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Chapter 15 : Guarding The Truth
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Sitting on the sofa in the Burrow, Hermione bounced her knee up and down anxiously as she stared at the books piled on the table in front of her. She’d already read them. She knew there was nothing in them that would help, but she couldn’t fathom just sitting by and doing nothing.
Molly was bustling around the room in front of her, going through the motions of cleaning the den for the third time since Hermione had arrived.
Clutching her cold cup of tea tightly, Hermione fought the urge to tell her to stop. The constant movement was wearing on her already thin nerves.
It was still confusing to have all of her memories back, to remember people and things that two days ago she couldn’t.
Despite the anger over the fact that they’d used her research, Hermione couldn’t deny that their actions had probably saved Ginny’s life. At the time, they’d run out of both time and options. What had seemed like the best and only plan had miraculously worked and for that she was grateful.
She remembered her part of the ritual now – the frantic hours spent poring over books, researching anything that could be done or altered or created to help. She remembered the pressure and anxiety of trying not to rush but knowing that every second that ticked by was drawing them one second closer to disaster.
And she remembered the arguments that had occurred about whether what they’d found could or should be performed. She had been torn, but ultimately her loyalty to Ginny’s wishes had won out and she’d sided with Ron against the others.
Mostly though…mostly she remembered the terrible time before the spell, when they’d moved Ginny from place to place, trying to hide her long enough to get control over Harry and figure out how to help him.
Despite their efforts, it had never worked and his power had only seemed to grow as he lost more and more of himself.
Running her fingers through her curls, Hermione set her mug on the coffee table and curled up against the side of the sofa. Unused to having to wait at home, Hermione did the only thing she could think of – she went over her memories again, trying to think of something that could help them.
Ginny sat in the middle of the sofa at the Burrow, rocking back and forth restlessly. Her arms were wrapped tightly around her stomach and her eyes were locked on the floor.
Hermione sat next to her rubbing soothing circles on her back.
“It’s going to be alright now,” Hermione promised softly.
“No, it’s not,” Ginny replied, her voice trembling.
“It’s not permanent,” Hermione assured her, looking over when Molly appeared in the doorway with a cup of tea. “Right, Mrs. Weasley? Dumbledore will find a way to help him.”
“Of course, dear,” she answered immediately. An encouraging smile was stretched across her face as she brought the mug over and pressed it into Ginny’s hands. “It’s going to be fine, darling…”
That had been the first of their lies, but certainly not the last or the worst. Every memory Hermione could think of had them telling Ginny it would be ok, even as they all began to fear that it wouldn’t.
They’d moved her from place to place, taking her farther and farther and making the wards stronger and stronger, but nothing had worked.
Looking around, Hermione took in their meager surroundings. They were seated in the front room of a small cabin, hidden away in the middle of nowhere. Despite the roaring fire in the grate, there was an overwhelming sense of grief that filled the room.
“We won’t be here forever,” she heard Molly telling Ginny. “They’ll find him and help him before he can...can…”
“Kill me?” Ginny provided when her mother trailed off.
“No,” Molly replied, sitting down next to her daughter before taking her hand. “You’re safe now, Ginny,” she insisted firmly.
“You keep saying that,” Ginny sighed, shaking her head.
Hermione stared at her friend. Smaller and frailer than she’d ever seen her, Ginny’s bruises had yet to fade completely from the last time Harry had gotten too close.
Fighting the feeling of helplessness rising within her, Hermione watched from her seat as Ginny stood up and walked to the front window.
“He’s not going to find this place,” Molly insisted, as though saying it aloud would make it true. “It’s unplottable.”
“And nothing can break a Fidelius,” Hermione pointed out in support. “You know that.”
Ginny didn’t reply as she pulled the curtains back.
“He’s not out there, Ginny,” Hermione said, watching her friend peer into the darkness.
When Ginny remained silent, Hermione stood and crossed to the window behind her.
“He’s not going to find you here,” Hermione assured her as she followed Ginny’s gaze into the darkness. “And even if…even if he does, he can’t get inside...”
Hermione looked up, drawn out of her thoughts when she realized Molly was speaking to her.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Did you want me to warm up your tea, dear?” Molly repeated, her smile too cheerful and her eyes too bright.
Straightening, Hermione shook her head.
“No thank you,” she said, forcing a smile of her own.
“Alright, well just let me know if you change your mind.”
“Molly,” Hermione said when her mother-in-law began to walk away.
“Ron’s going to find them,” she said. She instantly regretted her words as her throat began to close up with emotion. “Everything’s going to be fine,” she finished tightly.
Molly looked away for a moment, focusing on the window, before moving to sit down next to Hermione on the sofa.
“Of course it is, luv,” Molly said, taking her hand and holding it tightly.
Ginny stood at the window, her right hand on the frame. Her fingers were curled tightly around the wood, her knuckles white with tension.
Behind her there were frantic voices arguing about how it was possible, but she wasn’t listening. Her focus was on the man standing in front of the small cabin.
His black hair was blowing wildly in the wind, his robes whipping around him. His eyes were narrowed in frustration and a moment later he let out a furious, wordless yell.
Flinching, Ginny swayed away from the sound before pressing her palm against the glass.
“Harry,” she breathed.
She knew there was no hiding from him. Despite the unplottable location of the cottage, it had only taken him a few hours to find them.
Watching him, she traced her finger around his form before he began to pace angrily. Every few passes, he threw his hand toward the cottage, testing the magic.
“GINNY!” he screamed suddenly, his black eyes glittering as he glared toward the house.
“Come away from the window,” Arthur coaxed his daughter, taking her shoulders and pulling her back.
Ginny shook him off, resuming her place in front of the glass.
Harry remained on the edge of the walk, the wind swirling around him as he walked back and forth past the gate.
She knew he couldn’t see them…that the Fidelius prevented him from getting inside, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that it was just a matter of time.
The world faded suddenly to gray, her surroundings blurring and spinning before snapping sharply back into focus.
Back at the window, she watched Harry walking toward her through the yard. Closer and closer he moved. The wind seemed to die down as he came straight up to the window, his gaze moving up and around the frame before finally focusing on her.
“It’s ok,” she murmured, watching him. “He can’t really see me.”
Tears welled in her eyes as she said it, aching that she had to be afraid of him. Transfixed by him, Ginny raised her hand to the window, pressing her palm against the glass as she leaned closer.
Her eyes widened as Harry slowly raised his own hand, pressing it against the glass so that it mirrored hers.
With a gasp, Ginny’s eyes flew from their hands back to his face.
Lips curved into a small smile, his black eyes met hers.
“Hey baby,” he said, his voice muffled by the glass.
Ginny jumped backwards at the same time that Harry drew back his hand and smashed it into the window…
Ginny awoke in a panic, her entire body throbbing with pain as she shoved blindly away from the warm body in front of her. As her momentum carried her backward, her eyes flew open and she lost her balance, tumbling unexpectedly off the motorcycle.
