Ginny sat in the corner of a small bedroom with her knees pulled up to her chest and her arms wrapped tightly around her legs. She stared at the door that stood ajar, tempting her in the cruellest of fashions. Her captors never locked the door; there was no need. She stayed in the room of her own free will.
Bellatrix had told her repeatedly that she was free to go anywhere in the manor, except for the basement and the library. She was also told that no one within the manor would harm her, lest they wished to die a painful death. They knew that she would not attempt to escape, for she had nowhere to escape to. As Bellatrix had so graciously pointed out, she was a fugitive from the Wizarding world; a court convicted murderer that would face life in Azkaban or the Dementor's kiss if caught by the Ministry.
Ginny's eyes slowly traced the door frame as she thought of all the dreams she had while growing up at the Burrow. She had dreamed of going to Hogwarts, playing Quidditch for her house team, eventually playing professional Quidditch, and marrying Harry Potter, of course. While the dream of marrying Harry had faded, like most childhood fantasies, she really thought that her dreams of a career and a family of her own would one day come true.
A figure appeared in the doorway, knocking briefly before entering.
"Would you like some breakfast?" asked Bellatrix, smiling.
"No, thank you." replied Ginny, not moving from her corner.
"You don't have to come down to eat." said Bellatrix. "We can bring something up to you. Eating only once a day isn't healthy. It's partly what happened to me in Azkaban."
Ginny inwardly cursed the Death Eater for knowing what button to push. "Fine. Thank you."
"Always the manners." smirked Bellatrix. "Even when you desire to slice my throat. – A plate will be up shortly."
"Why are you doing this?" asked Ginny.
"We didn't rescue you from the Ministry, just so you could starve." replied Bellatrix. "You could have done that in Azkaban."
"What do you want from me?" asked Ginny, thoroughly frustrated.
"What do we want?" repeated Bellatrix. "We want to show you the truth." Bellatrix paused for a moment before continuing. "May I sit down?"
"This is your manor." retorted Ginny.
"This is your room, Ginny, as long as you're here." said Bellatrix, gesturing to the room around her.
"Fine. You may sit." spat Ginny.
"Like I said, always the manners." said Bellatrix, taking a seat on Ginny's bed. "Ginny, you are a young, talented, Pureblood witch with the potential to be great. All of which would have been wasted in Azkaban for the 'Greater Good'."
"What's the 'Greater Good'?" asked Ginny, cursing herself for being curious.
"That is how Albus Dumbledore justifies things like unjustly sending Sirius Black to Azkaban for thirteen years and allowing Harry Potter's parents to die, or allowing you to be convicted of something you never did." explained Bellatrix. "It is his way of rationalizing why others must sacrifice themselves for those that he chooses to save, even if it was unnecessary."
"V-Voldemort killed Harry's parents." spat Ginny.
Bellatrix merely raised an eyebrow this time. She was becoming used to hearing Ginny say his name.
"Only because Dumbledore allowed the Dark Lord to believe that Potter was a threat to him." said Bellatrix. "He could have stopped it from happening; however, Dumbledore allowed it to happen in hopes that the Dark Lord would die as well."
"You keep saying that V-Vol... that You-Know-Who is trying to save the world from Harry." said Ginny, hesitating from saying Voldemort's name again under Bellatrix's glare. "What has Harry done to the Wizarding world, besides try to save it from you and your mad ideas?"
"Mad ideas." repeated Bellatrix, smiling. "Child, Potter is nothing more than an instrument of Dumbledore's Greater Good. Your Dumbledore, the champion of the Muggles and Muggleborns, has only one agenda – power."
"Power?" repeated Ginny.
"Yes child, power." said Bellatrix. "Dumbledore has built himself quite the empire in the Wizarding world. Until recently, he had even acquired himself a castle. He may have never become Minister of Magical Britain, but then again he didn't have to; the whole Wizengamot, including the Minister, flocked to him for advice whenever there was something important going on. This very moment, Dumbledore is working hard to hold onto what influence he still has and is trying with great difficulty to reclaim the power he has lost."
Ginny sat quietly for a moment, trying to gather her thoughts. 'Was it the constant madness or was Bellatrix starting to make sense?'
"That is why when Dumbledore recognized another such as himself, rising to power within Hogwarts, he sought to strike the Dark Lord down." continued Bellatrix. "He could not allow Lord Voldemort to rise up and reform the Wizarding world, destroying all that he had created."
Ginny was shocked to hear Bellatrix use Voldemort's name.
"You said his name." muttered Ginny.
"Yes child, I did." said Bellatrix softly. "We do know how to say his name; however we only refer to him as the Dark Lord to show him respect. Things would go much better for you while you are here if you would call him the Dark Lord or even You-Know-Who."
"Am I going somewhere?" asked Ginny.
"Right now, unless you've decided to join us for breakfast, no." replied Bellatrix. "However, when you're ready to face the world that has forsaken you – I suggest you wear one of these."
Bellatrix withdrew her wand, pointed it at the wardrobe and summoned something silver; laying it on Ginny's bed. Ginny looked over to see a mask lying on her pillow.
"Until the Dark Lord has reformed the Wizarding world, we must wear one of these." sighed Bellatrix.
"You don't wear one." retorted Ginny.
"I have no family that I need to protect." said Bellatrix softly.
"I really don't want to go downstairs and eat, but would you eat up here with me?" asked Ginny.
"Of course, child." replied Bellatrix, grinning broadly.
Harry awoke earlier than he had planned to. He laid quietly, his arms wrapped around Hermione who was still asleep; her arms holding his tightly. They were still in their clothes from the night before and he knew that they would need to freshen up a bit before they met with the Alliance.
"Dobby." whispered Harry, he regretted doing so.
"You called for Dobby, Master Harry?" cried the tiny house-elf.
"Shhhh!" hissed Harry.
"So sorry, Master Harry." squeaked Dobby. "What can Dobby do for Master Harry and Mistress Hermione?"
Hermione grumbled in her sleep, snuggling closer to Harry.
"We need a change of clothes from our dorms and a place to freshen up." replied Harry.
"Dobby will fetch your clothes, however the room can provide the rest, Master Harry." whispered Dobby.
"Excellent." said Harry. "Retrieve our clothes –"
"No offense, Harry," interrupted Hermione, not opening her eyes "but I'd prefer to pick out my own clothes."
"Playing possum?" retorted Harry.
"No, I was just woken up by my boyfriend and his house-elf." replied Hermione.
Dobby beamed at being called Harry's house-elf. Hermione sat up and stretched before finally opening her eyes.
"What time is it?" asked Hermione.
"Five in the morning, Mistress Hermione." said Dobby happily.
Hermione glared at Harry who merely shrugged. "I slept well."
Hermione shook her head as she slid off the bed. Harry got up as well; his mind gradually beginning to encompass the day ahead.
"I guess we should head back to Gryffindor tower and get changed." said Harry sheepishly.
"Being as we're already up." growled Hermione.
