The Sugar Quill
Author: Miss Snuffles (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Captive  Chapter: Missing (2)
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Disclaimer: The usual disclaimer

 

Disclaimer:  The usual disclaimer.  I don’t own anything, blah blah, thanks, JKR, for being cool.

 

A/N:  Thanks to Elanor for rereading this chapter, being my beta, and putting smiley faces at the end! J  Also, I’ll try to move this story along as much as possible, since I only have another week left of school!  Hooray!

 

 

Chapter Two

“Missing”

 

Dull afternoon sunshine stretched half-heartedly through the windows of the seventh year boys’ dormitory.  It was deathly quiet except for the fretful, rhythmic tread of pacing feet as Harry Potter crossed the circular room from one window to the next, pausing only to stare out at the bleak Hogwarts grounds before abruptly spinning to retrace his steps.  He wore his black cloak despite the heat from the crackling fire, his wand clenched readily in his hand.

 

Hermione Granger followed her friend’s progression with worried brown eyes from her perch on Ron Weasley’s bed.  She battled with the urge to disarm and Body Bind Harry, and perhaps would have, if not for the fact her hands and arms were locked with Ron’s.  It was painful having her left hand squeezed so fiercely and the other arm crushed against his side.  With her head resting against his shoulder, she could feel the tense, strained limbs and muscles of her boyfriend against her own trembling side.  She knew he was pretending to comfort her while disguising the rage and worry broiling inside.

 

“Harry, please,” she pleaded, not for the first time, as Harry turned from the far window and began his brisk journey back.  “Sit down.  You’re making me nervous.”

 

Nervous hardly described it.  Harry barely glanced at her, but sat down across from her on his own bed, only to jump back up a second later and pace furiously again.

 

Hermione sighed and clenched her teeth.  She felt Ron shift almost imperceptibly against her, his grip around her tightening still.  He took a deep, quietly shuddering breath and said in a choked whisper, “It’s just like second year again.”

 

Hermione lifted her head slightly, but quickly decided not to look at him.  It was best just to let Ron speak.  She nestled back against him, breathing in the faint smell of soap and breakfast. 

 

“I didn’t believe it, yet we’d all accepted it,” Ron continued, his voice resounding and vibrating against her ear, yet quiet as a whisper.  He sounded so distant, and a chill crept over Hermione.  “Everyone did.  Gryffindor, McGonagall, Percy, the twins—me.  And she’d been there, at breakfast, and she tried to tell us!  How could she be . . .?”

 

“Oh, Ron, don’t say it!”  Hermione pleaded, raising her head off his broad shoulder.  She peered at him desperately, but he wouldn’t meet her gaze.  His eyes were blank, his skin so pale that every single freckle showed almost black.  “Please, don’t say it!

 

Ron’s eyes slowly shifted to meet her wet gaze, but then he stared down at their clenched hands.  “If only we could do something!” he said fiercely, color and vibrancy returning to his countenance.  “Harry and I went after her—”

 

“Dumbledore specifically said—”

 

“Oh, bugger Dumbledore!” Harry had stopped his pacing and was standing at Ron’s bedpost, a frightening sight with his deathly pale complexion and burning eyes.  His hair was completely in disarray and his fists were clenched with barely suppressed rage.  Yet there was something else lurking there, a heaviness, a guilt . . .

 

“Harry,” she said, trying to sound calm although she was trembling inside.  “You know everyone is doing the best they can!  When we know where she is or what’s happened—”

 

Harry swore softly, harshly, and whirled around again.  Hermione jumped to her feet, anticipating his flight out of the dormitory, but he merely returned to covering the floor with his angry pacing.  She let out a breath of relief and turned back to Ron.  What was worse?  Harry’s insuppressible rage or Ron’s utter defeat? 

