Ginny sat up with a start, her heart pounding. She had been dreaming about Harry, seeing cloaked figures dragging him off as he screamed out her name in terror.
"Ginny? Are you in there?"
The voice coming from the living room was definitely not a dream, and not Harry's. Ginny sighed and stood up, wrapping a dressing gown around herself. She bent and placed a fleeting kiss on the ear of the sleeping figure sprawled next to her before shuffling out to peer blearily at the head in her fireplace. "Hermione? It's six o'clock in the bloody morning, what's going on?"
"I'm sorry about this, Ginny, but this couldn't wait." Her eyes flicked toward the bedroom. "Is he still asleep?"
Ginny nodded. "We were up a bit late." Noting Hermione's raised eyebrow, she added, "We were reading. Just reading. Honestly..."
Hermione pursed her lips but declined to pursue the topic. "Well, this is about what happened when Harry... disappeared."
Ginny dropped heavily into a chair facing the fireplace and squinted at the early-summer sunlight peeking in through a window. "I was just dreaming about that, actually. It's not exactly my favorite subject, you know. Particularly at this hour of the morning."
"Well, I didn't wake you up just to dredge up painful old memories, I promise. I think I finally know what happened to him, though. And if I'm right, he needs you now more than ever. You may be the only one who can save him."
Ginny's jaw dropped and she fumbled for something to say. Before she could frame a response, though, she heard footsteps from the bedroom and turned to see a rumpled figure emerge, wearing only pajama trousers and fumbling with his glasses. "Ginny? Are you talking to som- Oh! Er, good morning, Hermione..."
Hermione laughed. "Good morning to you too, Harry. Still quite the lady-killer, aren't we? At least when you were in my bed, you had the grace to wear more than a pair of pajama trousers!"
"Well, that was your loss then. Ginny doesn't mind me like this, do you, love?" He bent and kissed Ginny lightly, and perched on the arm of her chair. "So what's going on? Who needs saving?"
Hermione looked Harry straight in the eyes. "You, Harry."
"I think I know what happened to you the day you were taken coming back from Hogsmeade."
"But that was four years ago! Why is it so important now? And anyway, I know what happened, because I was there. I quite clearly recall being cursed and beaten. Things are a bit fuzzy after that, although I still think you were there, Ginny, and you were the one who cut me loose. But that can't be, can it? You swear you never left Hogwarts."
Ginny nodded. "That's right, and your story never made sense to me. I was at Hogwarts the whole time you were missing."
"It never made sense to me either," said Hermione, "nor did the fact that Dumbledore couldn't find you anywhere, despite all the locator charms he had placed on you. But now I think I know why. Let me ask you something, Harry: Do you remember seeing or hearing an owl flying about, just before you were rescued?"
Harry looked at her sharply. "How did you – I mean, I've never told anyone that. But yes, there was an owl, a little brown one..." He turned to Ginny and his eyes grew wide. "No, it can't be."
"Wait a minute," Ginny sputtered. "You think I - but how? I didn't even know what my form was going to be until just before I left school! It's only been a year or so that I've been comfortable flying."
Hermione nodded. "Well, that clinches it, as far as I'm concerned. Listen, I have some things I need to show you both, and it's a bit difficult when I'm standing in my fireplace. Could we come have breakfast with you, say, in half an hour?"
Ginny looked at Harry and nodded slowly, still puzzled. "That, err, sounds good, yeah."
"We'll be over in a bit then. Oh, and Ginny -" Hermione grinned - "make him put a shirt on, will you?"
Ginny and Harry silently dressed and began making breakfast. Ginny was baffled by Hermione's news, and deeply unsettled by the memory of Harry's disappearance. Coming as it had so soon after the beginning of their relationship, it had been a particularly cruel shock. Ron and Hermione had found her on the road and brought her back to Hogwarts, but Harry was gone without a trace.
When Dumbledore had been unable to locate Harry the evening of his abduction, Ginny had immediately begun to fear the worst, knowing Dumbledore's charm was only effective at finding a living person. A sleepless night and a tumultuous day had followed, her last hopes fading as all of the Order's efforts to find Harry came up empty. Then, suddenly, late the next day, Harry had simply reappeared out of thin air, badly beaten and incoherent but essentially undamaged. From then on, he and Ginny were inseparable, but the sweetness of his return was not enough to make her forget the despair of those terrible hours.
Harry was just putting a plate of sausages on the table when a soft "pop" announced Ron's arrival. A muffled thud followed a moment later as Hermione appeared in the fireplace. Ginny noted wryly that even at eight months pregnant, Hermione managed to emerge more gracefully than Harry at his best; Floo travel had always been one of the few things in the wizarding world he could not do well.
Brushing a bit of ash off her robes, Hermione stepped into the kitchen and gave Ginny a quick hug before setting a small box and a glass jar on the counter. "I brought a peace offering, to make up for waking you so early. Cloudberry jam - Ron got it fresh for me yesterday."
Ron kissed Ginny on the cheek and put an affectionate arm around his wife. "That's our Hermione - trust her to develop a craving for something I'd never heard of. Took me four bloody days to find a place to get it, three countries away."
