I said all I wanted to say in the last author's note, so enjoy!
Harry took a deep breath of wonderful, fresh air as He, Ginny, Sirius and Mr. Weasley materialised in the centre of Hogsmeade. The damage from the Death Eater attack was still apparent with the odd curse mark potted around the walls and the occasional charred building. It certainly didn't help him forget his mission. He almost felt as strongly for Hermione as he did for Ginny, and had the suspicion he would do so if he was bonded to her as he was to Ginny.
I'm not sure I should be offended or not, but I love her too. Sent Ginny.
There isn't a chance in hell I'm sleeping tonight without Hermione with us! Harry sent back confidently.
Harry sensed a disturbance in Ginny's mind, as if she was doubting something in her head.
We have to see what Dumbledore says. she sent darkly.
After a few minutes of silent walking, the group reached the Castle gates, which were locked, most likely due to the fact it was nighttime.
As soon as they arrived, a lantern clicked on in the distance, and a shadowy figure begun approaching the front gates. Upon closer examination, it was Hagrid, who looked quite tipsy
"Alrigh' Harry!" Hagrid boomed merrily. "I see you bough' a crew for te party!" but his face straightened once he saw the darkened expressions on their faces. "Wha's wrong?"
Harry sighed "Death Eaters attacked us at Grimmauld Place, they took Hermione" he said grimly.
Hagrid's expression changed to one of pure shock and without another word, he opened the gates and beckoned them all through. They solemnly marched towards Dumbledore's office, and to general surprise, the gargoyle jumped aside without asking for a password, almost like they were expected. Harry burst into Dumbledore's office to see him stood talking with none other than Severus Snape. Harry roared with complete rage and raised his wand at Snape, with the others following suit but Dumbledore raised an arm. Harry stood, shocked.
"Sir! He was just at Grimmauld Place attack..." he began.
"Please be calm Harry!" Dumbledore said calmly. "I told Severus to attack Grimmauld place"
Sirius pushed in front of Harry. "WHAT!" he roared. "That's my house you son of a..."
"SILENCE!" Dumbledore yelled, and Sirius shrunk back behind Harry. "It was a calculated plan. I sent Severus over to the Death Eaters with permission to give away the house's secret. The idea was for him to partake in the attack and walk off as you showed off your vastly improved magical power." He said. "That would then force them to retreat and buy us more time for me to teach you..."
Harry snorted, and interrupted Dumbledore in his tracks. "Was Hermione being abducted your plan too?" he said with tears forming in his eyes. He couldn't believe Dumbledore would purposely endanger not only his life, but the lives of his friends, his surrogate family, and his beloved like that. Dumbledore's face went pale white at those words, evidently realising his mistake, and turned to Snape, who had tried his best to shrink into the corner during the conversation.
"Were you aware of the plan to abduct Miss Granger?" Dumbledore said simply.
"Well...I...possibly..." Snape stuttered and was instantly thrown to the floor, a full Body Bind Curse placed upon him. Harry blinked. He barely saw Dumbledore raise his wand.
"Are you completely insane!" Dumbledore roared. Harry stood, shocked. He'd never seen Dumbledore this furious before. "Allowing this to happen has completely removed my trust in you! I thought you'd changed after..." he looked at Harry, then suddenly stopped talking.
"After what?" Harry enquired.
"It's nothing." Dumbledore shook him off and he turned back to Snape, removing the curse on his head. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you now" he said coldly, not the Dumbledore that Harry knew.
Snape could only splutter with pure terror reaching his cold black eyes. Dumbledore grumbled and cast him to the floor, re-enabling the Body Bind, then sat as his desk, stroking his beard.
"We must initiate a plan to retrieve Miss Granger" Dumbledore said after a minute's agonising silence, and Harry's heart fluttered. He felt Ginny's do the same. "I did not want to force a confrontation with Voldemort this early..." he finished and Harry's heart sank.
"Are you sure Hermione's kept where Voldemort is?" Sirius asked.