 

As she took Ron’s right hand in hers and kissed the top of his forehead, she decided a furious Ron was preferable to the grimness settling over him.  When she drew her lips away, he tilted his chin up, his eyes dark and wet.  She wanted desperately to smile for him, but knew she would burst into tears.  With steady hands she brushed her fingers through his fiery hair, which had been haphazardly cut only two weeks ago by Ginny.  Hermione stifled a sob at the memory.  Ginny had been determined to trim both Harry’s and Ron’s hair, after Hermione had complained they’d both become rather unruly.  After much cajoling from both Ginny and Hermione, the boys had surrendered.  Naturally, there hadn’t been much improvement on Harry’s messy hair, but she’d insisted it wasn’t her fault.  Ron had reluctantly given his longish locks over to experiment, and the result had taken some adjustment to accept.  After a week or so of growth, however, Ron had decided it was ‘cool’. 

 

Hermione’s mouth quirked as the small, spiky strands poked up between her fingers.  She loved Ron’s hair, had always loved it.  It was perhaps the most vibrant of red amongst the Weasleys, and the spikes were rather disarming, she had to admit.  If she ran her hand over the top, the longest tufts tickled her palm.  Ginny had apologized for days afterwards, believing that Hermione hated it (which she had at first), and the memory hiccupped inside.

 

Ron sighed, bringing Hermione’s gaze from his hair down to his troubled face.  He stared up at her with such gratitude that she lost her breath, then he closed his eyes and bowed his head.  He wrapped his arms around her waist and drew her closer, resting his lowered forehead against her stomach.  She could feel him breathing slowly, carefully, against her.

 

It was very intimate, but Hermione’s skin didn’t scintillate as it usually did.  Ron’s embrace comforted her, and she brushed her fingertips soothingly through his hair, feeling Ron’s breathing begin to steady and quiet.

 

An eerie tranquility settled over the dormitory, and Hermione looked up to see Harry paused at the window overlooking the dark forest.  The taut line of his silhouette had eased into an inclusive huddle as he leaned against the cold stone wall, his face turned to the dreary grounds and blackness of the forest.  The rigid line of his jaw had slacked, and Hermione realized he was blinking furiously.

 

It was easier, almost safer, for Harry to be angry, Hermione knew.  Anger was easier to deal with, but perhaps harder to control, than pain and anguish.  Harry had said almost nothing since two nights ago, had been broody and distant, and his eyes had betrayed some heavy guilt within.  Hermione knew not what was troubling him—aside from Voldemort—but had deciphered that something had happened between him and Ginny.  Ginny had been rather anxious and subdued and sending Harry furtive looks that he seemed to avoid. 

 

Friday night before she had gone to bed, Hermione had thought Harry and Ginny were studying rather cozily, and the guarded mask Harry perpetually wore had been forgotten.  She had accomplished virtually nothing in her studies due to the Halloween feast and her fascination with watching how Harry’s eyes had shone, his cheeks had flushed, and his rare but infectious smile had stretched across his thin face.  Ron had done his best to ignore it, only once whispering that he hoped Ginny would remember that Harry only wanted friendship.

 

Something had happened after she’d gone to bed, Hermione was sure of it.  Saturday morning Ginny had met Hermione at the top of the spiraling stairs, eyes shining but looking almost nauseated.  She spoke of nothing interesting, but had watched the entrance of the Great Hall anxiously while discussing her shortened Muggle Studies lesson from Friday afternoon.  Then Harry and Ron had finally decided to get up, and Hermione had been certain something had transpired late Halloween night.  Ginny had gone inexplicably pale, and Harry had picked at his toast and said only a syllable or two as way of conversation.

 

The entire day had passed like that, and Hermione had found no trace of the spark that’d been lit within Harry the night before. Ginny had grown increasingly diminished and introspective, sending Harry imploring, worried looks to no avail.

 

Had they quarreled?  Hermione wondered.  Harry and Ginny had had a disagreement here or there over the past three years, but never anything serious.  Ginny’s Weasley temper rarely overwhelmed her where Harry was concerned, and Harry was always rather sensitive and careful around her.  As he’s always been, thought Hermione.  Not once had he ever said anything unkind to her, even when she’d been awkward with her infatuation in her first year.

