Disclaimer: I do not own the wonderful world of Harry Potter. If I owned Remus Lupin or Draco Malfoy… I would have better things to do than write fanfiction ;).


Chapter Twelve

It was no wonder that she hadn't recognized him immediately. The initial uncertainty made the revelation all the more grisly. The sight of his pallid, emaciated form brought the night's cold into her blood. His skin hung off his shrunken frame much like his tattered threads of a cloak: filthy, worn and ill-fitting, stretched tight in the wrong places yet leaving too much room for the skeleton inside. The hem was caked in dirt from being dragged behind or getting tangled under his mismatched boot heels. From that angle, the frayed remains of a hood were just visible.

"They kept me below the house. They kept me in the basement," he began, moving nervously round the room like a penned animal.

While Ginny's outlook on reality was busy playing catch-up, Edward continued on with his recount. After every sentence he became increasingly more animated, pacing across the kitchen, arms raised to emphasize every declaration of the inhumanities he suffered.

Ginny's initial reaction to the jarring revelation was to try and reach out to sooth and care for his tortured body and tormented soul, but she'd so successfully conditioned herself not to give in to those impulsive emotional responses. She'd spent enough time at St. Mungo's working with the traumatized patients who had fought or lost loved ones in the war. Hours behind a desk filing enough reports during the early days in the department to understand how unpredictable someone could become. Also, she was tied up.

Over the last few years the country saw a drastic rise in the number of instances when a witch or wizard's mental deterioration led them to harm themselves or those around them. Ginny remembered the lengthy conversation she had with Kingsley one night after a meeting at Grimmauld when she asked him how Fudge could reasonably expect people to believe the flimsy stories he was commissioning for the Prophet to cover up the tragedies. She'd only been in the program for two months and had already become known for her questioning the authoritarian protocols trickling down from the top. That night Kingsley had laid out the way their positions needed to be handled and she quickly learned the method of least satisfaction: passivity.

` She watched Edward warily as he brandished her wand with every arc of his narration. The more worked up he became, the more his tremors increased in frequency and violence. She had no idea what he'd been through. Had no way of gauging his purpose in bringing her there or why he, unlike any of the others, had gotten free from the Death Eaters.

Ginny let him continue his narrative lest any interruption alarm and push his already disturbed mind over the edge. She didn't know what harm he intended her, especially when her thoughts went back to the last conversation they'd had (as it so often did). It was highly unlikely that he bound and disarmed her for her own wellbeing.

"No one talked to me for a long time. I was like a dog, a bad dog," he confessed with a shudder, one which Ginny struggled not to return. For weeks after she learnt what had happened on his last mission, she was kept awake nights imagining his probable and miserable fate only to now have every one of her worst assumptions proven. "They made me their pet," he said with a shrill titter that bordered on a hysterical sob.

"You should have heard how they laughed when I clawed for the scraps they threw in my cell. How I licked the crumbs from the soiled stones of my cage." He grew eerily still while gazing out the window to Ginny's left. Desperately she wanted to free herself and join the fray, knowing that the Death Eaters would have certainly warded the town off from contacting the castle. Any attempt to signal the Ministry for aid would certainly prove just as ineffectual as it had in Diagon Alley. She took a deep, steadying breath in through her nose while closing her eyes for just a moment to get a hold of herself. Her head was filling to the brim with images of his degradation. She felt little more than revulsion.

It was all she could do not to scream when she opened them again. He was crouching not three feet from her, eyes level with her own. In contrast to his raving, trembling, animated performance, her instincts told her this new stillness brought with it malice and danger.

"I thought about you." His eyes rarely blinked. Instead they gleamed sickly in the kitchen's dim candle lighting.

With this increased proximity she got an even better glimpse of the toll the abuses left on his body. The red rims around his once mesmerizing blue irises made his eyes appear to bulge out of his skull. Combined with the tightened, colourless skin stretched over his gaunt face, Edward was little more than a walking Inferius.

She tried to see in his expression a familiarity with the man she'd once been so intimately linked, but she could hardly bear to match his immovable gaze. There's nothing left. Even his hair had lost most of its life: scattered patches were missing while the rest was hacked away unevenly. What was once auburn now seemed an ashen brown. I have to get out of here, she reminded herself once more, knowing for certain just how unstable Edward was and how likely he would be to snap. She could have sworn his spirited tirade had shot sparks from her wand earlier.

While he continued his account of his time in captivity, Ginny began to better survey her surroundings for even the smallest possible advantage. It was then that he said something to completely regain her attention.

"They treated me well when I told them stories. They were always most interested when I spoke about my life," he added. The dark clouds roared with thunder inside her head.

She'd known the probability of him being used for information, as had everyone else. Part of finishing the Auror program was to pass multiple levels of deception to withhold any kind of knowledge. There were even classes where they had to resist the Imperious Curse and various truth serums. But there was no program to prepare you for torture.

They'd taken from him everything he had. He must have told them something they really wanted or they wouldn't have let him go. It hadn't taken her long to figure that he wouldn't have been able to organize his own freedom in his state. He didn't even have a wand until now. This did nothing to sooth her panic. Even the Death Eaters had been wary about giving him one of their hundreds of acquired wands.

