up his green beans and transferring them to her plate.
Harry shook his head, feeling disconcerted seeing Draco act so…well, so
normal. He didn’t like it. His ears perked up as he overheard the
conversation taking place at that end of the table.
"You work at the Ministry, don’t you, young man?" Mrs. Parkinson asked,
nodding at Percy. She was seated between her daughters, but Harry gave
her credit for at least attempting to make conversation with the other
dinner guests. As usual, Narcissa Malfoy was ignoring everyone but the
Parkinsons and her son. Aside from Professor McGonagall, she rarely
spoke to anyone else at headquarters.
"I do," Percy replied, sitting up straighter. His gaze briefly
flickered to his father, and Harry knew he was perplexed about what the
Slytherins were doing there. Obviously, Percy hadn’t been included in
everything going on at headquarters.
"How is Dolores managing? I know she had quite a traumatic time during
her stint at Hogwarts. It’s nice to see how well she’s done for
herself. She’s always been ambitious," Mrs. Parkinson said, sipping her
"Yes, some nasty business with the centaurs, wasn’t it?" Mrs. Malfoy
asked, her nose held high in the air. "Dreadful creatures."
"Yes, it was," Mrs. Parkinson said. "I always thought Hogwarts allowed
more leniency about certain things than they ought. I’d wanted to send
Iris and Pansy to my own Durmstrang, but their father didn’t want them
so far away."
"And a good thing that was, too," Iris said, her eyes filling as she
dropped her fork on her plate, "or else we wouldn’t have had the time
with Daddy when he was here. Excuse me." Her voice choked up on her
last few words. Covering her face with her hands, Iris stood and fled
Fred watched her departure, frowning.
Mrs. Parkinson stood, nodding apologetically. "If you’ll excuse me.
She’s having a difficult time without her father this year."
"Of course," Professor McGonagall said, nodding understandingly.
Pansy watched her mother and sister leave the room with a hardened
expression upon her face. Draco leaned over and whispered something in
her ear, but she shook her head emphatically.
Harry looked back at his own plate, his appetite suddenly gone. He
certainly could understand how Iris felt. She’d only lost her father a
few months ago, and she’d had loads of Christmas memories with him to
haunt her. Harry only had the one here with Sirius and a few with
Dumbledore at school, but somehow, both their losses seemed more
painful at Christmastime.
The conversation became more subdued after Iris’s abrupt departure, but
gradually, the remaining guests recovered. Harry could hear Hagrid
telling Bill and Fleur a story of his adventures with Madam Maxime.
Fleur laughed heartily, obviously sharing Hagrid’s fondness for her
At the other end of the table, Percy continued to cast curious glances
at Narcissa, Draco and Pansy, but he appeared unable to catch his
Narcissa placed another scoop of vegetables on her plate, then daintily
shifted them around without actually eating them. "Tell me, how is
Dolores handling the pressure? She’s always been one to have a plan.
How does she propose Wizarding society deal with the Dark Lord?" she
asked, addressing Percy.
Harry snorted angrily, but he held his silence, pushing his plate away.
Percy looked uncomfortable. He kept adjusting his glasses and tugging
at the collar of his robes as he shifted in his chair.
"She’s ah...she’s attempting to come up with a compromise," he said,
pushing his glasses up so tightly that Harry could see a red indent on
"What does that mean, exactly?" Mr. Weasley asked, looking up sharply.
"She hasn’t done anything yet, but she’s compiling a list of
compromises the Ministry would find acceptable," Percy said, his voice
"Comprises to Voldemort?" Harry asked loudly, dropping his silverware
to the table with a clang and causing several other conversations to
stop as they looked toward him. To their credit, none at the table save
the Slytherins cringed at the name. Harry watched as Moody’s eyes
narrowed with disgust as he folded his arms across his chest.
"She says his problem is with Muggles, and that he feels their
influence is contaminating the wizarding population. She’s hoping to
come up with some guidelines that he’ll find acceptable," Percy said,
undoing the top button on his shirt collar.
"The only thing he’ll find acceptable is his word being made the
ultimate authority and being able to kill anyone who stands in his way.
She can’t be serious," Harry said incredulously.
"She’s very serious," Percy said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Some
of the procedures she’s put in place are fantastic and a long time in
coming. I think she’s capable of getting some things in order that have
really been let go, but this… I’m not certain this is a good idea.
She’s not listening to anyone who’s arguing against it, however. She
even accused the current Head of the MLE division of treason when he
voiced his concerns."
"I’m not surprised that she’s looking into ways to strike a compromise.
She’s always been partial to the purebloods, despite the fact she’s
only a half-blood herself," Narcissa said with a slight sneer.
"What kind of compromises does she feel are acceptable? Blocking
Muggleborns from attending Hogwarts when it reopens or getting jobs at
the Ministry?" Hermione asked, scowling. "More oppression and elitist
attitudes, no doubt. It appears the Wizarding world can’t get enough of
Percy winced. "I haven’t been privy to her list," he said stiffly.
"I don’t believe this," Hermione said, fuming. "She’s deemed herself
some kind of modern day Neville Chaimberlain."
The vast majority of witches and wizards at the table stared at
Hermione blankly, but Harry saw Professor McGonagall nodding, a pleased
expression crossing her stern features.
"Who?" Pansy asked scornfully, jabbing her mashed potatoes with her
Hermione waved her hand in the air. "He was a Muggle Prime Minister who
tried to peacefully negotiate with a madman. It didn’t work then, and
it won’t work now."
"A Muggle, you say?" asked Mr. Weasley eagerly.
"Yes," Professor McGonagall said, nodding. "Miss Granger is correct .
The Muggle to whom she’s referring was called Adolph Hitler, I believe.
Prime Minister Chaimberlain tried to forge a peace treaty, but it ended
up in tragedy with the loss of many lives."
"Fascinating," Mr. Weasley replied.
"Oh, really now, Arthur. We’re all aware of your odd obsession with
Muggles, but this really has nothing to do with them," Narcissa said
"There is nothing odd about my husband’s fondness for Muggles," Mrs.
Weasley said, her face growing alarmingly red. "It’s called compassion.
Maybe you ought to try it sometime."
Narcissa’s eyes narrowed. "Why should I have compassion for the
Muggles? They mean nothing to me. Let them handle their own business."
"It’s that kind of attitude that causes all the problems," Hermione
insisted. "Chaimberlain couldn’t negotiate a compromise because Hitler
was uncompromising in his hatred."
"What’s madness is your assumption that Wizarding matters have any
similarity to Muggle politics," Narcissa sniffed.
"I see tremendous similarities all the time," Hermione said, firing up.
"In fact, Hitler bore a striking resemblance to another Dark Wizard who
was terrorizing the Wizarding world at the same time. I’m certain you
remember the story of Grindelwald."
"Grindelwald was a pureblood," Narcissa snapped
"Or so he said," Harry remarked lazily. "Voldemort likes to pretend
he’s a pureblood, as well, but we all know he’s not."
"Don’t speak such blasphemy," Narcissa said, clutching her chest.
"It’s the truth; he’s a half-blood. His mum was a witch, but his dad
was a Muggle who abandoned him before he was born," Harry replied,
noticing that several Weasleys looked up in surprise by that statement.
"How do you know that, Harry?" Mr. Weasley asked. "Did Dumbledore tell
"Well, we talked about it, but it was Voldemort himself who told me. He
went on and on about it both that night in the graveyard and when we
were in the Chamber. His real name is Tom Riddle. I am Lord Voldemort
is an anagram for Tom Marvolo Riddle. That’s his full name," Harry
"He won’t like you spreading that story around," Draco drawled.
"Since when have I cared what he likes?" Harry asked.
Using her wand, Mrs. Weasley made all the empty dishes float into the
air and begin hovering in a line towards the sink, which begun washing
them with assembly-line precision. Several platters of pudding suddenly
appeared on the table, with a large treacle tart placed directly in
front of Harry. Harry could tell that she was upset by the jerky
movements of her wand, and he felt bad for bringing talk of war to her
Christmas dinner. He knew she’d worked so hard on it.
"Thanks, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said, beaming at the treacle tart.
"Don’t you eat all of that in one sitting, dear," Mrs. Weasley said,
her eyes sparkling with pleasure. "Errol was supposed to have delivered
me another batch of vanilla extract, but he never arrived, so I could
only make the one. Poor old thing, probably lying exhausted somewhere."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Is she trying to make up for your lack of
mothering when you actually were six?" he asked, causing Pansy to
"It’s Christmas, Malfoy. Certainly even you have heard of doing
something nice for someone you care about just because you can," Harry
said, scooping up a large piece of the treacle tart.
"I would have loved to have done something nice for my mother or Pansy
this Christmas, Potter, but since I’m stuck here with you and cut off
from all my family’s funds, it’ll be a rather meager Christmas for us
all this year," Draco said, his lip curled.
"There are worse things than no presents," Harry said quietly.
He noticed Ginny look up, her piercing gaze attempting to penetrate his
very soul. He quickly looked away.
"Easy for you to say. You’re spending the Black family fortune like
water through a sieve," Malfoy spat.
"And I notice you’re enjoying some of that generosity, as well,
Malfoy," Ginny said, nodding toward his plate that was overflowing with
different puddings. "You seem quick to scoff at Harry’s spending, but I
don’t notice you feeling strongly enough to make a point and go
"Of course not," Draco said, sneering. "Why should I go hungry when
there’s perfectly good food here? Besides, rightfully it should all
belong to me anyway."
"Oh, we’re back on this again, are we?" Ron asked, his mouth full of
"Shut it, Weasel. You’ve got no right to say anything about me
accepting Potter’s charity since you’ve been living off it for years,"
"And giving it in return," Harry shot back, "seeing that it was his mum
who made the treacle tart that started all this in the first place.
It’s called friendship, Malfoy. You ought to try it sometime. A few
real mates might do you some good."
