A/N Sorry for the wait but its here and a much longer chapter by my standards so please, enjoy!
When Ron awoke, he cowered at the light that was streaming through a gap in the curtains.As he stood, he automatically reached under his pillow to extract the photograph. It was part of his routine now, requiring no deliberate thought.
It had once been his only comfort and now it was his morning ritual. As his eyes bore into the smiling faces and waving hands, for once he was surprised to see that it didn't bring tears of sadness to them, but simply a feeling of determined faith and will.
It wasn't a very old picture, taken in their last year at Hogwarts. In fact it was one of the last pictures taken of Hermione. She was standing there, between him and Harry, an arm around each of them and, much like all the pictures Ron possessed, all three of them looked extremely happy.
Harry was grinning widely and Ron smiled faintly as he thought of his best friend. Harry had been so happy, full of exhilaration at this point and much of this, he thought frowning slightly, had a lot to do with a new friendship he had acquired with Ginny. But Ron chose not to dwell on that, because of course he trusted Harry with his little sister. His eyes flickered to Hermione.
She was also smiling widely and he saw a faint blush redden her pale cheeks. His heart leapt as he saw her move; turn her head just so slightly to kiss him softly on the cheek. He saw himself redden immediately and send a look of awe to Hermione who was once again looking at the camera. His heart filled with regret.
He had told her of course, right before the final battle, long after this picture had been taken. He had told her that he loved her, and that she meant more to him than anything in the world. There hadn't been time for a long heart to heart. There hadn't been time for loving kisses and embraces.
There had simply been time for Hermione to whisper a reply softly into his ear, and for her to place her lips on his, just slightly. As her lips brushed his, shivers ran down his spine and he knew that she was the one… He had had no time to tell her this, so he had simply reached for her hand and squeezed it slightly.
That had been the last time he had seen Hermione. He had tried to keep his eyes on her at all times, but in the midst of the huge battle -- a battle so deep that people could barely see through the continuous bursts of light and the smoke -- he had lost her.
Ron remembered that moment when Harry had emerged from the forest. His robes were bloodied and his body shaking with grief. His eyes had been wide glinting with power; he would have looked frightening, Ron remembered, if he hadn't had had those tears streaming down his face.
Tears of pure relief and fear and Ron had known from one look that he had been successful, and he moved forward to embrace him. They were brothers and Ron knew that. Behind him he saw the Death Eaters trying to scatter. Harry had moved Ron gently aside and he had single-handedly performed a curse so powerful that each Death Eater had dropped to the ground, bound and caught.
"For Dumbledore," Harry had whispered, and Ron knew that the tears had come then for him too, but they were not tears of misery. They were tears of joy. Too happy to comprehend, that had been the thought on everybody's mind. That was until Harry had turned to look at him. Ron knew his eyes were searching for their missing counterpart, and the other third in their trio, and suddenly Ron had also turned, his eyes grazing the bodies and landscape. She had not been there.
Ron, along with Harry, had not given up. For three straight weeks they searched for her, with hordes of Ministry officials and regular civilians willing to help. Gradually though, people gave up. It was one month. Two months. Three months and Ron and Harry looked. Soon, Harry seemed to give up too and Ron had felt entirely alone.
Ron brought his thoughts back to the reality, and he shuddered as he looked around his empty room. He placed the picture back under his pillow and shook the memories away. He knew that if he dwelled on them further they would poison his mind and draw him back into a state of depression. A state that he seemingly had just exited from, refreshed from a new optimism he had found. He got dressed quickly, though making sure to put on an extra jumper.
"I will find you Hermione, if it's the last thing I do. I'll never stop looking,"he said the words aloud and his breathing rate quickened. As he was leaving, he stopped at the doorframe, took out his wand and whispered a quick spell. In a flash, the photo zoomed from under his pillow and into his hand. Carefully he placed it tenderly in a pocket on the side of his robes, and patted his chest. Comforted and feeling a surge of bravery envelope him, he Apparated away to his destination.
Ron looked across the sea. He could barely see it; it was merely a pinprick away, blackened against the rough waves that collided with its dark walls.