"Without a doubt" said Dumbledore grimly. "If the backup plan was to abduct her, and the Death Eaters witnessed Harry's and by extension Miss Weasley's increase in power, then they would take her straight to him, to make absolutely sure that she would not be able to be retrieved easily. Of course we're playing right into Voldemort's hand" he added.
"What do you mean Sir?" Harry asked, fear bubbling in his stomach, Ginny mentally soothed him.
"I'd been meaning to tell you this a bit later, but unfortunately time is of the essence." Dumbledore said and stood up. "You're all aware that Voldemort is afraid of death, correct?" He said, and there were general murmurs of agreement.
"Well, being the power fanatic he is, he researched away to prolong his life beyond death, and found it." Harry gasped.
"So we can't kill him then?" He said, deflating like a balloon.
"Well, he's made it incredibly difficult to do so" Dumbledore said grimly. "Have you heard of horcruxes?" he asked.
Harry, Ginny and Mr. Weasley shook their heads while Sirius gasped.
"You don't mean..." he began.
"You are correct Sirius!" Dumbledore said, and elaborated for everyone else. "Horcruxes are a vessel in which you can split your soul into." he said.
"Split your soul..." Harry said, confused. "Like slicing a cake?"
Dumbledore nodded. "Precisely. Once a soul has been split, usually through some powerful, or evil deed, then it can be planted in this vessel, and once the person in question dies, he will not truly die, as part of his or her soul still exists in the mortal world."
Then, it suddenly clicked in Harry's head. "So that's how Voldemort survived when the curse backfired!" he shouted, and Dumbledore nodded again.
"The main issue, is that he is now bound to have one or two of his horcruxes close to hand, in case such a thing happens again."
Harry nodded. "That makes sense. He seems the paranoid type." he agreed. "Hang on, what do you mean one or two?" he questioned, perplexed. "Surely a soul cannot be split that severely?"
"It is not advised to do so" Dumbledore said darkly. "Such an action would put a huge stress on the soul that's left in the individual, and could potentially kill them. However, my calculations suggest he has made 6 of them."
Harry and the others gasped, shocked. "So Voldemort's soul is in seven pieces?" Ginny asked, joining the conversation for the first time.
Dumbledore nodded again. "Correct. However, back to the topic at hand. We know that Voldemort cannot be killed while his horcruxes are still around the world. However, with your combined magical prowess plus mine, with the other members of the Order, we may be able to stun him, if not force him to seek a new body, which would give us time to collect Miss Granger and go." Dumbledore said. "However, I do not think we will emerge unscathed. His Death Eaters will fight to the very end to save his life, and Voldemort himself is a formidable foe." He concluded grimly.
"Well let's go then!" Harry said to general amazement.
"But Harry!" Dumbledore said, with a hint of concern in his voice. "We need to plan an assault of this magnitude! We can't just burst in through the front door!" he reasoned.
"Why not?" Said Sirius, and all eyes focused on him. "Voldemort knows you Dumbledore." he said. "He knows you have an affinity for long-term plans and therefore that's what he would expect you to do! If we strike now and in force, we will have the element of surprise, and it gives him less time to formulate a proper guard to get past."
Dumbledore stroked his beard for a moment, then sighed. "You're right. I will send Fawkes to gather the Order here presently, and then we will make a move to Malfoy Manor" he finished.
"Malfoy Manor?" Harry asked. "Why would he be there?" and Dumbledore chuckled slightly in response.
"The Malfoy house has become unplottable since the Ministry incident last year" Dumbledore said. "Ministry officials have been unable to find the house, to question Mr. Malfoy on the events that transpired in the Department of Mysteries." He said. "I believe that Voldemort has chosen that house as his base, almost as a punishment, for Lucius' inability to carry out the retrieval of the prophecy." He said, and walked over to Fawkes. He whispered a message in Fawkes' ear, and Fawkes vanished in a swirl of flame.
"Now. We wait." Dumbledore said grimly and offered everyone present a chair. He left Snape on the floor, and Harry couldn't help but smirk inside. Snape had this coming.