“Ginny!” Harry shouted, lunging after her.
For a second, Ginny fell before she suddenly jerked to a stop, her shoulder wrenching painfully. She cried out as she swung under the bike, narrowly missing the spinning back wheel. Looking up, she met Harry’s wide, horrified eyes as he gripped the leather sleeve of her jacket.
Gritting his teeth, Harry tried to heave her up, but only managed to make the bike wobble dangerously from side to side. Cursing, he grabbed the handlebar with one hand and held onto her with the other.
“Grab my hand!” he yelled, his heart lodging in his throat as he felt the leather beginning to slip slowly through his fingers. “Ginny!”
Staring down at her terror-filled face, Harry shuttered as something dark shifted inside him, swirling up swiftly into his consciousness.
Why not just let her go? he suddenly wondered.
The world seemed to slow down as he pictured it. He could just release her jacket and watch her fall to the earth. He envisioned her eyes widening with fear, her tears sparkling in the sunlight until she was too far away to see the features of her face. The satisfaction that came from the image was heady and he trembled as he watched her fall away from the bike.
The sound of Ginny’s scream shook him and he blinked as he came back to himself. The sight that greeted him as his eyes refocused froze his heart. Ginny no longer struggled to grab his hand; instead, she plummeted toward the earth.
Oh my God…No…
Horrified, Harry jerked the bike into a dive. Roaring after her, he struggled to hold the bike steady.
The bike rebelled against the direction, the charms on it trying to force them back parallel to the ground. Cursing, Harry stood up and pushed the front of the bike down with his weight, forcing it to continue the dive as the metal strained against the abusive wind.
Realizing he’d never catch her, he drew his legs up so that he was crouched on the seat.
With a cry he jumped, propelling himself downward as he pushed off the bike. Whipping his arms to his side, he sliced through the air like a diver in an attempt to overtake her. He heard the whine of the metal and several loud pops, but didn’t look back to see what was happening.
Below him the air rushed past Ginny, stinging her cheeks and tangling her hair as she squeezed her eyes closed. Heart pounding, she dug frantically into her pockets for her wand as her body twisted and turned in the air.
With a jerk, she changed direction, her head snapping back from the force of Harry’s spell.
She collided with him a second later, her arms flying around his shoulders as his arm encircled her waist.
“HOLD ON!” he cried, his voice lost above them almost as soon as the sound came out.
Locking her legs around his waist she held him as tightly as she could. Her hair swirled red around them, the air almost deafening as it rushed past their ears.
As soon as Harry had her in his arms, he cast a spell to slow them down. Knowing that alone wouldn’t be enough to keep them from hitting the ground much too hard, he hoped it would at least buy him time.
Thinking fast as the ground rushed up to meet them, he quickly sent another red flash slamming into the earth. As it hit, the field seemed to ripple with the impact before sending a shockwave rebounding upward and heading straight for them.
“Harry!” Ginny cried as he cursed.
“I see it! Hold on,” he yelled directly into her ear. “Don’t let go!”
The energy from his second spell collided with them, knocking the breath from their lungs and sending their bodies into as spin as it passed.
Rolling over each other, they fell the final feet to the ground. They impacted with a cry; their eyes squeezed shut. When they hit, the earth seemed to implode, stretching downward with their weight like a trampoline before flinging them back into the air.
They bounced several times, each time with less height before the ground seemed to level out beneath them.
Ginny kept her face buried in Harry’s neck as he gasped for breath his chest heaving beneath her.
“O…Ok?” he panted after a moment.
“I-I think so,” she shuttered, swallowing.
Harry pulled her tighter for a second before pushing her quickly off.
The ground rolled like a waterbed beneath them as Harry climbed to his feet and took several unsteady steps away. Keeping his back to her, he leaned over for a moment as he brought himself back under control.
Ginny stayed on her back, her heart still racing and her eyes locked on the sky as she contemplated how far they’d fallen without being killed.
Sitting up slowly, her eyes moved to Harry. She watched him sink to his knees and curl over, his shoulders shaking. Standing up, she almost stumbled as the remnants of his spell caused the ground to roll under her feet.
Making her way carefully toward him, she stood behind him for a second in silence. Harsh broken sobs came from him and her heart twisted at the sound.
“Harry,” she began, reaching down to touch his shoulder.
“Don’t touch me,” he wrenched out.
Stung, she straightened as he crawled away. Unsure why he was so upset, she hesitated before speaking again.
“What’s wrong?” she asked quietly as he stood up. “We’re ok…”
“We’re not ok,” he replied his voice catching before he finally turned to face her.
“Harry…” she began, taking a step toward him.
“Stay away from me,” he ordered harshly.
“I’m not going to do that,” she told him.
“Why not?!” he exploded suddenly, his vicious yell causing Ginny to flinch as she came to a stop. “What is wrong with you?” he demanded. “I just dropped you off a motorcycle! I just tried to kill you! Why would you possibly want to…to…” choking on his words, he looked down, unable to hold her gaze.
Feeling nauseous he leaned over, wrapping his arm around his stomach. He could have killed her.
“Oh God…please just stay away from me,” he whispered, fighting the bile in his throat.
“What are you talking about?”
The incredulity in her tone barely registered as he sank back down to the ground.
I almost killed her…not on accident, but because I wanted to.
Losing the battle with his insides at the thought, he spun away from her, curling over as he vomited.
With a gasp, Ginny ran to him, dropping down beside him. Fumbling in her pockets she found her wand and quickly cleaned him up.
“Harry,” she said worriedly, pushing his hair away from his forehead. “What’s going on? Talk to me…”
A series of pops sounded in the distance, interrupting her words. Looking over with a start, she scanned the horizon.
“Did you hear that?”
“It’s ok,” he replied, his voice strained. “They’ll protect you.”
“What?” she gasped, looking back over at him. Her hand went to his arm, gripping his sleeve tightly. “What are you saying?”
“It’s ok,” he repeated, his eyes moving to the top of the hill ahead of them. “They’ll have been watching the Ministry sensors…just in case,” he explained shakily. “At least that’s what I’d be doing. That spell had to have shown up.”
Ginny’s face paled as she realized what he meant. She hadn’t even thought about the ramifications of the spell he’d performed when they fell. There was no way they could have missed its power if anyone had been monitoring.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” she demanded, pulling on his arm as she began to stand. “We have to leave!”
“When they get here, find Bill…”
“Shut up,” Ginny snapped, shaking him. “We stay together, remember?”
Harry shook his head mutely, refusing to look at her.
Ginny could hear the sounds of voices in the distance.
“Look at me,” she ordered, reaching for his cheek and turning his face toward her.
The despair in his eyes made her want to weep but she pushed the feeling aside, keeping her face stern.
“You didn’t drop me,” she told him firmly, trying to keep her growing panic out of her voice.
Harry scoffed, trying to turn his head away.
