lundi 11 février 2008

chapter 16


“I came here a few times when I wanted to be alone after Sirius died,”
Harry said.

“It’s beautiful,” Ginny replied, looking around thoughtfully.

“I thought…er…maybe you’d like to use it if you…er…well, if you ever
wanted some time with your thoughts,” Harry said, running a hand
through his hair.

“Thanks, Harry, Ginny said, her eyes filling. “D’you mind if I stay
here a bit now? Just to think?”

Harry shook his head. “I don’t mind. I’m going to go find Ron.”


Harry had walked back to the Quidditch pitch and waited for nearly an
hour with no sign of his friend. Finally deciding that Ron must have
already gone back to the castle, Harry went to find him. He noticed the
tense atmosphere in the common room as soon as he entered.

Shannon and George were sitting in the squishy armchairs by the fire.
Harry nodded to them as he walked toward the stairs.

“I wouldn’t go up there,” George said. “Ron’s in a right state.”

“Why? What happened?” Harry asked.

“Same as always – another Weasley row. Mum and Moody went at it again,
and Ron took Moody’s side. Mum burst into tears, and Charlie laid into
Ron for upsetting her. It was ugly.”

Harry nodded. “Thanks for the warning. I’m going to go see him,

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” George replied, shrugging.

When Harry entered the dormitory, he found Ron lying on his bed with
his arms behind his head, staring blankly at the ceiling.

“Hey,” Harry said, carefully edging into the room.
“Hey,” Ron replied, unmoving.

Harry walked over to his own bed and sat on the edge, glancing around

“Why’d you leave? I thought we’d do some more flying,” Harry said.

Ron shrugged. “I saw you and Ginny talking, and it looked pretty
serious. I didn’t want to interrupt, and I certainly didn’t want to
talk anymore about Percy, so I came inside.”

“Ron…” Harry said, uncertain what to say. It wasn’t as if he and Ron
ever really discussed any of this emotional stuff with each other. That
was usually Hermione’s area.

“Don’t, Harry,” Ron said, snapping. “What? D’you want to say ‘I told
you so’? D’you want to remind me that you warned me about regretting
not doing what was important when I had the chance?”

“No,” Harry replied, stung.

“Then what? What can you possibly say that will change anything?” Ron

Breathing deeply to control his rising temper, Harry said, “Nothing.
There’s nothing I can say that will change anything, Ron. You’re angry
that you didn’t get to have it out with Percy, but rowing with the rest
of your brothers won’t make it stop.”

“Yeah, you’re such an expert on this stuff, huh, Harry?” Ron snarled.

Harry flinched. “Unfortunately, I’ve had some experience,” he said
through clinched teeth.

Ron paled, deflating. “Shite, Harry. I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s
wrong with me – I keep snapping at Hermione, too. Merlin, I need a

Harry pursed his lips and stared at Ron a moment before moving to his
rucksack and digging through it. Pulling out his remaining bottle of
Everlasting Firewhisky, he said, “That’s one problem I can solve.”

One corner of Ron’s mouth quirked upwards. He grabbed the bottle and
took a long swig, setting on the floor with his back resting against
his bed. He folded his legs and handed the bottle to Harry, who also
took a swig.

When he passed the bottle back to Ron, a brief flicker of concern
crossed his friend’s face. “Hermione is going to kill us. We haven’t
even had supper yet,” he said. Despite his concern, he took a long
draught of the Firewhisky, wincing slightly from the burn as it went

Harry shrugged, taking the bottle. “So? We are having supper – it’s
just a liquid supper,” he replied, grinning.
“Yeah,” Ron said, chuckling. “You tell Hermione that when she bursts in
here and finds the two of us pissed.”

Harry shook his head. “Nuh–uh. She’s your girlfriend. You get to deal
with it, while I quietly slink out of the room,” he replied, laughing.

“Thanks a lot, you git,” Ron said.

They sat on the floor trading the bottle back and forth for quite some
time. If it had been a normal bottle, it would have been long empty by
the time the winter sky had darkened, and the candles in the dormitory
lit. Neither of them felt any pain, and the Firewhisky had long since
stopped burning as they swallowed it. Both boys had uncurled their legs
and sat sprawled on the floor – each kicking the other as they traded
good-natured barbs.

It was only after they’d been drinking happily for some time that the
conversation drifted back to Percy.

“I just wish I could have said ‘Happy Christmas’ while he was at
Grimmauld Place, you know? What’s so hard about saying Happy
Christmas?” Ron asked, slurring his words.

For some reason, Harry found it very difficult to follow Ron’s train of
thought. He furrowed his brow, concentrating on enunciating his words.
“Not hard at all. Happy. Christmas. Easy, see. Only two words.”

“Exactly! Two words. So how come I couldn’t say them?” Ron asked.

“Dunno,” Harry replied. ”But he didn’t say them, either.”

Ron blinked, nonplussed. “What?”

“You’re beating yourself up for not saying ‘Happy Christmas,’” Harry
said, stressing each word to ensure he had his facts straight. “But,
did Percy say it to you?”

“Well…no,” Ron replied, “but he did show up for dinner.”

“Yeah…well, he owed you the apology, right?” Harry asked, taking
another swig.

Ron eyes widened to the point they were bugging out of his head. “We
both made mistakes!” he shouted.

“’Course you did – you’re Weasleys,” Harry said, kicking Ron’s leg.

Ron grinned, his eyes focusing somewhere beside Harry’s head. “Watch
out, or I’ll tell my sister you said that, Potter.”

Harry tried to control the grin he felt overtaking his face, but it was
useless. He felt giddy and didn’t care if Ron knew it.

“You’re in love with my sister,” Ron said, grinning.

“Yep,” Harry answered unflinchingly, the grin remaining plastered on
his face.
“You’re serious,” Ron said.

Harry shrugged. “She makes me happy. She makes me want things that I
never thought were meant for me…and I could easily spend every waking
moment snogging her senseless.”

“Eww, Harry,” Ron said, taking a long swig. “I’m not pissed enough to
hear any details.”

“I am,” Harry said, resting the back of his head on the top of his bed.
Realizing it made him nauseous, he quickly lifted it back up, causing
the room to spin. “Whoa.”

“Hermione is an extremely good kisser,” Ron said, his brow furrowed. “I
don’t like to think that it was Vicky who taught her, though.”

“Maybe it wasn’t,” Harry replied, trying to measure the size of a
candle’s flame with his fingers. “Maybe she’s just naturally a good

“Maybe she just likes kissing me,” Ron said, his head lolling to the
side with a silly grin. “There’s lots she likes to do with me.”

Harry’s eyes bulged. “Exactly how much does she like to do with you?”
he asked, not certain if he really wanted to know.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Ron said, chuckling.

“Er…no, not really,” Harry said, suddenly giving in to the
uncontrollable urge to laugh. “I keep imagining you and Hermione
getting carried away and her wanting to stop to pull out her notes.”

Ron kicked Harry in the leg, hard. Harry began convulsing with
laughter, falling to his side and finding it impossible to sit up

“If Hermione has read any notes on pleasing her man, I’m not
complaining,” Ron said. “That girl has always been good about doing her

Harry began waving his arms in the air. “Stop! No more. I don’t want
to know.”

“I thought you said you were drunk enough to hear this,” Ron said,
picking up his wand and using it to make the flame on the nearest
candle alternately dim and flare.

“I’m drunk not,” Harry said, staring at the ceiling. He furrowed his
brow. That didn’t sound right…did it?

“Yeah, you always lie on the floor with your feet on the bed, Harry,”
Ron said, suddenly doubling over laughing. In the process he dropped
his wand, and it rolled under Harry’s bed. “Oh…crap.”
“I’ll get it!” Harry shouted. He knew he could do this. He dove under
the bed, grasping the wand in his fingers and rolling out on the other
side. “Ha! Told you I could get it.”

“Yeah, you’re my hero,” Ron said, snorting.

Harry flung the wand and pelted Ron off the head with it.

“Ow!” Ron cried, rubbing his forehead vigorously.

“Seriously,” Harry said, peeking over the top of his bed, but keeping
it between Ron and him like a shield. “Exactly how far have you and
Hermione gone?” he asked, slurring his words.

“Are you drunk enough to know?” Ron asked.

“Yeah, I am,” Harry replied, hiccupping in confirmation.

“We haven’t gone all the way…but not from lack of trying on my part.
Further than I did with Lavender, anyway,” Ron said.

Harry pursed his lips without commenting.

Ron grimaced. “How about you and Ginny?” he asked, his entire body

Harry snorted, taking another sip of the Firewhisky.

“What? I told you,” Ron said indignantly.

“Yeah, but I’m not telling you. You’ll hit me,” Harry said. The entire
room was spinning, and he was having trouble focusing on exactly where
Ron’s voice was coming from.

“I won’t hit you,” Ron said, moving from a seated position onto his
knees. “Just tell me quick – and no real details.”

“I’m not telling you anything. You nearly choked me for tickling her.
Who knows what you’ll do if I tell you I’ve seen her naked,” Harry
said, swallowing heavily. “Well…almost naked, anyway.”

“I told you not to tell me that!” Ron exclaimed, putting his hands over
his ears.

“That’s why I’m not going to tell you about the almost naked part,”
Harry said, exasperated.

“Well, someone told me because now I know. Now I have to do something
about it,” Ron said, his face turning alarmingly red. “That’s my little
sister, Harry.”

“I know. That’s why I’m not telling you that I know how much of her is
freckled,” Harry said earnestly.

Ron reached for his wand, but he fumbled, and it rolled under the bed
once again. Ron dove for it on one side while Harry did on the other,
each of them struggling on the floor to reach it first.

That was how Hermione and Ginny found them when they finally came up to
the dorm to see why the boys had skipped supper. Ginny had spent a long
time down by the lake lost in her own thoughts and returned to find
Hermione feeling rather miffed that Ron hadn’t joined her for supper.
They’d shared a nice meal together before going in search of the boys,
and Ginny felt better than she had in some time.

“What in Merlin’s name are you two doing?” she asked, giggling at the
sight of Harry’s bed shaking as the two boys wrestled beneath it with
their legs sticking out on either side.

