Disclaimer: I do not own the wonderful world of Harry Potter.
Chapter Eleven: The Invitation
"Could you point me to Kingsley Shacklebolt's office?" Remus asked the older witch who'd stopped to see if she could help him.
It had been many years since he'd last been inside the Ministry of Magic, since the night Bellatrix Lestrange had murdered his last living childhood friend.
But that wasn't the only dark memory he had of the place.
Remus hated it, hated the whole institution of the Ministry's government. Ever since his registration after the attack when he'd been just a seven year old boy, when the traumas inflicted on his parents couldn't seem to get any worse, they were further rewarded with fear, paranoia and the deepest prejudice. His father was forced to shut down his printing press when they'd moved to the country so Remus could make his transformations without endangering anyone or being hunted by superstitious muggles. After then no one wanted to hire his father for fear of their families falling into their own disfavour with Greyback. Even in spite of the crimes committed again the Lupins and the innocence of the victims, they were ostracized and left to fend for themselves in a world that felt revulsion towards their young boy's new nature.
"Ah, Mr. Lupin wasn't it? How can I help you?" Kingsley greeted in a distant, cordial tone as if the two were not close acquaintances.
Once the door was closed he restarted more familiarly. "Remus, how are you?" Kingsley went round his desk and motioned for him to sit.
"Did you hear of Sunday's raid?" Remus inquired, certain that he had but wanting to broach the topic quickly.
Kingsley's expression turned dark. "It was a complete disaster. We should have been there the minute the alarm was raised. Agents are no longer permitted into the field without direct approval from the Minister's office," he elaborated with disgust.
"That must be why they've come out so boldly," Remus realized, having wondered about the audacity of an attack in such a public place during the day. They'd known Fudge would give them all the time they needed.
"That delay cost us near a hundred wands," Kingsley confessed miserably. "Ollivander's was their target."
"Yes, I know," Remus confided, "I was there when they appeared in the alley."
Kingsley was unmistakably surprised.
"Did you catch sight of any of them?"
Remus shook his head. "Not for lack of trying. I was a little preoccupied," he added significantly. Kingsley gave him a onceover, waiting for him to continue.
"I want to talk to you about Ginevra," said Remus finally. Kingsley was entirely unruffled.
"You aren't the only one," he returned.
"She was with me last night when the attack broke out," Remus explained.
For a moment the slightest of bemused expressions flickered across his features. "Let me guess: she did not sit back idly for a team to show up."
Kingsley had known the girl nearly as long as he did. But then again, anyone who'd known her a week would have been safe assuming the same.
"No, she didn't and I'm sure Ginevra would have taken a few of them out if she could have gotten through," Remus paused before continuing. "Someone tried to grab her first."
Kingsley took a moment to gather his thoughts. "You know for a fact they were trying to get to her? It wasn't a hostage situation, thinking they could use a Weasley or known Auror as protection?" he wondered aloud.
"No," Remus answered with certainty, "I don't even think the man was with the others. He was dressed as a civilian, a rather shabby one at best. He seemed totally unconcerned by their business. I wager they saw the moment of panic and took the advantage it offered. But whatever his intent Ginevra was, without doubt, the target."
Kingsley sat back in his seat more regretful than shocked. Remus came to a sudden understanding.
"How much do you know about this?" he asked quietly, working to keep the tone of accusation from his voice.
Kingsley did not hesitate to fill him in. Last they spoke, Albus revealed to him that he suspected, in the near future, his explicit trust in the man before him would be paramount to leading the Order. Albus had not been wrong yet.
"For some time now Ginevra's been showing up across the board," he began and Remus couldn't help feel that this conversation was going to be a reflection of his last with Albus. "She burned the Death Eaters badly, leaving Fudge no choice but to get her out of the office. It didn't make any difference that everyone who ever knew or worked with her had gotten in a complete uproar. He's been replacing anyone who speaks out too loudly against him with Malfoy's people. Scrimgeour's been absolutely livid over the interference in his department but he's smart enough to know he's not going to do any good by giving Fudge reason to replace him as Head of the Auror Department."
"She came to you, didn't she?" Remus asked, turning the focus back to what he'd wanted to learn, but he already knew the answer.