“Listen to me,” she ordered. “My jacket ripped and I fell. You didn’t drop me! I swear you didn’t.”
Confused by her words, he glanced back over at her. His brow furrowed when he saw her gesturing to her right arm, where the sleeve of her jacket was missing.
“But...I don’t understand,” he admitted slowly, his mind refusing to work properly as he stared at her freckled skin. “I saw…”
“I don’t care what you saw!” Ginny interrupted, her gaze moving from his face to the top of the hill and back. “Trust me, Harry,” she pleaded as she stood up. “Please trust me. Come on.”
Harry shook his head again, but allowed her to pull him to his feet.
“I know what I saw,” he insisted his eyes on the hill as the voices got closer, “don’t be stupid…”
“Ginny? Ginny where are you!”
“No!” Ginny gasped when she heard Bill’s voice. Not looking - not stopping to think, she pulled Harry against her and Disapparated with him.
An instant later they reappeared in the middle of a small grove of trees.
Gasping, Harry shoved away from her and stumbled back.
“Shh!” she hissed, following him quickly and clamping her hand over his mouth. “We’re not that far away. They could hear us…”
“Good!” he growled, snatching her hand away. His eyes were fluctuating between green and black as he glared at her. “Maybe they’ll come talk some sense into you before you get yourself killed.”
“Stop talking nonsense!” she shot back.
Grabbing his wrist, she pulled it up so that it was in front of his face.
“What is this, Harry?”
Blinking in surprise, Harry stared at his fist, which was clutching her missing sleeve. It suddenly occurred to him that his hand was aching, his knuckles white from the force of his grip.
Ginny curled her hand around his, gently prying his fingers open.
“You didn’t let go of me,” Harry heard her say as he watched the piece of leather fall to the ground.
Relief, overwhelming in its intensity, broke over him, mixing with his confusion. Suddenly taking in a deep breath, he met her gaze again.
She was watching him tenderly now, her hands still wrapped around his as she waited for him to realize the truth.
“But…I saw…I let you go,” he said hoarsely. “I thought about letting you go and I saw myself do it…you fell…”
“That’s not what happened, sweetheart,” she assured him, bringing his hand up and pressing her lips against his knuckles. Leaning in, she rested her forehead against his shoulder. “I wouldn’t lie to you,” she whispered. “Not about this.”
Harry brought his hand up, cupping the back of her head as he turned his face against her hair.
“Thank God,” he breathed shakily.
They stayed still for several moments before Ginny pulled back.
“Feeling better?” she asked.
“No,” he answered. “Not really.”
“Even if I didn’t do it, I still thought about it,” he admitted shamefully. “What if your jacket hadn’t ripped? What if I really had decided to drop you?”
“Harry, you’ve dealt with dark moments before,” she argued. “Each time you’ve found a way to protect me…to come back to yourself.”
“But what if…”
“There is no if,” she corrected him firmly. “When you realized I was falling, you jumped off a motorcycle for me, Harry. You risked your life to try to save me. If you were trying to kill me why would you do that? You could’ve just watched me fall.”
Harry had no reply so he looked down, reaching out and taking her hand. He twirled her ring slowly around her finger for a moment.
“I believe in you, Harry,” Ginny promised. “I trust you…I will always trust you.”
Placing her hands tenderly on the sides of his face, she pulled him toward her. She meant to kiss his mouth, but at the last second rose up and pressed a kiss against his scar.
Harry groaned softly under her touch as her lips lingered.
“Let’s go,” she murmured, her lips brushing his skin.
“Ok,” he agreed.
Stepping back, Ginny turned in a circle as she took in their surroundings.
“I don’t know where we are,” she admitted, hands on her hips.
“Shite,” Harry breathed, looking around to get his bearings. “It’s a miracle you didn’t Splinch us.”
“Not a miracle…skill,” Ginny retorted as the turned to face him.
“Yes, well, regardless of your skills, there’s no way you can take us all the way across the country,” Harry said, leaning down and picking up her sleeve. “And I’m not going to try.”
“But you could right?” she asked, pulling off her ruined jacket and dropping it on the ground.
“Usually,” Harry nodded, pulling out his wand. “But I don’t think…I don’t want to risk it,” he admitted, chancing a glance at her.
Ginny met his gaze, reading his wariness in his eyes as she approached him. Coming to a stop next to him, she watched as he turned her sleeve into a Portkey. The piece of leather glowed blue for a few seconds before fading back to black.
Taking a breath, Harry reached out, drawing Ginny against him. He held her gingerly at first, afraid to be too close with his power simmering just under the surface.
Ignoring his hesitation, Ginny slipped her arm around his back, holding on tightly before she reached out and took hold of the Portkey.
Ron searched the horizon as he made his way across the glen. They’d fanned out and were searching the area quickly and thoroughly for any signs of Ginny and Harry. Coming to a stop, he turned in a slow circle.
He knew they were near one of the Lochs, but hadn’t bothered to pay attention to which one. He could see the silhouettes of some of his brothers in the distance, backlit by the setting sun as they headed in other directions. He could see the larger hills and mountains surrounding them in the distance.
Determination filling his features, he headed toward the line of trees off to his left.
Ron spun instantly at Kinsley’s sharp cry. Sprinting in the direction of the red flare that shot into the sky, he soon reached the tall wizard’s side. His brothers and the other Aurors were arriving as well, their wands ready and their eyes wary.
The ground in front of Kingsley was littered with pieces of metal. Some seemed to be smoldering, smoke curling slowing up from where they were strewn about the area.
For a moment Ron looked around in confusion, trying to make sense of the scattered metal Kinsley had found.
“Oh, God,” he breathed suddenly, his heart leaping into his throat as he realized what it was.
Instinctively he looked up into the sky before he began to frantically move through the wreckage, searching for any trace of his sister or best friend.
Did they crash?
“Is this…” Charlie trailed off as he picked up a bent handlebar.
“Spread out, search everything,” Bill demanded from where he stood, his face white as he stared at the remains of Harry’s motorcycle.
Ginny stood in the trees behind her house, her eyes fixed warily on the familiar crooked structure. Her hand was clutching Harry’s, her tension mounting with each second of silence.
“Is this a good idea?” she asked softly, her nerve faltering now that she was so close to their destination.
For a moment, Harry remained silent, his gaze moving from one window to the next. His body was tingling with nerves as well, his power hovering just under the surface of his control. Ordinarily he would have used his magic to search the house, but after what had happened at the cabin, he was afraid to do it near Ginny.
“It’s the best idea we have,” he answered finally, his gaze coming to a rest on the back door.
At that moment Molly Weasley walked out onto the porch. Ginny’s grip on Harry’s hand tightened as they watched her cross to the railing and dump something into the grass.
Balancing the empty bowl on her hip, Molly looked out at the backyard for a moment before heading back inside.
Harry remained still for several minutes after the door shut. Finally, he moved, pulling Ginny forward as he began to walk toward the house.
