IMPORTANT NOTE IF YOU READ THIS STORY BEFORE 8/14/10: You will notice that this is not an entirely new chapter, but rather I have split what was originally one chapter into two. However, I have made some small but very important changes to this part of the story, so if you don't mind doing so you should really read it again. Otherwise certain elements of the story won't make much sense later…
A real update should be happening soon!
All Was Well
Chapter 2: Broken
It wasn't easy for Ron and Hermione to shoo their children out of the house. To Hermione's delight and Ron's disappointment, both of them had developed a penchant for academia rather than sports or the family business (though Ron was convinced that Hugo would be brilliant at pranks if only he was just a bit more mischievous), and so telling them to "Go outside and play," was just about as foreign to them as saying, "Go outside and do a Mexican Hat Dance."
Hermione, of course, had found a solution early on.
"It's nice out, why don't you two read outside?" she suggested to the younger teens as they sprawled out in the living room. She couldn't help but smile fondly when they simultaneously looked up at her with wide eyes. Obviously they'd both been a million miles away, completely absorbed in what they were doing.
Rose had spread out three different editions of The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 4: an old one Hermione had gotten for her at a used book store a few weeks ago, a copy from her own Hogwarts days that was probably Ron's (unlike Hermione's worn-out school books, this one appeared to have been very rarely opened), and the Newly Revised Standard Edition by Terry Boot. Rose, who was very interested in magical theory, was flipping through all three page by page and taking notes on the differences. Hugo's current task was much less involved: he was simply reading Hogwarts: A History, which had also come out with newer versions in recent years, and which notably included the names of many of his family members for various reasons.
Hermione watched as Rose glanced out the window. It was almost evening, but there was still an hour or two of sunlight left and it was warm. But it wouldn't make much difference to Rose where she was reading. She could become so absorbed in any task she set for herself that she could probably press on with the same concentration in a cage full of Blast-Ended Skrewts.
The fresh air would do them both some good. But most importantly, Hermione needed to talk to Ron.
"All right," Hugo agreed before his sister could seem to wrap her mind around the concept of taking down her carefully organized set-up and rearranging herself somewhere else. He snapped his single, heavy book shut and hoisted it under one arm. "Come on, Rosie, we'll go by the berry bushes."
"I was quite fine in here…" Rose said doubtfully. She slowly began to pull her work into a neat pile.
"I think we should go outside," Hugo told her firmly. He knew better than to help her organize, so he headed toward the door on his own. As he passed his mother, he shot her a knowing look. Rose smiled somewhat as she passed, still looking slightly flustered, and Hermione reached out to gently tug her bushy red hair. And then they were gone, and she and Ron were alone. She hadn't heard him come in but she could feel him standing in the doorway, watching her.
She said, "It's hard to believe it sometimes, you know?" Ron remained silent.
"Our kids," continued Hermione, almost dreamily. "They're so, so wonderful. Twenty years ago, if someone had told me that I would have two such amazing, beautiful, intelligent children… and that I would have them with Ron Weasley, well… I don't know what I would have done."
He finally replied, and he said, "Hexed them, probably." There was a smile in his voice, for the briefest of moments, but when Hermione turned to him he looked grim.
"They'll find him, won't they?" she asked uselessly. Her arms were crossed like they always were when she spoke to him, which hadn't been particularly often lately.
Ron, standing in a similar posture, did not respond right away. Hermione saw panic in his eyes and knew the very same would be reflected in her own. It was no wonder that Hugo had seen it. He was so quiet, but he was intelligent in a way that his sister probably never would be. He noticed things.
"It's just… I can't…" Ron stumbled over the words, searching for the right ones. Hermione felt her heart rate pick up. He was trying to share something with her. Trying to be honest. "It's just weird, you know?" was what he decided on. He continued, "It's so weird to think that he's out there somewhere, that he's in so much trouble… and here we are."
"Here we are," repeated Hermione.
"Do you remember him trying to get us not to go with him?" Ron asked.