Both of them jumped at the sound of her voice, cracking their heads on
the bottom of the bed. After a considerable amount of time, they
managed to extract themselves on opposite sides of the bed and sat on
the floor rubbing their heads. Both wore glazed expressions and had
high color on their cheeks. They’d obviously been drinking – heavily.
Ginny giggled at the way their eyes refused to focus. Hermione,
however, was not amused.

“Ron!” she shouted, stamping her foot. “You two have been drinking, and
you haven’t even had supper. I thought you were going to meet me.”

Ron turned toward his girlfriend, his expression dazed. “Oh, yeah…I
was. I said that after I gave you that romantic ride on the flying
carpet, right?” he asked, obviously pleased he remembered.

“Ginny!” Harry exclaimed, an enormous smile spreading across his face.
It was the kind of smile he usually only wore if he was flying, and
Ginny always thought he was beautiful when he grinned that way.

His hair was tousled, and he ran a hand through it as he tried to keep
up with the conversation. Turning towards Ron with an incredulous
expression, he said, “It wasn’t romantic. Hermione hates to fly.”

Ron stuck out his chest, slurring his words. “Was so romantic. I wasn’t
like you just trying to make it go as fast as it would go so the girls
would scream on the dives.”

Harry looked crestfallen, and he turned wide eyes towards Ginny. “Did
you think it was romantic, Ginny?”

The corner of Ginny’s mouth twitched – she found him rather adorable in
this condition. “Of course it was, Harry,” she said.

“She’s just saying that ‘cuz it’s you. Our flight was definitely more
romantic, wasn’t it, Hermione?” Ron asked.

“Why is everything always a competition with you two?” Hermione asked,

“I think it’s a bloke thing,” Ginny replied, giggling. “I remember Mum
throwing a wobbly once when we were younger because all my brothers
were rowing about who had the biggest scoop of mashed potatoes.”
“Yeah! Mine was definitely the biggest. Charlie kept fluffing his with
his fork to try and make it look bigger than it was,” Ron said, looking
rather put out with Charlie.

Hermione shook her head and picked up the bottle of Firewhisky. “You’ve
had enough of this,” she said, Banishing it.

“Hey!” Harry yelped, blinking. “That was my birthday present, and I’m
not done with it.”

“Then where is it?” Hermione asked, impressing Ginny with her quick

Harry looked perplexed. “I…You…I don’t know, but I’m not done with it.”

“Come on, off the floor with you, Harry,” Ginny said, tugging him to
his feet and pushing him back down on his bed. “The party’s over.”

“It is?” Harry asked, allowing her to manhandle him.

“Yeah. We’ve got some news,” Ginny said, a chill running down her
spine. She wished she could just leave him this way and allow him to
continue his party with Ron, but this couldn’t wait. She sat beside
him, ruffling his hair.

“What news?” Ron asked, sitting on his own bed.

“I need you sober,” Hermione said, waving her wand in the air. Both
Harry and Ron shook their heads, blinking.

“Oi. I didn’t like that,” Harry said, slapping his hands over his ears
repeatedly. “It made my ears pop.”

“Why did you do that, Hermione?” Ron whinged, shaking his head.

“Because I have something important to tell you, and I didn’t want you
giggling through it. The Order is having an impromptu meeting
downstairs about Umbridge. Apparently, she’s called a press conference
at the Ministry in three days. She claims to have struck a deal with
Voldemort to ensure peace.”

“What? Voldemort will never stick to that,” Harry said, finally giving
the girls his full attention.

“The Order doesn’t think so, either,” Hermione replied. “According to
Tonks’s source, Umbridge wanted to have a warrant issued for your
arrest, Harry. She still doesn’t have enough clout with the Wizengamot
to push it through, but they did agree to bring you in for

“Have to find me first, don’t they?” Harry asked, scowling.

“It gets worse, Harry,” Hermione said, biting her lip.

“What do you mean?” he asked, and Ginny could feel his entire body
Hermione took a deep breath before resting her hand on Harry’s arm as
if to keep him calm. “This bargain that she’s supposedly struck with
Voldemort is very dodgy. No one knows exactly what it entails, but as
part of a show of good faith on her part, she released Wormtail.”

“What?” Harry exploded, jumping from the bed and jerking his arm away
from Hermione. His eyes were wild, and Ginny could feel the power
radiating from him. It was almost frightening.

Hermione recoiled, stricken. “She’s going to give all the details at
her press conference. Tonks suspects she’s going to use it as a push to
have herself instated as full Minister and not just for the Interim.”

“We’ll see about that,” Harry said, his voice deadly calm. Ginny moved
toward him, resting her hand on his shoulder. He was so tense, she
feared he was ready to snap.

“What do you mean? Harry, you can’t be anywhere near there. She’s got
the order to bring you in for questioning, and if she succeeds in
securing the Ministry, she’ll have you arrested,” Hermione said

Harry’s face hardened as a steely glint of power stole into his eyes.
He looked fierce, and Ginny couldn’t help feeling proud of the man he
was becoming.

“Then maybe it’s time for the Chosen One to tell the people what’s
really going on – whether they want to hear it or not,” Harry said, his
jaw clenched in determination.

Ginny slipped her hand into his and squeezed it gently. Whatever
happened, she knew they’d all be by his side.
Chapter Twenty-Two


Dear Hermione,

I really don’t know what to say. I hope you and Ron both came through
everything okay. I wish I could be there with you. The two of you meant
more to me than you’ll ever know, could ever understand, really. I
probably should have told you that, but I could never seem to find the
right words.

I’m leaving you the Marauder’s Map. I’m certain that brilliant mind of
yours will come up with some fantastic uses for it, if only to catch
out-of-bounds students once you’re a Transfiguration professor. Do me a
favor and go easy on them, okay? Remember, we were those out-of-bounds
students once upon a time.

If you don’t use it as a teacher, at least give it to one of your and
Ron’s kids to carry on our legacy.

Take care of Ginny for me, Hermione. She’ll need you
Harry put the letter aside, sighing. He was still having such
difficulty writing them. Did he really sound like such an idiot when he
spoke? Maybe it was because he just couldn’t bear to say goodbye…

Running a hand through his mussed-up hair, he pushed the letters aside
and let his head fall on the table. He’d been in the library all
evening researching Rowena Ravenclaw but felt no closer to a revelation
than he had when he’d started. Ron and Ginny had already retired, but
Hermione was still somewhere in the library. Harry wasn’t certain what
she was researching. She loved having run of the whole place and tended
to spread out her work on multiple tables, flitting from spot to spot
as inspiration struck.

"Hermione," he called, packing up his parchment and quills and tossing
them in his bag.

"Over here, Harry," she replied from somewhere in a darkened corner. He
thought her voice sounded rather panicked, and he could hear parchment
rustling. He knew it meant that tonight’s research involved the damn
bit of Voldemort’s soul that was stuck inside him. Whatever she was
doing, she obviously wasn’t ready to share it, and Harry was feeling
too discouraged to ask.

"It’s late. I’m going to stop by the Owlery to see Hedwig before going
to bed. Are you almost done here?" he asked.

"Yes, I’ll be there shortly. Say hello to Hedwig for me," Hermione
said, her voice noticeably relaxing.

"All right. Goodnight, Hermione," he called, leaving the library and
winding his way toward the Owlery.

The castle was eerily quiet. Even though the corridors were normally
empty at this late hour, something still felt different. The walls
seemed to radiate a hollow loneliness as Harry’s footsteps echoed on
the cold stone stairs. Things had been tense amongst everyone since the
revelation that Umbridge had released Wormtail and arranged a truce
with Voldemort. The members of the Order knew her treaty was doomed
from the start and were working on ways to covertly attend her press
conference that was scheduled for the following evening.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione were all planning on attending, as well, but
Mrs. Weasley was adamant that Ginny stay safely behind. Percy’s death
had unhinged Mrs. Weasley completely, and she’d resumed her efforts to
try and shield all of them from any further violence. Although she
wasn’t happy about it, Ginny didn’t have the heart to push her mother
right now and had agreed to remain at Hogwarts.

Harry didn’t know what concessions Umbridge had agreed to, but he knew
she had to be stopped. He’d barely clamped down on the fury he felt
over Wormtail’s release after everything they’d gone through to capture
him. Ron had nearly died! Wormtail’s manipulations had landed Sirius in
prison for twelve years. Harry’s own parents had lost their lives
because of the little rat’s cowardice — and Umbridge had just let him
walk away.
Harry slammed his fist into the wall just thinking about it, causing a
nearby portrait of a lady in Renaissance finery to shriek in alarm. He
surveyed the corridor quickly, ready to sprint if he saw signs of Filch
approaching. He’d seen the old caretaker skulking around on several
occasions. Harry had no idea if, since he technically wasn’t a student,
Filch still had any authority over him, but he didn’t want to find out.

As Harry climbed the final stairs into the Owlery, he caught a flash of
blue out of the corner of his eye. Drawing his wand, he inched inside
the door.

"Who’s there?" he called. "Show yourself."

Hedwig hooted from her perch and swooped down to land on his shoulder,
nipping his ear affectionately. He could see Pig up in the rafters with
several of the school owls, and Errol lay unconscious near the window.
Errol always passed out after a journey.

"It’s just me, Potter," Pansy said, emerging from behind a column near
the window. She held her dark blue robes gathered in her hands so as
not to let them drag in the owl droppings on the floor.

"What are you doing up here so late, Pansy?" Harry asked, his eyes
narrowing suspiciously.

"That’s my business," Pansy snapped, raising her nose.

"It’s my business if you’re sending an owl to someone," Harry said,
grabbing her by the arm.

She jerked her arm free, her face darkening into a scowl. "Sorry we all
can’t have things as easy as you," she said scathingly. "You and the
Weaselette only have one mother to dodge when you need to find a place
to snog, Draco and I have both of ours, and they can be like
bloodhounds if they think we’re up to something."

"Yeah, we’re so lucky," Harry said dryly.

Pansy’s face pinkened slightly, but her scowl never dipped. "It’s all
yours, Potter. It’s too dirty in here for my tastes anyway," she said
before striding imperiously from the room.

Harry shook his head as he peeked behind the column where Pansy had
been hiding. There was nothing there. He gently picked Errol up off the
open window and moved him to a perch. The old owl’s eyes opened
blearily, and he hooted his thanks. He took a sip of water before
falling back on his side.

