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SIYE Time:14:45 on 17th August 2018


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: 337
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: 92587; Chapter Total: 661
Awards: View Trophy Room




Author's Notes:
This chapter is brutal... if you want to skip that, once it swaps over to Harry's POV, go for it. Warning you now. I won't do this again, not to this extent, but moving along the plot. Adding more layers...

I'm sorry it took so long, I had another work commitment that ate up all of my time. I'll get back to regular postings now.

Thanks Arnel for keeping up with my insane beta'ing. :)




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Nat was sure that they were not going to make it. She stared out at the landscape that they were passing as they steamed through England and towards King’s Cross and ignored the turmoil that was twisting her up inside. Okay, she wasn’t ignoring it. She was trying hard to ignore it because Ellie Sandler was sitting with them, flirting with Al, and really, she wanted to be happy for Al, she really did, but instead she felt like something was sitting heavily in her chest, weighing her down and stripping off something that felt like it was never meant to be stripped away. Ellie was pretty, and a redhead, just like all the other Potter women, and she was tall!

Okay, she wasn’t really all that tall, but she was at least average height, unlike Nat, who was still gnat sized. She shook her head at that. She’d decided to call herself ‘fun-sized’ even though none of her magical friends would get the reference, at all. It wasn’t really a thing in England, either, but she’d seen the fun-sized candy in America, so she’d pointed them out to the boys when they’d been in North Carolina over the summer. It was something they would get, at the very least.

“Who’s picking you up?” Scorpius asked and Nat turned from staring out the window to look across the seat at him, only to realize he was speaking to Rose’s boyfriend, who was in at the end of the same bench she, herself, was sitting on.

“I’m not sure, actually,” he admitted with a grin. “I think my parents are coming for me, but that’s only if my father is available. Otherwise it’ll be a butler or possibly my oldest brother, since he can drive. I’d rather the butler, as my brother George is a maniac behind the wheel. He has this expensive car that goes really fast. It’s a wonder he hasn’t crashed it, yet.”

Rose shifted in her seat, clearly uncomfortable, and Nat knew why. While Andrew wanted to introduce his girlfriend to his parents, Rose was not feeling the same way. Her dad would lose his mind if he thought his daughter had a boyfriend. There was no telling what Ron Weasley would do, although Nat thought he might be more open to the experience than Rose feared. Still, that wasn’t the only reason. Rose had asked Nat about the Muggle royals until Nat thought her brains would leak out of her head. Nat didn’t even know most of what Rose had wanted to know, so she’d had to send out for books so they could figure things out. It was then that Rose had learned that most of the royals were supposed to be of good bloodlines, just like the purebloods of the magical world. Also, and this was a major sticking point to a fourteen-year-old girl, they were supposed to marry beautiful if they couldn’t marry other royalty.

It wasn’t that Rose was hung up about not being beautiful, because she wasn’t, but that didn’t make Rose any less, and she knew that. Rose believed in herself in a way that Nat envied wholeheartedly. It also helped that, while not classically beautiful, Rose was pretty. Nat was not. She was just slightly better than not freaky looking, so Rose was way ahead in that area and clearly Andrew thought she was wonderful. He thought she was beautiful. The day that he’d told Rose that she’d practically floated through the evening. She’d told Nat that she’d never expected it, that she could hardly believe that he meant it, but it was so obviously clear that he did that she’d been on cloud-nine. It wasn’t Andrew’s feelings that worried Rose; it was his family’s. There was always the chance that they could take one look at her, with her bushy hair and her freckles, and decide she wasn’t worthy of Andrew. They might want him to break up with her.

Nat didn’t think that would be the case, but Rose was definitely worried about it. However, Nat was not. Even if his family wanted him to end it with Rose, he wasn’t going to. Andrew Holmes was not a boy who would bend under pressure. He was a solid, steady boy and he did whatever felt right to him. For as long as he wanted to date Rose, he’d date Rose, and no one was going to change that. As if reading her mind, even though Nat knew Rose hadn’t told him of her fears, he squeezed Rose’s hand and shook his head. “It will be fine. Your dad will like me, my parents will like you, don’t worry so. Even my butler will like you.”

