Chapter 1

The Incident at the Golden Gate

The world flickered into existence around her. She felt disoriented for a moment, but as her vision cleared and she found her feet, she slowly recognized her surroundings.

She was standing in the corner of a rather large, long hall. The walls and floor were covered in rich, dark wood that reflected the deep blue light shining from the ceiling. Some distance to her left was a large fountain with a group of golden figures at its center, and close at hand to her right was a large golden gate. Between her and the gate was a large desk with an old, exhausted-looking wizard slumped behind it. He was lazily paging through twenty or more slips of parchment skewered on a small spike in front of him.

She had been here before. It was the grand Entrance Hall to the Ministry of Magic. At the moment, she was standing just outside the security gate. It was late in the day, so the guard wizard at the desk had very little to do. There were still a respectable number of wizards moving through the gate. Right now, there were more leaving than arriving, yet not so many that any queues were forming for the fireplaces on the far wall.

It was a difficult thing to judge, but it seemed quieter and less crowded than she had expected it to be. Most of the wizards arriving seemed to be Apparating in. Only rarely did she see anyone tumbling out of the the fireplaces along the wall to her left.

Her jaw was set as she stared about the room. It was calm, almost peaceful. Her stomach clenched as a young witch with wavy hair bobbed past her, humming a cheerful tune. She forced herself to try and ignore her face. She didn't want to risk meeting her again and saying something horrible to her. It wasn't her fault. She didn't realize just how horrible the day was.

Ginny edged forward, trying to avoid the sparse stream of people, though she knew it wouldn't have mattered. A short break appeared in the stream, and as it neared, she quietly stepped into it. The wizard at the desk didn't even look up as she stepped through the gate.

Beyond the gate, the hall continued. However, instead of fireplaces, the walls now contained two rows of lifts with golden doors. Here, there were fewer wizards. All of them were either waiting for one of the many lifts, or walking briskly toward one.

No one was standing about. No one was chatting or waiting for a friend or colleague. It felt normal and businesslike. One of the elderly wizards near her rolled up the copy of the Daily Prophet and looked up at the clock between two of the lifts.

Ginny's eyes followed his, and she noted the time. It had already started. Of course, it had truly started long ago, but it wouldn't be long before everyone else would realize what she already knew.

"Where are all the lifts?" one witch questioned as she looked about her. A small crowd was growing in the hall, and people were starting to look about impatiently.

Ginny was also beginning to feel impatient. Now that she was here, she was unsure of just what she thought she was going to do. She cursed her earlier decision. It would have been better if she had chosen to appear later. She could have spared herself a few moments of standing here and watching all of these wizards going about their day. She looked back at the elderly wizard nearby. He reached down and held the hand of a small girl who could not be more than six years old. Smiling, they turned back to the lift and waited for it to open. Ginny felt her stomach tighten, and she looked anxiously between the clock and the door to the lift they were waiting for. Her eyes locked on the perfectly polished gold of the lift doors, and her mind pleaded with them.

Please. Just open.

She clenched her jaw and forced her eyes closed. There would be plenty of time to see later. She just couldn't stand waiting anymore. She didn't want to see the old man and his grand-daughter. She didn't want to see the wavy-haired witch or the young wizard with the stack of books. She didn't want to wait. She just wanted it to happen.


Ginny jumped and let out a short shriek at the sound, but no one turned to look at her. She felt a wave of relief as the door in front of the old wizard and the girl opened. They happily stepped into the lift, followed by three middle aged witches, and waited for the doors to close. Ginny swallowed and took a deep breath.

When she looked up again, she felt a chill run down her spine. Aurors were coming. A pair of them were slipping between the wizards walking through the gate right now. As they ran to the lifts, one of the wizards called out to them.

"It's about time!" he almost shouted. "See here! They're a disgrace, these lifts. I've been here for two minutes and still haven't found an open lift. It's not like it's a busy day. I expect better—"

Just as he was talking, a lift open next to him. Before he could even turn and step into it, the Aurors had dashed across the hall and slipped in. When other wizards moved toward the lift, the Aurors pulled their wands on them.

"Terribly sorry. This is Auror business."