“Come on,” he urged, throwing a disillusionment charm over them. “It’s now or never.”
Climbing the back steps, Harry turned the knob, slowly edging the door open. The kitchen was empty so they entered silently, easing the door closed behind them. Lifting the disillusionment charm, Harry led Ginny across the room. They were halfway to the den when Molly came walking back into the kitchen.
With a gasp of surprise, the mug she was carrying slid from her hands. It hit the floor with a crack, breaking into pieces as the liquid spilled in all directions.
“Ginny,” she breathed, tears of relief filling her eyes. “Oh sweet Merlin, you’re alive. Are you hurt?”
Oblivious to the mess at her feet she took an automatic step forward as she reached for her daughter.
Harry’s wand was up in an instant as Ginny recoiled.
“Don’t,” he warned, ignoring the guilt he felt from pointing his wand at Mrs. Weasley.
“Harry!” Molly’s eyes widened as she stared at him, her hands dropping to her sides.
“Please don’t move, Mrs. Weasley,” he said, the politeness of his tone heightening the absurdity of the situation.
“Harry, what are you doing?” Molly demanded nervously, her eyes moving back to her daughter. “Ginny?”
“We’re not staying,” Harry said curtly. “We just want some answers.”
“Answers?” she echoed faintly, her eyes searching Harry’s before flicking to Ginny.
“Yes. What’s happening to us?”
“I…I don’t know what you mean,” Molly replied, flustered. Her eyes remained on Ginny as she fidgeted with her apron.
“I don’t believe you,” Harry said softly. “Why do you want us apart?”
“I…I don’t want you apart, dear,” she replied, her eyes pleading with Ginny to understand. “I just want Ginny safe. I want you both safe.”
“Safe from what?” Ginny asked. She watched her mother’s eyes fly to Harry as her mouth opened and closed soundlessly.
“Why don’t we all just sit down for a minute and talk about this, alright?” Molly suggested finally, forcing a weak smile as her gaze swung back to Ginny. “I’ll call your father and…”
“No,” Harry snapped. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Molly stammered.
“Don’t lie,” Ginny spoke from Harry’s side.
“I wouldn’t lie, darling,” Molly shook her head. “I just want you to be safe. I need you to trust me and come…”
“Stop lying!” Ginny exclaimed, her wand shaking as she pointed it at her mother.
“Ginny!” Molly gasped, her hand flying to her throat.
“What’s happening to us?” Ginny demanded, tears filling her eyes.
“Answer the question!” Ginny ordered, her body shaking. “We saw your face when we first got together. We saw your reaction to everything…the only thing that makes sense is that you know what’s wrong…you know what’s happening…”
“What is happening?” Molly asked, her eyes moving back and forth between them. “Has he hurt you?”
Harry went rigid at her question.
“Why would you ask that, Mum?” Ginny asked, her voice going hard as she placed her hand soothingly against Harry’s back. “All he’s ever done is try to protect me. If anyone’s hurting me it’s you, and dad and Bill and everyone else.”
“Ginny, you don’t understand…”
“Then make me understand.”
“I…I can’t…you just have to…”
“Stop saying that! Tell me the truth!”
“I…I’m sorry,” Molly shook her head frantically, tears rolling down her cheeks, “I can’t…”
The hair on the back of Harry’s neck bristled suddenly as an instinctual feeling of being watched rushed through him.
“Shite,” Harry cursed under his breath, not expecting anyone else to be home. Swinging his arm suddenly to the right, he looked over, pinning Hermione in his gaze where she stood in the doorway.
Her eyes were wide, her face pale as she looked back and forth between he and Ginny.
“Harry,” she breathed, taking a tentative step forward. “Thank God you brought her…”
“Don’t,” Harry warned, bringing her to a stop.
“What’s going on?” she asked, her eyes dropping briefly to Molly’s spilled tea. “Tell me what you want, Harry,” Hermione suggested calmly, bringing her gaze back to his. “Why are you here?”
“I want to know what’s going on,” he replied tightly. “I want someone to tell us what’s going on.”
“Ok,” she nodded. “Why don’t we go to Hogwarts…”
When Ginny took an automatic step toward the door Hermione raised her hands.
“Or stay here,” she amended quickly. “Dumbledore can come here and explain and…”
“Bollocks!” Harry snapped. “He wasn’t interested in talking to us; he just wanted to separate us. You all want us apart and she knows why,” Harry explained, pointing his wand back toward to Molly.
Immediately, Ginny swung her wand from her mother to Hermione.
“She can’t tell you what you want to know,” Hermione said, shaking her head.
“Then you tell us,” Ginny countered.
“Darling, we can’t,” Molly said. “It’s…it’s too dangerous. Just let us help you.”
Harry looked back and forth between Molly and Hermione, his frustration mounting quickly from their evasiveness. His head was aching as his power continued to churn more forcefully in his stomach.
“…Trust us…” he heard Molly say.
He could feel Ginny stiffen beside him and his eyes began to fluctuate between green and black as Mrs. Weasley’s words ignited his anger.
“Harry, calm down,” Hermione warned, her back straightening at the sight.
“I’ll be calm when I know the truth,” he ground out.
“It doesn’t work that way,” Hermione told him shaking her head. “We can’t tell you what you want to hear.”
Hermione swallowed as she watched him struggle to control his anger. Beside him, Ginny was tense as she shifted closer, bringing her hand to his side.
“You don’t understand what’s happening, Harry,” Hermione told him gently.
“And whose fault is that?” he snapped, distracted briefly by pain as he pressed his hand against his forehead.
“It’s no one’s fault,” she said, edging toward him while he wasn’t looking. “It’s just…”
“Yes it is!” Harry barked, jerking his head up to meet her gaze. “It’s someone’s fault, Hermione. It’s someone’s fault that she’s hurting and it’s someone’s fault that we don’t know how to fix it, so just stop lying and tell us what’s going on!”
“We can’t tell you anything!” Hermione snapped in frustration.
“Because we can’t!” she insisted, her hands curling into fists. She didn’t know how else to say it. There was no other way without explaining too much, giving him too much. “We can’t. I would tell you…I swear I would but…”
“Hermione,” Molly cut her off sharply.
“Come on,” Ginny said, grabbing Harry’s wrist. “They’re not going to help us.”
“Ginny, please,” Molly pleaded, taking a step forward. She stopped when Ginny’s wand swung toward her.
“Don’t come near me,” Ginny warned, biting her lip as it began to tremble. “If you won’t help me, if you won’t help us, we’re not staying here.”
Harry’s gaze stayed on Hermione’s face, his mind whirling as Ginny dragged him backward to the door.
She says they can’t…not that they won’t, he thought. Staring into Hermione’s eyes, seeing her struggle, he knew the answer was right in front of him. They can’t…can’t - not won’t…why wouldn’t they be able to…
The memory of Bill cut off seemingly mid-rant so many times over the last few days flashed through Harry’s mind…at the Burrow…his flat…the Ministry…
The images brought with them an idea that made Harry’s stomach turn.
