Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I’m just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Ginny gasped, struggling to catch her breath with Harry’s weight pinning her to the ground. The roar from the destruction of the building was so loud that she wanted to clasp her hands over her ears to block it out. Her body was covered with cuts and bruises from the falling debris, and she felt sore and abused.
"Harry," she said, shifting beneath him. "Are you all right?"
He groaned, but rolled off of her and lay panting on the rooftop. She pushed herself to her knees to take a good look at him. He’d shielded her from most of the blast, and he bore the marks to prove it. He was bleeding from several spots, although nothing appeared life-threatening. The worst wound still appeared to be his shoulder. Ginny could see the ball joint sticking out grotesquely while his arm dangled limply at his side. He’d obviously dislocated it when he caught her.
Ginny’s heart had dropped to her shoes when she’d watched him leap across the gap between the buildings. She’d seen his face – the jump had exhilarated him. She liked flying as much as the next person – probably more – but she preferred to have a broom under her when she did it. The jump had terrified her, although she had to admit that she was proud of herself now that she’d done it.
"’m fine," Harry said, barely able to get the words out.
Ginny rolled her eyes. He was anything but fine. Honestly, what was his problem admitting something hurt, anyway? His vivid green eyes were clouded with pain, and she knew he was holding his breath to silence his groans. Letting the air out through her nose, she tried to relax.
"My brothers!" she gasped, pushing onto her feet, suddenly remembering that most of them had been involved in the fight. They’d been on the street below the collapsed building. The air was still thick from smoke, making it impossible to see the ground properly. She could hear voices, but no sign of spells, indicating the fight was over. Ginny fought her rising panic. She couldn’t see any of her brothers and couldn’t even distinguish which side had won.
Her chest felt tight as the fear clawed at her heart. They had to be all right. They just had to be. She didn’t know what she’d do if she ever lost one of them. Overbearing or not – they were still hers.
"We’ve got to get back down and see what happened," Harry said, gasping as he rose to his feet.
"Harry, you’re hurt. At least let me go first," Ginny said, annoyed by the few stray tears that leaked from her eyes.
Harry shook his head. "We can Apparate to a spot up the street a bit to take a look," he said. "Just give me a minute."
Stumbling over to the brick wall, he took a deep breath. Before Ginny had even realized what he was going to do, he slammed his shoulder into the wall with brutal force. Ginny heard a sickening ‘pop’ as his shoulder was forced back into the socket. He screamed, dropping to his knees.
"That’s better," he said shakily before his eyes rolled back in his head, Ginny managed to catch him before his head hit the ground.
"Oh, Harry," she said, cringing. Merlin, that had to hurt. She ran her fingers through his soft hair, shaking him gently and trying to rouse him. She knew she should go and check on the situation below, but she couldn’t just leave him here like this. "Come on, love. Wake up."
She tapped the side of his face lightly, hating herself for doing this to him. He moaned, but his eyes didn’t flicker.
"Okay, Harry. I’m going to go down and get some help," she said, sniffling. "I’ll be right back."
Harry eyes flew open wide as if she’d doused him with cold water. "Ginny," he croaked.
"I’m here," she said, shaking her head slightly. Was there no end to that boy’s stubbornness? "Can you stand?"
"Yeah," Harry replied automatically. He tried to rise, but only managed a sitting position before groaning as he cradled his arm. "Erm…maybe with a little help," he said sheepishly.
Ginny snorted and slung his left arm over her shoulder, straining to help him to his feet. He wobbled and for a brief instant Ginny thought he was going to go back down, but he managed to steady himself.
"Can you Apparate?" she asked, worried he’d end up splinching the two of them together. "My long-term goal is definitely to merge with you, Harry, but I don’t fancy having your arm sticking through my forehead."
Harry chuckled. "Ha, ha, very funny. Just grab my arm, and we’ll see if the only part we leave behind is your smart mouth."
Ginny grinned and grabbed hold of his good arm, keeping her eyes fixed on his face as she felt the tight squeeze of Apparation. He looked tired and bloodstained, but magnificent all the same. That quiet power was emanating from him again. It always happened whenever they were in a dangerous situation, and she didn’t think he was even aware of it.
She knew she wasn’t some sort of scarlet woman, but she couldn’t help that she felt incredibly attracted to him when he was like this. That odd mixture of quiet confidence with a hint of insecurity was intoxicating. It was all she could do not to grab his face and snog him senseless whenever he took control of a situation. He was really good at it, too. He’d make a remarkable Auror one day.
Ginny’s feet slammed to the ground mere centimeters from one of the burning buildings. She stepped back from the heat, steadying Harry as she did. Glancing at his face, she realized he’d grown alarmingly pale during their Apparation.
"All right, Harry?" she asked, wrapping her arm around his waist and pressing her body close. She knew he’d allow her to help him more easily if he thought he was the one actually comforting her. Boys were so silly.
"Yeah. Is that Ron up ahead?" he asked, straining his eyes to see through the smoke.
Ginny turned in the direction he was pointing. She could distinguish Ron’s shock of red hair towering above the others a short distance away. There were several Death Eaters being gathered together, but most of them had apparently Disapparated. She and Harry moved towards her brother.
"Ron," she called when they were close enough for him to hear her.
"Harry! Ginny!" Ron said, obvious relief washing over his dirty face. "Are you two all right?"
"Harry’s hurt," Ginny said at the same time Harry answered that he was fine.
Ron wasn’t really listening to either of them. "Was that your Patronus I saw before the building came down?" he asked.
"I thought so. I didn’t realize what it was at first. Everything happened so fast. Most of the Order are trying to clear out of here since the Ministry officials are arriving now that it’s all over," Ron said, shaking his head.
"Are Fred and George okay?" Ginny asked.
