Ron had come to a realisation: the situation at Hogwarts was worsening.
It hadn't been a sudden change but, over the last few weeks, things had slowly been getting more oppressive and intimidating.
It had all started with the arrival of the new 'School Wardens', who were, in reality, Death Eaters sent to ensure the behaviour of the students and teachers. It wasn't uncommon to find them in the Great Hall at mealtimes, or present in Transfiguration or Charms lessons monitoring the two teachers that Snape considered the greatest threat to his rule: McGonagall and Flitwick. When not monitoring classes, these wardens patrolled the school's corridors and Ron knew, from what he'd heard from the others in the DA, that being caught out after curfew usually resulted in a trip to the hospital wing. The only good thing Ron could think of was that the wardens didn't intrude into the common rooms, although he wasn't confident that this would last.
Secondly, Snape had now started questioning students. Nearly every day, one or two people would be taken into the Headmaster's office and questioned as to the whereabouts of their missing Muggle-born friends.
The people who were called in for questioning invariably came out of it pale, shaken and terrified. Helping these students had become one of the new missions of the DA. If they couldn't do anything openly, then they would certainly help those that the Carrows and Snape were terrorising.
"Weasley, Longbottom," Snape's drawling voice disturbed Ron from his breakfast, making him scatter orange juice all over the table. "You and Longbottom will come to my office at lunchtime."
"Sir?" Ron asked, trying to keep anxiety out of his voice. He'd known it was only a matter of time until he was called to Snape's office. In fact, now that he thought about it, he might be able to use this to his advantage.
"Are you even listening to me, Weasley?" Snape continued. "Or are you just going to continue gawking at me? Surely the order 'come to the Headmaster's office at lunchtime with Longbottom' isn't such a difficult concept to understand. In fact," he paused, "I'm sure the Gryffindors will be glad to escape your atrocious table manners for one meal."
"Y—" Ron stammered, trying to collect his wits and come up with a plan. "Yes, sir."
Snape nodded at him and then, turning on his heels, he strode out of the Great Hall with his robes billowing behind him.
Once Snape was gone, Ron turned to Neville, who was now looking extremely nervous at the prospect of an interrogation from Snape.
"What… What do you suppose they want to talk to us about?" he asked.
"Ginny or Adam, I expect," Ron replied. "They're about the most wanted people right now… well, apart from Harry Potter, of course."
"Could be Hermione, too," Neville added. "I haven't heard anything to suggest she's been caught. In fact," Neville paused, breaking into a smile, "if they question us about anyone, it's a sign that they're still on the run and that must be a good thing."
"You're right," Ron replied, suddenly feeling brighter. He was pretty sure that Adam and Ginny were okay, they were with Harry, but Hermione… Ron wasn't so sure about her. "But listen, I've got an idea," he continued, stealing a glance over at the Ravenclaw table and realising with alarm that Luna seemed to be finishing off her breakfast. "But I need to speak to Luna first. I'll meet you in Transfiguration."
Neville nodded in response, and Ron, trying to act as casually as possible, stood up from the table and began wandering towards the doors. He needed to speak to Luna, but he also needed to make it look like he didn't need to speak to her.
As it happened, Ron managed to beat Luna out of the Great Hall and so he waited for her by the main staircase.
"Luna," he said in a low voice. "Can we walk together?"
"Of course, Ron!" Luna said brightly and Ron sighed. Luna didn't quite grasp the idea of secrecy.
The two of them began walking up the stairs and, as they walked, Ron began speaking, trying to look as if they were just two friends chatting. "Neville and I have been called to Snape's office…"
"Oh no!" Luna exclaimed interrupting him. "What—"
"No, listen," Ron interrupted earnestly. "This is the perfect opportunity. We've been thinking about how we can get into Snape's office and now I've been invited in!"
"But how does that help us?" Luna questioned. "Are you going to steal the Hat with Snape there?"
"Of course not," Ron replied. "That's where you come in. I need you to cause a distraction at lunch and see if we can get Snape to go and sort it out."
"What do you want me to do?" Luna questioned uncertainly.
"I…" Ron hesitated. "I don't know, cause chaos, play a prank… just be yourself."
"Oh," Luna said, falling silent for a second. "Okay… I can think of something, I guess."
"Brilliant!" Ron exclaimed, glancing at his watch and realising he was now five minutes late for his lesson. "Right, I must get to Transfiguration. Good luck!"
