A/N: Phew, studying certainly doesn't leave me with a lot of spare time! I know... same old excuse. But I finally managed, so here's the next chapter. I don't blame any of you for having to go back and read in order to remember what's going on in this story! I hope you enjoy.

Chapter 24: The Cracking Pillars

The muscles in Harry's shoulders hurt terribly when he woke up and his glasses had dug into his face on the side where he had rested his head against the back rest of the couch.

The fire in the fireplace had reduced to glowing embers, so the light was dim.

Harry held back a snort when he took in the sight of the sleeping Marauders. His father, mouth slightly open and glasses askew, was occupying the other end of the couch that Harry was sitting on, and Remus had hogged the entire other couch where he was sleeping soundly with a blanket wrapped tightly around him.

Apparently, Sirius had given up on getting part of Remus' couch, so he had transformed into his animagus form and the shaggy, black dog was now sleeping on the floor between the couch and the coffee table – and in a very odd position at that. The dog was fast asleep on its back with all four legs sticking up into the air.

Harry mused that he would not be the only one with sore muscles in the morning.

He checked his watch: 4.17 AM

Harry took off his father's glasses, placed them on the coffee table and put a few logs on the dying fire before he tiptoed upstairs and flooed back to school. Once at Hogwarts, he climbed the stairs and went to bed.

Harry did not wake until noon and then he snuggled for another half hour until his stomach started begging him for breakfast... or... well... lunch, technically.

He made his way to the kitchens where the house elves served him a delicious br.. lunch of treacle tart, which Harry made a mental note never to let his mum know about.

As he walked back to the Common Room, he had woken enough to notice that people were sending him funny looks. Lavender Brown grinned and wagged her eyebrows at him when he passed her and when he entered the Common Room, people were whispering to each other and kept glancing at him. He supposed he should be used to it by now, but he became curious and approached Dean and Seamus who looked like they were supposed to be doing homework but were distracting each other instead.

"Hey Harry, did you sleep well?" Dean asked loudly and the entire Common Room quieted as Seamus sniggered.

"Er, not really," Harry replied. "I fell asleep on the couch at home and got this awful crick in my neck."

"Oh riiiiight, you were at your parents' last night." Seamus said teasingly.

Harry felt confused and said slowly "Er... yeah."

"No-one believes that, Potter..."

"But I was!" Harry cried.

"You're famous, Harry. Did you really think you could hide it?" Dean raised an eyebrow. "I mean, gossip travels fast at Hogwarts. You of all people should know that."

Harry was getting annoyed and he felt that he had missed some vital clue. "What on earth are you talking about?"

"Why, your little hot evening, of course." Said Seamus.

"So which one was it?" asked Dean.

"Mischief under the starry sky?"

"Dusting her off in a broom closet?"

"Rubbing in the Prefect's bathroom?"

"WHAT?" Harry spluttered.

"The entire school knows," Seamus laughed. "that the Boy-Who-Lived-And-Conquered got laid last night."

Harry blinked. "What? Where did you hear that?"

"So it's true then?"

"What? No!" Harry objected and felt his face go warm. "I... why do you think that?"

Dean looked a bit confused now. "Well, what else could we believe when your fair maiden did not return to her chamber last night?"

Harry's stomach gave a lurch. "Ginny didn't sleep in her bed last night?"

"That's what everyone says."

Harry frowned. Come to think of it, he would have expected to have seen Ron and Hermione by now.

Suddenly, the uneasy feeling in his stomach exploded into full scale panic. He did not even reply Dean and Seamus before he raced out of the portrait hole.

People yelled at him as he zig-zagged in and out between groups of students in the hallways. Many jumped out of his way and started chattering excitedly as he passed them. After years of experience, most students at Hogwarts knew that something big was usually going on when Harry Potter raced by.

He paced impatiently in front of the Room of Requirement, but the door did not appear. Harry realised that he had been thinking of Ginny and not about what sort of room he wanted. He tried again and this time, the door appeared.

He flung it open and tore inside.

"I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU!!!" a very messy-haired Hermione screeched as soon as he appeared. "WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF? OUR BEST FRIEND! LOCKING US IN A ROOM LIKE... LIKE..."

"WHERE'S GINNY?" Harry interrupted.


"Ginny," Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "She was supposed to let you out this morning."

"Well, obviously, she didn't." Hermione countered and crossed her arms.

Harry stared at her helplessly, then looked at Ron who was standing in the background. "Help me find her..."

"Where did you see her last?" Hermione asked.

Harry swallowed. "Last night before her detention with Snape."

"Well, then Professor Snape might know where she went after detention." Hermione said. "let's go and ask him."

Harry and Ron exchanged a look which told him that Ron was thinking the same as Harry. Most likely, Snape would not be very helpful.

"She probably just went for a walk." He forced himself to think, but his mind objected. In the middle of the night?"

Harry breathed heavily as he knocked on the door to the Potions classroom. No-one answered, so he opened the door and looked inside. Empty.

"Maybe he's in his private rooms." Harry mumbled and walked down the corridor.

"Howcome you know where his private rooms are?" wondered Ron.

"Never mind that now." Harry snapped as he knocked on the door to Snape's private quarters.

"Fine, I don't think I want to know anyway." muttered Ron.

No-one answered Harry's knock and he grabbed the door ring.

"Harry!" Hermione hissed. "You can't go in!"

Harry sighed and pulled a piece of old parchment from the pocket of his robes and handed it to Hermione. "You keep a look-out."

With that, he turned the door ring and the door squeaked open. Ron followed him into the dark room.


Harry moved his wand light around the room and felt his heart sink.

The book case was empty and there was nothing on the table. Ron reached out and opened the wardrobe.

"Empty." He concluded and stared wide-eyed at Harry.