The wizard stared dumbfounded as the doors closed. "That's nice! I suppose that's the Ministry's idea of courtesy? They hijack your lift but say they're sorry. Why I remember back when I was a child, that this place—"

The wizard halted his complaint when another ding announced the arrival of a third lift. He huffed and stiffly walked over to the doors. The first occupant was stepping out of the lift before the doors had even finished opening. He gave the annoyed wizard a rough shove, and the spindly man tumbled to the polished wood floor.

"That's quite enough!" he shouted from the floor. "I demand to know— Hold on! You come back here!"

The wizard who'd pushed him down had already turned his back and was walking briskly toward the gate not far from Ginny. Behind him were two more wizards, dressed identically. All three had rather plain, dark grey cloaks with deep hoods that obscured their faces.

The pair of wizards pressed their way through the people waiting for the lift they had just exited. Ginny's eyes followed them as them as they walked with even, deliberate strides toward her. When the first wizard passed through the gate, the second two slowly drew their wands from their sleeves.

"Would you mind putting that away?" a nearby witch asked in a quiet voice. Another small girl was standing in front of her and staring at the two wizards with obvious fear.

"I would," one of them responded in a deep voice, "and if you find that threatening, I'd recommend you find somewhere else to be."

The witch's eyes stared back in shock. She looked around the hall quickly. Behind her, another lift opened and another grey-cloaked wizard walked quickly into the room, pausing only to look at two who had taken positions on either side of the gate. The witch pulled her daughter close to her, and quickly ushered her through the gate. Ginny heard a faint crack a moment later, and they were gone.

The fourth wizard stood in the center of the hall and drew his wand like the others. Slowly, the crowd of wizards around him began to notice the strange new occupants of the hall, and many of them had begun making their way back through the gate. The rest just shrugged and shook their heads at them. The wavy-haired witch Ginny had seen earlier was still standing in front of one of the lifts with her hair bouncing playfully as she hummed some sickeningly sweet tune.

A low rumble suddenly shook the floor. It wasn't so much that anyone would have noticed if they'd been walking, but the quiet crowd standing by the lifts reacted almost immediately. The cheerful witch stopped humming and joined everyone else in looking around the hall in confusion. Barely heard through their murmured questions was a deep voice behind Ginny.


Ginny turned to find the guard wizard slumped over his desk. The first cloaked wizard was turning and walking away from her, toward the large fountain. A second sound shook the room, this one louder and sharper, but Ginny kept her eye on the first wizard. He was watching the fireplaces now, and she saw immediately why.

Only seconds after the second rumble ended, one of the fires flared as a wizard rolled out of it. Before he could even stand, the cloaked wizard had stunned him. A witch rolled out a moment later and she too was stunned. She couldn't be sure, but they both appeared to be Aurors.

A pair of lifts announced their arrival behind her. She peeled her eyes away from the stunned Aurors to watch as the crowd behind her stepped away from the lifts. Ginny walked quickly back toward them and found the newly arrived lifts to be completely empty. It was coming.

A second pair of lifts chimed and Ginny felt her heart skip as a single wizard emerged from each lift. They were not like the others. Both of them were dressed in long, black cloaks with hoods and masks. Though she was unsure of the wizards in the grey cloaks, these two she recognized immediately. They were Death Eaters and their wands were drawn the moment they stepped off the lifts.

She wasn't the only one who had recognized them. Their first steps onto the gleaming wooden floors were drowned completely by shouts and screams from the wizards still in the hall. Ginny felt the world slow as the first hexes burst forth from the Death Eaters' wands.

She instinctively ducked and reached for her wand, though the hexes weren't aimed anywhere near her. Both of them had been aimed at the grey cloaked wizard in the center of the hall. Ginny slowly straightened and stared at the scene before her. The Death Eaters were fighting the other wizards.

She watched in awe as the pair of cloaked wizards who had been standing at the gate aimed their wands at the pair of Death Eaters opposite them. An instant later, one of the Death Eaters was falling limply to the floor while the other was dodging behind a group of panicking wizards.

Ginny pressed herself against a wall and watched the battle. Another lift opened, only to dump another pair of Death Eaters into the hallway. One of them fired a jet of purple sparks, throwing one of the other wizards against the wall. He fell to the ground and didn't move.