 

Hermione remembered waking up in the middle of the night to an empty common room.  She’d blearily woken Ron and they’d stumbled up the stairs to their separate dormitories. She’d slept late, as it seemed everyone had.  Breakfast had almost finished by the time Hermione and Ron went down to the Great Hall.  “Harry said he wasn’t hungry,” Ron had said groggily.  “He sounded sick.  Better bring him some toast or juice, anyway.”

 

Ginny didn’t appear all through breakfast.  Hermione figured that if both Harry and Ginny were still in bed that they had either studied very late, had both gotten sick, or had a disagreement of some sort.  When she didn’t appear by lunchtime, Hermione had asked Alyson Baker, a sixth year, if Ginny was sick.

 

“No. I haven’t seen her since last night.  I thought she was with you lot,” Alyson had said, her eyes quickly widening with realization.  Hermione didn’t know Alyson well, only that she was a friend of Ginny’s.  “And her things are still on the table.”

 

Hermione and Ron had instantly barged into Harry’s dormitory, where he’d been apparently pretending to sleep.

 

“Harry!” Ron had roared, raking the scarlet curtains aside and yanking back the covers.  “Get up!  Ginny’s missing!”

 

Hermione closed her eyes against the hiccough in her throat.  Harry had been instantly on his feet, pulling a sweater over his bare chest, grabbing his wand and stuffing his bare feet into shoes simultaneously, then throwing his cloak over his shoulders and running to the door before she or Ron could say anything else.  Alyson had followed them and was staring at Harry with affixed terror on her pretty face.

 

He didn’t even have to interrogate any of the sixth year girls.  They had all gathered around him at once, terrified, each one saying the same thing: the last they’d seen of Ginny, she’d been studying with Harry.

 

Ron had procured the Marauder’s  Map and confirmed that Ginny was nowhere in Hogwarts castle or on the grounds.  One of the younger prefects, Adrienne, had disappeared while the news spread through Gryffindor Tower that Ginny Weasley was missing.  Soon Dumbledore and McGonagall were questioning everyone and reminding the frantic students to stay calm.  Yet everyone knew what had happened:  Ginny had been taken by Death Eaters.

 

Since the fifth of September, Hogwarts had been under siege.  While Death Eater attacks still frequented the Daily Prophet’s front page, and every morning students stiffened if an unfamiliar owl delivered a letter, every student feared the entrenchment around their once-secure school.  Hogsmeade was under arrest of the Dark Lord and his followers.  Several houses had been burned, but luckily many residents had fled at the first sign of an attack.  The death toll was small but still devastating to the wizard populace.

 

Half of the students preached constantly of Hogwarts’ impenetrable protection spells, how Dumbledore was about to march right out onto the sprawling lawn and challenge Voldemort to a wizard’s duel and end the war altogether.  Yet, as a despairing half argued, why hadn’t Dumbledore ended the war already, and remember Sirius Black?  He had infiltrated Hogwarts four years ago, and if he could do it, then Voldemort could do it.  A few scathing, desperate students had even suggested that Harry either surrender to or challenge the Dark Lord.

 

“Don’t even think about it!”  Hermione, Ron, and Ginny had hissed at Harry whenever his eyes flickered thoughtfully.  “Voldemort wants to kill you, but he won’t stop there!”

 

“But what if I could stop him?”  Harry had asked.

 

“If you know a way, mate, tell us all, but if you haven’t got a plan, then don’t do anything.” 

 

“Don’t be stupid, Harry!” 

 

“You don’t want to die, Harry,” Ginny would say softly.  Harry would stare at her for a moment, and then he would agree that no, he didn’t want to die, but he would if necessary.  Ginny always looked close to tears when he said this, and Hermione’s heart always tightened.

 

Ron’s breathing hiccoughed, drawing Hermione out of her thoughts and back to the quiet room.  She pulled her eyes away from Harry, who continued to stare out at the dark forest.  Gazing down at Ron’s pale face, Hermione touched his cheek.