"I’ve got mates," Draco said, puffing out his chest. "More than I need
and plenty more than you’ve got."
"Oh, ho, now that’s mature," Ginny said, rolling her eyes.
"Ignore them, Draco," Pansy said, cooing. "Let’s retire upstairs and
have our own Christmas Eve celebration. We don’t need the likes of
"Oh, that just spoiled my appetite," Ron said, pushing away his half-
eaten bowl of bread pudding.
"Why don’t we all move into the drawing room," Mr. Weasley said,
rising. "There’s a trio of wizards giving a performance of Christmas
carols on the wireless. We can listen whilst we sip our cordials."
Harry rose and followed the others into the drawing room, noticing Mrs.
Malfoy had latched onto Draco’s arm and steered him into the room with
her, despite Pansy’s irritated scowl. He and Ginny had hung back
slightly, and Ginny stopped him at the dining room door beneath a sprig
of Fred and George’s roaming mistletoe.
"I was hoping we’d find one of those," Ginny said, grinning impishly.
"Hmm," Harry said. "This is turning into a Happy Christmas after all."
Before he could kiss her, however, Ginny placed her hands on his chest,
a perplexed frown crossing her pretty face.
"Harry, what were you thinking when you said there were worse things
than no presents?" she asked.
Harry shrugged, not certain where she was headed and really wanting to
get back to the kissing.
"Just that I never had presents for Christmas before coming to
Hogwarts, and it never really mattered all that much. I learned at a
fairly young age not to expect them. What was worse was knowing there
was no one to give them. D’you know what I mean?" he asked, feeling
that old, familiar melancholy beginning to seep back into his thoughts.
"I think I do," Ginny said sadly, running her fingers through his hair.
"I mean, here, Malfoy might not have access to all his money, but his
mum is here, and Pansy and her family, too. He’s not alone," Harry
said, trying to put his thoughts into words.
Ginny watched him quietly, her fingers continuing to play with his
hair. It was soothing; her presence always made him feel better.
"That mistletoe hasn’t run away yet, but we’d best make use of it
before it finds another target," Ginny said, looking up at the ceiling.
Harry leaned in again and wrapped Ginny in his arms. He’d no sooner
begun to deepen the kiss when the mistletoe began bellowing in a high-
"Snogging! There’s snogging going on here! This is a snogging alert,
all persons engaged in snogging please keep your lips to yourself."
Harry’s face turned scarlet as laughter erupted from the drawing room.
"Get on in here, Harry and Ginny," Fred shouted.
"We all know what you’re doing down there, anyway," George said.
"One of these days, I’m going to strangle those two," Harry muttered,
leaning his forehead against Ginny’s.
"One of these days," Ginny said, sighing, "I’m going to help you do it.
I think we could take them if we do it together."
Harry grinned against her forehead. "It’s a plan, then."
"Oh, Harrikins, Gin Gin," George shouted, poking his head out the
drawing room door. "We’re all waiting."
"Harry, you’re coloring is perfect for this festive occasion. However
did you manage that shade? We’ll have to bottle it and sell it for the
holidays," Fred said, taking the mickey out of Harry.
"Eau de Mortification," George said.
"Does Ginny always have this effect on you, mate? Perhaps you should
look into it. See a Healer, maybe. Does that color affect your entire
body?" Fred asked, waggling his eyebrows.
Abashed, Harry kept his eyes fixed firmly on his feet, preferring to
face Voldemort than look at either Mr. or Mrs. Weasley at that moment.
"Leave him alone," Ginny snapped, cuffing each of her brother’s on the
side of the head. She lowered her voice so only Fred, George, and Harry
could hear her. "Or I’ll give you a description of the exact effects on
his body in minute detail."
"Oi, Ginny. That’s not funny," George said, scowling.
"What’s happened to you, squirt? You’ve lost your sense of humor," Fred
said, aiming a withering look in Harry’s direction.
Ginny took Harry’s hand and led him away from the far less-exuberant
twins. "One of these days," Harry said, "you’re going to push them too
far and get me beat up by the whole lot of your brothers. And I haven’t
even really done anything yet."
"Don’t worry, I’ll protect you," Ginny said, batting her lashes.
"My hero," Harry muttered, rolling his eyes.
"Besides, by then maybe you really will have done something worthy of
getting beaten up over," she said, giggling as he choked on his drink.
Once again, Harry thought how much he enjoyed this verbal bantering
with her; she could always make him smile. He briefly felt bad that he
was enjoying himself while Remus was out there on his own somewhere,
but he forced the guilt away. More than anyone, Remus would want Harry
to enjoy his holiday and not spend it agonizing over things he couldn’t
control. He owed it to Remus to make the most it.
Mr. Weasley turned on the wireless, and the conversations droned in the
room as they all enjoyed the holiday cheer.
Ginny curled up next to Harry and pillowed her head on his shoulder as
they listened to the music. Harry traced his hand along the gold
threads of her blouse. Partially hidden by the immense Christmas tree,
they had a small measure of privacy but could still hear the various
conversations taking place within the room.
"Do you want your present early?" he asked quietly so that only she
Ginny sat up quickly, looking him up and down. "Do you have it with
"Maybe," Harry replied, grinning. "You’ll have to search for it."
Ginny’s eyes widened. "Is that so? You’re feeling rather cheeky
tonight, aren’t you, Mr. Potter? Do you think I won’t just because the
rest of my family is so close?" Ginny asked.
Harry cocked his eyebrow. "Will you?"
When Ginny made a move to search his pockets, Harry laughed and pulled
out the small gold box. "All right, all right. You win. You’re worse
with presents than Ron," he said.
Ginny grabbed the box and shook it. "No, I’m not."
"Yes, you are," he replied, laughing as he watched her tear open the
She crumpled the wrapping and tossed it at him. He ducked out of the
way, and watched her closely as she unwrapped her gift, holding his
breath slightly. She gasped as she opened the small velvet box. It
contained a silver chain holding a circular pendant. Inside the circle
rested an emerald-cut clear blue stone, appearing as if it was
suspended there on its own.
"Harry," Ginny said, breathing heavily. "It’s fantastic."
"Do you like it?" he asked, feeling unreasonably nervous. He’d never
picked out jewelry for anyone before.
"I love it," Ginny said, sounding awestruck. "I’ve never owned anything
so beautiful. Can you put it on me?" She sat forward and lifted her
hair off her neck.
Harry clasped it for her, gently pulling some strands of her hair out
of the way and kissing her neck before releasing her.
"The stone is an Aquamarine. I think the blue looks like the sea.
According to Merpeople legend, it’s a lucky stone that represents a
love so big, it fills the entire ocean," he said, feeling his face heat
as he recited the words the clerk at the jewelry store in Diagon Alley
had told him. "I have the matching stone, and it’s supposed to help me
find you if we’re separated."
Harry liked that part of the story best. He didn’t really believe the
folklore, but he liked the stone and thought it couldn’t hurt to have a
way to find her if he ever needed it.
"It’s lovely, Harry," Ginny said, looking down to admire the stone.
"Where is your stone?"
"It’s in my pocket," Harry said. "I’ll have to find a place to keep it
Ginny jumped up and sprinted over to the tree. She dug underneath it
for a few moments before returning to him with a thin, straight box.
She handed it to Harry, biting her lip.
"Open this," she said.
Harry took the gift and began tearing at the paper at one end. Growing
impatient, Ginny reached in and helped him to tear the paper away.
"Do you want to do this?" Harry asked, amused.
"You take so long to unwrap your gifts," Ginny said, pulling off the
last of the wrapping.
Harry lifted the box to reveal a braided rope bracelet. Its colors were
red and gold and it was plaited several times over making an intricate
"Did you make this?" Harry asked, admiring the handiwork.
"Uh, huh," Ginny said, still chewing on her lip. "I wasn’t certain if
you’d wear something like it."
"This must have taken you a long time," Harry said, running his fingers
over the details.
"I’ve been working on it for awhile," Ginny said, nodding. "Here, look,
the threads pull apart and you can keep your stone inside. That way, no
one will know it’s there, but you’ll still feel its presence."
Harry removed his Aquamarine stone and tucked it inside the bracelet.
Holding his wrist out to Ginny, he allowed her to secure it for him.
"Thank you, Ginny. Happy Christmas," he said, leaning over to kiss her.
"Happy Christmas, Harry," Ginny said, smiling happily. She played with
necklace, admiring the way it reflected the lights from the tree.
"Was this terribly expensive?" she asked, in a small hesitant voice.
"It really wasn’t," Harry said, shaking his head. He wasn’t certain if
Ginny would be as sensitive as Ron about Harry’s money. "They called it
a semi-precious stone. Besides, I wanted to give it to you, Ginny. It
took me a long time to find it."
She continued to look at it. "I’m glad you took the time. That makes it
mean even more. I’m never going to take it off, and you keep yours on,
as well. Okay?"
"Whatever you say," he said, not really listening. He tugged her closer
to share another kiss, wishing the rest of the family wasn’t so near.
She curled back up beneath his arm, and Harry could swear she was
almost purring. He enjoyed the time with her, snuggled together while
they listened to the music and watched the twinkling of the Christmas
lights, laughing at some of the others on occasion.
All too soon, midnight approached, and Percy said he had to go.
"Oh, must you leave?" Mrs. Weasley asked, disappointed. "It’s so
dangerous to go out at night. Why don’t you just stay here until
"Actually, I have to work tomorrow," Percy replied. "The Ministry is
keeping a skeletal staff on duty just in case. Besides, I have a waiver
for the curfew."
Percy’s words had a sobering effect on everyone, reminding them all
that the war was closer than anyone would like. The room was silent for
a moment before Fred began singing along with the wireless to the tune
of Silent Night.