A pair of Aurors leaped through the gate and into the hall, immediately firing off more hexes. Most of the occupants of the hall were running for whatever safety they thought they could find. The best the hall had to offer were the darkened corners, and the helpless witches and wizards huddled there behind the bravest of their companions. The few witches and wizards who chose to draw their wands and fight found themselves stunned for their own safety by the Aurors and grey-cloaked wizards.

Another lift arrived, but instead of more Aurors, it was carrying only a single passenger. Ginny ventured out further into the room to try and get a better look at the newcomer. At first glance, it was impossible to tell if the person underneath the long black cloak was a witch or wizard. As soon as they leaped from the lift, it became more obvious. A wizard— he moves like a wizard, Ginny's mind told her.

Her first thought was that it was another Death Eater, but there was no mask, only an inky darkness, and instead of attacking the Aurors or anyone else, he moved quickly along the wall, dodging between groups of witches and wizards. Ginny stared at him as she strode across the hall. She wanted to see his face. She needed to know who it was. As she neared him, another pair of lifts chimed out.

She turned to look and found six Aurors striding into the hall. Like the black cloaked wizard, they ignored the battle which was now centered around the gate at the end of the hall. They were all aiming at the black-cloaked wizard across from them. He seemed to realize this immediately and ducked into one of the lifts, dodging a flurry of hexes. When he emerged, his wand was out and he was shouting something.

The world slowed again, and Ginny watched as a ring of bluish light exploded from his wand. As it reached the Aurors across the room, it tossed them against the wall as if they weighed nothing. As the arc of light stretched down the hall, wizards and witches were knocked off their feet indiscriminately, until it reached the three Death Eaters who were firing hexes through the gate. They all dropped to the floor, only dazed by the weakened charm.

Ginny surveyed the hall of fallen wizards. They're still alive, she reminded herself, They're just unconscious. She looked about, watching as the world around her sped back up. Her heart was pounding now. She knew it wouldn't be long. He would be on his way already.

A moment after the bluish glow faded, two more Death Eaters leaped from a lift at the far end of the hall, and the three grey-cloaked wizards strode back through the gate at the opposite end. Ginny instinctively ran to the nearest wall in an attempt to avoid the resulting volley of curses and hexes. One of the Death Eaters fell, then one of the grey wizards. The black-cloaked wizard was still standing and moving quickly along the far wall toward the gate. He paused to take aim at the wizards standing at the gate and a second later they were tossed back through it and out of Ginny's sight. He ran forward again, heading directly for the gate.

Ginny ran to follow him, but stopped short as the ceiling near the gate exploded, showering everyone with rock bits and dropping a few stone blocks onto the floor. The wizard stopped to avoid a falling chunk of masonry and stunned one of the two remaining Death Eaters. The last raised his wand, but was stunned from behind before he could do anything. The black-cloaked wizard raised his wand for a moment, then lowered it and turned to walk toward the gate.

"STOP!" someone shouted from the opposite end of the hall. Ginny froze. She knew that voice. She'd been waiting for him, but now that he was here, she wasn't certain if she could make herself look at him. With a deep breath she turned and stared down the length of the hall. Striding toward her and the dark-cloaked wizard was a sturdily built wizard with a brown traveling cloak and a head of bright red hair.

"No, Charlie—" she said aloud, though he couldn't hear her. Why had he chosen this day to be at the Ministry? Why hadn't he told anyone? He was walking briskly toward the lone wizard who, like Ginny, had obeyed Charlie's command and was still standing just inside the gate. Without any warning, he turned and fired a single hex into the other hall,causing an explosion to echo through both rooms. Ginny looked out into the larger hall and found two of the incoming fireplaces filled with rubble.

Charlie came to an abrupt stop about thirty or so feet from the wizard, and raised his wand threateningly. "Don't walk through that gate! I will stop you. I can't let you take it." The other wizard turned to look at him (at least, Ginny guessed he did, his face was still completely darkened). Slowly the wizard raised his wand and aimed it at Charlie.

