Disclaimer: This story is based on characters created and owned by JK Rowling. It is intended for entertainment purposes only. No profit is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: Alright, here's where it gets a little darker. Many, many thanks to E and M for being my Beta Queens.
Chapter 2: Apprehension
September 1, 1995
King's Cross Station
The crowds at King's Cross station moved in their usual hectic manner for a Friday mid-morning. Most were busy checking their tickets and trying to get to their trains on time. Therefore, none of the busy travelers noticed a small group of oddly dressed people walking briskly across the platforms, heading towards the pillars that separated platforms 9 and 10. The man leading the small group stumped along with an odd gait, and his head roamed ceaselessly, as if looking for the shadows to jump out and attack him.
"Hurry up, Potter! We need to get you and the girl safely on the train," growled Moody.
"The girl has a name, Mad-Eye. You should learn to use it," said Harry, who tried to walk faster without looking like he was rushing. Harry Potter looked over his left shoulder to the red-headed girl in question. He rolled his eyes at her and grinned as she smirked back at him.
Ginny flipped her long hair back over her shoulder after exchanging amused glances with Harry, and turned her attention to the young woman who walked beside her.
"Tonks, what's wrong with you this morning? You're acting as paranoid as Moody up there," said Ginny.
"I don't know, Ginny. There's just something…" Tonks trailed off uncertainly, her shaggy pink hair whipping around her head as she turned it quickly towards the side. There was nothing out of the ordinary, however, so she turned her attention back to the 14-year-old girl next to her. "You and Harry really need to keep your heads down this year, Ginny. There's been whispering going on that even I've heard in the halls. And with the stories that came out this summer--"
Harry cut her off before she could finish her sentence. "We know, Tonks. We know! But it's not like Ginny and I go looking for trouble. Trouble just seems to want to find us."
"And those stories are utter rubbish. If I ever get my hands on that cow Skeeter, she'll wish she'd never learned how to read and write," grumbled Ginny under her breath. Harry's weary chuckle made her aware, however, that at least one person had heard her comments.
Ginny glanced behind their small group, to see if the rest of her family had made it to the station yet. She and Harry had been escorted ahead of the others by Tonks and Mad-Eye Moody, apparating them side-along, right into an abandoned ticket counter at King's Cross. Her brothers and Hermione would be brought to the station by her parents and several other members of the Order.
"Any sign of the rest of them?" whispered Harry, his breath sending a chill down her neck. She hadn't realized he had gotten so close to her, but when she looked forward again, she saw Moody and Tonks huddling them into a smaller unit as they drew close to the pillars that would take them to the Hogwarts Express.
"No, but they would have had to drive through London traffic, so I imagine they'll be along shortly. Personally, I'm just hoping Fred and George don't sabotage our trunks before they get them on the train for us." They shared a wry grin at the thought, both knowing they would have to approach their school trunks with caution once they were onboard the Express. The twins offering to escort their belongings didn't bode well for their immediate future. They were both just glad to at least have their wands on them, Moody having insisted upon it after a lecture on 'constant vigilance' and proper wand safety.
"Harry… do you have a… a bad feeling about this year?" Ginny bit her bottom lip as she cast her eyes up at Harry. Her nightmares had only gotten worse during her summer at Order Headquarters, and she knew Harry had been having them, too. They had spent many late nights sitting in the kitchen at Grimmauld Place, sharing a quiet cup of tea, or occasionally listening to Sirius tell stories of the Marauder's time at Hogwarts. But the joviality of those conversations was interspersed with shared grim glances between the two, and a pall had settled over Headquarters in the last few weeks they spent there. Neither teen had any misgivings that the war with Voldemort had begun again, regardless of what the rest of the Wizarding world believed.
Ginny felt a weight come across her shoulders as Harry slung his arm around her and sighed heavily. She glanced up at him again and saw his face draw into a scowl, and she knew he was remembering their conversation from the night before. He'd shown up in the kitchen in the middle of the night, and told her of his disturbing dreams. Scenes of his parents never speaking to him, and her mother sobbing over Kreacher's dead body. But the visions of a long corridor that ended in a locked door were what woke him and drove him down to the dark of the kitchen, lit only by the fire she'd started in the hearth, and a few scattered candles.
She'd only been up a half hour herself, after having another nightmare involving Voldemort using her to get to her family and Harry. She knew Tom's influence had ended with the destruction of the diary, but the events at the end of the previous year brought her carefully buried worst fears to the forefront of her thoughts.