Ginny listened quietly to his continued reminiscence, making mental notes here and there for the future (in hopes that she had one). He often mentioned a man, only ever referred to as the lord. She more than once had to smother a smirk at the vanity within the Death Eater ranks. Titles to do with Blood Status or ones that passed solely through the Pureblood lines had long ago been exorcized from the elitist classes of wizarding society. At the top of the stack, she knew Voldemort's followers addressed him by that affectation, but Edward's scattered descriptions let her know he spoke of someone else. If she hadn't been in such an unpredictable situation, she could easily imagine snickering with her coworkers at a Death Eater's egotism to give himself his own title. Without even thinking, a handful of names with enough pomp popped into her head. But she didn't dare dwell on anything too far from the room lest he once again catch her so unaware.

"The lord soon found no more use for me. I was stripped of my purpose so he passed me off to his children to play with."

The thunder turned to lightning as she tried to account for his statement's oddity. Fire seemed to spread to her feet and back again at the possibility. The missing children! He may have seen them!

"You saw where they were?" she asked softly so as not to alarm.

He turned to her clumsily as if only just remembering she was there. His mouth opened and closed, struggling to form even a simple response. It must have been months since he'd heard the voice of someone who'd been a part of his life before he was taken. As Ginny watched his features rearrange themselves again and again, she considered that it might have been better if she held her tongue.

"I remember it was dark," he hesitated, almost as if afraid to bring back the memories. She understood completely, and even though the horrors hadn't been inflicted on her, most of her still had no desire to hear any further. It was only her gut instinct that she was closer than anyone in the country had ever been to discovering what Voldermort's people had done with the missing survivors that kept her going.

It took a blend of will and survival instincts not too push him any harder for information, but the last months in captive had already conditioned him to provide it. "There were many of them. Maybe ten, maybe twenty." He turned his back to her and shuffled back over to the window. She almost didn't catch what he said next.

"They were so hungry…" Something in the way he shuddered made her wonder if there wasn't something more wrong with them than starvation. She hesitated to interrupt but he continued. "It had been a while since anyone had been brought for them." Brought for what? A nauseating suspicion crept up her throat.

Edward rubbed the backs of his arms anxiously. Ginny was brought back to the most pressing matter at hand when a renewed chorus of shouts came from the street followed by the unmistakeable sound of wood being blown apart. The fight was flooding up the street to their position.

"Do you remember the city they held you?" she pressed against her initial plan, wishing beyond all hope that some reason would rekindle some of his Auror instincts. Time was running out.

"They said that I wasn't to ever try and speak with you," he offered instead with a wholly different tone. She caught his eyes darting between the front and back exits.

"It's alright," she reassured levelly, "it's only us here."

She watched his eyes narrow from across the room. It was all she could do to hold her ground and keep from swallowing nervously. Her current situation did little to inspire authority.

"They told me not to make myself known to you," he explained, pulling at his hair anxiously. Ginny wasn't sure what to make of his new edginess.

"For so long I kept a distance, but you were always near..."

A lot of things over the last month finally fit together then.

"You've been following me," she said, more statement than accusation.

"You we're always on your own." He began to chew on the side of his index finger, drawing blood with his front teeth. His statement was like a fist to the stomach. Only then was she really able to see just how much time she'd spent avoiding the people in her life after the dual suspensions. So much so that her mentally traumatized, old boyfriend, stalker-abductor had taken notice.

"I thought a token outside your apartment might serve as a reminder of how I still felt about you but you didn't care. You gave it away like it was nothing!" he seethed, changing from cold to hot with zero transition. I wanted Ron to show it around and find some answers. Her mind went through all the daft and improbable theories her and everyone else had come up with for his ring showing up, but none had even been close. Had anyone suggested this to her then, she would not have been amused.

"When I saw him come from your apartment, I could hardly say I was surprised," he told her. She had to think for a moment. Ron?

"Don't think I haven't always known of your impartiality towards him. How often did I have to defend your loyalty to everyone who told me how you two were 'meant to be'?" he was practically shouting, his eyes straining from their sockets while a fleck of spittle landed on his chin. Not Ron, then. This was obviously not the time to express her exponentially increasing indignation at what Edward (though apparently not just) was implying. She was going to be plagued for the rest of her life by her first ever adolescent relationship. It just keeps on getting better and better.

"It didn't take long for you to crawl back to him though, did it? I suppose I can't even be sure you two ever parted ways." His face twisted into a hateful sneer which put a match to Ginny's leaking rage. I've had just about enough of this.

"Stop this, Edward," she commanded in a hard tone. He flinched as if she'd physically struck him. There was something pathetic in his madness. She had a feeling that harsh voices hadn't ever been followed by anything less than pain in his recent days. She started again more softly. "You're sick and hurt, but you don't have to be." She paused for any sign that he might be considering her words. For a second it looked as if he might.

"I was disappointed to see how easy it was to get you here by yourself. All I had to do was use his name to bring you running. Early even."

Ginny didn't bother trying to defend herself against his vehement misconceptions. When they'd been together, she and Edward had been completely open about her history with Harry. They'd even become something of friends after she introduced them both. Someone had obviously put a lot of effort into poisoning his mind against her and The Boy Who Lived. Three guesses who...

"After seeing you in Diagon Alley, I knew I had to get to you first. They wouldn't have let a Weasley slip through their fingers. They would have taken you away from me." His body shook at the thought of it.

She remembered the feeling of her arms pinned behind her back and his breath on her neck; the nights she stayed awake, wand in hand. The only thing that had come between her and her current situation had been Remus, but he wasn't coming for her. At this point, no one was. It was a sickening realization that no one in the world knew where she was at that moment. Karma, this is a little much for lying to my friends.

Something heavy smashed against the outside wall, shaking the structure around them. Edward held her wand up defensively as he moved back in front of the window to inspect, totally occupied with the scene outside. And there it was.

This might be my only chance.