"What was she doing here, girl?" Harry asked Hedwig absently. "I don’t
see any new owls that might have brought her a letter, and all the
school owls have been instructed not to leave the grounds."

Hedwig hooted and nipped Harry’s ear again. He stroked her feathers as
he pulled some owl treats from his pocket. "Sorry they’re mushy.
They’ve been in my pocket for awhile," Harry said, shrugging.

Hedwig reproachfully eyed the mashed treats.
"Hey! They’ll still taste the same," Harry said, finding it ridiculous
that he felt chastised by an owl.

Hedwig scooped the treats in her beak and flew up to her perch without
a sound.

"Be that way, then," Harry said, chuckling.

He began his descent from the Owlery, peering out at the brightly lit
sky. It was a full moon, and Harry’s heart clenched with worry for
Remus. He supposed that was the real reason he couldn’t sleep. He
wondered where his friend was, and how he was coping with the full

He hoped that Remus would be able to live with whatever it was he had
to do to make the other werewolves accept him. Harry’s hatred for
Umbridge was renewed over the way she’d forced Remus to live. The press
conference couldn’t come soon enough.

He pushed open the door to his dormitory and was nearly pushed back
from the loud snoring roaring within. Harry had always known Ron snored
loudly, but adding the combined volume of Fred, George and Charlie, and
Harry was ready to move to his own room simply to catch some decent

He undressed and lay down, trying to block the sound by putting a
pillow over his head. After several long and fruitless minutes, he
finally gave up and cast a Silencing Charm around his bed. He didn’t
like to do that because he worried what would happen if there was a
problem, and he couldn’t hear it. He really wanted to sleep tonight,
however. He’d been sleeping poorly since they’d arrived.

Smiling into his pillow, he remembered the scene two nights ago when
the girls had told them about Umbridge. The other Weasley brothers had
joined them all in the room shortly afterwards, and they were all
fairly put out when they learned Ron and Harry had been drinking and
didn’t invite anyone else.

Ron had called Hermione a mood-killer, infuriating his girlfriend.
Before stomping out of the room with Ginny in tow, Hermione had removed
the Sobering Charms she’d placed on Ron and Harry. The twins had
somehow produced more Firewhisky, and all the Weasley brothers had
stayed up quite late into the night. Harry knew he’d passed out at some
point, and he felt his body still hadn’t quite recovered.

Pulling the covers up and finally beginning to drift off in the
newfound silence, Harry’s dreams about Snitches, freckles, and
Firewhisky were plagued with the image of a rat stealing in and out of
the shadows.


The press conference at the Ministry drew a large segment of the
Wizarding community. Witches and wizards had traveled across Britain to
attend, some even bringing their families in the hopes of hearing
encouraging news. The Atrium had been expanded to accommodate the crowd, and the podium had been charmed to amplify voices throughout the

Aurors and Hit Wizards were assigned along the perimeter of the Atrium
to maintain order. In fact, there were so many law enforcement
officials in attendance, Harry wondered if there was anyone left
actually guarding the rest of the Wizarding world.

The Aurors clutched their wands tightly, their faces pale and strained.
They, at least, appeared to understand the gravity of the situation.
That was more than could be said for the remainder of the crowd. The
populace at large was in a jubilant mood, barely containing their glee.
Harry suspected they were bursting to celebrate and only waiting for a
nod of approval from the Ministry. Harry shook his head in disgust. He
knew the war was taking a toll on everyone, but they were acting like
fools — all of them.

After the last full moon, word had quickly spread about the destruction
of a Muggle village near the border of Wales. A pack of werewolves had
attacked a local gathering, killing and maiming a huge section of the
townspeople. Many young villagers had been bitten and carried off by
the pack. Cries had spread that all werewolves needed to be put down,
and those victims that had survived the massacre had suddenly found
themselves among the accused.

Harry’s anxiety for Remus was palpable, and he hoped to get a chance to
speak with Tonks tonight to ask if she’d had any word. None of the
Weasleys or Professor McGonagall had had any contact with him, and
Harry’s concern had only grown.

He’d left an annoyed Ginny behind with her parents and Hagrid. Mrs.
Weasley didn’t feel up to a Ministry function, and Hagrid was simply
too big to hide. Harry suspected that Mrs. Weasley merely wanted to
keep an eye on Ginny, anyway. Professor Slughorn had supplied the Order
with what little Polyjuice potion he had in stock — which wasn’t much.
Those that already had arrest warrants out in their name used the
potion to disguise themselves while the others just tried to dress
inconspicuously and blend in with the crowd.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione had all removed the crest from their Hogwarts
robes and kept their hats pulled low over their heads. They stuck to
the back of the room and away from the Aurors. The lobby was so full
that blending into the crowd wasn’t difficult. Harry almost hoped
Umbridge would try and make a move to arrest him at the event. Just let
her try and get away with it quietly. He wasn’t about to allow that to

"Harry, isn’t that Tonks over there by the door?" Hermione asked,
rousing Harry from his dark thoughts. Hermione knew Harry wanted to
speak with Tonks, and it was obvious that she, too, was worried about
Remus. He was thankful that she’d been paying attention.

"Where?" Ron asked. "I don’t see her."

"Her hair isn’t pink," Hermione said, beginning to elbow her way
through the crowd. "She doesn’t look very good."
Harry glanced over at Tonks and realized Hermione was right. Her hair
was a mousy brown color, and her shoulders drooped so heavily that she
looked shorter than she was. She appeared listless and drawn, causing
Harry’s anxiety to increase.

"Blimey, she looks ruddy awful," Ron stated unnecessarily.

"Shh, Ron. She’ll hear you," Hermione hissed, throwing a glare over her

"So what if she hears me? She has to know," Ron replied, shrugging.

Harry elbowed him in the ribs, unwilling to deal with yet another Ron
and Hermione row at the moment.

"Tonks," he said when they’d reached her.

She didn’t look at him, and her face gave nothing away, but she spoke
softly from the side of her mouth. "Pretend you’re speaking with each
other. I’m being watched."

The trio huddled in a circle, appearing to chat amongst themselves but
standing close enough to the young Auror to hear her.

"Watched by whom?" Hermione asked, her eyes shifting nervously.

"By Umbridge’s people. She’s waiting for me to make a mistake, but so
far she hasn’t got anything. There are plenty in the Division who
aren’t as loyal to her as she thinks they are, and that number is
growing daily. They think she did Kingsley wrong, and they know this
whole treaty is a big mistake," Tonks said quietly, never looking in
their direction.

"Then why is it happening?" Harry demanded, his voice rising.

"Shh," Hermione hissed, stomping on his foot. "Keep your voice down,

"Ow," Harry said, chagrined. "That hurt." Hermione was wearing pointy-
heeled shoes.

"There’s nothing they can do about it. If they even speak out of line,
they’ll be accused of treason and be in the same predicament as
Kingsley. They’re just waiting to see how it all plays out," Tonks
said, appearing to shrink before their eyes.

"Are you all right, Tonks?" Hermione asked gently.

Tonks shook her head, tears filling her eyes before she could blink
them all away. "No. I had a brief letter from Remus last night."

"You did?" Harry asked eagerly. "How is he? What did he say?"

"He didn’t say much at all, that’s the problem. He claimed that he
didn’t have much time, but something in the tone of the letter seemed
very formal and distant. He said he was doing what was expected of
him," Tonks said, sniffling.
Hermione wordlessly conjured a handkerchief and slipped it to the other

"What does that mean?" Ron asked.

"I don’t know, but I don’t like the sound of it," Tonks said.

"D’you think it has anything to do with the attack the other night in
Lyneham?" Harry asked quietly.

Tonks nodded tearfully. "I’m afraid it does. There’s no way he could
have stopped it alone, but if he was forced to take part…"

"The guilt will kill him," Harry said, his face impassive. Inside, his
gut was wrenching, knowing how he would feel if faced with a similar

Tonks sniffed again while Hermione leaned into Ron’s shoulder.

"He also gave me a message for you, Harry, but I don’t understand it,"
Tonks said.

"What is it?" Harry asked stonily.

"Only that ‘creation hinges on the intensity of the hatred. The act
does the splitting.’ Does that mean anything to you?" Tonks asked, her
eyes narrowed suspiciously.

Harry nodded slowly. "Yeah, it does. Thanks." He saw Hermione’s eyes
widen, and he could almost see the wheels turning in her head. Hatred
fueled the creation of a Horcrux, much like happiness fueled the
creation of a Patronus. Why was that not surprising?

"I don’t suppose you want to share?" she asked, her inquisitiveness
finally breaking through her apathy.

Harry shrugged. "Sorry, Tonks. Know that it helps, though, all right?"

"Can’t blame a girl for trying," she said, a flicker of her former
exuberance shining through.

The lights in the lobby flickered on and off several times before the
podium at the front began to fill with various Ministry officials. A
young, fussily-dressed wizard took the podium, casting a Sonorus Charm.

Harry moved forward, but Hermione again gripped his arm. "First listen
to what he has to say," she hissed.

"Wizards, witches and representatives of the press," they young wizard
said stiffly, his voice cracking. Harry was suddenly jolted by his
resemblance to Percy and assumed this was who had taken Percy’s place.
"I welcome you to this historic occasion. Our Interim Minister has some
exciting news that we’ve all longed to hear."

He paused for a moment as cheers and whistles filled the Atrium; the
volume was so loud that Harry was certain the roof shook. "She has great plans to lead us from the darkness that has filled our lives for
so long into a new, shining era of cooperation, where our bloodlines
can flourish and prosper, bringing new opportunities to us all. Without
further ado, I give you our Interim Minister — Dolores Umbridge."

Once again, the room erupted into thunderous applause. A group of rowdy
wizards by the front desk, who had obviously been celebrating long
before the introductions, began a string of catcalls and inappropriate
innuendo and had to be silenced by some nearby Aurors.

Umbridge took the podium with a sweep of her new, frilly robes. The
gray had been charmed from her hair, and she wore it pulled back with a
pink bow. The mere sight of it made Harry want to rip it from her head.
She wore that same, smug, toad-like expression she’d always used after
being named High Inquisitor at Hogwarts.

