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Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling and Warner Bros. I in no way claim ownership of any rights to the Harry Potter Universe.

Author's Note:

Chapter 26: Fight or Flight
Ginny stumbled and fell to her hands and knees as the Portkey dropped her in an unfamiliar room. The voice that greeted her, however, was all too familiar.

“Not who I was expecting,” the haughty voice declared from behind her. “But you will have to do.”

Keeping her arm hidden, she casually flicked her wand from her holster into her hand before standing and turning around. She narrowed her eyes at the platinum-haired man in front of her.

“Tut tut,” he spoke upon seeing her wand in hand. “What do you hope to do with that? I suggest you put it down before you get hurt.”

“Where am I?” Ginny demanded, ignoring the threat. She could not take her eyes off her foe to examine her surroundings, but from what little she had seen, the place appeared quite extravagant.

“Where are my manners?” Lucius asked himself. Sweeping his hand in a wide gesture, he said, “Welcome to my modest summer home.”

Without warning, his wand was in hand and a sickly orange spell was heading her way. Ginny was prepared, however, and had already side-stepped the curse and retaliated with several of her own. Malfoy lazily batted her spells aside and returned with more of his own. Not knowing what most of the spells were, Ginny dodged all she could, leaving her wand-arm free to return fire.

With each spell he cast, Malfoy’s haughty sneer seemed to fade, giving way to his growing anger and frustration. Evidently, he had not anticipated this much resistance. She had no time to celebrate that fact, though, as she was busy fighting for her life. As Malfoy’s frustration continued to mount, his concentration began to lapse. His attention was so focused on the offensive that he failed to react in time to block a Cutting Curse. Lucius bent down to hold a hand to his injured leg, and Ginny used his distraction to quickly send a Stunner, knocking the elder Malfoy unconscious.

Wiping the sweat from her forehead, Ginny walked cautiously towards the downed Death Eater. Remembering a lesson Harry had drilled into her, she Summoned his wand before drawing too close. The wand shot out of Malfoy’s limp hand and into Ginny’s grasp. She went to break the wand over her knee only to bite back a gasp of pain as the wand did not break. She tenderly rubbed the spot on her leg where the wand had struck. After a moment, she aimed her own wand at it and cast a Cutting Curse through it, cutting the other wand clean in half.

She turned her attention back to Malfoy’s prone form and noted a small amount of blood beginning to pool around his leg where she had hit him with the Cutting Curse. She knew no healing charms to stop the bleeding, and she was not about to revive him. She did not think the cut was enough to put him at any serious risk, so, seeing no other options, she decided to leave him there and try to find a way out. If she could make it outdoors, she would use her Animagus abilities to transform into a lioness and make a hasty escape. First she had to find a way out of the building.

There was only one door, so she cautiously approached it. Easing it open, she peeked around the door into a corridor lined with various paintings and tapestries. She was thankful to find it was devoid of anyone. Taking a step back, she pointed her wand at her temple and cast the Disillusionment Charm. She felt a chill run through her body, and when it reached her toes, she knew the charm was in full effect. Breathing deeply, she snuck out into the hallway and quietly closed the door behind her. Looking back and forth, she saw no windows or any indication of which way would lead her to the nearest exit. She chose a direction and slowly crept down the hall in search of a way out.

******

After rounding the corner, Harry continued to sprint forward and vaulted over the balcony. As he leapt into the air, he transformed and pumped his wings, rising higher and higher. He soared through the halls towards the Owlery, paying no mind to the few students he passed in the halls. He breathed a sigh of relief as he felt his owl senses kick in, telling him exactly which way he needed to go to get to Ginny. Wherever she was, she was still traceable, and that was a very good sign. Knowing, however, who had most likely taken her, that would not be the case for long. As he entered the Owlery, he beat his wings and flew out of the high windows where the other owls came and went at their leisure, not pausing for even a moment. As he burst out into the night sky, he caught a white blur in his peripheral vision.

Hedwig, Harry mentally called. I’m in a hurry. Ginny’s been taken. I have to get her back.

I will fly with you, Hedwig replied.

Nothing more was said. Harry set a brutal pace, not wanting to lose a second. He needed to find Ginny before it was too late. Hedwig, for her part, seemed to understand his need for silence and flew along silently behind him. Every moment felt like an eternity as Harry pushed himself single-mindedly forward. He gave little consideration to what would happen when he found her. He would deal with that when he got there. His only thought was to find Ginny.

On and on he flew. Miles and miles of land passed underneath him, but he took no notice of the distance. His owl senses told him to keep flying forward. The muscles in his wings were numb as he continued to push himself faster and harder, but he never even considered stopping or slowing down. He would not rest until he had found her and brought her to safety.

******

It took a few seconds for Harry’s words to process in Ron’s brain, but once they did, he took off at full speed after Harry. As he rounded the corner, his gaze swept up and down the large room with several moving staircases, but Harry was nowhere to be found. After a moment’s hesitation, Ron sprinted down the staircase in front of him. If he knew Harry, he was either heading towards the exit or Dumbledore’s office.

Choosing quickly, he decided to check the entrance hall first. If Harry was in fact aiming to leave on his own, Ron did not want to miss the opportunity to catch up to him. When he arrived, though, there was no sign of Harry. Panting at the exertion, Ron immediately changed course for the Headmaster’s office when a voice brought him to a halt.

“Mr. Weasley, what are you doing?”

Never before had Ron been so happy to hear the sharp tone of his Head of House. Spinning around, he spotted her walking briskly towards him from across the entrance hall. “Pro-fessor,” he wheezed, struggling to talk as his lungs gasped for air. “Ginny – she – gone. Harry – after her.”

“Breathe, Mr. Weasley,” McGonagall admonished. “I can’t understand a word of what you are saying.”

Ron took a few seconds to breathe deeply before repeating himself. “Ginny was taken, and Harry’s gone after her.”

The colour drained from the professor’s face. “Taken? How?”

Ron shook his head. “I wasn’t there. Harry said it was a Portkey.”

“And where is Mr. Potter?” she demanded, narrowing her eyes.

Ron unconsciously took a step back. “I don’t know. He ran off, and I tried to follow him, but I don’t know where he went. He said he was going to bring her back.”