 

“I just don’t understand it,” he said quietly, shaking his head and leaning back slightly.  He kept his arms securely around her waist.  “She must have left the castle, but she knows not to. Why would she leave in the middle of the night?”

 

Hermione shook her head, but felt her eyes fasten on Harry again.  He had obviously heard Ron, judging by the slight tilt of his head and the tightened jaw.  Harry had been the last to see Ginny.  Something must have happened.

 

“I don’t know, Ron,” she said softly.  She sighed and sat down beside him on the four-poster bed without removing herself from his embrace.  “We don’t even know if she was taken from inside or outside the castle.”

 

Harry suddenly whirled around from the window, causing Hermione and Ron to lift their heads alertly.  His eyes glistened and Hermione was certain he had been fighting tears at the window.

 

“I’m going to talk to Dumbledore,” said Harry shortly.

 

“Harry, he told us to stay here until he had news!” protested Hermione, standing up hastily. 

 

“I’m not going to leave the castle or anything,” Harry continued irritably.  “I just want to see if he knows anything else.  I can’t just sit here and do nothing!”

 

“Fine.  We’re going with you.”

 

~*~*~

 

At last, Ron thought as Harry opened the dormitory door, we’re going to do something.  Not that it was really anything, but shifting weight onto his feet and forcing his muscles to move invoked action.  And Ron needed action.  This terrible numbness that had seized his mind and body was unbearable.  Not once had he felt a spark of anger, not even when Harry had threatened Draco Malfoy and the git had merely smirked.  All he could think about was how happy Ginny had been on Halloween, determined to draw a smile from Harry’s dark countenance.  She’d made them all laugh and momentarily believe that Hogwarts was as usual, that there hadn’t been any deaths.

 

Even as he recalled the tenacity of Ginny’s optimism, he saw her, shattered, as she crawled through the hole he’d made in the rubble from the collapsed tunnel under the castle.  Dirty, pale, eyes streaming with tears.  He’d tried to hug her, so happy to see her alive, but she’d been too ashamed of herself for comfort.

 

She survived the Chamber of Secrets, Ron told himself repeatedly.  She’ll be all right.  He did not believe it.  Too many people had died. People who weren’t even connected with the Order of the Phoenix.  Kill the spare.  Kill anyone.

 

Ginny was not dead!

 

But if she wasn’t dead, she’d be used for some cruel, evil purpose.  Ron knew what Cruciatus felt like. 

 

He shuddered as he started down the spiral staircase into the Gryffindor common room.  Ron was vaguely aware of Harry striding determinedly for the portrait hole, blatantly ignoring the stares, and Hermione pushing him gently from behind.  Numbly, he stumbled down the last step, feeling the sympathetic eyes prickling the back of his neck.  As all those years ago, no one tried to stop them.

 

“I thought you lot were supposed to stay inside?” demanded the Fat Lady when all three were outside Gryffindor Tower.  She pursed her lips disapprovingly, but didn’t seem angry. 

 

Ron saw a wrinkled handkerchief in one of her fat fists.  How dare a portrait mourn his sister?  She wasn’t . . . she was alive!

 

“We’re going to Dumbledore,” said Hermione calmly to the Fat Lady, a firm but gentle hand on Ron’s elbow. 

 

She was eyeing Harry nervously as he edged further down the corridor.  “We’ll be back.  Honest.”

 

“Humph.”

 

The journey to Dumbledore’s office was silent aside from the somber patrolling prefects and teachers.  Whenever stopped, Harry or Hermione would merely explain they were going to Dumbledore, and would be pardoned.  It was strikingly poignant to Ron that Professor Snape didn’t appear behind them, snappishly accusing them of breaking and crossing the line. 

 

Snape had died at Voldemort’s hands last year.  Minutes after Ron had been introduced to the Cruciatus Curse.