"Hem, hem," she said, coughing her familiar, annoying little cough.

"Bloody hell," Ron mumbled under his breath, and Hermione appeared too
stunned even to reprimand him.

"Welcome, one and all. I’d like to thank you for taking the time to
attend our little announcement," she said, simpering. "The Ministry of
Magic has always sought to ensure the growth and advantageous
prosperity of the Wizarding community. In the past few years, some of
our very best tried and true traditions have given way to
modernization, and the slow, steady trickle of influence from the
Muggle world. As Minister, I intend to see to it that the heritage and
gifts our ancestors passed down to us are reborn, and once again become
the centerpiece of Wizarding society."

Harry rolled his eyes. She was treating this as if it were her
acceptance speech — without benefit of being appointed. Her breathy
voice was like nails on a chalkboard, and he found his attention
beginning to drift. The sharp stabs of dislike he always felt while
Umbridge was speaking were pounding into his brain, and a nervous,
restless energy had overtaken him.

"She’s softening the crowd to accept restrictions on Muggleborns,"
Hermione whispered, her face horrorstruck.

"What?" Ron hissed, taken aback. "She hasn’t said a word about
Muggleborns, just lots of rubbish."

Hermione shook her head. "Listen, Ron."

"We need to prune out certain practices that have become commonplace,
while reestablishing others that have fallen by the wayside," she said,
the little-girl quality in her voice suddenly disappearing as it took
on a hard, no-nonsense edge. "As you are all aware, the Dark Lord has
been inflicting terror upon our community for quite some time.

"Despite that, I’ve managed to open a line of communication and taken
steps to build a bridge of trust between two opposing factions. I’ve
managed to do this through the help of one boy."
The room stilled at this statement, and Harry felt the hairs on the
back of his neck standing on end. He peered curiously at the podium,
wondering where this was going.

"There have been rumors for years that a ‘Chosen One’ is the person
destined to lead us from the Darkness. Many of you have surmised that
this ‘Chosen One’ is in fact the ‘Boy Who Lived.’ Recently, however,
other knowledge has come to my attention. Facts that I’m going to share
with you that indicate it might not be Harry Potter himself who can
lead us from this Darkness, but instead, something in his blood."

Murmurs and questions broke out across the floor. Harry, Ron and
Hermione all stared at one another, perplexed. Harry could see various
other Order members casting glances his way.

"I’ve discovered the existence of an ancient prophecy," Umbridge
continued, causing chills to run down Harry’s spine.

How could she find the prophecy? The original had been destroyed years
ago, and he was now in possession of Dumbledore’s copy. Unless…Snape!

"This prophecy refers to a certain bloodline having the power to lead
us from the darkness," Umbridge said, smiling sweetly and obviously
enjoying the rapt attention.

Harry shook his head. What is she on about? The prophecy didn’t say
anything about his bloodline.

"Since the Potter line is extinct except for young Harry, and his
mother was a Muggleborn, it appeared obvious that Harry Potter was the
boy in question. I’ve since discovered an alternative possibility."

Slithering waves of dread coiled themselves around Harry’s insides. Oh,
no. She can’t be serious.

"There is another member of Harry Potter’s family who also has magical
abilities. This person has been hidden from the Ministry for years now
— and I find the circumstances of that omission highly suspect. I fear
those who held the responsibility of protecting young Mr. Potter may
have had their own goals — and not the best interests of Wizarding
society — at heart," Umbridge said, licking her lips.

She was blaming this on Dumbledore, once again casting suspicion his
way without coming right out and saying his name. Anger burned in
Harry’s chest.

"I’ve since been in contact with Mr. Potter’s only cousin — a boy who’s
been denied the benefits of our teaching and instruction about his
extraordinary gifts for his entire life. Yet, unlike Mr. Potter, he has
willingly and enthusiastically agreed to help us. Witches and Wizards,
allow me to introduce to you the new hope to bring light from these
dark times, Mr. Dudley Dursley."

Dudley — massive, round Dudley — walked onto the podium with a rolling
gait, his great girth covered in expensive, finely made green robes. He
waved at the cheering crowd, his expression smug, as if they all had
come to pay him homage. Harry’s chin dropped when he noticed Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia standing to the side, beaming and applauding
their son. Uncle Vernon kept glancing warily at the various wizards
around him, but his pride for Dudley clearly showed.

Harry felt as if his entire world had tilted sideways, and he was
struggling to stay upright. This was not what he’d expected. His aunt
and uncle had always doted on Dudley — to the point of being absurd —
but to see such a turnabout on anything related to magic was more than
he could grasp. Perhaps their acquaintances in the Muggle world had
finally grown tired of Dudley’s bullying ways, and the Dursleys were
finding it harder and harder to find anyone they could still impress.
Maybe they simply enjoyed the lavish attention he was certain Umbridge
had showered on Dudley. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had always been
overly impressed by their average son.

Umbridge nodded at Dudley, covertly pushing a small piece of paper
toward him. Reading had never been one of Dudley’s favorite pastimes,
and his long pauses and struggle with words was painfully apparent.

"Greetings fellow w-w- wizards," Dudley, said, his voice wavering. "I
was raised with one of you — but I was taught to fear you." Dudley
paused, most likely because he was stuck on a word, but he appeared to
enjoy the reaction and stretched the moment out longer. "I was told
that you were all abnormal — freaks — and made to believe that
everything magical was meant to harm me. I was wrong. My family was

Dudley’s frustration with the parchment and what was written finally
overcame him, and he crumpled it. Dolores’s face registered alarm when
Dudley tossed it to the ground.

Harry shook his head, clearly seeing why Dolores would have gone after
Dudley once she realized the magical register had been obscured. Her
reasons for using him were twofold. First, she could strip Harry’s
strong public appeal by supplying a new "hero," and this time, she’d
found one she could control. Manipulating Harry’s blood connection to
Dudley was a win-win for her.

"Look. I’m magic just like you. From what she tells me," Dudley said,
jerking his thumb in Umbridge’s direction, "I’ve got a lot of power. My
folks were afraid of magic until they realized how special it made me.
We’ve been threatened so many times, we thought-"

"Yes, and we all owe you an apology for that, Mr. Dursley," Umbridge
said, swiftly moving Dudley behind her. "Your family never should have
been made to fear your gift."

Harry could see Aunt Petunia dab her eyes, staring adoringly at her
little popkin, who took up half the stage with his wide girth. Even
Uncle Vernon had managed to maintain a stiff upper lip around all the
magical folk. He proudly stuck his chest out and clapped Dudley on the

Harry carefully schooled his features, unwilling to allow any of his
feelings to show. He knew Ron and Hermione had both seen something in
his eyes, and he refused to look directly at them lest they see it
again. He’d spent his entire life being made to feel abnormal for what he was. The Dursleys had always hated magic and anything to do with it.
Now that it was their precious Dudley being lauded for that same
abnormality, suddenly it was a gift.

Harry wished he could say it didn’t matter, that it didn’t sting, but
he knew Ron and Hermione had seen otherwise. He found it ironic that he
was the one now being blamed for the Dursleys mistrust of magic. Could
this night get any weirder?

Umbridge had once again taken over the podium. "When I discovered the
wrongs done to this young wizard and his family and realized the
misconceptions we’ve all accepted as true for many years, I began to
wonder what other fallacies might be blindly accepted as fact. Perhaps,
there was something You-Know-Who was trying to accomplish that had been

Rumblings of disquiet began to fill the room. Accepting Dudley as a
possible savior was one thing, but being wrong about someone who’d been
murdering for years was something else. Too many remembered the terror
of the last war to accept Voldemort’s cooperation this time. Harry was
suddenly struck with the memory of Trelawney’s second prediction.

The Dark Lord will rise again with his servant’s aid, greater and more
terrible than ever he was.

Voldemort had risen again, and if he’d finally managed to get a hold in
the Ministry, his power certainly would be greater than it had been

Dolores ignored the whispering and ploughed forward, trying to keep her
momentum moving. "It was through the enlightenment I received after
speaking to Dudley that gave me the strength and courage to propose a
truce. Perhaps, the sole role of this so-called ‘Chosen One’ was to
bridge the gap, and not actually physically do anything to stop the
violence. Perhaps, through our superior intellect and abilities, we
could find a way to reunite the core foundation of the Wizarding world
and once again live in harmony."

Murmurs and voices filled the hall again, louder and more hopeful this
time. Apparently, the Wizarding world was desperate enough to accept
just about anything to stop the mayhem.

"Through the Ministry’s extensive covert operations, I managed to make
contact with a delegate from You-Know-Who’s inner circle. We discussed
the Dark Lord’s plans for the Wizarding community and discovered that
there were many areas where his goals and the goals of the Ministry
overlapped. With concessions on both sides, I believe I’ve arranged a
compromise that will satisfy us all."

Voices continued to murmur, spreading both hope and mistrust across the
room. Half of them appeared willing to begin a celebration, whilst the
other half was wary and seemed ready to bolt through the doors.

"What kind of compromises?" a brave young witch asked, shrinking as all
eyes turned her way.
"I’m glad you asked," Umbridge said, although the expression on her
face indicated she wasn’t pleased at all.

"Most of the stipulations we discussed were in regard to Muggleborns.
The idea that they need a more formal introduction to our customs was
brought up, and we thought it would be better if they were taught
separately, outside of Hogwarts."

Hermione’s mouth set in a grim line, and she cast an ‘I told you so’
look at Ron.

"We’ve also agreed that it would be best if the role of Minister and
various positions on the Wizengamot were held by those longstanding
members of the Wizarding community. After all, experience is what makes
them understand how our society works," Umbridge said, smiling although
her eyes held a hard, glinty edge.

"In that vein of open communication and cooperation between our two
groups, I’ve invited several of You-Know-Who’s inner circle to join us
here today. Please lower your wands and allow them to enter
peacefully," Umbridge said, the simpering tone stealing back into her

The Aurors glanced uneasily back and forth at one another. Some
instantly lowered their wands, while others refused to do so, staring
at their commanders expectantly. Umbridge must have placed her own
people in charge in the Magical Law Enforcement office, for they glared
at the troops until their wands were lowered.

