That's the best way I can describe my feelings right now. I'm utterly blown away at the response I received to Chapter 9. You guys are just incredible, and I really appreciate that.
I'm sorry for the 10-day wait between Chapters 9 and 10. I got hit with a bit of writer's block and just overcame it tonight. In the future, look out for updates every Saturday evening; that's when I plan to update the story. I also have another story, Don't Stay, that I update every Tuesday evening … just in case you're interested in reading that.
Anyway, this chapter deals with the fallout from the end of last chapter … and you'd better believe there's fallout. You'll probably notice the plotter missing from this chapter; you might not see his point-of-view for another few chapters, actually. This chapter marks the halfway point in this story, so I hope you enjoy it.
Well, that's enough of me talking. Let's get back to the story.
Anything But Ordinary
Chapter 10: Guilt
The words thundered through Hermione's mind, echoing over and over until she thought she would go mad.
Perhaps she was going mad, to believe this story of Harry's. There was no way it could be true, after all. Ron couldn't be missing; he just couldn't. This was some kind of sick joke Harry was playing on her. Ron had probably put him up to it, to get back at her for their fight. Yes, that's what it was … revenge. She couldn't believe Ron would stoop that low.
But she knew her mind was just grasping at alternative explanations. Ron wouldn't fake a disappearance just to get back at her. And even if he would, Harry wouldn't go along with it.
No, the only reasonable explanation was that Harry was telling the truth. Ron … her fiancé … was missing.
Hermione suddenly found herself unable to stand, and barely able to breathe. She staggered backward, sinking onto her bed. The entire time, she was looking at her best friend, hoping for a sign, any sign, that what he was telling her wasn't true. But she didn't like what she saw.
Harry hadn't spoken since telling Hermione the news; he hadn't even moved from his spot in the doorway to her staff quarters. He was looking right at Hermione, a clear expression of sorrow marking his features. She was especially drawn to the look in his eyes; the normal spark was missing from his piercing green eyes. For lack of a better term, Harry looked dead to the world.
Hermione knew that look very well. She'd seen it in his eyes before numerous times. When Cedric died, for example. Not do mention when Sirius died. Or Dumbledore. Or the numerous friends who died during the final battle at Hogwarts. Hermione also knew what the look meant: Harry was clearly blaming himself for what had happened to Ron.
She took a deep breath. She needed to find out more about what had happened.
"How did it happen?" she asked, trying not to choke on the words. She needed to stay as calm as possible; otherwise, she would completely lose it.
Harry just shook his head. "I wish I could tell you," he said, "but nobody really knows. It seems he and his partner were ambushed by someone while they were conducting surveillance on a target's house."
"That's it?" Hermione asked. "That's all you can tell me?"
"That's all we know," Harry said.
"I refuse to believe that," Hermione said, her tone flat. "My fiancé is missing, and that's all you can tell me?" She felt her anger start to boil up -- anger at Ron for being missing and at Harry for allowing it to happen. She knew the anger was wrong, but she didn't care. "Well, maybe you should leave, Harry. Then maybe you can go find some more answers -- and I don't want to see you again until you have!"
Harry flinched, but nodded. He turned to leave, then turned back.
"We'll find him, Hermione," he said. "I promise."
She had already turned her back on him. "You'd better," she spat. "Otherwise…"
She didn't finish the thought, but Harry nodded, exiting the room and closing the door behind him.
Hermione waited a few more seconds, wanting to be sure that he was gone. Then the mask crumbled. She flopped backward onto the bed and finally let the tears come.
It would be quite some time before they stopped.
If Henry Dawlish had ever had a worse day in his life, he couldn't remember it.
He'd been honored when he had received the promotion to chief Auror after two and a half decades of decorated service for the department. Minister Shacklebolt had called it a "long-deserved promotion." Now, Dawlish wished the promotion had gone to someone else.
He had returned to his office at 8 a.m., less than two hours after Ron Weasley had gone missing while on assignment. When he'd arrived, there was already a message on his desk from Shacklebolt, requesting a meeting as soon as possible.
Dawlish knew what that meant: "Get your arse up to my office. Now." He sighed, leaving the office as quickly as he'd gone in and heading toward the lift.
He knew why the Minister was requesting … no, ordering … a meeting. Whenever an Auror went missing, it was cause for alarm. All Aurors knew a high amount of classified information, so it was a concern that they might divulge that information under torture. Missing Aurors took top priority over other cases for that reason.