 

Cedric, Hagrid, Snape.  Murdered one year after another.  It was easier to deal with deaths reported in the Daily Prophet, to see the black envelopes bearing the dreaded announcement to other students.  We won’t even get a black letter, Ron thought morbidly as they reached Dumbledore’s gargoyle.  Even if the barrier wasn’t there. 

 

With the siege, communication with the Order of Phoenix operating outside Hogwarts was scarce. The communication fireplace was constantly switched, and absolutely no one could enter anywhere but the front entrance, which was charmed only to admit students and staff.  No Floo, no Portkeys.  Soon the small filtering of owls allowed through the barriers constructed by both Dumbledore and the Death Eaters had been completely trapped either inside or outside the school.  Pig had not been seen since the beginning of October, but Hedwig was safe inside the menagerie, as she had been too conspicuous to use for quite some time.

 

Sirius and Remus had spent part of their summer creating more versions of the Marauder’s Map, and so every passage was under surveillance.  Unfortunately, communication with two of the most prominent and important members of the Order had been almost nonexistent. Ron wasn’t even certain how the Order communicated these days, or how Dumbledore expected to procure a plan for rescuing Ginny—if she was alive.

 

“She is alive!” exclaimed Ron vehemently.  His voice sliced through the stillness of the corridor, causing all three of them to startle.

 

“I know, Ron,” said Hermione gently, her eyes wide.

 

Ron glanced away.  He hadn’t meant to say anything aloud. 

 

Harry wasn’t looking at him, but muttering the password to the gargoyle.  It slid open and they all gravely stepped onto the moving staircase, slowly spiraling upwards into Dumbledore’s tower.  It felt longer than usual, and yet Ron knew time had barely passed.  What would he find in Dumbledore’s office?  No news?  A ransom letter?  Declaration of—no.  Ginny was alive.  She had to be. 

 

At the top of the stairs, Ron felt a burst of anger rip through his despondent thoughts.  Harry had just raised his fist to knock when Dumbledore’s door swung open and illuminated the most hated person in Ron’s mind, smirking smugly and straightening his robes.

 

“What are you doing here?” Hermione demanded while snatching a fistful of robe from Ron and Harry. Her voice sliced through Ron’s broiling fury, and he was grateful for her presence.  She was keeping a cool head, deliberately remaining logical and commandeering everything.

 

Malfoy sneered.  “That’s my own business, Granger.  Perhaps you, Potter, and Weasel should refrain from accusing the innocent.”

 

Harry let out a harsh, cold laugh.  “Get out of the way, Malfoy, unless you want to confess.”

 

“About what?” said Malfoy airily, raising his eyebrows. 

 

Where is my sister, you bastard!” growled Ron.  He pulled out his wand and pointed it at Malfoy, who looked momentarily frightened before his face relaxed.

 

“Oh, really, Weasley!  Curse me, I dare you.  Not even Dumbledore will overlook the offense.”

 

“He’s right, Ron,” Hermione said quietly, placing a soothing but firm hand on his shoulder. 

 

For one long minute, Ron met Draco’s malevolent, challenging stare, irrepressible rage coursing through his blood.  He didn’t care if Dumbledore was just inside the door, or that Azkaban would become his permanent residence if he harmed Malfoy.  Hatred.  He hated Malfoy.

 

“Go on, Weasley,” whispered Malfoy, as if dangling a tantalizing treat in the air.  “Hex me.”

 

Ron,” Hermione pleaded, her grip tightening.

 

Another second passed before Ron fully realized the situation.  Gradually his senses began to return to him, although the loathing did not lessen.  He felt Hermione’s nervous hands clasped around his robes, and Harry’s tense gaze jumping between him and Malfoy.  He saw the flicker of triumph in that sniveling face, and Ron briefly reconsidered.  But he lowered his wand and stepped back.

 

“I’d rather give you a kick down the stairs,” he muttered darkly as Malfoy shoved past Hermione, distinctly whispering, “Mudblood,” as he passed. 

 

Malfoy’s steps hurried, and Ron grinned faintly.  Then he quickly grew somber and turned back to his friends.