'Not the morning person', thought Harry, making a mental note. Hermione raised an eyebrow, spying Harry's look of concentration.
"Guess we should use the cloak to avoid running into anyone." suggested Harry, hoping to avoid the question on her face.
"No need, Master Harry." said Dobby. "Dobby can take yous and Mistress Hermione."
"Ummm... Apparate?" said Hermione hesitantly.
"You'll be okay, Hermione." said Harry reassuringly. "You didn't vomit the last time."
"Oh all right." sighed Hermione, extending her hand towards the tiny elf.
Harry walked around the bed, gathered up their cloaks and stood beside Dobby. "Gryffindor common room, Dobby."
"Yes sir!" beamed Dobby, grasping their hands before disappearing with a loud CRACK.
The normal sensation of being squeezed through a rubber tube came and went quickly as they appeared in the Gryffindor common room. Harry glanced at Hermione who looked a little pale, though she did not get sick this time.
"The power couple travels in style." came the jesting voice of Lee Jordan.
"Morning, Lee." greeted Harry. "You're up early."
"Actually, I'm always up early." retorted Lee. "It's you two that are the strangers here."
"If you boys want to continue to banter, be my guest." clipped Hermione. "I'm going to go freshen up."
With that, Hermione pecked Harry on the cheek and headed up to the girl's dorm.
"Rough night?" asked Lee with a wink.
"She's not a morning person." replied Harry, ignoring Lee's jab.
"Is there anything else that Master Harry desires of Dobby?" asked the tiny elf.
"Yes Dobby, there is." replied Harry. "Is everything ready in Hogsmeade?"
"Yes, Master Harry." replied Dobby. "Dobby has done as Master Harry requested."
Lee raised an eyebrow in Harry's direction; Harry just gave him a wink.
"Very good, Dobby." said Harry, causing the tiny elf to bounce on his heels with joy. "You may go."
Dobby bowed low to Harry before Disapparating with a loud CRACK.
"Remember Harry," said Lee "when it comes to girls, it's all in the presentation."
Harry smiled, saluted Lee and headed upstairs to change.
Harry met up with Hermione back in the Gryffindor common room before heading to the Room of Requirement to meet with the Alliance. Hermione seemed a bit more chipper after having the opportunity to wash up and change clothes. There was a buzz in the Gryffindor common room amongst the students and Harry knew why. All the things that had been going wrong this year for the Lions of Hogwarts had turned to triumph over the past three days thanks to the Weasleys, couple that with the trip to Hogsmeade being reinstated and the mood was jubilant.
"Seamus, where's Neville?" asked Harry as Seamus approached him and Hermione.
"He headed down to the hospital wing to see if Susan would be released this morning." replied Seamus. "He said he'd meet us in the Room."
"Hermione, spread the word that it's time to meet for tonight's preparations." said Harry.
Hermione pulled out the fake galleon and pressed it between her index finger and thumb. Immediately, Harry felt the fake galleon in his pocket burn. Harry saw Ron and the twins across the common room nod in his direction.
"Okay, let's go." said Harry to Hermione and Seamus. "Time to get this day started."
When Harry entered the Room of Requirement, he was stunned to see Neville and Susan sitting at the table waiting for them while talking and laughing. Harry, Hermione, and Seamus joined them to wait for the others. Separated into small groups, the Alliance quickly joined them so that they could get going before heading down to breakfast. Harry was about to address the table when the door opened one more time to admit Professor McGonagall and Bill Weasley.
"Good morning all." said McGonagall, taking a seat at the table. "Hope you all got your rest. Now, before you begin, Mr. Potter, I have some news I wish to share."
"Go ahead, Professor." said Harry.
"Thank you." said McGonagall, giving a curt nod to Harry. "It has been brought to my attention that Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Nott and Mr. Zabini have been unexpectedly summoned from the school by their parents. When I questioned Professor Snape as to why, he said that they were summoned to attend a party and would return before Monday morning."
Murmuring broke out around the table and Harry glanced at Hermione who was thinking hard. Harry wondered if the Death Eaters might actually attempt an attack on the school or was this some sort of diversionary tactic. Before he could voice either of his thoughts, Terry Boot spoke up.
"Professor, could this mean that the Death Eaters are planning to attack the school?"
"I do not know, Mr. Boot." replied McGonagall. "This is not unusual for students to be pulled from school for the weekend to attend a dinner party; however the timing is very coincidental."
"Could this be a diversion, then?" asked Angelina. "I mean, isn't that what we're doing?"
"No matter what it is," said Harry "we'll just have to be ready. We have the galleons as a way of communication and there will be a group of us here so –"
"You mean we're still sticking to the plan, even with Umbridge out of the way?" interrupted Lavender.
"Correct." said Hermione. "We're still going to need to keep the other Professors, especially Snape..."
Hermione trailed off as her eyes stared at something across the room. Harry looked, but saw nothing of any interest. This troubled him greatly in light of recent circumstances.
"Hermione, are you okay?" asked Harry, concern etching his face.
"She said that he was summoned." replied Hermione in what could be considered a brilliant impression of Professor Trelawney.
"Who said who was summoned?" asked Seamus, frowning hard at Hermione.
"So sorry." said Hermione, shaking herself from her thoughts. "Professor Sinistra... last night she told Snape that he had been summoned by Voldemort."
"Did she say why?" asked Harry; excitement and fear filling him.
"No." replied Hermione. "All she said was that Voldemort did not summon him directly as he did not want to raise any suspicions while Fudge was here."
"Well, it sounds to me." said Fred.
"Like old Voldy has way more confidence." said George.
"In Fudge than we do." said Fred.
"Unless we've missed something." said the twins in unison.
Harry had to agree with the Weasley twins. Why would Voldemort be worried about Fudge? Harry was sure that Fudge wouldn't even suspect Snape for one instant of doing anything wrong, let alone jump to the conclusion that he was off to tea with the greatest dark wizard ever. Unless... 'What if we HAVE missed something', pondered Harry, the wheels spinning inside his head. 'What if Fudge isn't as ignorant as he would have us believe? What if he IS aware of Voldemort's return!'
Harry could almost hear Hermione's response, should he voice his thoughts. 'Harry, why would Fudge pretend? I understand fear, what else could possibly cause him to act like this?' she would ask.
"Harry... Mr. Potter!"
Harry snapped back from his own musings at the sound of McGonagall's scolding voice to see everyone at the table staring at him.
"What's wrong, Harry?" asked Neville.
"Nothing, Neville." replied Harry. "I was just pondering what Hermione had said."
"Harry, we all know how you feel about Snape, however you cannot focus on that right now." said Hermione. "Whatever he's up to will come out in the end."
Harry saw his opportunity to drop the conversation and took it.
"You're right, Hermione." said Harry. "We need to focus on the task at hand."
"I have a question." said Terry, gathering the room's attention. "With Professor McGonagall now a part of the Alliance, who's in charge?"
