Hermione was not one to give up so easily, but this whole ordeal was beginning to test her resolve. She had been working tirelessly, often with the help of the others, and all their work so far had brought only minimal gains. The lack of sleep was beginning to catch up with her, but still she persisted. Dark circles ringed her eyes and she was thinner than usual, which was actually beginning to worry everyone around her.
They discovered that there were consistent strange disappearances over the years. These disappearances, many suspected kidnappings, of witches and wizards all throughout Britain and Europe were troubling in that no one knew what happened to them and no clues at all were found during investigations into their disappearances. The only link they were able to find between them all was that they were all either very skilled with magic or had a lot of potential magic power. For the most part, the targets were those talented witches and wizards who preferred seclusion, or to at least live outside the normal areas of magical residence.
This made it easier to abduct them, particularly without anyone noticing as each case noted that it took at least two full days before the few people that knew them realized that something was amiss. This was the case with Harry, unfortunately, when he decided to hide deep in Knockturn Alley after the end of the war against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. However the big difference in his case was that Harry Potter was famous, so his disappearance would have been noted sooner.
She had wondered what had happened for the abductors to change their operating procedures and go after someone more likely to be noticed missing, and one who would no doubt garner a lot of effort and attention into finding him. Was there another prophecy that involved Harry? She hoped not. The poor boy deserved to have some peace and quiet for once in his life.
Deputy Minister Arthur Weasley thought that they would have heard from the abductors by now, probably with some demands. Either that, or Harry's vaults might have been accessed, and the goblins were cooperating with the Ministry on the matter and were keeping a closer eye than usual on the Potter accounts. So far though, the accounts were untouched and the abductors had yet to come forward.
Hermione therefore found herself at a loss of what to do next. She was originally excited, as well as a little disturbed, when she found out about the other abductions. For once since Harry had disappeared it finally felt like they were getting somewhere. Now, to have all that progress come to a screeching halt made her feel a little hopeless.
She lay in her soft bed on top of the covers, staring at the ceiling. Her hands were spread out on either side of her. She wondered what Harry was going through and how he must feel. To have gone through so much in the last seven years, and finally when there was a chance to have some peace and a sense of normalcy, he was once again picked on by cruel fate.
There was a light knock on her door, echoing a little in the silent room and making her glance at it.
"Hermione, dear. Lunch is ready," called the voice of her mother from beyond the closed door.
The brunette took a deep breath, trying to clear her thoughts a little before she faced her parents. She noticed that they were increasingly worried about her behavior, and though they knew what was going on and why she was doing it, they still were not liking the fact that she was neglecting her body so much. If only they knew how much he meant to her, to all of them.
Besides, Harry would do the same for her if she were in his situation, of that she was certain.
"Hermione? Are you okay in there?" called her mother again, a tinge of worry laced in her voice.
Taking another deep breath, Hermione finally responded. "Yes, mother! I'll be right down."
The minor creaking of floorboards and the sound of light footsteps indicated that her mother had gone. Hermione looked back up at the ceiling and prayed to whatever gods were out there to keep Harry Potter safe. The poor boy had suffered enough for one lifetime.
"Ronald! Would you please slow down a bit? That's very rude you know," scolded one irritated and clearly disappointed Molly Weasley.
While it was normal for Ron to eat his food quicker than anyone else, he was pushing it this time as he was shoveling food into his mouth at a faster rate than should be possible. He was trying to get food in him so fast that he was actually making quite a mess as well. Even though magic made cleaning extremely easy, it was still the principle of politeness that Ron seemed to forget and that Molly was trying to remind him of.
"Yeah, Ron. The food isn't going anywhere. You could at least make it not seem like you've starved for a week," added Ginny with a look of disgust.
Ron shrugged, mumbling something with his mouth still full, and reached for a glass full of pumpkin juice as he continued to chow down. He did slow a little, though whether it was because he was getting tired or because of what his family was saying, it was hard to tell.
The sound of a door opening and closing reached their ears, indicating that the patriarch of the Weasley family had returned from work. Sure enough, Arthur Weasley, looking much more worse for wear than usual, walked in to the kitchen and sat down heavily at his seat at the table after a brief wave and nod to his family. He quickly put food on his plate and began to eat, though at a much slower rate than his son.
"Busy day at work, dear?" asked Molly, suddenly concerned. He was usually tired, but not this tired, nor did he return so late from work before.
He nodded absently at first as he ate some food to sate his growing hunger before finally speaking. "Busy would be the understatement of the year, Molly." This was accompanied with a tired sigh.
Ginny was suddenly curious, and more than a little worried. "What happened, dad?"
Since Arthur Weasley was Deputy Minister, he was involved in practically all important matters regarding the magical government of Britain. To have him so exhausted after work was a clear indicator that something big was going on, or at that there were at least a lot of important things happening.