"I don't know Gin," Harry said. "All I know is that since he came back, the dreams have gotten worse. And that corridor… it was maddening. All we can do is keep our guard up and hope Dumbledore has some ideas. Although, I'm not taking any shite from Malferret this year. If he starts up with those comments of his again, I'll blast his–"
"Quit yer chatter you two, we're here," Moody interrupted. Ginny looked up and saw they were standing right next to the entrance to Platform nine and three-quarters.
"Alright, Tonks, you go through first. Make sure it's secure and I'll send Weasley through after 2 minutes. If it ain't secure, you come back through the gateway immediately and we'll get out of here. Potter will follow her and I'll secure the back end. Got it?"
After getting their agreement, Moody shoved Harry and Ginny close together, ready to move away at a moments notice. Tonks leaned against the pillar and casually slipped through the gateway. Ginny could feel Harry tense beside her, his hand in his pocket clenched around his wand. Her own wand was secured to her left forearm underneath her shirtsleeve in the wand holster that Bill had given her for her birthday that year. She was suddenly glad it was so close at hand, given the increased wariness Moody was instilling in both of them. The tense atmosphere made her palms itch, and she rubbed her hands together as she waited.
The minutes ticked down slowly, but eventually Moody gave a short jab at her with his finger and pointed towards the pillar. Ginny walked over to the entrance, and looking around for any Muggles who might notice, slid right through the pillar.
"C'mon Ginny, Harry and Mad-Eye should be right behind you," said Tonks, and indeed Harry passed through just moments later with Moody following right behind. Ginny glanced around the platform, but she didn't see any signs of danger. There were no black-robed Death Eaters waiting to attack them, no white masks glinting in the sunlight. Just the scarlet robes of a few Aurors towards one end of the train, and those few parents and students that had arrived that early. At 10:15, Ginny had the random thought that it might have been the earliest a Weasley had ever made it to the train station.
"Tonks, go secure a cabin on the train and I'll wait here with these two. When you find one, wave out the window and I'll bring them in." Tonks nodded at Moody's command, and with a cheeky grin to Ginny, she walked quickly towards one of the train doors, disappearing from view in a swirl of bright clothes and combat boots.
"Mad-Eye, what's with the Auror presence?" Harry asked quietly. Ginny saw him looking down towards the end of the train where four Aurors stood watching the students board. Harry's eyes looked troubled behind his glasses and she reached inside her sleeve to reassure herself that her wand was secure.
"Don't know, Potter. But it worries me, that's for sure. Might mean we have a problem on the way. Keep your wands close, both of you," Moody grumbled towards them, as he removed the hat that had obscured his eye from the Muggles. It rolled ceaselessly in its socket, making Ginny queasy as she watched it. She glanced back towards the train just as Tonks' brightly colored head came into view in one of the windows. Tonks waved at them then ducked back in, and Moody shoved them forward making Ginny stumble against Harry's side.
"Sorry 'bout that," she said, as Harry grabbed her upper arm to help her keep her balance. His hand felt overly warm through her shirt, and she caught her breath as a tingling heat rose up in her stomach. Shoving her feelings back down ruthlessly, she scolded herself for responding to him so easily. Stop it, Ginevra, he's just a friend. He's just your friend.
Repeating the mantra she had perfected that summer, she nodded her head at Harry when he asked if she was okay. They arrived at the stairs leading up into the train without further incident and Harry's hand slipped down to her lower back as she climbed on. Ginny hurried up the steps, and away from the all-too-welcome warmth of his skin against her back. She turned left at the top and headed down the train corridor towards the cabin that Tonks had found for them.
Seeing Tonks' pink head peeping out at them from the first cabin, Ginny walked straight in, laughing slightly as Tonks stumbled over the threshold of the door as Ginny passed her by. Harry followed right after, while Moody stood in the corridor with his wand out, watching both entrances to the train car with his roving eye.
"Right then. Tonks, have you secured the rest of this car?"
Tonks rolled her eyes at Ginny, but responded in a serious voice to the grizzled former Auror, "Yes, Moody, there's no sign of any death eaters, invisibility cloaks, disillusionment charms, or any other hidden wards. The car is clean."