With that, Ron dashed off towards Professor McGonagall's classroom. If he was lucky, Professor McGonagall wouldn't take points off for him being late.
Transfiguration was, as usual, an informative lesson, despite the fact that Professor McGonagall was on edge due to the presence of a one of Snape's Death Eaters in her classroom.
Once their Transfiguration double had finished, Ron and Neville sat around the common room, watching the clock. Then, finally, just before lunch was due to start, the two of them stood up and walked apprehensively down to the Headmaster's office.
As they walked, Ron began to feel doubts creeping into his mind. What if the plan failed? What if Snape didn't fall for the trick? His stomach dropped when he realised he might have condemned Luna to a painful detention with the Carrows. Why did I rush into this without thinking?It's never going to work! But then, with a sigh, Ron realised it was too late for second thoughts. They had reached the gargoyle that guarded the entrance to Snape's office and, as they approached, it slid aside for them immediately.
"He's obviously expecting us," Neville commented.
Shrugging at Neville, Ron led the way up the staircase. As he climbed the stairs ,he felt a strange sense of excitement form in his stomach. If they somehow managed to do this, if they could steal the Hat, then they would have helped Harry fulfil his mission, and, hopefully, have helped in overthrowing You-Know-Who.
At the top of the stairs there was a second door and when they reached it, Ron paused, looking back at Neville.
"You ready?" he asked, raising his hand and knocking on the door.
"Enter," Snape's voice came from the other side of the door.
Ron and Neville trooped into the room. Snape was seated at the desk, writing something on a piece of parchment.
"Wait," he commanded without looking up.
Ron and Neville glanced at each other uneasily and waited while Snape ignored their presence. As they waited, Ron looked around the office. The first thing his eyes were drawn to was the large portrait of Professor Dumbledore that hung behind Snape's desk. However, the Professor Dumbledore in the portrait didn't seem to be awake.
I'd be sleeping too, Ron thought, if Snape was the only company I had.
"So, Weasley, Longbottom," Snape said, suddenly turning to face them. "Stand in front of my desk."
Not daring to disobey, Ron and Neville obediently moved to stand in front of the Headmaster's desk.
"I have brought you two here to discuss Hermione Granger," Snape said bluntly.
At this, Ron's insides leapt for joy. If Snape is asking about Hermione, then she hadn't been captured!
"Er…" Neville began. "We haven't seen her since the end of the last school year."
"I know that, Longbottom!" Snape snapped. "I want you to tell me everything you know of her family. Weasley, have you ever been to visit her home?"
"No, sir," Ron replied. "She always came to us. I've only ever seen her parents a couple of times in Diagon Alley."
Snape growled under his breath. "Did she ever mention any frequent holiday destinations, or any relatives that they visited?"
Ron paused, making sure what he was about to say could in no way lead to Hermione being discovered. "I don't know about relatives… but I think she went skiing once."
Snape stared at him for a second, before scribbling something down on a piece of parchment.
"Now…" Snape began, but, before he could continue, he was interrupted by the door to the office being thrown open.
"What is the meaning of this interruption?" Snape shouted, leaping to his feet. "Oh… Minerva."
"Severus," Professor McGonagall said stiffly. "You need to come down to the Great Hall."
At this pronouncement, Ron silently celebrated. Luna has done it!
"Why?" Snape asked.
"Miss Lovegood has done something very odd with the food."
"I am very busy, Minerva," Snape said loftily. "Can someone else not deal with it?"
"You have made it quite clear, Severus, that I'm not allowed to discipline students outside of the classroom anymore, there is no sign of your esteemed deputies, and I refuse to allow the hired muscle you have in the Hall to do it. So," Professor McGonagall paused, raising an eyebrow, "I'm to allow this prank to go unpunished?"
At this, Snape growled under his breath. "Very well, I will deal with it!" he snarled. "You," he continued, pointing to Ron and Neville, "stay here. I am not finished with you yet. You," he said turning to Professor McGonagall, "make sure there's no… mischief."
Once Snape had stormed out of the room, Professor McGonagall harrumphed loudly. "Who does he think he is…" she muttered. "Well," she continued, "he wants me to make sure there's no mischief, but he will not allow me to issue detentions or take points outside of my class!" She looked Ron and Neville in the eye. "I think I'll watch for mischief in the comfort of my office, thank you very much! I suggest you two come with me." With that, she turned and began making her way out of the office.
This is my chance! Ron realised suddenly. So, as Neville also moved towards the doorway, he dashed over to the set of shelves at the back of the room and grabbed the Sorting Hat.
