"HARRY, WATCH OUT!"
Before Harry could register the warning, he was shoved, hard, to the ground. He landed gracelessly, grunting in pain as his shoulder slammed into the earth.
"Are you all right?" a frantic voice asked, before a pair of hands seized his arms and hauled him into a sitting position.
"I'm fine!" Harry choked out, reaching up and swiping at the mud on his glasses. He blinked, and through the pain clouding his vision, saw Ginny kneeling over him, her face pale and frightened. "What –?"
"Them," Ginny hissed, jerking her head at a swarm of black, hooded figures in the distance: Death Eaters. "Come on, let's move before they see us."
"I told you three to leave me alone," Harry said faintly as Ginny half dragged him behind the thick trunk of a nearby oak. "Don't tell me Ron and Hermione –"
"No, they agreed to stay with the rest of the Order." Ginny pushed Harry's robe aside to examine the shoulder he had landed on. "Sorry for pushing you away so roughly, but you're in plain view. You have to be more careful!"
Harry let out a cry of pain as Ginny pressed two fingers to his shoulder. "Get away from here!" he said, twisting away from her touch. "You can't be with me right now. The Order – they can't know – I need to find Voldemort –"
"I know, Harry, but I saw you escape headquarters last night, and I couldn't just let you leave. I told McGonagall, and she sent me off to find you soon after Lupin came back. It's a good thing I did, too! Did you even see them there? You could've died if you caught their attention!"
"What are they doing here?"
"I don't know what they're doing, probably heading back to You-Know-Who, but… they're the ones who – they've got Dad and Mum…"
"What?" Panic flooded Harry's chest, making it hard to breathe. "Ginny, what are you – what do you mean they took your parents?"
"You left before we found out. They were with Lupin, trying to track down Bellatrix's lot, the ones that broke out of Azkaban… but they were surrounded, and –" Ginny's half-gasp, half-sob cut her words off, and she shut her eyes, as if remembering was painful. "Lupin made it back just a few hours after you disappeared, but they took Dad and Mum. We were expecting it; we knew they'd go for the pure-bloods who –"
"No," Harry said hollowly. He wanted to clamp his hands over his ears and tell Ginny to stop lying to him, because it wasn't right, it couldn't be true, she was just trying to trick him into going back to the Order. "That's not funny, Ginny."
Ginny's hands flew out to clutch the front of Harry's dirt-stained robes. "This isn't funny for me, either!" She released Harry, chest heaving, and pushed her hair back from her face. "Oh, Merlin, I'm sorry. Harry, listen to me. You can't do anything stupid. I... I shouldn't have told you about Dad and Mum. Just forget about it."
Harry whipped around, saw the black mass of Death Eaters, and felt a wave of hatred so hot and ferocious that he nearly passed out from the sheer intensity of it. Those monsters had Ginny's parents. He had to get them back. He couldn't sit there and hide behind a tree while the only family he'd ever known was taken away from him.
Mind surprisingly clear, he tore away from Ginny and scrambled to his feet. "I'm going after them."
Ginny grabbed his wrist, her eyes blazing. "You're behaving just like the Order said you would! Think, Harry. You-Know-Who is doing this to lure you out. Mum and Dad will be fine. They know what they're doing."
Harry tugged his wrist out of Ginny's grip. "Bellatrix is with them, right?"
Ginny's furious silence was the answer he'd been hoping for. Perfect. He'd have the opportunity to avenge Sirius's death as well.
Ginny hauled herself to her feet. Without hesitating, Harry took a step back, distancing himself from the only girl he'd ever loved, because he knew he had to. He had to scare her and make her understand that she couldn't be by his side until the war was over and he was able to protect her again.
And then Ginny's eyes hardened. Her lips curled back into something that was neither a smile nor a frown, but a sign of acceptance. "I'll never forgive you if you don't come out of this alive."
Harry breathed a sigh of relief. "I will," he said, but he didn't trust his own words, and it was clear that Ginny didn't either.
She clenched her fists, but lowered her head in resignation. "And… Harry, if you can, bring back my parents."
"I will," Harry said again, this time with far more assurance. He swallowed and stole another glance in the direction of the Death Eaters. They were moving off into the distance. "Shit. I – Ginny, I've got to go."
Without waiting for a reply, Harry shrugged on his Invisibility Cloak and tore off after the Death Eaters. Hold on, Mr and Mrs Weasley, he begged silently, forgetting for the moment that he had set out to find the Horcruxes and destroy Voldemort. This – saving the lives of the ones he loved – was far more important. Please… please, just one moment longer…
It didn't take very long for Harry to catch up with the group. At first, he was confused by how quickly he'd sealed the distance between them; then, as he approached the Death Eaters, he realised that the reason for this was that they had stopped and arranged themselves into a semi-circle around two hunched figures.
