Shadowy figures crept through the deserted alleyway, slowly making their way to the small grocers down the block. A Closed sign was hanging in the window and the interior was dark and empty. Suddenly a bright light shot from one of the hooded figures, hitting the lock on the door. The group rushed silently into the little shop.
"Keep your torches pointed toward the floor," Neville urged the group. Rowena gave him a confused look. "Your flashlight," he explained, "keep it pointed at the floor so the light doesn't reflect through the front windows."
Rowena grinned. "Of course," she agreed.
The two separated and began throwing cans and boxes into the bags they carried. The rest of the group did the same. It was a dangerous mission. Besides Neville and Rowena, the group was comprised of muggle-borns and squibs. Rowena was only trained in the most basic of spells, which left Neville to defend the group.
"I don't feel right stealing," Hermione whispered as she eyed a dusty stack of can. "It doesn't feel right."
"I know," said Neville. "But we've got no other options right now. We'll starve if we don't get food."
Hermione's brow furrowed. "We can't keep this up for long. I'm going to speak with Harry when we get back. There has to be a better way."
"Are you two done?" Rowena questioned, sidling up next to Neville and nudging him with her shoulder. The young man's cheeks flushed a deep scarlet and Hermione had to cough to hide the giggle attempting to escape.
"Yeah, I think we're ready," Neville stuttered nervously. "Let's get everyone together." A loud crack echoed through the street outside the shop. "The lights!" Neville whispered loudly and a moment later everyone had turned off their flashlights.
The group held their collective breath as they watched and waited. Seconds felt like minutes and minutes like hours. Neville motioned for the group to congregate in the aisle where he, Hermione and Rowena were crouched in the shadows. Suddenly there was a loud clatter from the front of the store and Neville's eyes widened in horror. Dean Thomas had tripped over a display and sent soda cans flying every which way. A can of cola hit the front window with a loud smack, before spraying sticky, sweet liquid across the floor.
For Neville, everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Dean's dark face and wide eyes met his in the shadowy light from the street lamp outside the window. He'd never forget the look on the boy's face as a green light burst through the glass, hitting the young Gryffindor between the shoulder blades. Dean's body dropped to the floor like a puppet with its strings cut. Neville wanted to cry out, but was unable to make a sound.
"We've got to go," Hermione whispered urgently, grabbing his arm tightly in an attempt to bring him back to reality.
He nodded, still staring blankly at the body of a boy with whom he'd spent the last six years sharing a bedroom. It was a startling experience, one that made the hair on the back of Neville's neck stand up straight. He pointed to Dean's body.
"We have to take him back with us."
Hermione shook her head. "There's no time."
"We'll make time," Rowena stated assuredly. "Neville, you take everyone out the back, including Dean. I'm sure they've already put up wards to keep us from apparating or portkeying out of here, but you should be able to get away if you move far enough away from the store. I'll keep the Death Eaters occupied here so you can get away."
"We can't leave you here alone," Hermione argued. "You barely know any spells."
Rowena grinned. "I know enough to cause some trouble and if they start to overtake me, then I'll just skedaddle."
"You'll what?" Neville questioned.
"I'll run. Trust me; it will be a lot easier for one person to sneak past them then a whole group. Now go."
Neville and Hermione shared a look before nodding in agreement. Neville summoned Dean's body and then cast a featherlight charm so one of the muggle-born men could easily carry the young man in his arms. Then they hurried out the back door, not stopping to look back.
"We'll head a few blocks down and then try our portkeys," Neville ordered.
"Do you think she'll be alright?" Questioned Hermione.
A loud explosion rocked the ground beneath their feet and they both glanced back with wide eyes. The little store was engulfed in flames and Death Eaters swarmed the street. A smaller figure was dragged toward them and thrown to the ground.
"No," Neville gasped. "We have to go back."
Hermione grabbed his arm. "This is what she planned," she admitted. "She knew that she would get caught. Now we need to get away so her sacrifice won't be in vain."
"We can't just let them take her," Neville argued.
They came to a stop at the edge of the wards, watching silently as the muggle-borns began to portkey away, back to the safety of Hogwarts. Neville glanced back once more at the burning shop. He knew that Hermione was correct, but he still felt as if he was betraying Rowena by leaving.