"Good. Potter, Weasley, you're to stay put. Don't move from this cabin. Tonks you stay here outside their door, and I'll patrol the platform outside. You hear or see the slightest hint of a scuffle and you get these kids out of here. Constant vigilance!" Moody growled the last right at Tonks, but Ginny had had enough of the paranoia.
"Listen, Moody, why can't Tonks wait outside on the Muggle side of the Platform, to make sure my parents and brothers get through okay? She's secured the cabin, and nothing is going to get in past her that way," Ginny asked.
Mad-Eye Moody looked like he was going to argue with her, but Harry stepped in first.
"She's right, Mad-Eye. Tonks can help guard the Muggle side. Ginny and I can watch ourselves just fine with you two out there preventing anyone from coming through the barrier. We'll stay put in our cabin just like you told us." Harry's last sentence was laced through with a bitter undertone. She knew he hated these security procedures as much as she did, but they both went along with them. After the reports of various disappearances over the summer and Sturgis Podmore being arrested and sent to Azkaban, Ginny knew as well as Harry did that the Death Eaters were starting to act. The last thing she wanted was to be attacked before they could get to the safety of Hogwarts.
Moody glared at them with both eyes, and Ginny attempted to look competent and wary under his steel gaze. Finally he grunted out a quick, "Fine! But keep yer wands out!" then stumped off the train and made his way to the platform. They could see him standing a few feet from the train door, his gray head turning back and forth, watching the scores of students that were beginning to pour through the barrier towards the train.
"Well! Guess that's my cue, you two," Tonks grinned as she looked at them. "I promise to send your brothers and Hermione this way as soon as they get here. 'Course with the way those twins are, who knows when that will be."
Ginny smiled as Tonks finally left the cabin, closing the door behind her. She sank down into the seat with a sigh, feeling some of the tension dissipate that had followed them like a shadow since they left Grimmauld Place. She looked up and saw Harry staring out the cabin window, and watched his face crease into a wry grin just as she heard a muffled thump and a curse come from outside.
"Tonks tripped, didn't she?" Ginny asked.
Harry turned his smiling face her way, and she sighed as she saw how the laughter from Tonks eased the worry lines that had begun to etch their way around his eyes and mouth over the course of the long summer. Ever since the ritual that brought Tom back, Harry had begun to brood and worry even more than usual. And that was substantial considering everything they'd both gone through the last three years. But Cedric's death haunted Harry in a way Ginny hadn't seen before, and she was concerned for her friend.
He's just a friend, damn it. Stop staring at his mouth.
"You know, Gin, your wand's not out," Harry answered her instead, as he finally took the seat across from her.
"Neither is yours, Potter," Ginny snarked back, hoping to keep his mood lighter than it had been.
He chuckled at her, and then leaned his head back against the seat, closing his eyes. Ginny could see the bruising around them that bespoke of their many sleepless nights over the past month. She glanced at her watch, then looked back to see Harry's tired figure slouching even further into the cushions.
"Why don't you try and take a short nap, Harry? It's only half past 10, and Merlin knows the rest of my family won't show up until the last minute," Ginny suggested quietly. She hoped he'd take the 20 minutes or so they would have before they were bombarded by the twins' loud entrance and her mum's hugs and stern warnings.
The door to their cabin slamming open interrupted his answer.
Moody could feel the vibration of the many feet hurrying across the platform through his wooden leg, as he swiveled his eye around to watch through the cabin wall, seeing Potter and Weasley still there. He watched Tonks close the cabin door and trip down the steps, as his good eye roved back and forth watching the swarms of kids and parents grow thicker. It was a security nightmare. Any one of them could be a polyjuiced death eater in disguise.
Tonks finally made her way to where he stood a few feet from the train door. "They're all set, Moody. I'll bring the Weasleys through when Remus and Emmeline finally get them here."
He grunted back at her, his eye now catching a swish of robes from the end of the train.
"What's with the Auror detail? Dumbledore didn't say anything about Fudge providing any security," Moody asked, as he watched the four Aurors board the train in pairs. He recognized Robards from his time in the Auror ranks, and knew him to be a decent Auror and a good wizard.
"I dunno, really. Maybe Scrimgeour ordered it at the last minute. I heard him talking to Dawlish yesterday about securing something. I guess he meant the train," Tonks answered, squinting down the platform to watch the last Auror's long ponytail disappear up the stairs. "That last one was Williamson, and if Dawlish is here, his partner Proudfoot will be, too"
"Hm. I saw Robards before they got on. He'll catch anything that you didn't find, at least."