George joined him, their voices surprisingly good — soulful and sad,
yet full of hope at the same time, somehow. One by one, all the others
in the room joined in, clasping hands and staying together through the
Harry’s chest filled with emotion as he held both Ginny’s and
Hermione’s hands and sang carols with this rag tag group he called
family. His gaze swept by Ron, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, and everyone else
in this room, and he knew that no matter what happened in the coming
year, if he found the last Horcrux or not, if he lived or died, this
same group of people would be here next year, still fighting, still
struggling to go on. That, more than anything, gave him a renewed
determination to move forward. Gatherings like this one must be allowed
to continue. For the first time, Harry began to understand the power
that Dumbledore had told him was his greatest strength. This feeling
inside him was more intense than anything he’d ever experienced — more
intense even that the Cruciatus — and it was something Voldemort had
Tightening of the Noose
Two days after Christmas, Harry informed the Order that he, Ron,
Hermione and Ginny would be leaving for several days. As expected, no
one was particularly pleased. They all wanted to know where the young
people were going, and what they were planning to do. Harry could tell
that Mrs. Weasley wanted to put them all in full Body-Binds and lock
them in the attic, but to her credit, she restrained herself — if only
As promised, Harry gave the other half of the mirror that Remus had
charmed to Mr. Weasley. He’d struggled with anxiety over having to give
it to someone else. He’d always imagined it would be Remus with whom
he’d keep in contact, but that was not to be. He’d considered giving it
to Mrs. Weasley but suspected the temptation to check on them and
ensure they were eating would be too much for her. He felt Mr. Weasley
was the better option.
They departed in the morning, resolutely steeling themselves against
Mrs. Weasley’s tear-stained face. Ron even hugged her twice as they
said their goodbyes.
Hermione had done some research and found a small wizarding section in
Canterbury around Rowena Ravenclaw’s ancestral home. She’d booked them
a room in a local inn rather than having to pitch the tent in the snow,
and they Apparated directly there.
Entering the establishment, they found a dimly lit pub similar to the
Leaky Cauldron. This pub, however, appeared to cater to a more family-
oriented clientele as there were several mothers chasing young children
around a buffet breakfast. The tables were covered with paper
tablecloths, and each held a container filled with child-sized colored
Several of the patrons looked up as the teens entered, but the foursome
kept their heads down as Hermione went to collect their room key.
Despite her red wig, they’d reckoned she was the least recognizable of
the four, so she’d be the one to have all contact with the innkeeper.
Harry really didn’t want to be spotted immediately and have a crowd of
reporters — or worse, Death Eaters — on his tail before he even began
"I’ve got it," Hermione said under her breath, jerking her head towards
the narrow wooden stairway beside the bar.
The others followed her upstairs where she stopped at room number
three. She opened the door to find a comfortable-looking room with two
full-sized beds and a long, dusty dresser. The blankets on the bed
appeared clean, but rather old and faded.
"Well, it’s not much, but it’ll do," Hermione said, throwing her
rucksack on one of the beds.
They’d only got the one room because they thought they’d be safer
sticking together. Despite the fact they’d all shared a room when
they’d used the tent over the summer, Harry felt apprehensive staring
at the two beds. A burning warmth crept from his neck into his face,
and he ducked his head so the others wouldn’t notice.
He and Ginny hadn’t done much more than some heavy petting — and he
didn’t think Ron and Hermione had done more than that, either — but
they’d been under constant supervision from the entire Weasley family.
Ginny had way too many brothers, as far as Harry was concerned, and
he’d always kept a wary eye on the door while he and Ginny were
otherwise engaged. The prospect of Mrs. Weasley’s wrath had kept them
all in line.
Still, he certainly didn’t plan on doing anything with Ron in the same
room, but the knowledge that the opportunity was there caused his
stomach to flutter. He stole a quick glance at Ron and noticed the
perplexed frown on his mate’s face. Obviously, Ron’s train of thought
had gone down the same track as Harry’s.
The girls, however, didn’t appear at all concerned. Hermione continued
to remove items from her rucksack, while Ginny had jumped on the bed
Hermione was using and proceeded to test which pillow she liked better.
"So…you’re both going to sleep there?" Ron asked, rubbing the back of
his very red neck.
Hermione and Ginny looked up at him, blinking uncomprehendingly.
"Er…would you prefer this bed, Ron?" Ginny asked, her eyes suddenly
sparkling. "Or would you just prefer my bed partner?"
"What? Of course not! Er…I mean…Hermione," Ron whined, staring at
Hermione. "You know what I meant."
Her back ramrod straight, Hermione said, sniffing, "No, Ron, I don’t
know what you mean. Perhaps you should explain yourself."
Harry struggled not to laugh as he sat down on the other bed and looked
at Ron with the most innocent expression he could muster.
"Shut it, Harry," Ron said, glaring.
"I didn’t say anything," Harry yelped. Obviously his expression wasn’t
"Since you’ve apparently got issues with me," Hermione said waspishly.
"You and Harry can share that bed, while Ginny and I take this one."
"I’m not sleeping with Harry," Ron said, spluttering. If possible, his
ears had grown redder.
"Would you prefer I sleep with Harry then?" Hermione asked, her eyes
Harry could barely control his grin. He bit the inside of his cheeks to
keep a straight face.
"I’m used to sleeping in cramped quarters, so I don’t mind. Why don’t
both Ginny and Hermione share with me, and Ron can have the other bed
all to himself," he said, barely containing his glee over the
expression on Ron’s face.
"Okay," Ginny said happily, leaping from her bed to Harry’s and
snuggling down next to him. She twisted her new necklace in her fingers
as she continued to wind up her brother. "Ron always did have problems
"I don’t have problems sharing," Ron said indignantly. "And you’re not
sleeping with Harry…and neither is Hermione."
"There are two beds, and four of us, Ron. You make the choice. You have
to sleep with one of us, who’s it going to be?" Hermione asked, her
hands on her hips. Harry could hear the challenge in her voice and was
very glad he wasn’t in his friend’s shoes at the moment. Of course, to
Harry the answer seemed painfully obvious.
Apparently, Ron felt the same way. He looked between Hermione’s cross
face and Harry and Ginny sitting on the bed together, failing miserably
at hiding their grins.
"Fine," Ron said, throwing his hands in the air and glaring at Harry
and Ginny. "You two had better behave yourselves. I’m sleeping on this
side of the bed to keep my eye on you. Believe me, Harry, if you try
anything with my baby sister, I’ll chuck you out the window."
"What I choose to do or not to do is no one’s business but mine and
Harry’s, Ron Weasley," Ginny said, rising to her knees on the bed and
glaring daggers at her brother. She reminded Harry of an angry sprite —
beautiful and fiery, but dangerous to the touch.
"Not with me sleeping next to you, it isn’t," Ron said, furiously.
"So you’re sharing with me, then?" Hermione asked, her arms still
folded across her chest.
Ron spun around to face her, perhaps detecting the frigid tone in her
voice. "Of course I am. I’m not sleeping with Harry or my sister."
Harry shut his eyes, cringing. Ron never was very good at picking up
subtle body signals.
"Oh, I see. So, I get you by default? Lucky me," Hermione said, her
eyes suddenly bright.
"Don’t be daft," Ron said. "If it were my choice, I’d always choose to
sleep with you. I’d just rather they weren’t in the room. You’re always
my choice, Hermione."
Hermione’s face softened as her eyes glowed warmly at Ron. Sniffling
slightly, she waved a hand in front of her face as if she was warm.
"All right, now that the sleeping arrangements are settled, let’s get
to work. We’ll have to split up to cover as much ground as possible."
Ron stared at her incredulously. "The entire Wizarding section only
covers about two streets. How much information could there possibly
be?" he asked.
"It is Ravenclaw’s hometown," Ginny said. "I imagine there’s some kind
of museum, and the rest of the village probably contains lots of
references to everything about her life."
"Exactly," Hermione said. "The same way Liverpool is devoted to the
Ron stared at her blankly. "They’re devoted to bugs?"
Hermione rolled her eyes, huffing. "How you can be completely unaware
of anything to do with Muggle history is beyond me."
"Yeah? Well, Muggles are completely unaware of stuff I know, too," Ron
said, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Yes, but that’s only because they don’t know wizards exist," Hermione
snapped waspishly. "We don’t have time to stand around arguing all
morning. We need to get moving."
"What’s the rush, anyway?" Ron asked, and Harry suspected he was simply
being obstinate. He and Ginny sat on their bed watching their friends
row with weary expressions.
"Everyone in the pub has given us at least a curious stare. It won’t
take long before someone recognizes Harry," Hermione said, jabbing her
finger in Harry’s direction.
Harry suddenly sat up straight, alarmed. "You’re right. I wouldn’t be
surprised if Voldemort has an informant here somewhere, anyway. He has
no way of knowing how much Dumbledore knew about the Horcruxes, so it
stands to reason he’s watching all of the possibilities."
"You’re right; we’ll have be wary. Constant vigilance," Ginny said,
"Let’s search until we’re spotted, then we’ll make another public stop
in Diagon Alley just in case anyone is tracking our movements. Your dad
can help us alert the press there," Harry said, nodding at Ginny.
"You and Ron find out where the museum is," Hermione said bossily.
"Ginny and I will do some deeper digging."
Harry and Ron spent the entire day in the Rowena Ravenclaw Museum. It
hadn’t been difficult to find, and Harry suspected the entire village
had been built around it. Still, Harry didn’t feel it had been a
productive day. Perhaps because he really didn’t know much about any of
the Hogwarts Founders, he felt as if he was searching for a needle in a
He didn’t notice any one particular item that was always with her in
any of the portraits he’d seen, and none of the texts mentioned
anything of great significance that might have been used as a Horcrux.
Running his hands through his very untidy hair — he’d been tugging at
it all day — he slammed the book shut. This was a waste of time. It
didn’t have to be anything significant, it just had to belong in
Ravenclaw. He doubted he’d ever find any written mention of
Hufflepuff’s cup, either, but that hadn’t stopped Voldemort from using
it as a Horcrux.