Kingsley gave a sigh. "It would seem Ginevra's got a tail on her," he explained. "Someone's trying to keep track of her, find out as much as they can. Someone very interested."
Remus didn't know what to think.
"After her home was broke into and her brother put a request in for her to have additional protection but it was denied. Her wards have been upgraded, but other than that, the Ministry would crack down mercilessly on her if Fudge thought she was taking advantage of their resources."
Too late Remus understood Ginny's reservations about going in for help. She's already been turned away.
"This is the first they've moved openly against her, we always assumed they were simply keeping watch on her, but now they've escalated," he continued, "so no matter how we look at it, our enemies are moving forward towards their ultimate goal."
"You think Ginevra has some part to play in their end game?" he speculated, having not enough insight to imagine what purpose they could have in pursuing her. Albus hadn't been able to give him an answer on that account either so he doubted Kingsley could offer him anything more.
"I think it would be naïve to rule out any possibilities at this point," he replied heavily.
Having known each other for so long, both could sense they were reaching the end of the conversation's rope.
Remus rose from his seat and Kingsley came round the other side of his desk to let him out. They shook each other's hands after bidding their farewells. Kingsley made to open the door but stopped with his hand resting on the knob.
"Have you considered Albus' request?" Kingsley asked quietly. When he and Albus spoke last, the older man had impressed upon him Remus' uncertainty.
"I've considered it," Remus replied reluctantly. It had been pressing on his mind since Albus made the preposition to him, but he'd gotten no closer to making a decision.
When Kingsley saw that he wasn't going to say more on the subject, he turned the knob to let him out.
"I'll see you on Friday," Remus murmured so as not to let any unfriendly ears hear. He left Kingsley's office without a backwards glance, retracing his steps to the lift.
Remus couldn't help thinking that Kingsley and Albus weren't taking Ginevra's situation with the gravity it deserved. If someone on the other side is so obviously interested in her, she needs to be taken out of the line of fire completely. Remus wanted to tell them both that pushing her to the side was not enough anymore.
He entered the lift which held one other person, a young man in Ministry robes. As they headed down towards the Atrium he caught the man glancing at him more than once. When he finally caught Remus giving him a hard stare, he looked away purposefully.
He couldn't help wonder if this man knew who he was and whether the news of his being inside the building would make its way up to the top.
Paranoia's getting you, he thought to himself, sliding out of the lift into the Atrium. This is what Ginny was so afraid of, he conceded. If only I'd shut my mouth and listened to what she was trying to say... He'd thought at the time that he'd been furious at her for having so little trust in them all but he now understood that it was because of the danger he thought she was intentionally ignoring. I just thought she was being reckless, not caring about her own safety. By the time he got in line to use the outgoing Floo, he realized what an ass he'd made of himself, assuming she'd reverted back to her self-destructive ways because he'd been too ignorant to see the totality of her situation.
The guilt weighed despondently on him.
Feeling a need to be someplace other than his empty flat but also where he wouldn't be bothered, he enunciated his destination before throwing the powder at the fireplace and stepping into the rush of green flames.
Just as he suspected, the Leaky Cauldron was nearly cleared out. Other than a pair of goblins in the far corner and a warlock snoozing by the bar, Tom's pub was still. Death Eater attacks were a sure deterrent to the general public. As a werewolf he more often than not removed himself from that generality and so there he was.
Tom brought him over a cup of mulled mead before heading back behind the bar. He didn't ask anything about Saturday's events even though he'd seen them in there minutes before. Working in the pub for so long, he could sense when people were interested in conversation and when they weren't.
He sipped the spiced beverage, allowing the warmth to spread through his chest. The weather had not improved since yesterday and it matched his mood most fittingly.
It was at that moment, deep in thought about reconciling his presumptions with Ginevra when someone came in from the back entrance. Of all people not to grace the pub that afternoon, the subject of his inner turmoil's closest friend went to the bar to say hello to Tom.
Being a fourth of all the occupants in the pub, she spotted him immediately after taking a cup on a saucer with a small pot of tea.
"Lupin," she called despite his insistences over the years to use his first name. Old habits die hard.