He shook his head, "I... I shouldn't talk about it here. Besides, I'd rather not worry you."
Molly and Ginny both gave Arthur a hard look, while Ron continued to stuff his face at a much slower pace than earlier.
Not having the strength to argue with the two fiery redheaded women of the family, he relented. "Well, where do I even begin?" He paused to gather his thoughts. "The news that Harry Potter has gone missing and was possibly abducted will be all over the news by tomorrow morning. Word finally leaked out to the press and we could do nothing to contain it any longer. There's going to be a lot of fear and panic around, that's for sure, seeing as how our savior was kidnapped. We're going to have to call a press conference on the matter, and we don't have a lot of answers.
Making things worse, the remaining pockets of Death Eaters who we haven't been able to capture yet have banded together to form a new group called the Dark Brotherhood. Not exactly an original name, but that doesn't really matter. They've contacted the Ministry with demands to release their comrades locked up in Azkaban. Failure to do so would supposedly result in terrorist attacks on the population of Britain, both magical and muggle. It's all a rather nasty turn of events."
He paused to take a breath and chew some food. "And to top it all off, the Ministry is in dire straits financially. The treasury has been strained with the rebuilding costs from all the damage done during the war against V-...Voldemort. Plus all the equipment and supplies we have had to replenish and all the training expenses for the new hires... if we don't find a way to either cut spending or increase revenues, or in the best case both, the Ministry will be bankrupt within six months."
There was a stunned silence in the kitchen. Nobody moved, not even Ron, who was finally nearly done with eating so began to listen.
"Are you serious? Bankrupt? And... there are still Death Eaters?" asked the young man, draining his glass of pumpkin juice and then looking at his father. "Will this affect the Quidditch season?" he whispered, though Ginny was able to hear him and swiftly smacked him upside the head, eliciting an "ow!" from her big brother.
Arthur nodded. "This is very serious."
"Speaking of Harry... have you heard anything at all?" asked Ginny, a sliver of hope in her eyes that soon disappeared.
"Unfortunately, no. And with things going the way they are now, we're disbanding the taskforce searching for him and assigning only two people to the job. As important as it is for us to find Harry, the Ministry simply does not have the resources to spare while handling all these other problems," explained Arthur with a frown. He was not happy about the decision, but he understood the reasoning behind it.
Molly's wand was out and she flicked it, magical energy disappating for a second before a bottle of red wine and two wine glasses floated over to her. She poured the wine into both glasses and levitated one of them over to Arthur, who took it appreciatively. Ron was finally done, leaning back in his chair and letting out a satisfied and rather loud burp. Ginny was completely still in her chair, staring off into space with her arms crossed in front of her chest.
Both elder Weasleys shared a glance and then took long sips of their wine.
Neville Longbottom was walking back from the Hogwarts greenhouses after taking care of some of the plants when he spotted Hannah Abbott up near the castle, waiting for him. Before their seventh and final year at Hogwarts, the two of them had rarely ever hung out or seen each other outside of classes. She was a Hufflepuff and he a Gryffindor and while he did talk to her a few times, the fact that they were in two different houses meant they were often not together.
That all changed in their seventh year, with the war at its most dangerous peak. Neville became the de facto leader of Dumbledore's Army with Harry gone, and Hannah had joined the DA. He knew why she had done it: her mother was killed by Death Eaters the year before. He could relate to her, since his parents were tortured to insanity by the twisted Death Eaters, and the more time she spent with the DA the more involved the two of them got.
He did not really know how it happened. They began to talk a lot, at first mostly him giving her support and encouragement, not to mention training and orders as their leader. Then she finally began to open up more to him, and they quickly transition to close friends. By the end of it all, after the final battle that demolished half the castle, they started going out. Brought together by the trials and suffering that they both endured during the war, the two of them found comfort and strength with each other.
He wondered if this was what it meant to be in love, but he was not sure. He knew that he loved herbology and plants, and in a way he felt the same for Hannah. So perhaps this really was love.
Neville smiled back at her when he saw that she was smiling as he approached. Arms wrapped around him as Hannah closed the remaining distance between them, the side of her head resting on his broad chest. He had grown a lot over the years, much more than he had thought he would. He used to be rather small and somewhat chubby, but his hormones plus all the work he put in with the plants as well as with training to fight Death Eaters - as well as actually fighting them - led him to grow taller, leaner, and bigger.
"Morning, Hannah. This is a surprise. What brings you out here?" said Neville as he returned the hug.
She squeezed tighter for a second before letting go and breaking the hug. She looked up at his face, still smiling gently. "I thought we could have lunch together. You've been so busy lately, I've barely seen you."