“I have a question,” Al asked suddenly. “What’s a butler?”

“It’s like a paid house-elf,” Nat explained while Ellie giggled. Nat ground her teeth and went back to staring out the window, trying to ignore what was going on around her.

Scorpius nudged her leg with his foot and she glanced over to see his raised brow and the silent questions. She carefully shook her head and went back to staring out the window. She couldn’t stand to watch the flirting, since she was forced to listen to it. She’d observed once that it seemed painful to have a new relationship, as it were. There was a lot about it that seemed extremely awkward, at least at first. She had to admit that she liked what Rose and Andrew had together. They were a couple, but it had moved on to the sweet and the funny. They laughed together, held hands, and when Rose was having a bad time of it studying for exams, Andrew had pulled her into his arms and had held on until she’d managed to calm down enough to go back to studying. The look on Rose’s face had been wonderful.

It made Nat jealous in so many ways. The thought of someone feeling like that for her seemed so far out of reach, and growing further away, so that she’d never, ever get to that place of being loved. Al would hug her, sure. He didn’t mind that, but he didn’t feel like that towards her and Ellie was just a perfect reminder that she needed to get over her crush on Al. While things like a boyfriend seemed to be going away, her crush on Al was not. That kept getting bigger and it was starting to crush her. Maybe that’s why they called it a crush, since it was so crushingly painful when it was one-sided.

There would be other things to think of for Christmas. She was only going to get two days with her parents, but she’d get to see both of them, at least. They would be going to the Potter’s beach house on Boxing Day, and until then she’d get Al’s parents, whom she enjoyed, and Gran Weasley was going to teach Nat how to bake things that Nat would actually be able to eat. Her new diet was working. She had more energy, she didn’t faint, and she was starting to gain more weight. It wasn’t that she’d had much in the way of sweets before she’d been on the feeding line for so long, but now it was so much worse. She could eat meat, cheese, eggs, and most vegetables. That was about it. She could also have some nuts, but that wasn’t all that much fun.

Gran Weasley had heard about Nat’s problem being able to eat foods like everyone else, and she’d taken matters into her own hands. Well, a bit. She’d summoned Harry to her house with his car and she’d had him drive her into London, to a book store, so that they could buy cookery books. When she’d read Mrs. Potter’s letter, she’d burst into tears of joy. She could just see the older lady ordering the famous Harry Potter around, and him being happy to do so. So now Nat knew there were going to be treats for her at the Potters, and that Gran was going to show her how to make them! She was so excited for that that she could have yelled in excitement.

She could have something that looked like a biscuit, and tasted like a biscuit, as long as it was made with almond flour and sweetened with stevia. Explaining that to the house-elves had gone nowhere. If she wasn’t ever going to have a boyfriend, at least she’d have biscuits. It was something.

“Nat!” Startled, she turned to find Al kneeling in front of her, his hand on her arm, his expression concerned.

“What?” she asked, very confused.

“Are you okay?” he demanded quickly as he scrutinized her from head to toe.

“Yeah,” she said slowly, “why?”

He gave her an odd look. “We’ve been trying to talk to you for over a minute and you didn’t hear us.”

“Oh,” she blushed as she realized she’d been trying to, and clearly succeeding in tuning him out. “I was dreaming of biscuits. Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

His face relaxed and he nodded. Al turned to go back to his seat, only to find that Scorpius had slid over next to Ellie, so that he and Andrew could play Exploding Snap, leaving only the window seat across from her open. Ellie looked extremely put out, with her arms crossed in front of her, so Nat went back to staring out the window. The day really couldn’t get much more awkward.

They arrived in a snow storm, but it didn’t make it onto the platform. Nat stared up in amazement at the sky above the train station and marveled at the snow that was hitting what appeared to be a protective bubble, but wasn’t landing on the platform. “Wow!”

“Oh, good,” Rose sighed happily. “I was hoping they’d have that up to save us. It looked like there was over a foot of snow on the ground as we were steaming in.”