Without wasting any of her limited time with consideration, she kicked hard off the legs of the table in front of her. Luckily it was heavy enough to use as an anchor. The chair slid back easily as her back slammed into the counter, crushing her arms. Her heart pounded at the sound of the chair's back splintering against the bruising pressure.

Edward spun around in alarm, too shocked to prepare himself in time. Ginny was on her feet and swinging her entire upper body with a ferocious momentum before he could even raise her wand. She connected the broken chair spindle that her wrists were still tied to with a decisive crunch. His eyes widened in disbelief for an instant before he fell lifeless to the floor.

After wrenching his fingers open to regain her wand, Ginny allowed herself a lenient moment of emotional breakdown. At first she could hardly make herself go near again to his motionless body, so perturbed was she by what had been made of him. Eventually she managed to turn him over gently and check the strength of his pulse, but when she pushed away his cloak to reveal his neck, she drew back in horror.

Hardly believing her eyes, she ripped open his tattered shirt to reveal the scarred surface of his entire chest. She swallowed the rising bile in her mouth and covered him up as best she could.

"Oh, Edward," she whispered wretchedly, laying a hand on his fevered brow. She wiped away a stray tear before summoning bandages for his bleeding head. Next she summoned rope to bind him lest he regain consciousness. She left him resting against the wall in a feeble attempt to lessen his discomfort. After all, even after the things he had done, he was still someone she cared for deeply . But when she made to leave, her feet stayed rooted. Instead she bent back down beside him, smoothing his hair away from his face like she might have once done after waking up beside him. Even unconscious his features were twisted and troubled. Before thinking about it, she pressed her lips to his burning flesh, sure that when she pulled away there was some ease in tension, though the reality of that was improbable. The truth of the matter was that Edward was unlikely to ever know peace again.

At last she dried her eyes and moved to the back hall. She considered searching for the home's owners, but judging from the dust and lack of lived-in evidence, she was sure the house was abandoned as many in the village were. After Hogsmeade had been rebuilt, many in the community couldn't bear the memories of the war.

Finding the door she was sure she'd been brought in through, Ginny listened with her ear to it for movement outside until she was finally confident the coast was clear. Luckily her adrenalin was already reaching a peak because the instant she stepped out onto the back porch she was forced to dive into the alleyway, narrowly avoiding her attacker's hex. She hit the ground hard, rolling into a defensive crouch. Immediately she sent a volley of Stunning and Disarming spells to keep them busy while scrambling for shelter.

Her opponent was skilled and didn't let her take advantage of ducking for cover. His curses had her dancing on her toes until she switched up her tactic to one of brutal assault. She threw spell after spell after spell at him so that he could barely get an offensive curse out edgewise, forcing him backwards into the thoroughfare. Her rage at what they'd done to Edward became her driving force. Miraculously, the fire hadn't spread from the second house, but this caused all the shadows to fall on their end of the street, making visibility fairly awkward. But the moon was high and bright, and the cold air was lit with magic.

She was desperate to get even the slightest glimpse of her surroundings. Without knowing where anyone else could be, she was completely vulnerable from every direction. Even more concerned was she with getting eyes on any of the students that had been in the village. As it stood, there was no way she could chance taking both eyes off the man trying his best to kill her.

His best was soon not enough. Ragged clouds of breath poured from his expressionless mask when he took a faltering step over a rut in the road. It only took the one fault for her to get an opening and Stun him in the face. His body landed on the wooden walkway in front of the Hog's Head.

She was quick to get hold of his wand, storing it in her coat pocket. Just to be sure, she ripped the Death Eater mask off his face. His features were unfamiliar. He had a plain face, nothing remarkable in it and hardly a year older than her. We might have gone to school together. For a moment she held his mask in her shaking hands, every intention of snapping the grinning, white leer in two.

Any empathy she may have once felt for the young man's fate was smothered entirely by the image of Edward's tortured form burnt into her mind. Her hands stilled as she came up with a better use.

Minutes later she was jogging behind the row of shops and houses parallel to the tall wooden fence that separated the lots facing the main road from the woods. Although the night was cool she was sweating underneath the extra layers.

Her momentum was jarred by a gruff shout from the dark space between buildings that she'd only just passed.

"Oy!" they called out unexpectedly and she spun in her track ready for another conflict. She had to gulp down her insecurity when she spotted him. A huge, muscled bulk of a man emerged into the causeway. Ginny gave him a onceover, noting him at once for a fatal opponent. She clenched her wand painfully tight, fingernails digging into her palm.

"Finish your search back here then report to Lestrange. If you find any of them, you know what to do." She most certainly did not but as his impatience seemed to increase by the second, she nodded her head and gave her most masculine grunt. Satisfied, he turned back from where he came.

Ginny let go of the breath she'd been holding, sweeping a hand under her hood to wipe off the thick layer of sweat on her brow. She took that moment of pause to rearrange the heavy Death Eater cloak over her own coat when she heard it.

Adrenalin searing through her entire body, she turned her back against the fence and spread her feet in an offensive stance. There were faint shouts in the distance but she let them fall to the background. She heard it again, the faintest of moans and a soft shuffling of feet on gravel followed by a moment of near unnatural silence. There was someone tucked in that small space with her though she was hard pressed to say where.

Out of the farthest corner of her periphery she caught a slight ripple in the air around the trash bins and bags of garbage that were presumably from the Three Broomsticks.

"Revelio!" she barked, pointing her wand in that direction. Many things happened at once. Where there had been no one before suddenly held a tight cluster of people. She threw up a protection shield quickly to avoid the two Stunners sent her way.