“Come with me,” she stated, striding past Ron at a brisk pace. “Quickly now.”

Ron’s long legged strides hurriedly caught up to his Head of House, recognising immediately that she was headed exactly where he intended to go. They shortly arrived outside the entrance to Dumbledore’s office. The professor spoke the password, and he followed her onto the staircase right as it began moving. Without bothering to knock, Professor McGonagall pushed open the door and strode inside, Ron following behind. The Headmaster and his guest both turned to look at the new arrivals.

“Ron!” Hermione called out. “You changed your mind.”

Ron stared at her, dumbfounded. He had no idea what she was talking about, but then, a split second later, his conversation with her came back to him, and he scowled. “No,” he coldly and succinctly replied. Without waiting for a response, he turned to the Headmaster and said, “Ginny’s been taken, and Harry’s gone after her.”

Ron had never seen a look of such utter shock on his Headmaster’s face. Before Dumbledore could regain his composure, Professor McGonagall chimed in. “Mr. Potter apparently believed she was taken by Portkey. Mr. Weasley seems to be the only person with any knowledge of any of the circumstances.”

The Headmaster’s eyes bored into Ron’s. “Where is Harry? Does he know who took your sister?”

“I don’t know what happened,” Ron explained in a rush. “I was going to the library because I knew that’s where Harry was. I needed to talk to him.” His eyes cut quickly to Hermione then back to the Headmaster as he continued. “Harry burst out before I could get there, and just said that she’d been taken by Portkey, and that he was going to bring her back. He ran past me, and I turned and ran after him, but when I turned the corner, I couldn’t see him anywhere. I don’t know where he’s gone.”

“Minerva, alert the Order,” Dumbledore ordered as he stepped around his desk. “Mr. Weasley, do you know where Harry keeps his map of the castle?”

Ron shook his head. “He used to keep it in his trunk, but it’s not in there any more. I think he keeps it with him – either that or in his office.”

Dumbledore frowned a moment before stating, “Search his office. Use ‘Phoenix Fire’ as the password. If you find it, bring it back here immediately.”

Ron nodded his head in understanding and immediately turned to exit the office. Before he could reach the door, however, he heard Professor McGonagall’s voice, “Miss Granger, why don’t you accompany Mr. Weasley. The two of you will be able to search his office more quickly and thoroughly.”

Ron paused only a moment following her statement before continuing out of the office and down the stairs. He was halfway down the hall when Hermione caught up beside him. Ron ignored her presence, staring forward as he walked quickly towards Harry’s office. They walked in silence for the majority of their journey. Harry’s office door was in sight before Hermione opened her mouth. “I told you this would happen.”

Ron glanced to the side and glared at her for a moment before turning back and lengthening his strides to increase his pace.

“I just knew that sooner or later he would do something like this,” Hermione muttered loudly enough for him to hear.

Ron halted just in front of the door and turned fully towards Hermione. “Is that all you can think about right now?” he demanded. “That you were right and that Harry’s rushed off into danger?” Ron stared coldly at her, daring her to respond. Her hands moved to her hips as she opened her mouth, but Ron cut her off before she could start. “In case you forgot, my sister is out there, and Harry didn’t just rush off into danger. He rushed off to rescue her. The only thing I’m angry at Harry about is that he didn’t wait around long enough to take me with him.”

“But if you had gone with him, no one would have been left to tell Professor Dumbledore what happened,” Hermione countered heatedly, but Ron ignored her comment and grunted the password. When the door popped open, he shoved it aside and walked into the office. He had only been inside it a few times, but he was familiar enough with it. He began at Harry’s desk. There were some scattered parchments on the desktop, but the map was not among them. He searched through each of the drawers and came up empty with each one. As he finished the last one, he looked up and found Hermione looking through his bookshelves. Harry could have hidden it in one of the books, but it would take forever to search through each one. They did not have that kind of time.

He whipped out his hand and thrust it upward as he shouted, “Accio Marauder’s Map!”

Looking around, he confirmed that nothing had happened. He was not sure if the charm would work on the map, but it had been worth a shot. He checked behind the portrait of the Gryffindor common room, but there was nothing there. He walked up beside Hermione and checked a few books before deciding better of it. “This is hopeless. If it’s here, he’s obviously hidden it well enough that we won’t find it. Let’s go back.”

He left without waiting to see if she would follow him.

******

Ginny was convinced she was in some sort of labyrinth. She had been walking around for Merlin only knew how long, and she was no closer to finding an exit than when she started. Every hallway looked the same. Some of the paintings were different, but the portraits were all eerily similar. The Malfoy genes had not changed much at all over the centuries. The uncanny resemblance between the portraits and Lucius made Ginny constantly feel as if she was being followed by the man she had left Stunned and bleeding some time ago.

Ginny had not run into another soul since she had left Malfoy behind, for which she considered herself lucky, but the absence of any other life in this palatial maze served only to make it seem all the more eerie. Every minute that passed made her ever more frantic to find the exit. Her Stunner would not last forever, so she wished she had at least bound him before leaving. If she did not find an exit soon, she might pay dearly for that mistake.

After passing through two more nearly identical corridors, she began to think that the halls she was travelling were all interconnected in one big circle with no discernable way out. She was afraid to try any of the doors, for if people were inside they would know she was there even with the Disillusionment Charm. With time wearing on, however, she felt she had no choice. She came upon a promising door and very lightly gripped the knob, slowly turning it to the side.

It was locked. Pointing her wand at it, she thought the spell, Alohamora. She suppressed a grunt of frustration when nothing happened. Whatever was behind that door, someone had obviously put some advanced locking spell on it, and she had no idea how to break past it without simply trying to blow through the door. She was left with no other choice but to move on.

As she came upon the next door, she slowly turned the knob and felt a wave of relief when she found no resistance. Gently easing the door open, she peered inside. It was a stairwell. She quickly slipped inside and shut the door quietly behind her. Keeping her feet light, she hastily descended the stairs all the way to the bottom floor.

Hoping she had found the ground level, she very slowly opened the door, praying that no one would be on the other side. Luck was with her, for the hallway was empty. Looking both ways, she saw that one way entered into a larger room, so she followed it down to investigate. The room was once again empty, and on one end were a pair of large, ornate double doors. Since there were no windows, she was not convinced she had found her exit, but she held out hope that it might lead her to one.