"Yeah. They were trying to convince Moody to leave before anyone wanted to take him in for questioning. Bill and Fleur both got pretty banged up, but they’ve already been sent back to headquarters. You should go and get that arm looked at, mate," Ron said, nodding at Harry, who was still cradling his arm.
Ginny barely listened to Ron and Harry as she watched a delegation of Ministry officials march down the street led by a squat, toad-faced woman. Ginny groaned inwardly. Her heart gave a sudden lurch as she recognized the lanky redheaded wizard who was walking behind her, a notebook clutched in his hands. Percy looked extremely uncomfortable, but he followed Umbridge’s orders just the same.
"Harry, let’s just Apparate back to headquarters, now. Umbridge is here, and we don’t need to deal with her," Ginny hissed, jerking her head in Umbridge’s direction.
"You two go ahead," Ron said, standing with his back to Umbridge, thus blocking Harry from her view. "I need to check on Hermione."
Ginny could see Umbridge shouting at Kingsley Shacklebolt, her face red with fury as she shook her fist in the air. Harry didn’t need further prompting. Taking her by the arm, he Apparated them both back to headquarters.
Harry groaned as he slowly drifted back to consciousness. His body felt stiff and achy, and his mind struggled to hold on to the last vestiges of sleep. He blinked several times, attempting to remember where he was. Finally giving up, he reached out and fumbled on the nightstand for his glasses. Finding them at last, he put them on and his room at Grimmauld Place came into focus, He furrowed his brow in concentration, but it was futile; his memory was foggy at best.
He and Ginny had arrived back at headquarters to find Madam Pomfrey treating a wide array of injuries. He’d seen Bill and Fleur, both heavily bandaged but sitting up and talking while Mrs. Weasley fussed over them. Madam Pomfrey had fixed up Harry’s arm in no time, but she must have slipped him some kind of sleep potion because the next thing he remembered was waking up here.
Sitting up and throwing his legs over the side of the bed, he stretched and reached for some clothes. He had no idea how much time had passed since his return, but he wanted to find out what had happened after he’d left Diagon Alley, and exactly how many Aurors had been lost. He remembered that Umbridge had been in a fury, and she usually lashed out when she felt cornered. All in all, not a good situation for anybody.
He walked slowly down the stairs, craning his neck from side to side, attempting to work out the kinks. He could smell a delicious aroma wafting up from the kitchen and knew it must be around suppertime. He couldn’t have slept for very long.
Pushing open the kitchen door, he found the table crowded with many sober faces. Ginny sat next to her dad, her hand clasped tightly on his arm. Tonks was next to her, looking very pale as she worried her lip with her bottom teeth. Mrs. Weasley muttered under her breath as she continually poured tea for everyone, whether their cups were empty or not.
Hagrid, Moody, Professor McGonagall and the twins were also at the table, but there was no sign of Ron or Hermione.
"Harry!" Ginny said, noticing him standing in the doorway. She jumped up and grasped his arm, leading him to a chair.
"Oh, Harry, dear. How are you?" Mrs. Weasley asked, placing her hand gently on the side of his head. "I thought you’d sleep longer."
"What happened?" Harry asked, unconsciously leaning into her hand.
"Kingsley Shacklebolt’s been sacked," Fred replied grimly.
"It’s worse than that," Mr. Weasley said. "He and Peter Melanson, the Auror in command of the troop in Diagon Alley have been accused of treason. They’re awaiting trial in Azkaban."
"What? Why?" Harry asked, spluttering.
"Because they listened to me and didn’t wait for Dawlish to give the orders," Moody said, taking a liberal draught from his flask. "I knew I should’ve stayed behind and taken the heat instead of him."
"No. You did the right thing, Alastor," Professor McGonagall said wearily. "If you’d stayed, Dolores would’ve had an excuse to blame the entire thing on the Order immediately. This gives us time to prepare."
"Prepare for what?" Harry asked. "What do you mean? How can she blame the Order for this? Dawlish wasn’t even around, and if he was, he certainly should’ve seen the negotiations weren’t working."
"Ezriah Dawlish doesn’t care if it was working or not; he only cares that his authority was usurped. He’s a bully, Potter. You know the type," Moody replied. "He’s risen through the ranks riding on other people’s success and taking credit where credit wasn’t due. He likes being in charge and is convinced everyone is trying to take that power from him, because he’s trying to take it from everyone else."
"The Daily Prophet released an evening edition detailing the attack," Tonks said sourly. "In it, they quote Interim Minister Umbridge as saying the Aurors were killed because a vigilante group took control of the negotiations and tried to subdue the Death Eaters on their own. According to the article, the Death Eaters had been working with the Ministry up until that point."
"What?" Harry shouted, jumping from his chair and looking at the group wildly. "That’s rubbish."
"It’s true. I’m afraid she’s going to pin the blame for the death of the Aurors on the Order’s ‘interference’," Professor McGonagall said, sighing.
"I’m worried for Percy, as well," Mr. Weasley said. "Someone is bound to report the number of redheads that were involved today. Even Umbridge can make the connection, and she’ll lean on Percy for information. It’s an awful position for him."
Mrs. Weasley sniffed loudly as she continued to pour the tea. "Do you think I should send him a note?" she asked, looking towards the empty perch near the window. "Oh, that foolish owl is gone again. We’re really going to have to invest in a new one. Errol has just become so unreliable in his old age."
"You can use Hedwig, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said.
"Oh, thank you, Harry, dear," Mrs. Weasley said, standing between Harry and Ginny and crushing both of their heads to her bosom in a bone-crunching hug. "I just want all my children to be safe."
Harry’s face reddened as he felt his glasses tilt sideways. He was crushed against Mrs. Weasley’s breast, and he had no idea where he was supposed to look. He could see Ginny in the same predicament on Mrs. Weasley’s other side, but she was struggling to control her laughter at Harry’s obvious embarrassment.