"Mr. Boot, Harry is the leader of your Alliance." replied McGonagall, a serious expression on her face. "This is his group and his plan. I am merely a co-conspirator, assisting in the liberation of the Grangers and Ms. Weasley. For the purpose of my responsibilities as Interim Headmistress and Deputy Headmistress of Hogwarts, I will disavow any knowledge of this groups actions and deny being any part of this plan once tonight is over, lest the school fall into the hands of someone unsavoury. I have placed too much of my life into the education of witches and wizards to be removed without a fight."
"What if you get caught with us?" asked Seamus.
"I pride myself in being a very clever witch, Mr. Finnigan." replied McGonagall. "I will think of something."
"That's settled then." said Ron, earning an approving nod from Professor McGonagall. "Now, how 'bout it, Harry?"
"Right." said Harry, clearing his throat. "Like I was saying, Dean, Terry, Parvati, Padma, and Ron will stay here at the castle to cover and create diversions. I will leave the Marauder's Map with you. Susan, I think you two should stay here as well."
"How come?" retorted Susan.
"You're not fully recovered yet, Susan." said Neville.
"Neville's right, Susan." said Harry. "Besides, I need you to help patrol the castle; the more eyes here, the better."
"Lavender," continued Harry "you will join Professor McGonagall, Mr. Weasley, Dobby, Neville, Seamus, Angelina, Luna and Lee in rescuing the Grangers and Ginny from Malfoy Manor." Lavender nodded with a look of determination. "Bill, Fred, George, Sirius, Hermione, and myself will divert attention away from Malfoy Manor until we receive the word that the rescue mission is complete."
"Where will we take Hermione's parents and Ginny?" asked Angelina.
"We have a safe house ready for them, Ms. Johnson." said McGonagall.
"Ron, you will need to inform the Order that we are headed to the Ministry to retrieve the prophecy as a bargaining chip for Ginny." said Harry; Ron smirking his approval. "Wait about twenty minutes before doing so. This will give the Order enough time to arrive at the Ministry before we do. Professor McGonagall and Mr. Weasley will join us at the Ministry. Dobby will bring the rest of you back here to the Room of Requirement."
"Nothing doing, mate." said Seamus. "We're not letting you face You-Know-Who without us!"
"It's too risky, Seamus." said Harry firmly. "You're already risking too much as it is."
"I'm of age, Harry." said Angelina defiantly.
"Me too." said Lee, arms folded. "Harry, how many times do we have to tell you that we're with you to the brink?"
"Seamus and I are going, mate." said Neville, arms folded as well.
Harry tugged at his hair in frustration as McGonagall chimed in, siding with Harry. Next thing, the entire table was filled with bickering. Harry was about to shout when Hermione stood up.
"Listen up!" shouted Hermione, her hands on her hips. "This is getting us nowhere!"
Hermione waited as everyone focused on her, including a bemused McGonagall and Bill.
"We all know that our plan will change the moment it begins, so we need to prepare accordingly." continued Hermione. "Therefore, I am making an amendment. Professor McGonagall will decide who in her group goes where, depending on what is happening. Anything could happen tonight. Longbottom Manor could be attacked tonight or even Hogwarts. We're going to have to be flexible."
"Well said, Hermione." said Bill smiling.
"Hermione's right." said Neville, followed by murmurs of agreement.
"Okay," sighed Harry "if we're all in agreement – "
"One problem, mate." said Dean. "Won't Filch notice when you all don't return from Hogsmeade?"
"Ah, that's where the diversions begin!" said the Weasley twins gleefully in unison.
Hearing the twins so happy, it gave Harry chills. He finally felt sorry for Filch. As potentially the last meeting of the Alliance came to a close, Harry's chest tightened at the thought of how many might not survive the night.
Harry was picking at his breakfast when his thoughts were quickly distracted from his negative worrying as the sound that had eluded the morning ritual for the last three days flooded into the Great Hall; the sound of the morning mail. Owls flooded the Great Hall, delivering three days worth of mail to the students. Harry looked up at the scene unfolding and wondered how hard it had been for the Ministry to hide what was occurring at the school from the rest of the Wizarding world.
At that moment, a large tawny owl swept down, landed in front Harry and lifted its leg for him. Attached, were two letters in brown envelopes. Harry removed the letters from the owl, which waited as though expecting a response.
"Who are they from?" asked Hermione.
"Dunno." replied Harry, shaking his head as he opened the letters.
His confusion quickly turned into joy as he read the two letters.
"Anyone have a quill and ink?" asked Harry hopefully as he passed the letters to Hermione.
"I do." replied Angelina, withdrawing them from her bag and passing them to Harry. "I was going to write my aunt this morning."
"Who they from, Harry?" asked Ron, curiosity rising.
Harry glanced around as he took the letters back from a shocked Hermione. "Let's just say, it's unexpected news."
Harry scribbled something down on both letters before reattaching them to the owl's leg; giving the large bird a piece of bacon. The owl hooted its thanks before soaring away.
"What you smirking about, Potter?" asked Seamus in his best Malfoy impersonation.
"Just envisioning the look on several wizards' faces." replied Harry, grinning broadly; Hermione mirroring his expression.
After an uplifting breakfast, Parvati and Lavender dragged Hermione away, up to the dorms to get ready for the Hogsmeade trip. Even with everything going on tonight, Harry marvelled at how excited girls could get over dressing up to go to the village. As he made his way up towards the Gryffindor common room, the morbid thought floated into his mind, 'Frolic then fight'. Then again, why not enjoy one last moment together as simple teens. 'Simple teens.' That thought made Harry laugh out loud.
"Is Harry Potty happy?" asked the manic voice of Peeves the Poltergeist.
Harry suddenly realized that he was alone.
"Hello, Peeves." sighed Harry, staring up at the floating spirit. "If you must know then no, I am not happy."
"Why not?" asked Peeves, leaning his chin on his hand while floating in mid air on his side and staring at Harry.
"Peeves, have you ever faced death?" retorted Harry.
Peeves floated down lower and lower until he and Harry were looking directly at each other; green eyes to manic orange eyes.
"Does Harry Potter know what Peeves is?" asked the Poltergeist.
"A Poltergeist, I presume." replied Harry.
"Do you know where Poltergeists come from?" asked Peeves.
"No." replied Harry, realizing that this was the first time he had ever thought about it. "I presume that you're a spirit."
"You be correct, Harry Potter." said Peeves, a manic grin upon his face. "I am a spirit, yet where do I come from?"
"I dunno." replied Harry. "Where did you come from?"
"Because you might die this very night and you would never seek to destroy me if you live, Peevsie will tell you his secret, Harry Potter." said Peeves in a tone that was flat and almost human. "I was created by those that built this castle. I was a happening of chaos and in such, became me. I don't even remember what I once was. All I know is that I am attached to a ring that lies under one of the foundation stones of this castle. If it was ever removed, I would cease to exist."
"Does the Bloody Baron know this?" asked Harry quietly.
"Yes." said Peeves, a look on his strange face that Harry did not understand. "He tricked me into telling and has used me for his deeds ever since, even in death."