Tonk's hair flashed to green momentarily, as she scowled at him. "Gee, thanks Moody. I'm off to the entrance."
Moody's eye kept up with Tonks until she disappeared through the barrier. It was too bad the wards protecting the Muggle side obscured his eye – he would have preferred them both to be near the train.
He felt a small body rocket into his side, and his wand was at a throat before he even finished turning his head. Moody bit off a reductor curse at the last second, scowling down at a small blonde boy with a camera around his neck.
"Oh! Professor Moody, I'm so sorry! I didn't see you and Dennis said he saw Harry Potter in a cabin over here and I thought I could get his picture–"
"What's yer name, boy!" Moody thundered as he poked his wand at the camera, looking to see if it had been hexed to attack him. He waved an intricate series of revealing charms over the boy's head to check for glamours, and then looked down to see the blonde gaping up at him.
"Go on now, whatever your name is. Get on the train, and don't be bothering Potter," he said, dismissing the boy, but he kept one eye on him, watching him return to a cabin several cars down the train.
The chatter and loud goodbyes of weepy-eyed parents surrounding him did nothing for his rapidly souring mood. Moody had been feeling jittery in his stump of a leg all day, and he knew that scent of danger on the air. He turned his eye back towards the kids' cabin, and his blood ran cold. The cabin was empty.
Jolting around, Moody started towards the train in a surprisingly fast hobble, but a scarlet-robed Auror sauntered down the steps and stopped him, pointing not a wand, but a rolled parchment at his chest.
"Mad-Eye, I presume? I'm Auror Dawlish. Here is an arrest warrant for Harry James Potter and Ginevra Molly Weasley. Be sure the girl's parents get this. As for Potter, well… give it to Dumbledore," Dawlish said, and before Moody could react, the Auror stepped back, mumbled "portus" and was gone.
Albus Dumbledore walked slowly along the platform at Hogsmeade, checking the wards he had placed one last time before heading back to the castle to finish the final preparations before the students' arrival. He was looking forward to that evening, and not just to see his students return to the school that always seemed too quiet and empty during the summer months. Albus knew he would feel a lot more secure when young Ginevra and especially Harry were behind the stone walls of his school.
Not since the dark days before Voldemort's defeat almost 14 years previously had he felt such worry and near terror. Albus kept his face as serene as possible when speaking to the Order and Harry this summer, but behind that façade, he was beyond worried. Voldemort's return at the end of last term, coupled with the increasing hostilities between himself and the Ministry would lead to a very rough year for the young man he felt so much fondness for. And the intrusion of Dolores Umbridge as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor would antagonize Harry and his friends. He made a note to himself to warn Minerva and have her pass on the message to the four young teens.
And perhaps Misters Fred and George Weasley as well, though that might be like waving a red flag in front of the boisterous pair, he chuckled to himself.
Albus looked forward to the clash between the Weasley twins and Madam Umbridge.
As he continued with that pleasant thought, he turned his head at the sight of a ghostly white eagle patronus winging its way towards him. "Alastor," he gasped, and froze as it delivered its message in Moody's grizzled voice.
"Albus, the kids have been taken. Get to King's Cross now."
With a swirl of purple velvet and an almost silent pop, Albus Apparated straight to the abandoned ticket counter at Platform Seven that he'd secured for Nymphadora and Alastor earlier that morning. Dumbledore waved his wand, and his robes became a violet summer suit and dress shoes, complete with a gray striped tie and lapel pin. His disguise complete, he strode quickly towards the entrance to the Hogwarts Express, heedless of the stares his waist-length beard received.
Arriving shortly at the hidden entrance, Albus waved his wand discretely, weaving a Notice-Me-Not charm around himself. There was no need to announce his arrival to the entire Hogwarts student population that he was sure lay waiting on the other side. Stepping through, he immediately caught sight of Alastor and Tonks standing in the shadows nearby. With a flick of his wrist and two steps, he drew close enough to speak softly and dispelled the charm for just those two.
"Alastor, what happened?"
Without a word, Moody handed over a scroll of parchment bearing the Ministry seal. Tonks looked beyond worried, and Alastor bore an unusual mask of guilt mixed with anger.
"They were taken in a matter of seconds, Albus. Seconds!" Moody gritted out through his teeth, one eye on the Headmaster as the other watched the platform around them. "That idiot Fudge is behind this, but I'll bet I know who's pulling his puppet strings."