"Luna," he greeted, motioning for her to take up the empty seat opposite him, "how are you?" Despite being in a less than loquacious attitude, he wasn't about to stoop and take it out on others.
"I'm as good as can be," said Luna, pouring herself the tea, "though I can't say the same thing for Mister Ollivander."
Remus made a noncommittal nod, for the present moment unwilling to bring up his own involvement. Though he realized she might already know his part if she'd talked to Ginny since then. It was only natural she would have gone to her friend for comfort after the things she went through. After I treated her like a petulant child. It was all he could do not to hit his head on the table.
"I've come in to take a look at the place and ask around," she explained. "I want to put in a piece to follow up the gloss-over that the Prophet offered in yesterday's edition." As editor she rarely submitted any of her own reporting for the Quibbler, but with an incident this consequential, she just couldn't allow the Ministry to enforce such dangerous ignorance on her own community. Not when I'm in such a position to remedy their intentional failings, she'd thought to herself on numerous occasions, especially over the last few months.
Unfortunately for her though, all her reporters were too nervous to go where the Ministry so didn't want anyone to pry. Luna knew the risks and was entirely cognoscente about her responsibilities.
"I look forward to reading it," Remus offered sincerely. He had great respect for what the girl had done with her father's legacy, turning the Quibbler into one of the most reliable sources of wizarding news in Britain.
Remus had a feeling that it would be in his best interest to turn the conversation elsewhere lest he be asked to give his own accounting. He wanted to ask if she'd spoken to Ginny today or yesterday, and whether she was alright after being so shaken. I shouldn't have left her alone, he accused for perhaps the fifth time that day.
Before he had a chance to voice his question in as innocent a manner as possible (thinking Luna might be just as forgiving of him), she beat him to it.
"Have you spoken to Ginny?" she asked, as if pulling the question from mind. "I don't mean to be intrusive or a gossip but I went to her place yesterday morning," she informed as he was sure she would have. He could tell something heavy was weighing on her. "It's been years since I've seen her this withdrawn."
Remus tried not to let guilt overcome his face. He had a sick sense of playing a role in her current state. Or at least having pushed her towards it.
"Did she say anything to you a few nights past?" Luna enquired, gluing her bright blue eyes to his incredulous expression. He remembered quite well Ginevra's confession at having not told anyone that she'd escaped the bar to spend the evening with him. Luna, sensing his wonder at her disclosure, elaborated.
"Ginny had to leave when we went out; something got her really worked up," she explained. He remembered the state she'd been in when she showed up, though he still only had a partial picture of what had gotten her there. "I wanted to stop by her flat to make sure she really was alright but when Neville and I showed up it was obvious she wasn't in." She flashed him a knowing smile and Remus suddenly remembered just how disconcertingly intuitive Xenophilius Lovegood's daughter could be. Ginny hadn't mentioned Dean once that night when she'd been to his place, but having seen them together at Hogsmede, and now with Luna's narration, he surmised they must be seeing each other. He had a strange moment of knowing he should feel pleased for her having someone to be of some comfort, but the feelings never surfaced
"Well, uh..." he wasn't quite quick enough to explain why the girl's best friend bailed out on her birthday to spend time with him. He was still a little shaky on the details himself.
"If Ginny didn't want to be alone, she ran away from most of her go-to options at the bar: me, Dean, and Hermione. That pretty much only left her parents, the twins, and you; though I would trust myself in saying I doubt she was looking for familial comfort." Luna watched Remus Lupin's guarded expression with a keen interest. Maybe I was wrong in pushing her towards Dean, she considered, amazed at having perhaps not seen certain other possibilities.
"She was in a gloom when she showed up, talking about work and the Ministry. I think lately she's been preoccupied with a lot of bad thoughts with this spare time on her hands," he admitted, her having told him much the same. He didn't know how he felt about divulging their discussion but he knew for a fact Luna's intention was of the highest account.
"Neville and I met at her place yesterday morning to take her out for breakfast when we caught her coming in from seeing her brothers," Remus realized he should probably stop in and talk to the twins himself. Not just now, he conceded.