"What would happen to you if a Headmistress or Headmaster ever banished you?" asked Harry.
"I would have to stay outside the castle." replied Peeves. "It has happened before."
Harry could not believe what he was hearing or even why Peeves was telling him this. Somehow, some way, he had earned the trust of the Poltergeist without even trying. He wondered how much the poltergeist knew of their plans and how, but did not ask.
"Peeves, my friends will be patrolling the castle this evening." said Harry. "They will also be creating distractions – even a little chaos."
"Ooooo... sounds like a party!" cackled Peeves.
"Will you keep an eye on them for me?" asked Harry. "Keep them safe lest Voldemort's forces attack?"
An evil smirk curled Peeves' face. "For Harry Potty, Ole Peevsie will."
With that, the Poltergeist sped away making a sound something like a distant fog horn. Harry continued up the stairs until he reached the Gryffindor common room. As he entered the common room, he found it busy with the commotion of the day. Not wanting to be swept up into any conversations, Harry quickly made his way up to the boy's dorms.
Harry wished he had better clothes to wear to Hogsmeade as he stared at his open trunk. He only had one change of good clothes that the Dursleys ever allowed him to own that weren't Dudley hand me downs. This was only so that he would not embarrass them in front of people they considered important. Luckily for Harry, Hermione wasn't interested in his clothes.
"Hello, Master Harry." said Dobby excitedly behind Harry, causing him to nearly fall as he spun around.
"Uh, hello Dobby." said Harry. "You scared me. What are you doing here?"
"Dobby did not mean to frighten Master Harry. Dobby has come to help Master Harry get ready!" said Dobby, pointing towards Harry's bed and snapping his fingers.
There, on the bed appeared an assortment of shirts, jean pants, trousers, and trainers.
"Uh... Dobby, I hate to inform you, but these aren't my clothes." said Harry, afraid that Dobby might make a lunge for a large book to punish himself with.
"Awe sir, but these are!" said Dobby beaming. "Dobby could not find suitable clothes for his Master, so Dobby sought out Master Sirius for help. Master Sirius gave these to Dobby for Master Harry."
"Where did Sirius get these clothes?" asked Harry, now admiring Sirius' taste.
"Master Sirius told Dobby that he expected Master Harry to need some new clothes for today." replied Dobby.
Harry chuckled as he took a long sleeve button-up shirt, jean pants, and new trainers from the bed and headed into the lavatory to get changed. Once dressed, he attacked his hair until it at least looked manageable. Standing in front of the long mirror in the lavatory, Harry had to smirk as he thought of what Hermione's expression would be.
"What do you think, Dobby?" asked Harry, stepping out of the lavatory.
"I'm not Dobby, but I could give the house-elf a hug." said Hermione; her eyebrows raised and her mouth ajar. "Seamus said you were still up here primping."
"Sirius thought I could use a new change of clothes." said Harry, now admiring Hermione's choice of clothes.
She was wearing a knit sweater, form fitting jean pants, and trainers with her hair pulled back into a ponytail.
"You look terrific, Hermione." said Harry smiling stupidly.
"Thanks." said Hermione, returning his smile. "Lavender had to help me with my hair. She insisted on a little makeup too."
Harry considered hugging Lavender the next time he saw her. Hermione looked gorgeous; her beauty was so innocent. It made him want to rip the heart out of anyone that had ever made her cry, especially Lucius Malfoy.
"I like you much better like this." said Hermione, drawing him away from his thoughts. "School robes are a bit much sometimes, unless you need to hide something."
"Speaking of which," said Harry, now thinking aloud "where am I going to hide my invisibility cloak?"
"Here, give it to me." said Hermione.
Harry didn't see where she could possibly hide his cloak, unless she was going to wear her school robes to Hogsmeade, however he picked his cloak up off of his bed and handed it to her. He watched as she opened her purse and, to his surprise, stuffed it inside with ease; despite the purse being barely larger than his own hand.
"Hermione, how –"
"Undetectable Extension charm." explained Hermione smiling. "I started practicing it just in case we need to make off quick."
"How much can it hold?" asked Harry, staring at the tiny purse.
"Right now, not much more than my backpack." replied Hermione. "However, when I'm done I hope to achieve the size of a school trunk."
"Absolutely brilliant." praised Harry, thinking of about a thousand uses. "Let me guess, NEWT level?"
Hermione simply smiled her response; blushing under his gaze. Her beauty was only matched by her wit and intellect. Harry wondered if he would ever find someone like his Hermione, even if he searched for a thousand years. Something deep down inside told him that his father probably felt the same way about his mother.
Harry took her by the hand and led her out of Gryffindor tower; down towards the courtyard to join the other students, including the Alliance members that would be making the trip to Hogsmeade. Professor McGonagall gave the student body a thorough lecture about how the visits to the village were privileges and that they were to represent Hogwarts with dignity before setting them off down the path to the village below. Harry turned towards the castle and wondered if it would be the last time he set eyes upon it.
The day was cool and damp; a slight breeze drifting through the trees with the smell of rain on the horizon. As they entered the village limits, Harry knew that Hermione was silently wondering what they were going to do for the next few hours to pass the time. It needed to be close to time to return to the castle before they met up at the Hog's Head with Bill, Sirius and the Weasley twins.
The Alliance, which had walked down together, quickly divided off into groups upon reaching the village itself. Ron, Luna, Neville and Susan headed suspiciously in the direction of Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop while Fred, George, Parvati and Angelina headed for Zonko's Joke Shop. Seamus said that he Dean, Terry, Lee, Lavender and Padma were headed to the Honeydukes Sweet Shop and wanted to know if Harry and Hermione would like to join them.
"We'll catch up with you later." said Harry, smirking when Seamus wiggled his eyebrows.
"Where are we going?" asked Hermione.
"Let's just see where the day takes us." replied Harry with a wink.
"If you don't have any plans –"
"Trust me, Hermione."
Hermione smiled at him while shaking her head. Harry knew that Hermione always wanted to know what was going on, however today would not be one of those days. Today was his day to make her feel as special as she was to him.
It took them a few minutes to reach their destination and he could see Hermione's curiosity building with every second.
"Ah, here we are." said Harry as they stopped in front of Tomes and Scrolls. "Hope you don't mind, I need to pick up a few things."
"You? Here?" asked Hermione in mild shock.
"You can wait outside if you wish." said Harry casually.
"No, I believe I need to see this." said Hermione incredulously.
"I can read, Hermione." said Harry, faining hurt.
"Harry Potter, have you ever even visited this shop before?" asked Hermione, folding her arms.
"I refuse to answer that question, as I find it insulting." replied Harry haughtily, holding the door for Hermione.
Hermione smirked, arms still folded as she entered the shop. Harry's haughtiness faltered into a smirk as he followed her inside. Immediately, Harry knew he had made the right choice as Hermione's eyes lit up with the same uncontrollable excitement that one might see at an amusement park.