"I don’t think that’s a good idea right now, Molly," Mr. Weasley said, clearing his throat. "Hedwig is very distinctive, and I think it might be better for Percy if we separate ourselves at the moment."
Mrs. Weasley released Harry and Ginny, and her face paled. She nodded solemnly and returned to her seat, her lower lip trembling.
"She’s going to try and disband the Order," Professor McGonagall said.
"Well, she can’t do that, can she?" Hagrid asked, slamming his meaty fist on the table. "Won’t matter if she do. Dumbledore created the Order, an’ I’m stayin’ with it. The Order’s fought You-Know-Who in both wars. She can’t just break it apart."
"Maybe not in actuality, but she can make it extremely difficult for us to operate," Mr. Weasley said, sighing.
"Codswallop!" Hagrid roared.
"Take it easy, Hagrid," George said, patting Hagrid’s massive shoulder. "None of us want this."
"Where are Ron and Hermione?" Harry asked.
"They haven’t returned yet," Tonks said. Then, noticing the alarm on Harry’s face, she waved her hand in the air. "It’s nothing to worry about, though. The Ministry detained everyone and is conducting interviews. I’ve got a contact that will let me know if there’s any trouble. For now, they’re probably just awaiting their turn to be questioned."
"So, what happens when Umbridge does try and disband the Order?" Harry asked. "She can make us illegal, but she can’t find us, right? I mean, headquarters is still under a Fidelius Charm, isn’t it?"
Professor McGonagall pursed her lips, her cheeks reddening slightly. "It is, and it will protect us for the moment, but not forever," she said. "The Department of Mysteries keeps a register of all Fidelius Charms in place and has a way to dismantle any that are used without proper authorization. Ordinarily, anyone performing the charm has to register it with the Ministry, otherwise anyone hiding from the law would use it. Since our relations with Rufus Scrimgeour were shaky at best, I performed the charm without the proper authorization. From what I understand, it’s very complicated to undo, but with time it can be done."
"Sounds as useless as it ever was," Harry mumbled.
A disturbance at the front door caught everyone’s attention, and Professor McGonagall waved to Mrs. Weasley to continue what she was doing, while she went to check what it was.
"We all should pack a getaway bag of our personal items in case we’re forced to flee," Mr. Weasley said, adjusting his glasses. "My contacts should be able to give me some advance notice if headquarters is to be raided, but I can’t guarantee a lot of time. I suspect Umbridge will be keeping her eye on me, as well."
"You might lose your job, Arthur," Mrs. Weasley said tremulously.
"Yes," Mr. Weasley said, patting Mrs. Weasley’s hand, "but if the Minister gets any solid proof of our involvement in the Order of the Phoenix, I think we’ll have bigger worries than my job."
Before anyone had time to respond to that ominous statement, the kitchen door swung open and Professor McGonagall returned, followed closely by Ron, Hermione and Shannon, the clerk at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. All three of the new arrivals looked cold, tired and windblown, as if they’d been outside for a very long time.
"Shannon!" George shouted, pushing out his chair with so much force it scraped across the floor, causing everyone to cringe.
Shannon’s face burst into a wide grin, and she threw herself into George’s arms. He lifted her off her feet and swung her around in a circle. "Oh, I’m so happy you’re all right," she said breathlessly.
"What are you doing here?" George asked, his usual buoyant grin replaced with a soft smile that Harry had never seen on the exuberant twin.
Apparently, most of the other Weasleys hadn’t ever seen it, either. They sat motionless, gaping at George, who appeared oblivious to their stares. Everyone but Fred, that was. Fred rolled his eyes in disgust, as if he alone had seen this coming long ago. He ignored the whole display and proceeded to slather his bread with an obscene amount of butter.
"Ahem," Mr. Weasley said, clearing his throat.
Professor McGonagall retook her seat, the side of her lips twitching suspiciously. Harry caught Ginny’s eye, and she shrugged imperceptibly.
As if just realizing everyone else was still there, George pulled away from Shannon, running a hand through his hair as he quickly glanced at Fred.
"Er…everyone, this is Shannon Larkin. Shannon, meet the family," George said, beaming.
Shannon’s cheeks colored, but she smiled engagingly at the Weasleys. "Hello, everyone," she said, pushing a strand of chestnut brown hair behind her ear.
"Hello, Shannon," Mrs. Weasley said, as if awakening from a fog. A bright smile spread across her face as she led Shannon to a chair. "Sit down, dear, you must be tired. I’ll fix you up something to eat."
"Hi, Mum," Ron said, guiding Hermione to an empty chair across from Harry and sitting down next to her. "We’re fine. Don’t worry about us."
Mrs. Weasley’s eyes widened. "Sorry, Ron…Hermione, dear. I’ll get you something to eat, as well," she said, blushing furiously. She handed plates to both of them, but her eyes remained fixed on Shannon, who cast sly glances back and forth with George every few moments.
"What happened?" Harry asked. "What took you so long?"
"What didn’t?" Ron asked, scowling as he shoveled a huge mound of mashed potatoes into his mouth. "First, I went back to Fred and George’s shop to find Hermione, but she wasn’t there when I got there."
Harry looked over at Hermione as she took a long draught of her pumpkin juice, nodding all the while. "Where was she?" he asked, noticing her torn clothing and a scratch on the side of her face that he hadn’t seen when she’d first sat down.
"Shannon and I had an unexpected caller at the shop after I’d Flooed the Order," Hermione said, glancing at Shannon.
"It was really scary," Shannon said, shuddering, "but Hermione was brilliant."
"What did you do?" Ginny asked, leaning toward Hermione.
"Well, we were too far from the door to escape without being seen, and the Death Eater knew there was someone there. He started knocking things over and making a right mess of the shop, taunting us the whole time," Hermione said with a disapproving frown.
