Hermione found herself disorientated, the light of the flickering torches suddenly being replaced by the silvery light of the orb hovering above Mina's head as she slowly made her way down a winding stone staircase. The walls were damp beneath her fingertips and instead of the gentle quiet of Hogwarts at night, Hermione could hear the drip of water and murmurs that seemed to be coming from behind her in the darkness.
It had been so long since she'd experienced Mina's emotions and the rush of fear that clashed with her anger left her reeling a little. Hermione didn't know whether she was relieved or annoyed by the Sensieve's sudden appearance; it was true that Mina and Edwards's story hadn't felt finished, but her precarious friendship with Malfoy certainly had and she'd almost made her peace with that.
Quickly Mina's thoughts drowned out her own, the murmurs becoming moans and cries that made the hair on her arms stand up in fright. Mina knew the dungeons from long ago when she, Sonyea and Arden had all been children and they had stood empty. They'd frightened her then, now they filled her with a dread that almost stilled her in place. Mina took several deep breaths to try and calm her racing heart. She knew she had to this; contact with the other witches and wizards had petered out into nothingness since Sonyea's death and it had made Mina feel entirely useless, the only thing that had kept her from feeling completely like a prisoner was her frequent meetings with Edward.
Mina felt her resolve return as she thought of him, a soft smile playing on her lips. Hermione flushed as memories of Edward and Mina together flickered before her eyes; their lips desperate and searching as they clawed at clothing, her skin burning as he traced every inch of her, the feel of his scars beneath her fingertips...mercifully the thoughts ended abruptly when another cry pierced the darkness, making Mina jump into action.
She reached the bottom of the stairwell, any torches that could have been lit were left cold and unused against the walls. Mina scanned the cells either side of her, watching as people shied away from the light of her orb, shielding themselves and cowering in various filthy corners. Mina felt tears burn in her eyes at the sight of them, many of them were injured, some dead and other rocked back and forth as she passed, their vacant eyes seeming not to see her at all. The air was putrid with faeces and rotting flesh and the poison of it burnt her lungs and turned her stomach.
"Mina?" A voice called from within the darkness, filthy fingers curing around the iron bars. Mina blinked several times, hardly recognising the pale and pallid face before her.
"Lady Greengrass?" Mina asked uncertain, the figure before her squinted its eyes holding a shaking hand up to its face.
"The light." Mina quickly dimmed the light, turning back, her mouth opening and closing in disbelief as she took in the once proud womans sunken cheeks and matted hair.
"Water?" Lady Greengrass croaked, her shaking hand reaching expectantly through the bars. Mina quickly muttered a spell, her small pouch transforming into a waterskin bursting with water. Lady Greengrass grasped it fiercely with desperate fingers and guzzled down the contents greedily. Without so much as a word she passed it to someone in the cell behind her and turned back to Mina, her eyes filled with gratitude.
"What are you doing here? I ..I thought you were with the other remaining council members." Mina began and the lady sighed, her eyes closing and hair falling across her face in dark, greasy strings.
"Not many of the council members survive." Mina felt as though a weight has been dropped into her stomach, the council members had been their only hope for defeating Arden and his followers; with them, Arden had been small and insignificant, without them they were almost certainly facing defeat.
"Many of us came to aid those too young to apparate. I was teaching a small group of orphans when Arden and his followers caught me, where the others are I cannot say." Lady Greengrass's words were strained as if the very act of talking was an effort.
"So they could still be alive?" Mina said hopefully, a small amount of weightlifting. Lady Greengrass shook her head sadly.
"Lady Winters, Lady Rushworn and Lord Pherah were all captured by men under the banner of one, Tharin Morax, I hope for their safety but that is all it is." Lady Greengrass took a deep breath and let out a weary sigh, her voice cracking with sadness as she continued to speak.
"Lord Pepperiff was here when I arrived, one day they took him and...and he has not returned." Mina's eyes widened in horror, suddenly feeling sick to her stomach with guilt at not knowing what was going on right under her nose.
"Morax's men…" Mina swallowed past the grief that was making it hard to speak, gazing down at the filthy cobbles beneath her feet. "They killed Sonyea."
Lady Greengrass once again close her eyes as if shielding herself from the news.