Dawlish felt partially grateful that the Auror captured in this case was not a veteran Auror, one who had a wealth of classified knowledge. Weasley was a newbie, an Auror with just a few weeks of experience under his belt, so he likely couldn't give much away.
Dawlish doubted that Weasley had been captured for information purposes anyway. He was more likely captured as a message … or as an attempt to collect ransom. Dawlish knew death was a very likely possibility for Weasley in both scenarios. But deaths could be overcome. The spread of classified information could not.
At last, he reached the lift. Thankfully, it was empty on this Saturday morning -- while the Ministry didn't completely shut down on the weekends, there were much fewer employees there at just after 8:00 on the weekends.
He rode down in silence, lost in his thoughts. Shacklebolt would not be pleased about Weasley's disappearance. The Minister had been one of the best Aurors in the department's history before his promotion; now, he was looked at as a steadying figure in the wizarding world. He was immensely popular as Minister thanks to his cool and collected demeanor, which he rarely lost. Dawlish wondered if Weasley's disappearance would make the Minister lose that cool demeanor.
He soon found out. Before long, the lift clattered to a stop and the cool female voice rang out: "Level one -- Minister of Magic and Support Staff."
Dawlish shivered; he'd always thought the disembodied voice was creepy. But before he could ruminate on that further, the doors swung open, revealing the Minister on the other side.
"Good morning, Minister," Dawlish said nervously. He was irritated at being called up on the carpet like this, but he couldn't maintain that demeanor around Shacklebolt. Though the two had been partners once, Shacklebolt had always intimidated him.
"Dawlish," was all Shacklebolt said in greeting. He stepped aside, allowing the Chief Auror to exit the lift. Without saying anything else, the Minister of Magic turned and walked toward his office. Dawlish hurried to keep up with the Minister's long strides.
When they'd arrived, Shacklebolt shut the door with a flick of his wand and put up a Silencing Charm. Then he turned to Dawlish again.
"Sit," he said, gesturing toward a chair on one side of his large oak desk. Dawlish obliged without a word; clearly, the Minister wasn't in the mood for small talk this morning. After a glance to verify that Dawlish had followed his orders, Shacklebolt sat down in his own chair behind the desk. The Minister steepled his fingers together and looked across the desk at Dawlish.
"Well?" was all he said.
"Weasley went missing shortly after six o'clock this morning," Dawlish said. "We believe he and his partner were ambushed. She's at St. Mungo's getting treatment; we expect she'll recover fully. She hasn't yet regained consciousness, so we haven't had a chance to question her about the disappearance."
"And the other Aurors on assignment this morning?" Shacklebolt asked.
"We pulled them all out," Dawlish said. "They'll be debriefed later today to see if any of them have anything to add. But for the time being, we've had to scrap surveillance. Someone obviously knew we were there."
"What's the status of the investigation into Weasley's disappearance?" Shacklebolt asked next.
"We've combed the immediate surrounding area. I'm sorry to say we found nothing. Whoever it was knew the location well. There are no traces of what may have happened to Weasley, magical or otherwise."
"The obvious one is Roy Henderson. We were watching his house, after all. Outside of him, we've got nothing yet."
The Minister frowned. "This is unsatisfactory. You have no leads at all?"
"To be fair," Dawlish protested, "he only went missing a couple of hours ago, Minister."
"Which, as you know, is an extremely long amount of time in missing person's cases, Dawlish!" The Minister's voice had finally broken away from its usual calm, steady tone. He was angry. "How could this happen? You swore up and down to me that knowledge about this surveillance operation was secure, that nothing could happen to harm the operation. And yet this morning, an Auror goes missing and you have no idea where he is, who might have done it or how it may have occurred! And the best excuse you can give me is that it only happened two hours ago? For all you know, Weasley has already spilled secrets about classified Auror operations. Or, worse, he could be dead."
Dawlish said nothing. It wasn't often he felt cowed, but he did right now.
The Minister spoke again. "Who else was in the field when Weasley went missing?"
"Thompson, Jackson, Jones and Knight were the veteran Aurors involved in surveillance today," Dawlish said. "Weasley was teamed with Edwards, and Robinson and Potter were the other newbie team."
The Minister looked up sharply. "Potter?" he asked. "He was involved in the operation?"
"Yes, Minister," Dawlish said. "We sent him to break the news to Weasley's fiancée."
"Yes, of course," Shacklebolt said, deep in thought. "He would be the right person for that job, seeing as how close those three are.
"Dawlish," the Minister said, suddenly more alert.
"I want you to do what you can to bring in Henderson and find out what he knows about Weasley's disappearance. As you said, he is the primary suspect."