 

Hermione’s eyes were wet, her face still tense.  “Oh, Ron!  If you’d cursed him—”

 

“I didn’t, okay?” 

 

“I know, but—”  Her shining eyes darted frantically around the small antechamber, her mouth working silently, her lips curling as they just did just before she would start to cry.

 

“Hermione!” Ron quickly grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her gently but firmly.  She glanced at him, and he sucked in sharply.  She was going to cry.  Somehow her moment of weakness, the loss of her stolid vigil, shook Ron more deeply than Malfoy’s sneering face. Placing a palm against each of her cheeks , he anchored her shaking head, forcing her to look at him.  “Hermione, listen to me,” he said quietly.  “It’s okay.”

 

She shuddered and nodded, tearing eyes fastened on him.  “I know, Ron.  I know.”  Then her face collapsed and a sob escaped.  Ron quickly wrapped his arms tightly around her and kissed her forehead.  It was such bittersweet relief to give whatever solace he could offer.

 

“It’s okay,” he said softly, rubbing her back slowly.  “It’s okay.”  It wasn’t okay, but what else could he say?  He didn’t believe a word he said, but if he could wrap his arms around Hermione, or she could run her hands affectionately through his hair, he would be all right.  Hermione’s pain rescued him from his daze.  He wasn’t helpless if he had a purpose.

 

“Okay,” she choked, lifting her head from his chest.  Clearing her throat, she wiped methodically at her eyes and pushed hair away from her face.  “Okay.”  Their eyes met briefly, gratified, before Ron remembered Harry standing silently against the wall.

 

 “Harry—” Ron began to say, but stopped.  Harry looked politely embarrassed, as he always did whenever Ron or Hermione allowed their feelings to show, but there was something else in his darkened gaze.  Yearning and . . . regret?  Guilt? 

 

“Ready?” said Ron, feeling uneasy.

 

Harry nodded and knocked.  The door swung open and Ron filed in behind him, noting that the angry tension in Harry’s neck had slumped.  In second year, Harry had been miserable because it had been Ron’s sister taken hostage, not Ginny.  It wasn’t sympathy for Ron now, but misery for himself and Ginny.  The loss of a friend.

 

She is not lost!

 

Ron pulled his gaze away from Harry and cast his eyes once around the tinkling, chiming little instruments that would have wooed his father, and fastened his attention hungrily on Dumbledore.  The wizened Headmaster was sitting at his desk, stroking Fawkes, and gazing at them with his indecipherable blue eyes.  Startling, Ron recognized Sirius Black standing at Dumbledore’s shoulder, looking caught between leaping at them and gesticulating wildly at the Headmaster.

 

“You have news, then?” said Harry hopefully.

 

A definitive look passed between the two wizards, and Ron’s hope, spurred by Harry’s hungry words, balked.

 

“What is it?” he asked in a strained voice.  It barely occurred to him to ask how Sirius was inside Hogwarts, or if Draco Malfoy had seen him.

 

Dumbledore cleared his throat, and Sirius stepped back obligingly.  Ron noticed that Sirius was gazing closely at Harry, whose expression was unfathomable.

 

“Nothing concrete has been confirmed, Ron,” said Dumbledore gravely.  “As it has been concluded that Lucius Malfoy is in fact an active member of Voldemort’s coterie, I have questioned Draco.  Your fellow student has no knowledge of the Ginny’s whereabouts.”

 

“He could be lying, Professor,” Harry protested quietly. 

 

Dumbledore bowed his head, acknowledging the possibility, but did not address it.  “Furthermore, there has not yet been a delivery of any terms—”  He paused and gazed solemnly at them, as if weighing his next words.  “It is possible that Voldemort’s motives for Ginny are not as simple as initially believed—”

 

“You mean,” said Hermione, her voice still unsteady, “that he isn’t going to use her to get to Harry?  Or the Order?  For something else?”