"Silencio!" she cast on them all as the beginnings of a shriek started to form. "I'm not going to hurt you," she explained as quickly as possible, tearing off the mask and hood. She lowered her wand lest any of them get it in their minds to run. "My name is Ginevra Weasley; I work in the Auror office under Kingsley Shacklebolt." She rolled up her left sleeve to show them all her unmarked arm. After confirming that they were neither going to attack nor flee from her, she removed the Silencing Spell.

There were five of them in total though only three on their feet. They'd been huddling together under a flimsy Disillusionment Charm that hadn't held for even a moment when she'd cast the Revealing Spell. The eldest, a senior Ravenclaw girl judging by her robes, who'd been the first to try and Stun her did not seem reassured. Instead she held her ground firmly, wand up and a fire in her eyes. Ginny recognized the look for not so long ago she been in much the same position. The two next to her were a year or so younger. A boy with the familiar badger on his robes marked him for a Hufflepuff though the girl next to him could have been from any house. Judging from the subconscious way he edged in front of her protectively, Ginny figured they'd been on a date or together as a couple. Her eyes darted down to the last two, another girl and boy who could be nothing other than third years. The girl was glassy eyed as she supported an unconscious boy with a torn Gryffindor scarf. There were no visible signs of injury though every so often a low moan of pain would escape his lips. It had been him she'd heard.

The questions soon started.

"You're a Weasley?"the fifth year girl asked from behind her partner. She rested a hand on his wand arm for him to lower it. Though it was crucial they believe her, Ginny couldn't help but wonder if this girl was a little too trusting. It wouldn't be much of a challenge to cover up the mark and say she was an Auror. When the boy moved aside, Ginny could see the scorched side of her long blond hair, clearly a souvenir from a recent skirmish.

"Are the Aurors in Hogsmeade?"

"Does Dumbledore know what's happening?"

"Can you help us?" the young girl asked desperately, her lips trembling as she looked down at the quivering boy in her arms.

Only the girl from Ravenclaw stayed quiet.

It hadn't been hard to deduce that she'd been the leader of sorts for the other four. In fact, she'd probably been the one to lead them back there away from the main crowd. She wasn't about to let these kids be put to anymore harm. She was tired though, the fight was taking its toll, but Ginny knew from experience that she was not going to put her wand away just yet.

Four pairs of eyes glued to her avidly, waiting. Waiting for her to tell them her plan. Ginny was coming up short but she knew that she had to do something quick before their fears took over.

"Look, it's just you, me and whoever is left out there," she told them honestly. We're not going to get anywhere if I sugar coat the situation. The older boy cursed and the young girl groaned in despair. She continued in a hurry, "but many of the Death Eaters have already gone and no one yet knows were back here."

"Can't you just Apparate us all one at a time?" the young girl asked though the others seemed to all shake their heads.

"There are wards put up around the village so that no one can use magic to get in or out, we'll have to do it ourselves," she explained as softly as she could. Each of their faces looked so dejected and close to succumbing to helplessness that Ginny couldn't waste another moment in inaction. "Our best chance now is to get to the Shrieking Shack." Their expressions went blank.

"There's a tunnel through the basement that leads up to the school grounds. It comes out right underneath the Whomping Willow." She hadn't thought it possible, but the boy's face went even whiter.

"But isn't it haunted?" he asked with a hitch in his voice. The girl beside him looked to be repressing a roll of her eyes.

"I know for a fact that it isn't. Dumbledore put a lot of work into keeping up the rumour though." He still seemed unconvinced so she added, "It's a long and complicated story that I will tell you all once we get out of here," she promised energetically. For not the first time that night, her thoughts drifted to another place. Remus, where are you? she wondered, for a second weakening in her resolve. Ginny thought back to the times over the years that he and others had stepped up to be her rescuers, but she made her mind grow hard. She was what these kids had and they needed every part of her in the situation at hand.

"Look, our safest bet would be to get round the village and stay out of sight," she thought that if she could get them out into the surrounding forest, they would have the best chance to avoid any of the Death Eaters still lurking around. "If we can just get over—

"Do not touch the fence!" Ginny jumped back at the sharpness of the command. She turned back, alarmed at hearing the Ravenclaw girl's voice for the first time. Her heart pounded in her ears as she withdrew her hand that had reached out to touch the wood.

"We already tried it," the girl informed quietly. The three still standing all looked down to the two on the ground.

"It's been cursed," the youngest explained in a high voice. "When Edward put his hand on it, it was as if electricity was shooting through his body. He fell to the ground and we haven't been able to wake him up." Ginny's blood went cold at the unexpectedness of his name. It nearly froze when she thought of what had almost just happened to her.

Ginny brought her face close to the unassuming planks of wood. It was only with her nose an inch away that she could smell the faint metallic tinge of magic. This was sophisticated work and obviously Dark. It did little to inspire her ever waning confidence. There was no way she was going to bring them out onto the main street, so they were left with one option.

"Alright troupes, we need to get moving. We're going to keep making our way behind the buildings towards the Shack. You," she gestured towards the boy.

"Callum," he offered.

"Callum," she repeated with a nod, "do you think you would be able to carry Edward?" she asked, trying her best to keep the last two syllables from choking her.

He went over to the unconscious boy and hoisted him onto his shoulders with the girls' help. He was straining slightly under the boy's weight though he was small for his age and Callum was fairly fit. He's probably on his house's Quidditch team.

"Alright, as we move along Callum is going to stay in the middle of the group with Edward while—

"Morgan," the girl with Callum answered when Ginny looked to her.

"Clara," the youngest girl offered.