"Mr. Weasley!" Professor McGonagall shouted from the doorway. "What are you doing?"
"Coming, Professor," Ron called and, hiding the Hat behind his back, he dashed towards the door.
Professor McGonagall led the way down the stairs and when they reached the bottom, Ron stood with his back against the wall, waiting for Professor McGonagall to leave.
"Are you okay, Mr. Weasley?" she asked then, suddenly, her eyes narrowed. "What are you up to?"
"Er…" Ron stammered. "I…"
"No," Professor McGonagall said briskly. "Actually, I don't think I want to know. Good day, boys."
"Wow," Neville commented, as Professor McGonagall walked briskly away from them. "McGonagall really can't stand Snape, can she? I can't believe she's letting us get away with doing this!"
Ron couldn't help but laugh. "She's brilliant."
"So," Neville asked, "what now?"
"We need to hide the Hat until we can get it to Harry," Ron said.
Neville nodded. "Room of Requirement?" he suggested.
"That's what I was thinking, let's go."
Relieved that their plan was going so well, Ron and Neville charged into the castle and dashed up the stairs to the seventh floor.
"What sort of room do we want?" Neville asked. "I don't think we can keep it in the normal DA room."
"Hmm," Ron murmured, then he stepped forward and began to pace back and forward in front of the tapestry.
I need a place to hide the Sorting Hat.
I need a place to hide the Sorting Hat.
I need a place to hide the Sorting Hat.
As he finished the final thought, a set of doors materialised and Ron and Neville quickly stepped through.
"Whoa!" Neville exclaimed, as he took in their room that had been created. "This is huge!"
Ron stared open mouthed at the room, it was even bigger than the Great Hall with huge windows which sent shafts of light down upon piles of … things.
"It's bloody enormous!" Ron agreed, gazing around the room. "And look at all this stuff!"
The room was piled high with various objects, presumably hidden here over the years. Amongst the piles, there were alleyways and roads that led deeper into the vast room and, as Ron began to walk deeper into it, it felt a lot like he was entering a maze.
As Ron walked, passing piles of broken and damaged furniture, he wondered if everything here had been hidden to, perhaps, hide the evidence of magical accidents. There were thousands and thousands of books, no doubt banned. He saw Winged Catapults and Fanged Frisbees, some still with enough life in them to hover half-heartedly over the mountains of other forbidden items. There were chipped bottles of congealed potions, hats, jewels, cloaks; there were what looked like dragon eggshells, corked bottles whose contents still shimmered evilly, several rusting swords, and a heavy, bloodstained axe.
"Wow…" Neville said, almost completely speechless as he stared at the contraband all around them. "Wow."
"Let's get this hidden," Ron said, and he hurried forward into one of the many alleyways between all this hidden treasure.
Jogging down the alleyway, he turned right past an enormous stuffed troll, ran on a short way, and took a left at a strange cabinet, finally pausing beside a large cupboard that seemed to have had acid thrown at its blistered surface. He opened one of the cupboard's creaking doors. Then, taking one last look at the Hat, he stuffed it behind a cage containing a skeleton and slammed the door.
"Remember the way?" Ron queried to Neville. They needed to be able to find it again when Harry came.
"Yes," Neville nodded. "But…" he hesitated, "just to make sure…"
Neville seized the chipped bust of an ugly old warlock from on top of a nearby crate, and stood it on top of the cupboard where the Hat was now hidden. He then perched a dusty old wig and a tarnished tiara on the statue's head.
"Nice one," Ron commented. "We can't miss it now! Let's get back to the common room. If we're quick, hopefully they shouldn't be able to pin it on us."
Ron and Neville sprinted as quickly as they could out of the Room of Requirement and the back to Gryffindor Tower. When they reached the common room they charged upstairs, grabbed their school bags and attempted to make it look like they had been revising the whole time.
Everything was going well until, five minutes later, the portrait hole was flung open and Amycus Carrow stormed into the common room, with Professor McGonagall hot on his heels.
As the Death Eater entered the common room, the entire room seemed to gasp. Neither of the Carrows had been in the Gryffindor common room, and it was unsettling to know that they could get in so easily.
"WEASLEY! LONGBOTTOM!" Carrow roared, instantly focusing on them and charging across the room.
Before Ron could draw his wand, before he could even react, Carrow reached him and suddenly, Ron found himself flying through the air. He flew across the room and struck the wall, hard. His elbows and shoulders struck first and pain shot up and down his arms, causing him to cry out.