 

Dumbledore gazed at her steadily, and Ron felt his blood run cold.  Although he didn’t want his sister used as bait or an exchange for Harry, it meant that she was alive and could be rescued.  But if Voldemort’s purpose was something else . . .

 

“It is possible, Miss Granger, though not certain.”

 

“She knew.”

 

Ron snapped his head towards Harry, who’d spoken so softly, as if amazed.  He looked sick and dazed, meeting no one’s gaze, but fixated on Fawkes.  The phoenix gazed back steadily, and Harry seemed lost, for he relapsed into his silence.

 

“She knew what, Harry?” asked Dumbledore gently.

 

Harry didn’t stir from his dolor or tear his eyes from Fawkes, but he spoke in that hushed, stunned voice.  “She knew.  After the Death Eater attack in fifth year . . . she said that she wondered if Voldemort knew about the diary . . . And when he did find out, if he would . . .” But he trailed off.

 

A heavy silence fell over them.  What could Voldemort do to Ginny, now that he was at full strength?  Ron wondered, feeling his blood turn cold.  Ginny’s life had evanesced under the possession of a mere memory . . .

 

“What are we going to do, then?” Hermione spoke up after a long minute, sounding twelve again.  Ron slipped his fingers through hers and squeezed tightly.

 

“You three,” Sirius answered, stepping around Dumbledore’s desk, “aren’t doing anything but keeping safe.  No, Harry—save your heroics.”  The wizard’s gaze prohibited any protest, but Ron could feel his friend’s frustration and hurt.  Sirius’s harsh gaze softened instantly.  “Harry, Ron, Hermione—it would be more harmful to Ginny and yourselves if we’re ignorant or rash.  All three of you are prime targets for Voldemort.  Until we know what is happening, or where she is, there is nothing anyone can do.”

 

“Did you try Malfoy Manor?” Ron suggested, unable to hide his loathing.

 

“Ever since Lucius declared his allegiance to Voldemort,” sighed Sirius, “Malfoy Manor has become impenetrable.  It’s now Unplottable, although Arthur Weasley and other members of the Ministry are aware of its location.  Breaching Charms have been erected, along with every defensive hex or curse using light or Dark magic.  It’s as well protected as Hogwarts.”

 

“So, obviously, Ginny’s there!”

 

“It has been one of the Order’s priorities to breach Malfoy Manor, Ron,” Sirius continued, “but as of yet, we have not found a solution.  As far as we can tell, you must have the Dark Mark to enter the manor alive.”

 

It seemed rather melodramatic to say, yet Ron knew it to be true, unless you were a hostage.  A massive assault might be successful, but the casualties would be a devastating loss for the Order.  Fred and George had ardently adopted the Malfoy mission from its birth, insisting that the incorporation of their inventions could be beneficial to the operation.  And Mum thought their pranks would never come to good use.

 

 “How far have they gotten?” Ron asked, remembering the miniature models of Malfoy Manor cluttering his father’s garage.  Harry and Ron had enjoyed watching a tiny version

of Draco explode last summer.

 

Sirius only shook his head.  “Not far enough.”

 

“Harry, Ron, Hermione,” said Dumbledore, casting his stern eyes over them in turn.  “I want you to return to your dormitories.  You may return later tonight.”

 

Ron wanted to protest, but knew there wasn’t anything he could do.  Marching out of the castle would probably succeed in bringing him to Ginny, but it would only further complicate everything for the Order.  Two captured Weasleys—his mother wouldn’t be able to handle it.

 

“Professor Dumbledore,” he said suddenly.  “What about my mum?”

 

Sirius and Dumbledore exchanged meaningful looks, and then Dumbledore said, “We will be sending word to her shortly.”

 

Ron opened his mouth to ask how, but Fawkes suddenly stretched out his great wings in a long stretch.  The bird stared back at him with intelligent beady eyes. 

 

Then Sirius was ushering them out the door, but Harry didn’t follow.  Instead he stepped up to Dumbledore and said in a low voice, “Can I talk with you, er, privately, Professor?”

 

 

 

 

//
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