Wow Harry, I didn't know you enjoyed seeing people bound beneath you and helpless! Ginny sent, and Harry reeled, shocked.
Now's not the time Ginny! He shot back Think of Hermione!
Ginny mentally pouted. I thought if I made you laugh it would calm your nerves! And a swirl of affection welled up in Harry. She was so caring.
I know, now act serious. You said we'd get Hermione, and I'm behind you! She sent confidently.
Around half an hour passed, and all the members of the Order had convened in Dumbledore's office. All of them had grim faces, and had offered their personal apologies to Harry and Ginny for the events that transpired. Even Tonks' usual bright exterior looked almost grey, as she looked forlornly at Dumbledore. Remus looked even older than usual, Mad-Eye kept taking swigs from his hip flask, and Kingsley stood with his eyes closed, as if meditating, as Dumbledore spoke.
"We all know the stakes here. It seems a lot to risk for the life of one girl, but it is my doing that she is in this situation and I would not feel like I'm on the right side if I did not correct my mistake. Plus, if we can show off to Voldemort how much combined power we have, then he may think twice before authorising more public attacks, which gives us more time to plan a definitive method of defeating him."
"Hear Hear!" Shouted Sirius and an eruption of cheers broke out, as Harry and Ginny had their arms grabbed and they all disapparated.
Harry took a deep breath as they landed upon cold, dewey soil somewhere in the countryside on what looked like a flat farmer's field. There was limited visibility, and Harry scanned the environment. He could see no house.
"How are we supposed to find the house if it's unplottable?" he asked.
Dumbledore chuckled. "Defensive wards are my speciality" he said. "Who do you think put up Hogwart's defences?" He raised his wand, closed his eyes and enchanted incantations too fast for Harry to decipher. Suddenly, a visual sensation like water running down a surface after being washed off appeared in the air, and to everyone's immense surprise, an enormous, handsome manor house appeared to them, with dim lights flickering in the dark windows. Someone was definitely home. To Harry's surprise, there was no guard stationed outside.
"See?" Sirius said smugly. "Element of surprise!"
The Order crept up to the front door and stationed themselves on either side, with Dumbledore in the middle, facing the door.
"REDUCTO!" Dumbledore roared, and the door caved in. The order rushed through the door to find themselves in a magnificently decorated hallway, with an enormous oak door, presumably leading to a dining room, which opened slowly. The Order raised their wands, to come face to face with Voldemort and a surprisingly small assortment of his followers, who looked alarmed. Voldemort merely looked at them, not looking particularly bothered by the intrustion.
"Well what do we have here?" He sneered.
"We've come for the girl" Dumbledore said grimly.
"Ha!" Voldemort cackled. "You mean the girl? I've disposed of her." He said.
"NOOOOOO!" Cried Harry and Ginny simultaneously. Harry fell to the floor, his insides turning as cold as ice. He was too late. He had failed Hermione.
Voldemort laughed as if Christmas had come early. "Attack!" he told his entourage, and with a scream, Bellatrix led the charge and launched a Killing Curse at Dumbledore, which he appeared to dodge without moving. Soon, the air was filled with a flurry of spells and curses. Dumbledore was duelling Bellatrix, Yaxley, Macnair and Malfoy single handedly, while Remus and Sirius stood back to back, surrounded. Mad-Eye Moody blasted a Death Eater through a window, and Kinglsey stood with Tonks and Mr. Weasley trying their best to protect Harry and Ginny, who were both still on the floor, Harry in shock. Ginny trying to snap him out of it. Voldemort simply sat there, revelling in the carnage, occassionally blocking a spell fired in his direction.
Come on Harry! You need to fight, we need you! She mentally pleaded.
What's the point? She's gone. There's no point trying. He sent back, and a tear ran down his face.
Bull! Ginny shouted mentally. If she is gone, then she would want you to give them hell for doing that to her. Harry had to admit. She was right.