Harry watched in mute horror as a half dozen robed Death Eaters entered
the premises. They walked toward the podium in a semi-circle, Severus
Snape in the center, his black robes billowing behind him. They were
about halfway across the room, Umbridge watching them with a very self-
satisfied smirk, when suddenly the doors opened again and row after row
of additional Death Eaters entered the building, fanning out along the
perimeter of the room.

Harry could see the faces of the Aurors growing alarmed as they rapidly
became outnumbered. Voldemort had certainly been recruiting. Dolores
Umbridge stared at them uncomprehendingly for a moment before alarm
spread across her face, rapidly giving way to panic.

"Mr. Snape," she said sweetly, her hand fluttering nervously to brush
back her hair. "There are more of you here than I’d expected."

Snape nodded curtly. "You’ll find that the bargain has been slightly
altered," he said snidely, his lips curling.

"Altered how?" Umbridge asked, her hand clutching her throat. Those few
Ministry officials who’d stood on the stage with her had all taken
steps back, their eyes wide and panicked as they scanned the crowd.

Harry noticed that even Dudley had caught on to the fact there was a
bigger bully in the playpark. He’d stepped down from the stage and
stood with his parents, watching the proceedings warily. Uncle Vernon
appeared put-out that Dudley’s moment to shine had been interrupted,
but Aunt Petunia seemed to understand the gravity of the situation. He could see the taut veins in her neck straining against her skin as she
clutched both Uncle Vernon’s and Dudley’s arms.

Snape’s eyebrows rose as he tilted his head slightly, staring
wordlessly at the spluttering Interim Minister.

"A treaty can’t simply be altered after it’s been signed by both
parties. That just isn’t how it’s done," Umbridge said as if speaking
to a very small child.

"Perhaps you think you’re being treated unfairly?" Snape asked, letting
his words hang in the air.

Umbridge’s eyes widened. "No," she said in a breathy voice, taking two
steps backward. "Of course not."

"Perhaps," Snape said silkily, "you’d like to speak with the Dark Lord

The temperature dropped ten degrees as Voldemort swooped into the room,
his long robes trailing the ground behind him, giving the impression of
a tail. He surveyed the crowd through narrow, snakelike eyes, causing
stunned spectators to flinch and pull away, clearing a path for him
directly to the podium. Behind him, Harry recognized Fenrir Greyback,
his hair as matted as ever, leering at the crowd. A large group of
Fenrir’s pack followed them into the room, their clothes dirty and worn
and covered in bloodstains. All of them had a deranged, slightly manic
look in their eyes.

The entrance of the werewolves caused a stir of unease amongst the
crowd, and some of them began to flee. Harry searched for Remus but
couldn’t distinguish him in the massive crowd. He noticed Tonks
straining to see above the people, as well. She used her Metamorphmagus
skills to grow taller, her eyes bright as she scanned the room.

Umbridge’s whimper of fright sounded clearly in the stillness of the
hall before a full panic erupted. Witches and wizards began pushing
toward the exits, screaming in fright and trampling one another in
their haste to escape. The Aurors tried unsuccessfully to calm them and
organize their stampede to no avail. They kept casting anxious eyes in
the Minister’s direction, waiting for her to give the order allowing
them to use their wands — but it never came. Interim Minister Umbridge
stood frozen in panic — her brain apparently unwilling to accept this
turn of events. Harry suspected a lot of them were tempted to use their
wands, anyway, but they understood it was pointless. They’d be struck
down before they had a chance to do any good.

The members of the Order of the Phoenix hidden amongst the crowd were
the only ones not panicking. They watched the events warily, their
bodies coiled and ready to spring into action.

Charlie Weasley positioned himself behind the trio, leaning over to
whisper in Harry’s ear. "There are anti-Apparation wards in place
except in designated areas at the Ministry. If things erupt into
violence and you can’t reach one of those Apparation spots, I’ve got a
Portkey to get you out of here."
Harry began to protest, but was stopped when Charlie tightened his grip
on Harry’s arm. "I know you wanted to confront Umbridge, but are you
ready to face him today?" he asked.

Harry deflated, knowing it would do no good. He still had one more
Horcrux to find, and he knew he wasn’t prepared to face Voldemort yet.
He wouldn’t stand a chance. No matter how much he wanted to stay and
help the Order fight to save the people here, he knew his best chance
of saving them would come another day. The truth of the matter didn’t
stop the bitter anger from burning in his belly.

As if sensing Harry’s acknowledgement, Charlie nodded and took a step

On the podium, Snape bowed low, his nose nearly touching the ground.
"My Lord," he said.

"Rise, Severus. You have done well," Voldemort hissed, still surveying
the crowd with his cold, emotionless eyes.

Snape stood, nodding. "Thank you, my Lord."

Voldemort finally turned to fully face Dolores Umbridge, who tried to
regain some semblance of control, despite her trembling.

"W-welcome to the Ministry of Magic. As y-you c-can see, there has been
a great turnout today of individuals who want to f-find ways of
peacefully co-existing," she said in a sickly sweet voice.

"Peace is for the weak at heart," Voldemort said, waving his hand in
the air. The doors to the Atrium suddenly sealed, blocking the
remainder of the crowd inside. Very few had actually managed to escape.

Harry saw a short, brown-haired witch that he knew to be Mad-Eye Moody
under Polyjuice, unsuccessfully attempt to unseal the nearest door.

"No one shall leave the premises until I dismiss them," Voldemort
whispered menacingly. "Thank you, Minister, for making this so easy for
me by gathering everyone here."

"Ea-easy for you? Wh-whatever do you mean?" Umbridge asked, fanning
herself. "We’ve signed a treaty to stop the death and destruction. I
returned your servant to you in good faith."

With a casual flick of his wand, Voldemort produced a thick stack of
parchment. It ignited in flames before her eyes. "I’ve decided on an
alternate plan," he whispered.

"B-but…sir….this is highly irregular. I released your man after the
agreement was signed," she whined, apparently in shock. Harry knew she
wasn’t stupid, but she seemed fixed on that detail, as if the rest of
her mind had simply shut down.

Once again, Voldemort lazily flicked his wand and a thick black box
appeared on the podium in front of Umbridge, who started at it blankly.
The lid began to shake and slowly rise in the air. Umbridge didn’t move toward it, and the air in the room seemed to still with a pregnant

Harry’s gaze returned to Voldemort, who reminded him of a cat toying
with a helpless mouse before devouring it — or a snake playing with a
toad. Since Voldemort’s arrival, Harry had been struck by the fact that
his scar didn’t hurt — not so much as a flicker of pain. He realized
that Tom was still using Occlumency to block him, hoping to shield what
he was doing. By doing this, however, it meant that Tom didn’t realize
that Harry was already there.

His thoughts were dragged back to the proceedings when a frightened
scream filled the air. Hermione grabbed his arm, her nails digging into
his skin as Wormtail’s head emerged from the box. Still dripping with
fresh blood, it hovered above the box, vacant eyes staring at a
speechless Umbridge.

"I’ve decided to return your gift. I have no use for weak fools who
allow themselves to be captured by school children," Voldemort said,
his snakelike nostrils flaring. "Unfortunately for you, this means that
your participation is no longer necessary."

Umbridge turned her wide, panicked eyes toward the Dark Lord, gaping
like a fish. Despite his hatred of her and everything she’d done, Harry
couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit sorry for her. He could see the Aurors
grasping their wands, still seeking orders to surge and attack.
Umbridge’s loyal followers — those who were now in charge — suddenly
appeared uncertain what to do.

Voldemort’s face twisted into a hideous smile — a smile bereft of joy
or happiness. It was a truly frightening sight, causing Harry to

"Fenrir," Voldemort said, caressing his wand with his fingers. "I
believe your kind have some issues with the current Minister. Perhaps
you’d like to discuss them with her…directly."

Greyback smiled wolfishly, running his long, yellowed fingernails
through his whiskers. "Why, yes…that would be quite…delectable."

Umbridge screeched and backed away as Greyback began stalking her. She
held her hands in front of her body as if it would somehow shield her.
Greyback’s pack of angry werewolves began to advance, joining Fenrir on
the hunt. Umbridge’s panicked face disappeared as she was surrounded by
the pack, and Harry saw a smattering of blood hit the wall.

Umbridge’s screams acted as the signal for violence to erupt. Several
Ministry officials attempted to stop the werewolves’ attack, but the
Death Eaters struck them down without mercy.

Knowing they were now hopelessly outnumbered, the Aurors still
attempted to regain control. They fought valiantly, but the delay had
cost them dearly. Some of the witches and wizards in attendance joined
in the fight, battling Death Eaters to try and clear a pathway to the
blocked exits. The Death Eaters were pitiless, and screams of those
suffering under the Cruciatus filled the hall, echoing in the large,
open space. The green glow of the Killing Curse flew in all directions.
Voldemort took the podium and began speaking to the masses, oblivious
to the chaos around him. Every so often, he’d lazily cast a Killing
Curse at anyone who came to close, even those merely seeking shelter.

"As of this moment forward, control of the Ministry now rests with me.
Vast, glorious changes are about to take place, elevating our status to
where it rightfully belongs," he said. "All of you now answer directly
to me."

Charlie once again grasped Harry’s arm. "We’ve got to get out of here.
The Portkey will only work outside the wards, so we need to find a way
through them."

"What about the rest of the Order?" Hermione asked, panicked.

"We’ve all got our orders," Charlie said. "They know what to do."

Harry nodded, feeling helpless. Some people had moved to the sides of
the room and sunk to their knees with their hands above their heads,
but the majority were running pell-mell, desperately seeking a way out.
For the most part, the Death Eaters focused their battle on the Aurors
and those firing spells, but still, plenty of innocents had been

Harry, Ron and Hermione moved in the opposite direction, towards the
glass door that led to the Apparition Testing Facility, trying to slip
by unnoticed. Despite knowing that drawing their wands would attract
the attention of the Death Eaters, they eventually began firing curses,
trying to help some of the panicked victims.

Harry told several people with small children to seek cover and just
stay down until the fighting stopped. Most were stunned when they
realized who was speaking to them, anyway.

"Always know whether to fight or flee," Ron panted under his breath,
and Harry suspected he was battling the same demons that Harry was.
Despite knowing the odds, it was difficult to leave and allow this to

As they reached the doors, Ron tried to pull them open to no avail;
they were tightly sealed.