Ginny felt her heart pounding in her chest. Was this it? Why did Charlie have to do it by himself? Why didn't he wait for more Aurors? She already knew the answer to that question. He probably had waited for Aurors, but they were lying unconscious or otherwise incapacitated somewhere in the room behind him. Now Charlie was the only one left, and the wizard was only feet from crossing into the next hall where he'd be able to Apparate away.

"You'll have to kill me if you want it," Charlie shouted. "You know I can't let you leave with it." The cloaked wizard tensed his wand arm as if he were about to hex Charlie and Ginny's breath hitched. The hex never came, and a moment later, the wizard seemed to relax a little, though he kept his wand trained on Charlie.

"Drop it on the floor and walk away," Charlie said in a calming tone. "All I care about is the wand." The wizard made no move to either run or do as Charlie said. "You're running out of time. More of them are coming."

The wizard slowly reached into his cloak and pulled out a second wand. Equally slowly he began stepping backwards as he lowered it to the floor.

"I SAID STOP!" Charlie shouted as a flash of light shot from his wand and snapped a bar in the gate. The wizard froze again and slowly stood and pocketed the second wand.

"They'll never stop hunting you," Charlie warned. "Whatever you plan on doing with it, they won't let you. Just walk away." Ginny watched as the two of them stared at each other, seemingly waiting for their opponent to make the first move.


Another lift opened behind them, and two Death Eaters jumped out into the Hall. Charlie whirled about and deflected a curse from one of them. More lifts were opening, releasing more Aurors and Death Eaters into the hall. However, instead of turning on each other, both groups seemed to care only about the wizard by the gate. An Auror shouted a quick command and all of them ran toward him. Charlie and Ginny both turned to see what had caused their reaction and found the dark-cloaked wizard pointing his wand directly above him. There was a flash of light and a loud explosion as the ceiling over him ripped apart. Even as the first blocks fell, the wizard jumped back through the gate.

Huge chunks of stone rained down from the ceiling. Charlie jabbed his wand at the falling rock and many of them vanished. He took the opportunity to dash toward the gate.

Ginny stood where she was. She had known this would happen. She hadn't imagined it would be quite like this, but now that she was here, she recognized it. As Charlie reached the gate, the sound of stone crushing stone heralded a second avalanche of rubble from the ceiling.

He didn't even have a chance to protect himself. Ginny watched helplessly as a dozen or more blocks of dusty stone cascaded down on him. There was no screaming, no cries for help, and no sign of any movement from the resulting pile of debris. She'd known how it would end from the moment she arrived, and yet the reality of it shook her.

As the Aurors scrambled over the stone covering him, Ginny caught a glimpse of the wizard standing and watching the results of his well placed curse. The moment the Aurors stepped through the gate, however, he was gone. He'd Apparated away, leaving the Aurors with nothing to follow.

Ginny turned back to the hall with the lifts, and found more Aurors running toward the gate. Without a word, they headed straight for the fireplaces, leaping into the flames one by one.

More lifts arrived, all of them carrying pairs of Aurors. The first group of Aurors had ignored the pack of Death Eaters in the Hall, but this second group did not. All of them except one were on their feet and running for the gate. The Aurors tried to stop them, but it was too difficult to distinguish Death Eater from innocent wizard in the dusty air. As the Death Eaters reached the gate, they each vanished with a pop, leaving the hall in eerie silence.

Witches and wizards were huddled in small groups around the room. Now that the dust was starting to clear, Ginny was able to see just how much damage had occurred. A huge section of the ceiling near the gate was missing, leaving a large empty hollow. As she walked closer, other wizards were running forward and pulling their wands.

"No, no! There's someone under all that!" one witch shouted as an Auror disarmed her. Another wizard had already started vanishing the stone blocks, but he could only do one at a time and it was slow going. The Aurors quickly joined in, and a few seconds later one of the called out:

"Someone is here!"

An Auror was pointing to one of the far edges of the pile. Ginny reluctantly walked over. Her stomach turned and she had to look away. Buried under a pair of the smaller blocks was a witch with blonde, wavy hair. Ginny stepped away and gasped, choking on her own guilt.

"There's another Death Eater here. He's dead."

Ginny forced herself to sit down. The Aurors were working through the rest of the rock now. She knew what they would find. She no longer wanted to see it. She knew enough. She knew too much. Was all this worth some wand? He had apparently thought keeping it safe was worth his life. Was it worth killing him just to get it?

