Harry's worn sneakers thudded along the dark cobblestone pathway; his footsteps echoing carelessly through the night. Behind him he can hear the sounds of his friends trying to keep pace with him. He slows just enough so that they won't get separated, but ignores the panting shushing sounds Hermione is directing towards him.
On either side of the group are towering hedges; it is obvious they were once looked over dotingly. Now, however, they sprawl around trees that look like they're drowning, and over the path he is trying to navigate. At some points the hedges from both sides have grown so far over they intertwine and meld together, barring his passage just long enough for him to tear through them. His face is covered in scratches, already oozing blood.
"Harry! Harry, slow down!" Hermione whispers frantically, her voice hoarse from sprinting.
Harry whips around just in time to see his bushy-haired friend lose her footing on a patch of ice. She barrels into him, knocking him to the ground where snow immediately begins to seep through his jacket.
"Get off me, Hermione," he snaps, trying to pull them both back to their feet.
"Mate, you need to slow down. You're louder than Fluffy when he's gone mad," Ron said, glaring at Harry as he caught up.
"Yeah, isn't this supposed to be a stealth mission?" Neville huffs, doubling over to try to control his breathing.
Harry doesn't respond to any of them, but watches as Luna comes to a halt beside him. She seems entirely unaffected by the sprint, her face retaining its dreamy look as she twirls around taking in the gnarled foliage.
Ginny was the last to slide to a stop, with an angry scowl on her face she barked, "We're supposed to stick together. I nearly got left behind!"
"No, you didn't. I was slowing down," Harry replied. "We need to move faster, or they'll notice us."
"No, Harry. We need to go slower, quieter. We need to get in and find her, and then we're probably going to have to rush out. We cannot be found out until we're with her, and she's got her wand. We need her to lead us back out," Hermione urged, grasping Harry's sleeve to make her point.
"This was very poorly planned," Luna stated stoically.
Harry's shoulders fall, and his breath whooshes from him, crystalizing in the freezing, night air. His thoughts roll and tumble, trying to gain hold. To his left he sees a flash of red, whipping through the wind. Suddenly, in front of him, some forty feet away, stands the thing he seeks.
An eerie quite falls over them like a fog. He hears a groan come from Hermione; feels her small hand reach and grab the collar of his coat to tug him back. His friends all whisper; her name, his. They mumble, and surge forward around him, hands pull him, push. They get louder, unintelligible. A cold hand grabs at his face, trying to rip his gaze from her.
She smiles, knowingly. She crosses her arms and shifts her weight, cocking one hip. She is just as he last saw her. Her hair shines red, and her eyes glint green, full of his secrets and their life together, full of the unadulterated loyalty they always hold. She is in the same sparkling white dress, it still ends in the middle of her thighs, it's still too short for his liking. Her hair cascades in her typical loose and crazy curls; it billows around her in the wind. She is tiny, as she has always been. She is perfect, unharmed.
Joy floods Harry as he rips away from his clinging friends to take a tentative step towards his younger sister. Elle mirrors the action exactly, and a grin breaks out across Harry's face. Ten feet closer Harry realizes she isn't wearing any shoes. After another five he quirks his head to the side noticing her feet are not touching the ground.
"Ellie?" he questions, his voice rough and shaking.
Harry stops, his breath is yanked from his lungs as his sister's form begins to transform before his eyes. Appearing along her neck is a jagged deep wound, blood is gushing from it. Within seconds her dress is stained crimson, and blood is trickling from its hem. He watches as weight seemingly falls from her body, until her skin clings to nothing but her bones. Bile rises in his throat as gashes appear, crisscrossing all over her body.
Frantically he searches for her eyes, hoping to find them unchanged. What he sees sears his soul. Her eyes are accusatory, hateful, they are lost and demented.
"This is your fault," she screeches.
"No, Ellvi. I didn't mean for this. I tried. I got here as soon as I could," Harry responds, his voice desolate. He can feel his friends tugging on his shoulders again.
"I'm dead because of you; the Boy Who Lived. You always knew I'd be the one to die, didn't you? You don't even care. You weren't even bothered enough to try to look for me. I'm dead because of you," his sister's voice pounds into his skull; until all he could hear is her saying she was dead.
Elle's body thuds to the ground, a hollow echo thumping through Harry's bones. She lies prone before him, an offering up of all his mistakes come to haunt him. Blood continues to pour from her mutilated, decaying figure.