"So Hermione created a window," Shannon said, beaming at George. "It’s right above your desk and it’s fantastic. You’ll probably want to keep it there."
"A window?" Harry said, looking askance at Hermione.
"Well, I thought I could do it, but I wasn’t really certain. I read about the spell in this redecorating book that I found in one of the rooms upstairs. I’m certain the Order used it when they were fixing up this place-"
"Hermione," Ron said, smiling fondly, "the Death Eater…"
She waved her hands in the air. "Oh! Right! Well, we opened the window, and Shannon climbed outside-"
"But before Hermione could get out, the Death Eater entered the back room," Shannon said.
Hermione frowned, derailed. "Right. Well…at first I couldn’t think what to do, and I rather panicked."
"You?" Ron asked, nudging her shoulder playfully. "I can’t imagine that."
Hermione glared at him. "No, it’s true. I had my wand aimed right at him, but for the life of me, I couldn’t think of the spell I wanted."
Harry shook his head, able to appreciate the humor since she was obviously all right. Leave it to Hermione to be in a life threatening situation and being delayed because she wanted a particular spell.
"So, what did you do?" Ginny asked.
"Shannon did, actually," Hermione said.
"I leaned in the window and stuffed a Puking Pastille in his mouth," Shannon said, nodding. "It was the first thing I could reach on the desk."
"Ha!" George said. "That’s a girl! Way to use those Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes products, too, eh, Fred?"
Fred rolled his eyes, although a grin had spread across his face.
Shannon nodded, obviously pleased. "And while he was retching, Hermione kicked him where it counted and scrambled out the window."
All the males in the room cringed, twisting in their chairs.
"Hermione!" Fred said, shocked. "I’m impressed."
Hermione’s cheeks pinkened, but she defiantly stuck out her chin. "I had to get away, didn’t I?"
"She got him good, too," Shannon said, smiling approvingly at Hermione. "He doubled over and went down like a rock, clutching his bits."
Harry winced again, but noticed Ron beaming with pride at Hermione. He’d obviously heard this story already.
Mrs. Weasley coughed delicately. "More potatoes, dear?" she asked Shannon.
"Good work," Moody growled. "But you shouldn’t have allowed him to sneak up on you. Constant vigilance! These are dangerous times, and it’s about to get a whole lot worse."
"Alastor," Professor McGonagall said, smiling at Hermione and Shannon. "Everyone in Diagon Alley was ‘sneaked up on’, today. These witches did an admiral job of escaping."
"Not only that," Ron said, pulling a wand from his robes. "Hermione took the Death Eater’s wand before she climbed out the window. We thought it would be better for you to trace it rather than give it to the Ministry."
He handed the wand to Tonks. "I can do that," she said, examining the wood with her fingertips. "As far as I know, I haven’t been sacked yet. Once the Minister realizes how often I’ve been partnered with Kingsley, however, I think my number will be up."
This sobered the table again. Everyone stared at each other warily.
"We stayed until we’d given a statement to the Ministry. Of course, you must have seen the Prophet by now, and how they’ve twisted everything," Ron said, his lip curling.
"Yes. We’ve seen it," Professor McGonagall said briskly.
"Load of rubbish, that’s what it is," Hagrid said, grumbling.
"I managed to avoid Umbridge, but I heard her questioning Percy," Ron said hesitantly.
"What did she say?" Mr. Weasley asked, concerned.
"She asked him about the rest of us. Why there were so many Weasleys in Diagon Alley this afternoon," Ron said. "He told her that two of his brothers own a shop there, and the rest of us were probably all helping them out. She was still suspicious, though. She asked a lot of questions about Bill and how the wounds Fenrir Greyback gave him were affecting him. It didn’t sound good."
Hermione shook her head. "Percy really tried to convince her that Bill was fine, but I could see the wheels turning in that evil bat’s head. I think she’s going to try and go after Bill next."
"Damn it," Mr. Weasley said.
"Arthur!" Mrs. Weasley cried, glancing toward the door. Harry assumed Bill and Fleur had been given sedatives the same way he had.
"Don’t worry, Molly," Mr. Weasley said, patting Mrs. Weasley’s hand once again. "It’ll be all right."
"What’s comin’ will come, an’, we’ll meet it when it does," Hagrid said.
"So, I reckon you’re the vigilante group Minister Umbridge is complaining about, right?" Shannon asked, looking around the table at the various faces.
Professor McGonagall nodded. "Yes, Shannon. We’re the Order of the Phoenix, or what’s left of it, anyway. Professor Dumbledore started this group during the last war."
"So, how do I join?" she asked.
"Shannon," George said, standing up straight. "There’s no guarantee there will even be an Order after Umbridge gets through with us."
"I don’t care. I was there today; I saw what happened. You lot were the only ones doing anything, and I saw how the Ministry twisted that. I want to help," Shannon said, her blue eyes flashing.
"It’s dangerous work," George said, looking to Fred for support. Fred was steadfastly ignoring them both.
Shannon pulled herself up to full height. "Just because I’m a Hufflepuff doesn’t mean I run from danger, George Weasley, and don’t you forget it. I left the Ministry because I didn’t like what they were doing, and I’m joining the Order because it appears the right thing to do. We all have to do our part."
"Well said, Miss Larkin," Professor McGonagall said, her lips twitching again. "I always thought you had a bit of Gryffindor in you."
Shannon flushed, pleased, although she shook her head. "No. I’m loyal to the core – just like all Hufflepuffs."
"You were at Hogwarts, then?" Harry asked, curious. She wasn’t at all familiar to him.
Shannon nodded. "I was in Fred and George’s year, but I remember you. I’m sorry to say I wore one of those awful badges during the Triwizard Tournament until Cedric asked me not to do it," she said, staring directly at Harry. "Sorry about that."