No. They would never…not to me…
“Wait,” Harry said, shaking off Ginny’s grip and crossing back toward Hermione. His heart was pounding as he prayed simultaneously that he was both right and wrong. “Who is it?” he gambled, holding Hermione’s gaze.
Hermione took a step back, her face paling swiftly.
“Who is it, Hermione?” Harry repeated his tone low and firm.
“I don’t know what you…”
“Yes, you do,” Harry cut her off sharply. “Who is it?”
“Who is what?”
“The Secret-Keeper!” Harry yelled, causing Hermione to flinch and Molly to gasp. “Tell me who it is!”
Harry’s eyes went wide. The room seemed to tilt around him and he sucked in an unsteady breath as he realized he’d guessed correctly. There was a Fidelius Charm at work, although how and why he didn’t know. Shock was swiftly overridden by fury and he closed the distance between them.
“You know I can’t tell you that,” she replied miserably.
“How could you?” he demanded, his voice wavering.
“How could you let someone…”
Helplessly, Hermione shook her head, unable to talk about it even if she wanted to. She stood trembling in front of him as the guilt of what had happened slammed into her.
“I’m s-sorry,” she breathed.
“Give me the name,” he ordered grabbing Hermione’s arm.
“Dammit, Hermione, give me the name!”
“He won’t tell you anything,” she told him, shaking her head. “It’s too dangerous. Please just trust me…”
“Trust you?” Harry scoffed furiously.
“Just let us help you…”
“Who is he?” Harry demanded, shaking her. “Who is he? Bill? Dumbledore? Ron?”
“Harry, stop,” Molly called.
“You’re hurting me,” Hermione whimpered trying to pull away from his bruising grip.
“Give me the name!”
“GIVE ME THE BLOODY NAME!” Harry roared, his body trembling as he held onto his control.
The room crackled with energy as it rippled out of him, rustling the curtains and causing everyone’s hair to lift with static.
“Harry,” Ginny soothed, coming up beside him.
“Back off,” Harry growled, his head turning to look at her.
Spiraling out of control in that instant, his attention focused so intently on Ginny that his hand loosened on Hermione. Taking a deep breath, his nostrils flared as his pupils dilated wider and wider.
Recognizing the change from his episodes at the cabin, Ginny took a step back.
Harry’s hand shot out, catching her forearm and drawing her back toward him.
“No!” Molly cried, yanking Ginny away and placing her body between them.
“Mum!” Ginny yelled angrily.
“Harry!” Hermione called at the same time, grabbing his shirt and bringing his attention back to her. “Focus,” she ordered sharply.
Harry shook his head, wincing. Tightening his grip on his wand, he struggled for control.
“Calm down, Harry,” Hermione pleaded. “Please just…”
“I’m fine,” he said through clenched teeth, his face paling as his eyes flicked to Ginny.
Molly’s arms were out, blocking Ginny behind her.
“Harry,” Hermione said firmly, “You’re not fi…”
“Shut up,” he cut her off, his voice trembling. “Just…” Rubbing his forehead as he squeezed his eyes shut, he gritted his teeth. “Just…tell me the name.”
“I can’t do that,” Hermione told him. “I won’t.”
When he met her gaze a few seconds later, his pupils were almost back to normal and his voice was deceptively calm.
“Give me the name…or I’ll take it from you.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Hermione gasped, even as she instinctively shut her eyes. “You wouldn’t do that to me,” she whispered.
Shaking her head, Hermione’s bottom lip began to tremble.
“I’m your best friend,” she said. “I would never hurt you.”
“Then prove it,” Harry replied, his voice breaking with sudden anguish. “Help me,” Harry begged softly, lowering his head down to hers. “Help me, Hermione.”
“I can’t,” she whimpered powerlessly.
“Look at her,” Harry ordered, shaking Hermione slightly. “Look at her,” he repeated, waiting until Hermione’s eyes opened and moved to Ginny. “This is hurting her,” Harry told her in a low voice. “Whatever this is, it’s hurting her. Give me what I need to fix it. Please.”
Biting her lip, Hermione studied Ginny, whose eyes were locked worriedly on Harry. She could see the echo of pain in her features, the paleness of her face and the weariness of her stance.
“Dammit,” Harry hissed, tightening his grip before thrusting her away.
As soon as he began backing up, Ginny pushed past her mother and ran to his side. He didn’t reach for her, but he squeezed her hand tightly when she grabbed his.
Harry’s whole body ached as his trust in his best friend broke. Her eyes were full of tears and a desperate apology as she held his gaze but he just shook his head and turned away.
Hermione stood shaking as she watched them head quickly towards the door. The look of betrayal on Harry’s face made her feel sick, and she didn’t know what to do.
Think, Hermione, she scolded herself. Cry later.
No matter how much he was fighting it, there was no doubt that he was losing control. She knew she couldn’t let them leave, but she also couldn’t tell them what they needed to hear to stay. She was no match for Harry if she tried to force them with magic.
I need time…time to get Dumbledore and everyone else here.
“Wait!” she cried desperately, taking a step toward them.
“Hermione,” Molly warned weakly, but her eyes were locked on Ginny.
“Talk to Snape,” Hermione blurted, before she could change her mind.
“What?” Harry asked, pausing as he looked back at her.
“You need to talk to Professor Snape,” Hermione said, swiping at a tear that rolled rebelliously down her cheek. “But he won’t tell you…”
Hermione nodded, cringing as Harry’s anger returned full force.
“Who’s Snape?” Ginny asked, confused by Harry’s reaction.
Shaking his head, Harry simply slipped his arm around Ginny waist, pulling her tightly against him.
Recognizing his intention, Molly started forward.
Heedless of her plea, Harry and Ginny disappeared with a pop.
“No!” Molly gasped, stumbling the final few steps to where they’d been standing.
“We can still stop this,” Hermione said as soon as they were gone. Not giving herself a chance to second guess her decision, she pulled her wand and pointed it at the backdoor. “Expecto Patronum!”
A silvery-white Otter erupted from the end of the slender vine wood. Shooting straight across the kitchen it raced through the door and across the backyard. Hermione watched silently as it vanished into the trees.
When it disappeared from view Hermione turned her attention back to Mrs. Weasley. Walking over, she placed her hand gently on the older woman’s shoulder.
“We both know we couldn’t have kept them here,” Hermione reminded her softly. “But we can send Ron and the others after them now that we know where they’re going.”
Low clouds hung ominously over an empty London street. Terraced houses lined the narrow road, the dark red brick making them virtually indistinguishable.
A pop sounded suddenly, breaking the silence and sending an errant red squirrel scampering across the street and up a tree. It sat on a low branch, its nose twitching as it watched the wizard and witch who’d appeared on the sidewalk below.