Creeping to the door, she nudged it open ever so slightly and peered around the side. What she saw made her heart stop. Shakily, she began to ease the door closed when it was suddenly jerked out of her hands. She jumped as the door banged loudly against the wall, and, before she could react, she noticed her Disillusionment Charm had been removed. Ginny stared in horror into a sea of black cloaks and white masks. At the far end of the room, stood the shadow of a man she had hoped never to see again.

******

With every moment that passed, it became increasingly clearer to Albus that this was going to be a long night. As if two missing students were not enough, he just had the proverbial bombshell dropped in his lap. To think Minerva had known for a full week and saw fit to hide this from him! He could fully understand now why Miss Granger had been so concerned when she approached him earlier that evening. They were not given much time to discuss them, but she had expressed the basis of her concerns. He doubted she could even suspect how accurate those concerns truly were.

Shaking his head, he regarded his long-time friend and colleague over his half-moon spectacles. Objectively, he understood her reasoning for agreeing to keep this from him, but he still could not quite comprehend the decision. With all that was at stake and with all the Order was doing for the war effort, how she could keep such a thing to herself was beyond comprehension. Frowning slightly, he spoke, “While I wish you had alerted me to your findings before now, the past is just that. It is too late to evade the situation, so we must now do all we can to remedy it and bring back our two missing students.”

Glancing briefly towards the door, he said, “Speaking of which, I believe Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger are about to return.” Right on cue the door opened, and the two students in question walked inside. “The map?” Albus asked, though the lack of parchment in either of their hands told him his answer already.

Ronald shook his head. “No. If it was in there, he’s hidden it good.”

“Indeed,” Albus replied. “I imagine he would have. Now, I want the two of you to remain here while Professor McGonagall and I Floo to Headquarters. The Order will be gathering momentarily, and I assure you we will be doing all we can to bring both Miss Weasley and Mr. Potter back safely.”

“I’m coming with,” Mr. Weasley immediately asserted, to which Miss Granger nodded her head.

Albus frowned as he regarded his two students. “I am sorry. I know how much you are worried about your friends and sister, but Order business is still Order business.”

“But she’s my sister!” Ron shouted.

“All the more reason to cease your arguing and allow us to do our jobs,” his Deputy Headmistress inserted crisply. Her features softened a fraction as she continued, “I understand your concern for Ginny and Harry, but your presence will only hinder us and place them in more danger.”

“Indeed,” Albus agreed. “You may remain in my office if you wish, and I will make sure news is brought to you as soon as possible.” Neither student appeared satisfied with that, but they ceased their arguments. Nodding to his Deputy Headmistress, Albus strode to the fireplace and threw a pinch of Floo Power into the hearth as he called, “Twelve Grimmauld Place.”

******

“Ginevra Weasley, I presume?” The creature’s voice was nothing more than a hiss, yet it carried clearly through the large room and to her ears.

She attempted to make a run for it, but before she could even fully turn away, she found herself frozen in place. “Ah, ah. Running off so soon? We haven’t even been properly introduced,” Voldemort chastised her as if he was a parent trying to teach his child proper manners. “Though from what I’ve been told, you’ve already had that pleasure.”

Ginny unconsciously gulped even as she assembled her Occlumency shields into place. Whatever happened to her, she would not allow him the satisfaction of breaking her. She was stronger than she had been with the diary. Voldemort would not see what his diary had done to her, nor would he learn any of Harry’s secrets.

Voldemort walked toward the front of his dais. “Do come and join me.”

She stood rooted to the spot, but with a raise of Voldemort’s hand, her body began moving against her will. It was awkward, as if she was walking in that body for the first time and had not yet grown accustomed to it, but she could do nothing to stop it. The crowd of Death Eaters parted before her, and she jerkily walked up and joined Voldemort on his dais. “Now, perhaps you might tell me why you are here. You are not whom I was expecting. And where is Lucius?”

Ginny allowed a brief smirk to flit across her lips at the memory of what she had done to the man, but Voldemort did not miss the action.

“I see,” he stated simply. “Pathetic that a man such as he could not handle a simple child, but no matter. I have you here now, yet you are not whom I wanted. Disappointing, but you shall have to do. Yes,” his voice became more animated. “Yes, I think you will do just fine. If I could not have Potter, who better than his girlfriend? Now, let’s see what you can tell me about the boy.”

Ginny braced herself as she felt Voldemort probe her mind. When he encountered her shields, he immediately lashed out against them, but she held firm. Voldemort was not easily defeated, however, and he continued to batter against her mind. Gritting her teeth, Ginny poured all her concentration into her Occlumency shields, refusing to budge even an inch. They struggled against each other for a long moment before she felt the snake’s mind recede. Breathing heavily from the strain, she kept her eyes downcast. Though her shields had held, she had not since her first year felt so violated, and here was the same man who had put her through that attempting to do it again.

“Interesting,” the Dark Lord whispered. “Your mind is shielded well, particularly for one so young.” His face formed a twisted smile. “But do not fool yourself into thinking you can withstand me, girl. A shielded mind is one with something to hide, and I will learn your secrets. I will break you!”

Ginny forced herself not to react in any way. Gathering her courage she lifted her head and glared defiantly at the self-proclaimed Dark Lord, vowing never to let that happen again. She was only half paying attention to his words as her mind tried to come up with some way out of this situation. She knew she stood no chance with Voldemort right there, but if she could get away from him, she might just stand a chance of escaping the Death Eaters. She tried to surreptitiously tuck her wand back into the holster on her arm. It was charmed to go invisible and be unsummonable when her wand was holstered, so there was a chance they would forget to take it from her.

Unfortunately, Voldemort was too perceptive. “Ah, ah. I will take that.” He held his scaly hand out, but Ginny ignored him. Knowing it was useless now, she kept the wand in hand. Before she had a chance to react, however, Voldemort’s own wand was in hand. “Imperio!

A fog descended over Ginny’s mind. She felt completely relaxed and at ease, wondering why she would ever feel anything else. It was such a wonderful feeling. There was a pleasant voice telling her to do something. What did it want? A wand? Her wand. It wanted her wand.