"Mr. Potter – Ms. Granger, welcome to Tomes and Scrolls." said the matron behind the counter.
"Have we met?" asked Harry, earning a smirk from Hermione.
"Mr. Potter," replied the matron "you are famous and Ms. Granger has been a regular customer since her third year. I must admit, Mr. Potter, that your request had me more than a bit confused until now."
Hermione frowned at Harry as the matron reached behind her counter and pulled out three old books.
"As one that enjoys written literature, I must say that these books have been most tempting for me since their arrival." continued the matron.
Hermione gasped as the matron handed her the three books.
"Harry!" squealed Hermione. "These are the Founder's books! They're terribly rare! Where did you find them?"
"The manifest that Hooktooth sent me of the Potter vaults had them listed." replied Harry smiling. "I thought you might like them."
"They look to be the original copies that were created off of the Founders of Hogwarts' scrolls." said the matron. "I have a table prepared as you asked, Mr. Potter. Would you like to sit down and look over your books?"
"Yes. Thank you." said Harry, as Hermione shot him a strange look.
The matron led them to a far corner of the shop, where a small table sat waiting for them. It had several more books sitting in the middle along with a small bowl of fruit.
"These are a few selections that I thought Ms. Granger would enjoy as well." said the matron. "Feel free to browse some more as well."
Harry nodded to the matron while Hermione continued to stare at him strangely. He pulled out a chair for Hermione, then took a seat across from her.
"Harry, I don't understand." said Hermione.
"Hermione, I wanted to do something that you would enjoy today and I knew that this was a place you liked." said Harry, taking her hand from across the table. "I know it's not the most romantic start to our day, but –"
"Harry, I love it." said Hermione, a tear sliding down her cheek. "But are you sure that this is what you want to do?"
"I want to be with you." replied Harry. "Now, would you like me to read you something or would you like to read to me?"
"How about we take turns." replied Hermione smiling excitedly.
Hermione started by opening one of the three Founder's books, Slytherin's book being the only one absent, and skimmed the text; reading aloud the parts that would interest Harry. Before too long, Harry joined her on the same side of the table so that they could read together. He enjoyed watching her eyes light up when she would come to a truly interesting part.
"So, what kind of books did you read growing up?" asked Harry, as Hermione skimmed another chapter.
Hermione closed the book and turned to look at Harry.
"You don't naturally assume that I read text books?" asked Hermione.
"I'll never learn more about you if I assume things, now will I?" retorted Harry, smirking.
"You'll probably laugh, but I used to love to read Jules Verne." said Hermione, playing with her ponytail.
"Who's Jules Verne?" asked Harry to Hermione's amazement.
"But you grew up in the Muggle world too!" replied Hermione. "Surely, you heard of Jules Verne!"
"I grew up in a house full of idiots that spent their life in front of the telly, Hermione!" retorted Harry. "Unless Jules Verne was an actor or a comedian, I probably never heard his bleeding name."
"Oh Harry." sighed Hermione. "I forget sometimes how miserable your life must have been."
Harry couldn't see how reading books would have helped, but he thought it not the time to mention such. Hermione proceeded to tell Harry all about the many Muggle books she had read growing up. To Harry's surprise, most of them were about adventure, mystery and a Muggle's interpretation of magic. She did admit to reading history books, but immediately defended herself by going into a long drawn out explanation as to how history can be just as interesting as any fictional story.
They left the shop nearly two hours later; Harry purchasing several books for Hermione and thanking the matron for her assistance. Hermione fit all the books into her purse with ease, earning another marvelled look from Harry.
"Where to now, Harry?" asked Hermione.
"How about a spot of tea." said Harry.
"I'd love some." said Hermione, accepting his outstretched elbow.
Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop was as busy as usual when they arrived.
"Oh Harry. Maybe we should have come here first." said Hermione as she spied through the window at the congested tea room.
"I think we'll manage." said Harry, opening the door again for Hermione.
A tiny bell tinkled as they entered the shop. Harry looked around at the tiny shop filled with couples enjoying themselves as Madam Puddifoot came bustling over to greet them.
"Ah, Mr. Potter." greeted Madam Puddifoot. "I have your table reserved for you. Right this way."
"You reserved a table?" asked Hermione as they followed the matron.
"I hear they go fast." replied Harry with a wink.
Madam Puddifoot ushered them to a small table for two that was adorned with white lacy napkins, a delicate looking sugar bowl and an empty crystal vase.
"My apologies, Mr. Potter." said Madam Puddifoot.
The matron withdrew her wand and waved it over the table, causing a single pink shimmering rose to appear in the vase.
"There we go. The sweetheart rose, just as you requested." said Madam Puddifoot as Hermione and Harry each took a seat. "Now, can I get you any tea or coffee? Maybe a few pastries as well?"
Harry nodded to Hermione, who was still staring at the sweetheart rose in the vase.
"Oh yes... tea, please." said Hermione, addressing the matron.
"The same for me, and maybe a pastry or two." said Harry.
"Right away, Mr. Potter." said the matron happily.
"You know, she is much nicer than Ron had described her." said Harry, distracting Hermione from the rose once more.
"Oh Harry, when has Ron ever been in here before?" scoffed Hermione. "The only time I've ever seen him near here before today was two years ago when he was sniffing about the place and she told him to either step in and order something or stop loitering about the doorway."
Harry snorted, "Yeah, that's about the time he started running the place down to people." Harry cleared his throat. "So, you like the rose?"
"It's so beautiful." said Hermione, breathlessly. "She called it a sweetheart rose?"
"Yeah, it's a pink rose charmed with shimmering drops of dew so that it glistens in the light." replied Harry. "I told Neville that I wanted to give you a really beautiful flower, so he suggested it."
"Thank you, Harry." said Hermione smiling; her eyes twinkling and putting the rose to shame.
A young lady served them their tea and pastries; gazing at the rose before giving Hermione a smile that she returned in a knowing fashion. Harry smirked at how girls could communicate without even saying a word, however his mind was drifting far away; to a graveyard and a snake-like face with scarlet eyes. 'I should be facing Voldemort and his followers alone tonight – not endangering anyone else', thought Harry.
"Thinking about tonight?" asked Hermione.
"Maybe." replied Harry quietly.
"Don't even think about trying to leave me in Hogsmeade." growled Hermione in a hushed tone.
"What?" retorted a startled Harry.
"I know you, Harry James Potter." whispered Hermione, staring him in the eyes. "We have a plan and we need to at least attempt to follow it. So swear to me that you will not attempt to go it alone."
Harry could not do anything while staring into those chocolate-brown eyes of hers except agree.
"I swear that I will do my best to stick to the plan and not go it alone." whispered Harry.
They sipped their tea for a moment before Harry broke the silence. "How did you know I was thinking about tonight and wishing I could go it alone?"
"Like I said, I know you Harry." replied Hermione. "Besides, those emerald eyes of yours have never been able to keep things from me for long."
"That's because I love you, Hermione." said Harry, taking a hold of her hand from across the table.
"I love you too, Harry."