Hermione replied immediately, knowing just what he meant by 'go with him.' "Yes," she said. "But this is different. Of course it's different."
"Right," said Ron. "This is his job now." He laughed a little, not a happy sound. "I mean, you'd think we should have seen it coming. Nobody ever thought this could happen."
"Not to Harry," Hermione agreed.
They fell into a tense silence for a few moments. A question hovered in the air between them, and they stared at it. It was the one Hermione had wanted to ask Ron, the reason she had sent the kids away and out of earshot. And she knew he was thinking it too. It was only a matter of who would ask it first.
Then Hermione said, "We can't leave the kids," at the same time Ron groaned, "What could we do anyway?"
Another brief silence.
Then Ron said, "We could leave them with Ginny," while Hermione said, "I don't know, but I can't just wait here."
Ron tiredly rubbed his eyes. "I don't know, Hermione," he said. "This is… I just feel like I'm bloody twelve years old again. I have no idea what I'm doing."
"When we were twelve we had Harry to tell us what to do," squeaked Hermione. She was very near tears now and couldn't seem to get her voice to work. Ron had a way of cutting right to the core of a situation, quite simply and accurately. Often it was hurtful, but Hermione had forgotten that it was also often right. She did feel like a child again. Lost. Afraid.
It had been two days since they'd found out, from Ginny. She seemed to be holding up fairly well, all things considered, but Hermione wasn't sure how much more she herself could take before she really began to fall apart. The past two days had felt like a nightmare, somehow, and she kept expecting to wake up from it. She did have nightmares like that sometimes. Nightmares about the times in her life when losing people was so easy, when she could never be sure of anyone's chances, even her own. But it hadn't felt this real to her in a long time.
"So what do we do?" Ron asked. They both knew. It was just a matter of saying it out loud.
"Ron…" Hermione began, and he took a step towards her, somewhat shortening the distance between them.
Someone knocked loudly on the front door. They both jumped. Then Ron gave a short, mirthless laugh. "The door," he said.
"I'll get it," Hermione said weakly. It was a pointless statement, of course, because Ron followed her to the front door anyway, his hand openly gripping his wand. She reached into her pocket and brushed her fingers against her own. Normally, Ron was the sort to leave his lying around the house, and Hermione was sometimes too distracted by her work to keep track of it. But for the past two days the both of them had made sure to have their wands on them at all times.
At this point they were so anxious it was a wonder they didn't automatically shoot hexes when the door was opened. Which was a good thing, because it was Ginny.
She looked awful. She wore casual Muggle clothes—torn jeans and an old t-shirt with paint on it, and her normally radiant hair looked dull pulled back in a messy pony-tail. Her eyes were red, from crying or not-sleeping or both, Hermione didn't know. There was something else that was off about her appearance that Hermione couldn't quite place. Something about the way she held herself, the look in her eye. She seemed strangely blank.
"Can we come in?" Ginny asked. Her voice was hollow. Hermione felt dread wash over her like a freezing wave, but wordlessly stood aside. Belatedly she noticed that the three Potter children were crowded around their mother, each of them holding a broomstick.
"Leave those on the porch," Hermione said automatically. "It's protected against theft by—"
"We know, Aunt Hermione," James cut in, rolling his eyes. "We're here like every other day, remember?"
"Of course, sorry," Hermione amended, blushing somewhat. She looked thrown off by James's sarcastic tone, which was admittedly even more biting than usual.
"Calm down, Jimmy," Ron frowned. "You're not the only one who's angry."
James refused to meet his eyes. "Whatever."
"Can I go to my room?" Lily asked, sounding bored.
Hermione glanced at Ron, but he was very determinedly not looking at her, as if their conversation in the living room had never happened.
When the Potter children spent the night Lily usually shared a bed with Rose, while the boys slept in Hugo's room. All three of the kids had dropped bags onto the floor. Clearly they were intending to stay.
"Yes," Ginny said without looking at her daughter.
