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SIYE Time:14:04 on 20th November 2017


The Space Between
By YelloWitchGrl

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Category: Post-Hogwarts, Post-DH/AB, Post-DH/PM
Characters:All
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Fluff, General, Humor, Tragedy
Warnings: Dark Fiction, Death, Disturbing Imagery, Extreme Language, Intimate Sexual Situations, Mental Abuse, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use, Rape, Sexual Situations, Spouse/Adult/Child Abuse, Violence, Violence/Physical Abuse
Rating: R
Reviews: 316
Summary: Harry and Ginny's lives have finally evened out. They've faced trauma, and loss, more than most have, but they've fought hard to find a normal.

If only things could stay that way... Old enemies find new ways to seek revenge.

This story is the sequel to Bound. It would be extremely helpful if you read that first.


Warnings are to be safe. It's probably overkill. Please message me if you have any questions or concerns.
Hitcount: Story Total: 75560; Chapter Total: 1796
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:
This is a difficult chapter. Just warning you now.

If you want to read the transcript of my podcast, you can read it here: http://knitterwithkids.blogspot.com/2015/11/q-with-sarah-jaune.html

Thank you Arnel for beta'ing.

Let me know what you think. This chapter went in a way I didn't expect.




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Chapter 20

“She’s not doing well,” Audrey sighed miserably as she rubbed at her brow. The dim lights of the private ward in St. Mungo’s were meant to sooth, but instead always gave Harry eyestrain from trying to see everyone. “We’ve had a few of the trained therapists in with her, but she’s not opening up. The potions are helping, though. I took another look and you were right.”

Dread filled him until it was almost bursting from Harry. “She’s been raped?”

“He healed it,” Audrey bit out in disgust. “That’s why we didn’t see it before. It was subtle. He’d beat them, leave those wounds to fester, but it’s almost like he couldn’t stand just how sick he is, so he healed her bruises from the rapes. Merlin, Harry, it’s bloody sick.”

Harry, quite simply, wanted to vomit. Her own father… “I need to speak to her if you think she’s ready.”

Audrey shrugged helplessly. “She said she wanted to speak to you, but I can’t see that you’ll get much more out of her. She’s a mess.”

Harry nodded, understanding completely as he pushed open Caroline’s door. The little girl sat in the bed, a book in her lap. She stared off towards the walls, though. She turned to see him, her blue eyes red-rimmed and achingly raw with emotion. He moved in to sit on the stool by her bed, and her resignation was almost too much for him to stand. “Hello, Caroline.”

“Hi,” she sniffed as she glanced down at the book, seemingly surprised that it was still there. She closed it and set it off on her side table. “I didn’t tell you everything.”

“That’s okay,” Harry assured her gently. “You can tell me now, or later. We have time. I understand why you held some things back.”

Caroline chewed at her bottom lip, which was bruises and puffy. This was clearly something she did on a regular basis. “He never did it to Honor. If he had, I’d have tried to kill him. He said he only wanted me because I am so beautiful.”

Revulsion and bile clogged Harry’s throat and he had to fight them both back so that he could remain focused on the girl before him.

It didn’t matter how many times he’d heard this same story. It never, ever, became any easier to take in.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Harry told her.

She smiled a little. “That’s what James said. He told me to tell you, but…”

It still left him a little stunned that James, of all people, had been there to help this girl. He hoped that it meant his son was really, and truly, starting to grow up. He was fourteen, after all, but he’d been spoiled much of his life. He’d never really had to deal with anything. It had been exactly what Harry had wanted for his children, but it did have some unintended consequences. “There is no ‘but’ in this,” he told the girl. “You are blameless.”

Caroline hunched her shoulders like she didn’t really believe it. “I need to tell you about my father. I know I have to, but it’s just so–” she cut off her words and stared straight ahead of her. “My father likes to be the best. He saw having a beautiful wife as the best thing. He wanted a son, but there was only myself and Honor. My mom couldn’t have children after Honor, but I don’t know why. My father wanted us to behave perfectly and when we didn’t, he beat us. My father wanted to be the wealthiest, so he stole when he couldn’t easily earn. He hires henchmen to do his dirty work for him, bullying and intimidating people into doing what will make him rich and powerful.”

None of this surprised Harry.

“My mom started drinking to ease her pain,” Caroline admitted quietly. “It was so bad dealing with him that she wanted to escape from him. He raped her. We heard him doing it. I think he liked that, actually.”