Before Harry knew it, he was doing the one thing that he swore he would not do; not in that tea shop; not like everyone else seemed to do. He and Hermione were leaned across the table kissing in a blissful happiness that burned away everything around them. The sound of her voice saying I love you was more than he could take. If he had not given in, his heart would have burst. His free hand found her cheek as he brushed her soft face with the tips of his fingers. The table beneath them seemed to shrink as the rest of the world disappeared; his mind growing blank. He would have given anything to have stayed right there like that with her forever.
Sooner than Harry would have liked, Hermione slowly pulled away then moved her chair around the table next to him so that he could hold her; resting her head on his shoulder. He was experiencing the same feelings that he had felt right before the First Task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament last year. The moment was bearing down upon him and it was time for the Boy-Who-Lived to make another appearance. He only wished that it was dragons that he was about to face; not the demon that called himself, Voldemort. It wasn't fear of Voldemort that made him so tense, but his concerns of what that beast had planned for his friends and family.
"Relax Harry." whispered Hermione, hugging him tighter. "I'm not going anywhere."
"What did I ever do to deserve being with you?" whispered Harry, kissing the top of her head.
"I believe you jumped on the back of a Mountain Troll, if my memory serves me." replied Hermione, looking up at him.
Harry could not stop himself from gazing into the soft chocolate-brown eyes of the most beautiful girl he had ever met. Just as another wave of emotion hit him and the urge to kiss her again exploded inside his brain, Madam Puddifoot strolled over to their table; causing he and Hermione to sit up straight.
"Done with your pastries and tea?"
Harry reddened and he could feel the heat around his collar as he looked at their tea and pastries which were now cold.
"No need for embarrassment, Mr. Potter." continued the matron smiling. "I do not have this shop to sell tea and pastries. I sell atmosphere."
At that, Hermione flushed deeply; earning a giggle from the matron as she swept away the cups and plates with her wand. With another wave, the sweetheart rose was pruned and nestled neatly in Hermione's hair behind her right ear.
"The rose just doesn't do her justice, now does it, Mr. Potter?" simpered the matron, smiling sweetly at them.
Harry smiled and had to agree, for nothing compared to his Hermione; his lily.
Harry and Hermione left the tea shop and haunted several shop windows before making their way to Honeydukes Sweet Shop. There, Harry bought Hermione a variety of her favorite sweets while tasting several himself. From there they made their way to the Three Broomsticks for some Butter Beers and sandwiches. They both knew that they would need their strength for tonight.
As the sun began to sink in the Fall sky, Harry's heart started to pound harder in his chest. Soon, it would be time to meet at the Hog's Head and begin his plan.
"Nervous?" whispered Hermione.
"Every other time that I've had to face death, it has been alone." said Harry quietly, so not to be overheard. "Cedric was dead before I could do anything. I had no chance to react – to stop Pettigrew. Now, I'm leading my friends and family into the very face of Voldemort himself. I'm not nervous. I'm petrified."
Hermione took his hand in hers under the table and squeezed tightly.
"We go together, Harry." whispered Hermione firmly. "You're not leading us into danger. We're going willingly. We know the risks."
"Will that stop the Killing curse?" asked Harry, swallowing hard.
"You have to believe in us, Harry." whispered Hermione. "You have to believe in why we are doing this. This has become bigger than my parents or Ginny. If we are successful, not only will my parents and Ginny be safe, but no one will be able to doubt you. It's about standing up and letting the whole Wizarding world know that he has returned."
"I know you're right, Hermione." said Harry. "You always are."
"No I'm not." retorted Hermione, looking down. "It wasn't right when I chose to lie to you."
"We all make mistakes, Hermione." said Harry, lifting her chin with his finger. "It's time to erase a few."
Just like magic, the determination in his chest returned; if only for Hermione he would march to his potential death. Harry closed his eyes and set his mind upon the task ahead. He could not allow himself to falter.
"Time to go." whispered Hermione.
Harry opened his eyes and nodded as they rose from their table, hand-in-hand, then left the Three Broomsticks; destination the Hog's Head and beyond.
"Hermione, I hope that I didn't ruin the day for you with all my worrying." said Harry, as they walked down the street.
"The day was perfect, Harry, because I was with you." said Hermione, squeezing his hand and making him smile.
It took only a few minutes to arrive at the Hog's Head Pub. As they entered, Harry noted that the place was grubby; stuffed boar's heads mounted everywhere.
The bartender looked them over carefully before grumbling, "In the back."
"Thanks." said Harry, nodding to the bartender as they made their way towards the back of the pub.
When they reached the back of the pub, they found a small room. Upon entering they found who they were looking for.
"Right on time." said Sirius, slapping Harry on the shoulder as they entered the room.
"Hello Sirius." greeted Hermione. "Has everyone arrived?"
"All that are staying." said Neville from the far corner. "The rest should be headed back towards the castle shortly."
Harry nodded then panned the room until his eyes locked with Arthur Weasley's.
"Are you ready, Harry?" asked Arthur, as Harry approached him.
"As good as I ever will be." said Harry solemnly. "In case there is any doubt tonight, Hermione's favorite book growing up was Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea." Arthur smiled knowingly. "I'm sorry that your family was dragged into this."
"Harry, let's just make some Death Eaters sorry they messed with us and bring our loved ones home." said Arthur, placing his hands on Harry's shoulders; sounding quite unlike his normal passive self. "There's no need for you to apologize for things that are not in your control."
"Well said." said a witch that Harry did not recognize, standing next to Professor McGonagall.
"Who are you?" asked Hermione, acknowledging the stranger.
"Forgive me," replied the witch "my name is Cassie McGonagall. Professor McGonagall is my aunt. I will be joining the rescue party."
Harry's eyes darted from the witch to Sirius in a flash. Sirius, however merely smirked his response. Hermione had done the same thing, causing McGonagall's niece to smile.
"There will be time to catch up later." clipped Professor McGonagall, holding two black cloaks. "Ms. Granger – Mr. Potter, you need to put these on. They will help shield you from the weather where you five are going."
Harry and Hermione placed the cloaks about them, leaving the hoods down. Harry noticed that Sirius, Bill, and the Weasley twins were all wearing black cloaks as well.
"These cloaks are specifically made for the environments that we will be entering, Harry." said Bill, spying the question on Harry's face.
Harry nodded then cleared his throat, silencing any conversations in the room.
"Okay, one last time." said Harry as confidently as he could. "If all goes to plan, we will hold any Death Eaters that follow us to Ireland as long as we can until we receive word that everyone has safely left Malfoy Manor. Should you be in trouble or no Death Easters take the bait, we will join you at the Manor. Drawing out Voldemort is the last step. Should Longbottom Manor or Hogwarts be attacked, we will need to be ready to assist them. Finally, should we make it to the Ministry we will then potentially have to deal with a very angry Voldemort. Hopefully, Dumbledore's presence will help turn the tide."