"Harry! Harry! We've got to go! C'mon!" Ron shouts into his ear.
Jolting up, his head smacking into Ron's with a loud thump, Harry toppled out of his small bed and onto the cluttered floor of Ron Weasley's bedroom floor.
"You were having a nightmare again weren't you?" Hermione asked, her voice soft as it flutters over him from her perch on Ron's bed.
"Yeah," Harry replied, rubbing his head as he reached for his glasses.
"Don't you think that maybe it's Voldemort trying to lure you into action?" she asks.
"No," Harry snapped. "We've been over this before. This has nothing to do with him being in my head. It's Elle."
"All of the sudden she's telepathic?" Hermione snapped back, folding her arms across her chest.
"Mum said to wake you. Breakfast is ready and they want to talk to us," Ron asserts, hoping to get his two friends off the topic they'd spent all their time on for what felt like months.
"No. That's not what I'm saying at all! I can just feel it. It's her," Harry claimed, both he and the bushy-haired female paying no attention to Ron.
"It just doesn't make sense. Not even magically. I've done all the reading I could on people contacting each other through dreams and it just doesn't happen," Hermione insisted.
"She's my sister, Hermione. I know it has something to do with her. It's not just my imagination," Harry growled.
"Gee, I wonder what the Order of the Phoenix could possibly want to talk to us about?" Ron grumbled.
"Be quite, Ronald. We're trying to figure this out," Hermione snipped at the ginger lingering just inside the doorway.
"No you're not. You're just fighting about it," he muttered quietly.
"Let's go," Harry said, getting up and stalking out of the room.
"But…" Hermione started, gaping after them.
Both boys were half way down the many flights of stairs at the Burrow before Hermione calmed her anger enough to follow them. The trio filed dutifully into the kitchen moments later, finding it packed to the brim with all the members of the Order.
"What's going on?" Harry asked.
"Eat your eggs, Harry, dear," Mrs. Weasley, commanded, pushing a plate full of food into his hands before shuffling off, her shoulders shivering as she sniffed and whipped at her eyes.
"Hey, what about me?" Ron moaned, staring at Harry's plate piled high with food enough to feed two people. "I think she's trying to feed Elle through you."
"Don't make jokes, Ronald," Hermione snarled, shoving a plate of food into his hands and munching on her own. Her eyes swiveling around, trying to analyze the Order to find out just what was going on.
"I wasn't," Ron stated. "She's taking this very roughly. Bill said she's even tried to convince everyone to forget planning and just go."
"Can't say I don't agree," Harry said, making sure to finish all of his food.
"Alright, everyone gather 'round," Lupin called from his seat at the head of the table.
He had become the de facto leader of the Order since the death of Dumbledore. Harry, Ron and Hermione squeezed through the crowd in order to be at its front.
"Christmas holidays are ending in three days," Lupin began. "I believe we need to take action soon. Elle's been missing almost two weeks."
Professor McGonagall stood behind him, her stern face showing its own signs of sadness, nodding in agreement to what he was saying.
"But we don't know where she is," Kingsley inserted.
They had had this conversation a multitude of times. They had no idea where Elle had been taken, only their assumptions. The last time they had gone over this it had been agreed upon that they would wait for Voldemort to make a move. Kingsley thought that he would use Elle as bait to draw Harry to him, he figured he'd contact them in some way demanding Harry, or their surrender in exchange for her return.
The Dark Lord, however, had done no such thing. They had been inspecting each of his moves carefully, going to each and every sight of his acts to see if anything had been left behind that would indicate Elle's whereabouts.
The only things they had to go off of were a blind faith that she'd be wherever Draco was, and a very troubled Kreature who was currently hobbling around the Burrow attending to 'Mistress Ellie's' things; whenever they would mention Malfoy Manor the little elf would appear next to Harry and clutch at his hand. Kreature seemed very distraught, not having muttered a single word past 'Mistress Ellie'. Harry had grown more and more impatient, and his dreams had become more and more violent. He was sure that if they didn't act soon Elle would die.
"No," Lupin agreed. "We aren't sure where they've taken her. But we only have one guess. We need to start somewhere."
"And if we lose people on a false assumption?" Kingsley asked.
"We can't just not do anything," Mr. Weasley asserted.
