Author's Note: Yes, I'm breaking away from my reputation as absentee bitch.
'We need to get out of here,' Sirius said, urgently.
Hermione had sunk down onto the chair again, her ankles trembling under her weight. She brought up a hand to her forehead and pressed it.
'We can disillusion ourselves,' she said, dully. 'I doubt anyone will be coming in here to check on me. Once we're out, we can apparate to Grimmauld Place and pray that we're on time.'
Sirius nodded. He reached out and grasped her hand, squeezing it for a brief moment. 'We can work this,' he said, in a quiet, but firm tone. 'We just have to be quick.'
Hermione could hear the pressing anxiety in his voice. She forced herself to stand up, and then reached for her wand. She concentrated all her magical energy into its tip, summoning up the most powerful Disillusionment charm she could manage. She knew it worked, because when she was done, Sirius let out a low whistle.
'You're practically invisible,' he said.
When Sirius had cast the same charm on himself, he walked over to the front door and cautiously pried it open an inch. It was disconcerting: all Hermione could see was a faint ripple in the air, a sort of heat haze. She heard footsteps walking back towards her, and then a low voice spoke directly in her ear.
'The road's nearly clear. We'll have to dodge a bit. Hold my hand, I don't want to get separated.'
She groped about in the air until her fingers closed over his, and swallowed as he directed both of them out of the shack. He slowly pulled the door open a couple of inches more, and said, 'Do you think we can squeeze through? I don't want to open it all the way, in case someone's watching.'
She nodded and took a deep breath, sucking her stomach in as she slid out of the shack. It was noticeable warmer outside, a jarring heat that seemed to rise up off the ground and permeate her bones. She wondered how they kept the bunker warm in the winter.
'This way,' Sirius said, quietly. His breath tickled against her ear and made the hairs on her arm stand up. They linked hands again, and walked carefully down the road, eyes scanning their surroundings with a rushed nervousness.
'Promise me you'll be careful,' Remus said, quietly.
They had changed hurriedly into dark clothes, rustled up from the combined resource pool of Molly's and Arthur's wardrobes. The result was an eclectic medley of attires: Remus was wearing a navy blue dress shirt over his dark gray pajamas, and Tonks was dressed in a black gown that would have looked appropriate at a funeral.
'You know I will,' she said, dismissively, fingering the velvety trimming at her waistline. 'Do we really have to wear these?'
'They'll help hide us, you know. Bright clothes would have made disillusioning ourselves even more difficult.'
'I look like I'm going to mourn the death of Lucius Malfoy.'
'He isn't dead yet.'
'Haven't we talked about this? He will be when I get through with him.'
Remus chuckled and pressed her hand within his. Worry tinged his features.
A click of the door behind them signified that the last to change: Harry, Ron and Ginny had entered the kitchen. Harry and Ron were wearing dress robes, and Ginny wore a nun's habit.
'Excuse me?' Tonks asked, her eyes wide.
Ginny looked sheepish. 'It's left over from a costume party when I was eleven. Mum charmed it to fit.'
'Wow. I don't have the worst battle dress anymore.'
Ginny managed a weak smile as she turned to face the others, clustered around the table. 'Are we ready to go?'
Her father nodded. 'As ready as we can be. Everyone remember's their targets, right?'
Silent nods echoed around the table.
'As soon as we're done, we get out and apparate back to Grimmauld Place. We should leave- now.'
Remus hugged Tonks, briefly but tightly as the others began to file out.
'Time to go,' he said.
They collected in the dark lawn outside the Burrow, segregated into groups according to their attack plan.
'Hold hands while we apparate,' Kingsley said, tersely. Nervousness was etched plainly across his face. 'We all take our respective portals.'
The creeping darkness almost muffled the sharp cracks of apparation that echoed about the lawn.
It was raining lightly in London. Remus cursed as the soft drops hit his shoulders through Arthur's ridiculous dress shirt. He wished he had a coat, but there hadn't been time to find a dark one.
'It'll probably be warmer down there,' he muttered.
He wrapped his arms about himself, pausing before exiting the dark alley into which he had apparated to. To his left, the main road was sleekly wet, amber drops of light reflected on its dazzling surface. Across, the red telephone booth reposed conspicuously on the pavement. He checked to make sure nobody was around, and then pointed his wand to himself and cast a disillusionment charm.
'Best I can do for now,' he sighed. The raindrops were bouncing off his near-invisible form. He felt wetter and colder.
