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“There you are!” Hermione called to Harry when he arrived at the Burrow. Ron and Hermione were the only ones still outside, everyone else had gone inside. Harry had to walk to get inside the protection barrier around the Burrow and the grounds around the misshapen house.

“You had us worried, mate,” Ron said softly.

“Sorry about that. I…I needed a moment,” Harry said sheepishly. Ron and Hermione both nodded in acceptance and understanding.

“Just, y’know, let us know next time if you can,” Ron admonished Harry. Harry nodded again and together the trio walked up the walkway to the door of the Burrow.

Molly was bustling around the kitchen. The Weasleys, Neville, Luna, and Kingsley were seated around the table. Harry looked around but the other Aurors must have all gone to their own homes for food and rest.

“There you three are,” Mrs. Weasley said as she spun around with a large plate of toast. “Sit down, sit down,” she shooed them to the table. There were eggs and bacon on the stove frying. The eggs flipped themselves and the bacon stayed flat as though it was under a press. Fleur set the table easily as she nearly floated around the kitchen. Harry watched Mrs. Weasley warily.

Her eyes were puffy and her cheeks were red; she wasn’t currently crying but it was clear she had been. She seemed to be pouring her grief into the task of fixing breakfast, her movements were jittery and shaky but fast and with purpose.

“Here you are,” Molly said as she served up eggs and bacon. “Tuck in everyone.” Most everybody helped themselves. Harry took a piece of toast and nibbled at it. He didn’t feel much like eating. More the opposite, he felt rather nauseous, his nerves were so raw that his stomach was doing somersaults.

“Come on, just try a little. You need to keep your strength up,” Harry heard Hermione’s soft encouragement to Ron. Harry looked over to see Ron looking as green in the face as Harry felt himself. Hermione had her arm around Ron’s shoulders; their chairs were pushed so close together they might as well have shared one chair. Hermione finally managed to get Ron to eat some eggs and toast. Harry looked away from his two best friends and managed to choke down a couple of pieces of toast. He was thankful for the tea Mrs. Weasley had brewed extra strong and he put more than enough sugar in it to give him an extra jolt of energy.

“So, Kingsley,” Arthur spoke between bites, “you had started to tell us you had gone to Malfoy Manor. Turn up anything there?”

“Unfortunately, no, the house didn‘t hold any clues,” Kingsley said solemnly. “When Draco Malfoy told us he wanted to help I was hoping he had more insight than he was letting on but he only suggested places my Aurors or our team had already been, like Hogsmeade, London, Tinsworth, Upper Flagley and Godric‘s Hollow. He was helpful in questioning Borgin but further than that…” he shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.

“I still don’t understand why he’d want to help?” Luna asked as she forcefully speared a piece of egg.

“He was hoping some good behaviour would help shorten his probation sentence,” Shacklebolt told them.

“What did you tell him?” Neville asked.

“I told him it was highly doubtful,” Kingsley wore a smirk as he said this.

Harry knew he would not be able to force any more food into himself and everyone else was still eating. Harry excused himself from the table. He was aware of Mrs. Weasley’s gaze being concentrated on him and he couldn’t bear it any longer. He took his cup of tea out into the garden.

No one followed Harry outside and for that he was thankful. He trudged his way to the tree and leaned against the trunk. Already the day was turning warmer with the morning sun. He stood there for a while, mindlessly tearing up a leaf into little bits, feeling restless as the minutes ticked by. He hated not knowing where to go and where to look next. His heart was breaking into smaller pieces with each minute that passed. He finished his tea and set the empty cup on the ground. Harry continued to lean against the tree, his arms folded across his chest, with the rough bark biting into his back. He tried racking his brain on where they could look next. Where didn’t they look that they should? He took his glasses off and rubbed hie tired eyes.

The wind blew a cool breeze towards Harry, rustling the new light green leaves on the tree, ruffling his hair and bringing with it a light flowery scent to Harry’s nose. The smell reminded him so much of Ginny he inhaled it deeply like he did whenever she walked near him. He nearly expected her to be standing near him though he knew she was not. He exhaled the air in a heaving sob that shook his entire body. He slid down the trunk of the tree, the bark cutting his back but he didn’t really notice the physical pain so intense was his ache for Ginny. Harry put his arms around his knees and cried.

What if he couldn’t find her? What if they did but were too late? Was it already too late? Surely if her heart had stopped beating his would have too. What kind of things were they doing to her? Was she being tortured with the Cruciatus Curse? Beaten by Muggle means? Had she suffered the horror of being raped?

What his stomach had threatened to do earlier happened; Harry quickly crawled to the bushes and his stomach heaved its meagre contents. He dragged himself back to the tree feeling shaky and weak. Still the tears came. He picked up a stone and threw it into the field in anger. He felt so useless. What was the point of being the hero of the Wizarding World if he couldn’t even keep the woman he loved safe?