Exactly! Use your anger! You know what happens when you get angry! She pleaded, and Harry stood up, looked Voldemort directly in the eye, with all the hatred that he felt. Voldemort sneered back and rose to his feet. Everything else appeared to travel in slow motion, with everyone else temporarily oblivious to the fact both Harry and Voldemort had joined the fray. Harry didn't even know what spell he cast, but a jet of golden red light fired from his wand and met with Voldemort's own green jet.
Dumbledore finished incapacitating the four Death Eaters to watch the duel unfold. Voldemort was laughing as he began to overpower Harry, who felt like his arm was going to be ripped off with the force of maintaining the power. He thought of Hermione, how because of this man, she was dead, how because of him, he was unable to lead a normal life. Power flared in Harry's stomach and he looked up from his wand and met Voldemort's gaze a second time, who's cold sneer turned into a flicker of fear. Harry screamed at the top of his lungs, thrust both of his arms forward, and forced every single ounce of his power out of the tip of his wand, and watched as his own jet grew three times in size and overwhelm Voldemort's who then got blasted backwards, hit a wall, and landed on his knees. Before anyone could cast any other spells to incapacitate him, with a swish of his cloak, he grabbed Malfoy, Bellatrix, and Yaxley and vanished.
Harry sighed and sunk to the floor. He felt like he had been punched 100 times in the arms, and they felt like they wouldn't work. Dumbledore bound up the remaining Death Eaters and rushed to his aid, pulling a potion out of his cloak, and feeding it to Harry. Strength poured through Harry's muscles, and he found himself able to stand.
"That was incredible Harry!" Dumbledore boomed, pride evident in his voice, and the other members of the Order and Ginny cheered and embraced him in a sort of group hug, but Harry wasn't focused. He was thinking of Hermione, and felt guilty he was not able to properly stop Voldemort.
"What are you talking about Harry?" Ginny said "You BEAT Voldemort in a duel! Only Dumbledore has been able to do that!" and everyone else murmured in agreement
"I suppose..." Harry sighed "But Hermione's..."
"Hold that thought a moment Harry." Dumbledore said and began chanting again. "I've just scanned the immediate area for signs of life, and not counting ourselves and the incapacitated Death Eaters, there is one more human in this mansion."
Harry perked up instantly upon hearing. "Could it be?" he asked hopefully.
"We shall see." Dumbledore said. "Everyone split up and search the house. The person is nearby!"
Upon his command, everyone began searching up and down the entire mansion, finding nothing.
"That's strange." Dumbledore frowned. "I'm sure I performed the spell correctly." and Harry deflated again.
"OWWWW!" Tonks yelped, and tripped over an umbrella stand, which brought small chuckles form the rest of the group. The umbrella stand didn't fall over, however. It moved aside, revealing a switch in the floor.
"Well done Tonks! Excellent work!" Dumbledore beamed, and Tonks opened her mouth to argue it was an accident, but quickly shut up, realising she'd done a good thing. Dumbledore pressed the switch, and a bookcase in the wall slid aside, to reveal an old battered door, which he opened, and emerged with a glint in his eye.
"A basement!" he exclaimed happily, and invited Harry to go first. Harry raised his wand, and moved cautiously down the stairs. The basement was dark, so he lit his wand, and to his surprise and glee, he saw none other than Hermione, who had her head buried between her legs, and was shaking.
"HERMIONE!" Harry shouted, and she looked up, shocked, as if she couldn't believe her eyes. Harry was relieved to see she looked relatively unharmed, apart from the occassional bruise on her arm that suggested she was handled aggressively by her captors.
"HARRY! GINNY!" Hermione screamed back and ran into both of their waiting arms. They stayed that way for what seemed like hours, before Harry broke off the hug, and looked straight into her gorgeous brown eyes, which were swimming with tears.
"I promised I would find you." he said, and grinned.
WOW! That was a long chapter! I feel like it needed to be to show off a real return to form, but don't expect future updates to be this long, as this was a crucial story moment. Remember to review please! I've had precious few since I've been back, and I wanna hear all your opinions. I will give a hint to the next chapter. There's sex in it! Peace out!