Ginny sat against a wall as more wizards poured into the hall. She remembered seeing the wizard watching as Charlie was buried in rubble. He'd waited to see him die, as if he were gloating over the fact that he'd done just what Charlie said he'd have to. He hadn't needed to kill him. He could have stunned Charlie when he'd been distracted, or he could have simply jumped through the gate and Disapparated.

"Quick! I need help!" someone shouted from near the gate. Ginny looked away.

"It's too late," another wizard replied gravely. "Someone needs to go find Arthur Weasley."

As the tears streamed down her face, Ginny felt the ground shudder underneath her. Around her, the walls and ceiling were flickering. With the sound of splintering wood, the world around her was shredded and torn away, leaving a momentary blackness before she returned to the reality which still didn't include Charlie Weasley.

Ginny sat uncomfortably in her chair, staring at the glowing sphere in front of her. Hermione Granger was standing by a large desk not far away and very obviously avoiding looking at her. She looked doubly uncomfortable for reasons Ginny did not really understand. As she waited for Ginny to speak, she shifted a piece of parchment from her desk to a nearby table.

"Er... Are you... finished?" Hermione asked finally as she pointed toward the Spectrecorder.

Ginny said nothing, but nodded solemnly. Hermione walked forward and gently lifted the glowing Spectrecorder from the ring stand it had been sitting in. She carefully lowered it into a simple wooden box, closed the lid, and fastened the shining golden latch. On the side of the box was a simple label:

Security Gate, June 28

"I didn't know they had those," Ginny said as she watched Hermione open the wardrobe with her wand.

"Neither did I," Hermione replied. She pulled out a small black cloth bag, and carefully slipped the box inside it. Her motions were smooth and practiced, but there was a noticeable urgency to them. "After the break in three years ago, they decided they needed some way to keep an eye on what was happening. For a while they had guards under Invisibility Cloaks, but these are more reliable and don't ask for breaks to have a bit of tea."

"There was one of these by the gate?"

"Yes," Hermione replied quickly as she tied a gold cord around the top of the bag and tied it tight. "On the guard's desk."

"I didn't see it there when—"

"No, well you wouldn't, would you?" Hermione interrupted quickly. She was untying the knot and re-wrapping the cord. "The whole idea is that no one knows they are there. If everyone could see them, someone would have destroyed this, or at least taken it with them. We have to place invisibility charms on them every so often. Even being invisible, it was nearly destroyed."

Hermione finally finished with the cord and yanked the bag off the table. She strode toward the door. "I'll be back shortly. I'm terribly sorry, but if anyone finds out that— Well, I'll deal with that when it happens. Just stay here and, er... try to make it look like you just got here." Without another word, Hermione slipped through the door and closed it behind her.

Ginny looked around the room, trying to find anything that could help her keep her mind off what she'd just seen. It wasn't as easy as she would have hoped. The room was as neat and tidy as the last time she'd visited, and Hermione would have made sure to remove anything remotely interesting from view.

Of everything in the room, the desk was the only thing which did not look like it had been recently cleaned by a house-elf. Several small stacks of parchment were laid out in random places, and there was a small collection of quills and ink wells standing in a straight row.

In the corner next to the desk sat a large bookcase filled beyond capacity. It seemed to be filled with the books that Hermione used only occasionally. The most popular books seemed to have taken up permanent residence on the corner of her desk, while the rarely used books were relegated to the space under a small table in the corner. The only less accessible place in the whole room was a small hollow between her desk and a large oak wardrobe. It was appropriately the home of the things Hermione was least likely to ever use: a broom and a set of brightly colored books.

Ginny had seen the broom before. It was only a year old and it had never actually seen the sunlight. It had arrived at the office wrapped in thick brown parchment, and had remained that way for at least four months. She hadn't unwrapped it until the afternoon she had shown her office to Ron. Some time later, he bought her a trio of books about brooms and flying which had taken up residence in the very same hollow where the broom now stood. One of them, Fanciful Flying for Frightening Situations, Hermione had handled as if it might actually attack her.