"Any luck?" Ron asked, his eyes red and bleary.
"This is hopeless — it could be anything," Harry said, feeling
"Even if we find what we think it might be, it still doesn’t tell us
anything about where he’s hidden it," Ron said, moaning. "We’ve been at
it all day, and it doesn’t help that I keep forgetting what I’m looking
for in the first place. I’m starving."
Feeling his own stomach rumble, Harry decided to call it a day. Ron’s
memory was continuing to improve, but there were still lapses, and
Harry didn’t want to push it. "Come on. Let’s go back to the inn and
order some food. Maybe the girls had better luck."
Harry followed Ron through the door, but just as they stepped outside,
he grabbed Ron’s arm and pulled him back into a nearby alley.
"What the-" Ron started to complain, but Harry slapped his hand over
Ron’s mouth and dragged him behind a group of rubbish bins.
"Shh," Harry whispered, nodding his head in the direction of the
He and Ron watched as an enormous blonde wizard with a hardened face
slowly strolled into sight. He moved carefully, his small eyes roving
and peering into storefronts and around corners, as if he was looking
"Who’s that?" Ron asked, squinting his eyes. "I’ve seen him somewhere."
Harry nodded, motioning for Ron to keep his voice down. "He was with
Malfoy the night…on the Astronomy tower," Harry replied, keeping his
eyes fixed on the blonde Death Eater.
The brutal-faced man suddenly turned towards the open alleyway, as if
he knew he was being watched.
Harry’s blood chilled and his body tensed. He clutched Ron’s shoulder
tightly, prepared to fling him out of the way of any curses. He held
his breath, hearing Ron’s ragged breathing beside him. He worried that
it sounded so loud in the darkening alley that the Death Eater was
certain to hear him. Dusk was spreading over the village, at least
offering Ron and Harry more shadows in which to hide. If the man chose
to walk into the alley, however, there was no way he could miss them.
Harry cursed himself for leaving his Invisibility Cloak back at the
The huge Death Eater drew his wand. "Lumos," he muttered, causing the
tip to illuminate. "Who’s there? Show yourself or face the wrath of the
Ron’s eyes widened as the man began walking down the alley, kicking at
stray bins along the way.
Harry clutched his wand, knowing there was no way out. He wished he
knew where Ginny and Hermione were before he called so much attention
to them. Suddenly, an idea occurred to him. He’d never been the best at
wordless spells, but it was certainly worth a go, and he always
performed better under pressure.
Covering both Ron and himself with his wand, Harry cast a
Disillusionment Charm just as the blonde Death Eater reached their
hiding spot. He felt a cold trickle down his back alerting him that
he’d been successful. He waited a few more moments, letting the man
continue a bit further into the alley, before grabbing Ron’s unseen arm
and tugging him out of the alley.
Once they reached the inn, Harry wordlessly removed the spell.
"Harry, that was brilliant. Where’d you learn to do that? I thought you
were still struggling with wordless magic," Ron said. "Feels a bit
strange though, doesn’t it?"
Harry shrugged. "Practice. Let’s get upstairs and see if the girls are
there. I hope they didn’t run into any trouble."
Both girls were already in the room, however, and from their anxious,
angry expressions, Harry reckoned they’d been waiting for a while.
"Where have you been?" Ginny asked, stomping her foot in a remarkable
impression of her mother.
"We’ve been worried sick," Hermione said, placing her hands on her
hips. Harry thought she did a pretty good job of channeling Mrs.
Weasley, too. "From now on, we have to set up times to check in with
each other so we know when to worry."
"Yeah, timing our worry. That should be right high on the priority
list," Ron said, rolling his eyes.
Harry cringed, knowing Ron was in trouble. Sometimes his friend just
didn’t know when to hold his tongue.
Hermione’s face turned scarlet. "It is a high priority since we had no
idea if you were in trouble or not, or if we should have gone for help.
How would you like it if it was Ginny and me who’d been missing?"
"We would have just gone looking for you," Ron said, incredulously.
"All right, all right," Ginny said, moving in between the two of them.
"Enough with the ‘he said, she said.’ You two can row later. I want to
know what happened."
"We had a narrow escape from a Death Eater near the museum. I don’t
think he knew it was us, but he definitely noticed someone," Harry
said. "The area is obviously being watched."
"Which is a good sign, right? If Voldemort is worried you’ll find
something here, maybe it is something of Ravenclaw’s we’re seeking,"
Hermione said, rubbing her chin.
"Maybe," Harry replied, shrugging. "I don’t see how we’re making any
progress here, though. Ron and I spent all day in the museum, and we’ve
"I don’t think so," Hermione said.
"Why? Did you find something?" Ron asked, still looking rather
"Nothing specific, but in every portrait or description that we found,
she’s always wearing some kind of jewelry. Jewelry can be easily passed
down and is strong enough to survive through the years. If there are
Ravenclaw relics still around, I’d bet they’re pieces of jewelry,"
Harry scratched his head. That made sense, but it really didn’t help
them all that much. "I still think we’re better off searching the
places connected to Voldemort that Dumbledore showed me. Once we figure
out the place, then we can watch for any kind of jewelry."
"Give me one more day here, Harry," Hermione said. "There are a few
more shops I’d like to go to, and if we can narrow down the piece at
all, it would certainly help."
"All right," Harry said, nodding. "I’m going to contact Mr. Weasley and
ask him to drop a hint to the press that I’ll be in Diagon Alley in two
days. That way, even if the Death Eaters suspect that I’m here, it’ll
throw them off."
Harry opened his rucksack and dug out the mirror. After breathing on it
heavily enough to create a fog, he said, "Mr. Weasley."
Nothing happened for several moments, and Harry was about to try again
when Mr. Weasley’s concerned face appeared.
"Harry? Are you all right?" he asked.
"We’re fine, Mr. Weasley. We’re all fine," Harry replied.
"Hi, Dad," Ginny said, peering over Harry’s shoulder.
Mr. Weasley’s face relaxed, his usual cheerfulness returning. "Glad to
hear it. Hello, Ginny. Your mother will be so relieved. What can I do
"We’re going to be in Diagon Alley the day after tomorrow. D’you think
you could let one of your press contacts know?" Harry asked.
Mr. Weasley’s face clouded. "Ah, I’ll see what I can do, Harry."
"What’s wrong, Mr. Weasley?" Harry asked, watching the older man shift
"Several more reporters who’ve been critical of the Ministry and the
idea of any kind of truce with You-Know-Who have gone missing. Most of
those who’ve disappeared have been sympathetic to the Order," Mr.
Weasley said, sighing heavily.
"Missing? D’you think Voldemort has had something to do with it?" Harry
asked, his shoulders stiffening.
"No. I don’t think so. There hasn’t been a Dark Mark spotted over any
of their homes, and the Death Eaters have been meticulous about using
them all across Britain," Mr. Weasley replied.
"That could be intentional though," Hermione said, peering over Harry’s
other shoulder so she could see Mr. Weasley’s reflection. "I mean, they
could purposely not use it if they were doing something they wanted to
keep quiet, right?"
"I suppose, but I don’t think so," Mr. Weasley said, scratching his
head. "There have been several Ministry officials who’ve opposed
Umbridge who have also gone missing. She’s tightening her grip on power
and accusing anyone who disagrees with her of treason."
"The old bat," Ron said, scowling.
"Be careful of her, Dad," Ginny said, her brow knitting. "She’s
sadistic — just look at what she did to Harry’s hand."
"I’m aware of her methods, pumpkin. Don’t worry about me; you watch out
for yourselves. I’m afraid of what’s going to happen the next time
there’s trouble, and I’d prefer it if you four weren’t anywhere in the
vicinity," Mr. Weasley said sternly.
"Why, what else has happened?" Harry asked.
"There was another new Decree issued today detailing the rules Aurors
must follow for engagement with Death Eaters. Umbridge is trying so
hard to appease You-Know-Who that she’s created so much red tape it’s
nearly impossible for the Aurors to act in a crisis. The first attack
under these orders will be devastating," Mr. Weasley replied, his mouth
set in a grim line.
"Great," Harry muttered under his breath. "All right, Mr. Weasley. Just
see what you can do about alerting someone in the press that I’ll be in
Diagon Alley in two days."
"Will do, Harry. Take care of yourselves," Mr. Weasley said before his
Harry awoke on the morning of their planned trip to Diagon Alley
feeling so warm and peaceful that he didn’t want to rise. He was
spooned around Ginny and stray wisps of her hair were tickling his
nose. They had been extremely chaste as they went to bed each night
they’d been in the inn. Ron’s presence in the room cooled Harry’s ardor
considerably. Still, sometime during each night his instincts would
take over, and he’d awake to find himself wrapped in Ginny’s embrace.
It was something he could easily get used to, and he worried about it.
The closer he got to finding the last hidden Horcrux, the closer Harry
got to having to make some painful decisions. He sometimes wondered if
he was subconsciously putting off finding information on Ravenclaw. He
knew he had to do it, but the idea terrified him. This little glimpse
of what a life with Ginny could be like — waking up each morning
wrapped in her arms — was both painful and sweet. Life had never been exactly easy on him, but somehow, the idea of having to give up this
newfound contentment was more than he could bear.
As if sensing his inner turmoil, Ginny shifted in her sleep, rolling
over and snuggling up to him, her nose buried in his chest. Harry
wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close and allowing his tension
to abate. Professor Dumbledore had told him that his greatest strength
was love. Harry didn’t really understand how that would help him defeat
Voldemort, but he did know that she made him feel better than he ever
had. Perhaps this feeling she gave him inside — this intense desire to
live — was what would aid him in the end.
He knew Voldemort feared death. He wanted to live simply because he
dreaded the alternative, not because life was offering him something
rewarding. Harry felt a brief flicker of sympathy for Tom Riddle, never
having experienced the extraordinary fullness someone like Ginny could
have made him feel.