Listening to Alastor mutter about slimy Death Eaters paying their way out of Azkaban, Albus quickly broke the seal and his heart plummeted as he read the contents. Just as he reached the end of the parchment and looked up to ask Tonks what she had seen, the Weasleys arrived. Chaos was about to erupt, and with only minutes until the Express left, there was no time for explanations. He had to act quickly.
"Nymphadora, please help Remus get the children on the train, as quickly and quietly as you can. Do not tell them what has happened, just inform them that Harry and Ginevra have been detained and they will find out more when they arrive at Hogwarts this evening. Keep watch until the train departs, then you and Remus come straight back to Headquarters. Alastor, come with me, please," Albus said, and he was heartened to see the young Auror head straight to the group, corralling the students and getting them headed towards the train with the help of Remus Lupin.
Albus and Moody walked the short steps to where Molly and Arthur Weasley were waving their children off, and as he drew close, he heard the Weasley matriarch start asking about her daughter and Harry. Albus knew he had to get them away and quickly. Flicking his wrist to include the couple and their escort, Emmeline Vance, in the removal of the charm, Dumbledore garnered their attention immediately.
"Albus! Oh, goodness you scared me. But what on earth are you doing here? And Alastor – what cabin are Ginny and Harry in? I wanted to say goodbye before they left," Molly rambled, her attention diverted once more towards the train that was blasting the last whistle call before leaving the station.
"Molly and Arthur, Alastor has just informed me of a situation that has occurred regarding Harry and your daughter." Albus held up his hand at Molly's alarmed look and hoped he could convince the protective mother of the need to leave before she exploded. For he knew it was only a matter of moments before they began to draw a lot more attention if she found out the truth here in the open. "Molly, please, this conversation must take place in a secure location. Go back to Headquarters and Alastor and I shall follow immediately after."
Molly's face flushed a bright red and Arthur laid a steadying hand on her shoulders. Albus looked to Arthur and tried to convince him without words that it was vitally important not to cause a scene in their current location. With a sigh, Arthur rubbed his palm over his balding head and took his wife by the hand.
"Very well, Albus, but we will have some answers about what is going on just as soon as you get there. I have your agreement on that?" Albus was impressed as usual by the elder Weasley's steady look and quiet strength. Many in the Ministry passed over Arthur Weasley as a ridiculous, Muggle-loving fool, he knew. But they underestimated him to their own detriment – Arthur was not a man to be trifled with, especially concerning his family. And Albus knew without a doubt, that the Weasleys considered Harry to be one of their own.
"You have my promise, Arthur," Dumbledore assured the man. Arthur acknowledged him with a sharp nod, and led his still fuming wife towards the exit. He breathed a silent sigh of relief, and turned towards the remaining two Order members.
"Miss Vance, would you kindly wait for Remus and Nymphadora, and once the train has departed, the three of you return straight back to Headquarters. Oh, and would you make certain that Harry and Ginevra's luggage is retrieved from the other students and brought back with you?"
"Of course, Headmaster," Emmeline replied, and the stately witch strode towards the train to wait for the other two.
"Alastor, please walk with me, we have much to discuss and little time to do it, I'm afraid," Dumbledore said. He glanced around to make sure they were not being followed or watched closely, and then headed for the exit with Moody at his side. Passing through to the Muggle concourse, Dumbledore walked briskly towards the abandoned ticket counter, where he raised several charms and privacy wards.
"Now, Alastor, tell me everything that occurred." As he listened to the ex-Auror speak, he grew more concerned. Cornelius was a rash man, and after the many unfortunate articles over the years, was sure to be swayed by the public opinion espoused in Rita Skeeter's reports. However, he was alarmed that the Minister seemed to be playing right into Voldemort's hands with this course of action. Albus was dismayed that he had not heard of this before it happened. There was no indication prior to that morning's events, and with his dismissal from the Wizengamot two years previously, it was obvious the rot was starting to spread ever wider in the Ministry.
Voices from nearby alerted Dumbledore to how long they had been there and he removed his spells just before the three other Order members arrived. Remus carried Harry's trunk and Emmeline and Tonks walked in just after with Ginny's.
"Albus, what is going on? Dora said that Harry and Ginny–"
Dumbledore interrupted Remus before he could continue, "Please Remus, head straight back to Headquarters and gather everyone that is currently there into the kitchen. I shall be there momentarily."