“I think it’s a bit more than that, actually,” Andrew mused as he stood to help Al and Scorpius haul down the girls’ bags. He grinned at Rose. “Are you ready? I spotted both my parents.”

Rose’s face went white, but she took her small bag and nodded. Nat followed right behind them, mostly because she wanted to listen, but it was partially to get away from Al and Ellie. Al and Ellie… it sounded so… musical and right. She hated it, of course.

She silently scolded herself for being stupid and was amused when, after he’d exited the train, Andrew turned to hold out a hand for both Rose and herself. “Thanks,” she said with a laugh.

“I’ve seen you walk,” Andrew joked with a shake of his head. “You could trip over flat ground.”

“I have tripped over flat ground,” she retorted as she grinned at Mrs. Potter who was hurrying towards her. “Hi!” she said as she dropped her bag and flung her arms around Al’s mum.

“Oh, Nat,” she laughed as she squeezed her hard, then made room to grab for Lily, who had appeared out of nowhere, carrying no bags at all. “I missed you so much! How was your term?”

“It was wonderful, Mum!” Lily gushed as they broke apart. She was practically bouncing.

“Where’s Ducky?” Ginny asked in concern, referring to Lily’s cat.

Lily waved back towards the carriages, and a moment later Al and Scorpius appeared, carrying Lily’s bags. Al looked extremely put upon, but Scorpius was more amused at having to carry the unhappy Ducky.

“Lily Luna,” Ginny scolded quietly.

“I couldn’t wait,” Lily turned back to her mother, her eyes filling as she grabbed Ginny’s hand. “I couldn’t get through the crowds with the bags and I wanted to get to you, Mum. The boys didn’t mind.”

“I didn’t mind,” Scorpius agreed with a chuckle as he handed over the pet carrier to Lily. “Hi, Mrs. Potter.”

She smiled at Al’s best friend and shook her head with a wry grin. “You’re spoiling her.”

“She’s already rotten,” Al said as he dropped Lily’s bag next to his and glanced up at the sky above them. “How on earth are we going to drive home in this?”

It was then that Nat caught sight of Rose and Andrew and she grinned as she watched her friend shake hands with Andrew’s parents, while Andrew tossed a little girl up in the air, making her giggle madly. He stopped and introduced Rose to his sister, for she looked just like the picture that Nat had seen on the train ride to Hogwarts. Claire. That was Andrew’s sister’s name, and she was three, but Nat guessed that she was closing in on four by the facial development and size of her. She was… well, there was no other way to put it. She was glowing with a magical light that sparkled and shone around her, just as it did around every other magical person when Nat tried to see them for who they really were. But that wasn’t what drew her attention. Andrew’s father, the Duke, glowed as well. It wasn’t like a Squib, who only had one or two tiny flickers of light, typically around the head. No, the man was lit up with dampened lights that appeared gloomy and oppressed. Interesting. She could reason through that one quickly, but wondered at his father never telling Andrew that he, too, was magical but could not pursue it because of his title. Maybe it would come out when Claire went to Hogwarts, but then again, maybe not. Claire was definitely going to Hogwarts. Nat wouldn’t be able to tell Andrew about it, which was annoying, but she knew it was for her own safety.

The little girl tucked her dark head into Andrew’s shoulder and held onto him while Rose spoke with Andrew’s parents. It was then that Nat spotted Rose’s parents walking towards them and her heart sank. “Uh oh,” she muttered.

Ginny spun around and sighed. “He’ll be okay… I think. Both Hermione and I have been railing at him to keep his temper.”

To her surprise, Ron Weasley held out his hand to Andrew, who shook it, a bit awkwardly since he had his hands full, but there was a grin on the older man’s face as he spoke to first Andrew, then to Andrew’s parents.

“I didn’t see it going that well,” Ginny admitted to them quietly. “Hermione must have threatened to leave him in a snowbank.”

“I don’t think so,” Lily said slowly. “Uncle Ron looks happy, maybe a bit nervous, but he seems happy. He didn’t even flinch when Andrew put an arm around Rose’s waist.”

“This is all terribly interesting,” James said from behind them, making all of them jump, “but I’d love to know how we’re getting home in this mess.”