"Berkley," Ron nodded to the man sitting overlooked in a small outhouse by the waves. He looked at Ron and, recognising him immediately, he gazed around and opened the door. Ron entered in a flash and the door was shut sharply. He was not surprised to see that the outhouse was significantly bigger than what it looked like from the outside.
Ron lifted his hand from his pocket, extracting with him a laminated card, holding his picture and Auror details.
"Who are you here to see, Mr Weasley?"
"Malfoy," he uttered the name with pure hatred and watched with satisfaction when Berkley's eyes widened. He said nothing, however and nodded quietly.
"Will you require Veritaserum?"
Ron nodded slowly. "And also an interrogating room."
Berkley gave a sharp nod before continuing.
"You will find it in the shape of a boot, nine o' clock sharp, Weasley. And if I were you I would head over there first."
Ron turned his head in the same direction and grimaced as his eyes grazed over the chocolate shop. At first, following the end of the war, the Ministry had been unsure of how to keep Azkaban guarded safely. The current Minister had kept the Dementors – upsetting many of the wizarding community – and although he stated it was a temporary solution, it had already been instated for over 6 months prior the end of the war. Ron snorted. The whole thing was a joke.
Ten minutes later he was once again outside, his boots crunching softly against the smooth pebbles of the beach. He looked at his watch. 8:30. He looked around the small deserted cove, shuffling the pebbles with his feet.
He squashed the feelings of nausea and discomfort at the thought of where he was going and he mentally prepared himself for the battering his mind was soon to encounter. Bending down he picked up a pebble, and felt its smoothness between his fingers. He curled his fingers around it and took in a lungful of the salty sea breeze.
Overhead he heard some seagulls calling and he looked up at them curiously, frowning slightly as he watched their peculiar behaviour. They were flying over the sea and beach, occasionally dropping down to pick up a piece of litter, but the strangeness that bothered him was their flight paths, and to a Muggle it would seem odd that the gulls appear to deliberately avoid that large area so far away. Ron knew the reason though.
Not even a gull would dare fly overhead the gaping brick walls; even they avoided the eerie coldness that was like a force field around the towering fortifications. With a flick of his wrist Ron sent the pebble across the water and watched as it skimmed the surface, skipping over the waves.
He looked at his watch again and realized with a jolt that he had been standing there for nearly half an hour. He looked around, cursing inwardly at his stupidity. He hadn't even found the object yet. He spun around, letting his eyes wander over the stones and the white foams bubbling as the waves moved calmly inwards and out.
He saw it five minutes before nine. He eagerly rushed forward and grasped the shoe by its lace. Now with it firmly between his fingers, he lifted his watch upwards and gazed at the second hand moved.
"10…9…. 8…7…6…. 5…. 4…3…2...1." He whispered the countdown under his breath and as he reached one, he shut his eyes, and clutched tightly to the boot. He felt that all too familiar pull at his navel and disappeared with the Portkey.
When he opened his eyes again he found himself being steadied by a familiar face; Mad-Eye Moody stood before him, his face ever aware of his surroundings and his magical eye swirling around in its socket.
"Professor," Ron nodded to him. Moody grunted.
"How many time must I tell you kids that I was never your professor?"
Ron chuckled despite himself, it seemed strange that this time last year he had just started life out of Hogwarts.
With all the trouble in the wizarding world every magical graduate was well appreciated. He had moved up the ranks quickly, and was newly appointed as an Auror.
He had turned down many jobs and offers however, and no one dared to scold him, not even Mrs Weasley. Everybody understood that Hermione was the most important thing and nothing was going to sway his judgement. Nothing would hinder his hope.
"This way," Moody growled and Ron turned to see the tall putrid parapets, standing sturdy. It was about a half a mile into the island. He squinted slightly and he saw without doubt the building that all wizards feared. The prison of Azkaban.
Covering the stretch of land, Ron noticed with curiosity numerous rows of a twisted spiky sort of metal. As Moody uttered a spell to move them out of the way, Ron shot him a questioning look.
"It's called barbed wire." Moody indicated to the dangerous looking metal, eyes glinting. "Turns out, these Muggles contraptions have uses even in this world." Ron bent over to look at the rusty remains and shuddered as he detected a hint of dried blood caked onto some of the needle sharp edges.