Harry grinned, remembering how much those badges had bothered him at the time. "No problem. Everyone wore them."
"That’s because they were amusing, and everyone enjoyed being able to admit that Potter stinks," Draco Malfoy said, entering the kitchen with a swagger.
Harry noticed that Mrs. Weasley didn’t jump up to make him a plate as she had done for the others. She sat at the table, scowling, with her arms folded across her chest. His heart swelled with affection for Mrs. Weasley just then.
"Shut it, Malfoy," Ron said, growling.
"You’re in the Order?" Shannon asked, stunned. "Weren’t you the one who made those badges?"
"I did," Draco said proudly as he began putting food on his plate.
"He’s not in the Order," George said. "He’s just hiding here until it’s over."
"I’m not hiding," Draco said, his face flushing.
"No? What do you call it, then?" Fred asked.
"I call it protecting my best interests," Draco replied, sneering. "I have a bright future ahead of me. I do, that is, if Potter can ever get his act together and end this thing."
A chorus of angry voices met this response, all of which Draco ignored as he began eating his meal.
"Enough!" Hagrid boomed, startling everyone into silence.
"My mother and the Parkinsons are reading the evening edition of the Daily Prophet," Draco drawled, as if there hadn’t been any interruption. "We’re concerned about what this means. If the Order is arrested and chucked in Azkaban, what’s to happen to us? You know that there are ways to find this place."
"The Malfoys and the Parkinsons – you might remember Iris – are staying here as well," George said, clarifying for Shannon.
"I do remember Iris. She was all right, I suppose…for a Slytherin," Shannon said.
"Iris is all right. Nothing like this one," Fred said, glaring at Draco.
"We’re working on a contingency plan, Mr. Malfoy," Professor McGonagall said, glaring at the others to keep their silence. "No one is going to Azkaban."
"That doesn’t appear to be Minister Umbridge’s plan," Draco said lazily.
"Be that as it may," Professor McGonagall replied, peering over the top of her glasses. "We shall see to it that you and your family are protected."
"What do you think Voldemort will do next?" Moody asked, his magical eye zeroing in on Draco, who flinched at the use of the name.
"He’ll use the Minister’s desire for a truce to his advantage," Draco replied. "He’ll plant the seed in her head about dismantling the Fidelius Charm and make her think it was her idea. Then he’ll have people testing the wards to see if they’re weakening."
"How will he do that?" Harry asked. "How will he test the wards if no one can reveal where headquarters is located."
Malfoy rolled his eyes and spoke slowly, as if to a very small child. "He’ll find someone whom he believes knows the location and torture them until they can tell. When they start to give answers, he’ll know the wards are failing."
Harry swallowed, his anxiety for Remus increasing. If either Voldemort or the Ministry caught him now, neither would hesitate to use him.
"We’re seeking an alternative safe house. I’ll let you all know when we’ve found something suitable," Professor McGonagall said, adjourning the meeting. "We might have to split up for a time. Perhaps it’ll be better that way."
The conversation at the dinner table was extremely subdued after that, particularly for Weasley standards.
Well, I suppose if you’re reading this it means I’m
dead not there. I hope I took him with me. I want you to keep my Firebolt – I know you’ll put it to good use. Get the carpet to Fred and George, perhaps they can invent their own line of trick ones, or something…
I don’t really know what to say. I wanted to write this letter to be able to say goodbye, but that’s hard to do when I know you’re just downstairs with Hermione. I’m glad you two finally worked things out. Take care of each other for me.
I hope the Cannons are playing well.
Crumpling up his parchment, Harry tossed it in the bin with several other rolled-up pieces. This was impossible. It was much harder to write a goodbye letter than he’d originally thought. As if the Cannons would ever play well, anyway…
He pulled out another piece and decided to try again. He sat on his bed, leaning on a book and trying to collect his thoughts. Mrs. Weasley had noticed him rubbing his arm after dinner and frog-marched him up the stairs, insisting he wasn’t to get up again until morning. Honestly, he’d been too tired to argue with her.
He looked up as his bedroom door creaked open, and Ginny slipped inside, wearing a frayed yellow dressing gown. Harry’s eyes were immediately drawn to the worn spots and the faint glimpse of flimsy blue material he could see beneath the thinning fabric.
"Hi," she whispered, nudging him aside with her hip so she could sit down. "Ron and Hermione are saying goodnight in my room, and they kicked me out."
Harry obliged by shifting over, gathering his parchment so she wouldn’t see what he’d been doing.
"What are you writing?" she asked.
Harry shrugged. "Just some notes," he replied vaguely. "So, they gave you the boot, huh? Lucky me."
Ginny grinned. "Why aren’t you asleep? I thought I was just going to come in here and make certain you were snug and covered."
"You were going to tuck me in?" he asked, quirking his eyebrow, a pleasant warmth spreading through his body. He couldn’t remember anyone ever doing that unless he was in hospital.
Ginny kissed his forehead softly, a somewhat sad smile playing on her lips. "You’re supposed to be sleeping. Mum will have kittens if she knows you’re in here working."
"Couldn’t sleep," Harry said. "My body’s tired, but my mind’s still racing. You were fantastic today, you know."
"I was?" Ginny asked, staring at him blankly. "Harry, was that a compliment?"
Harry poked her in the ribs. "You were! I was so proud of you when you jumped across that ledge despite your fear. You were brilliant. Do I not compliment you enough, Ginny?"
"Here’s a newsflash for you, Harry. You do tend to be a bit…reserved," Ginny said, rolling her eyes.
Harry pulled a face. "Let me make up for that, then," he said, wrapping his arm around her and pulling her back so she was lying alongside him. "I think you’re beautiful."