The matter-of-fact way that she put it was revolting.

“Then he started in on me,” Caroline said. “He’d come into my room and he’d tie me up, rape me, then heal it. He didn’t want me to forget. He’d whisper that I was beautiful and I was his. I belonged to him. I…” Tears poured down her cheeks as the poisonous words spilled from her lips. “I lied before when I said he didn’t care about us going. He didn’t care about Honor. He never cared about her, because she wasn’t something he could be proud of. He didn’t see how great she is. But, I think he didn’t fight hard to get us back, at first, because he had me under the Imperius Curse, and also because he didn’t want me to spill his secrets. If his friends knew he’d been raping me,” Caroline continued as her fingers restlessly kneaded the blanket, “they’d have been horrified. That’s just not something people are okay with.”

“You know this is all his fault,” Harry reminded her carefully. “He’s the one who is sick and demented. No one is going to hold this against you.”

“My father will be after power and money,” Caroline concluded, ignoring what he’d said. “Whatever is going on, he sees a chance to get even richer and gain even more power. You can count on that.”

Harry stared into her shattered blue eyes, on a face that was pale and sunken in. “If I can, I will kill him.”

He’d never promised that before. He’d never wanted to be a murderer, but he also knew that for a man like Donald Baker, there was no prison that would hold him forever. He had too much money, too much clout, to be pinned down. Dodi had seen to that himself. The only way this girl and her sister would ever be safe would be if their father was dead.

Dodi would never forgive the insult of this girl abandoning him. It was a stab in the back that told Dodi he wasn’t actually the best, and Caroline knew it.

“Are you doing okay here?” Harry asked her.

Caroline nodded and turned away. “I like it here. I like school, too, but I needed a break. There’s too many people and wearing a mask all the time is exhausting.”

As Harry left her room ten minutes later, he had to wonder just how many people wore masks just like hers every day to hide the gaping wounds that had been inflicted upon them.

It was sickening to even consider.

~*~

Ginny couldn’t concentrate on the game. It wasn’t as though it was a major game, or anything, because the Cannons vs Puddlemere was essentially just a matter of ‘when’ the Cannons lost. They would lose. They always lost.

Ron was an idiot for still supporting them, and now he sat glumly beside her while Puddlemere Chaser, Bebe Specks scored yet another goal, putting the score to four hundred sixty to ten.

Sadly, the ten points for the Cannons had been when the Puddlemere’s own Keeper had accidentally kicked the Quaffle into his own hoop.

“You shouldn’t have come,” Ginny reminded him as she bounced her knees, trying to warm up. It was February and so bloody cold that she feared the tip of her nose would fall off.

“It’s fine,” Ron told her through gritted teeth. “There’s still time.”

Ginny managed to not roll her eyes, but it was a close thing. Many times Ginny would be given two tickets for a game, and Ron always came to watch the Cannons.

It was a blood bath, though. This was the worst year the Cannons had had in almost a decade.

Still, it was a nice diversion from her regular life which was basically falling apart around her. Ginny hadn’t wanted to admit it at first, but there was really no way to deny it now. Harry was never home. He still wasn’t home, actually. Teddy was spending the night at Ivy Run to be with Lily. She could have gone home with Hugo, but Teddy had offered and Lily missed her god brother.

Harry’s obsession with Isabella Crabbe was taking up his every waking moment. He was spending most of his nights working through tips that came in from the public. He used countless hours trying to piece together just what Donald Baker was trying to do in England and how they were related to each other.

He’d missed the fact that his wife was upset. She didn’t blame him, exactly. Ginny hadn’t had the heart to tell him she needed more from him when she knew, quite simply, he didn’t have any more to give. He’d been like this through their whole marriage, but never had a problem run this long. Even Voldemort had only been in a body for three years. He’d been much more dangerous, but it had been a significantly shorter duration.

Ginny also knew that Harry felt guilty about everything. He’d been part of Isabella’s son dying, even though Vincent Crabbe had lit the fire that took his life. Harry hadn’t been there for the years of abuse that had driven Isabella crazy, but her son’s death had sent her over the edge. As a result, she’d nearly killed Ginny, and had killed their daughter, Hope, in an attempt to exact revenge. Harry desperately wanted to keep them safe.

He thought that working all hours was going to do that.