"Kati," was the last. Although originally the older girl had been more than wary, now she was just eager to be of service. For Ginny it was an unusual change to be the authority in a situation as this, even on missions she'd always had someone higher to report to. Fortunately though her instincts were accepting responsibility admirably and she felt reassured in her confidence. As confident as one can feel at a time like this.

"Kati, Morgan, I want you two to grab the rear. You both will be protecting our flank and keeping an eye out for any unsavoury surprises. The last thing we want is someone catching us off guard." They both took their positions without question.

"Clara, you'll be up front with me. Have you ever Stunned anything before?" she asked, having a fairly muddy memory of what she'd been taught at Hogwarts and when. This is war times though, students shouldn't have to rely on secret clubs to defend themselves.

The girl looked embarrassed. "We don't start Stunning until next semester, but I can Disarm and I know how to paralyze someone."

"Those are both very useful to know and if it happens that we run into someone, that's exactly what you'll do." Ginny reassured even though she was aware that a grown witch or wizard could easily deflect both. She also knew that being underestimated could offer a huge advantage especially if their opponent was busy trying to defend themselves from three other wands.

"Okay, let's get going. Callum, do you think you'll be okay to jog?"

"I'll be fine." She had no way of telling whether he was over-exaggerating his strength, but she had no other choice but to take his word.

"Keep your eyes open and your wands up. We're out of here."

They set off at an easy pace, everyone staying far as possible from the fence. Ginny wasn't happy to be taking them back around the burning buildings, but that was the direction they had to go. She would have rather moved a little more quickly, but there was nothing to do about that either.

Making their way along, Hogsmeade grew silent. Any sounds from the scattered duels she'd seen a few minutes ago had stopped. She was forced to consider that the last of the very few villagers had been defeated. The implications were unfavourable as it meant the remaining Death Eaters would be on the prowl.

As they got nearer to the burning buildings they could hear the eerie screams of incinerating wood. There was a roar followed by agonizing creaks, as if the very structure were crying out. Then, almost as if they were watching in slow motion, the back of the first house splintered and began to cave in on itself. Without support, the roof cracked in two, sliding off the upper level and bringing down with it most of the second story. The burning wreckage hit the ground a distance in front of them, sending an explosion of violent sparks and glowing timbre in their path. They halted.

"What are we going to do?" Clara asked weakly. That's a good question, Ginny admitted as she still had no answer.

Motioning for them all to stay behind her, she crept towards the fire. The blockage was hardly more than four feet though the blaze reached well over their heads. Getting them all through would be near impossible. She bit her tongue to hold back the string of curses threatening to spill out. She knew how important it was to keep her composure with the four of them looking to her for guidance.

Soon the heat was too much to handle so she stopped them just on the outside of the consuming glow. They bathed in the warmth it offered while relishing the chance to catch their breath. She kept an eye on Callum to make sure he wasn't overburdened with his charge but he was no worse off than the others. Only Clara seemed to be struggling, though not by a remarkable gap. Ginny used that time to weigh their limited options: go back the way they came or leave the back pathway and make towards the street. Neither was reassuring. The likelihood of Death Eaters coming round the way they came from increased every minute. She didn't even feel comfortable stopping for those few moments but moving out to the street was just as risky.

"Could we put the flames out and cross over top?" Callum asked between sharp inhales.

"It would take too long and they would see the steam before we got through," Kati replied. Ginny nodded her agreement, seeing in this girl the makings of a capable agent.

"Let me think for a moment," Ginny requested, rapidly flipping through every inch of their environment. They were pressed between three terrible fates and there was no way to avoid them all. Burn, cursed or tortured... When I was in school, I thought exams were bad. "Okay, if we have to, we are—EVERYONE DOWN!" she screamed at the sudden glimpse of a drawn wand through the wreck.

A flash of blue light parted the smoke. With the second's warning, it missed their heads by a finger.

As she scrambled back to her feet, Kati and Morgan both cried out "Behind!"

Ginny whipped around to see two robbed figures closing in on them from the rear. Hera be damned! Kati was quick to send a volley of hexes towards them while Morgan put up a protective shield. Clara was busy helping Callum untangle himself from Edward so Ginny turned round to engage the masked man on the other side of the blockage. They were being ambushed in the most unforgiving of places, but Ginny was quick to adapt. Dodging another of his curses, she threw out a devastating Reductor Curse. Instead of aiming it at her opponent, she hit the smouldering remains between them, dousing him in a raging shower of agony. She watched as his cloak caught fire and him struggle frantically to free himself.

The two behind were pressing in with every break in Kati's onslaught. Morgan's face was covered in sweat from the strain of maintaining her magic for so long and Ginny knew she was ready to cave.

"Protego!" she cast as Morgan let go of her spell. She saw Callum move to grab hold of her but he couldn't risk letting go of Edward and his wand.

"Start moving up the alley, we're going out to the street," she ordered, practically pushing them backwards with her left arm. All other options were gone. "Kati, I want you to move in front towards the other entrance. You need to keep any of them from cornering us between the buildings."

Piercing screams filled the air. It seemed the man hadn't freed himself from his cloak in time.

The younger girl twitched her head in understanding, no energy to spare for words. She'd done an impressive job of holding the two back though her spells were slowing and they were taking too much ground. Ginny didn't dare let them trap the six of them in that tight space.

Pivoting into the passage hardly wide enough for two side by side, Ginny planted her feet firmly.