"Harry would go back," he stated assuredly. "He wouldn't leave one of us behind."
"You're right," Hermione nodded. "He would go back and then he'd get captured. Harry doesn't think beyond his next heroic deed, which means we need to be smarter than that. We can save Rowena later. I highly doubt Voldemort will kill her or even hurt her. She is the last heir of Ravenclaw and for a blood fanatic like the Dark Lord, that makes her very special."
"Let's go," Neville ground out angrily. He grabbed Hermione and apparated away.
Ginny sat in the darkened sitting room of their small two-bedroom apartment. It was a cheap place they rented in New York City. The rugs had an odd smell and the walls were stained from various forms of damage. It was a far cry from the beautiful hotel where they had lived for the first few months in hiding. When the money began to run low, they'd needed to make other arrangements. Now they were barely getting by and on more than one occasion Ginny had confunded their landlord to keep a roof over their head.
A warm breeze wafted through the open windows along with the sounds from the city below. Summer would be here soon and she'd need to start casting cooling charms as they had no air conditioning. The whispering of the wireless echoed through the small room, telling her all of the bad news she didn't want to hear. Six months in hiding and things seemed to only get worse.
"Ginny," a voice called out hesitantly. She turned to see Draco standing in the doorway leading to the kitchen. "Can't sleep either?"
Ginny shook her head. "What if they say his name, or Ron's name, or Hermione? I don't want to miss anything."
Draco came around the sofa to sit next to her on the floor. "I'm sure they're all fine and they'll remain that way. You know those three can survive anything."
"Those three," Ginny snorted. "And here I am, half-way 'round the world. Is there a place for me there, I wonder?"
Draco reached out and took her hand. "Your place will be by Harry's side once this is all over."
"I should be there now," she whispered angrily. "I should be fighting with him, not hidden away like some, like some…"
"He just wants you to be safe," explained Draco. He sighed and squeezed her small, pale hand, marveling at her delicate fingers. "I think, in the end, you'll play a more important role than you may ever know."
She gave him a questioning look. "What do you mean by that?"
"Potter's powerful. By the end of this, he'll be the most powerful wizard to have ever walked the face of the earth. Power like that changes a person, makes them something more than human. After defeating the Dark Lord he's going to need someone to bring him back, someone to make him feel human again."
"What if I don't want that kind of responsibility?" She asked. Her eyes met Draco's and the blonde was taken aback by the emotion there. "What if, when this is all over, I don't feel the same way about him anymore?"
Draco unconsciously leaned forward, not noticing Ginny's body doing the same, until their lips were mere centimeters apart. Shouting and chaos ran through his mind and body. This was Ginny Weasley in front of him, the love of Potter's life. The Slytherin in him knew that entertaining thoughts about the redhead would be detrimental to his health and wellbeing, but for some reason, he didn't care.
The world seemed to go silent as they met in the empty space. Ginny noticed that the kiss was soft and gentle, with a quiet sort of passion. Harry's kisses were always fiery and fraught with urgency, as if it would be the last time he'd ever hold her in his arms. This was something different. It was a question and also a promise of things to come.
In an instant the moment was ruined by the sound of breaking glass. Draco and Ginny pulled away from each other, both looking mortified and wide-eyed. Dudley stood in the doorway from his bedroom, a puddle of water at his feet. His blue eyes narrowed into slits and within seconds he had crossed the sitting room. He was in much better shape now from the odd jobs he'd been taking, most of which involved heavy lifting. He lifted Draco as if the blonde weighed nothing.
"How dare you?" He hissed and Draco was reminded of Harry speaking Parseltongue. "Harry saved your sorry life and this is how you repay him!"
"Dudley," Ginny cried out. "Please, put him down."
Dudley shook Draco like a ragdoll and the blonde scrabbled at the hands around his neck. "Harry's out there putting his life on the line and here you are, kissing his girlfriend."
Ginny pulled at Dudley's arms. "Please Dudley, it wasn't his fault. I kissed him to."
The words hit the large man like a stunner and he dropped the blonde instantly. His angry blue eyes turned toward Ginny. He advanced on her, causing her to step back quickly, nearly tripping over the coffee table.
"How could you?" He seethed, pointing at Draco. "How could you kiss this piece of trash after everything Harry's done for you? Harry's already saved your life once and this is what you do!"