Hermione stopped her, "Not yet, sweetheart. Rose and Hugo are out back. Why don't you three go say hi?" She shot Ginny an accusing look, to which Ginny responded with a blank stare.
"Sure, let's do that," said Albus. "You guys probably need to talk about adult stuff that we're not allowed to know, or whatever." It was an oddly snippy thing for Albus to say. His siblings didn't even seem to notice, however, and without question followed him back outside, presumably to go find their cousins.
"They seem… okay," Hermione said when the door closed behind them.
Ron snorted. "Sure. They were acting perfectly normal. I mean, Albus uses sarcasm all the time."
Hermione glared at him. "I wouldn't be surprised, spending as much time as he does around you."
Ginny could see that this was fast developing into one of their fights, which as of late had become a great deal less playful and a great deal more angry, and had no patience for it. So before her brother could respond, she said simply, "I'm going after Harry. Do you mind watching the kids for a few days?"
"Yes we do," Ron snapped, "You're not going anywhere."
Ginny stared at him. "What are you going to do about it?" she asked.
"Tie you down, if I have to," Ron replied. The anger that he'd been keeping at bay, finally given an impetus, boiled through to the surface. "You are not going to go and put yourself in danger, Ginny, I won't let you."
"Ron…" Hermione said, trying to sound soothing. It wouldn't do any good for him and Ginny to get into a fight, and besides, moments before the two of them had been talking about going after Harry. It wasn't so crazy, maybe even less crazy, that Ginny wanted to do the same.
Ron brushed her off. He'd turned bright red, all the way to his ears. "What, exactly, is your plan? Go to the crime scene and track him down somehow, even though no one in the Auror Department has been able to? And even if you do find him, what are you going to do then? Besides get killed?"
"Ron, shut up," Hermione said, but it was too late. Before either of them could do anything, Ginny's wand was suddenly in her hand, and aimed at her brother's throat. Ron had tucked his away when he'd seen who was at the door, but any thoughts of defending himself fled his mind along with everything else. He froze, his mouth stuck slightly open.
"Ginny!" Hermione cried, completely at a loss of what to do. Ginny glanced her way briefly. Her eyes were frighteningly blank. Hermione could hardly believe the change Ginny had undergone since that morning. Before she had seemed… well, not fine, but like herself. Now she looked like something else entirely, like something had broken inside her.
Ginny's eyes shifted back to Ron, who appeared too bewildered to act. "Listen to me," she said, her voice was deadly quiet. "I am not sixteen years old anymore, Ron Weasley. The only person I've ever loved might be dead. I am not going to sit around, safe from the battle this time. I'm going to find him, and I'm going to save him. And if he can't be saved, I'm going to find whoever got him and I'm going to tear their fucking guts out. Got it?"
Ron's face, which had been bright red before, had gone completely white so that each of his many freckles stood out starkly. "Ginny…" he said weakly.
"Ginny, you need to calm down right now," Hermione interrupted, her voice simmered with authority. She'd kept hold of her own wand and now held it steadily at her sister-in-law.
Ginny looked at this new threat dismissively, "What are you going to do to me, Hermione?"
"What are you going to do to your own brother?" Hermione countered.
Ron seemed to have regained his senses about what was going on, but of course hadn't bothered going for his own wand, even while Ginny was distracted. She was his little sister, after all, even if she had apparently lost her mind.
Ginny held Hermione's gaze just long enough that the older woman thought that maybe she was wrong, and maybe Ginny was just angry enough, or crazy enough, to fight them both if she thought they would get in her way. She had a stunning spell on the tip of her tongue, hardly able to believe that might actually have to use it.
But then Ginny lowered her wand, and Hermione slowly lowered hers. Ron exhaled sharply.
"Oh my God, Gin," was all he could seem to say. He put one hand on his chest, pressing on his pounding heart.
"I'm sorry," Ginny whispered. Hermione was relieved to hear that the hollow quality of her voice had been replaced by a more human one. "I don't know what's happening to me. It's like I'm being eaten from the inside."