Ginny walked over to him, grabbed his ear and gently pulled his head down until she could kiss his cheek. “You can walk.”

James laughed. “Seriously, Mum.”

She shook her head. “Your father bought a new toy and it’s been driving me mad. It’s ghastly looking, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him no. He couldn’t find parking close, so he’s waiting out front for us.”

“I’ll see you in a few days, then,” Scorpius said with clear reluctance.

“No,” Ginny turned back to him. “Your parents are stuck at their house. I had a chat with your mother this morning. You’ll drive home with us, and I’ve arranged for you to spend the night. Your mum says you can come home tomorrow through the Floo.”

Scorpius’ expression relaxed completely.

“How are Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione getting home?” Lily wondered as she bent to pick up her bag, but Scorpius had already grabbed it.

Ginny sighed heavily. “Ron took one look at the blasted thing and decided he had to have one, too, so Harry bought him one. I swear they get more immature the older they get.”

It was a Hummer. Nat stared at the big, black beast with its chrome accents and shook her head. It was at least twice her height and she couldn’t fathom how she’d even get into it.

Harry solved that by plucking her up and handing her in. “Thanks, Mr. Potter,” she said as she climbed through and found a seat. It wasn’t like a normal Hummer, which only seated five or six people. This one had been modified to seat at least twelve, with comfortable seats spread around a large area. She plopped down and buckled up while the boys handled the luggage. Lily sat down next to her, her eyes huge. “It’s like a tank,” Nat commented dryly.

Lily shot her a bemused look. “What’s a tank?”

The boys clambered up, forestalling their conversation.

Al whistled as he looked around the cream white, leather interior. “Wow.”

Wow indeed.

The drive home was still a little scary, but with the magically enhanced SUV it was also pretty fun. It took twice as long to get there as it would have, otherwise, but no one minded because the scenery was beautiful and they had each other.

The only one unhappy about it was Ducky, who yowled and protested at the bumpy ride until Lily let him out. He tried to hide under the seats, but ended up wedged behind Al’s legs, scratching him in his terror. He appeared resigned, since he wouldn’t let Lily out of her seat to retrieve the cat.

When they finally pulled to a stop in front of Ivy Run, the snow was almost two feet deep. Nat stared at it, completely unsure of how she was going to be able to walk through it.

The door was pulled open and a bundled up Teddy grinned at them. “Hey, you lot. Let’s get in before this thing gets buried. Lily,” he said as he held out his arms and she scooped up her cat before allowing Teddy to carry her into the house.

The boys all exchanged a look, then scrambled out, leaving Nat the lone one left in the Hummer. Even Mrs. Potter was being helped into the house by her husband. Al stared up at her, but while he was tall, the snow was up past his knees already. He waited with her, though, until Teddy came back to carry her in. “I made myself taller to do this,” he laughed as he carted her inside and set her down. “I’m going for the bags, now.”

Nat turned to find Lily hugging a very pregnant Victoire. She walked towards her, her eyes fixed on the woman’s large stomach and saw the baby. Startled, she couldn’t tear her eyes away as the baby slept, but shifted a little, her tiny face going up to her mouth, then relaxing.

“Nat?” Ginny asked her in concern.

“I… I can see the baby,” she whispered, but everyone heard her and turned from her, back to Victoire.

“You can see the baby?” Victoire asked and Nat was suddenly relieved that she hadn’t spilled the beans about the baby being a girl. They wanted to be surprised.

She nodded and moved forward, tilting her head this way and that to get a better look at her. Victoire was eight months pregnant. Nat could see that by the development, which was basically done. Now she would need to get some fat to make her a chubby baby. That was nearly all of what happened in the last month of development anyway.

Completely oblivious to what had happened, Al, Teddy, and Harry tromped in with the last of the bags as Teddy asked, “How was your trip?”

“Annoyingly long,” Al grumbled miserably. “This maddening girl I don’t like decided to sit with us. It sucked.”