Unaware of their tiny audience, Harry released Ginny and stepped back. Curling his hands into fists to hide their trembling, he took a steadying breath. Unconsciously he stretched his neck to the side before straightening, trying to clear the mounting ache in his temples.
“Where are we?” Ginny asked her back to him as she looked up and down the unfamiliar street.
“London,” Harry answered, his gaze moving to the house across the street.
Nondescript, the house looked like all of the others, from the red brick to the faded white trim around the windows. At first glance it appeared empty, with no lights shining in the windows and no car parked in front.
“Who’s Snape?” Ginny asked again, her brow furrowing as she tried to place the familiar sounding name.
“More importantly, why Snape?” Harry responded.
“What do you mean why Snape?” Ginny repeated, looking back at him. “Who cares who they used? I want to knowwhy a Fidelius. Why the secrets? What is so awful that they would do something so…so…”
“That’s what we’re going to find out,” he promised, when he heard the distress in her voice.
Meeting her gaze, he reached for her, grasping her hand tightly.
Stepping closer Ginny shook her head, bringing her fingers to her forehead.
“I don’t understand what a Fidelius has to do with what’s happening…”
“I don’t either,” Harry replied, squeezing her hand. “But we’re not leaving until we figure it out,” he said with a frown before leading her purposefully across the street.
As they walked, the first fat drop of rain landed on Harry’s shoulder. He didn’t seem to notice, but Ginny did when she felt a drop hit her head.
Looking up, she saw that the street seemed to be growing darker as they walked, the thunderclouds rolling in to blanket the city.
Ginny stiffened as they climbed the steps to Snape’s front door.
“What if he won’t talk to us?” she asked nervously as they reached the porch.
“He will,” Harry replied shortly, his grip on her hand tightening.
Crouching down, Bill picked up the leather jacket from where it rested among the leaves. Shaking it out, he held it up, his stomach dropping when he saw that it was about Ginny’s size.
“It’s missing a sleeve,” he noted, rising to his feet.
“There are traces of magic over here,” Dumbledore said from a few steps away as he turned in a slow circle with his wand out.
Clutching the ruined jacket tightly, Bill shut his eyes as the memories rushed in.
He had no idea how Harry had managed to get into the cabin. When he’d heard the crash and the screams he’d come running from the kitchen to find Hermione and his mother standing at the window.
Running up and shoving them out of the way he saw the broken glass. What remained in the frame was covered with blood and his stomach lurched as he looked out into the yard.
Ginny was trembling on the ground, her shirt and skin ripped by the broken glass when Harry had pulled her through the window.
Harry was on his knees in front of her his hands cradling her face and hair tenderly.
“Don’t hide from me, baby,” he was telling her, his voice hard and soft at the same time. “It just makes it worse…”
Shoving away from the window, Bill ran for the front door. Throwing it open, he stumbled down the two front steps and into the yard.
Ginny was already screaming, her bleeding form arching on the ground as Harry stood over her. Keeping the Cruciatus on her, Harry’s smile was cruel as his eyes flicked up to meet Bill’s.
“I love it when she sings, don’t you?”
“If he hurts her,” Bill murmured, shaking his head to clear it.
“We don’t know what happened yet,” Dumbledore said.
Bill started to respond, but froze when he spotted a flash of white flying through the trees toward them. Whipping his wand toward the flash, he squinted at the approaching object. When he realized what it was his stance relaxed and he lowered his arm.
“Ron!” Bill yelled, watching the sleek shape of a Patronus swoop through the air before coming to a stop. “RON!”
“Over here!” Ron’s voice called from somewhere close by in the trees.
A few seconds later, Ron came running up, followed closely by Charlie and Sam.
“Did you find something?” Ron asked, before stiffening when he recognized Hermione’s Otter.
As if sensing that everyone needed was present, Hermione’s voice sounded from the vaporous creature as it floated in the center of the assembled Aurors.
“Harry and Ginny were here. They’ve gone to Snape’s house. You probably only have a few minutes. Hurry.”
Severus Snape stood behind his large mahogany desk, his fingertip following along as he read from a worn leather-bound book. Beside the book was a small pewter cauldron, the burgundy contents bubbling steadily within. An assortment of small glass bottles were organized into two orderly rows to the left of the cauldron.
Keeping his eyes on the book, Snape deftly plucked a small green bottle from the first row. About to pour it in, he looked up at the sound of a boom followed by a deafening crash.
For a second the walls of the room seemed to shudder before everything became still again. Setting down the bottle, Snape grabbed his wand and rounded his desk.
Coming to a stop at the sound of Harry’s voice, Severus tightened his grip on his wand. Keeping his gaze on the door, he backed up a few steps.
A gust of magic blew his robes back when the door flew open a few moments later. Holding his ground, Snape stared at the wizard silhouetted in the doorway.
“Potter,” he greeted, his shrewd eyes taking in Harry’s worn appearance as he led Ginny into the room. “To what do I owe this unpleasant surprise?”
“Break the Fidelius,” Harry gritted out.
The only reply Harry received was a slight narrowing of Snape’s eyes.
“Where are your manners, Potter?” he replied.
“My manners?” Harry replied in exasperation. “Oh, I don’t know, I guess I forgot them when you fucking Fideliused me.”
“Fideliused you? That doesn’t even make sense,” Snape replied snidely. “You don’t Fidelius a person.”
“And yet…here we are.”
“Yes, here you are,” Snape agreed, distaste lacing his voice. “You break into my home, making ludicrous demands and don’t even bother to introduce me to your…friend.”
“You already know her,” Harry replied tightly, his face stormy. “Don’t you?”
His lip curling into a sneer, Snape took a few casual steps toward Ginny.
“I don’t know why you’d say that, but judging from the hair…I’d have to guess a Weasley,” he mused, raking his eyes up and down Ginny’s slight frame and earning a glare in return. Meeting and holding her gaze steadily, he came to a stop in front of her. “How do you Miss W…”
Harry’s wand was against Snape’s throat in an instant, pushing his head back as Ginny was jerked out of his line of sight.
“Don’t even think about it,” Harry warned in a low voice, stepping in front of him. “If you want to play Legilimency games, you can play with me.”
For a moment they stood in silence, their gazes locked in a battle of wills.
Snape broke first, spinning away when his ability to keep Harry out of his mind began to falter.
“Get out of my house, Potter,” he snapped as he crossed back to his desk. “There’s nothing for you here.”
“Oh, I think there is.”
“There you go again,” Snape chided over his shoulder. “Always thinking you’re right.”
“Tell me what’s going on.”
“And why would I do that?” Snape asked, turning back around. “You don’t even understand what you’re asking,” Snape shook his head, his beady eyes narrowed. “You have no idea what’s going on.”
“Not yet,” Harry said, “but you’re going to give me the answers I need.”
“That you need?” Snape scoffed. “If you needed them, don’t you think you’d have them? You of all people should know that what you think you need isn’t coming from anywhere safe or honorable or good.”