Aiming his wand, Harry muttered, "Alohomora." The doors remained

"You!" a nearby voice shrieked.

Harry’s head shot up, and he stared into his Aunt Petunia’s horrified

"I might have known you’d be here when all the trouble started," she
hissed, shaking visibly. "How are we supposed to get out of here?"

"Hello, Aunt Petunia," Harry said, clenching his teeth.
"Don’t tell me this whole mess has nothing to do with you," Uncle
Vernon said, regaining some of his blustering bravado. "From what I’ve
heard, this thing seems to follow you, boy. What are you going to do
about it?"

"I haven’t got time for this," Harry said, pushing past his uncle.
"Voldemort will kill you without a moment’s hesitation once he realizes
who you are. If you want to live, follow me."

"I’m a wizard, too, Potter. I can do anything you can," Dudley said,
poking Harry in the chest, apparently put-out that his parents were
turning to Harry rather than him to get them out of trouble.

"Then go ahead and save yourself, Dudders," Harry said, turning his

Something shadowy crossed Aunt Petunia’s face. She grabbed Dudley’s arm
and lowered it. "Not now, Popkin. Let’s just get away from here and
these people. I won’t have you dying for this; you’re too special."

At that moment, Harry’s scar burst, and he dropped to his knees in
pain. White-hot pokers pierced his skull, and he clenched his teeth to
keep from screaming, biting his lip in the process. The metallic taste
of blood filled his mouth, but the pain was too unbearable even to

"Harry," Hermione yelped, dropping to her knees beside him.

"Hurry," Harry said, groaning. "He knows I’m here."

"What’s all this namby-pamby dramatics about?" Uncle Vernon demanded.
"You’re wasting time." The fear and rising panic in his voice became
more apparent with every word.

Ron roughly shoved him to the side and helped Harry to his feet.
Hermione and Charlie began firing a wide array of spells at the glass,
but found it impenetrable. Around the room, no one had had any success
in breaking Voldemort’s spell sealing the exits.

"I’m all right," Harry mumbled, clamping his teeth against the pain. He
and Ron joined the others, trying to penetrate the glass.

"Potter!" a cold voice hissed behind them.

Harry turned to see Voldemort slithering toward him, a hungry gleam in
his slanted eyes. "I’m pleased to see you came to witness my takeover
of the Ministry. You should have informed me of your presence; I would
have arranged better seating."

He stopped before them, casting his cold, mechanical gaze over them
all. The Dursleys pulled back, huddling together in fear, but Ron,
Hermione, and Charlie stood defiantly beside Harry.

"Tell me," Voldemort asked, his voice as cold as ice. "Are you enjoying
the show?"
"Not particularly, Tom. I never thought anyone who attacked innocents
was all that powerful," Harry said indifferently.

Voldemort’s eyes dilated, and his tongue shot out as if testing the
air. "Silence! I am the most powerful wizard of all time, and I have
single-handedly managed to wrest control of the Ministry from the
incompetent fools who were running it. I have eliminated my opposition,
and you now find yourself standing alone, young Harry."

"Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard how full of yourself you are before, and I’m
still not impressed, Tom," Harry replied.

"You impudent brat!" Voldemort howled in rage. Before Harry could
react, Voldemort hit him with the Cruciatus curse. He dropped to the
floor, screaming in pain. It felt as if his insides were slowly being
ripped out. It seemed to last an eternity before Voldemort finally
lifted the curse. Despite his pain, Harry noticed that Voldemort
appeared flustered, as if he was struggling to control his anger.

"Harry!" Hermione cried, moving toward him.

"No!" Harry shouted, a rush of adrenaline filling his veins.

Voldemort raised his wand again, and Harry knew he’d take his
frustration over being unable to kill Harry out on Hermione.

"Get back," Harry said, casting the strongest shield he could imagine
in front of Hermione, Ron and Charlie. The three of them stumbled back
as if struck, but in the process, they were pushed out of the way of
Voldemort’s Killing Curse.

"This is between you and me," Harry said, breathing heavily, his anger
pumping in his veins. "You leave them out of it."

"You’ve grown powerful, Harry, but you’re no match for me," Voldemort
said, frowning slightly. "I’m not going to kill you here today, but you
are coming with me. Lower your wand, Harry."

"Thanks, but no thanks," Harry said, concentrating on keeping his
shield in place. He could see his friends desperately trying to break
it so they could reach him, but thus far, they had been unable to do

Unfortunately, Harry knew he couldn’t keep the shield in place forever.
His muscles were already shaking from the strain. He also needed help
bringing down that glass door blocking their escape. Knowing that as
soon as he dropped the shield, Voldemort would take out his wrath on
his friends, Harry was trapped. He needed a distraction, and he needed
it badly.

It came when he was least expecting it from a source he hadn’t even
known was there. As had happened in the past, someone who loved Harry
always seemed to show up just when he needed help the most.

Remus pushed his way through the still-fighting crowd and stopped in
the open space between Harry and Voldemort. Harry was so stunned to see
him that he dropped his shield, releasing his friends. Remus was filthy, and he appeared very tired and gray. His robes were tattered
and covered with bloodstains, but a fierce determination glowed in his

"Remus," Tonks said, lunging through the fray. She was panting as if
she’d struggled to keep up with him.

Remus winced, and Harry somehow knew that he’d tried to leave her
behind. Like Ginny, Tonks had refused Remus’s attempts. Remus and Tonks
locked eyes, some sort of private communication passing between them.
Tonks nodded heavily, her eyes filling.

Confused, Harry tried to move toward them, wanting to shield them from
Voldemort, who was watching the scene with amusement. Ron and Charlie
held him back.

"More of your protectors, Harry? And this one had convinced Fenrir he
was one of them. Fenrir will be so disappointed," Voldemort said, his
eyes briefly roaming to Greyback whose pack was still desecrating
Umbridge’s body.

Remus cast a significant, imploring glance towards Ron and Hermione,
nodding briefly in Harry’s direction. It was so fleeting, Harry wasn’t
even certain it happened until Remus squared his shoulders and began
casting a barrage of spells directly at Voldemort.

"What are you doing?" Harry asked, struggling to free himself from the
Weasley brothers’ grasp.

"I love you, Harry. I always have," Remus said, ducking and rolling
away from one of Voldemort’s Killing Curses. "Stay safe, end this
thing, and most of all, be happy."

A wave of panic rose in Harry’s chest. It sounded as if Remus was
saying goodbye…

Tonks used a spell Harry had never seen that created a swirling mass of
air that knocked him, Ron, Hermione and Charlie to the ground with its
hurricane force. Tonks leapt to Remus’s side, placing her wand tip next
to his.

Their eyes locked, and they stared at one another for a brief moment
that seemed to last an eternity.

Simultaneously, they cast a Bludgeoning Hex at the ceiling above
Voldemort’s head. Great chunks of metal dropped into the conjured
windstorm, covering the floor and forcing Voldemort to retreat lest the
debris hit him. The ceiling continued to erode while Voldemort regained
his footing, turned and aimed his wand.

As if in slow motion, Harry watched the sickly green lights — two of
them — erupt from Voldemort’s wand. Despite having to shield his eyes
against the winds, Harry could clearly see it happen. The first spell
hit Remus squarely in the chest, knocking him off his feet. Before his
body even hit the ground, the second spell struck Tonks on her
shoulder. The two landed side-by-side, unmoving, their hands still clasped together. The howling of the wind stopped instantaneously,
releasing Harry with a jolt.

"Nooo," he screamed, scrambling to his feet and fighting against the
combined restraint of Ron, Hermione, and Charlie. "Let go of me. Let me

He clawed and scratched at their arms, attempting to force them to
release him. He felt out of control, his heart hammering in his chest.
He’d completely come undone.

"There’s nothing you can do, Harry," Ron said, shaking his shoulders.
"It’s done. Are you going to let his sacrifice be for nothing? Are you
going to let his death be worthless?"

The whine of panic and grief ringing in Harry’s ears nearly drowned out
Ron’s words. He could see tears streaming down Hermione’s cheeks, but
his only thought was to reach Remus. He had to undo this. There had to
be a way. It wasn’t meant to happen like this.

"I’m so sorry, Harry," Ron said, sniffling, and it was the crack of
grief in Ron’s voice that finally penetrated Harry’s pain.

A great fury — a fury born of grief, despair and injustice — grew in
his chest. Unthinkingly, he raised his wand. Using all the pain and
rage within his heart, he shouted, "Reducto!"

The glass on the doors barring their escape imploded, shattering and
raining shards in every direction. Like a shockwave, all the other
exits in the building that had been sealed by Voldemort’s spell were
unlocked. The front doors blew open, various passages throughout the
Ministry were revealed, and every window in the Atrium shattered.

The previously trapped mob wasted no time escaping, running to the
street and trampling some hapless victims in their haste to flee.
Unaware of the chaos as well as the various cuts littering his face and
forearms, Harry turned to the Dursleys with deadened eyes. "Go, now."

For once, they didn’t need further encouragement, and they scrambled
from the room. Harry cast one more glance at Voldemort, whose red eyes
blazed with rage watching Harry escape once again. Ron and Hermione
each grasped Harry’s arms and pulled him forward, Charlie on their

"Here," Charlie said after they’d run several meters. He removed a
Hogwarts quill from his back pocket and held it toward them. "The
Portkey should work here. Take hold."

The Dursleys all stared at them blankly as Ron and Hermione each
grasped the quill. Hermione gently lifted Harry’s hand and placed a
finger on it.

Uncle Vernon’s face — already purple from exertion — darkened further.
"What is this magic?" he asked, actually saying the M-word for the
first time in Harry’s memory.
"Touch the quill if you want to get out of here alive," Charlie

"Just do it, Vernon," Aunt Petunia cried, cringing as she placed one
bony finger on the quill. Terrified, Vernon and Dudley followed her

"Activius," Charlie hissed, and the Portkey spun them away — back to
safety — back to Hogwarts — back with the chilling news.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Haven’t I Been Here Before?

Ginny sat on the ledge in the Astronomy tower, sullenly kicking the
stone wall and scowling down at the road to Hogsmeade. The road that
Harry, Ron, Hermione and some of the Order had traveled only a few
hours ago before Apparating into London for the Ministry’s press
conference. The chilly winter air nipped at her exposed skin; the
breeze whipped her hair around her face, but she didn’t care. She hated
being left behind.