The books had been sitting in the back of the hollow the last time Ginny had visited right after her N.E.W.T.s. They were now standing neatly with their spines showing to any visitors. That meant that Ron had come by recently. Hermione would have tried to make it appear as if she used them often in hopes of keeping him in good spirits. Even after three weeks, he was still prone to slipping into gloomy moods which could quickly turn to frustrated anger. In truth, Ginny was no better.

The door swung open unexpectedly, and without thinking, Ginny reached for her wand. Hermione darted into the room and quickly shut the door behind her. She walked over to her desk and collapsed into her chair with a sigh.

"I'm sorry," Ginny said in a low voice. "When I asked I— I didn't think you would say yes if it was going to be a problem."

"There wasn't a problem with you watching it. There'd be a problem with anyone finding out that I let you," Hermione said with a faint smile. "As long as you didn't plan on actually telling anyone else about it,there shouldn't be any problem at all."

"I won't. I promise."

Hermione sat down across from Ginny and looked into her eyes. "Did it help? Did it answer any of your questions or show you what you were looking for?"

"I don't think I was looking for anything," Ginny answered softly. "I just needed to see it— to see how it happened. I never believed Scrimgeour. I knew Charlie wouldn't just stand by during a Death Eater attack, but I couldn't imagine he would— What was it? A wand? Would he have taken it for himself?"

"It was a wand, but I'm certain Charlie wasn't trying to steal it," Hermione answered promptly. "It wasn't just any wand. It was Voldemort's wand." This caught Ginny's attention. The Ministry had said they had not recovered anything from Voldemort's final fight.

Hermione nodded as if she knew what Ginny was thinking. "I know, I wish I could have told you and Ron earlier. That's what I've been working on for months," Hermione said as she waved her hand at her desk. "When H— When Voldemort's wand was forced to regurgitate its spells after the Triwizard Tournament, it was damaged. When the Aurors handed it over to the Unspeakables, they found that with a little work, we could get it to reveal most of the spells it had cast since then.

Hermione walked to her desk and pulled a stack of parchment from a drawer. "I've been trying to pull them out one by one and record them. We've already been able to solve quite a few mysteries about things that happened back then. Using that, the Aurors have had a little easier time tracking down the last of the Death Eaters. It'll be harder now, but I think we got most of the useful stuff already."

"Well, now they've got someone new to hunt," Ginny said gloomily. "I'll feel better when I know that he's living out the rest of his loathsome existence in Azkaban."

"Will that really make you feel better?"

"It'll be a good start," Ginny replied half-heartedly.

"I'm worried about you," Hermione said as she crouched down in front of Ginny. "You're still planning on becoming an Auror?"

Ginny nodded silently. It had been her plan for some time. Recently she'd begun to question her own motives, but even that hadn't diminished her desire.

"You know that you don't have to start Auror training right away, don't you?" Hermione asked. "No one will think less of you. It's only been a year— and now this. No one really expects you to start right now. Wait a year. Come live with me at Diagon Alley. Fred and George will be close by. You can even work in their shop if you like." Hermione was almost pleading with her. "If not that, wait a few months or even just an extra week or two. There's nothing they'll teach you in three months that you won't pick up immediately."

Ginny stared back at her suspiciously. "Why do you want me to wait? What are you afraid of?"

"I don't want you to join the Aurors out of some need for revenge," Hermione said seriously.

"Revenge?" Ginny asked, more like it was an option she hadn't considered than a reason she would never use. "What would I want revenge for?"

"You know very well what I'm talking about."

Ginny's eyes flashed with a spark of anger. "I don't think that I do. Why don't you tell me?"

Hermione stepped back, returning a defiant look. "There's nothing you can do that will bring him back. You just have to accept that now. Don't recklessly join the Aurors because of everything that's happened."

"I can make my own decisions, Hermione," Ginny replied with a scowl. I know what I'm doing, and I'm not doing it to seek revenge on whoever killed Charlie."

Hermione's eyebrows raised and she stared at Ginny again. "You know that's not what I meant."

Ginny said nothing, but shook her head as if she were trying to remove some thought from her own mind. "I— I think I should be going. I never meant to get you in trouble. I... I'm sure you have things you have to do." She stood up and walked to the door.