Still, even if that would help Harry defeat Voldemort in the end, it
didn’t solve the problem of the piece of Voldemort’s soul that still
resided inside him. He knew Hermione was right — the objects containing
Voldemort’s soul could be left intact after destroying the Horcrux. He
still had all the artifacts to prove it, except the locket. It had sunk
to the bottom of the lake with the Inferi whose neck it had been
wrapped around. Still, Harry had seen it as the Inferi slipped beneath
the water and knew it had remained whole.
So, the artifacts had all survived, battered and worn, but he couldn’t
see a way to get a Horcrux out of him without taking his own life. He
tugged at the rope bracelet he wore around his wrist. The aquamarine
stone tucked inside was warm and comforting against his skin.
Harry sighed, the image of the Veil that had taken Sirius from him
flickering in his mind. He wondered if it had been painless. The idea
of using the Veil haunted his thoughts, but he was held back by the
idea of leaving Ron, Hermione, and particularly Ginny behind with the
same vivid nightmares he had of losing Sirius.
He glanced over at Ron and Hermione, both sleeping soundly in the other
bed. Ron was sprawled with his arms open wide, taking up much more than
his half of the bed. Hermione, wearing the blue kerchief she still used
at night when she removed her wig, was snuggled next to him, using his
arm as her pillow. Harry had watched her awake each morning, blindly
reaching for her red wig the same way Harry reached for his glasses.
With time slipping away, Harry felt he really should write each of them
a goodbye letter, explaining how much they all meant to him. It was
something he would’ve liked to have had from Sirius, and he knew he’d
never be able to vocalize his feelings for them. Still, putting his
thoughts in writing made the whole thing so much more real and…close.
He shuddered involuntary, and Ginny’s eyes fluttered open. She blinked
a few times, orienting herself to where she was, before looking up at
him with sleepy eyes.
"Morning," she said, burrowing into the warmth of his body.
"Morning," Harry said, leaning over to kiss the crown of her head. "Did
you sleep well?"
"Um-hmm. I like sleeping with you," she said.
Harry felt a flush of warmth fill his chest. "I like sleeping with you,
too — even if we really are sleeping," he said cheekily.
He felt Ginny’s body tremble as she chuckled. "Don’t let Ron hear you,
he’ll jump into this bed and lie between us."
"Eww," Harry said, screwing up his face. "Nice way to ruin a fantasy,
"A fantasy," Ginny said, laughing. "Am I in your fantasies, Harry?"
"You’ve been starring in my fantasies since long before we even started
dating," Harry said, chuckling as he remembered fervently hoping he
hadn’t talked in his sleep while sharing a dormitory with Ron.
"Hmm," Ginny said, looking extraordinarily pleased. "Good."
"Good?" Harry asked. "Good? So, you like that, do you?" He rolled over
so she was pinned beneath him and begin tickling her sides until she
was gasping for breath.
"Harry!" she squealed, trying to squirm away. "Stop! I mean it, stop!"
"Not until you admit I won this round," Harry said, laughing at her
"Stop it," Ginny shrieked. "Harry, get off me."
Harry was about to release her when felt himself being bodily flung
through the air, his arms flailing. He landed on the floor in a heap
and before he could even get his bearings, he was lifted up and pinned
against the wall with an arm digging into his throat.
"What the bloody hell did you think you were doing?" Ron’s livid face
loomed above his.
Dazed, Harry struggled to remove Ron’s arm, finding it impossible to
catch his breath.
"Ron!" Ginny shouted. "Let him go right now."
"Ron, he can’t breathe," Hermione said, hastily adjusting the red wig
on top of her head.
"Ron," Ginny said, reaching up to pinch Ron’s ear between her fingers
and twisting it with a wrench.
"Ow!" Ron yelped, releasing Harry so suddenly he again fell to the
Rubbing his neck, Harry struggled to regain his breath as he scowled at
"What are you doing?" Ginny asked, finally releasing Ron’s very red
"Ginny, that hurt," Ron whinged, rubbing it.
"What are you on about?" Harry demanded, finally finding his voice. He
pulled himself to his feet, clenching his fists.
"What were you doing to my sister?" Ron asked, as if suddenly
remembering why he’d been angry.
"It’s called tickling, Ron, and most people don’t get flung across the
room for it," Harry said, snapping. He’d had enough of Ron’s over-
protectiveness, and quite frankly, was rather hurt. Certainly, by now,
he’d proved his intentions towards Ginny were honorable.
"Tickling?" Ron said, dumbfounded. "I heard her shouting at you to
"Of course I was shouting," Ginny said, exasperated. "He was winning."
"Oh," Ron said, deflating a bit as he glanced warily at Harry.
Harry grabbed his jeans and a t-shirt and stalked towards the door.
"I’m going to have a shower. I’ll try not to accost anyone on my way,"
he said irritably.
"Harry," Hermione called, but he ignored her, slamming the door shut on
his way out. He knew he was the one being irrational now, but he was on
edge, and Ron’s assumption bothered him. The other Weasley brothers he
could understand, but Ron should know him better than that.
They arrived in Diagon Alley later that afternoon. Their interaction
had been stiff and uncomfortable all morning with each boy stubbornly
nursing his own pride. Ginny and Ron also weren’t speaking, leaving
Hermione acting as a go-between among all of them. Harry was just as
happy to leave the inn; he was tired of feeling confined.
Diagon Alley was quieter than Harry remembered. Several more of the
shops had been closed and boards covered more windows since the last
time he’d been here. Fewer people were on the street, and those who had
ventured out appeared wary and skittish, hurrying along with their
errands without making eye contact.
Harry hadn’t given Mr. Weasley a specific location where he’d appear,
and they’d decided to use this rare freedom to do some window-shopping.
It was bitterly cold, however, causing Harry to wish he’d made a more
specific plan. Pulling his cloak tightly around his body, he turned his
back towards the wind.
"Let’s head towards Fred and George’s shop," Ginny said, raising her
voice above the frigid blast of wind that suddenly gusted. "There’s
usually a crowd there and you’ll probably be spotted fairly quickly."
"Brush your hair off your forehead," Ron said crossly, tugging
Hermione’s arm as he began walking. "Your scar is barely visible. Don’t
hide it if you want to be seen."
Harry scowled at Ron’s back, but moved his fringe aside, feeling
Ginny pulled her scarf up so she could bury her nose, and slipped her
hand in his. "Come on," she murmured. "It’s just for a little while."
The four walked towards Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes hunched from the
chill. The pit in Harry’s stomach grew as he noticed the abundance of
closed shops. The combination of Voldemort and Umbridge was wreaking
havoc on the Wizarding world, and the worse part was they were allowing
Umbridge to do it.
"Harry, you’re hurting my hand," Ginny said, trying to pull her hand
from the death grip he had on it.
"Oh!" he said, starting. "Sorry, Ginny. I wasn’t paying attention."
"Obviously," she said, working her fingers in and out inside her fuzzy
yellow mittens. "What’re you so cheesed off about, anyway? Is it this
nonsense of Ron’s? He’s just being Ron — it takes awhile for his brain
to catch up with the rest of him sometimes."
Harry snorted. "Nah, I don’t know what’s bothering me. Something just
doesn’t feel right-"
"Oi, Ron! Ginny!" Fred shouted, poking his head outside the door of his
shop. "Dad said you lot might stop by this afternoon. What’s
Harry craned his neck to peer inside. There were a few scattered
customers in the aisles, but nothing like the crowd he’d seen the last
time he’d been here. "How’s business?" he asked.
Fred shrugged. "It’s been slow, but the mail order catalog is booming.
People are afraid to go out."
"Probably a good thing or Um-bint might make a decree declaring it
illegal to shop here next," George said, scowling.
Ron, Ginny, and Harry sniggered at the insult, and even the corner of
Hermione’s mouth twitched.
"We’re not her favorite people," Fred said, scratching his chin. "I
can’t imagine anyone not loving us, can you?"
"Pansy and Iris don’t seem to care for you much," Ginny said,
sniggering. Fred scowled and looked away.
"Dad said you needed to be spotted somewhere public. The shop next door
sells coffee and has a big open window. Care to take a stroll and grab
a cuppa?" George asked.
"All right," Harry replied.
"Can you watch the store for a tic, Shannon?" George called to the
pretty girl behind the counter. She nodded and the twins led them
"Who’s she?" Ginny asked. "She’s new."
"Yeah. We keep losing employees. We suspect some of them are being
pressured by the Ministry to disassociate themselves with us.
Apparently, Um-bint holds a grudge," Fred replied. "Shannon can be a
bit flaky, but George likes her."
George flushed and kept walking.
It wasn’t difficult to get a large table by the window because the shop
was nearly deserted. They’d just placed their orders when the entire
shop shook from the force of a blast somewhere down the street.
"What was that?" Hermione asked, alarmed.
"Dunno," Fred said, standing up to peer out the window. The second
blast knocked him to his knees. Coffee cups rattled on the table, and
Harry heard something shatter in the kitchen.
The few patrons in the shop glanced at each other warily, uncertain
whether or not to flee. Harry helped Fred to his feet and looked
outside. To his horror, he could see half the street in flames. Death
Eaters were walking unhindered, blasting spells at various shops along
the way. They appeared to be gathering around the shops near Gringotts.
Harry turned around. Their waitress had backed against the counter, a
panicked expression on her face.
"Do you have a Floo connection here?" he asked.
The girl merely stared back at him, her eyes flicking to the chaos
"Listen to me," Harry said, speaking softly but firmly. "Do you have a
The girl nodded, her eyes wide.
"I want you to go right now and make an emergency call to the Ministry.
Have them send Aurors here straightaway," Harry said.
The girl nodded again but didn’t move.
"Now," Harry said, louder this time.