Harry wished he could talk to someone, he wished he could talk to Sirius or Remus or better yet his mum and dad. He wiped his sleeve across his face and put his glasses back on. His vision was still kind of blurry from crying so hard. Harry picked up his teacup and stood up. Walking back to the house his legs felt like gelatin, he summoned the strength to put one foot in front of the other. When he re-entered the house he could feel all eyes on him but he knew he couldn’t face the Weasleys, not right now, being in their house made him feel guilty enough, like an imposter pretending to be a hero letting their hopes fall to the ground.

Harry marched up the stairs and found one of his old shirts in Ron’s room. It didn’t fit too tight because of all the weight he’d lost over the past year; the shirt did cling to his chest and biceps a bit but he could still stretch and flex without restriction. He put his Mokeskin pouch back on and, wand in hand, he trumped back down the stairs. Unsurprisingly Ron and Hermione were at the bottom of the staircase waiting for him.

“Where’re we looking next, Harry?” Ron asked hopefully and made Harry feel even worse.

“I wish I knew, Ron,” Harry hated to see Ron look crestfallen again.

“When we saw you come in we thought maybe you had thought of something,” Hermione said, wringing her hands until Ron took hold of one.

“No, I…I just, it’s stupid, I don’t know what I was thinking,” Harry slumped and sat on the stairs.

“Anywhere is better than just sitting here, mate,” Ron told him.

“Yeah, I just, I was thinking of going to Godric’s Hollow to talk to my mum and dad,” Harry said feeling sheepish and lame.

“Well, Kingsley said he had a team already go through and check Godric’s Hollow but still, a second look couldn’t hurt while we’re there, could it?” Hermione reasoned. Harry knew she said it to help put his mind at ease and make him feel like they were doing something worthwhile. “Let me just get my bag,” she said going to retrieve the beaded bag Harry and Ron knew so well. Harry wasn’t sure why she still insisted on carryong it around; after all it had provided perhaps now it was more like a security blanket. He couldn’t fault her for that. When Hermione came back with her bag Mr. Weasley was walking behind her.

“You three going off somewhere?” he asked suspiciously.

“We just need some air, Dad. We need to be doing something.”

“Where?” Arthur Weasley asked, nodding his head in understanding then he ran his hand through his thinning pate of red hair.

“Godric’s Hollow,” Ron answered again.

“When do you think you’ll be back?”

“Hour and a half, maybe two,” Ron looked to Harry and Harry nodded; they would need to Apparate outside the town and walk in as it was a partially Muggle town and it was in daylight hours. The amount of time Ron said was enough to talk to his parents and have a quick look around.

“Fine, fine…just make sure you’re back here promptly two hours from now,” Mr. Weasley sighed, “any later than that and we’ll raise the alarm.”

“We’ll be back in time, Dad,” Ron told him as he gave his father a hug.

“Just be careful,” the elder Weasley said as he hugged Hermione.

“We will,” Hermione said softly.

“Make sure that they are,” Arthur told Harry as he hugged him. To Harry the hug seemed stiff and awkward but maybe that’s because he felt too guilty to return the affection he didn’t feel he’d earned. “Keep yourself safe too, Harry,” Mr. Weasley said with his hand on Harry’s shoulder. He forced Harry to look at him but Harry looked away quickly under the intense scrutiny and nodded his weak assurances.

“I will, sir,” Harry said in a voice softer than he’d intended. Mr. Weasley let him go and Harry followed Hermione and Ron out the door.

Godric’s Hollow looked very different from the last time Harry had seen it. Gone was all the snow and now the ground was lush and green. The lawns of the houses were impeccably cared for and Harry spotted flowers in some gardens. The three of them had Apparated into the nearby woodland and walked into town. A few people who passed them smiled and waved in a friendly manner and they politely waved back. Harry continued on to the cemetery while Hermione stopped to show Ron the statue monument. A few of the headstones had fresh flowers by them. Harry didn’t have any trouble finding his parents’ grave. There was a veritable mound of flowers around the headstone, some people had left letters as well. Harry ignored the letters. He didn’t want to read people’s thoughts on how they believed Harry was their saviour, hero and the greatest wizard who ever lived when at the moment he felt as useless as a Flobberworm.

“Hey, Mum, Dad,” Harry said kneeling near the headstone. He brushed a leaf off the top of the stone. “I wish I was here to say that we won and everything is okay but it’s not. I wish you were here so I could talk to you for real,” Harry told them wiping away a tear. “Dark wizards have taken Ginny, with her they’ve taken my heart. We don’t know where else to look. I really wish you were here,” his breath hitched in his chest, “I miss you.” Harry kissed his fingers then placed them over his mother’s name then did the same on his father’s name. He wiped away the tears on his cheeks and looked up when he heard footsteps in the grass. Hermione was leading Ron into the graveyard. They stopped at what Harry knew was the Peverell tomb. Harry took a shaky breath and another deep one before he walked over to join them.