“And you know all about good and evil don’t you?” Harry countered, his voice hard. “Why are you even involved? Why be the Secret Keeper of anything to do with me?”
“Oh, right…and who else would do it?” Snape replied. “Which one of your friends or her family wouldn’t bend to the all mighty Saint Potter the first time you came looking for answers? How long did it take them to send you here anyway? Five minutes?”
“They want to fix this.”
“Hardly,” Snape snorted. “At least not in the way that you think they do. But if you really wanted to fix it, you could.”
“I’ve tried,” Harry snapped. “What else do you expect me to do when I don’t know what’s happening?”
“Leave her here and go far away,” Snape proposed.
“I’m not leaving her,” Harry said. “I promised.”
“You have no idea what you’re dealing with here, Potter. You don’t even understand why you want her.”
Harry closed his eyes briefly, gritting his teeth to suppress the tremor that ran through him as his frustration mounted and his power churned.
“I love her.”
“You’re not loving her,” Snape replied cruelly, “you’re hurting her, all because you’re not man enough to stop.”
Snape watched Harry’s reaction closely as he froze. He saw the guilt and worry that flashed across the younger man’s expression before his eyes dilated and the look was replaced by stubbornness.
“He’s not hurting me,” Ginny spoke up.
“Really?” Snape asked, his eyes going to where Harry held Ginny’s wrist. “As stubborn and tight-lipped as ever, isn’t she?” he mused, his eyes flicking to Harry. “Always trying to protect you, even through the pain.”
Startled, Harry looked down to find his fingers digging into Ginny’s skin, sure to leave a mark. Releasing his bruising grip on her arm, he jerked away from her.
“Harry, it’s fine,” she murmured reaching for him.
“Don’t,” he gritted out, clenching his jaw as he avoided her hand.
“Look at you,” Snape replied in a hard voice, watching as Harry twitched. “You can’t even function properly. You’re losing yourself but you’re too stubborn and stupid to care. You know you can’t control it…not really.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Harry gritted out.
“Neither do you,” Snape shot back. “Whatever you say or do, I’ll never ever break the Fidelius for you so you might as well just…”
“But it doesn’t matter does it?” Ginny interrupted suddenly, drawing his attention. “It’s already breaking.”
“What?” Snape replied shortly. “Of course not. Now if you’ll…”
“I think you’re lying,” Ginny countered.
Harry’s head snapped toward her and she met his gaze briefly. She could see his confusion and wanted to reach out to him, but the pain in her head was increasing as she thought about her dream so instead she turned her attention back to Snape.
“I think Harry’s breaking it,” she told him, struggling not to wince.
“He can’t do that,” Snape assured her with a smirk. “No one can do that.”
“He’s done it before.”
Snape’s eyes widened in shock for an instant before his expression went blank as he stared at her.
“What did you say?” he asked finally, taking a step toward her.
Harry remained silent, his eyes on Ginny’s face as he tried to figure out what she was talking about. He’d never broken a Fidelius, although he wasn’t against trying.
“I saw him do it,” Ginny explained, her eyes locked on Snape.
“That’s not possible,” Snape replied softly, moving closer as he regarded her closely.
“I dreamed it…”
Harry’s eyes widened at her words before narrowing.
“Did you?” Snape sneered, his expression becoming instantly condescending at her pronouncement. “I didn’t take you for a lover of Divination, Miss Weasley.”
Despite his casual dismissal of her words, Snape kept his gaze locked with hers and delved swiftly into her mind.
Unfortunately, what should have been an undetectable use of magic sent Ginny staggering back with a cry of pain. Her eyes watering, she curled over and grabbed her head as Harry took a step toward her.
“Get him out…out of my mind,” she gasped.
Spinning toward Snape, Harry sent a blue flash zipping across the room. It moved so swiftly that it hit Snape in the chest before he could even begin to react.
The Legilimency link breaking instantly, Ginny groaned. Harry grasped her elbow, helping her to straighten even as he kept his attention on Snape.
Frozen in place, Severus struggled unsuccessfully to move. Unable to even blink, he was forced to stare straight ahead, his gaze locked with Harry’s.
“I thought you didn’t want to play,” Harry said, his voice hard with anger. “But if you insist…”
Alarm flashed through Snape’s eyes before it was replaced by determination. Almost as quickly as Harry entered his mind, Snape’s defenses came up.
“If you won’t break the Fidelius, I’ll break it for you,” Harry promised softly as he crossed to Snape’s unmoving form.
Ginny watched the silent struggle, her brow furrowed and her hand massaging her temples. Unable to stop looking at Snape, she wracked her brain for how she knew him but it only increased the pounding in her head.
Outside, the clouds finally burst, pouring rain hard and fast onto the city.
Ginny jumped at a sudden clap of thunder, her head snapping to the window as a chill flooded her body. The wide branches of the tree outside were swaying as the wind picked up and rivulets of water ran down the window, blurring the scene beyond.
The sound of Ginny’s cry interrupted Harry’s concentration. Looking over, he saw her turning away from window, her hands moving into her hair.
Blinking to clear his head, his gaze moved back and forth between her trembling form and the window before he realized what was happening. Cursing silently, he started toward her, leaving Snape paralyzed in front of his desk.
Ginny’s lungs seemed unable to take in enough air as she forced her eyes to Harry.
“I’m sorry,” she managed, fighting to remain coherent as her vision blurred. “I can’t…”
“It’s ok, I’m right here,” he soothed as he approached.
When a flash of lightening brightened the room, her eyes flew back to the window. Even though she knew it was coming, the following rumble of thunder sent her stumbling farther away from the window with a whimper of fear.
“No, stay with me,” Harry said as he reached her. Holding on as tightly as he could to his control, he wrapped his arm around her waist and drew her against him. “It’s ok,” he soothed unsteadily, pressing his lips against her temple.
Turning toward him, Ginny looked up into his worried face. Pain ripped through her temple at the sight of his darkening eyes and she cried out.
“Ginny!” Harry said when she doubled over.
The next moment brought chaos and confusion as Snape’s fireplace erupted into green flames. Bill, Dumbledore and Ron came barreling out with their wands drawn. Simultaneously the rest of the Weasley brothers came, pounding down the hall and into the room.
Struggling to hold onto Ginny as he looked up, Harry threw out his wand arm, sending a series of spells rocketing one after another across the room.
Unfortunately, the use of his power sent his control spinning again. Darkness swirled up, bringing a burning pain to his temple with it. With a strangled gasp, he stumbled back, dragging Ginny with him.
The spell on Snape finally faltered and the older wizard lunged forward. Catching Ginny’s arm, he jerked her away from Harry.
Harry spun, his eyes widening when he saw Snape speaking quickly to her, his mouth pressed against her ear.
“Get away from her!” Harry yelled as he grabbed Snape’s shoulder and shoved him away.
Blinking quickly, Ginny looked at Snape in confusion as Harry pulled her away. Looking up at Harry, she stared at him for a second before she crumpled with a scream.