The pair of them had clearly not been expecting her to strike out so powerfully and were too slow to step up their techniques. After only a few moments she managed to hit the one on the left just enough to send him crashing backwards into the fence. He hit the wood hard then was thrown back violently, falling to the ground in convulsions. His partner didn't even spare him a glance. Talk about loyalty...

With the fight evened out it wasn't long for Ginny to get the upper hand. His magic, though advanced and dangerous, was obvious and predictable. At last she grazed his arm with a Stunner, paralyzing his upper left body. His wand arm continued with a flourish of attacks while the other hung limply at his side.

A shout came from a ways behind followed by Kati calling out a hex. Callum's own voice joining the defence. I need to finish this, she thought adamantly.

"Morgan," she called to the girl still near her. She rushed over to Ginny's side, not entirely recovered but ready to act. "On three I want you to Stun him" she explained from the corner of her mouth.

"Stupefy!" they called out simultaneously after her quiet count down. With his deteriorating defense he'd had no chance of blocking both attacks. Instead, he fell backwards over his partner's body, narrowly avoiding the same fate.

Ginny didn't stop to celebrate their victory. She turned round pulling Morgan, who was so shocked at having successfully cursed a Death Eater, with her to catch up with the others at the other end.

"Confringo!" she cast between Kati and Callum's shoulders. Both jumped at her unexpected approach. Her Blasting Curse sent the single Death Eater through the air. He landed with a harsh thump across the road.

Before he could scramble back to his feet, Ginny screamed out "Rictusempra!" and he collapsed again in an uncontrollable fit of violent laughter.

She gave a quick appraisal of how the kids were faring. Kati was gasping for breath while Clara wheezed at her side. Callum struggled beneath his load while Morgan kept tight to his side. They aren't going to make it, she despaired with her accustomed cynicism before she could help it. They're just kids... but so was I. She hadn't been much older than fourteen when she'd come face to face with the Death Eaters in the Department of Ministries. She hadn't even finished her seventh year when the war began. Childhood is a luxury that we soon won't be able to afford.

"Let's move."

They took off at a quick walk. Ginny would have liked to stay close to the boardwalk in front of the shops, but the fire made their passage on this side just as impossible. They made their way to the middle of the street.

At that point the wind began to pick up, feeding the flames while smoke, ash and sparks danced about the air around them. The two girls up front began to cough and even Ginny had to pull her collar up to cover her nose and mouth. The smoke, though concealing them as they moved out in the open, also limited their view of the surrounding area.

They slowed to a cautious gait, Kati and Morgan leading the group while Ginny walked backwards, guarding their rear.

Before she even had time to turn, the curse rang out and screams ripped apart the silence as one of the girls up front fell to the ground, body contorting in agony. Ginny caught sight of a leering skeletal mask through the smoke. She sent another Blasting Curse towards them, but failed to connect with the target. Mocking laughter filled the air around them. Clara screamed in fright. Several voices joined in the chorus; they were surrounded by as many as five.

They huddle in around Morgan. Ginny could feel Callum shaking with rage beside her. She glanced down to see her curled in a fetal position in the cold mud. Her heart clenched for the girl, knowing full well from experience just how shattering the Cruciatus Curse was on both mind and body.

"You need to stay put," she said to him when he dropped Edward down next to Morgan.

"I'm going to kill them," he hissed, arm clenched tight with his wand raised. She saw his eyes dart back and forth, trying hard to match a shadow to the voices. There was no fear there.

She understood perfectly well the inextinguishable desire for vengeance that raced through the blood after seeing a loved one hurt. More than she ever cared too, but experience taught her the consequences of giving into rashness. It was clearly something the Death Eaters were looking to expose.

"Are you just going to stand there and do nothing, boy?" came a jeering whisper to their right. Ginny and Kati both threw hexes in that direction but hit nothing.

"Letting the girls fight while you cower behind?" This time it was to Ginny's left. Momentarily distracted, she hardly got her shield up in time to block the curse from her right. She heard another scream from behind her.

"Callum, no!"

Clara broke down in horrified sobs as Callum broke from their circle towards his taunter.

"Stupefy! Stupefy! Stupefy!" he cried, sending a rapid volley of Stunners into the dark. Moody's voice filled her head with his lectures on the importance of conserving energy in the field, but she had no time to pass it along to Callum. From her right once more came two simultaneous curses from two individual attackers. They both hit her shield so hard she was physically pushed back into Clara who stumbled then fell.

"Petrificus Totalus! Confringo! Expelliarmus!" came Kati's voice from Callum's side. The two were barely holding their own when Callum took a devastating Cutting Curse to his wand arm. By then their two opponents had pressed in so close they were visible mere feet away.

"Ginny!" Kati screamed as the two closed in on her.

"Crucio!" she growled, whipping the Unforgivable into the shadows. It was her second time ever casting an Unforgivable and she was repelled down to her very soul, but even Death Eaters felt an innate fear of the Cruciatus Curse. As the two withdrew in hesitation, Ginny spun, calling out "Aguamenti!" A jet of water poured from her wand, cutting through the smoke and dousing Kati's ambushers. The force of the spell and angle she hit them from knocked them off their feet.

"Petrificus Totalus!"

"Incarcerous!"

From Ginny's wand ropes appeared and wrapped around the nearest of her victims while Kati used a full body-bind on the other.

Callum's arm hung limply at his side while he attempted to cast with his left. His spells were feeble and his aim shaky, but as it stood, he was the third best she had.

"You two need to stay close to me or I swear this muddy patch of Hogsmeade will be the last place you ever see." There was no time for false optimism.