Less than a second after he hit the wall, Neville struck the wall next to him and, from the way Neville seemed to be struggling, Ron guessed that he was currently experiencing the same feeling of being pressed painfully against the wall by invisible weights.
"WHERE IS IT?" Carrow roared, moving so he was standing less than a foot from Ron and pointing his wand alternatively at the two Gryffindors.
Ron struggled against the wall, but with the pain of being pressed against it and the shooting pains that were still present in his arms, he couldn't do anything.
"I SAID, WHERE IS IT?" Carrow roared again.
"Professor Carrow!" Another voice rang out, but this time it was Professor McGonagall. "I am afraid that I must insist you release these students. I will have no violence in my common room."
"And what are you going to do about it?" Carrow said derisively to Professor McGonagall.
"Do not," Professor McGonagall began and Ron suddenly realised she had her wand in her hand, "take for me some defenceless old woman! Many young upstarts have tested me, to their own peril."
"Well, Minerva," another female voice spoke and, much to Ron's disappointment, Alecto Carrow stepped in through the portrait hole with her wand pointed at Professor McGonagall, "I suspect these young upstarts you speak of were not as well versed in certain arts as my brother and I. I fear that it is you who is in peril here."
Professor McGonagall hesitated. "I…" she began, then seeming to collect herself, she called, "Gryffindors! To your rooms and lock the doors! Now!"
The majority of the students obeyed her immediately and, in seconds, the room was empty apart from a few older students, DA members, Ron, Neville and the adults.
"I told you to go to your rooms!" Professor McGonagall snapped, seeing that some of the Gryffindors had remained behind.
"We're not leaving!" Seamus replied defiantly.
"So, Minerva?" Alecto gloated. "You don't wish your Gryffindors to see you humiliated? Oh well…" Carrow paused as if savouring the moment. "Do continue, brother."
"So, Weasley," Amycus said, stepping forward and pointing his wand once again at Ron's throat, "tell me where it is!"
"Don't…" Ron gasped. "I don't know what you mean!"
Ron saw Amycus' lip curl in anger and he surged forward, pressing his wand into Ron's temple and wrapping his hand around his throat, practically cutting off his air supply.
"Tell me, or you'll suffer!" Carrow snarled.
"No!" Professor McGonagall cried. "Release him this instant!"
"What is going on in here?" A new voice roared, and now Snape swept into the common room; he was followed by one of the wardens who was holding a struggling Luna.
"Severus," Professor McGonagall said. "Command your lackey to unhand Mr. Weasley immediately and tell this woman to remove her wand from my back!"
"Amycus, release them. Alecto, lower your wand!" Snape ordered. "Do you want a bloody rebellion on your hands? Try and use your brains occasionally!"
The two Carrows looked completely appalled at the orders they had been given, but they reluctantly obeyed and Ron soon felt himself lowered to the floor.
"Now," Snape said, "what is going on?"
"These two—" McGonagall began.
"Silence, Minerva," Snape said casually. "I wasn't speaking to you. Amycus, what is going on?"
"He won't admit that he took it," Amycus told Snape. "I was about to loosen his tongue."
"Have you searched the tower?"
Both of the Carrows looked back at Snape blankly.
"Incompetents!" Snape exclaimed. "Search Gryffindor Tower from top to bottom! If they've hidden it, it'll probably be here."
The Carrows continued to stare at Snape, and, finally, Alecto spoke. "What about these two?"
"I will deal with them. You two go," he said, pointing to the Carrows. "And you," he said pointing to the warden. "Leave Lovegood here and tear this tower apart until the Sorting Hat is found!"
Once the Carrows and the warden had gone, Snape rounded on Ron.
"I know you took it, Weasley," he snarled. "And I know you were in on this prank, too, Lovegood. My patience will only last so long. You will have detention every day until it is found. You had better hope it is found before my patience runs out."
Then, completely ignoring Professor McGonagall, Snape turned and swept back out through the portrait.
"Well," Professor McGonagall said, her voice laced with stress, "I certainly hope you three have a good reason for doing what you did," she began. "You've endangered the rest of the school and put yourselves in so much danger that I…" She hesitated. "I don't think I'm going to be able to help you out of it."
"Professor," Ron replied, "there is a good reason. I…" Ron paused, not knowing quite what to say.
