Ginny looked around the pub. Everything was going according to plan thus far; she had made it to her spot in the corner of the pub, undetected and in disguise. Now she just had to wait. Once the Lestranges arrived, she would send a signal back to the rest of the team, and then she would wait to send a second signal giving the go-ahead for the attack.
Why the Lestranges were meeting in a Muggle pub was beyond Ginny.
However, she put that thought aside as she absently turned the page of the latest Evening Standard, keeping her eyes glued on the patrons.
Ginny started and looked up. A tall man with light brown hair was standing next to her. "Er… hi."
The man smiled and sat down at her table. "You're not from around here, are you?"
"I… er…" Ginny was a bit flustered. Who was this? How had he appeared out of nowhere? Was he a Death Eater? Did they know she was here? Was this some sort of trap?
"Oh, its just I've never seen you around here before. Small town like this, one notices new faces." He paused and Ginny noted his hazel eyes. "Especially one as beautiful as yours."
Ginny felt a blush rising on her face. She quickly reminded herself it wasn't really her face, her nose had a glamour on it, and her hair was a different colour. She couldn't talk to this man, whoever he was; she had work to do.
"I'm sorry…" she began, but before she could go further than that he interrupted her.
"I'm Nate." He gave her a dazzling smile. "What's your name?"
Ginny simply sat staring at Nate, trying to decide whether or not it was safe to answer him, or even what name she would give if she did. After a moment's hesitation, she came to a decision. "Name's Mary." She gestured to the Muggle paper in front of her. "If you don't mind, I'm a bit busy."
"Right." He paused and gave Ginny a look that made her tingle all over. Harry had given her a look just like that three nights ago in her living room. The night Ron and Hermione had been married.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small white card and handed it to Ginny. "Listen, we don't get many people around here, and its always nice meeting someone new, like you. Why don't you give me a ring later and I'll show you around the local hotspots… besides this place, of course," he commented, laughing. "My number's on that card, it'd be nice to see you again, Mary." He offered Ginny his hand, which she accepted reluctantly. However, instead of shaking it, he lifted it to his lips. Kissing it gently, he kept his eyes locked on Ginny's.
"Bye," Ginny muttered as he walked away. She watched him walk over to the bar and greet the elderly barman. He looked back at her and gave her a wink. Ginny looked quickly around the pub. Nobody seemed to have noticed their interaction.
The door of the pub opened and girl of maybe seventeen or eighteen stepped through.
"Megs!" the elderly barman shouted merrily, gesturing to the girl to come over. "Nate," he continued loudly. "It's your sister's eighteenth birthday, now what do you say to that?" He clapped Nate roughly on the arm.
Nate gave a proud look at Megs as she sat next to him at the bar. "I think she deserves a drink, Paps."
Paps gave a gruff laugh, "I think you might be right. Here y'are, m'dear." He handed Megs a pint.
Megs smiled and leaned across the bar to give Paps a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks, Pappy. Nate."
Ginny's heart swelled at this interlude between the three obvious friends. They seemed happy, and peaceful. Like they didn't have a care in the world. Feeling a twang of jealousy, Ginny tore her eyes away from the trio and towards the door, which opened once again.
The Lestranges glided in, smug looks plastered on their faces. Ginny, hiding behind her paper, pulled her wand to give the first signal.
Ron paced the length of the small wooden room. It wasn't right. Something was wrong, and here they were, just standing around waiting for a signal that would never bloody come.
The mission had already wound him up. He had wanted to get the Lestranges ever since he found out they'd been the main components on the attack against the Grangers four years ago. He didn't need this delay right now.
"What's going on? Why hasn't she sent the attack signal?" Ron howled, slamming his fist down on the table.
Hermione looked down at her hands, a worried expression painted on her face. "I don't know, Ron." She seemed hesitant, like there was more she wanted to say, but wouldn't. Her eyes darted from the map in front of her on the table, to Ron, to the five other members of their team in the corner.
Ron put his hands flat on the table and took a deep breath. He had to think rationally. He had to be a leader. He couldn't think that his only sister was possibly very much in trouble at that moment. "Do you think maybe they left? The Lestranges?" He looked hopefully at Hermione, but she wouldn't look Ron in the eye. Ron shook his head. No. She would have Apparated back by now if they had left. "This isn't right." He looked imploringly at Hermione, to confirm his suspicions. This time he caught her eye.
"Something's wrong. It's been too long." Hermione slowly sat down into an old wooden chair. "We should've got the next signal from her by now."
Ron caught the meaningful glance she sent his way and he nodded gravely. "We go, then." He pointed to their map with his wand. "Apparition point is here, behind the building. Go on my count. Three… two… one." The room suddenly disappeared and a moment later Ron was thrust into the cover of night, a slight rain falling on them. Ron turned around and caught Hermione's hand. He counted the rest of them to make sure they had all arrived.