"Need I ask why you're here Weasley?" Ron swiftly turned his head towards Moody, and their eyes locked, even Moody's magical eye bore into him, but Ron did not back down.
"Information on the whereabouts of Hermione Granger." Ron spoke defiantly and snatched away the connection. Moody had apparently read enough of Ron's reasons though, and he wasn't scared to question him.
"Weasley, it's been six months."
"She's alive, I know it." Ron walked ahead of Moody and discreetly placed a hand over his heart, above where he kept a picture of her.
Moody said nothing.
As Ron moved closer and closer, he found himself weakening ever so slightly. His chest began to feel incredibly cold. He ignored it and ploughed through the huge steel doors.
Once inside, he fought every instinct within him to keep from screaming. Dementors haunted the doors, their robes whirling slowly around them. Ron felt as though he were going to choke, and he gasped, trying to catch his breath.
Moody passed him a small piece of chocolate and Ron gratefully took it, immediately his insides warmed, melting the ice that seemed to have infested there with the presence of so many Dementors.
He was amazed and slightly unnerved by the set up of the prison. The corridors stretched like a maze. Fire torches dimly lit them. He watched in astonishment, as the flames seemed to grope and gasp for oxygen to burn, with tendrils of the flames flickering now and again. Ron knew why, for inside the building it was icy cold.
The stench within was vile and Ron found it hard not to gag.
He followed Moody silently through the never-ending maze of dark corridors, leading him higher and higher into the battlements. Finally when they reached the top, Ron found the door to a single room, flanked by two Dementors. Moody nodded for him to enter.
Ron moved forward and cringed as a flash of unhappiness buried into his heart. He remembered the devastation at the loss of Hermione. However, this had a different effect than meant by the Dementors. It simply spurred him on further.
As he entered, the door locked with a slam and the noise reverberated in the room, causing Ron to flinch. The room was a simple interrogation room. One table, two chairs.
"Hello, Draco." Ron greeted, his tone strangely calm, but laced with venom.
Malfoy looked up and his face contorted into an expression of pure, undiluted loathing.
"Weasley," he spat.
Ron was pleased to see that he was chained to the chair by strong heavy magical shackles. He looked awful; his once well groomed hair long and shaggy, full of dirt and practically dripping with grease. He was wearing the standard black robe that stated his name, Malfoy, across the top corner.
"By yourself, Weaselkins?" Malfoy's eyes were silvery in the darkness and his face was mixed into a manic expression of spite and anger. Ron knew his cheap distraction tactic was to get him riled up about Harry, or… Hermione. He also knew however, that if he were to dwell on the past too much -- if he were to dwell on Malfoy's crimes -- then he would certainly not be able to stay in this room, and restrain himself from strangling the guy. He stopped himself at the thought of Hermione, and steeled his barriers.
"I'll be asking the questions, Malfoy." Ron reached deep into his pocket and fingered the bottle. "And you had better pay attention, and answer me as best you can unless you want me to resort to other ways of making you talk." He trailed his voice ever so slightly and lifted the Veritaserum from his pocket, swishing it before Malfoy's face, jeering. Malfoy looked slightly affronted but nodded in agreement.
"When did you last see Hermione Granger?"
Malfoy hesitated but continued as Ron unplugged the bottle offhandedly.
"A few days after the final battle." Malfoy had apparently decided the best way to handle the situation was to provoke Ron, and thus each of the words followed in a mocking tone.
Ron's face lit up as this statement, ignoring Malfoy's tone. He had been right, Hermione had not died that day.
"What happened?" His voice was edging desperation, and Malfoy could see this.
"What? The wonderful, brilliant Granger couldn't get herself out of this little mess?" Malfoy's voice was dripping with sarcasm. "I'm not telling you willingly, and you are not allowed to force me."
He sounded like a little child, deprived of their favourite toy. He was smug, and waiting to Ron's next move of attack, he seemed to have switched tactics immediately as he realised that he was giving Ron hope.