"I'm sorry," Ginny sobbed. "It just happened."
"I thought you loved my cousin, but now I don't think that's true. I think you're just like the rest of them. You love the idea of being with the Boy-Who-Lived. All of you wizards make me sick. At least when I hated him, it was Harry that I was hating. There's no honesty in your love for Harry."
"No, that's not it," Ginny argued. "I do love him, I'm just confused."
Dudley stomped toward his bedroom, turning to give her one last glare before slamming the door.
"He's right," Draco stated solemnly.
Ginny nodded. "It was all a mistake. We were just turning to each other for comfort, that's all it was."
Draco swallowed past a lump in his throat. "Yeah, it was just for comfort."
The blonde watched as Ginny retired to her own bedroom. Draco would sleep on the sofa, not wanting to risk entering the room he and Dudley usually shared. An American wizarding newspaper lay on the coffee table and Draco stared at it with sad blue eyes. A picture of Harry Potter was on the cover. It was old, he could tell by Potter's smiling face. It must have been taken after one of Harry's first Quidditch games. Draco hadn't seen Potter smile like that in a very long time.
Snape strode through the Black family library, knowing he was looking for something, but not knowing what exactly. He'd been at the home for months and he was beginning to feel rather ineffectual. At least when he was a spy, he was doing something productive, now he just wiled away the hours waiting for news.
"Looking for something Snivvelus?"
A shudder ran through Snape as he glanced up at the man in the red robe. It was his spells and potions that had brought the man back to the land of the living, but it was still disconcerting to see a dead man walking.
"Useful spells or potions," he explained, "Whatever I can find."
The figure chuckled. "Feeling a little useless trapped in this old house. Don't go out Snape, you could get killed." The thing cackled and Snape shuddered. "Now you know how I felt, you greasy git and now I'm dead, all thanks to you."
"That wasn't my fault," he argued. "If your brat of a godson could follow the rules, you wouldn't have…" The thing grabbed him around the neck with fingers as cold as ice.
"Don't you dare talk about Harry."
Snape laughed. "You can't hurt me. I'm the one who brought you back, I control you now."
Instantly the fingers retreated, but the thing grinned. "Did you truly bring me back, or did you bring back something else entirely? I don't think you understand the forces you've meddled with."
"Go away you stinking corpse. Don't you have a house-elf to harass?"
"I wonder," the figure backed away, tapping his chin. "I wonder what my godson will do to you when this is all over. We both know he is powerful and eventually he will be the most powerful being in existence. Will he kill you dead or keep you alive to torture you forever? Hmmmm…I wonder."
"That's why I brought you back," Snape grinned. "You are my contingency plan. I will give you freedom and in return he will give me the same."
The dead man threw his head back, allowing the hood to fall away to reveal patches of gray skull and wiry black hair. His laughter was grating and a blasphemy against all things good and holy. Black eyes, devoid of all emotion, stared into Snape's soul and without thought, the man flinched.
Ron worriedly bit his lip as he watched his friend pour over various maps and reports. Harry's green eyes were never bright anymore. Instead they were always shadowed with worry and frustration. His black hair was spattered with white hairs, most likely from exhaustion. He barely ate and barely slept. The man was fading away right in front of Ron's eyes.
"I wonder if Hermione's back yet." Ron questioned aloud.
"I'm sure she's fine," Harry said between gritted teeth.
Ron knew that he hated that Hermione went out in search of food. It was much too dangerous and Hermione was only just learning to use the magic afforded by her gypsy blood.
"We have to stop this," Ron stated suddenly.
"Stop what?" Harry questioned without looking up.
Ron swallowed past a lump in his throat. "We have to stop rescuing muggle-borns." Harry's head snapped up and he opened his mouth to argue. "No, listen to what I have to say. We're running out of food and space while Voldemort and his forces continue to grow stronger each day. We need to get back to fighting this war and we can't do that if we're rescuing muggle-borns from camps."
Harry's hands squeezed into tight fists, crushing some of the papers on the table. "What do you expect me to do, just let them rot in those prisons?"
"Yes," a tired voice chimed in from the doorway. Ron sighed with relief as he looked up to see a disheveled looking Hermione Granger. "Ron's right, we have to stop saving people and start fighting Voldemort."