"Come on." Hermione opened the back door and lead the party inside. They walked down a small corridor in silence, unsure of what they would see in a moment.
They stopped at the second door, the one that led into the pub. Ron dropped Hermione's hand and looked every member of the party in the eye. "Ready with the wands… now." With that, he opened the door and quickly stepped through, making room for the others. He held his wand level with his chest, ready for an attack.
But what they found was a sickeningly bloody mess.
Ron swore, and he heard Hermione gasp behind him. Muggle corpses were strewn around the room. There were several on the floor and three by the bar. There was even one impaled on the hanging lamp above their heads. There wasn't any movement anywhere. Ron walked into the room, towards the bar. There was an old man slumped over the bar, a man about Ron's age sprawled facedown on the floor, a pool of blood around his head, and a woman, perhaps a few years younger, at the foot of the bar. She was facing the ceiling, her face twisted into agony and terror, but there was no blood.
Cruciatus and then the Killing Curse once they got bored, Ron guessed. Ron forced himself to swallow back the bile that was threatening to rise from his stomach. They were Muggles, with no way of defending themselves against armed Death Eaters.
"Ginny?" Ron ran forward, towards the corner she would have occupied. Not knowing if he wanted to find Ginny there or not. Yet, all he found was a burning copy of The Evening Standard next to an overturned table.
Ron didn't know what to feel. There was an emptiness filling his stomach. The hollow sensation made him feel as though there was something festering inside him, as though some rotting vegetable crawling with little white maggots had been shoved into his gut.
Ginny's body wasn't here. They hadn't killed her and left her here. Ron felt relieved at that, but it only lasted a second. If she wasn't here, and she hadn't Apparated back, then where the hell was she? Ron heard footsteps come up behind him. He turned around, wand at the ready.
It was Hermione. She looked a bit green, and her eyes were rapidly filling with tears. "She's not here." She looked around frightfully for a moment. "She might have gotten out, Ron. She knows what to do in situations like this. Maybe she couldn't Apparate out for some reason, she might be just outside…" Hermione suddenly lifted a hand to her mouth.
Ron turned slowly, numb with the shock. "Alberts," Ron called, his voice cracking. A young member of the Order rushed over to Ron. "Take Branstone. I want you to search the area surrounding this pub for our missing agent. I‘ll be out there in a minute to help."
"Yes, sir." Alberts turned to grab two of the team.
"Perks," Ron called out. Instantaneously, Perks appeared at Ron's side. "Perks, I need you to go back to headquarters. They need to know what happened here." A second later Perks had disappeared. Ron walked to the centre of the pub, back towards the bar and a horrified looking Katherine McDonald. "All right?" Ron asked, knowing she probably wasn't.
McDonald swallowed hard and nodded. "I'm fine."
"Good. Towler," Ron called across the room. Once Kenneth Towler made it across the room, Ron continued giving his orders. "I need you two to help Hermione search for survivors. Can you do that?"
McDonald nodded again, turned and walked towards the nearest bodies. Towler grunted and moved as well. Ron turned and looked back at Hermione just in time to see her rush behind the bar. Ron quickly followed suit, hoping she may have found someone alive. Instead he found Hermione kneeling, retching into a garbage bin. Ron knelt down next to her and put his hand tentatively on her back as the festering feeling in his stomach returned full force.
"I'm fine," she sputtered in an unnaturally high voice. "I'm fine."
Harry knocked on the door of number 12 Grimmauld Place. He hated coming here, but he had no choice. He needed to sleep, and the Burrow was off-limits right now. There was no way he could show his face there, not with the chance of meeting Ginny there.
Hearing the door unlock, Harry straightened up a bit. As the door started to open, Harry took a step forward; however, he immediately had to take a step back as Severus Snape came out of the door.
"Watch where you‘re going, Potter," he sneered.
Harry would have scowled back, but he couldn't summon the energy. Instead he stepped into the door and greeted Lupin. "Remus," Harry nodded curtly.
"Harry, come in." Remus shut the door and muttered a few locking spells as Harry looked around the foyer. It was still the grim place it had always been, even with all the changes. It was as though the remnants from past tenants remained, although all material traces of them were gone. They had removed the plaques of house elf heads, and after a considerable struggle, they managed to remove the portrait of Sirius' mother by eliminating the entire wall it was hanging on.
"You're just in time for dinner," Remus said, moving away from the door.
"Actually, I think I'd like to just get to sleep." Harry took a step towards the stairs.
"No, Harry. Come eat," Remus instructed, in a way Harry knew something had happened.
"What is it?" Harry asked frantically as they walked. "Who is it?"