"There are bigger things at stake than the life of one teenage girl," Kingsley stated. "This is war; it isn't going to be pretty. But we need our numbers to end this."
"She's not just any teenage girl," Mad-Eye Moody spoke up. "She's vital to the cause."
"She's not just a thing to be discussed about in a war room! She's a person, not a weapon!" Harry shouted.
"We know, Harry. We're all concerned about her too," Mrs. Weasley said, tears shimmering in her eyes.
"She's at Malfoy Manor," Hermione injected.
"Why are you so sure now, Hermione?" Lupin asked.
"If Draco took her, that's where he would have apparated to. No question," she said. "And that must have been where Kreature was. Who else would he have gone to?"
"But the three of you are also operating under the assumption that Draco Malfoy would try to protect her," Lupin said. "We can't base our decision off of our opinions of a Death Eater."
"Plus we don't know where it is," Arthur added.
"Snape would," Mrs. Weasley said quietly.
"Are you suggesting we go after Snape to find out where Malfoy Manor is?" McGonagall questioned, her face masking her emotions carefully.
"Yes," the Weasley matriarch whispered.
"I agree," the older witch said, nodding her head firmly and switching her gaze to Lupin to see if he agreed.
"It's the best plan we've been able to come up with. And I believe we really need to move," Lupin stated slowly.
"Are you sure about this Lupin? We're not even sure if he's friend or foe," Kingsley reminded Lupin.
Since Dumbledore's death they had removed Snape from the Order roster, but were still not sure if he was an enemy.
"We should move out tonight," Lupin said, standing from his chair.
"You're the boss," Kingsley said as the rest of the group nodded in consensus.
"You three and Ginny will be staying behind," Mr. Weasley said, looking over at the trio of teens. "Molly will make sure that you don't leave. And Harry, if you would, ask Kreature to accompany us?"
"That's not fair! I need to go!" Harry demanded.
"It is fair. We can't get Elle back just to have another one of you captured in her place," Lupin said. His tone stated that the matter was closed. Harry nodded at the small, disheveled house elf that had been rocking in the corner to follow Lupin as the aged man took his leave.
That day passed slowly for the trio and Harry's mind wandered aimlessly over memories of his sister. Sitting alone outside he couldn't stop the slow cascade of tears that each thought of her brought.
Behind him he heard the door squeak open, followed by the familiar footsteps of Hermione and Ron.
"Harry," Hermione murmured, crouching down beside him and resting her head on his shoulder.
"Mate, you know Elle, she'll be fine. She'll be right pissed off; probably throw a tantrum for a month or something. But she's always okay," Ron said, not sounding entirely sure of himself.
"She won't be. This is different, it's changed. My nightmare… it was worse, she died in it. Before, yeah, she'd been a little beat up. But she'd been herself in the end. Something has changed," Harry said, his voice so low it nearly got picked up and carried away with the wind.
"Hopefully Lupin and the others will be bringing her back tonight," Ron said, trying to smile.
Harry didn't say anything in response. His head sank lower and his shoulders fell. The tears still dripping slowly from his face turned to snowflakes before they hit the ground.
Hermione shivered next to him, her eyes swollen and red as she gulped, "Do you think it will be that easy?"
"No," Harry replied, very sure.
"You feel it as well, don't you?" Hermione asked, her voice shaking from fear and the chill.
"What are you two going on about now?" Ron asked, his voice lacking its normal gruff bounce.
"We're going to have to do it," Hermione said softly.
"Isn't that a bit too reckless for your liking?" Ron wondered.
"Of course," Hermione snapped. "But…"
"They'll be too careful," Harry affirmed.
Hermione nodded and she and Harry rose to head inside at the same time.
Ron, walking in behind them, sighed, "Man, we're going to be in for it when we get this over with."
Harry snorted a laugh, while Hermione rolled her eyes. The three took their regular seats at the Weasley's table, every eye trained on the only seat that hadn't been touched over their break.
Harry could have sworn he saw the flickering image of Elle in the seat he was staring at. She had sat still, her face blank, scars running and crossing along most of her visible skin. Behind her there was a tall, broad figure. His arms crossed, his stance protective—he too was scarred.
"Will none of us be left unscarred by this war?" Harry growled softly as the image began to vanish. The grey eyes of the man behind his sister holding his until they were gone completely.