Ginny’s hand instinctively reached for her shorter hair, a pretty pink blush spreading across her freckled cheeks. Harry grabbed her hand and pulled it away, playing with her hair. "I think all of you is beautiful, Ginny – inside and out. I think you’re fun, and fiery, and you can always make me laugh."
"Great!" Ginny said. "I can tell a good joke. Just what I want my boyfriend to feel when he thinks of me."
"No," Harry said, continuing to play with her hair. "Laughing is good. Sometimes, it’s the only way I can cope, and you’re always there with a ready smile. You show me a different life – what I want my life to be. When I wake up in the morning, I get this funny feeling in my stomach just because I know I’m going to see you."
Harry looked away, embarrassed.
Ginny grabbed his chin and pulled it back. "Tell me more," she whispered huskily, a soft yet blazing look in her eyes that made Harry swallow heavily.
"You don’t try and make me talk when I’m not ready, but when I am ready, you’re always the first person I want to talk to," he said, suddenly finding it very hard to concentrate.
His every nerve ending was tingling, and he kept being distracted by the column of her throat and a thin trail of freckles that disappeared beneath her dressing gown. Suddenly, the urge to count those freckles seemed of the utmost importance.
He felt his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed again, his mouth very dry. He could smell that sweet, flowery scent that hinted of lazy summer days in the sunshine.
"Ginny," he whispered.
Sudd enly, they were in each other’s arms and rolling around his bed as if there were no tomorrow. The war, the battle, his sore shoulder, Umbridge and the Ministry’s shenanigans all melted away as Harry allowed himself the moment. This was what he’d promised after he’d learned about The Seventh Horcrux – that he’d take the time to live while he could, and give Ginny as much time as possible.
After several moments of sheer, unchecked bliss, Ginny pulled back, panting. "Harry, we have to stop. Ron will be in here in any minute."
Harry didn’t want to stop, and he moved to continue blazing a trail of wet kisses down Ginny’s throat. Ron could just sod off as far as he was concerned.
"Harry!" Ginny said, laughing as she pushed him back and slid off the bed, moving to take a seat on Ron’s empty bed. "I’m serious. Ron will be here any minute, not to mention Mum. I’m certain she’ll peek in to check on you, too."
Harry scowled, disgruntled. "Fine."
Ginny giggled, attempting to straighten her impossibly tangled hair. Her dressing gown had come loose, and Harry appreciated the view of a very short blue nightgown before she wrapped it around herself again.
"You need to keep your rucksack packed. Expand the inside so you can keep Dumbledore’s Pensieve inside it, too. You never know if we’ll have to leave in a hurry, and you’ll want to keep that with you," she said. "Put all your most important things in there."
Harry patted the bed next to him where she’d been sitting. "Okay. Why don’t you come back over here, and we can discuss it," he said as innocently as he could.
"Don’t be such a cad," Ginny said, scowling in mock disapproval just as the bedroom door banged open, and Mrs. Weasley escorted Ron inside with a firm grip on his earlobe.
Harry noticed a distinctive red mark on the front of Ron’s neck and had a hard time schooling his features. Ginny shot him a triumphant look as if to say I told you so.
"Ginny! What are you doing in here?" Mrs. Weasley asked, glancing from Ginny to Harry in alarm, but appearing to relax when she realized they were sitting on separate beds.
"I just came in to say goodnight to Harry, Mum. I was surprised to find him still awake. He was working," Ginny said, frowning her disapproval. When Mrs. Weasley turned to look at Harry with the same disapproving expression, Ginny gleefully stuck her tongue out at Harry behind her mother’s back.
Mrs. Weasley released Ron, her attention now fully focused on Harry. "Harry! I told you I wanted you to get a full night’s rest. You’ll make yourself sick if you don’t get some decent sleep, particularly after an injury. I want you in bed with the lights out this instant, young man.
"Ginny, I want you back in your own room and in your own bed, now, please. Ronald…get to bed. I’m going to have your father speak to you tomorrow."
Ginny scrambled from the room, blowing a quick kiss to Harry while Ron stomped to his own bed, a furious tic in his cheek. Mrs. Weasley put the lights out and firmly closed the bedroom door.
Harry waited for a few minutes in the thick silence. With everything that had happened in Diagon Alley that day, he’d forgotten that he and Ron had been rowing earlier that morning. Somehow, it all seemed rather pointless now.
"What happened?" he asked.
Ron grunted and rolled over noisily. Harry could hear him take several deep breaths before snarling, "She treats me like I’m seven, not almost eighteen. I’m bloody sick and tired of it."
Harry’s body tensed, not certain he really wanted to know, but reckoned he should be a good friend and ask. "So what happened this time?"
"She came into the girls’ room and caught Hermione and me snogging," Ron said, disgruntled. "Well…maybe my hands were a bit where they shouldn’t have been, but that’s beside the point. I’m of age! And this isn’t even her house; it’s yours."
Harry grunted noncommittally. He definitely didn’t want to have this conversation or hear anything about what Ron and Hermione did when they were alone. Ever.
"Mum went storming in that room and dragged me out by my ear. Hermione was mortified. She probably won’t even look at me, never mind kiss me, for a week," Ron said, moaning.
"Oi, Ron," Harry said, craning his neck away from Ron’s voice. "Must you talk about that with me?"
"Harry, you’re the one snogging my sister," Ron yelped, incredulously.
"I know, and you don’t like hearing about it. I feel the same way about you and Hermione. You’re…It’s…You’re both… It’s just not right," Harry exclaimed.
Ron snorted. "Hypocrite."
"Wanker. What will your dad do to you tomorrow?" Harry asked curiously. Mrs. Weasley had threatened Ron with a talk with his father.
"Nothing," Ron said, snorting. "He’ll be proud, if anything. But don’t tell Mum. She’s the only one who gets bent out of shape about it. Of course, with Ginny that’s different. You’d best watch your step, mate."