She held out her hand, and Voldemort took her wand from her. She did not care. She had no need for a wand anyway, so why should she keep it? All she wanted was to just relax, but the voice was back again. What did it want this time? To tell it about Harry? Ginny smiled. She loved Harry. She could think about him and talk about him all day. But wait. Why did the voice want to know about Harry? Harry liked his privacy. He would not like it if she was talking about him with just anyone. Who was this voice, anyway? And why was it always trying to tell her what to do?

The fog began to lift. Voldemort! She must not tell him a thing.

“Tell me everything you know about Harry Potter,” the voice hissed.

Ginny narrowed her eyes. “No!

Voldemort’s eyes appeared to glow a more sinister red. “There is some fight in you, but it is for nothing. Tell me what I need to know and your death can be quick and painless. But make no mistake about it, you will tell me what I want to know, and then you will beg me to end your life.”

“Go to hell,” Ginny vehemently retorted.

With a derisive sneer, Voldemort waved her comment away. “Hell is for mortals. I am immortal.”

“We both know that’s not true. Not as long as Harry is alive.” She boldly taunted.

Voldemort’s countenance twisted furiously as he shouted, “Crucio!

Pain. Intense, all-encompassing pain. That was all she knew. Any other thoughts she might have once owned had vacated her mind. All that was left was the stabbing, burning, biting agony shooting through every nerve in her body. And then it was gone. She remained prone on the ground – she had not even noticed when she fell – until a hand gripped her neck and lifted her head. Red orbs glared into her brown eyes, and she felt Voldemort force his way into her mind.

Ginny felt a small part of her stir in response to Voldemort’s presence, a part she had long tried to deny existed. The destruction of Riddle’s diary had freed her from his control, but she had always felt like he had never fully left her. She had always felt some lingering presence of Tom Riddle tainting her. Now she knew, once and for all, that it was true. Steeling her resolve, she quelled the piece that Riddle had left behind and mustered what little energy she had left to expel Voldemort from her mind. With a great effort, she managed to halt his progress and, ever so slowly, began to push him back. Finally, she pushed him out completely, and slumped back down to the ground.

“You will tell me what you know,” Voldemort demanded. “Crucio!

The pain returned in full force. She lay on the ground, every muscle tensed, twitching and jerking as she endured the tortures of hell on earth. It blocked out everything else until all she knew was that pain, and then it stopped.

“Are you ready to tell me what I want to know?” a hissed voice demanded. He bent down to whisper in her ear, “I can feel that part of you that wants to give in to me. It wants to rejoin its master.”

Ginny could not hide the shudder that went down her spine, but she did her best to ignore his words. She refused to allow him to gain control over her again. She felt him stand up and back away, and then, a moment later, the pain returned. When it halted again, Voldemort once again assaulted her mind. It took even longer for her to push him out. This process repeated two more times, and with each one, she could feel what strength she had leaving her. She knew that at this pace, she would not hold out much longer. He held her under the Cruciatus Curse for even longer this time, and she was sure her body could not take much more. As Voldemort lifted the curse, her body sagged, and Ginny felt nothingness engulf her as she slipped into unconsciousness.

******

Harry had no conception of time as he continued to fly ever onward. He felt he was beginning to grow near when, quite abruptly, his owl sense failed him. One minute, his sense was telling him that he needed to continue on his present course, and the next moment, nothing. It was as if a blindfold had just been placed over his eyes, and all he could see was darkness. He had forgotten Hedwig was following him until he pulled up and she soared beside him. Hedwig! Can you still find Ginny?

Harry could practically feel her regret as she answered, No, I cannot. She is unreachable.

No! Harry shouted mentally. I’m not giving up.

And so he flew on, following where his senses had last told him to go. All he could do was hope that she was still in the same place. As long as he did not deviate off course, he might still be able to find her. He could use his senses to locate any large concentrations of magic in his path. He just had to hope that would be enough, but as time wore on Harry’s hope began to leave him. He had continued on the path but as of yet had not come across anything magical that he could sense, but he stubbornly continued, refusing to admit defeat. Though he held little hope of finding her that way, he knew that small bit of hope was all he had left.

******

Albus quickly stepped out of the way as Minerva followed after him. The kitchen was already half full as Order members were arriving in all haste. As they waited for the others to arrive, Albus attempted a tracking spell to locate their missing students. The first, attempted on Miss Weasley, failed to tell him anything. The second, however, performed on Mr. Potter succeeded and pointed Northwest. By this time all the summoned members had gathered, so he called everyone to order to commence the meeting. Albus could barely bear to look at Molly being comforted by Arthur as he outlined the situation. Of course, questions were immediately raised to which he had no answers. “I do not know how Mr. Potter determined that she was taken by Portkey, nor if he even knows where she was taken. Given his actions, however, we must assume that he has some means of finding her.”

“It’s entirely possible that she was taken with the intention of drawing Harry out of the castle,” Minerva inserted. “He may have received some message indicating where she was being held.”

“Indeed, we cannot discount that possibility,” Albus agreed. “I attempted a tracking charm on Miss Weasley which failed.” He had to suppress a wince as Molly sobbed. “I was, however, able to determine that Mr. Potter lies to the Northwest. Without some piece of him – blood, skin, hair – that is as accurate a location as we are going to receive. Our first order of business should be to track down Mr. Potter and bring him back here to learn what he knows. If he does know where Miss Weasley was taken, we can then begin making preparations for how to bring her back.”

“What if by the time we reach Harry, he has already made it to where Ginny is being kept?” Remus asked.

“If he has already engaged with Death Eaters, do what you can to protect him and Miss Weasley,” he responded. “There are times to act, and there are times to fall back and strategize. I trust you all to use your best judgment.”

The group that was to search for Harry was quickly assembled in the small lawn behind Headquarters. They all stood with brooms as they prepared to take off. Remus turned and addressed the others. “Is everyone ready?” There were several grunts of affirmation. “All right, I have a read on Harry, so let’s move.”

As Albus watched them take to the air, he could only hope that their mission was a success. He watched for only a moment longer before turning and heading back inside. He immediately walked to the Floo and headed back to his office. Telling both Ron and Hermione of the plans, he added, “Now, I have something I’d like the both of you to do for me. In order for more advanced tracking charms to work, we need some part of both Harry and Ginny. A piece of hair, skin, blood, saliva – any of these will do. I need you to search their things and find some samples for each of them and bring them to me as quickly as you can.”