It was a scream of pain and her hands flew to her forehead as she crumpled again.
“Ginny!” Harry cried, trying to hold her with one arm as he deflected an incoming spell with the other. The sound of her pain prompted a swift replay of ugly moments from his dreams and a rush of his power.
Her screams were so anguished that Bill and the others faltered as well, their eyes on her.
“What did you do to her?!” Harry and Bill demanded at the same time, although Harry was talking to Snape and Bill was talking to Harry.
“She’ll be fine in a minute,” Snape said, backing into line next to Charlie.
At his words, the Aurors began to move again.
Harry knew his grip on her wrist was too tight, but he couldn’t let go as he threw up a shield to keep out the approaching group of wizards. Even as it erupted around them, it began to tremble and fade, his instability preventing him from casting properly. Gritting his teeth, as he shook his head, Harry struggled for control as his power and the pain in his head increased.
The urge to destroy grew quickly while Harry focused on pushing it down. Having trouble standing as the room began to swim; Harry sagged against the wall with Ginny trembling at his feet.
“Give it up, Harry,” Bill ordered, at the front of the Aurors fanning out to create a semi-circle around them.
“You need to listen to us, Harry. Step away from her,” Dumbledore said, his eyes worried behind his spectacles as he took in the tremors beginning to wrack Harry’s body. “You’re in no shape to Apparate and there’s nowhere to go.”
Knowing he was right, Harry tried to think through the throbbing in his head. Looking down when Ginny’s nails dug into his skin, a combination of fierce protectiveness and anger rushed through him.
“Stay away from us,” he growled as he threw out his arm.
The bolt of power blew the Aurors back across the room while Harry’s attention went back to Ginny. He needed to get them out of here so he could calm down.
“Ginny, get up,” he said desperately.
He'd seen her in pain before and lost in her fear of storms, but this was something different...something more. Her body was now trembling almost violently, her cries broken as he tried to pull her up from the floor.
A spell hit him in the shoulder, sending him stumbling into the wall with a curse. Swinging his arm wide as he straightened, a gust of energy blew the approaching wizards back into the walls.
A series of cracks sounded, announcing the arrival of seven hooded figures as they Apparated into the room. The room lit up with sparks of green and red as the wizards immediately began throwing spells in every direction.
With shouts of confusion the Aurors shifted, fighting the new arrivals as well as Harry.
Afraid to Apparate with her, Harry let go of Ginny’s arm. Stepping in front of her instead he used his wand and his free hand to hold off both the Aurors and what he guessed were Malfoy’s men.
The fireplace at the Burrow flared up, the green flames licking the stone as Sam stepped out. The young Auror pulled his wand, looking around the silent kitchen before moving quietly toward the den.
Poking his head around the edge of the doorframe, he saw Hermione lying on her side on the sofa. There was no sign of Mrs. Weasley.
Squaring his shoulders, Sam entered the room and cleared his throat.
With a surprised gasp, Hermione sat up.
“Oh,” she said, her hand halfway to her wand where it sat on the coffee table. “Sam, you scared me. What are you doing here?” she asked as she stood up.
“They’ve got Harry and Ginny,” he answered. “Ron asked me to fetch you.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” Hermione breathed in relief. Moving quickly, she grabbed her wand and headed for the stairs. “I’ll get Molly and…”
“Actually,” Sam interrupted, catching her arm. “He just asked for you.”
“Are you sure? But I’m sure she’ll want…”
“Not yet,” Sam shook his head. “There were…there were some problems.”
“What? What problems? Is everyone ok?” Hermione demanded faintly, her hand going to her stomach.
“He’ll explain when you get there but he needs you right away,” Sam said, digging into his pocket for a silver coin and pressing it into her hand. “Here, you go ahead. I’ll wake Mrs. Weasley and explain the situation.”
“Ron needs you, Hermione,” Sam insisted. “Just go. We’ll be fine here.”
At Sam’s encouragement, Hermione nodded, pressing down firmly on the Portkey and disappearing.
When she was gone, Sam wiped a hand across his forehead. Glancing at the ceiling when he heard movement upstairs, he hurried back into the kitchen. Throwing powder into the flames he disappeared into the Floo, eager to get back before anyone noticed he was gone.
Hermione arrived in the center of a dark room.
It was cold and silent, and she instantly knew she wasn’t where she was supposed to be.
“Ron?” she called, turning in a slow circle. Receiving no reply beyond the echo of her call she raised her wand.
“Lumos,” she murmured, instinctively on alert as the tip of her wand flared up like a small torch.
In the pale light, she could see that the room was small and square, with no windows and seemingly no door.
There was a soft shuffling sound behind her and she froze. All she could hear was the pounding of her heart in her ears and she closed her eyes, listening harder. When her wand flew suddenly out of hand, she spun around with a cry.
Her eyes widened as she watched Malfoy catch it effortlessly from where he stood in a doorway.
“Granger,” he sneered as he swung the door shut with a bang.
“Malfoy!” she yelled, running toward the door as it faded away. Arriving at an empty wall, she slammed her hands against the stone.
One of the hooded men at Snape’s house hung back from the fighting, keeping near the wall as his dark eyes scanned the room for his prey. The jumble of Aurors and hooded men amongst the debris and smoke made it hard to see. An errant spell flew toward him and he ducked, stifling a curse as it blasted the brick apart behind him.
Keeping his back toward the wall, he made his way around the room until he finally saw Ginny, slumped on the floor across the room.
Standing in front of her, Harry fought with impressive speed and strength. None of the spells ever seemed to come near him, all changing direction or stopping completely as they approached him. Still, he seemed unsteady, his expression strained as sweat ran down the sides of his face.
As the wizard watched, Harry seemed to stagger without a spell touching him. Taking a step forward and away from Ginny, Harry went down on his knees. One hand hit the ground in front of him while the other, despite his obvious pain, continued to send spells shooting toward Dumbledore and the others.
Sensing his chance, the wizard shoved away from the wall and took off at a reckless run. Dodging spells and rubble, he spun when he collided with another wizard. The Auror staggered and he threw a stunner, causing the man to drop to the ground with a thud.
Continuing on, he dove behind the large mahogany desk. Crawling from one end to the other, he peered around the edge. He could see Harry and Ginny, still on the ground only a few feet away.
Moving quickly, the wizard made his way to Ginny, keeping his eyes on Harry’s back. Staying low in a crouch, he reached for his signet ring and twisted it once around his finger. The silver Portkey, identical to the ones worn by all of the others, glowed blue as it was activated.
Counting down from ten, he increased his pace to reach her before the Portkey took effect.
Arriving at Ginny’s side he grabbed a fistful of her crimson hair. Jerking her up from the floor, he cut off her sharp cry with a hand over her mouth.
Hearing Ginny’s muffled scream, Harry spun around, his eyes widening in horror just as the Portkey sucked them away.
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