Ron pulled her into a hug, which was entirely unusual. Although he and Ginny were close, they didn't really have the hugging sort of relationship. They were more likely to hit each other. But this was different. Ginny didn't seem to have the energy to return the gesture, and her arms remained limp at her sides. Her right hand still gripped her wand so tightly the knuckles were white.
"I'm sorry too," he said. "I shouldn't have reacted like that. It's just… with Harry gone… the thought of losing you too…"
"I'm going," Ginny said. Ron pulled away and took a few seconds to make sure that the words that came out of his mouth weren't an argument. Then he said, "Okay."
"So are we," Hermione added immediately. Ginny looked at her, eyes wide, and Hermione continued churlishly, "Oh, don't look so surprised, Ginny. We love Harry too. We'd do anything for him."
She looked at Ron, who met her eyes for once and nodded.
Ginny thought this over before saying, "All right." She almost smiled, and she seemed to come back to herself, like a ghost. "Of course, the golden trio has to stick together."
"Still a trio," Hermione pointed out.
"Too many girls on this team, though," said Ron. Hermione almost smiled.
Ginny continued to look exhausted, but she looked like herself, which was a relief. "But what about the kids? I was going to ask you to look after James, Al, and Lily, but I guess now…"
"We'll think of something," said Hermione. "There has to be somewhere they can go. Your mum's maybe?"
"She'll be thrilled," Ron dead-panned.
The Potter children marched unhappily back down the front steps of their aunt and uncle's house, heard the door shut behind them, glanced back once, and simultaneously shot each other congratulatory looks.
"This is kind of fun," James commented. "It's like I can be as much of a jerk as I want and I have an excuse."
"You're a jerk even when you don't have an excuse," Lily pointed out. Albus, who was walking between them, interrupted before the argument could get any further.
"That's not why we're doing this," he said seriously. "We have to make sure we look good and resolved to stay home while Mum goes after Dad."
"Oh come on, you saw her," James said, the humor dropping from his own tone. "Mum's barely paying attention to us anymore. I think all this waiting is driving her nuts. She just wants to go." From the tone of his voice it was apparent he felt just the same.
"She won't get anywhere if she finds out we're missing and has to come back and look for us. We have to do this carefully," Albus warned.
James sighed, "Whatever," he said. "I guess we should go find Rose and Hugo."
"Can you even imagine Rose coming with us?" Lily asked. "She would probably never leave the house if her parents didn't make her." Although Lily was quite fond of both of her cousins, she never understood their unwillingness to do anything… exciting. Ever since they were all much younger, if James and Lily wanted to play an adventure game, Rose and Hugo would most assuredly decline in favor of reading some dumb book or another. Of course, her brother Albus was somewhat the same, but at least the books that he liked to read were about adventures. And anyway, now that he was orchestrating their grand escape, she couldn't very well say he was boring.
"I don't know what help those two will be anyway," James said, perhaps a bit coldly.
Albus snorted, as uncharacteristically sarcastic as he'd been with the adults inside. "I don't know how much help we'll be."
They spotted their cousins and the argument was cut short. About thirty feet behind the house a large patch of berry bushes had been a frequent play-area to all of the cousins as children because it provided some shade from the sun and endless snacking. Rose and Hugo were lounging around them now. Unsurprisingly, they had books with them. It took several moments before either of the Weasley children noticed they had visitors. Hugo was the first to blink up at them, and a grin split across his face.
"Hey, guys," he said, "I didn't know you were coming over today."
"Neither did we…" Lily grumbled. Rose finally found a place to stop reading and looked up. There was just the slightest trace of irritation in her voice, probably at having been interrupted, as she said, "Oh, hello."
As the three Potters found places to settle onto the grass, Hugo watched them carefully. Finally he asked, "Is something up? Did something happen with Uncle Harry?"