As the two students hurriedly left his office, Albus turned and met the eyes of his long-time companion. “Fawkes, my friend, I fear I’ve made a grave mistake.”

The phoenix trilled a comforting song.

“Harry may be strong, but I fear he will not be strong enough for this,” Dumbledore said sadly, shaking his head.

Fawkes replied with a short burst of song.

“I wish I had your faith, my friend.”

******

Just when he was beginning to think that all hope was lost, Harry sensed it. Underneath him was some serious magic. Wards, if he was not mistaken. Harry felt his heart swell. This was it; it had to be. Circling down lower, he felt as he came upon the edge of a set of wards covering a very large estate. He continued to drift down past the wards, paying careful attention for any sort of fluctuation in the magic, but he sensed nothing. He was not sure if he would feel it if any wards were triggered, but he took the absence of a response as a good sign and began to fly around the large building, looking for a way inside.

Hedwig flew beside him again and, after catching his attention, led him to the entrance for post owls. Once inside the building, Harry reverted back to human form and quickly dug out his trunk, enlarged it, and retrieved his Invisibility Cloak. He re-shrunk his trunk and stuffed it back in his pocket, then took a moment to make sure the cloak covered him well. Turning back to Hedwig he said, Thanks, girl. I need you to find Remus. He can speak the way we do, though he might have trouble hearing you at first. If you can’t feel both me and Ginny by the time you reach him, tell him everything you know and show him where we are.

Hedwig hooted her understanding and immediately swept out the window. Turning, Harry steeled himself for what was to come. He did not know where he was let alone the situation he was likely to find, so he needed to be prepared for absolutely anything. There was only one door in the room, so Harry cautiously approached it. Using his magical senses, he determined that there was nobody on the other side. Harry opened the door slowly and stepped into the corridor. Looking back and forth to confirm that it was, in fact, empty, he turned around and quietly shut the door behind him.

He started down the hall, keeping all his senses, particularly his magical senses, on high alert. He had no idea where Ginny was being kept, or even if this was where she was taken. All he could do for now was explore the place and see what he could find. With every door he passed, he paused to ensure that he could not pick up on any people inside.

He was not sure what he would do if he came across anyone. On the one hand, the longer his presence went unnoticed, the better off he was. On the other hand, he wanted to find Ginny as soon as possible. He might wander around this place for hours without finding her. She might not even be there at all.

Harry resolved to question the first person he could find. Of course, that was easier said than done. If not for how well-maintained the entire manor was, Harry would have sworn it was completely deserted. He did not know how long he walked through the halls, but the time seemed to stretch on and on. He had searched two floors already and had just made it down to ground floor when he felt the magical presence of what could only be a person.

Harry stood close to the wall just outside the stairwell, careful not to make a sound as the figure approached. His target’s footsteps echoed in the empty halls, growing louder with each passing moment. As he stood there waiting, Harry could concentrate only on that sound, noticing how the rhythm of the steps was off. When the man finally came into view, Harry’s eyes locked immediately onto his platinum blonde hair. Malfoy! After Draco’s comments earlier in the day, he should have known. If he found out Draco had any part in this, he would make that ferret pay. As the Death Eater continued to walk towards him, Harry took note of the limp he carried. He wondered idly how the man had sustained such an injury but shook the thought from his head. He held his breath as Malfoy drew near, unwilling to make a sound. As Lucius opened the door to the stairwell, Harry struck.

He never stood a chance as Harry’s silent Full-Body Bind struck Malfoy in the back. He followed it immediately with a Silencing Charm to keep the man from alerting anyone of his plight. Malfoy fell forward into the room and, unable to put out his hands to catch himself, landed right on his face. Harry held no sympathy for him. He quickly stepped into the stairwell and dragged Malfoy’s body forward fully into the room and attempted to retrieve his wand. As far as he could tell, though, Malfoy was not carrying one. Even his Summoning Charm came up empty.

Turning around, Harry shut the door and cast a quick set of charms over it, locking it and making it Imperturbable. The stairwell was not the best place to do this, but Harry was growing desperate. He took off his Invisibility Cloak and, using his wand, levitated Malfoy and turned him onto his back so that he might see who had so easily subdued him. Under different circumstances, Harry may have taken pleasure seeing the man’s eyes widen in recognition, but, as it was, he held no trace of humour as he surveyed the bloodied face of the Death Eater in front of him.

Making sure to use his wand in front of the Death Eater, Harry took a quick moment to cast a quick privacy ward to ensure their conversation did not carry. He then bound Malfoy tightly before ending both the Full-Body Bind and the Silencing Charm as he demanded, “What have you done with Ginny?”

Malfoy’s gloating smirk lost most of its effect due to his precarious position, but it managed to rankle Harry’s temper nonetheless. “Worried about your whore, Potter? Surely a piece of trash such as her can be replaced easily.”

Harry’s wand was levelled at the man’s neck without a conscious thought. “Tell me where she is. Now.”

“Do you really think you can rescue her?” Malfoy taunted. “You think you can just grab her and waltz out? You’ll never make it out of here alive.”

Harry regarded the Death Eater with cold eyes. “I snuck in. I can sneak out.” Lowering his voice as a deadly calm settled over him, he leaned forward and said, “You have one more chance. Where is Ginny?”

Malfoy laughed openly. “Or else what?” he questioned.

“I take the information by force,” Harry stated, meeting his eyes. Without any additional warning, Harry threw his consciousness forward into Malfoy’s mind. His initial assault failed to penetrate Malfoy’s mental defences, but Harry relentlessly attacked his shields, pushing everything he had into it. Malfoy was obviously an accomplished Occlumens. He managed to fight off Harry’s attempts to gain access to his mind, but Harry could sense his anxiety.