Lupin's scarred face looked thunderous, but he held his tongue and Apparated straight out, followed shortly by Tonks and Emmeline. Alastor shared a look with him, before apparating out as well.
His shoulders slumping downward, Dumbledore raised his wand and transfigured his clothes back into their original robes. He sent a quick patronus off to Minerva to inform her of his delayed return to Hogwarts, and then he steeled himself before apparating to the London street outside of Grimmauld Place. Between Sirius, Remus, and the Weasleys he would be hard pressed to keep them from storming the Ministry after he told them what had become of their children.
The slow, steady dripping of the faucet was going to drive him mad, he just knew it. And it's only been about 20 minutes, Harry thought to himself, turning and striding back across the room.
He'd been tossed in this tiny room right after they were portkeyed in by the Aurors, and his groggy mind had cleared a bit since then. The room was small and dark; his pacing only allowing him four steps before he had to turn and walk the other way under the dim light of an old bulb that hung from the ceiling. The dripping, rusted sink was attached to a toilet that had definitely seen cleaner days, and he didn't even want to contemplate the mattress on the floor. It was covered in blood stains and what looked like weeks-old vomit.
Harry reached up and rubbed his forehead, wincing as his fingers ran over the cut that went up into his hairline. Gingerly tracing the wound, he realized it was a lot longer than he'd thought, nearly reaching down to his eyebrow. He brought his hand down and stared at his bloody fingertips. Anger surged through him again, and he clenched his fist and kept pacing.
Stupid, Potter! You should have listened to Moody, Harry berated himself. The Aurors had come out of nowhere, crimson robes fanning out to block the exit. He and Ginny hadn't even had time to yell for help or get their wands out before spells were flying at them. Within seconds they were subdued, their arms bound tightly behind their backs, and then the sickening feeling of a hook behind his navel and they were portkeyed away. It had taken less than a minute for he and Ginny to be overwhelmed and whisked off the train.
His fury washed over him again, and he stalked to the metal door and banged his fist on it. Harry had done this every five minutes since one of the Aurors had shoved him in here and slammed the door, Ginny's voice screaming his name as she was dragged away elsewhere.
Those fucking bastards had better not lay a hand on her. His chest heaved, and he raised both hands, slamming them as hard as he could against the door, the sound reverberating around the dank cell.
A small, barred window snapped open, startling him into taking a step back. He could see most of a man's face through the metal bars. He was older, with graying hair, and a face that held a few scars. But though his dark eyes were stern, there was no hint of the disturbing cruelty that he had witnessed from the man who'd cut open his forehead.
"Move away from the door and face the wall with your hands on your head. Move it, Potter," the man said.
Harry scowled, but did as was requested, backing up slowly to face the wall. The lock clicked open, and he could see two Aurors walk in with their wands raised, out of the corner of his eye. A softly spoken spell bound his wrists together, and another locked his arms in place. Harry felt the tip of a wand press hard into the back of his head, forcing it forward into the wall. The backs of his eyes stung in pain as his open cut pressed into the cold damp stone. But he clenched his jaw, determined not to show them it hurt.
"You make one wrong move, Potter, and I'll blast your skull wide open. Now, turn around and follow this nice man. I'll be right behind you." This was a voice he recognized. This was the man who'd cut him on the train, but had not followed them immediately with the portkey. This was the man with the cruel, disdainful eyes.
"Dawlish, ease up on the prisoner, and stop injuring him without provocation. Unless he makes a move, you don't need to harm him. Just follow the regulations and get him processed like any other prisoner," the stern-faced man said.
Dawlish snorted insolently, but backed up, pulling Harry's bound hands with him forcing him to step away from the wall. There was a streak of red on the stone from his cut, and the release of the pressure against it up caused it to open again, letting blood drip slowly down his face.
"Fine. But we all know what this piece of rubbish is capable of, Robards," Dawlish drawled.
Robards grunted, but didn't respond. Harry was facing him now, and he could see that this Robards fellow was an older Auror, most likely having served the Ministry for many years. As he turned around and walked out of the door, Harry followed, stumbling a little as Dawlish shoved him forward into the hallway. It's time to get some damn answers.
"Why did you attack us on the train? Ginny and I didn't do anything wrong! What are we doing here?" Harry asked, trying to remain calm as his gut churned at not knowing why they'd been captured and imprisoned.
"The Ministry issued warrants for your arrest, as well as Miss Weasley," Robards responded.