"As an added measure," said Professor McGonagall "I will send Dumbledore a Patronus, warning him of your attempt to claim the prophecy as leverage against Voldemort. Even if he doubts Mr. Weasley, he will not doubt both of us."
"I guess that's it then." said Harry, gripping Hermione's hand.
"Let's do this, mate." said Seamus sternly. "All in to the brink."
"All in to the brink." repeated the group in unison.
"Dobby." said Harry.
"Dobby is here, Master Harry." said the tiny elf.
"Are you ready, my friend?" asked Harry, kneeling down in front of his house-elf.
"For you, Master Harry, Dobby is ready." said the elf confidently.
"Remember, you must return home safely." said Harry sternly.
"Dobby is proud to serve such a Master as you, sir." said Dobby, bowing low.
Harry wanted to hug Dobby, but resisted the urge. He rose back to his feet and watched as Professor McGonagall cast a Patronus that flew out a nearby window. He then watched as the rescue party joined hands with Dobby before disappearing with a loud CRACK.
"Time to go." said Sirius, reaching for Harry and Hermione's hands. "We will have to Apparate into the small village of Ballybunion. According to Bill, it's a mixed community so we won't stand out too bad."
"Why are Fred and George holding Bill's hands?" asked Hermione. "They can Apparate now."
"This is a difficult journey for the inexperienced." replied Bill. "We don't need any splinching."
"What's splinching?" asked Harry, not liking the sound of it.
"Leaving parts behind." replied Sirius simply. "No time to worry about that now. Ready?"
"Let's do it." said Harry and Hermione in unison.
Harry felt Sirius twist on the spot, then all went black.
Malfoy Manor, with its majestic architecture which reached over three stories in height and surrounded by acres of perfectly kept grounds stood as a staple of the Pureblood society. The hedges that lined the garden in front and behind the Manor house were perfectly shaped as though forged from stone. The centre of the front garden was marked by an ornate fountain, made of pure marble, and stood ten feet tall; spewing water high into the air.
"What are we waiting for?" whispered Seamus, crouched down behind a rather tall hedge and sounding impatient.
"We're waiting for Dobby to return." whispered Professor McGonagall, glaring at Seamus. "Once he returns from scouring the Manor, we will make our move."
A quiet rustling behind them marked the return of Dobby. The tiny elf looked weary yet determined.
"What did you find?" asked Arthur Weasley.
"The Manor house of the Malfoys is just as Dobby remembers." whispered Dobby. "The only change was that Dobby was unable to enter the Library or the basement. Wards have been put in place to prevent house-elves from entering."
"Ten galleons says that the prisoners are in the basement." said Cassie.
Neville had to agree with Professor McGonagall's niece. The basement would be where a Pureblood supremacist like Lucius Malfoy would keep those he deemed of lesser value.
"How many are we up against, Dobby?" asked Professor McGonagall.
"Twenty wizards left while Dobby was inside. Mistress Malfoy and fourteen wizards remain inside. Five wizards are patrolling Malfoy garden." recounted the tiny elf. "Dobby cannot say how many are in the library or basement."
"Well done, Dobby." whispered Arthur Weasley, casting a wary eye in Professor McGonagall's direction. "Is there a safe room that you can Apparate some of us into?"
"Dobby can take you to one of the empty upper bed chambers." whispered Dobby. "There are several on the third floor."
"Excellent." whispered Professor McGonagall.
Professor McGonagall then laid out her plan of attack. Arthur, Luna and Angelina would sneak down close to the front entrance of the Manor while Dobby would take Cassie, Seamus, Lee and Lavender up to the third floor. She and Neville would then lure the Death Eaters out of Malfoy Manor while Arthur, Luna and Angelina picked them off as they entered the garden. Cassie, Seamus, Lee and Lavender would then flank the remaining Death Eaters and secure against any unknown, thus capturing Malfoy Manor. Neville thought it sounded great, but wondered how it would fare in battle; he would not have to wait long.
Dobby, Cassie, Seamus, Lee and Lavender disappeared with a CRACK. Neville quickly looked around, however none of the three Death Eaters in the front garden noticed. Arthur, Luna and Angelina made their way closer to the Manor under the cover of the tall hedges while a solid white peacock walked along the top of the hedge line.
"Professor, how will we distract the Death Eaters in the garden and lure the others out of the Manor?" whispered Neville.
"We're not going to distract them, Mr. Longbottom." whispered McGonagall. "We're going to take them down and create quite the spectacle." Neville stared at Professor McGonagall, admiring her fierce spirit. "Now, I'm going to transfigure the water in that fountain when they turn their backs to us. Once I do that, you and I will blow up the fountain with blasting hexes."
"What good will that do?" whispered Neville.
"Trust me, Mr. Longbottom." replied McGonagall.
Just as Neville was about to ask how she was going to get the Death Eaters to turn around, the large white peacock jumped down off the hedges into the middle of the garden. All three Death Eaters turned around; one swearing loudly at the bird for startling them. Professor McGonagall pointed her wand at the fountain and a jet of silver light shot out of the tip and struck the fountain; the Death Eaters completely oblivious to what was occurring.
"What is that bloody smell?" asked the tall blond Death Eater. "Doesn't Lucius ever have his fountain cleaned?"
"NOW!" shouted Professor McGonagall, leaping to her feet.
Neville did so as well. They both pointed their wands at the fountain and cried, "Bombarda!" Their combined spells struck the fountain, creating a massive mushroom shaped explosion that sent the three Death Eaters flailing through the air before reconnecting with the ground with a sickening crunch; their robes on fire. Two of the Death Eaters quickly removed their robes before being hit with the body bind curse. The third Death Eater lay motionless on the ground while his robes continued to burn.
Fire spread across the garden as more Death Eaters came pouring out of Malfoy Manor, only to find themselves being struck from multiple angles; unable to see their attackers as their vision was marred by smoke and flame. Those that retreated back into the Manor found themselves flanked by Cassie, Seamus, Lee and Lavender. The remaining Death Eaters did the only thing they could do – they scattered in order to spread the onslaught. Several dove behind burning hedges and stone statues while others fought their way back into the Manor.
Neville continued striking alongside Professor McGonagall while dodging curses being flung their way. The smells of wood, pine and several other scents that he did not recognize filled his nostrils as he and Professor McGonagall charged through all the chaos about them; the battle at hand was theirs. He watched as two Death Eaters rounded the side of the Manor, only to be struck down impressively by Luna. Professor McGonagall cast several spells at the burning hedges which sprouted tentacle-like vines; quickly entangling the Death Eaters hiding behind them and binding them tight.
Neville and McGonagall joined Arthur, Luna and Angelina as they entered the Manor. Cassie, Lee, Seamus and Lavender were pinned down as they continued to fight the remaining Death Eaters to a draw; Dobby was nowhere in sight. Their arrival quickly turned the tide, forcing the Death Eaters to split up. Three of them ran into what looked to be a sitting room and sealed the double doors while four raced down a corridor behind the staircase. Without hesitation, Cassie, Lee, Lavender and Seamus sprinted down the corridor in pursuit.