He dashed across the street and into the telephone booth. He punched in the number, and collected his badge from the slot. Jamming it into his pocket, he tapped his foot impatiently as the booth slowly descended, and then pulled back the doors into the empty atrium. It was nearly one in the morning, and the fireplaces were empty, halls deserted. Remus raced towards the elevator, and slammed the doors shut as he waited for it to climb up to the Marriage Registrar.
He hoped fervently that the Registrar office was empty, and was relieved to find that it was. The storage cupboard door was slightly ajar. Remus pried it open a little more and slid inside, clicking it shut as he did so. He pulled back the shelf, his heart leaping up against his ribcage as it jarred noisily along the way, and then took a deep breath as he stepped past it and onto the landing that led to the spiral staircase.
He prayed that wherever Tonks was, she was alright.
He felt the stairs vibrate under him as he dismounted them, each step sending a slight jar through the structure. His ears were pricked the entire way, and although half way down he had thought he heard muffled whispers, the coast was clear. He tried to move as quickly as he could, and when he stood on the platform, overlooking the entire city, he took a moment to process his surroundings.
He knew it was impossible to see the others. Wherever they were, they were disillusioned to the quick, and were probably slinking in and out of shadows and hiding behind walls. He wished he could point them out though, wished he could see signs of the disruption they were planning to cause. It would have given him a sense of strength.
'They're out there,' he murmured to himself. 'They're out there right now.'
His feeling of aloneness dissipated slightly. He turned around and his eyes sought out the parliament.
It was a conspicuous building, located somewhere close to the center of the city. It was built of blocks of dark gray stone, fitted sleekly together to form a vertical, stretched structure, shaped like a narrow cylinder with an iron spire above it. The stone was interspersed in places with clean glass, a strange contrast of old-fashioned and cutting-edge. It was surrounded by an iron fence, with an intricately worked gate.
That's where he was headed. If he found Sirius on the way, it would be a huge relief. But if he didn't, he would have to face this monster on his own.
'Someone's coming!' Hermione whispered, urgently.
They were poised half-way up the spiral staircase to the Marriage Registrar. She could feel low footsteps working their way down, towards where they were standing. Her hand, which was loosely linked with Sirius's tightened with fear.
Sirius reacted quickly. He encircled her shoulders with his other arm and pushed her back, against the spiny column that formed the backbone of the staircase. Hermione felt the cold metal bite into her back and stifled a yelp as Sirius pushed his body up against her, closing his arms around her and the column all in one.
'They'll be using the banister on the other side,' he whispered, directly into her ear. 'If we're lucky, they'll miss us.'
If, Hermione thought, grimly. They were leaving a lot to chance. She sucked in her breath and sent up a silent prayer as the footsteps got closer. She waited as they cut the final turn above them, wondering whether it was Kaploffe, coming back.
To her shock, it was no one.
A faint ripple of air passed by them: a disillusionment charm. Hermione's eyes widened as it hurried past and continued down.
'Gone,' she whispered, a few seconds later. Sirius hesitated and then stepped back.
'Who was it?'
'Disillusioned. I wonder who it could-'
Sirius shook his head. 'We don't have time for this,' he muttered. 'We have to run. Come on.'
He sought out her hand again and they continued up the stairs, their pace a little faster this time. Sirius pushed aside the shelf and they slipped out of the storage cupboard.
'Why's the registrar empty?' Hermione whispered.
'There's a stunned girl under the desk. Don't ask.'
Hermione shook her head as they raced to the elevator and down the Atrium. She could feel the vibrations from each footstep soar through her body and to her head, adding exponentially to her panic-addled state. Beside her, Sirius seemed remotely calmer, but his movements were filled with a pressing urgency.
She knew that deep down he was as worried as she was.
As they got back onto the street, Sirius headed automatically towards Remus's car, which was parked off the curb, but Hermione reached out and grabbed his hand.
'No time,' she said, abruptly. 'We should apparate.'
He nodded and grasped her hand tighter, as he spun on the spot and felt the wave of dizziness overcome him. They landed very precisely on the top step of Grimmauld Place, but Hermione didn't feel the snap of the barriers as they passed through them, and she knew that it could only mean one thing. She turned to Sirius, her face panicky.
'He's been here,' she whispered.
His hand tightened around her own. 'Or he still is. We need to be careful. Boost up your disillusionment and we'll check around for him.'
Hermione nodded, tightly. 'Do we split up?'
'That makes sense. I'll take Roran and Prattle's rooms and that wing of the house. You check the northern front: the kitchen, landings, and all the rest. Oh, and peek in on my old room too. Roran was there.'
'Is,' Hermione said, quietly. 'He still could be.'