The wind picked up once more and seemed to clear much of the smoke. By now the buildings had burnt down to the first level, nearly to the foundations. Ginny spotted a clearing behind them through a renewed gust of sparks. She considered telling Kati and Callum to run for it, but she couldn't leave the two wounded and one traumatized kids. Splitting up was simply not an option.

Ginny felt a chill up her spine as one of the remaining Death Eaters circling them began to sing. "Ring-a-ring of roses, a pocket full of posies." the rest of them tittered in the shadows, letting themselves be seen for just a moment before slinking back into the dark. "Ashes to ashes..." She tried desperately to follow his voice with her wand but the buildings had burnt so low that the light was dim and waxy. Their dark cloaks absorbed the night. "You all fall down."

She whipped around to her left to follow the voice closing in on her when a force so strong collided with her from behind. It was as if she'd been struck by a brick wall. She was lifted clean off her feet and thrown nearly five meters. Her back hit the ground so hard she couldn't breathe. Her body was in such a shock that she really thought she might be paralyzed.

Just as her vision finally cleared of all the blinking lights, a huge shadow loomed over her. She sluggishly tried to raise the wand that she'd miraculously managed to keep hold of when a boot kicked her wrist so hard she thought it had broken. She tried to call out but her throat closed tight as the immense calloused hand wrapped around her neck. Her whole body slid out of the mud as he dragged her off the ground by her throat with his one hand. She tried to claw at his meaty fingers. Only the sharp pain in her right wrist keeping her from slipping out of consciousness.

He lifted her straight off the ground, slamming her head against the wooden siding of the shop she'd landed in front of. She didn't need to hear his voice to recognize him as the hulking man who'd stopped her when she was disguised. It was unlikely Voldemort had two such monsters in his rank.

Her feet dangled limply as he pressed his masked face up to hers. She could hardly focus on his cold brown eyes. His hot breath on her face was so revolting she nearly gagged. There came a commotion of screams from the group she'd been separated from but her depravation of air was her foremost concern.

"You've put up quite a fight, little girl, but it's time to let go," he whispered seductively. He sounded far away but his tightening fingers were closer than ever. "I can see the life crawling out of your eyes."

"See this, asshole," she wheezed as her thumb slipped under his mask and into his eye socket. She pushed down hard.

Eyeballs have the most unusual texture. The giant howled in excruciating pain, throwing her sideways as he pressed both hands to his bleeding face.

She hit the ground once more, bruising her shoulder and ribs. She gasped so hard her lungs nearly burst. Oxygen flooded back into her brain. Rolling over onto her hands and knees, Ginny slowly crawled away from the thrashing half blind, wholly murderous beast of a man. She spotted her wand near his feet but his massive tree trunk legs were kicking out violently in a vain attempt to strike her. He was screaming vicious obscenities towards her as she shakily made it to her feet.

"Over here, big boy," she called tauntingly, ignoring the pain of her aching throat. He responded just as she wanted him to, charging in a fit of rage so powerful his momentum would have knocked her flat. Instead, she threw herself under his outstretched arms. She dove for her wand, using her own momentum to roll onto her back. Since he was so large a Stunner might not knock him out so she hit him in the back with a leg-locker curse. His shins snapped together as his arms waved about almost comically for a brief second before the inevitable happened. The bigger they are, she couldn't resist thinking to herself as his hulking mass hit the ground. She wasted no time launching her battered body back to her feet, careful not to get near him. His attempts to pull apart his legs with his own hands made her wonder whether he was unarmed or simply so distracted he couldn't think to take his wand out. Either way, Ginny petrified him without another thought.

She sprinted back to the group to help Kati, the only one still putting up a real fight. Callum had lost a lot of blood and could hardly keep his wand up. Kati was in the midst of holding the two others back with a protective charm, though she was on her last legs. The girl had strength, she was a fighter, but all that was almost gone.

It was only then that Ginny realized someone was missing. "Where's Clara?" she croaked, adding her own shield to Kati's. By the time she got to their side, Kati collapsed to her knees.

"They grabbed her," Callum replied weakly. "Someone came from behind and took her." His eyes were glassy and unfocused, his skin a sickly white. The slice in his arm needed to be bandaged or he was going to bleed out.

For the first time, Ginny didn't have a single idea. Her magic was the only thing between them and the two Death Eaters. If they got through, her own death might be certain, but she now knew the fates of those kids would be even worse.

She heard Kati throwing up near her feet, but could do nothing to comfort the girl, save continue to keep them away from her, from all of them.

"Looks like your friends have failed you!" the man on the right jeered as he hit her shield with a Blasting Curse.

"You think you can keep us back? I can see you shaking from here!" a woman's voice laughed from beneath the androgynous mask. She wasn't wrong. Ginny may have been a trained field agent, but it had been years since her body had suffered through this kind of exertion. Every inch of her was in one pain or another, while her mind was so distressed she couldn't think of anything other than the absolute present. Even Clara's abduction was just a distant misery.

"And then there were two!" the woman called out gleefully to her partner. Callum had just fainted. Kati continued to dry heave next to her. She was whispering something between breaths that Ginny couldn't hear but she could tell the girl was crying. And probably praying.

I can't believe this is how it all ends, she thought grimly, knowing her energy could only sustain the full shield for a few minutes longer. Her mind drifted to her family, her friends and everyone in the Order. They would find her body once the Auror's got into the village. Kingsley will have to tell my father...

Two more curses hit her shield, pushing her feet back in the mud. The air had gotten even colder since she'd been waiting outside the Hog's Head, but still she was covered in sweat. She could feel the lactic acid coursing through her system as her muscles all clenched painfully under the strain. Even my body is turning against me.