~*~

Harry didn’t get to spend the evening with his family. Before they’d even sat down to dinner, he and Teddy were headed back to the Ministry. He strode into the conference room where Auror Gregory waited for them, a piece of parchment clutched in his hands. “We’ve secured the scene,” he told his boss as he held out the piece of parchment. Harry saw that his hand shook, ever so slightly, but then it was gone as the man regained his control.

Harry had never seen the man so rattled and couldn’t imagine what could have possibly set him off, but his eyes only had to scan the words to know. “Merlin…” he sighed as he reread the statement more carefully. “Where?”

“South of London,” Gregory explained. “The MLE were called in on what we thought was a routine matter and they stumbled across it. It appears to have been a good fight before most of them got away. I checked in with the Healers and the three MLE agents are still being worked on. It doesn’t look good, but they won’t tell me more than that.”

“They captured one man?” Teddy asked as he read over Harry’s shoulder. “Want me to take him?”

“He’s still unconscious,” Gregory told him. “I have him under guard at St. Mungo’s. I think you should head to the scene.”

Harry’s brow rose as he studied the other man. “There’s something that you’re not telling me?” It wasn’t really a question, but it was coming out like it.

“We wanted no paper trail until you’d seen it for yourself,” Gregory told him shortly, his face pale. “In fact, we might want to leave Lupin out of this one. He can debrief the MLE once the Healers have cleared them for questioning.”

Teddy started at the notion, but Harry considered it. There were some things that could never, ever be unseen. It would be a shame to give him that when he was still so young. “Agreed.”

He and Gregory went towards the elevators to get out of the Ministry. “We’ll Apparate there. There is a place we can appear safely without alerting any Muggles. I’ve had them close it off because we’ll be examining this scene for at least another twelve hours.”

They arrived at a cleared warehouse to find half the MLE waiting around outside the building and a disheveled Hermione speaking to Susan Macmillan. The snow had been melted and was being kept from piling up at the entrance to the crime scene. It wasn’t a big warehouse, and Harry could see that the windows appeared blacked out from soot or lack of cleaning, he couldn’t tell which. Susan, Harry noted, did not look well. “What happened?” he asked harshly the second he reached the two women.

“I can’t go back in there, Harry,” Susan told him quietly as she closed her eyes. “I tried… I’m so sorry. I can’t.”

“You shouldn’t,” Hermione agreed as her face turned green. “God, what an awful… were you filled in yet?”

“No,” Harry admitted, alarmed at the look on both of their faces. He stepped around them and down into the hive of Aurors who were processing the scene. He found Silas Raeburn directing the whole thing. Silas was close to retiring, and a curmudgeon just like Mad-Eye Moody had been, but also a very skilled Auror. He was methodical and meticulous and the right man to have on the ground in a complicated scene. “You don’t want the MLE involved?” Harry asked, although he didn’t doubt that Raeburn had an excellent reason.

Silas shoot his silvered head. “Too many loose lips on this one. Come and see.”

Harry followed him into a back room where there were several bloody mattresses lined up along the wall, along with chains next to the mattresses. The smell in the room was so unbelievably foul that he couldn’t reconcile how he hadn’t smelled it before until he remembered that they’d just come up with a spell to stop smells at doors and windows. They’d been testing it for only a few weeks now. Clearly it was working. He gagged slightly, turning to clutch at his stomach at the smells of decay and feces.

“It’s working to keep most everyone from noticing what’s happening in here, but this is just horrendous, Potter,” Silas explained bluntly as he handed Harry a paste to put in his nose to block out the smell. He dabbed it on quickly and inhaled the smell of peppermint. It helped, to a degree, but did nothing to block out the taste of rot in his mouth.

“What the hell is that?” Harry demanded as he followed Silas over to a dumpster. He would never, ever know, until his dying day, how he didn’t throw up. The dumpster was full of writhing, wriggling maggots like the long grass dancing in the wind on a summer’s day, although there was nothing pleasant about this sight. The bugs feasted heavily on what he could see were the rotting corpses of women and… babies. He could see several babies on top of the pile, bugs climbing out their noses and eyes. Harry spun and strode off, so sick he could hardly think. He grabbed at his hair as everything in him screamed in anger and fury.