"Wrong answer," Ron spoke grimly and called to Moody, who entered quickly. Ron nodded. In an instant Malfoy was stunned. Ron lifted the bottle and poured the serum down his throat.
The next thing Malfoy knew was that he was sitting upright, with a blank expression covering his features.
"Where is Hermione?" Ron placed both hands on the armrests of Malfoy's chair, gazing into the depths of his eyes.
"I don't know." Ron kicked the wall in frustration.
"She is alive though?"
"I don't know." Ron brushed a hand through his hair; at least she was not definitely dead.
"What was the last that you heard from her?"
Malfoy's next response was slow and forced, but the serum was doing its job. Malfoy answered.
"When we took her." His eyes had changed. They were gleaming madly and a wide grin spread across his features. Ron felt a flush of anger rise in the back of is neck.
"Took her?" His voice was menacing and bordering on fury.
"Oh we took her, from the final battle. We snuck up behind her. Nobody saw."
"We?" Ron watched as Malfoy nodded before answering.
"Me, Crabbe and Nott."
Ron could almost hear Hermione in his mind correcting Malfoy's grammar mistake with loathing. He shook it from his mind.
"What--" Ron cleared his throat. "What did you do to her?"
"We tortured her, we beat her and performed the Cruciatus on her numerous times. We knew the battle was lost, but Granger was Potter's best friend, and she had also mocked me at school, that stupid Mudblood. She had it coming."
Ron growled angrily at the remembered insult and dived forward at Malfoy. In a flash he felt himself strung and frozen in midair.
"Are you calm, Weasley?" Moody's voice echoed faintly through the door.
Ron waited slowly for the adrenaline to fade, for the anger to calm. When he was ready he nodded slightly and he felt the magical bond on him slacken. He shot a disgusted look behind him, through the door. He knew Moody could see him.
"Did you kill her?" Ron's heart was beating hard against his chest. He felt as if he had just lapped the Quidditch pitch five times.
"We were going to, but Nott had a better idea." Ron demanded with a voice that sounded so dangerous that the sedated Malfoy quivered.
"We cast a spell on her."
"A spell to make her forget, Nott had been working on it for some time."
"Worse," Malfoy's smiled wickedly.
"The person will know that they cannot remember, they will feel incomplete, and live their lives a total misery."
"Would she ever be able to regain her memory?" Ron knew he was nearly hysterical, but he didn't care. He needed to know.
"It was never tested."
Ron felt his heart skip a beat.
"So what happened to her?"
"We dumped her."
"Where?" Ron was nearly shouting now, his body was shaking uncontrollably. Why hadn't he come to Malfoy sooner?
"I don't know, somewhere in Scotland. Even if you find her she probably won't even remember you." Malfoy laughed again, his eyes were wide and his hands gripping the chair tightly, his knuckles white. "You've lost her, Weasley."
Ron's lip quivered and a flame of rage exploded within him. Turning away from Malfoy slowly he clenched his fists and counted to ten in his head. The spell had never been tested. She might still remember. It didn't matter anyway, there was a possibility that she never died and suddenly Ron found it hard to breathe.
He knew he had searched Scotland at least twice over in the last couple of months. How could he have missed her if she was still alive?
Suddenly Malfoy's head lolled to the side and he passed out. Ron jerked around and shook him violently. Moody rushed in and extracted Ron from Malfoy's robes. Ron recoiled. Nodding curtly at Moody, he turned and left the room.
As Ron reached the beach he collapsed to the ground. He felt the tears coming and let them fall freely. From his pocket he extracted and ate a whole bar of chocolate. His body warmed and felt physically stronger but his mind whirled.
Malfoy was mad, that much he knew, and despite the truth potion Ron knew that the information he had got could be distorted.
All he knew was that if Hermione were in Scotland, then he would find her for sure.
He roughly wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and glanced around the coast to see if anyone had witnessed his weak moment. It was deserted. There was only one other person who could help him right now. He drew his wand and Apparated to Harry's apartment.
A/N So? Don't keep me hanging! Press the little review button and tell me what you think!
Also much thanks to my beta Katieand all of my reviewers, please keep reading, and reviewing it makes my day!