"Yeah, thanks," Harry said, grumbling.
"Anytime," Ron replied, and Harry could hear the grin in his voice.
Harry punched his pillow and drifted off to an uneasy sleep.
Perc y Weasley sat in a nondescript interrogation room at the Ministry of Magic in the early hours of the morning following the attack on Diagon Alley. Percy hadn’t yet been able to return to his flat to get some sleep, and he was exhausted. Things had gone from bad to worse as the day progressed, and Percy was left feeling utterly let down by everything he’d once believed.
Sighing heavily, he let his head fall onto the wooden table where he was sitting, resting it on his arms while he awaited whomever he was supposed to meet. He’d arrived in Diagon Alley earlier that day – or was it yesterday now – with Interim Minister Umbridge in order to assess the situation. What he’d found had been complete chaos.
Twenty-three Aurors were dead. Aurors! They were supposed to be among the best and brightest that Wizarding society had to offer. They were the elite, and twenty-three of them had been killed in one battle as if it were a day in the park. From the eyewitness reports Percy had obtained, it had been the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter who had actually succeeded in containing the situation. Not the Ministry, not the Aurors, but the same people Percy had turned his back on several years ago.
He ran a hand through his short hair and readjusted his glasses.
Of course, the official reports that were printed about what occurred in Diagon Alley contained nothing of the truth. Percy had watched as Dolores Umbridge altered all the facts and blatantly twisted everyone’s words to fit her own agenda. And everyone had stood uncomfortably aside, allowing her to do it. No one wanted to be the one to voice an objection, most likely knowing it would only mean a ticket to Azkaban.
Percy couldn’t understand how everything had gone so wrong. After he’d become Head Boy and begun his lifetime dream of working for the Ministry, everything had spiraled out of control. He’d chosen the Ministry over his family, and at the time had been certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’d been doing the right thing.
He’d been shocked and dismayed when Cornelius Fudge had been forced to admit that Professor Dumbledore and Harry had been right all along. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had returned. He was back, and the Ministry had wasted precious time denying it. After Fudge’s resignation and the appointment of Rufus Scrimgeour, Percy’s faith had been restored. Scrimgeour was a Ministry man through and through. He played by a clear set of rules; everything was by the book, just the way Percy liked things.
That hadn’t gone to plan, either. Scrimgeour had become obsessed with Harry Potter and swaying the public to believe he was doing the right thing. Percy reluctantly had to admit that he really wasn’t doing much of anything, however. Then, shockingly, horrifically, the unthinkable had happened. Scrimgeour was murdered in his own home in the dead of night. All the security of the Ministry behind him, and they couldn’t even guard the life of the Minister for Magic.
By then, Percy had reconciled with his family – well, with his parents, anyway – and even supplied them with information that might aid them. Percy wasn’t stupid. He could see the Order was fighting You-Know-Who and had been doing so for a very long time. They knew how he worked, and they were making progress. It didn’t take a genius to see that – only someone blinded by their own ambition. Ashamed, Percy had to admit that he had been just such a person.
He knew Dolores Umbridge personally. She, like him, craved rules and order and expected everyone else to act accordingly. He’d truly believed she’d make an excellent Minister. Perhaps he’d grown cynical by watching the demise of all his former heroes, but it didn’t take long for Percy to see that Umbridge, too, was making loads of mistakes. Huge mistakes.
When he’d learned of her plans to incarcerate Ron, it was the final straw for Percy. He’d become an earnest informant for the Order, alerting them to anything that could possibly help them in their campaign. He’d resigned himself to the fact that it would be the Order who regained control. He only hoped that after the war, the Ministry could be reformed into the great institution it once was.
He’d listened today with a heavy heart as Dolores Umbridge painted a completely false image of that same Order. She was going to go after them and try and disband them. Percy knew that he had to try and stop her. He couldn’t let her ruin the best chance of defeating You-Know-Who they had. She’d also started asking him questions about Bill, and any effects of Lycanthropy he might be exhibiting. The questions had sent a chill down Percy’s spine.
After spending hours on-site collecting statements, he’d spent the evening back at his desk compiling them and preparing reports, dismayed by the way the statements had been misrepresented. Then, just as he was preparing to go home, Dolores Umbridge herself had visited his office.
Although wary, Percy couldn’t help but feel pleased that she’d chosen him specifically for an assignment. He was a dedicated worker and knew the way the Ministry worked in and out. He appreciated when those in positions of authority noticed all his efforts. Minister Umbridge had asked him to speak privately with a visiting dignitary about a possible alliance.
Percy assumed in was a delegate from either Switzerland or France, as both countries had, as yet, refused to ally themselves with Britain in the fight against You-Know-Who. If he could succeed in forging this treaty, he would finally succeed in doing something great for the Ministry and the wizarding world at large. It was an opportunity he couldn’t resist.
So, here he sat at three in the bloody morning waiting for an unknown dignitary for over an hour. Percy’s patience was wearing thin. He jerked and sat upright when the door swung open, but the person who strode into the room was the last person Percy had ever expected to see there.
"Good evening, Mr. Weasley. My apologies for the lateness of the hour," Severus Snape said silkily.
"P-Professor S-Snape," Percy said, swallowing heavily. "What are you doing here?"
Professor Snape dusted off the only other chair in the room and gingerly sat down. "I believe Minister Umbridge informed you that I’d be here to discuss a possible truce between the Ministry and the Dark Lord."
Percy’s jaw sagged. Certainly he couldn’t be serious. What exactly was Umbridge offering that interested the Dark Lord? And how could she ever consider striking a bargain with Severus Snape? The man had murdered Albus Dumbledore, for Merlin’s sake. He should be arrested and sent to Azkaban immediately to await trial.
"Erm…" Percy said hesitantly, uncertain what to say.