“Are you okay?” Ron asked her suddenly, jolting her from her maudlin musings.

Ginny nodded, not wanting to burden Ron. Hermione had confided to her that she and Ron had been fighting a lot. It wasn’t exactly unexpected, because they’d always fought a lot, but Hermione was definitely starting to wish the fighting would end. There was no divorce, though. It was comforting, and also extremely frustrating. A soul bond couldn’t be undone.

Ginny wasn’t entirely sure Hermione wouldn’t just go off the deep end and murder Ron in her sleep. They fought over money, working hours, and Merlin only knew what.

“Hermione told you, didn’t she?” Ron said in a voice so low she almost missed it.

She didn’t answer. She didn’t need to. Hermione was one of her best friends and her sister.

“We’re not…” Ron began, but cut himself off. “She’s working all the time, you know. Now that she’s the head of the department, we never see her. It’s not really a marriage if you have no idea what’s going on in your spouse’s life.”

It was one of those oddly insightful things that Ron sometimes spit out and Ginny couldn’t do more than nod. She did understand that. When they’d been younger, so much of their lives had been dominated by passion. It was easier to skate through the rough patches where apathy and presumption that the other person would always be there, no matter how much they were neglected. Once the reunion happened, it was fireworks and magic, typically in bed. Now, after twenty years, Ginny knew that these parts were not to be taken for granted.

She would still have a husband at the end of the day. The soul bond ensured that neither of them could leave, but it didn’t mean they’d like the other person. It didn’t mean that Harry wouldn’t look at her with resentment, or Ginny stare at him in anger. They didn’t have to like the person they were living with. That was how a lot of couples ended up living alone.

It wasn’t the way Ginny wanted her relationship to turn out, but Harry wasn’t in a place to hear her. He was drowning in the horrors of the case, and just how enormous the problem was. Something had happened with one of James’ classmates. Ginny couldn’t know the details, because those were private. That was fine. But Ginny didn’t need divination to see that whatever had happened to that girl was so horrible that Harry was not the same anymore. She only had to let her imagination run from there to figure out just how bad it had been for Caroline Baker.

She’d had a letter from James not too long after that which had been full of the news that he’d broken up with his girlfriend and had decided to be single for a while. He’d written, ‘don’t worry, Mum, I was really nice to her when I ended things,’ which Ginny wouldn’t have believed if she hadn’t received a letter later that week from Nat telling her that something was wrong with James because he seemed to be a completely different kid. He was being unbelievably nice.

“We’re falling apart, too,” Ginny blurted out, a little shocked that she’d actually said it. “Harry, and I are struggling. It’s this case…”

But it wasn’t just the case. They’d been in the habit of taking each other for granted for too long.

“Let’s do a swap off,” Ron suggested. “You have that beach house, right? Let’s each take a week’s vacation and go. The other gets the kids for the week.”

Ginny snorted. “You honestly think either of them will agree to a week off?”

“No,” Ron shrugged. “If she won’t go with me, I’ll go without her and think. It’s been too much recently.”

She watched with dispassionate interest as a Cannon Beater smacked the referee on the arm and the ref spun away for a moment, before coming back to shout at him. “Okay, that’s a plan.”

Harry hadn’t wanted to go. When she’d said she was going without him, though, he’d changed his mind and had put in the request to take the week off.

Ginny liked the beach house. It was small, cozy, and just as safe as Ivy Run. The air smelled of salt and new beginnings which was exactly what she was hoping for. She dropped the food off in the kitchen, while Harry took their bags upstairs. By the time he arrived back down with her, she’d opened a bottle of wine and poured him a glass.

Harry’s dark brow rose as he accepted it. “We’re getting started early?”

“It’s never too early when you have deep things to discuss,” Ginny informed him. Harry’s brows drew together, but she pointed to the fireplace. “Build up a fire. I’m going to set supper to cooking, then we’ll sit and talk.”

It was only the work of ten minutes before they were lounging on the couch in front of a roaring fire. She’d deliberately sat far enough away so that she could see him as they spoke, but close enough that she could stick her cold feet under his leg to warm them up.

At this point, Harry was starting to look panicked. “What’s up?”

She chose her words very carefully. “I need to know where your loyalties lie,” Ginny told him, taking a sip of wine.

Stunned, Harry gaped at her. “What are you talking about?”

“What comes first in your life?” Ginny asked him, rephrasing the question.