She jumped, casting Harry a terrified expression. Whimpering slightly,
she turned and fled towards the kitchen. Harry turned back to the door
where Hermione was standing, peering outside.
"Hermione, I need you to go back into the twins’ shop and use their
Floo to alert the Order," he said, swallowing heavily. "Be careful and
keep your eyes open. They haven’t come this way yet, but if they do,
I’d expect Fred and George’s shop to be a prime target. Take Shannon
and get out if they come this way."
Hermione nodded, her eyes meeting Ron’s briefly before she turned and
slipped out the door.
"Be careful," Ron called after her.
"What do you want us to do, Harry?" George asked.
"We’ve got to try and slow them down until help arrives," Harry said,
gripping his wand tightly. "Ginny, keep these people inside. Use the
Floo or take them out the back if the Death Eaters move this way."
Hearing the words ‘Death Eaters’ confirmed to the handful of other
patrons what was happening outside. There were several screams as
people pushed back their chairs and started running towards the door.
Harry stood in front of it, blocking their exit. "Listen to me. You’re
safer in here than out there right now. You have to remain calm. Help
is on the way."
Grumbling, the patrons retook their seats, staring nervously between
Harry and the window.
"I’m not staying behind here, Harry," Ginny said.
Harry turned his attention towards her and realized too late how livid
she was. Her jaw was set in a determined scowl, and her eyes flashed
brightly, daring him to argue with her.
"If you try and leave me behind, I’ll be out that door two steps behind
you. I can handle myself, and the four of you are no match for all
those Death Eaters. You need all the help you can get," she said
Harry knew she was right. He did need the help, and she could handle
herself. Knowing that didn’t help with the more primitive side of
himself that wanted her safe and protected at all costs, however. He
twisted his lips, struggling.
Finally, he turned toward the door and swore violently. "Fine, follow
me and stay together."
"Harry!" Ron said. "You can’t let her come. She’ll get hurt."
"Shut it, Ron," Ginny said, pushing her brother aside. "I’ve helped
carry you out the last two times we’ve had trouble."
The twins’ each covered a smirk as they moved out of the way, allowing
Ginny to pass. Clutching their own wands, they followed Ginny out the
door. Harry quickly joined them, leaving Ron to follow in their wake,
"Harry!" he said.
"We don’t have time for this," Harry snapped. "We all stick together.
We’re going to stay on the right side of the street, it’s more
shadowed. The Death Eaters are focused on their destruction, and they
don’t appear to expect any resistance. When we’re close enough for our
spells to hit them, we need to take cover first. Understand?"
The others nodded, their faces grim but determined.
Crouching low, Harry led them down the suddenly deserted street,
ducking his head against the icy wind. New explosions shook the ground
every few moments with alarming frequency. He could hear the laughter
and crude jokes from the Death Eaters, but the street itself was eerily
deserted. When they’d walked this way less than an hour ago, there had
been a few scattered shoppers and several open shops, now it resembled
a ghost town. Harry imagined everyone was inside, seeking cover.
As they neared the first burning shop, Harry could feel the heat on his
face from the burning buildings. The temperature outside seemed to rise
the closer they got to the bank. Heavy smoke filled the air, making it
difficult to see what was happening. He jerked his head towards an
alleyway where several rubbish bins lay scattered. The Weasleys took
cover behind them.
"Back in the rubbish again," Ron muttered.
"Ron, get down," Fred shouted, pushing Ron to the ground as a jet of
green light came speeding down the alley.
Muffled shouts and curses sounded from the street ahead. Fred dragged
Ron behind the bins.
"Bloody hell. Thanks, Fred," Ron said, looking slightly dazed.
"I saw someone go this way," a harsh voice sounded ahead.
The air was suddenly filled with the sounds of Apparition. Multiple
cracks and pops filled the air as witches and wizards dressed in
Ministry uniforms arrived on the scene. The flashes from curses being
fired became brighter and more intense.
"Stupefy," Harry shouted.
A beam of red light shot from his wand and Stunned the Death Eater who
had followed them into the alley. Peering around the corner of a
building, Harry could see Ministry Aurors fanning out and taking cover
all along the street. The Death Eaters were casting spells at them with
fierce intensity, and it took a moment for Harry to comprehend that the
Aurors weren’t returning spells at all.
"What are they on about?" he asked no one in particular, horrified to
see the Aurors being slaughtered.
"What’s happening?" Ginny whispered behind him.
"The Aurors have arrived, but they aren’t casting any spells. The Death
Eaters are making it look like child’s play," Harry said, stunned.
He watched as the lead Auror made several attempts to negotiate with
the Death Eaters, the majority of which were holed up on the steps of
Gringotts. He felt his stomach clench in disgust as several of the
Death Eaters used the Levicorpus spell to dangle the bodies of dead
Aurors in the air.
"Stupefy," George yelled, his face contorted in rage.
One of the Death Eaters who’d been desecrating the bodies slumped over,
but his victim fell to the ground in a heap as well. George’s Stunning
spell alerted the others to their location, and a barrage of curses
began pelting off the walls and against the bins in the alleyway.
"Back, move back," Harry shouted, pushing Ginny out of the way.
Ron, Fred and George took one side of the alley, while he and Ginny
backed against the other. If the Death Eaters swarmed, they were
trapped. Harry’s eyes scanned frantically, finally settling on a rusty,
metal fire escape located several meters above their heads. He was
startled by a loud crack not far from where he and Ginny were standing.
Several more cracks followed in rapid succession.
"Potter," Mad-Eye Moody said, appearing suddenly alongside Hestia
Jones. "What’s the situation?"
Moody and Jones volleyed several spells back and forth with the
attacking Death Eaters. They were the first spells to be aimed at the
Death Eaters directly since Harry had arrived on the scene. He saw Bill
and another witch he didn’t recognize joining Ron and the twins. They
all began aiming spells towards the steps of Gringotts. Several other
Order members had also joined the fray.
"Those Aurors aren’t using any spells. They’re trying to negotiate with
them," Harry said, ducking as a stream of purple light was shot near
Moody returned fire, taking out two Death Eaters before lowering his
"What do you think you’re doing?" an Auror asked, crouching low as he
ran up to them.
"We’re saving your arses," Moody snapped. "Why aren’t you trying to
stop them? They’re using Unforgiveables."
As if to prove his point, the screams of an Auror obviously being
subjected to the Cruciatus filled the air.
The Auror eyes flickered before his stony expression returned. "We’re
following new Ministry guidelines to attempt to achieve a peaceful
settlement to the crisis," he said in a monotone.
"Bollocks," Moody replied. "This is more of Umbridge’s mess."
The Auror clenched his jaw tightly. "We have our orders. There are
strict, Ministry-sanctioned guidelines that must be followed. There is
to be no spell-use until we receive the appropriate signal from our
"And who is your commander?" Moody asked, growling. "Can’t he see that
your people are being devastated?"
"Dawlish," Kingsley Shacklebolt said, approaching them. His eyes
briefly glanced at Harry, but he gave no sign of recognition. He turned
to the Auror standing with Moody. "Sir, Bradford and Hennessey are
down, leaving you the next in command. What do you want to do?"
Kingsley’s jaw was tense, as if he were barely restraining himself. His
hand clenched his wand tightly, as if forcing himself not to use it.
Harry could see reflections of color from various spells reflected in
the gold of Kingsley’s earring.
"You want to protect yourselves from those Death Eaters," Harry said
when the Auror hesitated. "Dolores’s decree obviously isn’t working."
The man’s gaze flickered to Harry, freezing when he noticed the scar.
He swore under his breath. "We haven’t been given the order to engage
from Dawlish," he said through clenched teeth. "The bigwigs at the
Ministry were adamant that we follow procedure."
"We don’t know that Dawlish is still alive," Kingsley said stiffly.
"And our people are dying, sir."
When the Auror still hesitated, Moody swore in disgust. "Look, you do
whatever you have to do, and we’ll do what we have to do. Harry, get up
on that roof and see if you can get a good aim at the Death Eaters on
the top step at Gringotts. They appear to be the ones in charge."
Harry nodded. Using his wand to lower the ladder, he took Ginny by the
arm and maneuvered her to climb ahead of him. The metal was very cold,
and it stung his hands each time he grasped a wrung. As they ascended,
he could hear Moody and Shacklebolt still arguing with the Auror. The
smoke grew heavier, and he lost sight of them, but he heard the Auror
finally agree to Moody’s demands.
Harry sighed in relief; at least that was something.
As the Aurors finally began battling the Death Eaters in earnest, the
sky burst with a symphony of colors from various spells. Just as Harry
and Ginny reached the roof and climbed off the fire escape ladder, a
spell was fired into the air. Harry gaped as the Dark Mark filled the
sky above Gringotts. A cold thrill of dread ran down his back. That
spell hadn’t been fired from the ground. Turing around slowly, he
stared into cold dark eyes behind a Death Eater mask. The wizard held a
wand aimed directly at Harry’s chest.
Hermione turned from the fireplace after making the emergency call to
headquarters to find Shannon, the clerk at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes,
standing nearly on top of her. The girl was a few years older than
Hermione, but appeared much younger at the moment. Tears leaked from
her pretty, bright blue eyes, and she wrung her hands while waiting for
Hermione to tell her what to do.
Hermione instinctively straightened her wig, rolling some of the hair
between her fingers, absently noting how different it felt from her own
hair. Her heart thudded in her chest now that she didn’t have a
specific task to do.
"It’s going to be all right, Shannon," Hermione said, hoping it was
true. "Help is on the way."
Shannon sniffed. "Where are Fred and George?" she asked tremulously.
Hermione’s eyes drifted to the door, and she had to take a deep breath
to control her own rising panic. "They went to see if they could help."
"Why?" Shannon moaned. "Those are his followers down there. They’ll be
"They can handle themselves. They’ve done this before," Hermione said
firmly. Something about Shannon’s terror settled Hermione’s nerves. She
could handle this. She had to keep Shannon calm and that would help her
remain calm, as well.