“It’s so strange,” he heard Ron say as he looked at the old stone. “To think that every time I heard that story as a kid it wasn’t just a children’s tale but that the three brothers were real. That the Hallows are real,” Ron shook his head as he stood up. “To think this whole time Harry’s had one, it’s just so weird.”

“Yeah, it’s got to be like finding out Cinderella was real and discovering her glass slipper in your attic,” Hermione remarked.

“Huh?”

“Nevermind, Ron,” Hermione said as she took his hand. “You ready, Harry?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Harry said with one last look at the grave he had stopped at, the Dumbledore plot where Kendra and Ariana were laid to rest. Harry had felt it only right to pay some respect to them as long as he was here.

“Blimey, Harry, that’s a lot of flowers,” Ron pointed towards the mound of colour surrounding his parents’ headstone.

“Yeah, hey, do you guys mind if we walk by the old house? I just want to check on it.”

“That’s fine, we’ve still got plenty of time,” Hermione said checking her watch.

Instead of forcing himself to see Ron and Hermione walking hand in hand Harry walked ahead of them at a slightly faster pace. It was for this reason that Harry reached the small cottage first and Hermione and Ron were left quite a few yards behind him. When Harry touched the gate the sign rose again but now it bore even more graffiti upon it. Harry looked at the small house and unkempt lawn. The flowers that had once grown in the garden grew rampant and wild now. His gaze roamed over the windows and shutters. He had begun to turn around and see how much longer Ron and Hermione were going to take to catch up when something in the last window caught his eye.

Harry crouched down as fast as he could drawing his wand simultaneously, hoping he hadn’t been seen. Behind him he could hear Hermione and Ron hurrying to his side. They ducked down beside him and Harry hoped the gate overgrown weeds and hedges were enough cover to hide them and that they hadn‘t already been seen.

“What is it, Harry?” Hermione whispered.

“Someone’s inside.”

“Did you see who it was?” Ron’s brow creased as he strained to see through the gate to the house.

“No, just saw a dark figure in the first floor window.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t just a lost Muggle or something?”

“Could be, but I thought this place was protected, didn‘t the sign say it‘s invisible to Muggles?” Harry said to Ron’s query.

“He’s right,” Hermione confirmed Harry‘s thoughts, “then again, if someone were desperate for shelter…”

“Or they thought it would be the one place no one would dare enter,” Harry supplied.

“Are we…are we going to?”

“Yeah,” Harry said as he looked for a way to get around the gate and get up to the house without being seen. He didn’t see plausible ways except for magic, of course. “Hermione, do you think you could cast the Disillusionment Charm on yourself and Ron?” Hermione nodded the afirmative. “If there’s any sign of trouble get yourselves out, find a way to send for help,” Harry instructed. Ron and Hermione nodded their heads but both looked like they wanted to protest that part of the plan. “I say we circle around to see if there’s any part of the gate down or a patchy spot in the hedges,” Harry suggested as he took his Invisibility Cloak from his Mokeskin pouch.

Hermione pointed her wand at Ron tapping him on the crown of his head and then did the same to herself and they disappeared right before Harry’s eyes. He slipped his cloak on and walk along the gate to the back of the cottage. Harry was trying to fight back the temult of thought and emotions brought up by the fact they were about to enter the house his parents had been killed in.

They got lucky in their search for behind the house there was a section of gate that had been broken and was lying on the ground. Harry carefully stepped over it and he heard Hermione and Ron climbing over it too. When they got to halfway across the back lawn a man dressed in dark Muggle clothing stepped out the back door and Harry froze not wanting the man to see or hear his footsteps. He didn’t hear Ron or Hermione so he assumed they had stopped where they were as well. The man didn’t walk further than just outside the door and his face was kind of ashen. The man lit a fag and began to smoke it enthusiastically, taking long drags off of it. It didn’t escape Hasrry’s notice that despite the Muggle clothing the man lit the cigarette with a wand.

“What do you think, Harry?”

“I’m not sure, the Muggle clothing’s a little confusing,” he whispered back to Hermione.

“What’s the plan?” Ron hissed.

“I’m going to cast Muffliato so we can get close to him without him hearing us. When we get close I’ll Confund him and get him to open the door wide and go inside. Hopefully we can slip in without any problems. Ready?” Harry didn’t wait for a reply, he did as he said he was going to do and they rushed across the overgrown grass.