“You do,” he assured her quickly. His expression shifted seamlessly from confusion, to annoyance, and back into a careful mask of reassurance. “I don’t know why you’re asking this.”

She knew him so well. She’s known him for thirty years, now. Ginny could have easily taken the bait and gone straight into anger, but there was no point. Ron would get angry with Hermione. They would row, loudly, because that was how they worked. That wasn’t Ginny’s style. She didn’t mind a good fight, but she’d rather argue a person down with reasoned arguments than screaming. “If I came first in your life, Harry, I’d merit at least an hour a day of your time. I kept track this last week,” she explained. “Apart from the time we slept next to each other, we interacted for a total of fifty-seven minutes in the last seven days.”

“No way!” Harry shook his head. Then he went still, and his face went pale. He wasn’t a stupid man. He wasn’t petty, or unfair. He was reasonable.

But he was also single-minded and stubborn when there was a problem.

Unfortunately, he was missing the problem that was right in front of his nose. “Oh,” he sighed as he rubbed at his brow. Harry reached for his glass and downed half of it in one go. “Damn it.”

She reached out with cold fingers and threaded their hands together, much as they’d done when they were first dating. They’d needed each other, then. They’d moved together, pulled by their own gravity which drew them to link hands, to touch shoulders, to smile as though there was nothing else in the world but them. “I need you to remember to put us first, Harry. I know how much this case means to you. I can see just how badly it is eating at you, but if we fall apart it’ll be for nothing. Your daughter has stopped asking for you. She’s just assuming you won’t be there for her.”

It was a low blow, but one he’d absolutely needed. Stricken, Harry pulled her onto his lap, nearly spilling her wine as he buried his face in her neck and held on tight. “I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”

Ginny had heard that before, though. She wished she weren’t so cynical, but he’d let her down many times. He was a great husband, a great father, but he let work consume him too easily. She’d wait to see just what he did.

~*~

Nat stared at Mrs. Audrey Weasley, trying not to cry. “It’s March already,” she reminded the Healer as the sun streamed weakly into the hospital wing at Hogwarts. “I’m supposed to be going home for the Easter holidays soon.”

“I know,” Audrey said as she patted Nat’s hand. “I just think we should wait a little longer to take your feeding line out.”

Nat shook her head. “I can’t go to the beach house with my parents if it isn’t out! I can’t spend time with just them if…” she pressed her mouth into a hard line, biting her cheek so she wouldn’t completely lose control. “I think my emotional well-being would be better served by being able to spend the hols with my parents.”

Audrey sat back, her brow raised thoughtfully. “Alright. We’ll give it a try. One week here at school, but if you aren’t maintaining, you go straight back on the feeding line. Deal?”

“Deal!”

An hour later, Nat was feeding line free for the first time in many, many months. She couldn’t help but grin as she made her way down to lunch. It was a Saturday, so no classes, and she was already caught up on her homework. Today she was free of the strings that held her back. There was an American Disney movie where the character sang a song about it, and Nat happily whistled the catchy tune all the way down to the common room. No sooner had she reached the correct corridor than she spied James coming from the opposite direction, his eyes on his trainers, hands shoved in the pockets of jeans.

Caroline still wasn’t back from St. Mungo’s, but that didn’t surprise Nat. During their time hiding from her father with the house-elf, Polly, Nat had figured out just how badly Caroline had hidden what was done to her. James, it was rumored, had been the one to take her up to see Mrs. Longbottom before she was removed.

Ever since Caroline left, James had been, to put it simply, odd. It had been as though the real James had been plucked from the school and an alien spawn had replaced him. It wasn’t to say James was always in a great mood. Generally, he’d been moody and sad, but the difference had come from how he’d treated them. Before, if he’d been in a bad mood, James would have taken it out on Al, just because. There didn’t need to be a reason except that Al seemed to be James’ punching bag.

Now, though, he just quietly kept his pain to himself.

He was changed.

Nat smiled at James, trying to read what mood he was in. “Hey.”

James glanced up and gave her half a grin. “Hey, Nat.”

They came level to the portrait of the Fat Lady. Nat cocked her head to the side. “Are you okay?”

James shrugged, then seemed to notice her for the first time. “You got rid of the feeding line?”

A mile-wide smile split her face. “Yes, just now.”

“That’s great,” James told her. He didn’t move towards the portrait hole, though, just shifted from one foot to the other, his eyes drifting back to the floor.