He barraged one spot over and over again, trying to call all of Malfoy’s attention to stopping him at that point of attack. Then, when he was about to strike his shields again, Harry split his consciousness and attacked in two places simultaneously. The manoeuvre caught Malfoy off guard, and Harry managed to break into his mind. He was assaulted with a barrage of horrifying images, but Harry quickly shunted them away, his visions having prepared him for what he witnessed. With single-minded focus, Harry looked for any memories associated with Ginny in the man’s mind. He caught sight of the moment Malfoy slipped Tom Riddle’s diary into Ginny’s cauldron. Then he watched as Ginny managed to subdue Malfoy during their skirmish. A brief surge of pride welled in him at seeing her best the Death Eater before he finally found what he was looking for.

Malfoy had walked into the meeting room while Ginny was being interrogated. Harry watched in horror as he witnessed Voldemort holding the Cruciatus Curse over her and then attempting to invade her mind. Malfoy began to fight against Harry, attempting to push him from his mind. Despite how sick the memory made him, Harry fought off the Death Eater and continued watching as Ginny fell unconscious. Lucius was tasked with settling her into her new home while Voldemort encouraged his Death Eaters to show her a bit of their unique hospitality, warning them only to keep her alive and her sanity in tact. Not allowing his mind to contemplate what that meant for her, Harry held on with all his strength against Malfoy’s attempts to eject him and paid close attention as Ginny was moved from the throne-like room. He struggled against Malfoy as he followed their path all the way to a hidden door. Harry felt a jolt in the memory and was just barely able to hang on long enough to witness the password used to open the door before he was forcefully ejected from Malfoy’s mind.

Harry quickly reoriented himself in his body and immediately Stunned Malfoy. Harry positioned the Death Eater’s body out of the way and cast the Disillusionment Charm over him. Since he would not be moving at all, the charm should render him completely invisible for some time. Harry pulled his Invisibility Cloak back on and slipped into the hallway. It was time to find Ginny and get the hell out of there.

Harry focused on the memory he had forced out of Malfoy as he started down the hallway. After a short way, it opened up into a large room with a set of double doors on one end, but those doors did not concern Harry. He strode purposefully across the room towards a small, side-door.

When he was about half-way through the room, he stumbled and stifled a gasp as his scar suddenly flared up in pain. Covering the scar with one hand, Harry gritted his teeth and forced himself to carry on. Voldemort was near, and the longer he remained the more opportunities Voldemort had to find him. Harry was never sure how exactly their connection worked, but it was reasonable to guess that if Harry could feel Voldemort’s proximity the opposite might also be true.

With that thought, Harry set off at a quicker pace. As he came to the door, he sensed two people on the other side. Bracing himself, he slowly turned the handle and flung the door open, two curses flying from his hands before it even banged against the wall. The two cloaked men turned as one towards the source of noise but were too late to react to the twin Stunners bearing down on them. Both crumpled to the ground.

Harry had closed half the distance between them by the time they fell. He quickly Summoned their wands then bound and Disillusioned their bodies even as he left them lying in the hall. Not sparing either fallen Death Eater another thought, Harry set off at a jog. He could not move too quickly without tripping over his Invisibility Cloak, but he moved as quickly as he could manage without completely abandoning all pretences of stealth.

After two more turns, he came upon his destination. What appeared to be just a blank expanse of wall was actually much more. Even without knowledge of the door’s existence, Harry would not have missed it because the concentration of magic in that area was about as subtle to his senses as a flashing neon sign. Were it not for the knowledge he had gained from Malfoy, however, he would not know how to get past the protections concealing the door.

He flicked his wand out of his holster and tapped a precise spot on the wall as he said, “May your blood always run pure.” With each word he tapped a different part of the wall. As he spoke the last word, Harry’s muscles tensed as he prepared to push through the opening. Only, the opening never appeared. Instead, Harry witnessed an eruption of magic behind the wall. By reflex, he raised his hand and threw up a shield just as the magic exploded outward and into him. His shield bore the brunt of the assault, but the sheer power behind it knocked Harry back until he crashed against the opposite wall.

The force of the impact left Harry feeling dizzy and disoriented, and he dropped down to one knee to avoid falling. As he shook his head to try to clear the cobwebs, he noticed a high-pitched wail echoing down the halls. Cursing, Harry sprang back to his feet. If no one was aware of his presence before then, they sure would be now. Malfoy must have altered the memory before pushing Harry out of his mind. Whatever the case, Harry needed to get through that door and quickly before he was caught.

He could still clearly sense the magic behind the false wall, but he had no ideas on how to bypass it. Since his cover was already blown, he opted for a direct approach and attempted to blast his way through. Unfortunately, his Blasting Hex seemed to have little effect. After three attempts it was abundantly clear that it would get him nowhere. Frustrated, Harry stepped towards the wall and pressed his palm right in the middle of where the doorway should be. He was not sure if he had imagined it, but he thought he may have felt the magic in the wall react slightly to his hand.

Desperate for a solution, he began to gather his magic. He felt it build up just behind his hand then pulled his arm back. As he jabbed his hand back into the wall, he sent the magic with it. He had no specific spell in mind. All he could think of was just the hope that somehow this would work so that he could get to Ginny. Amazingly, as the magic coursed through his hand and into the wall, he saw part of the doorway flicker into being for a split second. Bolstered, Harry forced more of his magic into the wall in a constant stream. As the doorway began to reappear, Harry took no chances and immediately squeezed through it, not stopping the flow of his magic until he was on the other side.

As he looked around, Harry found himself at the top of a stone stairwell. Without any other options, Harry began his descent, hope beginning to build in his heart. Ginny had to be near.

******

Every few minutes, Remus recast the tracking charm to make sure they did not deviate from their course and to ensure that Harry was still traceable. He intended to have a very serious talk with Harry once he found him. He may support Harry in his bid for independence, but he was not about to condone his propensity to rush off without first notifying someone and seeking help first. He could certainly understand why Harry had refrained from going to Dumbledore, but Remus had made it abundantly clear to Harry that he would always be there and willing to help in any way he could.

And so was Minerva, apparently. That had caught him completely off guard. While Dumbledore had not gone into specifics, he had stated that the information linking Harry to Jim had come from her, and he rather guessed she had known prior to the very moment Harry disappeared, which meant she had known Harry’s secret and chosen to withhold it from Dumbledore and the Order. At least she had until Harry had disappeared on this one-man rescue mission.