Arrest warrants? What the fuck is going on?!
He was led down a long, dingy hallway with non-descript, gray metal doors on each side, most likely leading to rooms similar to the one he was held in. The door at the end of the hall was different, however, and as they approached it Harry saw it was painted red with tall, white letters. Central processing?
Robards stopped their small procession just before the red door. Turning around, Harry looked into his eyes and for a moment he thought he saw regret. Then a stern façade came down, and the Auror pointed his wand at Harry's chest.
"Harry James Potter, you are under arrest for murder. You will be processed in accordance with Ministry regulations and procedures, and held over until your trial. Your wand will be confiscated until your sentence is decided by the Wizengamot." The words were spoken by rote, as if Robards had said them a thousand times before. The shock of them sent his mind reeling. Murder?
"Wha… wh-who? Who did they say I murdered?" Harry gasped out.
"You are charged with the murder of Cedric Diggory."
No. Oh God, no.
Numb with shock, he barely was able to put one foot in front of the other as Robards tapped his wand on the red door and led Harry and Dawlish inside. The room held little; only a table with some boxes, several scrolls of parchment, and a pile of grey and white striped fabric. His eyes roved around the room, trying to find something to latch onto. Something that made sense. But there was nothing there. Only an endless well of nightmares and fear.
Dawlish marched him across the room, standing him behind a yellow line on the floor. He turned Harry around until he faced the table, then backed away and stood besides Robards. With a flick of his wand, a hazy film sprung up in front of Harry's face, stretching from wall to wall over the yellow line. Absently, Harry raised his hand and touched it, feeling a sharp stinging pain in his fingertips, like the shock of hot water on frozen skin.
"Prisoner, we are going to remove the binding spells. Once they are removed, we will begin your processing. Do not step beyond the yellow line. If you do, the pain of the ward will get worse the more you push. Do you understand?" Robards' voice sounded tinny, as if it came down a long tube. Harry stared blankly at the man, unable to understand what was happening. He only realized that they had cast a spell to release his bonds when his arms fell limply to his sides.
"Prisoner, remove your outer clothing and shoes, and leave them on the floor."
Harry dimly registered a voice speaking to him, as he was directed to strip to his boxers. He was given clothing that he put on without looking. His personal items were summoned, and then separated into the boxes on the table. And all the while Harry could hear only the pounding of his heart and Cedric's voice, agreeing to take the cup together – to share it – to make it a Hogwarts victory. The memory of that moment – when Cedric grinned at him and helped him limp over to the cup – was worse than anything Harry had experienced later that night in the graveyard.
A stinging hex to his shoulder woke him from his daze, and he looked up to see Dawlish standing just in front of him, his wand pointed at Harry's head. A glance behind the sneering Auror showed an empty room. Robards must have left at some point, but Harry couldn't remember when. The pounding in his chest had tapered off, leaving behind a dull emptiness that spread to his limbs, making them feel weak and too heavy to move.
"Look lively, Potter. I'm taking you to see your little friend," Dawlish sneered. He flicked his wand again, and the hazy ward disappeared. The way he emphasized the word 'friend' caught Harry's attention, and he scowled, feeling a spark of anger break through his lethargy.
Dawlish whispered a binding charm, and Harry felt his arms snap behind his back tightly. The wiry-haired Auror grabbed Harry's bicep and wrenched his shoulder forward roughly, drawing him along to a blue door set in the wall across from the red one. Pulling it open, Dawlish continued his fast pace, his longer stride causing Harry to have to trot to keep his shoulder from being dislocated.
They walked down a short hall, this one devoid of metal doors. It opened out into a room lined with cells, and Dawlish turned to the right, walking Harry past several empty ones before reaching the end. A large, dark skinned man was slouched over with his arms braced through the metal bars of the cell. He was staring intently at a small figure that was curled up on the cot, arms clutched tightly around drawn-up knees. A curtain of flaming red hair hung down, hiding her face.
"Ginny!" Harry called out hoarsely.
Ginny's head popped up, but Harry had only a moment to take in her tear-stained face before he was cuffed hard on the back of his head. His bound arms threw off his balance, and he stumbled into the bars of the cell. Before he could right himself, Dawlish snatched a handful of his hair and pulled him back upright. The stinging pull against his scalp made his eyes water and he hissed in pain.