Nat studied him closely, trying to figure out just what to say. “You’re not really okay.”

Heat flashed in James’ brown eyes, but he shrugged it off quickly. “It’s nothing.”

“I miss Caroline, too,” Nat told him simply. “But she’s better at the hospital. She needs help.”

He didn’t respond.

“She’s hurting herself,” Nat pointed out, trying to make a dent.

James opened his mouth to argue, but shut it again and remained silent for a long time. “What do you mean?”

“Her fingers,” she reminded him. “She was chewing on them. It’s a way of dealing with the pain. You hurt yourself in one place to forget the pain of something else. It’s better she’s in the hospital so that doesn’t get worse.”

He looked sick, now. “You don’t know…”

Nat nodded and tucked a strand of her strawberry blonde hair behind her ear. She didn’t know exactly what Caroline had been through. “She’s not ever going to be the same as she’d have been before her father.”

James shifted again and flicked his eyes up to hers. “Do you want to go get some hot chocolate?”

He seemed so sad, so beaten, that Nat could only nod. “Come on.”

She led him towards an empty classroom and plunked him down into a chair and called out for a house-elf for hot chocolate for him, and tea for her. Polly arrived moments later with a pop, bringing with her sweets for James, and tea for her.

He sat and drank thoughtlessly and Nat rather thought he was regretting asking her to do this. Talking was not something James did easily.

“You’ve been different,” Nat pointed out, knowing it was obvious to everyone.

He shook his head. “I’m just trying not to be a complete arse. Caroline’s story sort of made me see what a stupid berk I’d been.”

“We’re here to help, you know,” she said after taking a sip of her warm tea. “We’re your friends. Al is glad you aren’t picking on him constantly.”

James laughed humorously. “I used to think that was such fun to make him mad. I wanted to see how far I could take it before he broke. Now the thought makes me sick. If I was anything like her father–”

“You weren’t,” Nat assured him, interrupting. “But you might have been.”

If she’d slapped him, Nat thought dryly, her hand probably would have hurt less. There was some kind of connection between James and Caroline. There was something there that tinged the air, making it charged when they were together. Nat didn’t know if it would end up as good friends or as something more, but what she did know was that the James of last year was dangerous for the girl who was still in St. Mungo’s. He’d have crushed Caroline.

This one, though… this one stood a chance of being a force for good. “She’s going to need people around her who are going to be there for her, no matter what. That kind of abuse makes people do the most erratic things. She’s going to try hard to push you away. She’ll be irrational, moody, and a pain because it’s really hard to trust.”

“How do you know this?” James questioned her, narrowing his eyes contemplatively.

“I took a couple of psychology classes from Yale online,” Nat explained. At his blank stare she laughed. “It’s this Muggle university in America. They have a lot of their classes online.”

Nothing.

“The internet?” Nat reminded him. “You can watch a video of the professors teaching classes.”

Nothing.

She shook her head with a grin. “Never mind that, the point is I was interested in the human brain and how it worked through trauma so I found the information and studied it.”

“How old were you?” James asked in amazement.

“Ten,” Nat told him as she looked up at the ceiling, trying to remember. “I think. What I’m trying to say is that Caroline will be challenging to be friends with after this. What she’ll need is people around her who steadfastly support her. You haven’t been good at that before.”

There was no point in sugarcoating it. Nat knew that bluntness was what was needed.

James considered this as he ran his fingers along the worn grain of the wooden desk. “What if I don’t think I can do that?”

“Then you need to not be close to her,” she said carefully. “You can be friendly, but don’t try to be her good friend. Her good friends are going to be in for a great deal of drama if Caroline is going to survive this.”

“She has to survive it!” James blurted out fiercely.

Wordlessly, Nat reached over to take his hand. “A lot of people don’t. Being alive isn’t the same thing as surviving and thriving after. Like I said, she’s never going to be the same.”

She let go and sat back, letting her words sink in. She’d never dealt with someone like this long-term, but she’d read plenty of blogs online that detailed what it was like. For about three months she’d been very fascinated by the world of teenage girls who were in real schools, not traveling the world being homeschooled as she was.

James sighed and after a long pause, said, “Okay. I… I want to be her friend. If I start messing up, you’ll tell me, right?”

Nat smiled. “I can do that.”