Neville looked away for a moment. It was true that he had not had the time to see her in the last several days. Between his duties at Hogwarts as the new Herbology Professor and the work he put in helping to find any clues as to the whereabouts of the still missing Harry Potter, he barely had enough time for anything else. A guilty feeling engulfed him then as he looked back at her.
"I'm sorry... I've just been so busy... and, you know why."
She went to his side and wrapped an arm around his, resting her head on his shoulder. "I know," she breathed, "Now, let's go eat. You should be on your lunch break by now."
He smiled. "Yeah. I was on my way to the Great Hall, actually."
The two of them walked slowly, talking about lighter and more trivial topics as they consciously tried to avoid talking about Harry's situation or the fact that the castle was still under repair. The reconstruction and repair of the castle was actually speeding along quite nicely, but with so much damage there was still a lot of work to do. The Quidditch Pitch, in particularly, still needed to be completely rebuilt along with the bridge that went out to that part of the grounds.
One of the first parts of the castle to be finished was the Great Hall, which looked exactly as it did before the final battle, with no signs at all that it had been the site of battle and a place where they held and treated the wounded.
There were two other people in the hall: Headmistress Minerva McGonagall and Charms Professor Filius Flitwick. As the two young adults entered, they greeted their elders with smiles and waves before sitting down at one of the long student tables, eliciting a feeling of nostalgia for both of them as they thought back to their days as students there.
"I still can't believe we've graduated already... and that, you know, the war is over. It kinda feels like it was all... a dream," Hannah said as food magically materialized before them.
"Yeah. A very bad dream. I don't think I've come to terms with it all yet either, but that will come in time," replied Neville as he took a large bite out of a chicken leg, "All we can do is keep moving forward."
"You're right, Nevy," she called him by the nickname she had given him a while back. She really only did it in private, though Neville actually would not mind at all if she said that even when they had company.
"Did you say that Luna was going on a trip? I don't remember," she said before eating a slice of her waffle.
"She's leaving today, I think. Or maybe tomorrow? Not going terribly far. She and her father are heading over to Ireland for a week or two. Something about White-winged... err.. Farklesnappers? Her father had always been meaning to go find them," he answered, sounding unsure with the last bit. He remembered that she had told him that she actually did not want to go anymore so that she could continue helping Hermione, who was working the hardest out of all of them trying to find Harry, but that her father really needed this vacation.
As much as Luna wanted to find Harry, she also needed to be there for her father as well. Particularly because he did spend some time in Azkaban after all, when Voldemort and his followers controlled the prison. Xenophilius Lovegood had not quite fully recovered from that brief but horrible internment.
Hannah grinned at that. "I wish I knew her better. She always struck me as a very interesting girl."
Neville snorted. "Interesting indeed."
An owl flew in just then, circling around the Great Hall for a moment before swooping low and dropping a copy of The Daily Prophet over their heads. Neville snagged it out of the air as it fell and he watched the owl fly back out from the opening where it had originally entered from. Turning his attention to the newspaper, he unrolled it and read the headline plastered on the front page:
HARRY POTTER, SAVIOR OF WIZARDING WORLD, MISSING!
Sources Say Kidnapped
He quickly began to read the article, noting that there was not much detail there and was simply a lot of speculation on the reporter's part. Maybe this would help them get more information on the matter though, since more people would be aware of it and if anyone had seen Harry or knew anything that might help they might now step forward and provide that information.
"What is it?" Hannah asked, noting the expression on his face as he read and finished reading the article.
Neville did not say anything and merely handed the newspaper over to her, which she took after taking a quick swig from her cup of tea.
"Looks like the words out now. Hopefully this will lead people who may have some information to come in," she said, putting the paper down after skimming through the article.
"My thoughts exactly," he gave a nod as he returned to eating, although he was doing it now because it was something to do to pass the time rather than because he was still hungry.
There was a sudden pop nearby, startling Hannah who jumped a little in her seat and let out a slight squeak. Neville was unfazed, accustomed to the popping sound of house elves. He wondered why a Hogwarts house elf would show up in the Great Hall like this. Then again, he had never been to the castle over the summer before so he was not exactly sure how differently things operated around here when the students were on break. This was also only his second day working at Hogwarts; he had yet to get used to life there.
He turned to the house elf, who was bowing low, and he realized then that it was the Longbottom family house elf, Quilty.
"M-Master Longbottom! Master Longbottom!" the house elf exclaimed with an alarmed look that made Neville suddenly worried, "Your gran! She-"
Neville was quick to rise to his feet, a sudden cold feeling engulfing him. His eyes narrowed, his gut tightening. "What's happened, Quilty?"
Author's notes: I bet you thought the others wouldn't have troubles of their own. :)