LbN: Written for Astronauts' Horror Stories Challenge. Prompts were tea cup, porcelain doll, barren trees, and wind. Not all will be used in this chapter specifically. Happy reading! :)
The wind whistled through the barren trees, an odd hollow sound echoing through the usually dense forest. At the northernmost part of the woods, a man appeared, followed by a woman. They walked silently through the trees, careful not to make much noise. A bird swooped over them with a loud yelp, making them jump.
The woman stopped to lace one of her boots. "We on the right track you reckon?" she asked, standing again.
"Yeah," the man said. "Let's keep moving."
They walked for another few miles before they came across a clearing. They saw the rest of their team converging on the house that stood in the center of it. It was time.
The woman, Tonks, nodded at the rest of the group, pulling her wand out. She shot a few spells at the cottage and led the way toward it. "Anyone in there, Harry?"
"I…I don't know. The revealer isn't showing anything. But… there's something up."
"Should we hold off for backup?" Kaper, another team member, asked.
Tonks was quiet for a moment, then she shook her head. "Pierce, Langan, you stay outside. Be ready to send for back up if I send you a Patronus."
"Sure Captain," Langan said, nodding.
Tonks beckoned for the rest of the team to follow her. The wooden floors creaked as she walked slowly through the house. The beam of light from her wand fell on the shelves that lined the walls. Dolls, puppets, and various toys were staring down at the team of Aurors.
"This…is…creepy," Seekins, the youngest, said.
"Don't worry about it, mate," Tonks muttered.
"Just look for the kids," Kaper said, following Harry into the hallway.
Tonks stopped suddenly, and turned. "Harry?"
"I think we have found them."
Seekins, who was about to pick up one of the puppets, stopped, hand in midair. "Wait…you don't mean the toys?"
"Yeah," Tonks whispered. "Seekins, run out to Langan and Pierce. Tell them we need Ministry transports here as soon as possible."
"Explains why my revealing charm wasn't working," Harry said, looking closely at the toys.
"And why she's calling herself the Toy Collector," Tonks said.
"Hey Captain," Kaper said. "Look at this." He handed her a sheet of parchment.
"Hello my darlings," Tonks read. "I noticed your interest in me had been growing as of late, and I'm afraid this shack is becoming quite cramped with my collection. As it is, I tire of my old toys. You may have these, with my blessing—I've taken my favorites with me. Soon, I will start a new collection—a special collection, you might say. These will be the pride and joy of all my toys. I do hope you haven't tired of our game yet. Be seeing you soon. The Toy Collector."
"Great," Harry sighed. "She's after more kids."
"Let's get these," Tonks indicated the toys around them. "Back to the Ministry."
The toys—the children—were in the adjoining room. A team was working on sorting out which were really children, and how to turn them back. Tonks and her team were staring at a board full of pictures, trying to plan their next move.
"Do you think all of them are kids?" Langan asked. "I mean, there have only been thirteen kidnapped. There were at least a hundred toys in that room."
"Could some of them be Muggle children?" Seekins asked. "Maybe she started with them, then wanted a challenge, so she switched to kids from the magical community."
"That's actually a good theory," Tonks said. "We know that humans can only sustain transfiguration for so long. Adults can keep it going for about…five months we'll say," she waved her wand, adding some notes to the whiteboard. "Let's be generous and say that kids can sustain constant bodily transfiguration for two months. We've been chasing this witch for a month now, which means some of them have been locked in this curse for around a month. Seekins, go through the Muggle papers for any missing children, ages eighteen months to thirteen years."
He nodded and left the room at a trot.
"She can't have kidnapped a hundred kids in a little over two months," Harry mumbled. "England would be in a panic."
"She's kidnapped at least thirteen," Pierce said. "That's on the excessive end of the scale, wouldn't you say?"
"We need to focus on what's going to happen," Tonks said. "The note said she's starting a new collection. It sounds like she'll be targeting specific types of kids. What do we know about the kids in there?" she asked, nodding toward the other room.
"All of them were under thirteen," Harry said. "They all came from families with multiple children."
"Physically, all of them were normal, healthy kids," Tonks added, waving her wand again. "All of them were turned into dolls, marionettes, or nutcrackers."
"There's no connection between the families," Harry said. "They were all well off, but not extremely rich."
"She said something about the new kids being her pride and joy."
"Maybe that means she's going after boys? That phrase is usually used to describe sons."
Tonks sighed and ran a hand through her black and silver hair. "The frustrating thing is that it could be anything. We don't know what makes these kids special to her."
They sat in silence for a while. All had their eyes trained on the board. The clock striking five pulled them out of their reverie.
"That's time for us," Harry said, stretching. "Who's staying tonight?"
"Seekins and me," Pierce said. "We'll see you in the morning."
"Hey, Harry," Tonks said, "I think I'm going to stay with them a while longer. See if the other team has made any progress with the kids."
"Alright," he said. "Just don't stay too long. The boys will want to see you."
"I'll come home in another hour," she said, kissing him.
"Take it easy," Harry called to the rest of the team.
Tonks smiled as she waved at him. Turning back to the board, she sighed. The pictures and notes stared back at her, not offering anything new. "Let's go over this again," she said wearily.