they both fought their way through that.”
The long and short of it was, that the Healer didn’t know. There was no way to determine how much damage Rose or the baby could’ve suffered in her condition. I felt my shoulders deflate as I settled in my seat. Dom was sitting on one side of me and Caesar on the other. He patted me on the back gently and whispered, “S’all right, mate. Let’s concentrate on what we’re gonna do about this.”
As if he’d heard him, Ron spoke up, “What we need to focus on now, is what his next move will be. Enough of the past. This arsehole has out maneuvered us every step of the way. The Prophet isn’t far off, calling us a ‘slow to react.’ It’s been three months and we don’t have any major leads - except Bulgaria… and-” he was off and running, listing off the options for our next move. My head dropped into my folded arms on the table as his voice was drowned out by the panic bubbling inside me.
Caesar tapped me on the shoulder and I shook my head, trying to make sense of it all. I wanted to come up with some sort of brilliant plan to find him, but my mind wouldn’t settle. My breaths were coming a bit shorter and I was very warm all of a sudden.
“Harry,” I lifted my head enough to murmur my request. The entire room turned their eyes on me. Everything was just too much right at that moment and I needed some air - or some water - or just something to get my head back together.
I didn’t want anyone - especially Harry or Ron - to think I couldn’t handle the situation. But right at that moment, I knew that I needed to get the hell out of there. “I - I’ve gotta g-go check on something. I’ll be back in a few?” my eyes flicked to the head Auror, hoping that I’d struck the right balance between sounding nonchalant enough so they didn’t realize I was about to lose it, but serious enough to let me out of the crucial meeting.
For a moment, I thought all was lost. Ron’s icy stare said it all. He could see through my lie easily and must’ve figured I was dodging my Auror responsibilities. He opened his mouth to speak, but Harry got there first.
“Why don’t we all take a break for a mo’,” he said, and the other Aurors slowly stood up to stretch. Ron started to argue, but his boss shook his head. I made a beeline for the door and Harry followed me out, down the corridor and around the corner before he put a gentle hand on my arm to slow me down, despite the fact that I was nearly racing at top speed to get my head together.
I stopped but didn’t turn to face him. My jaw was clenched and the muscles in the back of my neck were knotting up to immense proportions.
“Scorpius.” Harry raised his voice just enough to get through my ringing ears and simultaneously pulled back on my elbow in a soothing motion. He didn’t wait for me to turn around to face him, because my whole body began to deflate right there against the stone wall of the Ministry corridor.
“You don’t have to say anything. Just listen. I’m not going to ask if you want to be removed from this case because I know that’s not an option. But you don’t have to bear this burden alone. I know the brunt of this has fallen on you. Rose and Albus are leaning on you for emotional support, but don’t forget that you’ve lost a good friend too. We all feel the same way. So, so sad for Selenia, but so worried for Rose.”
I gulped against tears that were pushing themselves up from somewhere deep inside.
“You’ve been a rock. For Rose and Albus and all the other Aurors here. But no one is able to keep that up indefinitely. I speak from experience when I say you need to find your own way to let it all out. And I think you know who will do that for you. Someone who is much, much stronger than she gives herself credit for.”
I nodded, still not looking at him. He offered a few reassuring pats to my shoulder, turned and said, “take the rest of the day. I think you’ll find that you might get much more out of it that you ever thought possible.”
I nodded again, internally chiding myself for not being able to come up with words. I felt my feet drag my weary body down the hall to the official ‘Auror Department Healer Office.’
A/N: Hi there! First off, I'm so so sorry for the long wait in between chapters. About three months have gone by in the story, and I think it took me nearly that long to post this chapter. :( Secondly, I wanted to mention that there's a fundraiser going on right now to keep HPFF online. I know I'd be crushed if the site had to be taken down. Even if you can only spare a few dollars or pounds - every little bit helps! Please consider donating. ♥ Beth
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