"Who do you want to play with first?" the woman asked cheerfully to the man next to her.

"You know how much I love a redhead, their spirits are so full of fire."

"Well this one here looks nearly burnt out, we might have to find you another." Their spells weren't coming any slower; there was no chance either would tire before she did. The acrid taste of bile crept up her bruised throat. It was only a matter of moments before she was on her knees heaving.

It was then, just as she was about to give in to her own demise, many things happened at once. The street around her exploded in many flashes of light and for a moment she actually thought she was dying.

The night air was filled with distinct cracks as a wall of noise rushed towards her.

"Weasley!" She could have sworn she heard her name called out as she felt herself falling. She never hit the ground.

Someone was holding her, talking to her, but she couldn't gather her senses together fast enough to make sense of anything.

"Ginny, it's alright," someone reassured and for a moment she wondered if she'd gone insane. It took a few minutes before she regained full consciousness and found herself in the arms of her friend Agent Dunn.

She couldn't help laugh as tears poured from her eyes.

"Ginny, what the hell happened?" he asked desperately, clearly concerned for the mental wellbeing of his temporarily dismissed partner. The street was now crowded with what looked like a total of three Auror teams freshly Apparated. It would seem the wards had been deactivated.

"Death Eaters," she coughed, "they were after the kids. Don't know how many are left."

She turned her head, too exhausted to even move the rest of her body. A medi-witch was mending Callum's arm while another knelt over Edward's body, wand out whispering enchantments under her breath. She thought to tell her what had happened to the boy, but for the moment she felt disconnected from her body. An Auror was talking slowly to Kati, who could barely nod in response.

The rest of the Auror's had spread out and were looking for survivors, bodies or leftover Death Eaters. The ones she and Kati had taken down in the street had been gone long before the Aurors had shown up, likely taken from the scene by their accomplices. The pair who'd most recently been trying to kill her most certainly Disapparated the moment they saw their wards were down and the Aurors arrive on scene. Late as always, she couldn't help the bitterness but had to admit they truly did arrive just in time. For us, at least.

There were so many things crashing about her head: the realization that she wasn't just about to be murdered, that she let one of the kids she was responsible for be abducted and—

"Dunn, there's something you need to see."

"Ginny, whatever it is, it can wait. I need to get a medi-witch to take a look at you. It looks as if you've taken quite the beating."

She struggled against him in an attempt to sit up. "Peyton, this is too important."

He looked at her skeptically before helping her up. Her first few steps were too feeble to take by herself, so he threw her arm around his shoulder and helped her along. She took a quick assessment of her various aches and pains and it was only a small comfort to discover her wrist had in fact not been broken. Just by pressing her finger tips to where she'd been grabbed around the neck told her that bruises were already forming. Her various tumbles had left more around her body, while the toll of her exertions made her head ache so sharply she felt as if her brain were expanding against her skull. All in all, she was alive and that was more than she could have hoped to expect.

Ginny led Peyton Dunn up the road towards the Hog's Head. She caught sight of a number of Auror's she recognized, though all were too preoccupied to give the two of them a second glance. Dunn hesitated when she turned to lead him down the narrow passage between buildings that she'd been dragged through what seemed like years ago. She grimaced at the evidence of spell damage on the buildings. It's a miracle I'm still here.

"Ginny, where are you taking me?"

"Inside, come on," she continued, leading him up the steps and into the house.

When they got to the entrance to the kitchen, Ginny stopped him. It was only fair he had some semblance of warning before seeing the shell of a man that had long been his close friend.

"Peyton, you need to believe me when I say he's been through more than you can possibly imagine."

"Who? What are you talking about?" he took his wand out despite her assurance that there was no danger.

Ginny had run out of words. Instead she led him into the kitchen where Edward was sitting, right where she'd left him, tied up against the wall next to a bloody chair spindle.

"Dear Merlin," Dunn whispered once he recognized his lost friend. "Ed?" dropping to his knees he took Edward's pulse then inspected the bandages covering his head wound. It showed a little spotting of blood, but otherwise he seemed unchanged.

"What did they do to him?" he asked softly, though Ginny hadn't the heart to tell it all to him just then.

He reached a tentative hand out to touch the material of his cloak as if unsure whether he was really there.

"Look at his chest," she whispered, the atmosphere of the house so grim neither seemed to want to break the silence.

He pulled back the tattered material as she had done earlier. Like her, his hand shot back with a jolt.

For a while the house was still.

"Was that what I think it is?"

Ginny nodded, leaning against the wall in support.

"Those are werewolf bites, Ginny." She'd known it too the moment she'd seen the scars. Her own brother had similar scars on his body.

"Is he… will he?" he couldn't even put the question into words.

"I'm not sure, I only saw the untransformed bites, but Peyton… look at the size of the marks."

He forced himself to move the shirt back away from his chest. "No," he said in disbelief. "No, not even they are capable of this."

"Look at how small they are. Those are a child's teeth marks."

The horror in his eyes was reflected back in her own. They finally knew what Voldemort had done to the missing children.

TBC


Author's note: for the love of magic that was a tough one to write. Something about long fight scenes… hopefully it was all to your satisfactions for those of you still keeping up with the story AND any newcomers :) You now see why I had to split the two chapters apart, because this was so much longer than I expected it to be. This half of the chapter was long enough it could have been split into two as well, but I'm not that cruel. Anyhoo, hope you liked the action and the little twisty-twist at the end. Things are really picking up now! Please leave a review, because they give me all kinds of warm fuzzies and also let me know that there are people out there with an interest in my little story! Until next time, readers!