Professor Snape smiled coldly in that same calculating way Percy remembered from his Hogwarts days. A smirk that used to send students walking in the opposite direction just to avoid passing him in the corridor.
Percy had never had trouble with Snape the way Ron, Ginny, and the twins had – most likely because he was a very good Potions student and also appreciated the strict rules and guidelines involved with potion making. Professor Snape never liked him because he was a Gryffindor, but he never went out of his way to target him, either, the way he’d done with some of Percy’s classmates.
"Minister Umbridge is interested in cooperating with the Dark Lord in order to cut down on the number of losses the Wizarding world had been experiencing," Professor Snape said in an oily voice.
"Losses for which he’s responsible," Percy said hotly.
"That may be," Snape said, smiling coldly, "but Minister Umbridge appears willing to make some concessions."
"C-concessions?" Percy asked. "What kind of concessions?"
"She’s agreed to provide us with some information. The end result of our having this knowledge will prove beneficial to both the Dark Lord and the Ministry," Snape said, his fingers held in a steeple in front of his lips. "I need your help to retrieve this information, Mr. Weasley."
The hairs on the back of Percy’s neck suddenly stood on end. He licked his dry lips, trying to calm the frantic beating of his heart. "What information are you seeking?" he asked.
"The location of the Headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix," Snape replied, his eyes glinting.
Percy swallowed again, feeling a drop of sweat roll down his back. "Headquarters," he repeated numbly.
"Yes," Snape replied, drawing out the word as he ran a long, thin finger along his lip. "I believe you’re aware of its location."
"Th-there’s a charm," Percy said.
"Yes, I’m aware of the Fidelius Charm, and how it works, Mr. Weasley. I’m also aware that there are ways to counter it. I’ve taken certain steps, and now I’d like to see what you can tell me," Professor Snape said.
Percy folded his hands on his lap in order to hide their trembling. He was truly afraid. He’d promised to do what he had to do in order to inform the Order before Minister Umbridge acted against them, but now that he had to act, he felt very alone. He’d sworn an Unbreakable Vow to Alastor Moody, swearing not to reveal anything about the Order to anyone. If he merely said one thing about the location of Headquarters or anyone involved, he’d forfeit his own life.
He knew his mother kept the Weasley family clock with her wherever she went, and he also knew it would alert her instantly of his death. It would be all the warning the Order needed. But Percy didn’t think he had the nerve to do it. He glanced at Professor Snape warily, uncertain what to do. Percy suddenly felt very young and over his head.
Snape smiled that cold, dangerous smile again. "Minister Umbridge believed you’d be eager to aid the Ministry in their endeavors, but perhaps you need some persuasion."
Raising his wand as if in slow motion, he snarled, "Crucio."
The pain was so intense, so all-consuming that Percy could think of nothing else. He could hear someone screaming from far away and only the rawness of his throat let him know that he was the one doing the screaming. Finally, the pain ceased, and he was left panting on the floor. He must have fallen from his chair at some point, although he couldn’t recall doing so.
"I’ll ask you again, Mr. Weasley. What is the location of the Headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix?" Snape said calmly, as if he were merely teaching one of his lessons.
"Don’t you know?" Percy asked, gasping. He was amazed by his own cheek. Torture did strange things to people, he supposed.
"I believe there must be a new Secret-Keeper, for the knowledge eludes me," Snape said, showing the first sign of irritation.
"If you can’t remember, than certainly you must know that even if I knew, I couldn’t tell you," Percy said, finally rising to a sitting position.
"Mr. Weasley, you’re trying my patience. If I could simply look into your worthless mind and retrieve the information I desire, I’d do so. Legilimency doesn’t work against the Fidelius, however. As the charm weakens, it’s the unconscious mind that becomes aware of the information first. Now, we’ve had more time for the wards to further weaken. Tell me the location of the Order’s Headquarters," Snape said, moving his foot to step on Percy’s fingers.
Percy whimpered as the pressure increased, certain his fingers would break. He knew what he should do, but he was afraid, so very afraid. The Sorting Hat had placed him in Gryffindor for a reason. Certainly he must have the courage somewhere deep inside him to do what he must. It was the difference between doing what was right and what was easy. Wasn’t that what Professor Dumbledore had said once?
"Crucio," Snape hissed again.
Percy screamed, unable to stop. When Professor Snape released the curse, Percy vomited on the floor. He had to protect his family. They’d been right, and he’d been wrong. He only hoped that one day they’d know that he’d realized his mistake in the end. What could he do to ensure that his family wasn’t hurt, however? What could he tell Snape that he’d already know? What could he say that would break his Vow but still not add more risk to his family?
Inspiration struck Percy like a lightening bolt-shaped scar.
"Harry Potter is working with the Order," he said, staring directly at Professor Snape.
"I’m aware of that, you incompetent fool. I asked you the location of their Headquarters. Where is Potter hiding?" Snape asked, showing his teeth.
Percy’s felt a tightening sensation in his chest. It suddenly became very difficult to breathe, as if all the oxygen were being compressed from his lungs. He looked up to see a startled expression on his former Potion master’s face before his eyes rolled back in his head, and he knew no more. Percy’s last thought before the darkness took him was relief that there was no pain at all.
A/N: Okay, so there we go. Did you feel a little bit bad for Percy? The walls are really closing in now.
Thanks so much to my beta, Sherylyn. It’s the fact she keeps asking me for the next chapter that’s really kept me moving on this thing. She didn’t even hold it hostage for killing Percy!
Also thanks to KEDme, Dianne, and GhostWriter for all their pre-beta help and all the encouragement.
Also – huge thanks to all of you who take the time to review. It’s very motivating, and I appreciate it. I am so honored by the nods from the Dumbledore Silver Trinket Awards at SIYE. Thank you all very much.