"I had wanted to believe that it wasn't true." Someone muttered behind the witch and Mina squinted into the darkness. A figure rocked back and forth, skeletal arms wrapped around its legs as it continued to move.
"What...what's wrong with him?" Mina queried, using her magic to move the orb of light further into the cell. Figures dashed out of its reach clinging to the bars of their cage as they watched it pass with fearful eyes. Mina noticed that the figure was, in fact, a young man, head in filthy hands; when the orb stopped in front of him he let a large scream, pushing himself back against the wall in terror.
"Crucio, crucio, crucio." He mumbled it over and over again, his hands once again covering his face.
"He no longer sees what you or I see." Lady Greengrass said bitterly, pressing her lips together in anger.
"Crucio," Mina breathed, "But that hasn't..it hasn't been..I thought it was a myth." Hermione was shocked by the news, all that she had read of the curse had led her to believe that it had been around since the early middle ages.
"No, not a myth, it was created a long time ago by a dark wizard called Oloneous Heert." Mina's mouth fell open at the name.
"Sornius…" Hermione vaguely remembered the man that Mina had told Sonyea about, the wizard that had been spending time at the manor with Arden.
"Yes, when Oloneous died it was thought that the spell died with him, all word of it becoming nothing more than whispered stories that young witches and wizards scared themselves with. Dark wizards never stopped looking for it though and it would seem," Lady Greengrass sighed heavily again, "it would seem that they have found it."
Lady Greengrass rested her head against the bars.
"Oh Mina, the pain…"
"Shh, Shh." Mina cupped her hands around Lady Greengrass's, squeezing her cold fingers in a desperate attempt to comfort her.
"I hear then screaming and I can do nothing." A feeling of helplessness stabbed at Mina's chest, guilt once again settling in her stomach. She had been so happy with Edward, enjoying their stolen moments as if there was nothing and no-one else in the world. Their world had been silent save for their happiness, now all the terrible things were rushing at her and they were so overwhelmingly loud.
"I'm so sorry." Mina murmured desperately fighting back her own tears as the witch before her began to sob.
"I should have done more." Lady Greengrass shook her head.
"Do not blame yourself, you did all that you could, we all did." She leaned forward, her face pressing between the bars. "Who knows how many more would have died had you not given all the information you did, to Sonyea."
"It's still not enough." Mina sighed, gazing around her at all the prisoners that still cowered away from her.
"I hardly recognise who he has become," she commented to no one in particular but Lady Greengrass nodded, her gaze sympathetic and understanding.
"Dangerous minds have twisted, Arden. Those who speak only poison have been whispering in his ear for years."
Mina nodded wondering if she'd paid more attention she would have noticed. She had seen Sornius Heert with her friend many times; the old man had always been a potions enthusiast and Arden had been the same, so she had thought little of it. But now it seemed as though there had always been something not quite right about the wizard, something dark and foreboding that should have warned her.
"None of us saw any of this coming." Lady Greengrass stated as if reading Mina's thoughts.
"I have to get you out of here." Lady Greengrass smiled weakly.
"It would be an impossible task, Arden is a more than capable wizard and with the wizards, he has at his side," Lady Greengrass grimaced, "it would be suicide.
"I have to try," Mina said finally. "I could not leave you all here without at least trying."
"You put yourself in great danger simply by being here Mina, I would ask no more of you. Too many have died."
"And more will die if I do not do something. Anyone of you would do the same for me, I have no doubt." Mina turned away as a scream echoed from one of the furthest cells.
"I should return," she whispered quickly, gathering her skirt in her hands.
"Mina, wait." Lady Greengrass reached out to grab her arm and Mina tried not to wince at the bite of cold against her skin.
"See for yourself what Arden and his followers are doing and then decide if you want to risk your life for us." Mina shook her head smiling as warmly as she could.
"Nothing I could see would ever make me unwilling to help."
"Regardless you will do this for me, yes?"
Mina sighed, her head lowering gently as she gave in.
"I will." Lady Greengrass seemed pleased with her answer letting go of her arm and stepping back into the darkness. Mina walked back the way she had come, not daring to look at the pained eyes of Arden's prisoners as she passed. With each step up the winding staircase, she promised herself that she would get them all to safety, regardless of her life.