She’d gone too far this time! The stupid bitch was fucking crazy, but this was the absolute limit and worse still, Harry couldn’t seem to catch her! He was partially responsible for those bodies in the bin! Guilt, disgust, fear, anger, and so many emotions he couldn’t name roiled through him like those fucking bugs.

“Potter,” Raeburn said quietly. “It took me a good hour to get myself together, sir. I need you to do that in ten minutes. The press is going to be alerted before too long and we have to be well into this investigation before that happens.”

Harry nodded slowly and breathed as deeply as he could through the stench and the sick. “Is Wallace coming?” he asked, referring to the Healer who dealt with the dead bodies when their deaths were suspicious. He could use the old, experienced man’s calm demeanor right now.”

“He’s already here,” Raeburn answered quickly. “He was waiting for you so you could see what we were dealing with before. We thought about a picture to show you, but decided you needed to see it.”

“Agreed,” Harry answered. “I’m going to quickly consult with Mrs. Weasley and send McMillian to the hospital. She can trade out with Lupin if we need more manpower.” He hated to do that, but Teddy didn’t need to be in this room to be helpful. There was a ton of evidence and paperwork to go through in the front room.

“I think we’re fine on manpower,” Silas assured him. “You handle the front end of this and I’ll keep the back end going. I’ll send for Wallace shortly.”

Harry nodded and strode out of the room, reveling in the clean, untainted air he immediately began to gulp like a starving man at a feast. He found Hermione outside, her expression frozen into a mask of forced calm. “Susan, you can head home,” he told the other woman.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly again, clearly ashamed as she glanced down at the ground. “I just…”

She had a baby... well, not a baby, but still a small child. Harry struggled at the moment to remember how old her son was, exactly. “It’s fine.”

“I’m pregnant,” Susan whispered so only he and Hermione could hear. Normally that would have been cause for celebration, or consternation since she was still his only female Auror, but they both assured her they were happy for her and sent her on her way.

“I’m going to steal a Muggle expression for this,” Harry told Hermione as soon as Susan had left. “This is a goddamned mess.”

Hermione nodded slowly. “I had a small brief from Raeburn, but chose not to go in and see. I can’t see it, Harry, I just can’t.”

He wished wholeheartedly that he could un-see it. “Can you handle the press and the MLE? At this point we really only need a skeleton crew to keep everyone else out. It’s going to take hours to process this.”

She shifted uncomfortably. “I can do that. I’ll select the ones I trust the most to guard the scene. I need to report in to the Minister.”

“I can do that once I’m done here,” Harry told her flatly. “It’s better coming from me. I just need you to deal with the public face of this. I might lose my job over this one.”

When Hermione didn’t contradict him, he knew it was a likely possibility. At this moment, he felt like he deserved it. “I know you’re doing your best to find her, but the problem is that no one is going to believe that when they hear what’s been discovered.”

He nodded at his sister-in-law and moved back into the building. It was time to get to work. First, he went over with the Aurors in the front what they were finding in the papers and figured out that most of them were notes and notations on potions and experimentations of some kinds, formulations that weren’t working. “We might have struck a goldmine,” Harry told Gregory, who was dealing with this part of the collection. “If we can figure out what she’s trying to do we might have a clearer motivation for her, but that unfortunately won’t stop her. I think we’ll have to bring Slughorn in on this one.”

“Agreed,” Gregory told him, “but he is a cranky old man at this point. He might not want to help.”

“He’ll help if I personally visit him to ask,” Harry assured Gregory with flat determination. “He owes me.”

“Hermione is a dab hand at potions,” the other man pointed out, but Harry shook his head. “My other sister-in-law, Audrey, is better. Both she and Percy would have the time to devote to this, to help Slughorn out, but we need his brain.”

Someone called to him and he turned to find Raeburn summoning him into the room of death. Harry followed quickly, still queasy from his last trip in. Wallace was slowly levitating bodies out of the large bin and into individual body bags, stopping to photograph every step. Raeburn indicated the mattresses. “We have blood and semen on them. I’m also certain we’ve found afterbirth present on several of them. It looks like they were impregnated here and were kept here until they gave birth.”