"Arthur, go with them to assist!" shouted McGonagall. "We will deal with the others."
Arthur immediately sprinted down the corridor after them while McGonagall quickly turned her attention to the sitting room doors.
"Blasting hexes on my command." said McGonagall, raising her wand towards the doors. Neville, Luna and Angelina raised their wands as well. "Be prepared for anything and use whatever hexes or curses necessary. Do not hesitate. On three – One... Two... Three!"
"Bombarda!" they cried in unison.
The double doors exploded off their hinges. Neville prepared to dodge flying curses, however none came. They stepped forward into the doorway, wands raised, yet they met no opposition. Suddenly, Neville remembered what Harry did in the corridor when they had been chasing Professor Sinistra. He stepped forward, and before McGonagall could utter a word he began blasting everything in sight. The effect was immediate as two disillusioned Death Eaters, their charms breaking, stumbled into the center of the room.
"You'll pay for that you bloody puke!" shouted one of the Death Eaters, pointing his wand at Neville.
Neville threw up his shield charm just in time as a jet of purple light exploded against it. Luna struck the Death Eater with a stunner before being shoved to the floor by Angelina to avoid a jet of green light soared overhead. Neville ducked another jet of green light and quickly realized that he was only two feet from the second Death Eater, who was also having to dodge the havoc of curses.
"Watch where you're aiming, Alecto!" shouted the Death Eater.
Neville made up his mind, closing the gap between himself and the distracted Death Eater. Using the methods that Seamus had taught them, he pocketed his own wand before gripping the Death Eater by the wrist of his wand hand.
"Bloody AHHHHHHH!" cried the Death Eater as Neville struck the elbow with his free hand while shoving his foot into the side of the knee of the leg nearest him. The Death Eater's wand clattered to the floor as two audible cracks told Neville that both the elbow and the knee had given way. As the Death Eater fell to the floor in a heap, a jet of green light came soaring in Neville's direction. He barely had time to fall to the floor himself, just missing the curse as it struck a large clock in the corner. He grabbed the Death Eater's wand and rolled behind a nearby sofa.
Professor McGonagall shot several curses into the corner where the jets of green light were coming from to reveal the remaining Death Eater. Luna and Angelina joined Neville as he stood up behind Professor McGonagall; their wands all pointed at the final Death Eater.
"Well hello, Professor McGonagall." cackled a female voice. "Brought your students out for a holiday?"
"Hello, Alecto." replied McGonagall. "Tell me, was that your brother Amycus that was burning in the garden?"
"You wish, Minerva!" hissed the Death Eater. "Time to die?"
"There's four of us, witch!" spat Neville. "Drop your wand or drop with it. Your choice!"
"Gonna fight me like a Muggle if I don't, you little fuck puke?" shouted the witch savagely.
The witch, Alecto, wasted no more time as she let loose a fury of curses. McGonagall cast a shield charm as they dodged several more sinister curses. The four duelled the witch and to his surprise, she was quite capable of standing her ground. Several minutes in, Neville had to physically jerk Angelina out of the way of a curse that would have struck her in the chest.
Luna shot several stunners at the witch while Professor McGonagall cast a combination of hexes and curses. The witch dodged everything that was being thrown her direction and countered with lethal combinations that were just barely missing their mark. Luna shrieked as a purple hex caught her in the shoulder and spun her to the floor; clutching the wound with her free hand. McGonagall stepped forward to focus the Death Eater's attention away from the others and onto her. The witch focused her attack Professor McGonagall and that's when Neville saw his opening.
"Confringo!" shouted Neville, as the spell exploded from the tip of his wand.
The curse caught the witch in her outstretched wand arm; shattering her forearm and ending the duel as she fell to the floor, screaming and writhing in pain. McGonagall waved her wand as strands of rope flew from its tip and wrapped the witch from head to toe; binding her so tight that she could barely scream.
"You okay, Luna?" asked Angelina, as Luna took a knee.
"Oh, it's alright." replied Luna. "A cutting hex, I think. Just burns a lot."
"Here, let me tend to it." said Angelina, waving her wand over Luna's shoulder.
There was a sound behind them causing Neville to spin round, as did Angelina and Professor McGonagall, only to see Arthur, Lavender, Cassie, Seamus and Lee standing in the doorway; Arthur and Cassie supporting a bloody Lavender.
"What happened?" asked McGonagall walking quickly over to check on Lavender.
"We were able to stop two Death Eaters from making it to the boundary, however three Death Eater, including Narcissa Malfoy, got away." recounted Arthur. "Narcissa caught Lavender from behind with a short knife. The Black family was always good with knives."
McGonagall opened her shirt to look at the wound.
"I've already cleansed and sealed the wound, Aunt Minerva." said Cassie. "She's just weak from the amount of blood loss."
"Very good." said McGonagall. "Help Ms. Brown, I mean Lavender, over beside Luna then you and Lee go around and make sure that all the Death Eaters are bound, regardless of their state." Cassie and Lee nodded. "Now, has anyone seen Dobby?"
"Dobby is here, Miss." said the tiny elf looking as though he was in shock.
"What's the matter, Dobby?" asked Arthur, his brow furrowed.
"Dobby was able to find a way around the wards surrounding the Library." replied Dobby, pointing towards an open doorway across the entrance foyer.
Neville followed as Arthur, McGonagall, Cassie and Seamus walked over to the Library; dread filling him more and more with every step. He heard Professor McGonagall gasp before he could see what waited within, and what he saw he wasn't prepared for. The floor of the Library was lined with the bodies of dead house-elves. At least forty tiny bodies were laid in single file; the surnames of witches and wizards that opposed Voldemort carved into their naked bodies. In the center laid two house elves with the names, Potter and Granger. The sight was absolutely disgusting.
"Bloody hell!" snarled Seamus. "What are these bastards playing at?"
"It's a message." replied Arthur, his voice laced with venom. "They knew we were coming."
"Does that mean –" began Neville.
"We need to investigate the basement before we come to any conclusions." interrupted McGonagall.
"I agree." said Arthur. "We need to hurry."
Cassie and Lee made to gather up the fallen Death Eaters while the others followed Dobby and Arthur down towards the basement; Luna and Lavender sat resting in the foyer. The mood of the night had changed; the Death Eaters had known they were coming and Neville wondered if that meant more would be arriving any moment.
After what felt like hours, Arthur, Cassie and Professor McGonagall brought down the wards protecting the basement. With an almighty blast they reduced the basement door to dust.
"Lumos." whispered Neville, mimicking the others as they stepped into the pitch black basement.
Basement was a kind word for what met Neville's eyes. A dungeon was more the proper description and he couldn't help but think that it was befitting a family of Slytherins. They eased in carefully, preparing themselves for anything. As his wand light illuminated the stone floor, he saw something that chilled his heart; a large pool of blood.
"Ginny?" muttered Arthur.
Neville looked hesitantly around to see where Arthur was. The following cry made his heart stop.