The man wasn’t easily Confunded and Harry had to switch tactics and Imperius him. He made the man hold the door open as he flicked his cigarette away. Harry felt Hermione and Ron brush past him as they slipped inside. Harry followed them before he made the man re-enter behind him. When he was satisfied they hadn’t been seen by anyone Harry left the man he’d Imperiused to stand in the kitchen. It was clear, looking around the place, that someone had been hiding out in the house for some time. There were various food wrappers about and several cups with tea still in them on the table. Harry crept further into the house and winced when a floorboard near him creaked; must be Ron, Harry thought.

There were two more men in the sitting room dressed similarly as the first man, dark coloured Muggle clothes but armed with wands, complaining to each other about having to wear said Muggle clothing. Instead of trying to go past them Harry edged over to the stairs. The carpet was moldy but mostly dry so it wasn’t too slick. He tiptoed his way up and heard Ron and Hermione breathing behind him. There were three doors upstairs: the last door, across from Harry’s old room, was closed and there were voices behind it. Harry knew which room had been his because the door was ajar spilling light into the hallway; it was the nursery where Voldemort had first tried to kill Harry, the daylight coming from where the spell backfired and blew out the roof. Another door that was fully open led to a small bathroom.

Harry crept closer to the closed door trying to make out what the voices were saying. One of the voices was definitely male, deep and gruff and for some reason vaguely familiar. The second voice was also male but not so deep. A third voice was heard and Harry recognized it straight away, Gregory Goyle; but what would he be doing here?

The first voice spoke again, this time loud enough for Harry to make out the words. “Cheeky little brat! You’ve got a fire in you, pretty girl, but not for long. Soon I’ll grow tired of these little games and snuff that fire,” a scuffle was heard then a loud bang against the wall. “Why you little-”

“Told you not to get too close, Sir,” Goyle said. “She’s always been a hellion.”

“This’ll teach you not to bite people!” the first voice threatened angrily. A half second later Harry heard a heart-stopping scream of ultimate agony. Harry’s body froze for a short-lived moment then he sprang into action. He whipped off the Invisibility Cloak and lunged for the door but before he made it a pair of strong arms wrapped around him and pulled him backward into the nursery.

Harry fought like a caged animal but the arms around him were too strong. Harry opened his mouth to scream but when he screamed Ginny’s name over and over again nothing but silence came out. He heard Hermione trying to calm him and a grunt from Ron as he finally broke free from his grasp but Harry was calm enough now to know better than to rush headlong into the other room alone. He tried to speak Hermione’s name but again he couldn’t speak. There was only silence, Ginny’s screams had stopped.

“Sorry about that, Harry,” Hermione apologized and he heard her wand swish through the air. She must have cast a Silencing Charm on him when Ron had grabbed him.

“Sorry,” Harry mumbled as he wiped his nose on his sleeve. Apparently he was crying, he was so far out of himself he hadn’t realized it. After a moment Hermione became visible then she did the same for Ron. Ron’s face was scrumpled up in worry and he was pale as parchment.

“What are we going to do?” Ron asked, his voice low and gruff.

“You two go back out and send for help like we planned,” Harry said tucking his Invisibility Cloak back into his Mokeskin pouch.

“No way! I’m not leaving,” Ron said firmly as he crossed his arms in front of his chest.

“You know we can’t just leave you and Ginny here alone. We won’t leave,” Hermione said imitating Ron’s stance without realizing she was doing it; oddly Harry found Hermione more intimidating.

“Fine then,” Harry huffed. He was anxious to get into the other room and free Ginny. “We haven’t been gone long enough for anyone to start to worry about us. We need some way to send for help. Any ideas?” Ron remained silent but Hermione looked like she wanted to answer. Harry looked at her pointedly until she finally spoke.

“There’s one way, the speaking Patronuses like the Order uses. I haven’t practised one since before Bill and Fleur’s wedding. I think I could do it…oh, never mind, just forget it,” Hermione shook her head, her brown curls swaying. “The instant a Patronus is cast they’ll see it.”

“Do we really have any other choice?” Ron pressed. Harry knew that he could think of no other way.

“I’d feel better if you tried it, Harry. Your Patronus is stronger,” Hermione pleaded with her eyes.

“Fine, I guess. So what’s the theory behind a talking Patronus?” Harry asked hoping that he could still produce a Patronus with all the negative emotions running through him. Hermione explained the method and he was pretty sure he could do it if he could conjure up something happy to base the Patronus on.

“We’ll have to move fast once I cast it. We go in as is, completely visible, so we know where each of us is without having to cast Hominum Revelio. In the rush of things I don’t want one of us getting hit by one of our spells,” Harry said and both of his friends nodded in agreement. They stood near the door, wands at the ready. Ron had his hand on the doorknob.

“Ready when you are, Harry,” Ron told him. Hermione nodded in silent concentration on what was ahead. Both of them were whey-faced but had a steely set look of determination.

Harry squared his shoulders, raised his wand and pointed it towards the opening in the ceiling.

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