Shaking those thoughts from his head, he recast the tracking charm on Harry once again. The results made him pull up sharply on his broom, earning some startled responses from his companions as they swerved to avoid him and were forced to circle back towards him. Frantically, Remus cast the charm a second and third time with the same results.

“What is it, Remus?” Kingsley asked as Tonks pulled up beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder.

Remus looked up and met the Auror’s eyes. “The charm stopped working. I’ve lost him!”

******

As she began to awaken, one thing registered above all others: pain. Every inch of her body ached, from her fingers to her toes and from her skin to her bones. That she seemed to be lying on coarse stone did nothing to ease her of those aches. Even with such a physical stimulus, consciousness was slow in returning to her. Her mind was hazy, and it took her a moment to realise that the darkness was due primarily to the fact that her eyes were shut. As her eyelids fluttered open, she discovered that the room was only dimly lit. She found herself lying on her back and slowly turned her head to the side and was surprised to see bars rising from the floor all the way to the ceiling. Just outside those bars stood two men in black cloaks.

That is when her memories came flooding back into her consciousness. She sat up with a start and immediately regretted the move as it only intensified the pain in her body and caused her headache to flare. She lifted a hand to her temple and moaned her discomfort.

“Well, what do you know. The guest of honour’s awake,” one of her captors taunted. “How do you find your quarters?”

Choosing to ignore the jeering question, Ginny looked around her prison. On three sides she was surrounded by stone walls. The ceiling and floor were likewise stone. The last wall was comprised of the bars she had noticed moments prior. It held the only exit from her cell.

“It’s horrible manners to ignore a question,” the man continued after a moment. “Now, guest or no, you should always show good manners. Wouldn’t you say, Roberts?”

“Indeed, I would,” the other replied. “Fact, I’d say the lady needs to be punished, I would.”

“Right you are, my good man,” the first agreed. “Poor manners should never go unpunished.” Drawing his wand out of his pocket, he traced an intricate pattern over the door to her cell, causing it to unlock and swing inward. “Bring that potion, would you, Roberts?” he called over his shoulder. “I prefer ‘em lively.”

“Right,” the other answered. “I got it right here.”

Standing in the door of her cell, the first retrieved the potion from the second and stepped towards her. Ginny crawled backwards away from the man, her muscles protesting the movement. All too soon bumped into the stone wall and huddled into the corner of the room. He slowly approached her and knelt down to her level. Ginny pulled back in disgust as the man demanded, “Open your mouth!”

Ginny turned her head away from him and clamped her mouth shut. Whatever they had in mind, she knew it would not bode well for her. She hated herself for showing such weakness, but she barely had the strength to lift her arms, let alone trying to fight off two Death Eaters. She gasped in pain as he grabbed a fistful of her hair and forcefully yanked her head back. He quickly poured the contents of the goblet down her open mouth, causing Ginny to choke as the potion ran straight down her throat.

Coughing, Ginny tried to spit out as much of the potion as she could, but she had already imbibed more than enough. Surprisingly, she began to feel better as the potion began to take effect. Where her body had felt heavy and sluggish moments before, she began to feel much more normal. The lingering pain was still there, but Ginny felt some of her strength and energy begin to return to her. She was surprised when she felt her hair yanked back a second time, but she did not fight it when more potion was poured down her throat. Whatever this potion was, it appeared to be helping her, and she intended to use that to her advantage.

As she choked on the potion, trying not to lose any of it in her coughing fits, she felt another sharp tug on her hair, forcing Ginny onto her feet. “Now we play,” the man leered. She began to turn towards him when something impacted her chest. Before she had even consciously registered that it was the hand of her captor, she jabbed her palm into his stomach and pushed out with her magic to send the man flying into the cell wall. She felt a tug as the man had gripped her blouse. The buttons all down her front popped off and her collar ripped before his grip was lost, leaving Ginny rather exposed. She did not spare a thought to this fact, though, as she noticed her second guard fishing his wand out of his robes.

As the man brought his wand down towards her, Ginny took a quick step forward and concentrated on sending a Stunner through her hand into the Death Eater. The jet of light was a vibrant red as it streaked through the short distance separating them, and the man slumped immediately to the ground. She turned back to the first man to find him lying half-propped against the stone wall, clearly unconscious. Breathing a sigh of relief, she retrieved both men’s wands. Stuffing one wand in her back pocket, she held the other in her wand hand and quickly bound both men. She then turned around and approached the door of her cell.

Listening closely, she did not hear anything that would indicate the presence of more guards. Carefully, she peeked out of her cell and peered both ways down the hall. The place appeared to be deserted. She began walking down the cell-lined halls, noting that hers appeared to be the only one occupied at the moment, towards a door she hoped would lead her out of this place. As she approached the door, she heard rapid footsteps on the other side and raised her wand. There was a short pause where she nearly dropped her guard before the door banged open.

******

Harry sped down the staircase as quickly as he could. When he reached the bottom, he threw the door open. Before it could even hit the wall with a bang, Harry fired off two silent Everberos. One hit its mark, lifting the Death Eater bodily off the ground and sending him back a couple metres. The other bounced off the second Death Eater’s hastily conjured shield.

Without missing a beat, Harry cast a Blasting Hex at the ceiling above the man’s head. He was forced to duck to the side as a purplish spell flew at him from his opponent’s wand, but the falling bits of stone prevented the man from firing another spell, and Harry’s hasty Stunner put him out of commission. Harry rushed forward and stepped over the fallen Death Eaters, but his cloak got caught causing him to stumble.

He whipped the cloak off his head and quickly freed it from the stone that was impeding it. Not seeing the point of stealth any more, Harry bundled the Cloak up and tucked it into his shirt. A quick Sticking Charm, and it was stuck in place, leaving Harry free to continue on his path. Malfoy had ejected Harry out of his mind just after getting through the door to the stairwell, so Harry did not know where she was exactly. He was left with little option but to press forward.

The hallway was rather long. Each of the cells he passed was empty, so Harry continued forward. At the end of the hallway, a door appeared on his right side. He could feel another person on the other side and prepared himself to subdue another Death Eater when he realised that the presence felt familiar. It took but a second for his brain to make the connection, and when it did, he could feel his heart thumping in his chest. He threw the door open in his excitement and rushed through, only to have to quickly dodge to the side as a Stunner nearly caught him unawares.