It didn’t matter that her parents and the twins had also remained in
the castle. She was still in a foul mood. Her mother hadn’t been the
same since Percy’s death. Her anxiety for her children had reached
alarming new heights, and Ginny, in particular, was feeling the strain.
She was the only one her mother felt she still had any control over,
and her obsessive need to know where Ginny was at every waking moment
was smothering.

Sighing, Ginny again kicked the parapet, knowing her mum would probably
faint dead away if she saw her sitting up here, but Ginny felt the need
to do something rebellious. Sitting on the ledge of the Astronomy tower
was the best she could do at the moment. Pathetic.

She knew her mum was devastated by Percy’s loss, and Ginny felt bad for
being so irritated with her, but she couldn’t help it. She was aware
that all her brothers had also had their fill of the way her mum kept
counting everyone’s heads to know where all her children were, but,
somehow, they didn’t allow her to make them feel as guilty as Ginny
always did. Maybe it was a bloke thing.

Fred and George had been up here a bit ago — no doubt sent to check on
her by their mum — and they’d tried to cheer her up. Although she
appreciated their efforts, she’d just wanted to be left alone. She’d
considered going to the spot by the lake that Harry had shown her, but
since she was angry with him, as well, she’d rejected it.

The twins weren’t pleased they’d been left behind, either, but Moody
had thought they would stand out too much. Ginny snorted, imagining
them trying to remain low-key. Her dad had planned to use Polyjuice
like Bill and Moody in order to attend, but he’d conceded to her mum’s
pleading at the last minute and remained behind.

She glanced up at the setting sun, admiring the serene beauty as the
glowing orb sank behind the Scottish hills. She wished she knew what was happening. She didn’t trust Umbridge for a moment, and she’d felt
the unease of all the Order members as they’d quietly left the castle.

It was perfectly logical that not everyone needed to attend the press
conference, but it was disappointing to Ginny that she’d been the one
left behind…again. Although, she supposed it was a good thing that Ron
and Hermione had gone along with Harry. Hopefully, they’d be able to
calm him if his anger over Peter Pettigrew’s release reached a boiling
point. Harry had come a long way in learning to control his temper, but
he could only be pushed so far.

Still, she wished one of them would have argued more forcefully on her
behalf. She’d have done for them. Scowling again, she squinted into the
dimming light, hoping to see a sign of someone returning before the
darkness blocked her view entirely. It was probably time to return to
the common room, anyway. She supposed she looked like the princess in
the tower stuck up here, and that’s exactly how she felt.

She tugged at necklace Harry had given her for Christmas. She never
took it off, and the stone seemed to radiate pleasant warmth against
her skin. Earlier this evening, however, the stone had done something
very strange. It…flared, or burst, or…something. Ginny was certain she
must have imagined it, but for a moment, it felt as if it had been
burning her skin.

Finally deciding that she’d had enough, she swung her legs back over
the ledge and jumped into the Astronomy tower. Glancing down one last
time, she thought she saw a flicker of movement near the gates. She
squinted, peering intently down the road. A moment later, she could
recognize the telltale hint of red on the head of the tallest of the
travelers. Certain it was Ron, she could then distinguish Hermione,
Harry and Charlie, all trudging with him, along with several other
people that Ginny didn’t recognize. Two of them were rather large men,
who struggled to keep up with the rest of the group.

Relief washed over her — they were safe. When she realized Bill and
Fleur weren’t with them, however, a tickle of fear ran down her spine.
There was something about the way they were walking — almost rigidly —
that told her something wasn’t right. As they got closer to the castle,
she could clearly see both Ron and Hermione leading Harry by his arms.
He walked woodenly, staring straight ahead, his face impassive. It was
how he usually held himself when he was trying to bury his emotions.

Something was very wrong.

Ginny wanted to turn and sprint to the common room. She could still
beat them there if she left now, but she couldn’t seem to tear her gaze
away from Harry’s stiff gait. Certainly, if Bill or Fleur had been
hurt, Ron and Charlie would be more upset…right? So what could have
happened? With a start, Ginny finally recognized the other three
travelers as Harry’s horrid Muggle relatives. What on earth were they
doing here? If they had anything to do with whatever was wrong with
Harry, Ginny would see to it they paid for it.

Her anger finally overriding her concern, she turned and bolted for the
Gryffindor common room, running as fast as her short legs would carry her. Panting, she skidded around the corner and barely stopped in front
of the Fat Lady.

"Just because classes are no longer in session, doesn’t mean there
should be running in the corridors, young lady," the portrait scolded.

"Sanctuary," Ginny hissed, ignoring the reprimand.

The Fat Lady huffed indignantly, but the portrait hole swung open.

Several heads turned her way as she entered, her eyes sweeping the room
for any sign of the returning party.

Iris and Mrs. Parkinson sat by the window, reading their books,
although Iris kept glancing toward the corner where Fred and George
were involved in a heated game of chess. Shannon peered over the board
watching them. All of them looked up when Ginny entered the room.

"Ginny! There you are," her mother said fretfully, jumping up from her
chair by the fire where she’d been knitting. "Are you all right? You’ll
probably catch a chill being outside in that cold air all this time."

Ignoring her mother’s fussing, Ginny said, "They’re back. I saw a group
of them on the road from Hogsmeade."

"They’re back already?" her dad asked, furrowing his brow. "That seems
terribly soon."

Ginny nodded, unwilling to add to her father’s obvious anxiety by
voicing her concern. "I’m certain that I saw Ron, Harry and Hermione in
the group."

"What about the others?" her mum asked, wringing her hands. "Bill and

Before Ginny could respond, the portrait hole swung open, and a grim-
faced Professor McGonagall led the weary group inside.

Harry’s face was a rigid mask, revealing nothing. Hermione took his
arm, attempting to lead him to a chair, but he roughly jerked it away.
Both Ron and Charlie’s faces were taut, and Hermione looked as if she’d
been crying. The Dursleys all looked like scared rabbits. They huddled
together, barely stepping inside the room, their eyes warily taking in
their surrounding.

Worried, Ginny moved closer to Harry, but he shied away, obviously not
wanting to be touched.

Something was very wrong.

"Thank Merlin, you’re back," her mum cried, throwing her arms around
Charlie. "I’ve been so worried. Where are Bill and Fleur?"

Ron quickly moved away before she could smother him, wrapping his arm
around Hermione’s shoulders and leading her to a chair. She sank down
into it, sniffling and leaning heavily on him. Neither of them took
their eyes off Harry.
"Why don’t you tell us what happened?" her dad asked, his eyes narrowed
as he gazed at the Dursleys. "I’d also like to know how Harry’s
relatives came to join us." Although his voice sounded outwardly
pleasant, Ginny could detect the hard edge. Muggles or not, her dad
didn’t like the Dursleys any better than the rest of them did.

Mrs. Dursley clutched her son’s arm and pulled him against her, as if
prepared to bodily keep any stray bits of magic from seeping into him.

"I’d like an answer to that question myself," Vernon Dursley said,
regaining some of his bluster. "I don’t know how we ended up at this
ruddy school. I don’t even know how all this can exist inside that pile
of ruins we saw outside."

"Magic, dad," Dudley said, rolling his eyes. "It didn’t look like ruins
to me."

Mr. Dursley spluttered a moment, apparently unaccustomed to any kind of
lip from Dudley.

Ginny continued to watch Harry. His face and forearms were covered with
nicks and cuts, and he rigidly stood away from the others, wrapping his
arms around himself as if chilled. The stony mask never slipped from
his face, and his eyes were flat and lifeless. Ginny grew increasingly
frightened, desperately wanting to comfort him but uncertain how. She
tried to catch Ron and Hermione’s eyes, but they purposefully avoided
her gaze. They, too, were covered by small abrasions.

Ginny’s stomach knotted.

"Sit down over there and be quiet until I fill them in," Charlie
barked, directing the Dursleys to the table at the back of the common
room. The harsh tone of his voice caused all three Dursleys to jump and
quickly take the offered seats. Ginny suspected it was the same
commanding voice he used with stubborn dragons.

Mr. Dursley’s skin turned a rather alarming shade of purple, but he
managed to hold his tongue.

"Charlie, where’s your brother?" her mum asked, clenching her hands.

"I don’t know," Charlie replied, flinching.

"What do you mean, you don’t know? He was there with you, wasn’t he?
Why didn’t he and Fleur leave with the rest of you? What happened?" she
asked, her voice rising shrilly with each question.

"Molly, why don’t you sit down and have a spot of tea," Professor
McGonagall said, briskly handing her mum a cup and saucer. "I think we
all want to hear what Charlie has to say. I’m certain Bill and the
others will be returning from the Ministry, posthaste."

"The Ministry is under You-Know-Who’s control," Charlie said softly,
suddenly appearing very drained.
Startled gasps arose around the room as everyone turned their heads,
looking back and forth at each other. Only Ron, Harry, and Hermione
remained still, starting stoically ahead.

"I think you’d better start from the beginning, Charlie," her dad said,
rubbing her mum’s back.

"Umbridge started the evening by basically telling everyone that Harry
isn’t the Chosen One, Dudley Dursley is," Charlie said, gratefully
taking the drink Fred offered him.

"She said what?" Professor McGonagall asked blankly, her entire posture
perfectly still. Her eyes briefly flickered to the quivering lump that
was Dudley.

"That Dudley’s the Chosen One," Charlie said, taking another shot of

From the corner of her eye, Ginny caught Dudley sitting straighter in
his chair and sticking his chest out while Mrs. Dursley clutched his
arm, appearing ready to snatch him and run away.

"She claimed that the prophecy never mentioned Harry specifically, only
his bloodline, and that Dumbledore hid Dudley from the Ministry all
this time," Charlie spat.

"How is it you came in contact with Dolores Umbridge, Mr. Dursley?"
Professor McGonagall asked, her eyes boring in on Dudley.

"Erm," Dudley replied, his voice cracking. "She just showed up at the
house one day. She said one of her detection machines told her I’d been
performing magic."

"Machines, you say?" her dad asked, his demeanor brightening despite
the tense atmosphere.