"I was serious, you know," Hermione said as she followed Ginny out the door. "You can come live with me if you like. I'd enjoy the company, even if you were gone half the time during Auror training."

"I know," Ginny replied. "I'll think about it."

"Alright then," Hermione said with a nod. Together they walked the short distance from Hermione's office to the large circular room of doors. After it spun itself around quite enough times to confuse Ginny, it stopped. Without any hesitation, Hermione stepped forward, opened a door and walked through it. Ginny followed and tried not to act surprised that Hermione had picked the correct door without any effort.

"How do you do that?" Ginny asked as she stopped just on the other side of the door.

"They're charmed so that only Department of Mystery employees can read the labels on the doors," Hermione answered with a slight smile. She closed the door behind her, but gave Ginny a strange look when she didn't continue walking. "I was going to walk you to the Entrance Hall," she offered.

Ginny held up her hand. "No, you can go back. I can find my way out from here."

Hermione looked concerned again. "You— You're sure? It really isn't—"

"I'll be fine, Hermione," Ginny interrupted. Hermione frowned, but nodded and quietly walked back through the door, leaving Ginny alone in the short hallway between the black door and the lifts.

A strange sensation hit her stomach. This was where it must have started. The thief couldn't have been discovered before he reached this place, she realized. It would be impossible to fight through the labyrinth of rooms in the Department of Mysteries.

She thought back to everything she'd seen in the Spectrecorder. There had seemed to be quite a few people chasing him. How could he have avoided all of them? One answer stuck out in his head: maybe he wasn't. Someone had held all of the lifts while the thief was stealing the wand, and the first wizards to arrive didn't look like Death Eaters or Aurors.

Ginny pressed a button for a lift, and one clattered into place and opened a moment later. As she rode the lift back to the entrance, she tried to work out how it must have happened.

The grey-wizards were the first to arrive. They must have been the ones holding the lifts. They had to know the thief was there, and yet, they left before he got on a lift. The fight started only after they arrived. Her lift gave a shudder and stopped. The gates pulled apart noisily and she stepped out into the long hall.

The Death Eaters had been next. They must have escaped the fight and ran here to try and stop the thief. The grey-cloaked wizards were waiting for them. It suddenly fit. They had been helping the thief. They held the lifts to make sure he wouldn't be stuck in the Department of Mysteries. They stunned the Aurors who showed up, and stunned the guard to keep him from calling more. They were keeping the exit clear for the thief.

Ginny looked around the hall, replaying the events in her head. He'd never really attacked them, had he? He'd just pushed them out into the hall. He must have been panicked. It hadn't gone as planned. She remembered how the black-cloaked wizard had tried to sneak through the hall. It was going wrong. Something happened to change his plans. Everything seemed alright until the Aurors arrived.

Something had gone wrong. Charlie had shown up.

Ginny turned to stare at the lift Charlie had walked from. The thief must not have expected Charlie to be here. Ginny still didn't know why he'd been there, but if he knew what was happening, he would have brought Aurors.

She slowly walked toward the gate. It had been replaced, and the ceiling completely repaired. There was no trace of what had happened here. Charlie had only been doing what he knew to be right. He'd been killed for it, needlessly and mercilessly, and his murderer had stood and watched.

Ginny paused and looked about her again, ignoring the looks she was getting from the passing witches and wizards. The Death Eaters and the Aurors were trying to stop the thief. They had even ignored each other in their attempts to stop him. How had Charlie gotten pulled into this? How had he gotten involved with a wizard so hated that the Aurors no longer cared about anything but stopping him.

Another thought squeezed its way into her mind. Charlie had died here. The Aurors had watched as he and the wavy-haired witch were crushed, yet they had ran right past it. No one even thought to help him until it was too late. More thoughts came into her mind. Thoughts she'd been thinking but not really acknowledging until now.

The Aurors had been acting a bit off. They seemed overly aggressive, almost reckless. They hadn't really cared about anyone else in the hall. They'd just been trying to stop the thief at all costs. Perhaps some part of her mind had already noticed that. Was that what the Aurors were really like? Was that how they had captured so many Death Eaters?

She needed time to think. Her application for Auror Training was due soon. She'd have to decide by then. Everything was set, except her mind.