~*~

“Are you going this week?” Harry asked Hermione as they filed out from the conference room after their weekly morning meeting with Minister Macmillan.

Hermione shrugged. “I really can’t spare the time.”

Two weeks before, Harry would have said the same thing. He’d have told Ginny that the office needed him and that he wasn’t doing the case any good if he wasn’t there.

He’d also have pointed out that Isabella Crabbe was a direct threat to their family. Now, however, he knew that the real threat to his family had been himself. “You should go.”

Hermione’s lips pinched together, and Harry knew he wasn’t going to get anything else out of her. “When is your talk with the seventh years?”

Change of subject. Divert. That was Hermione. If she didn’t want to talk about it, she’d sidestep the problem. “After the Easter holidays,” Harry told her. “I’m not sure we really need any more at the moment, but we could use another woman. Susan is still our only female on the team. Hermione, you need to get away.”

“I’m not discussing it with you,” Hermione told him primly as she pushed the button for the lift. “I can’t believe Ginny told you–”

“Ginny told me nothing,” Harry retorted sharply. “What I’m seeing is you’re having the same issues that I am. This job isn’t everything. It’s just a way to pay the bills, and frankly neither of us needs the money. The job isn’t worth blowing up your family.”

The lift doors opened and Hermione entered. There were others on the lift, so Harry didn’t say any more. He went back to his office to catch up on a mountain of paperwork and deal with the rest of the annoying bits of being the Head Auror.

They’d had no word on Isabella Crabbe and Donald Baker seemed to have gone underground. The only progress they’d made was discovering that the men they’d captured when Teddy had rescued the woman from the small shed was that the men weren’t British.

The simple brilliance of that was unbelievable. If they’d been Brits, they’d have been registered as such. If those men had made a British woman pregnant, they’d have been dragged in and forced to marry. When Isabella had brought in help, she’d brought in men who could fake a British accent. They were given free-reign over the women they held, with no possible legal consequences unless they were captured.

The goal now, clearly, was they wanted women to be pregnant. The men they’d captured wouldn’t speak. They’d proved resistant to truth-telling potions because they didn’t know what was going on. All they knew was that they were allowed to rape the women, holding them captive, until they were pregnant.

It begged the question of what on earth was Isabella trying to accomplish? She wanted wizards, because these men were magical, to try to get a woman pregnant. She could have done that with just a spell. She didn’t need them to have sex.

But then again, Isabella was buggered in the head. She was certifiably insane, and she’d been raped by her own husband.

But the goal of getting a woman pregnant… what was that about? Why did she need pregnant women? Why not just kidnap an already pregnant woman?

A knock sounded at his closed office door.

“Enter,” Harry called out and to his surprise, Hermione came in, shutting the door behind her. He watched as she seated herself across from him. Her posture was stiff, her chin in the air. “Are you okay?”

Finally, she said, “No. I think you’re right. Ron and I are falling apart. I honestly don’t know why we married in the first place. We fight all the time. We’ve always bickered. We never have any peace in our house. It’s miserable. Part of me wants to let the whole thing fall apart.”

He nodded slowly. “You married him because you love him and he loves you. You have a long history together.”

Hermione shook her head and a stray curl came lose, hanging down her cheek. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t have the energy to fight this anymore. I’m too tired from fighting him. But we’re stuck because we have a soul bond. Half the time I want to move out.”

Then she burst into tears.

Harry handed over a tissue from the box he kept on his desk for crying witnesses and waited for her to collect herself. “Hermione…”

“You and Ginny are much better suited,” Hermione sniffed as she dabbed at her red eyes. “Your personalities don’t clash. I’m afraid that if I go away with Ron to the beach house we’ll figure out we really aren’t meant to be together forever, and we’ll decide to split houses.”

“That’s not what Ron wants,” Harry reminded her. “He loves you, even though you drive him mental. I think if you two make the commitment to work it out, you can. You probably need therapy or something, but you can do it.”

She laughed bitterly. “We’ve been in therapy before, Harry. It never works. He ends up accusing me of being too rigid and a workaholic, while I can’t stand the fact that he never takes anything seriously.”

“He takes a lot of things seriously, and you are a workaholic,” Harry pointed out with the shake of his head. His exasperation was starting to leak out. “Hermione, he takes your family very seriously. Family has always been a key part of Ron’s framework. He’s a family man. You can’t tell him he doesn’t take that seriously and not expect him to be offended and put out. You work a minimum of sixty-hours a week on a light week.”