"Not now, Arthur," her mum snapped, rounding on Mrs. Dursley. "Did you
invite her to your home? Did you contact her for any reason?"

Mrs. Dursley blinked owlishly. "Contact her? How would I go about
contacting her?" she asked, aghast.

"How would I know why you do anything you do? You abused your own
sister’s only child — I can’t ever imagine understanding how you think,
and I hope I never will," her mum said, snarling. "How did Dolores
Umbridge find you?"

"I don’t know," Mrs. Dursley snapped. "After the summer holiday, Dudley
was in a wonderful mood. All the nonsense stopped, and we were ready to
send him back to school after the Christmas holiday. Then, all of a
sudden, something snapped again, and he reverted to making odd things
happen whenever he got upset."

"Harry sent me a spellbook for Christmas," Dudley said, glancing at
Harry, who didn’t respond. "I tried some of the spells, but I didn’t
have one of those stick things, and I couldn’t make anything work. I
got really frustrated, and then I don’t know what happened. The Playstation I was trying to float exploded, and a few minutes later,
that Umbridge bird knocked on the door."

"She told us how special our Dudders is — something we always knew —
and how great he was going to be. She saw things in him that Smeltings
just didn’t see. I don’t know how they missed it. I never wanted my
Dudley in this world, but she, at least, recognized how extraordinary
he is," Mrs. Dursley cried plaintively.

"I gave it a chance, Petunia," Mr. Dursley said, the vein in his temple
looking ready to explode. "I thought maybe if they could see all the
potential in Dudders here, that they couldn’t be all bad, but enough is
enough. We’re all going home and away from this craziness."

"Umbridge claimed that her realization over how wrong everyone had been
about Harry and the wrongs done to Dudley made her think we might be
wrong about You-Know-Who, as well," Charlie said, clenching his glass.

"The level of preposterousness from that woman is truly mind boggling,"
Professor McGonagall said, sniffing.

"She claimed to have signed a treaty to end the violence and bring
cooperation with the Death Eaters," Charlie said.

Harry, his arms folded across his chest, clutched at his biceps,
digging his nails into his skin. Unthinkingly, Ginny grabbed his hand,
wanting to keep him from hurting himself further. Harry again flinched
away, but this time, she caught a fleeting shadow cross his eyes. He
looked so lost and vulnerable that she wanted to cry, to scoop him into
her arms and soothe away whatever hurt was tormenting him.

Obviously, he was determined to handle whatever it was alone, but his
eyes told a different story. His beautiful, sad eyes were crying out
for help. Wrapping her arm around his waist, she gently squeezed. He
stiffened, but she was encouraged that he didn’t pull away.

"How did the people react to that idea?" her dad asked.

Charlie ran a hand through his hair. "I really can’t say. It was
obvious they wanted to believe it, but I still saw a lot of mistrust in
that room. They were willing to ignore any difficulty in believing
Dudley was the Chosen One, but when it came to the treaty — the hope in
the room was palpable. I could see it in the eyes of everyone around
me. Just as Moody predicted, they were willing to ignore reason because
she was telling them what they wanted to hear."

"They’re frightened," her dad said, squeezing the bridge of his nose.
"It happens all the time."

"They should’ve been more frightened," Charlie said grimly. "She began
to list some restrictions placed on Muggleborns, including educating
them separately from Hogwarts students and barring them from holding
positions of authority."

"That’s probably the best idea I’ve heard in a long time," Draco Malfoy
said, slinking into the room from the stairs to the boys’ dormitories. "The position of Minister, in particular, should be held by someone
brought up according to the traditions of the Wizarding world."

Narcissa nodded approvingly at her son.

"Yeah, that sounds just about what she said before she opened the door
and allowed the Death Eaters to march inside," Ron said, snarling.

"She what?" her mum shrieked, sitting bolt upright.

"The Death Eaters stormed the place, and Umbridge ordered all the
Aurors to stand down," Charlie said, shaking his head. "Snape led them
inside the building."

"Severus?" Professor McGonagall asked, clutching her throat.

"He basically cleared a path so Voldemort could sweep in and declare
himself the new Minister," Ron said, patting Hermione on the back as
she sniffled. "Voldemort sealed all the exits, blocking everyone
inside. He returned Pettigrew’s head to Umbridge on a platter before he
turned her over to Greyback and the other werewolves. They weren’t too
happy with her."

As the others discussed the events at the Ministry, Ginny let the words
drone emptily around. Her focus was solely on Harry. What had happened
to put that hollow emptiness in his eyes yet again? She’d seen it there
before, on several occasions in the past. The first time was after the
Third Task and the events in that graveyard that had started it all.
She’d been pretending not to pay attention to him then. She’d been with
Michael, and had, in fact, been quite happy at the time. But it still
didn’t stop her from noticing Harry, nor her heart aching over the sad,
lost, rather dazed expression in his eyes.

The next time she’d seen that look on his face had been after Sirius’s
death. After the tragic events that night, any fool could see the raw,
desperate pain radiating in Harry’s eyes. He’d placed an invisible
shield around himself, and no one had dared approach in those first few

The last time his face had taken on that look was after Professor
Dumbledore’s death. Harry had again been forced to witness it. He’d
handled it better this time — perhaps it was his newfound maturity,
perhaps simply because he’d been through it already. Ginny liked to
think it was because he hadn’t been so alone.

Now….what could have happened at the Ministry to put that haunted look
back in his beautiful green eyes? She thought his eyes were his best
feature — so expressive and full of life, always revealing far more
about what he was feeling than he realized.

"It was awful," Hermione cried, dragging Ginny back to the present.
"There were people being struck in the back as they tried to escape,
and others who were trampled after they fell. There were bodies
everywhere," Hermione said, shuddering.

Ginny felt Harry’s body tremble, as he finally began to lose his rigid
stance and relax against her, leaning on her for support.
"We tried to find a way out, but the place was sealed tighter than a
drum. I’ve never seen anything like it," Charlie said, impressed
despite the situation. "Nothing worked."

"That’s when Voldemort realized Harry was there," Hermione said,
glancing at Harry. "They exchanged words, and then Voldemort used the
Cruciatus on him."

"Merlin’s Beard!" her mum gasped, her eyes darting towards Harry, who
shrank away.

Ginny felt his trembling increase, and she was grateful to her dad for
holding her mum back. She didn’t think Harry could handle her right

"Harry and Voldemort dueled, and it looked like Harry might be in
trouble," Ron said, swallowing heavily and glancing tentatively at

Ginny noticed that both Ron and Hermione were speaking very slowly, as
if dragging out the story. Whatever happened next, they obviously
didn’t want to say it, and Ginny felt a wave of dread wash over her.

Heavy shadows fell across Harry’s eyes, making the green appear almost
black. Ginny kept her hand firmly around his waist, and he suddenly
reached for it, clasping it almost desperately.

"Remus and Tonks arrived, and they sacrificed themselves so we could
escape," Charlie said, speaking very fast, as if to just get it out.
"They were amazing."

The entire room erupted into shouts of dismay. Even Malfoy’s eyebrows
rose to his hairline.

"The werewolf is dead?" he asked blankly, his eyes darting to Harry.

Harry stared firmly ahead, not meeting anyone’s gaze. Ginny’s vision
blurred as her own eyes filled with tears.

How can this be happening?

Remus — sweet, gentle Remus. He’d been so kind to her during her second
year. She’d had so much work to catch up on after her disastrous first
year, and he’d been so patient and understanding. And Tonks! Clumsy,
fun-loving Tonks. She’d been more like a friend than another adult. Her
mother would be horrified if she realized half the things Tonks had
taught Ginny. Ginny remembered a giggling Tonks saying something about
her mum maybe not being the world’s best expert on contraceptive

She and Remus had finally declared their love for each other. They were
supposed to get married and live happily ever after. It wasn’t supposed
to happen this way.
Tears streaked Ginny’s cheeks, and she quietly brushed them away. She
felt empty inside, as if it couldn’t be real. She couldn’t even summon
the energy to have a proper cry.

"Shut it, Malfoy," Ron snarled, his own eyes suspiciously bright. "If
it wasn’t for Remus, we wouldn’t have got out of there."

Ginny saw Harry’s lower lip quiver for an instant before he slipped the
emotionless mask back over his face. He was squeezing her hand so
tightly, Ginny was certain she’d lost circulation.

"How did you get away?" her dad asked, his voice cracking. Ginny
watched dispassionately as her mother wept against his chest. "What
happened to the charm blocking the doors?"

Ron’s eyes shifted to Harry again. "I don’t really know," he said

"Harry did it," Hermione said, sniffling. "It was shocking, actually.
Obviously he was upset, but he did something to the glass doors where
we were standing, and the whole room shook. All the doors unlocked just
as suddenly, and there was a mad rush to escape."

Every eye in the room turned toward Harry, and Ginny felt his body
tense. She was certain he would’ve bolted if it weren’t for her arms
wrapped securely around him. Before he had time to speak, the portrait
hole again swung open, and a battle-weary Bill, Fleur and Moody
stumbled inside. All three had used Polyjuice Potion to attend the
meeting, but their normal appearance had since returned. Bill’s face
was bleeding, and Fleur limped alongside him.

"Bill!" her mum said, again jumping from her chair and flinging her
arms around him. She then turned and treated Fleur to the same bone-
crushing embrace. "Oh, Fleur. Thank Merlin, you’re all right."

Bill and Charlie shook hands before pulling each other into a rough
embrace. "Glad to see you, mate," Charlie said, his voice thick.

"Yeah. We saw you lot get out after the doors burst. We stayed to help
get people to St. Mungo’s, but when the Death Eaters really started to
regroup, we had to flee," Bill replied.

"What ‘appened to ze doors?" Fleur asked. "I have never zeen anyzing
like it."

"That was Harry," Charlie replied, casting a tentative glance in
Harry’s direction.

"Damn fine bit of magic," Moody said gruffly, easing himself into a
chair. "We would’ve had even more casualties than we already do without
it. Most of the Aurors have been decimated, but I’ve brought those that
survived back here with us."

"They’re here?" Professor McGonagall asked, raising her eyebrows.
Moody nodded. "They’re in the Great Hall. The Ministry’s gone —
completely under Voldemort’s control."

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