Harry stared back at Ron. "He left?"

"You don't think that..." said Ron slowly, but he was interrupted by Hermione, who entered the room with the Map in her hand. She put it on the emptry table and lit a candle with her wand.

"Ginny's not on the Map." She said dryly.

"Are you sure+" Ron asked as they grouped around the table. "Maybe you missed her."

"I hope so." Harry muttered as they all started scanning the map.

The tension in the room grew the longer they stared at the map without finding a dot named 'Ginevra Weasley'. Harry's eyes moved across the paper desperately and the feeling in his stomach grew and little cracks appeared at the base of the pillars that held up his world.

Suddenly, he could not contain his feelings anymore and he jumped up and knocked a lamp off a nearby counter. It shattered against the floor with a crash.

Hermione tapped her wand to the map and said shakily: "Mischief managed."

"No!" Ron Exclaimed and jumped up. "She's there somewhere! We just missed her! We didn't look carefully enough! She has to be there!"

"BUT SHE'S NOT!" Harry yelled and felt his eyes sting.

"She has to be there..." Ron repeated desperately and his his head in his hands. Hermione put her arms comfortingly around him.

That was when something dawned on Harry and as much as he feared being right, he knew as soon as the realisation hit him that he was. The cracks grew and moved up the very pillars.

He re-activated the map.

"Harry, what..."

"Schh." He hushed as he found what he was looking for, cleared the Map and folded it while he ran out the door.

Ron and Hermione ran after him. "Did you find her?"

"No, she's not there. I just realised something." He said darkly as they ran.

"Something good, right?" asked Ron as they sped through the castle. Harry did not reply.

Moments later, he crashed through the door to the private room of Regulus Black. The dark haired occupant jumped up as they barged in, but he did not manage to draw his wand before Harry punched him. Surprised, he flew to the floor.

"WHERE IS SHE?" Harry roared with pain and anger as he pointed his wand at Black.

"What? Who?"

"Ginny! They took her! Where's their headquarters?" Harry snapped and pushed his wand against Black's throat.

"I don't know. And who's Ginny?"

"His sister," Harry pointed to Ron. "... and my girlfriend. She's gone and Snape's upped and left. He took her!"

"I have nothing to do with it." Black countered. "I don't know where they've taken her. But if I were them, I definitely wouldn't take her to the headquarters. That's too easy to find now. They've probably found a new hide-out."

"You might still be one of them." Harry said suspeciously.

"You heard my story. I'm not one of them. My brother believe me."

"Harry..." Hermione stepped in front of him and gently pushed his wand arm down.

Harry sighed shakily and stepped back.

"You need to tell Dumbledore about this." Said Black. "Tell me what happened while we walk."

As they marched through the castle, Hermione recounted what had happened as Ron looked much paler than usual and Harry did not feel like talking.

They were near the Headmaster's office when they heard running footsteps and moments later, the Marauders rounded the corner.

"HARRY!" James exclaimed and ran right into him, hugging him tightly. "Thank Merlin, you're alright! I was so scared! I can't believe that bastard!"

"I'm fine." Harry replied but hugged his father tightly anyway as it felt slightly comforting.

"I was so scared." James repeated and rested his head against Harry's messy hair. "I thought he'd got all of my family."

Harry tensed. "What? Why? If he would take anyone else, wouldn't it be Ron?"

"Why would he need Ron and Lily?" James looked at him and Harry realised how worn his father looked.

"What? No, he took Ginny." Harry clarified as his heart clenched.

"He took Ginny?" James said darkly. "Harry, he took your Mum too."

At that moment, the cracked pillars failed to carry the weight any more and Harry's world came crashing down around him.

"No..." he whispered and his father pulled him tightly again.

"I'm so sorry, Harry."

Harry did not care who watched as he sobbed into his father's shoulder while the dust of his collapsed world settled around them. Moments later, he felt James' own tears run down his forehead.

Once they had recovered slightly from the first shock, they made their way to Dumbledore's office.

After explaining everything to the Headmaster, Dumbledore sighed. "I am afraid, then, that we have no clues as to where Mrs. Potter and Miss Weasley are."

"But we have to look for them!" James exclaimed. "I can't just sit here and wait while some mental head has my family!" he put a protective arm around Harry.

"Sadly, James, you do not have much choice until they let their whereabouts be known."

"What?" Harry gasped. "Are you saying we should just sit here with our hands in our laps until they decide to enlighten us?"

"It is not ideal, I agree." Replied Dumbledore. "but as it often the case in such grave matters, we do not have a choice."

"There is always a choice!" James said darkly. "It might not be simple or easy – nor immediately apparent – but there is always a choice. And I will not choose to sit and wait for news. If that greasy git has my wife, I will fight."

"Me too." Harry agreed and James did not object.

"I do not believe that Severus will hurt them." Sighed Dumbledore and added darkly. "They are not what he is after."

"What do you mean?" asked Ron, who was looking very ill.

"The only scenario that makes sense is that he is after James and Harry. Lily and Miss Weasley are being used as bait. They will let us know where they are, because both of you, James, Harry, have proven that you will not hesitate to rush to help – especially when the person in trouble is someone you love. They will prepare for your arrival so that when they send for you, you will walk straight into the trap."

"Not if we find them first." James said determinedly.

"We'll help." Said Sirius from the background.

"So will we." Said Hermione.

"No," Harry objected. "It's me they are after. There's no need for you to take that risk."

"She's my sister, Harry." Ron objected.

"Harry," James said quietly and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Sometimes, the support of friends is invaluable."

"It's not an offer." Ron said. "We're not letting you choose. So let's at least work together."

James nodded and stood. "Headmaster, due to my doubts of the security, I am pulling Harry home from school until further notice."