"But what if You-Know-Who is there, too?" Shannon asked, her eyes
nearly bugging out of her head.
Hermione bit her lip, praying that wasn’t true. They weren’t ready.
They needed more time. There was still one more Horcrux to find, and
Hermione still hadn’t completely worked out her plan to save Harry.
She was close, but she wasn’t there yet. The hardest part would be
getting Harry to agree to it, but she thought Ginny might be the better
choice to do that. Although she hated to admit it, Hermione knew Harry
tended to listen to Ginny more than he did to her. It irritated the
older Gryffindor to no end, but that’s the way it was. Still, if
Voldemort was among the Death Eaters attacking, all her careful plans
might be for naught. They weren’t ready.
Hermione’s thoughts turned toward Ron. They’d been bickering all
morning and hadn’t really settled anything when he’d left with the
others. She’d been angry over the way he’d treated Harry that morning.
He really could be such an insufferable prat sometimes. He meant well,
though. He was only trying to protect his sister. His infuriatingly
male brain simply hadn’t caught on to the fact that Ginny neither
needed nor wanted his protection.
Hermione had noticed the hurt that had flashed in Harry’s eyes, even if
Ron hadn’t. She knew Ginny had seen it, too. Ron might have obliviously
stomped all over Harry’s feelings that morning, but if it came down to it this afternoon, Ron would give his life for Harry. Hermione knew it,
and it terrified her. She had to find a way for both her boys to come
out of this — whole and intact — no matter what she had to do.
Another blast shook the shop, knocking various items off the shelves
and sending them crashing to the floor. Hermione grabbed onto the
fireplace in the back of the shop to steady herself.
Shannon screamed and began to lunge for the door, but Hermione grabbed
her arm, stopping her. "We’re safer in here," she hissed.
The sound of the door at the front of the shop opening caused both
girls to freeze. They stared at one another warily, clutching each
"Lookee, lookee at all the toys," a sinister, singsong voice sounded at
the front of the shop. "Is anybody home? Come out, come out wherever
Hermione slapped her hand over Shannon’s mouth before the girl could
scream. The shop was no longer safer than the street.
Ron stood with his brothers and watched as Harry and Ginny climbed the
fire escape to the rooftop. He could see Mad-Eye Moody shouting
something to them, but the noise from the battle drowned his words.
After the Order had arrived, Bill led Ron and the twins through a door
in the building opposite the one Harry was now climbing, and they’d
remerged onto the street.
"Where’re Harry and Ginny going?" George asked, covering Bill as he
moved closer to a group of Death Eaters.
"Dunno," Ron shrugged. He really wasn’t all that concerned about it. He
knew Harry would protect Ginny with his life, and he could get out of
just about anything. He’d proved that many times in the past. Ron
suddenly felt guilty for the way he’d treated Harry that morning. Ron
knew that Harry would give his life for any one of the Weasleys — even
Percy. He should’ve known that.
Suddenly, the Aurors finally started to do what they’d arrived to do
and began casting spells back at the attacking Death Eaters.
"’s about time," Fred said, shaking his head in disgust. "The Aurors
finally quit yakking and have decided to join the fight." He ducked as
a red beam of light zoomed alarmingly close to his ear.
"Bugger!" Ron shouted as the ground shook beneath his feet. Raising his
eyes, he could see a massive green skull forming in the sky with a
hideous green snake slowly oozing out its mouth.
"That spell came from the rooftop," George said uneasily.
Ron swallowed resolutely. "Harry can take care of himself, and he’ll
take care of Ginny, too."
They continued moving forward until they joined a group of Aurors
"Wotcher, Ron," a familiar voice said.
"Tonks!" Ron said, startled.
"Bloody mess, innit?" Tonks said, tossing her head. "Umbridge is a daft
idiot. We must have lost close to twenty Aurors before Kingsley got
Melanson to agree to stuff her orders."
"Have they got control of the bank?" Ron asked.
"Nah. They’ll never get inside. The Goblins have their own kind of
protection. This is a form of intimidation. People will panic when they
hear about it. It’s Voldemort’s way of showing everyone exactly who’s
in charge," Tonks said, shaking her head.
Ron aimed his wand, firing repeatedly at the Death Eaters, who were now
pulling back and taking cover.
"Some of them got past us, so some of the shops further down could
still be in trouble," Tonks said. "We’ll have to worry about that
later. Right now, we’ve got to try and get to the top steps of
Gringotts. The Death Eaters calling the shots are holed up there."
"How are we supposed to do that?" Fred asked incredulously. "There’s no
"That’s why they chose it," Ron snapped. "It’s good strategy."
Ron watched as Bill attempted to get closer, his ravaged face covered
in soot and grime. Suddenly, something bright and enormous illuminated
the sky overhead, moving toward Gringotts.
"What was that?" George asked, but there wasn’t time to contemplate as
the Death Eaters began attacking with renewed intensity. The fighting
was fierce, and Ron struggled to focus on the battle at hand and not on
what might have happened to Hermione.
From the corner of his eye, Ron saw a large, masked Death Eater emerge
from an adjacent building. He watched curiously as the man barked
something at his cohorts standing nearby. The other Death Eaters began
moving away from the building while the one who’d emerged and aimed his
wand directly at the door.
"What the-" Bill never finished his sentence.
"Morsmordre," the man cried.
"Bloody hell, he fired that inside the building," Fred shouted.
"Fleur!" Bill shouted, suddenly moving out from behind his cover and
running towards his wife, who was standing directly across from the
Fleur turned, her beautiful face contorted in concentration. Her eyes
widened in surprise seeing Bill barreling towards her before the world
began to shake.
On the rooftop, Harry froze, swallowing nervously as he faced the Death
Eater holding him at wandpoint.
"Well, look who we have here," the Death Eater said. Harry didn’t
recognize the voice. "My master will be so pleased with this added
Before Harry could respond, Ginny spun out from behind Harry’s back,
brandishing her wand. "Stupefy," she shouted.
The Death Eater took the spell directly in the chest and slumped to the
ground. Harry had no time to congratulate her before two other Death
Eaters emerged from the stairwell onto the roof.
Harry and Ginny both fired several spells, but the Death Eaters had the
door to the stairwell to use as cover while they were out in the open.
Harry took Ginny’s hand and pulled her towards the building’s ledge.
"Come on," he shouted.
He sprinted toward the ledge with Ginny on his heels, dodging spells
the whole way.
"What are you doing?" Ginny asked, breathless.
"Don’t think, just jump," he shouted.
As he neared the ledge, he took a deep breath and simply leaped across
to the rooftop of the next building. There was a moment while in the
air that gave him that heady rush flying always did. He landed with a
thud, but bounced back up, exhilarated and prepared to catch Ginny.
She stood on the other side, fixed in one spot and wide-eyed while the
Death Eaters ran towards her.
Harry felt panic rising in his chest. Aiming his wand, he shouted,"
The Death Eaters were still too far away, and he missed. "Ginny, you
have to jump," he said, holding out his hand. "I promise I’ll catch
Ginny stared at the gap between the buildings then turned to see the
Death Eaters running towards her. "Harry," she cried, her lip
trembling. "Your legs are longer than mine."
"You can do this, Ginny. Do it, now," Harry demanded.
Ginny nodded resolutely, keeping her watery eyes on Harry. She backed
up a few steps, took a running start, and bolted towards the ledge. She would have cleared it fine if she hadn’t faltered slightly before
jumping. That fraction of hesitation caused her to fall just short of
Harry leaned over and grabbed her around the waist before she slipped
off the edge. His shoulder took the brunt of the strain, and he heard
an awful popping sound before an unbearable agony swept down his arm.
The pain was nauseating, and he had to clamp down on his teeth to keep
from crying out.
Ginny screamed as his right arm dropped limply, releasing his hold on
her. He leaned from the waist, keeping a tight grip on her with his
left arm, straining to pull her up. They were out of the field of
vision of the Death Eaters at the moment, but it wouldn’t take them
long to reach the edge.
Ginny wrapped her arms around his neck, clingingly tightly as he pulled
her back onto the ledge. He could feel her nails digging into his skin
and knew she wouldn’t let go for anything. She was trembling violently
and could barely catch her breath through her tears. He dragged her
away from the edge and behind a half wall, shielding them from the
Death Eaters spells.
Leaning against the wall, he gasped in pain, holding Ginny’s shaking
body close to his. "Ginny," he said softy. "You’re okay. We’re okay."
Ginny took a deep breath, pulling herself together. Her eyes widened,
as if realizing Harry was in pain. Swiping her eyes, she leaned over
him to peer around the wall.
"Petrificus Totalis," she shouted.
Harry watched as a Death Eater dropped, immobilized, onto the rooftop
they now occupied.
"Take one more step and you’ll get the same thing, only I promise you,
it’ll be while you’re still in the air," Ginny snarled at the other
Death Eater, who was preparing to jump.
The man’s determination wavered. He hesitated a moment before backing
away from the ledge.
"Wise decision," Ginny mumbled, turning back towards Harry. "Are you
Harry wiped a trickle of blood from his lip. He’d bitten threw it when
he’d hurt his shoulder. "Yeah," he gasped clenching his teeth. "We need
to help the others."
Ginny nodded, helping him to stand. They moved quickly towards the
opposite ledge where they had a clear view of Gringotts. The steps were
littered with fallen Death Eaters, while many Aurors lay prone in the
street. Fires burned uncontrolled in several of the buildings and thick
smoke filled the air.
Harry could see two Death Eaters on the top steps of Gringotts, issuing
orders to the others. The door to the bank must have sealed against the
attack, for no one even bothered trying to open them.
Harry had to grasp his wand in his left hand because his right was
dangling uselessly at his side. Focusing all his energy on the two
huddled Death Eaters creating all this destruction, he aimed his wand
and shouted, "Expecto Patronum."