Suddenly he came under the impression that Luna had absolutely no idea that Ginny had even been in the area during the attack. Remus made no presumptions as to why she wanted to keep it from her closest friend, though he'd recently been coming to terms with her more guarded nature. She has the right to her own counsel, he admitted after the day's alteration in his own perception. If only I'd respected that, Luna and I might not be having this conversation.
"It was obvious to see she wasn't eager to host. She didn't even want to join us to eat out, which, knowing that entire family, was signal enough." Luna's face turned hard once more. "Here is the part that leaves me to suspect something is wrong with her," she paused to finish off her tea, reminding Remus of his own mead. "Ginny told us that she was going out with Dean Thomas next Saturday. She and he had been dating for a little while now."
Remus obviously didn't understand the significance of the revelation.
"It wouldn't have given me a second thought if Dean hadn't stopped by my office yesterday to thank me for the article we published about his work. When I mentioned their coming date he let me know the two of them had decided to stop seeing each other the day before." Another of Ginevra's unrevealed instances which may have furthered her dejection. "When I Flooed her to find out what was really going on, she confessed that the two had split though she didn't feel much like talking about it. She was still busy that evening with a different sort of date to meet up with Harry, of all people."
Luna wasn't sure whether she should also impress upon him the uncharacteristic nature of Ginny accepting any form of private invitation from Harry, the individual she'd worked so hard to distance herself from over the last few years. Just the other week she was on about having to talk to him alone for ten minutes at her flat, Luna remembered.
"Even that story had the ring of plausibility to it and I once more put it from my mind," she explained. "And if I hadn't just spoken with my husband who tells me that Harry invited him to see a film with him and Ron and grab drinks afterwards, I might still believe her." And it worried her more than anything; Ginny has never lied to me before. Even if there was something she didn't want to tell me, she would let me know as much, no matter how humiliating, or shameful. But to lie again after being caught in the first? Luna had never felt at such a loss with regards to her friend.
After the presentation of facts Remus couldn't deny that Ginny's actions were suspicious. A lie covering a lie to cover another lie… Something about it was just too contrary to her character for him to find entirely credible.
Luna watched as his thoughts flickered over his features. He doesn't have any more insight than I do, she realized dismally. "Well I won't put a damper on your solitary quiet any longer," she said, gathering herself together. She still had to head back to the office and get to work on that article if she wanted it in print tomorrow.
She smiled at the flustered expression on his face after her unexpected declaration of departure. "It was good to run into you," she said as she stood and collected her dishes, "I only hope our next meet won't be entirely devoted to the scandals of Ginny's elusive calendar," she added with a small laugh. Remus gave a weak smile, his mind still occupied by the oddity of the conversation.
He bid her a belated birthday before she brought the used dishes to the bar for Tom.
Luna Flooed to her office wondering whether the depth of care and concern she found in Remus' eyes would be reflected back in Ginny's for him.
Ginny rubbed her hands together anxiously. The March day had been deceptively warm, not hinting at the coming evening's chill. She stuffed both hands under her armpits, watching her breath.
She was getting to the point of just stepping inside the Hog's Head and waiting for him there but his note had been adamant she meet him out front. Merlin only knows what I'm doing here, she thought pessimistically for the innumerable time that week. Ginny hadn't even known whether she was going to show up until the night before, having changed her mind so often since she got his letter. At the Hog's Head no less.
Ever since the evening in Diagon Alley, Ginny had spent her time locked up in her flat and reading through the files she'd brought home, learning nothing. Despite Luna constantly dropping by to 'checkup', she hadn't spoken to anyone about what had happened. After her argument with Remus, it wasn't likely she was going to bring it up again. His accusing words had been replaying in her head constantly the last week: "you don't think this is serious enough to merit any more precaution?" It wasn't the first time someone accused her of recklessness. She'd always been impulsive and took risks, but until recently it had always been to her advantage. But now, with the things in her life crashing around her, she started to believe it was her fault.
As it was, Ginny didn't know if she'd be able to keep up her pretense of detachment in front of an audience, especially when she could barely keep it up when she was alone.
When she got the letter from Harry early Monday she'd been skeptical about replying, especially with hers and Dean's last conversation so fresh in her mind. Something about the urgency in his request made her wonder if it might not be something other than his usual discourse.