But Remus said nothing as they made their way to the kitchen. He said nothing as he sat down at the table. He simply sighed and summoned two bowls of stew for them. Remus' hair was almost completely grey now. There were only hints of brown remaining. His robes were frayed and patched worse than ever.
"Remus," Harry insisted. "Tell me."
"Michael Corner was tortured and killed last night."
"Voldemort realized he had been a spy. I believe we might have been fed false information as well. The other day Corner gave us information involving the Lestranges. We planned to ambush them tonight at a Muggle pub up north." Remus took a deep breath. "Tonks and Shacklebolt just left to see if they could send out a warning before it was too late."
Harry stared, unblinking at Remus, waiting for him to continue. When he didn't, Harry asked the inevitable question. "Who went?"
Remus looked Harry squarely in the eye as he said what Harry feared he would say. "Ron and Hermione were leading the team. Ginny went as well."
Harry felt his stomach plummet and his chest freeze. "Wha-"
A frantic sounding knock at the door interrupted them. Harry got up and ran. When he was in view of the door he pointed his wand at it and muttered unlocking passwords, and the door was open before he reached it. Harry recognized Sally-Anne Perks rushing in.
"Oh!" she exclaimed seeing Harry. However, she seemed to recover quickly. "There was an ambush," she said hysterically.
"What happened," Harry urged frantically.
"The Lestrange capture fell through. They must have known we were coming. All those Muggles…"
Harry was reaching the limits of his patience. "But, Ron, Hermione. Are they OK?" Harry was too afraid to ask about Ginny.
Sally-Anne nodded enthusiastically. "We're fine, except… We don't exactly know where Ginny Weasley is. They attacked before we got there. She was there first on lookout."
Whatever relief Harry had felt when he found out Ron and Hermione were fine left as soon as Ginny's name was mentioned. His body suddenly seemed to be made of stone. "Where?" Harry managed to ask.
"At a Muggle-"
"No! A map, show me on a map!" he screamed trying to make her understand the urgency needed.
Sally-Anne nodded and pulled out a map from one of her pockets. She quickly unravelled it and spread it out on the floor of the foyer. Pointing to a spot on the map (a small town in south-west Scotland), a three-dimensional image appeared, showing the pub and surrounding area.
After taking a quick glance over the map, Harry sprung up and bolted for the door. He Apparated almost instantly upon breathing fresh air.
A moment later, Harry was standing outside a pub called The Fennymen, a light mist covering his face and glasses.
"Who's there?" he heard a woman's voice ask, sounding startled. Harry looked over and saw someone holding a wand out, looking as though they were ready to attack.
Knowing that he would be hit with a curse if he moved, Harry said as calmly as possible, "Agent Potter."
Harry heard a sigh from the other person. "Wotcher, Harry."
"Tonks," he said, stepping towards the figure. "What's going on? Have you found her?"
Glancing towards the door, Tonks shook her head. "I haven't heard anything. Ask Hermione or Ron, though. They were in charge of this mission, they'll know more than me."
Harry nodded and asked, "Where are they?"
Tripping over the roots of a tall tree next to the pub, Tonks cursed. Raising a hand to the trunk of the tree to steady herself, she answered darkly, "Inside, looking for survivors."
Muttering a ‘thank you,' Harry walked past Tonks and entered the pub. He looked around, past the dead bodies, looking for his friends. Seeing one of them, Harry sprinted across to the bar.
"Hermione!" he said, reaching the bar. "Where's Ginny."
Hermione whipped around and stared open-eyed at him. "Harry!" she exclaimed.
Looking at her dead on, he repeated, "Where's Ginny?"
Hermione placed a hand to her lips and made a weird noise. "She's not here," she muttered from behind her hand. "There are people looking for her outside. Ron‘s outside."
Harry turned to go, but was stopped by a hand grabbing his wrist. Turning back to Hermione, he gave her a quizzical look. She simply looked him up and down for a moment before speaking.
"Harry, what are you doing here? You look horrible. When was the last time you slept?"
Rolling his eyes, Harry shook his hand from Hermione's grasp. "Why wouldn't I be here?" he said through his teeth. Before she could say anything else, Harry rushed back towards the door and ran outside.
However, he was hindered once again when he knocked directly into Tonks, making the Auror fall to the ground with an "ooph!"
"All right there, Harry?" she asked from the ground.
He offered his hand to Tonks and pulled her off the ground, grunting as a response. Not wanting to waste any more time, Harry ran off again once she was on her two feet.
He ran across a field and into a patch of wood, looking frantically for a head of red hair.
A/N: Thank you so much to anyone who's reading this, and to anyone who's reviewed thus far. It means so much to me. Grazie Mille.
And thank you so very much to the lovely ladies, Lady G, Gaineewop, Aggiebell, and my wonderful beta, Jalyn. Merci Beaucoup.