Prongs sprang from his wand and floated gracefully through the air and
landed on the steps of Gringotts. Lowering its head, the stag charged
the Death Eaters. Startled, they jumped out of the way, leaving their
cover and giving Harry a clear aim. With his wand in the wrong hand, he
felt some uncertainty about the success of the spells, but he aimed and
The two Death Eaters stopped, their bodies jerking violently before
collapsing on the steps. Ginny aimed at several of the masked attackers
on the street.
As if realized their numbers were dwindling, the remaining Death Eaters
began Disapparating, leaving only the Order and a group of unorganized
Aurors on the street below.
Before he had time to speak, a great rumbling shook the building where
Harry and Ginny were standing. The tremble forced each of them to their
knees, causing Harry to cry out as his shoulder jerked in a painful
spasm. Their eyes widened as the building next to them — the one from
which they’d jumped — suddenly collapsed in a swirling cloud of dust
and smoke. Clenching his eyes shut, Harry threw his body over Ginny’s
and tried to shield her from the debris flying through the air.
Ginny gasped, struggling to catch her breath with Harry’s weight
pinning her to the ground. The roar from the destruction of the
building was so loud that she wanted to clasp her hands over her ears
to block it out. Her body was covered with cuts and bruises from the
falling debris, and she felt sore and abused.
"Harry," she said, shifting beneath him. "Are you all right?"
He groaned, but rolled off of her and lay panting on the rooftop. She
pushed herself to her knees to take a good look at him. He’d shielded
her from most of the blast, and he bore the marks to prove it. He was
bleeding from several spots, although nothing appeared life-
threatening. The worst wound still appeared to be his shoulder. Ginny
could see the ball joint sticking out grotesquely while his arm dangled
limply at his side. He’d obviously dislocated it when he caught her.
Ginny’s heart had dropped to her shoes when she’d watched him leap
across the gap between the buildings. She’d seen his face — the jump
had exhilarated him. She liked flying as much as the next person —
probably more — but she preferred to have a broom under her when she did it. The jump had terrified her, although she had to admit that she
was proud of herself now that she’d done it.
"’m fine," Harry said, barely able to get the words out.
Ginny rolled her eyes. He was anything but fine. Honestly, what was his
problem admitting something hurt, anyway? His vivid green eyes were
clouded with pain, and she knew he was holding his breath to silence
his groans. Letting the air out through her nose, she tried to relax.
"My brothers!" she gasped, pushing onto her feet, suddenly remembering
that most of them had been involved in the fight. They’d been on the
street below the collapsed building. The air was still thick from
smoke, making it impossible to see the ground properly. She could hear
voices, but no sign of spells, indicating the fight was over. Ginny
fought her rising panic. She couldn’t see any of her brothers and
couldn’t even distinguish which side had won.
Her chest felt tight as the fear clawed at her heart. They had to be
all right. They just had to be. She didn’t know what she’d do if she
ever lost one of them. Overbearing or not — they were still hers.
"We’ve got to get back down and see what happened," Harry said, gasping
as he rose to his feet.
"Harry, you’re hurt. At least let me go first," Ginny said, annoyed by
the few stray tears that leaked from her eyes.
Harry shook his head. "We can Apparate to a spot up the street a bit to
take a look," he said. "Just give me a minute."
Stumbling over to the brick wall, he took a deep breath. Before Ginny
had even realized what he was going to do, he slammed his shoulder into
the wall with brutal force. Ginny heard a sickening ‘pop’ as his
shoulder was forced back into the socket. He screamed, dropping to his
"That’s better," he said shakily before his eyes rolled back in his
head, Ginny managed to catch him before his head hit the ground.
"Oh, Harry," she said, cringing. Merlin, that had to hurt. She ran her
fingers through his soft hair, shaking him gently and trying to rouse
him. She knew she should go and check on the situation below, but she
couldn’t just leave him here like this. "Come on, love. Wake up."
She tapped the side of his face lightly, hating herself for doing this
to him. He moaned, but his eyes didn’t flicker.
"Okay, Harry. I’m going to go down and get some help," she said,
sniffling. "I’ll be right back."
Harry eyes flew open wide as if she’d doused him with cold water.
"Ginny," he croaked.
"I’m here," she said, shaking her head slightly. Was there no end to
that boy’s stubbornness? "Can you stand?"
"Yeah," Harry replied automatically. He tried to rise, but only managed
a sitting position before groaning as he cradled his arm. "Erm…maybe
with a little help," he said sheepishly.
Ginny snorted and slung his left arm over her shoulder, straining to
help him to his feet. He wobbled and for a brief instant Ginny thought
he was going to go back down, but he managed to steady himself.
"Can you Apparate?" she asked, worried he’d end up splinching the two
of them together. "My long-term goal is definitely to merge with you,
Harry, but I don’t fancy having your arm sticking through my forehead."
Harry chuckled. "Ha, ha, very funny. Just grab my arm, and we’ll see if
the only part we leave behind is your smart mouth."
Ginny grinned and grabbed hold of his good arm, keeping her eyes fixed
on his face as she felt the tight squeeze of Apparation. He looked
tired and bloodstained, but magnificent all the same. That quiet power
was emanating from him again. It always happened whenever they were in
a dangerous situation, and she didn’t think he was even aware of it.
She knew she wasn’t some sort of scarlet woman, but she couldn’t help
that she felt incredibly attracted to him when he was like this. That
odd mixture of quiet confidence with a hint of insecurity was
intoxicating. It was all she could do not to grab his face and snog him
senseless whenever he took control of a situation. He was really good
at it, too. He’d make a remarkable Auror one day.
Ginny’s feet slammed to the ground mere centimeters from one of the
burning buildings. She stepped back from the heat, steadying Harry as
she did. Glancing at his face, she realized he’d grown alarmingly pale
during their Apparation.
"All right, Harry?" she asked, wrapping her arm around his waist and
pressing her body close. She knew he’d allow her to help him more
easily if he thought he was the one actually comforting her. Boys were
"Yeah. Is that Ron up ahead?" he asked, straining his eyes to see
through the smoke.
Ginny turned in the direction he was pointing. She could distinguish
Ron’s shock of red hair towering above the others a short distance
away. There were several Death Eaters being gathered together, but most
of them had apparently Disapparated. She and Harry moved towards her
"Ron," she called when they were close enough for him to hear her.
"Harry! Ginny!" Ron said, obvious relief washing over his dirty face.
"Are you two all right?"
"Harry’s hurt," Ginny said at the same time Harry answered that he was
Ron wasn’t really listening to either of them. "Was that your Patronus
I saw before the building came down?" he asked.
"I thought so. I didn’t realize what it was at first. Everything
happened so fast. Most of the Order are trying to clear out of here
since the Ministry officials are arriving now that it’s all over," Ron
said, shaking his head.
"Are Fred and George okay?" Ginny asked.
"Yeah. They were trying to convince Moody to leave before anyone wanted
to take him in for questioning. Bill and Fleur both got pretty banged
up, but they’ve already been sent back to headquarters. You should go
and get that arm looked at, mate," Ron said, nodding at Harry, who was
still cradling his arm.
Ginny barely listened to Ron and Harry as she watched a delegation of
Ministry officials march down the street led by a squat, toad-faced
woman. Ginny groaned inwardly. Her heart gave a sudden lurch as she
recognized the lanky redheaded wizard who was walking behind her, a
notebook clutched in his hands. Percy looked extremely uncomfortable,
but he followed Umbridge’s orders just the same.
"Harry, let’s just Apparate back to headquarters, now. Umbridge is
here, and we don’t need to deal with her," Ginny hissed, jerking her
head in Umbridge’s direction.
"You two go ahead," Ron said, standing with his back to Umbridge, thus
blocking Harry from her view. "I need to check on Hermione."
Ginny could see Umbridge shouting at Kingsley Shacklebolt, her face red
with fury as she shook her fist in the air. Harry didn’t need further
prompting. Taking her by the arm, he Apparated them both back to
Harry groaned as he slowly drifted back to consciousness. His body felt
stiff and achy, and his mind struggled to hold on to the last vestiges
of sleep. He blinked several times, attempting to remember where he
was. Finally giving up, he reached out and fumbled on the nightstand
for his glasses. Finding them at last, he put them on and his room at
Grimmauld Place came into focus, He furrowed his brow in concentration,
but it was futile; his memory was foggy at best.
He and Ginny had arrived back at headquarters to find Madam Pomfrey
treating a wide array of injuries. He’d seen Bill and Fleur, both
heavily bandaged but sitting up and talking while Mrs. Weasley fussed
over them. Madam Pomfrey had fixed up Harry’s arm in no time, but she
must have slipped him some kind of sleep potion because the next thing
he remembered was waking up here.
Sitting up and throwing his legs over the side of the bed, he stretched
and reached for some clothes. He had no idea how much time had passed
since his return, but he wanted to find out what had happened after
he’d left Diagon Alley, and exactly how many Aurors had been lost. He remembered that Umbridge had been in a fury, and she usually lashed out
when she felt cornered. All in all, not a good situation for anybody.
He walked slowly down the stairs, craning his neck from side to side,
attempting to work out the kinks. He could smell a delicious aroma
wafting up from the kitchen and knew it must be around suppertime. He
couldn’t have slept for very long.
Pushing open the kitchen door, he found the table crowded with many
sober faces. Ginny sat next to her dad, her hand clasped tightly on his
arm. Tonks was next to her, looking very pale as she worried her lip
with her bottom teeth. Mrs. Weasley muttered under her breath as she
continually poured tea for everyone, whether their cups were empty or
Hagrid, Moody, Professor McGonagall and the twins were also at the
table, but there was no sign of Ron or Hermione.
"Harry!" Ginny said, noticing him standing in the doorway. She jumped
up and grasped his arm, leading him to a chair.