"Understood," said Dawlish, beginning to rise.
"But I doubt he knows anything about it," Shacklebolt said.
"Sir?" Dawlish said, confused. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that I don't think Henderson is responsible," the Minister said.
"But sir," Dawlish said, frowning. He'd stopped halfway through getting up from his chair -- he was now in an awkward leaning position over Shacklebolt's desk. "If not Henderson, then who?"
Shacklebolt said just two words in response, but those two words were enough to chill the Chief Auror.
"So you're sure you didn't notice anything out of the ordinary? Anything at all?"
Russ Robinson was annoyed. He was currently sitting inside Dawlish's office, feeling like a schoolchild called down to the principal's office. Robinson hated that feeling; he thought he was supposed to be an adult, and here Dawlish was, treating him and the other Aurors like children.
The reason for this visit to Dawlish's office was ostensibly a debriefing about what had happened to Weasley earlier that morning. But what he was getting was the same question asked over and over by Dawlish, as if his answers would change within a two-minute span.
Russ sighed. "As I've told you, sir, Harry left to make the report to you at six o'clock. Shortly after he left, I heard noises coming from the east side of the house, where I knew Weasley and Edwards were stationed. I went to investigate, and when I arrived, Edwards was unconscious and Weasley was missing."
"What were the noises you heard?" Dawlish asked.
"Raised voices," Russ said. "And spells being fired. I got the notice about curses being fired shortly after I arrived at Ward 3."
"Why didn't you raise an alert yourself?" Dawlish asked. "When you heard raised voices, I mean?"
"I thought it was better to act first and speak later, sir. I didn't want to be too late to help if there was a situation going on. It turns out I was too late anyway."
"Who got there next?" Dawlish asked.
"Jones and Knight were first after me," Robinson said. "They got there soon after the alert went out. Thompson and Jackson got there about 30 seconds later, and Potter was last."
"All right," Dawlish asked. "Thank you, Robinson. I think that's it for now, but let me know if you recall anything else."
"Yes sir," Russ said, getting up to leave.
Outside the office, he passed Simon Thompson, who was getting ready to go in himself.
"Have fun," Russ said sarcastically.
Thompson smiled grimly. "Always do."
Harry finally entered his flat at 6 p.m. Saturday evening, tired to the bone from his day. He'd spent the previous hour being grilled by Dawlish about what had happened that morning, and right now he just wanted to take a shower and then sleep for the next day and a half. Maybe when he woke up he would find out that this had all been a dream, that Ron had never gone missing at all. But he knew that was wishful thinking. There was never any good news in his life.
He still saw their faces sometimes … the people who had died for him. Sirius and Dumbledore, Moody, Fred, Lupin and Tonks.
And his parents … he saw their faces most of all. He hated that they had all died while he had lived. He still blamed himself for their deaths, and he hated to think how he would feel if he had to add Ron's name to the list. He'd lost his biggest mentor and three father figures; he didn't know what he would do if he lost his brother.
And Hermione … Harry hated that he had to be the one who broke the news to her. He hadn't known what to do, or how to comfort her. The entire time, he'd stared at her -- the woman he loved -- with a heavy heart.
Harry walked aimlessly toward the bathroom, stopping by his bedroom to grab a towel first. He spotted a letter from Luna lying on his pillow; Apollo, his new owl, must have delivered it while he was gone. He didn't really feel like reading it now, though.
He sat down on the edge of his bed and put his head in his hands. Oh, Ron, he thought. I'm so sorry. He felt his emotions begin to bubble to the surface; he'd been holding them back all day, but now he let them come.
When the tears came, they came in the form of sobs that wracked his body and that continued for quite some time.
"I'm sorry, Ron," Harry said again, this time out loud. "I'm so sorry."
"Why, hello there, Helbert."
Dawlish stopped, annoyed, in the doorway to the Ministry of Magic interrogation room. He looked at the man who had spoken, who was currently sitting at the table, waiting to be questioned. "It's Henry," Dawlish said through gritted teeth.
The man at the table smiled, revealing two rows of gleaming white teeth. "Oh, come on, Helbert," said Roy Henderson, standing up from the table and inclining his head toward Dawlish. "You may go by your nickname around others, but you can't fool me. I know your real first name -- we went to school together, remember?"
"I remember," Dawlish said. "How could I forget?"
"Aww," Henderson said in a patronizing tone. "Did I make that much of an impression?"
"Don't flatter yourself," Dawlish snapped. "I never cared about you."
"All evidence to the contrary," Henderson said. He grinned again.