Hermione glared at Ron. "And just who polished off half the jar by the next morning?"
"Oh, I never claimed not to like the stuff." Ron looked down at the floor, trying to hide a smile, and then turned to Harry. "So, mate, how'd it go with Inverness yesterday? I didn't get to hear the WWN and the paper hadn't come yet."
Harry mumbled something indistinct. Ginny rolled her eyes and told Ron, "Chudley won, of course. Four hundred and sixty to eighty. Harry nearly plowed their Seeker and the referee both." The note of pride in Ginny's voice brought a grin to Harry's face.
Harry rolled his eyes self-deprecatingly. "Well, he wasn't getting out of the way."
"Cor! Hey, Ballycastle lost Friday, so you're back at the top of the table!"
"Well, we didn't change our motto back to ‘We Shall Conquer' for nothing."
Ginny set the last plate on the table and took a seat. "I know you'd stand here and talk Quidditch all day, both of you, but breakfast is ready." Her reminder seemed to have a sobering effect as they all remembered their reason for meeting. Silence covered the table for several minutes as they ate, until Hermione finally spoke.
"Harry, I've never really told you much about what I do at the Ministry, have I?"
Harry mumbled something negative around a mouthful of hot buttered toast.
"Well, I suppose you could say we're the eyes and ears for all the Auror mop-up squads, like Ron's team. We keep a lookout for the last few Death Eaters out there, especially Lucius Malfoy and his lot, and there are some detection charms and traps that we keep a watch over. Well, we saw something last night that we didn't expect... one of the locator charms Dumbledore put on everyone when the disappearances started our fifth year. Harry, it was yours."
"But those charms don't work anymore! And I've been here this whole time."
"I know, I checked that straight off. We thought it was just a false alarm at first, but when we saw Dark Magic being used, we investigated. There's a small forest not far from the graveyard where Tom Riddle's father is buried. I'm sure I don't need to remind you of that."
Harry shook his head grimly. "No."
"There's a clearing in that forest with one very large oak tree in it. We called Lavender in to take a look, because she's the best at scrying. She said there were too many wards in place to see much, but she's sure she recognized two people - Lucius Malfoy, and... oh, Harry, it was you. Wearing Hogwarts robes and tied to the tree."
Ginny paled and opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. Harry took her hand and squeezed it gently. "You know, no one ever believed me when I said he was the one who kidnapped me. Everyone said they knew he was at Hogwarts at the time. Malfoy or not, though, that was four years ago. How can I be there now?"
"Well, I'd like to know that myself. We thought about Polyjuice Potion, we wondered about disguises or glamours, but I'm practically certain it was Lucius Malfoy in the Great Hall that morning, and I'm as sure as I can be that it's him in that clearing. The best I can figure is that 'our' Malfoy found a way to go back in time and kidnap you. Even if that's so, though, I don't understand why he'd go to all the trouble. If he wanted revenge, why not just come after you now?"
Ron nodded. "For that matter, why Harry at all? Neville would make a much more logical target."
"Perhaps because he's at Hogwarts and too hard to get at?" Harry shrugged.
"But Harry was rescued, right? I mean, we know he was. He's here." Ginny looked over at Harry, confused, and then back to Hermione.
"Yes... or perhaps I should say he will be." Hermione stared unblinkingly at Ginny. "Because at this particular moment, Harry is still tied to that tree, and the wards around him won't let any person through who isn't a marked Death Eater. A dozen wizards couldn't break through. Only a single person could... maybe... if she could fly in... if she weren't exactly human at the time..."
Ginny gasped, Ron went white, and Harry slapped a palm down on the table. "No, Hermione! She can't. Out of the question. I'll fly in on my broomstick and -"
"And what, shake hands with yourself? Ask for your own autograph? Most of the wizards who have managed to meet their past or future selves have wound up dead, or mad, or at least stunned. You'd have no chance. You'd be dead - both Harrys would, probably - before you could do a thing. Not to mention, it seems pretty clear that Ginny has to be the one to do it, because she already did. The owl, remember?"
"Would you please stop talking about me as if I weren't here?" snapped Ginny. "If Harry is in trouble, of course I'll go." Harry tried to object, but Ginny pressed on. "Harry, do you have any idea what it was like for me when you were taken? Do you know how precious these last few years have been with you, after I thought I had lost you forever? I heard you in my dreams last night, screaming." She shivered. "And what if you're not rescued because I let you talk me out of this? What if that means none of the last few years ever happened? I'm not going to let anyone take you away from me ever again." She glared at Harry, defying him to argue.
Hermione cleared her throat. "I think she's right, Harry. Apparently she was the one who rescued you, so she has to be the one to do it now. And she has to go in alone, I'm sure of that. There's just no way to send in a large group. A few of the Aurors have tried transfiguring themselves into various objects to get through the wards, but they've bounced off. On the other hand, we've seen several small animals pass through, and we think an Animagus should be able to make it through as well. Ginny is the only Animagus in the area who is physically up to the task right now."
Harry looked from Ginny to Hermione and back again. He started to speak, but Ginny glared at him so fiercely that he subsided. Ginny turned to Hermione and said, "Right then. What do I need to do?"