“Merlin,” Harry swore as he stared at the dingy mattresses. “Did you find anything else?”

“There’s a pile of soiled bedding, which was sitting on top of the bodies. There hasn’t been a living woman here for at least a few days. It was a bit of luck because they were clearing up and packing out the potions notes when they were caught, which is partially why we have anything.”

Harry knew Isabella Crabbe worked, and he had a reasonable handle on her. She had rough men on hand, stupid ones who were brutal and didn’t ask too many questions. She captured young women and she let the men have at them, raping them whenever they wanted. She was intentionally impregnating women. That much was clear, but for what purpose? As far as he knew, this was the first time the babies had lived. They had had women before who ended up miscarrying and being sterilized by whatever she was doing to them. That didn’t seem to be the objective, though he’d once thought that was it. Now, though, it seemed like she wanted the babies born. Or did she? “Wallace, can you tell if the babies were born alive?”

“Not at this stage, no,” Wallace told him. “I’ll know after I examine them.”

“What are you thinking?” Raeburn questioned quietly.

“I just need to figure out what she’s trying to do,” Harry told him simply. “I can’t seem to fathom what her ultimate goal might be. Why would she want all these pregnant women? I assume she’s experimenting on them, but what’s the aim?” A cold shiver ran over his spine as he thought about Victoire, but as far as he knew she hadn’t snatched any women who were already pregnant. She wanted them before they conceived. It left him sick with himself that he’d worry more about his own family, when so many other women were being tortured and killed violently.

Maybe he really did need to quit. If ever there was an existential crisis in his life, this would be it. Sighing heavily, he thought through all of the missing women. At first Crabbe had snatched any woman, without thought to their having family who might protest, but she’d wised up when that had led to public attention and outcries to find her. It left the public more on guard. Now she was taking women from overseas, which meant that their babies weren’t going to register on the British system as a magical baby being born.

That… that might be a start. If they could get the magical registry to work for geography, not just its citizens, then they might be able to track the women down as soon as they were impregnated. That system was kept confidential and no one was allowed to see it, but under the circumstances, he would have no trouble convincing the Minister and the Wizengamot to sign off on his use of the tool. The question was how difficult would it be to make it work that way. “I need to speak to Hermione,” he told Raeburn before hurrying out to find her.

It took only a minute of explanation for Hermione to understand what he was after, and she said she had the best spell creator she knew in mind to start on the project. “It might not be easy,” she warned him. “I still don’t have a full explanation of how the registration works or how it knows when someone has been impregnated, but… but…” her eyes glazed over and she sighed heavily. “It does work on geography, Harry.”

“What?” he asked sharply. “How do you know?”

“It’s only registering unmarried babies and sending off a warning,” she told him sharply. “You overlooked the simple explanation that she’s either snatching magically married women or having them married, their souls bound, before they get into the country. That’s why we aren’t getting warnings of them being here!”

Several fluid and creative cusswords spewed from his mouth as he turned away from her to pace up and down. “What about the Hogwarts registry?”

“It’s only registering at birth,” Hermione told him dejectedly. “We would be able to know a baby is born, and possibly tweak that system to get their location, but my understanding is that they didn’t have the locations of the babies, on purpose, so that someone like Voldemort couldn’t target them. It’s going to take time, but that’s a way I can work it.”

He gave a sharp nod. “Do it. Please.”

“I will,” she promised.

It was something, at least a start to get a handle on this insane woman. Slowly, feeling older than he had in a long, long time, he made his way back in to check on his team. He found Wallace waiting for him, his expression grim. “Healer Wallace?”

“That little girl,” Wallace said in an undertone. “I just might need her.”

Harry felt his heart sink straight into his toes. He’d been afraid of that. “Do your best first, then if it’s impossible, I’ll bring her by.”

The older man inclined his head. “I’m ready to move the bodies back to St. Mungo’s. It’s going to be a long few days of exams for me.”

It was going to be a long few days for all of them, and worst yet, it was right before Christmas.
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