“Oh sure, so it’s all my fault!” Hermione sobbed as she sprang to her feet.

Harry rose, as well. “If you can’t see your own faults in this, there’s something wrong. That’s not the Hermione I have known all these years. I don’t think you take your marriage seriously enough.”

“I do!” she cried, pointing at him. “You aren’t there, Harry! You’re not there to hear all the ways he makes me feel like I’m less than…” Hermione shook her head sadly. “You don’t know.”

“I do know that Ron thinks you’re the smartest person he knows,” Harry said quietly. “If you’re feeling like he’s saying something else, then something is being lost in translation. You need to get away for a bit and fix your relationship. If it falls apart, I’ll be able to point and say that you didn’t try at the end, but Ron did.” Now he smiled, a little ruefully. “You wouldn’t want him to win that one.”

Hermione gave a watery laugh. “Childish, Harry, but… you’re right.”

~*~

Isabella stared out of the window of the small room where she liked to sit and think. She liked the quiet here. She liked being alone with no one to bother her. Sadly, the oaf was in residence, so her tranquility was meager.

She had plans, big plans. She ought to have been working on them, but there was brilliance in finding the silence. She had hit a small stumbling block, to be sure, but it was only a temporary setback.

She would have her revenge. She’d waited this long, and it might be years yet, still, but she had years. It would be years until the one she wanted would be ripe, ready to pick. It was so perfect that he’d provided her with the perfect victim.

Her hands were aging. They didn’t cut potions ingredients as smoothly as they had in the past, but that was no matter. They worked. Her brain was as sharp as ever, honed to a razor’s edge by years of living in fear and torment.

She didn’t enjoy the method that Baker had insisted on employing to achieve their goals. The women didn’t need to be tortured, although certainly it kept the men in her employ happy enough.

She’d needed Baker. She’d needed his funds, and he, in turn, wanted what she was going to create. She was sure she’d succeed and when she did, she would have the whole of the wizarding world at her feet. They’d all be under her spell without even knowing it.

It was simple brilliance, but first she needed to make it work. She had five years minimum before it would be important, but upwards of ten to get it right.

Time.

Isabella sighed and turned when she heard the loud footsteps of the perverse man she’d taken up arms with.

Donald Baker was a pedophile and a murder. He was, quite simply, everything Isabella had hated about her own husband. She couldn’t wait until the moment she could stab him in the back.

She rather thought she would do so literally, with a sharp, hot blade, slicing his spinal cord so that she could watch him slowly bleed to death, unable to move to help himself.

It was with that thought that Isabella was able to create a false smile for him. First, she needed the money to continue to fund research for her project. Next, she needed his worldwide distribution network and clever marketing in order to spread the product to every magical person on the planet.

If it worked, and she had no reason to suppose it wouldn’t, they would be wealthy beyond their wildest dreams when they figured out just what had been done to them, or more importantly, to their children.

“Shouldn’t you be working?” Baker barked out.

Isabella flicked her wand and sent an absent curse towards the odious man. Used to this, he blocked it with a laugh.

“I am taking a break,” Isabella told him primly. “Besides, we have no one to test upon at the moment.”

“We will shortly,” Baker waved that small problem aside. “I’ve arranged for a couple of girls to be smuggled here from abroad. No one will miss them, not even when they’re dead.”

This was why she kept this man around. He’d likely fiddled with his daughter more times than could be counted, but he did have his uses.

Too bad he was such a pervert.

“I will set to work on the latest modification of the potion then tomorrow,” she said flatly. “Make sure they don’t touch the girls until it is ready.”

“Don’t dawdle,” Baker told her as he turned his back and strode for the door. “They won’t wish to wait long.”

He meant that he didn’t wish to wait long.

Baker could have found a girlfriend. He could have paid a prostitute, but the sick man preferred to take his women by force.

When he said he’d found girls, Isabella rather thought he was being literal. None of the foreign girls were likely to be over sixteen. That wasn’t how he liked them.

Dispassionately, she turned back to gaze out onto the rolling hills of the English countryside. He was still useful, so for now he would live. A few girls were always going to die anyway.

Her son would have his revenge upon Potter, even if it was from the grave. Isabella would make sure of that.

In the process she would bring down the entire corrupt system in England. It was, as they said, a win-win.

She smiled.
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