The three shot each other somewhat guilty glances. They had gotten distracted and hadn't actually come to an agreement as to whether or not they were letting Rose and Hugo in on their plans. In his position as temporary leader, Albus was the one who offered an answer.
"Yeah, actually. Our mum's running off on some psychotic mission to rescue him herself, so she's dumping us with you lot until she comes back."
This caught Rose and Hugo's entire attention.
"What?" Rose asked. "What do you mean, some psychotic mission? Do you mean she's really going to go out on her own and… and… fight criminals?"
Lily, who tended to lose patience with Rose more easily than the others, shot back, "Hey, Dad wasn't kidnapped by just some criminals, okay? Whoever took him is one seriously bad dark wizard."
"And my question remains," Rose replied icily.
"Yes," James cut in, "As I said, she's going off to go find Dad, and the thing is…"
He shot a look at Albus, who nodded solemnly and said, "We need them."
James finished, "We're going too."
Rose's jaw literally dropped. Hugo simply frowned.
"You said Aunt Ginny's going on her own," Rose pointed out.
"Right," explained James, "Which is why she isn't going to know that we've gone off as well."
Rose looked at each of her cousins in turn, carefully noting their set shoulders, and the defiant way they were looking at her. Like they were just daring her to argue, or to tell on them, which was definitely something she was considering.
"What exactly are you planning to do?" Hugo asked.
The question caught the Potter children somewhat off guard. Up until this point the biggest hurdle had been figuring out how to get away. It hadn't really occurred to them what they were going to do afterwards.
"We'll start by going to the place Dad disappeared from," Albus began a little uncertainly. "See if we can pick up a trail."
"Even the Aurors couldn't find anything," said Rose. She sounded a little hysterical. Like she accepted that probably her cousins were actually going to go through with this, but she couldn't quite believe it.
"Well, maybe they missed something," James said angrily. "That's the best we've got right now, okay? Now are you going to help us get out of here or not?"
Rose and Hugo looked at each other. Lily imagined they were speaking telepathically, or something weird like that. She loved her brothers (never would admit that out loud, of course) but the two Weasley children were so close and fought so rarely it was sometimes hard to believe they were siblings.
Then Rose heaved an exaggerated sigh, and the next words she spoke seemed to pain her. "All right, what do you need us to do?"
Harry, having regained consciousness, was assessing the situation.
The situation wasn't good.
It was too dark to see, but from feeling around he could tell he was in a small room, about the size of closet. Or the size of a cupboard under the stairs. This last part he suggested to himself a bit hysterically. He could feel that his head was injured, possibly concussed, but he couldn't reach up and determine where or how badly because his hands seemed to be shackled behind his back, pulled so tightly both of his shoulders were on the verge of dislocating. After attempting to stand up (a bad call anyway, considering the blood rush from his injured head had almost knocked him out again) he determined that his feet were also chained together.
With some struggle he managed to force his body into a sitting position against one of the closet—or cupboard's—walls. It was stone, cold and slick, and uneven in ways that jammed into his back and suddenly made him painfully aware that at least a few of his ribs were broken. A warm liquid was seeping steadily from his mouth, and he hazily wondered if he was vomiting. But the taste was all wrong. Thick. Metallic. Blood. One of his teeth was knocked almost completely loose. After a few moments of working it with his tongue, he spat it onto the floor. There. That was less annoying, if bleeding more profusely.
He noticed his glasses weren't on his face. He hoped Hermione had them, to do a spell. It was raining so hard he couldn't see, and he needed to catch the Snitch…
No, no, that was not what was happening at all. He was captured. But how? By who? Think. Think. He remembered a voice, a triumphant voice. A spell called out behind him. He had been too busy, he was protecting someone's body, someone who had fallen over…
God, he was in so much pain. He hoped Hermione had his glasses ready by the time the bones re-grew in his arm. He had to catch the Snitch. He hoped Ginny would watch. But she couldn't, it was too dangerous. He had to do it alone.
END OF CHAPTER TWO
Until next time!