"Not another word out of you, Potter!" Dawlish growled out. Harry met his eyes, throwing every ounce of contempt and hatred that he felt for the man into his gaze. Dawlish evidently understood what that look meant, for he chuckled lowly and tightened his grip.
"Proudfoot, open this cell so Potter here can rest up for his big day tomorrow," Dawlish said.
The large man named Proudfoot slowly straightened and backed away from Ginny's cell. The look in his eyes made Harry's stomach clench. He knew this was another man to be wary of.
Proudfoot tapped his wand on the lock and the cell door slid open with a clang. Before Harry could turn to walk in on his own, Dawlish shoved him forward with the hand still gripping his hair, sending him tripping over his own feet. He managed to land hard on his knees, and he knew he'd have large bruises from the hard stone floor by the next day.
The door closed behind him, and he heard a quiet mutter, releasing his bound arms. Harry rubbed his sore shoulders as he climbed slowly to his feet. He looked up and caught Ginny's eyes through the bars that separated their two cells. She looked terrified, and it was obvious that she was just barely holding herself together.
Ginny's gaze skittered momentarily past his shoulder, and Harry turned around to see Proudfoot and Dawlish standing just outside his cell. Dawlish had a smug look of superiority on his face, but Proudfoot was staring past him at Ginny. Harry scowled and backed up a few steps, sliding over to block her from the man's view.
Harry was about to say something that would surely get him hexed again, when another Auror walked into the cell room. His hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and Harry recognized him as the last of the four Aurors who had apprehended them on the train.
"Proudfoot! Robards wants a word with you. You too, Dawlish," the man said.
Proudfoot leaned his head to the side, and Harry repositioned himself, backing up until he felt the bars against his back. He could hear Ginny's rapid breathing behind him, and the lightest touch of her hand, barely brushing his shirt through the bars. Proudfoot merely grunted and turned to walk away. Dawlish stood there a moment longer before following behind him, stopping next to the long-haired Auror on his way out of the room.
"You better watch these two closely, Williamson. Don't let the little kids fool you. They're killers," Dawlish said, his voice harsh and louder than was needed to talk to someone standing right next to him. Harry knew that last sentence was meant for him and Ginny to hear.
"The prisoners are guilty when the Wizengamot says they're guilty, Dawlish. Until then, they have the same rights as any witch or wizard being held over for trial," Williamson responded calmly. The two Aurors stared at each other, before Dawlish broke the gaze and quickly walked out of the room.
Williamson came over to the front of Harry's cell, carrying a sack that he hadn't noticed earlier. The man beckoned Harry closer, but he hesitated a moment. While it seemed he was at least more reasonable than Dawlish, and far less creepy than Proudfoot, he still didn't trust the man. Williamson's eyes glanced over Harry's face, taking in the bloody cut and bruises. Without saying anything, he pushed the sack through the bars of the cell, dropping it on the floor. Then he nodded and walked back to the entrance to the room, taking up a position there with his wand held at his side.
When Harry realized that Auror Williamson was merely going to stand there on guard duty, he took the few steps over to the sack, kicking it gently with his foot to see if there was anything wrong with it. It felt okay, so Harry picked it up and returned to the other side of the cell. He finally got his first good look at Ginny since the train, and what he saw worried him greatly.
Her skin was nearly white, her freckles standing out in sharp relief against her tear-stained cheeks. The prison clothes she was wearing were obviously too large for her, hanging loosely off of her tiny body, and her arms were wrapped tightly around her chest as she stood next to the bars shivering. But her eyes… Oh Merlin, what did that bastard do to her?
"Ginny? Are you… I mean, I know you're not okay, but… are you hurt? Did they hurt you?" Harry asked hesitantly.
"I'm…" Ginny cleared her throat and swallowed hard as she tucked her hair behind her ear with one hand. "I'm okay. He… he didn't touch me."
Harry shoved all the feelings of horror and shock that he still carried after learning he was being held responsible for Cedric's death to the back of his mind. I'll deal with it later, he thought.
He stepped right up to the bars and reached through, holding out his hand. Ginny's shoulders jerked, but she unwrapped one arm from around her and slowly slid her hand into his. Harry gripped it lightly, but his throat tightened, and he didn't know what to say. Ginny's eyes held a lost look that he'd seen from her before, immediately after he rescued her from the Chamber. Harry had a feeling this was going to be a thousand times worse. There was no Fawkes here; no Sorting Hat with ready answers and a sword.
Now they were both lost.