Please don't be dead, Harry thought hysterically as he edged closer to them. It was clear now that the white faces illuminated by the Death Eaters' wands belonged to Ginny's parents – and they were deathly still.
Revulsion and despair rose up in Harry's stomach, and he dropped to his hands and knees, fighting the urge to cry out. He had been too late. He hadn't been able to save them, just like he hadn't been able to save Cedric and Sirius and Dumbledore and –
"Now, who would like to finish them off?"
Bellatrix's chillingly familiar voice interrupted Harry's train of frenzied thoughts. Harry's eyes widened as her words sunk in. The Weasleys were still alive.
"Why not let Draco do it?" a rough voice snickered. "He was so eager to come along, and he deserves a reward for killing those Muggles back there."
"No," Bellatrix said sharply. "Our Lord has made it clear he doesn't want Draco's hands to be dirtied with traitorous blood yet."
Harry knelt, frozen to his spot. Draco? Draco Malfoy? He searched the hooded figures in the dim light, desperately trying to make out their faces in the fading light.
"You do it then, Bella!"
A round of murmurs chorused their agreement.
"You always said you looked forward to the day when you could watch the life leave their eyes," someone added.
There was a sneer in Bellatrix's silky voice. "This is true, Alecto. Perhaps that day has finally arrived…"
Harry clenched his fists. He had to save the Weasleys while Bellatrix was distracted. Clutching at handfuls of grass, he frantically scoured his mind for possible ways to grab the Weasleys and get away before the Death Eaters noticed. He could think of none.
Kill them, a small voice in the back of his mind urged. Stunning is no use; you have to end it. It's the only way.
Gripping his wand tightly with one hand and clutching the cloak around him with the other, Harry stood up shakily. He crept closer, trying to find Bellatrix's face in the sea of blackness. Aiming for the others first would be no use; he had to kill her, the leader.
The sound of Mrs Weasley's sudden groan reached Harry's ears, stopping him in his tracks.
"No… please… children…"
In the shock of the bright green light that followed the screamed incantation, Harry's grip on his Invisibility Cloak went slack. Numbed by ripples of shock, Harry didn't even notice when the cloak fell to the ground, exposing his presence.
As this one word resounded in Harry's head, pounding tattoos against his skull, his eyes lifted up from Mrs Weasley's limp body – and met with an equally-shocked silver pair.
And so Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy stood, their gazes locked in mutual disbelief, as the world shuddered to a halt around them. For a second that felt like eternity, Harry forgot to breathe. Malfoy was there. Malfoy had seen him. Malfoy knew. And then Malfoy lowered his eyes, hiding them in the shadows beneath his hood and breaking the connection just in time for Harry to catch the second flash of green light. Suddenly, the weight of the situation came crashing back down around him.
Dropping to the ground, Harry fumbled around for his Invisibility Cloak. Put it on and get out of here before they see you! the small voice screamed once he found it. Harry automatically obeyed, swinging the cloak around his shoulders and stumbling to his feet.
But no. He couldn't leave yet. Even if there was nothing he could do to save Ron's parents, even if he had failed, he couldn't let Bellatrix go again.
"Aunt Bellatrix, perhaps we should leave the bodies and return to headquarters," Malfoy's cold voice murmured just as Harry whipped around, every vein throbbing with venomous hatred, every muscle in his body tensed and ready to say the two words that would take away Bellatrix's life.
Harry faltered. Malfoy hadn't given him away. He could have easily revealed that Harry was standing there, wand raised and ready to attack, but instead, he was telling them to leave the area. He was… covering for Harry?
GET A GRIP! DO IT NOW!
Clearing his mind of all thoughts of Malfoy, all thoughts of anything but the pure loathing he felt for the wasted, manic woman who had taken away from him three of the people who had cared for him the most, Harry tightened his grip on his wand. He could see Bellatrix clearly now. She was standing next to Malfoy, mouthing words Harry couldn't hear past the deafening rush of blood in his ears.
"Avada –" he rasped through parched lips. His hands trembled violently. He couldn't do it.
But then another rush of hatred swelled up from somewhere deep within him, and all he could see was blackness – blackness, out of which Bellatrix's waxy face, twisted by malice, suddenly appeared. Harry knew at that moment that even if he tried to stop himself, he wouldn't be able to. Bellatrix had gone too far, had taken away too much from Harry, and he couldn't just let her walk away again without taking something from her, too.
And so, consumed completely by a kind of evil he had never known before, Harry Potter crossed the final threshold between innocence and darkness.