"Sit down," Dawlish said. "We have some questions for you."
Henderson obliged, raising his perfectly groomed eyebrows at Dawlish as he did so. "I assume this has something to do with that Auror who disappeared from my woods this morning. That is why your team of Aurors burst into my house an hour ago to bring me down here, correct?"
"You seem to know a lot about it," Dawlish said.
"Of course I do," Henderson said. "It happened on my property, after all. What do you think I am, an idiot? I know about your 24-hour surveillance, too. Would you like to ask me about that too?"
Dawlish ignored the last comment. "So what do you know about the disappearance?"
Henderson shrugged. "Only that it happened. And that it was Weasley. And that I didn't do it, even though you think I did. That's pretty much the extent of my knowledge on the matter."
"Is that so?" Dawlish asked. "Well, then … would you mind telling me where you were at six o'clock this morning?"
The suspect shrugged again. "I wasn't home. Your Aurors who were watching the house could probably tell you that. I left at eight o'clock Friday night and didn't get back until this afternoon."
"That's not telling me where you were," Dawlish said.
"I was sleeping," Henderson said with yet another shrug, his eyes wide with mock innocence. "That's what most people do at six o'clock in the morning, isn't it? I was at my girlfriend's house, sleeping."
"And there's someone who can verify this for you?"
"Sure," Henderson said. "My girlfriend. She was sleeping too. Or you could give me Veritaserum if you'd like. But I guarantee you my answer will keep coming up the same."
"So do you have any idea who it could have been?" Dawlish asked.
"What am I, a tip service now?" Henderson asked. "No, I have no idea. Don't really care, either. Whoever did it doesn't really know what they're doing."
"What do you mean?"
"What do you think I mean?" Henderson said. "Weasley's a nothing; he's a waste of time. Any intelligent person would have gone after Potter."
Now it was Dawlish's turn to shrug. "Maybe that's what they're doing. Potter and Weasley are close, after all."
Henderson smirked. "There's someone better they could have gone after, then. Someone who Potter cares for more."
When Ron Weasley finally woke up, he had three major thoughts.
One, he was incredibly hungry; he felt like he hadn't eaten in months. Two, this place -- whatever this place was -- smelled awful. And three, he had an awful pain in his head.
He winced, rubbing his head with his right hand, which he now noticed was chained to the wall. He attempted to remember what had happened to him -- how he had ended up in this predicament.
He remembered bits and pieces. He had been incredibly bored while spying on Henderson's mansion, not to mention extremely annoyed thanks to his irritating partner. But someone had snuck up on them and attacked them. He remembered seeing a flash of red light, but nothing after that. Stunning Spell, Ron thought. They got me first. But what about Brittany?
Ron looked around but didn't see Brittany or anyone else in the 8-by-10 room where he was currently stationed. Ron wondered what time it was. It was dark in the cell, but that didn't mean anything because there was no window. It could have been daylight and he wouldn't have known the difference.
Ron wondered how much time had passed since he had gone missing. Hermione probably knew by now; that thought was enough to make him pause. Hopefully Harry or someone is there for her, he thought. I don't want her to be alone right now.
Then his thoughts turned to Harry. His best friend was probably blaming himself for this; that was his personality, after all. Ron didn't blame Harry, of course; he blamed himself … and the wanker who had decided to kidnap him.
Ron coughed, feeling extremely thirsty. Maybe someone's out there, he thought. Someone who can give me water. Ron didn't even care if it was his jailer; he just wanted something to drink, preferably if it came with food as well.
"Hello?" Ron called, his voice coming out raspy. He cleared his throat. "Hello? Not to trouble the evil mastermind who decided to kidnap me, whoever you are, but I'd like something to drink. That's a fair trade, right? You get to kidnap me, and I get some water?"
Silence. Ron sighed, then tried again.
"I mean, I think it's a reasonable request," he said. "All I'm asking for is some water."
The door swung open. Ron squinted, but couldn't make out the figure who stood in the doorway.
"And all I'm asking for," said the voice of the unknown person, "is for some peace and quiet. I've got your bloody water, and you'll get it if you promise to shut up."
"I promise," Ron said.
"Good." The figure stepped forward into the miniscule amount of light in the cell.
Ron recognized him right away, letting out a very un-manly gasp at the sight of his captor. He pointed his chained right hand at the man.
"You!" he said.
Roy Henderson's face was glaring down at him.
A/N: Some of you are no doubt wondering how Henderson could be in two places at once. You'll find out the answer next chapter.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please leave a review; I really appreciate every one I get.