Harry was on his feet instantly, a testament to how stressed and frustrated he had become. "I can't believe I'm hearing this. I can't just…you want me to…" His voice trailed off as his he hung his head in defeat.
Hermione crossed the room and gathered Harry in her arms, whispering nonsense into his ear as he began to sob. Ron locked the door so that they wouldn't be disturbed before joining Hermione in consoling his best friend.
"I just don't know what to do anymore," Harry sobbed. "Everything's gone pear-shaped. I don't even know if Ginny's still alive. Our people are beginning to starve. I don't know what to do. Tell me what to do Hermione."
Hermione pulled away to look him in the eyes. "We fight back," she stated assuredly. "And we keep fighting back until we win."
"She's right Harry," Ron agreed. "As much as I hate to say it, she's right." Hermione punched him in the arm and Harry let out a soft chuckle. "Now that Hermione's back, can we go get some dinner?"
"Is food all you think about?" Hermione questioned in an annoyed tone.
Ron pulled her close. "I also think about you." Hermione blushed.
"Okay you two, let's head to the kitchens," Harry interrupted and Ron punched him in the arm. "Hey, I don't mind you two being together, but I don't need to see you eating each other's faces." Now Hermione punched him in the arm. "Ow!"
"That's for being crude."
As they made their way to the kitchens they were stopped by Ollivander. He appeared as mysterious as ever as he whispered that they should see him in the Room of Requirement after they'd finished their meal.
Ron shivered. "That guy gives me the creeps."
"He's powerful, like Dumbledore was, that's why you feel that way," explained Hermione. "All powerful wizards have an air of mystery surrounding them."
Ron gave Harry a quizzical look. "The only thing mysterious about Harry is how he can get his hair to stand up like he's just been hit by lightning."
"Oi!" Harry exclaimed and the other two laughed at his offended look. Finally Harry laughed as well. Ron chanced a quick look at his friend as they entered the kitchen. Already Harry was beginning to look a bit better.
Rowena didn't bother struggling as she was dragged down the hallway of the fancy looking mansion house. She'd heard one of the Death Eaters mutter about taking her back to Malfoy Manor, so she assumed Voldemort was using the empty Malfoy home as his new headquarters. She cataloged everything to memory as she was moved through the place. It was all information that could be used to her benefit later.
None of the Death Eaters would look her in the eyes. Obviously someone had already warned them about her strange inherited ability. It was no matter. She knew eventually one of them would forget and she would escape.
"Rowena Dumbledore," a voice hissed as they entered a grand library. By the fire a snake-faced man sat with a long, white wand clutched leisurely in his hand. He had no fear of looking Rowena in the eyes. "So the stories are true," he exclaimed softly, eyes widening. "Leave us," he directed to the Death Eaters. They hesitated for a split-second before making a quick exit.
"Would you like to know what I see when I look in your eyes?"
Rowena shrugged. "Death and destruction I suspect."
The man let out a strange sound between a hiss and a chuckle. "No, I see Potter actually. He is my son and I am his father." Rowena's eyes widened in surprise. "Yes, strange isn't it, the things that reside in the deepest, darkest recesses of a man's heart."
"You don't have a heart," Rowena blurted without thinking.
Voldemort waved a hand and she felt herself being lifted from the floor and carried across the room. She landed in a disheveled heap at his feet. With a tiny bit of fear, she glared up in his red eyes. A long, skeletal finger slowly traced a line down her cheek.
"There is something intoxicating about looking into your eyes. Perhaps it is because they remind me so much of my old enemy. I never was able to see fear in those damnable blue eyes, but I can see it in yours and I find it very alluring."
Rowena's struggled against her invisible bonds as she realized the true danger she was in. "Don't touch me," she spat, pulling away as best as she could.
"Crucio," he hissed and immediately it felt as if her nerves were on fire. "You may be the last heir of Ravenclaw, but I am the last heir of Slytherin. You will never be more powerful than I. Your only choice is to submit." He released the spell and then called to the Death Eaters waiting outside the door. "Take her to my quarters," he directed.
Rowena's head lolled from one side to the other as she began to lose consciousness.
"Do not lock the door or restrain her in any way," he explained. His followers gave him a confused look. "I want to see what she's capable of when given the proper motivation," he explained. "Now go."