So that's how she ended up outside the Hog's Head that Saturday night.
She spotted a group of third or fourth year Hufflepuff girls chatting away carelessly as they made their way towards the Three Broomsticks, arms laden with their day's purchases. How she envied them and their simple youth.
The sky was losing the last of its pink glow, fading to a dark indigo. She had to resist the urge to glance at her watch every few minutes.
Harry was late.
She leaned against the building, closing her eyes. She hadn't had a proper night's sleep since Luna's birthday. If it wasn't her own anxiety keeping her from closing her eyes, it was the landscapes she drifted into when she finally gave in.
Ginny had been up for more than one sunrise last week. I'm going to the apothecary tomorrow, she told herself so that she could pick up some supplies to brew a Dreamless Sleep draught.
The sound of students walking by started to lull her into a quiet daze. She was practically asleep on her feet when the memory of Diagon Alley resurfaced. Ginny could practically hear the sound of the glass shattering from the explosion in Ollivander's.
She remembered the screams with vivid clarity. It was almost as if―
Her eyes snapped open at the smell of smoke. The screams had started to move towards her. Ginny turned to the right, seeing a building in the distance overcome with flames. The fire was already spreading to the building beside it.
For a moment she froze at the scene, feeling as if she'd walked straight into a terrible flashback. Not again, her heart cried as she pushed off the wall. The main street was filling with smoke as students and residents poured out of the respective buildings at the sounds of the younger students' cries of fear.
Ginny opened her mouth to shout to the fleeing students to keep calm when she was gagged from behind. Someone had tied a piece of cloth tight around her head, choking her as she tried to scream against it. She elbowed them hard in the ribs and threw her head back, connecting with their nose. Ginny couldn't believe how foolish she'd been to let herself get taken by surprise once more.
He grunted as his nose crushed beneath her skull, blood dripping down the back of her neck. Ginny began to twist out of his grasp when a dark bag was pulled around her head, blinding her. The man behind gripped it tight about her neck so that with the gag in her mouth, she couldn't take another breath. Her arms reached up to claw the heavy material as she was dragged backwards by the throat.
The nightmares she'd been having all week were now coming to life.
Her legs no longer supported her as her brain grew more and more oxygen deprived. Her legs thrashed before her as her body was pulled through the dirt road. She started to go limp as her lungs began to burn and her mind grew sluggish and fearful. They stopped for a moment while he repositioned his arms to improve his leverage.
She heard the sound of a door being opened before she was dragged up a number of steps, her ankles hitting each level painfully. Even in the dark of her blindfold, stars appeared before her eyes. Her arms fell lifelessly to her sides as the ground levelled out beneath her.
Consciousness was slipping away when she was lifted under her armpits and placed in a creaking chair. Her head lolled sideways as her arms were tied behind her.
Suddenly the bag over her head was ripped off. Ginny tried to take in a few heavy gasps but the gag was just as restrictive as it'd been. Instead she settled for slow, desperate inhales through her nose.
Ginny looked around the room blearily, desperate to set eyes on her captor. Her senses were out of focus but she caught the sound of a sink running behind her. She tried to turn her head to keep her enemy in sight, but he was just out of view.
Upon inspection of her surroundings she found herself in a kitchen. I must be inside one of the homes off the main way, she realized with foreboding, afraid to learn what had befallen the original occupants.
She flinched at the sound of a soft snap and a low hiss of pain followed by a fist hitting down on wood. She tried to wiggle as subtly as possible to feel for her wand in her back pocket under her coat.
"It's not there," came a rasping voice.
Ginny managed to garble a form of accusation through her gag but there was no reply. She heard shuffling behind her and the creaking of floorboards as the man shifted his weight. The hairs on her whole body stood on end at the feel of his proximity, his breath on the nape of her neck. The cloth in her mouth caught her shuddering breath as he undid the knot and loosed the material from her mouth. By then her nerves had been so electrified that her rage deflated. Instead she was filled with mute fear.
The shuffling continued again until he appeared out of her periphery.
It was as if the outside world dropped away when he started to speak.
Ginny finally came to know what those last few months had done to Edward Donahue.