“Ginny, it’s me,” he called, prepared to spring away from the wall he was clinging to should she send another spell.

“Harry?” Her voice was quiet and uncertain, as if she did not know whether he was real or illusory. She stood rooted to the ground.

“Ginny,” Harry answered softly, taking a few tentative steps towards her before hurriedly closing the distance and wrapping his arms around her. Relief poured through him as he held her in his arms. “I thought I would never find you.” She stood there awkwardly for just a moment before her arms encircled him and she returned the embrace.

“Harry,” she whimpered, and he realised that she was crying.

He held her tightly to his chest, running a hand through her hair and down her back in comfort. “It’s all right,” he whispered to her. “We’re going to out of here.” He squeezed her for a moment before loosening his embrace and taking a step back. Her arms tried to keep him close, but Harry persisted. As he took a moment to look her over, he noticed the state of her blouse, and his eyes immediately narrowed. He opened his mouth to ask her who had done that, but he closed it with a snap. There was no time for revenge right now. “Listen, we don’t have much time before they find us.” Harry fished into his pockets for a moment before pulling out a small stone. “I don’t know if this will work here, but it’s worth a shot. This is a Portkey.”

Harry held it out so that Ginny could also touch it, but when he activated the Portkey, nothing happened. “Damn.” He looked into her eyes. “There must be anti-Portkey wards down here. We have to get out before it will work.”

Ginny nodded shakily and visibly composed herself. After a brief moment, she steadily nodded her head and said, “Let’s go.”

Harry led her back the way he came from, through the door and down the hallway. Before they had even made it halfway, several Death Eaters emerged from the stairs. The distance in combination with the tight hallway made a fight impossible. His spells were all blockable while theirs were not. They would have too much time to react to his spells for them to have any effect. He would not risk losing Ginny here. “Move back,” he ordered.

Never taking their eyes off the Death Eaters, they began to back up towards the door leading to Ginny’s cell. They were forced to dodge a couple spells, but the Death Eaters seemed content to only push them back. And why not? As far as Harry knew, they were blocking the only exit. Harry followed Ginny back through the door and immediately ushered her into one of the corners right by the door. With hasty instructions to cast a Disillusionment Charm on herself, Harry sprinted twenty metres down the hall and set up a basic illusion of the two of them standing in the middle of the hallway. It was not his best work and would not hold up from a short distance, but it would hopefully draw them into the room.

Sprinting back, he propped himself in the corner opposite Ginny and cast the Disillusionment Charm over himself only moments before the Death Eaters arrived. “Give up while you can,” one of them shouted as he walked through the door.

“Yeah, maybe then we’ll go easy on you,” another added. “Make your deaths quick and painless.”

As the fifth and last of the group stepped into the room, Harry held up both hands and targeted two of the cloaked figures. Once they had taken a few more steps into the room, the leader stopped walking and uttered, “What the…”

Harry sent two Blasting Hexes into the group. The two spells impacted the backs of two of the figures, sending them crashing into their comrades. Ginny had just sent what appeared to be a pair of Stunners into the group when he turned and grabbed her hand. “Let’s go.”

He rushed with Ginny through the door only to find that they had more company. At least a dozen Death Eaters filled the hall, but they made no move to advance upon them. The surge of pain in his scar was his only warning as, to his horror, Voldemort emerged from the stairwell. “So good of you to join us, Harry Potter.”

Harry did not stick around to hear what else he had to say. He grabbed Ginny and rushed back into the other hall. A few of the Death Eaters were struggling to their feet. Harry quickly Stunned two of them, but the third was quick enough to block Ginny’s Stunner. Harry and Ginny both unleashed a torrent of hexes and curses upon the man until his shield failed and he fell under their combined spellwork. Harry grabbed Ginny and rushed down the hall, searching for any other possible exits. As they reached the end of the hallway, though, they found it to be a dead end. They were trapped.

“What are we going to do?” Ginny asked, the desperation in her voice clear.

Harry looked into her face wishing he could promise her that it would be all right, that they would make it out of this, but he could give her no such assurances. Harry wracked his brain as he tried to think of anything in all his studying and training throughout the course of the year that would get them out of this. He briefly considered trying to charge them in their Animagus forms, but that was entirely too risky. Trying to duel Voldemort at this point, particularly with Ginny there, was out of the question. Harry knew he was not ready to face him, and he knew that Voldemort would not hesitate to use Ginny against him.

As they stood there, Harry noticed the first of the Death Eaters begin to enter into the hallway, so he grabbed Ginny and ushered her into the last cell. He wanted to buy whatever time he could. His mind never stopped running over every conceivable plan to get them out of there, and he dismissed each one the moment it formed. They stood no chance in a fight, yet there was no way to escape.

Harry looked down at the wand in his hand and, in a sudden burst of inspiration, screwed his eyes shut as he called upon every ounce of his concentration. Reaching out with his mind in the same way he would mindspeak, Harry shouted his plea. Fawkes! I need your help!

Opening his eyes, Harry did not see the telltale flash of flames that would announce the arrival of his phoenix friend, and he felt his heart plummet. He squashed the feeling of hopelessness away. If he was to go down, he intended to go down fighting. Harry held Ginny’s hand tightly as he raised his wand in preparation. He could hear the footsteps of the Death Eaters approaching.

Turning, he looked deep into Ginny’s eyes when he noticed a rather curious sensation. His wand appeared to be heating up. It was noticeably warm and seemed to only become warmer as the seconds ticked by. At the same time, he could feel a build-up of magic in the wand itself without any connection to himself. Harry’s eyes widened as he guessed at the implication. He pulled Ginny in close to himself and concentrated on pushing his magic to his wand hand and into his wand, trying to fuel the magic in his wand with his own.

The concentration of magic built rapidly. Flames erupted from the tip of the wand and began to spread down its length, then down to Harry’s hand. There was heat there, but it was a comfortable heat that held no pain. It appeared like liquid fire as it quickly engulfed his arm and rapidly spread over his body. Harry held Ginny tightly as he continued to feed the magic, willing it to work, to get them out of there – to take them home. After another moment, the flames consumed them entirely. Just as Harry saw the white mask of a Death Eater peek in front of the cell, the magic erupted, and Harry and Ginny vanished.

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