"I understand, Mr. Weasley," Professor McGonagall replied. "You have certainly proven yourself this year and if you say you have a good reason then, for now, that is enough for me. If you are working for whom I suspect you are working for, then I have to assume this is part of some larger plan. I just hope that Snape doesn't decide to take this out on the school as a whole. If he does, expect me to be asking more questions," she sighed. "Now. I need to go and make sure they don't do too much damage while searching the tower. I would suggest you make yourselves scarce. Without Snape to rein them in, the Carrows are extremely dangerous. Fortunately, our illustrious Headmaster does at least understand if blood is split in the school, especially pure-blood, then it will cause significant issues for him."
"I…" Ron began. "Thanks for sticking up for us, Professor."
"I will always stick up for you Mr. Weasley," Professor McGonagall said. "But I do not think the time for open rebellion has come yet. However, the Death Eaters can push us only so far, as Snape is well aware." Then her lips quirked upwards almost in a smile. "Remember, we have them outnumbered in the school. The only question is how many students will side with Snape…"
Ron paused, he hadn't thought of it that way, he was pretty sure all of Hufflepuff, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw would side with McGonagall, but, apart from the DA, how many of them would actually be of any use if it came to a fight?
February 2nd 1998
The next evening, Ron, Neville and Luna waited anxiously outside Amycus Carrow's classroom. Tonight was their first detention.
"Okay," Ron said, "whatever happens, we stick together, yeah?"
"Yes," Neville replied.
"Together," Luna added.
"Well, that is charming," the voice of Amycus Carrow came through the door as it opened. "We could hear your little unity speech from inside. Now, come on in."
As Ron entered the room with Luna and Neville, he felt a strong sense of foreboding. This was going to be bad.
Once they were in the room, they were made to line up against one wall. As Ron looked around the room, he noticed, with alarm, that both of the Carrows were in the room.
"Now, the Headmaster has been called to a meeting, and he thought we should postpone this detention, but I feel confident that we'll manage in his absence."
Oh, no! Ron thought. As much as I hate Snape, he's at least not as focused on hurting us as the Carrows are.
Carrow continued, "I think for tonight we will practice some Dark Arts."
Ron stared angrily at Carrow. What are they going to make us do?
"I think the Cruciatus Curse would be appropriate. Mr. Weasley, take out your wand and practice on Miss Lovegood."
"What?" Ron gasped. "No!"
"She will feel the curse, be it from your wand or mine," Amycus said, pointing his wand at Luna and then back at Ron. "Unless, of course, you wish to tell me where you put the Sorting Hat? It's your choice."
"Don't do it, Ronald!" Luna exclaimed suddenly. "If you do it, you'll be as bad as them!"
Ron hesitated, then, after a moments thought, he moved his hand towards his wand. I can't tell them where the Hat is, but surely it'll be easier on Luna if I do the curse? he thought.
"No, Ron!" Luna shouted again. Then, without warning, she collapsed to the floor with a heart-rending scream.
"Luna!" Neville cried, rushing towards her.
As Neville began to cross the room, he too fell to the floor and screamed as his limbs twitched violently.
Ron stood there feeling completely appalled at what these supposed teachers were doing to his friends.
"Leave them alone!" he screamed at the Carrows. "Just leave them alone!"
"Tell us where the Hat is!" Alecto Carrow shouted, apparently taking some sort of perverse pleasure from the torture.
"Stop!" Ron pleaded, "Just stop hurting them!"
Then, much to his surprise, the torture stopped and Neville and Luna's screams ceased. Ron immediately charged forward, anxious to help his friends, but, before he'd even stepped three paces towards them, tremendous pain wracked his body, sending him crashing to the floor.
Ron screamed, he writhed and screamed some more. The pain wouldn't stop. He couldn't think. He couldn't control his body. It was all too much. It had to end. It needed to end… Please just let me go! I don't want to do this anymore!
The pain stopped as suddenly as it had begun. Gratefully, Ron opened his eyes and found Neville and Luna crouched next to him.
"Ron," Neville, who was looking extremely shaken and pale, said, "are you okay?"
"Y-Y-Yes…" Ron managed to stammer.
"Step back!" Amycus Carrow said silkily. "I've not finished with your illustrious leader yet."
Oh no! Ron despaired. I don't think I can… I can't…
Neville and Luna didn't move. Carrow's threat only seemed to spur them on and they both stood directly in front of Ron.
"If you want him you'll have to get through me!" Neville snarled.
From his position sprawled on the floor, Ron glared at the Death Eater with a look of complete hatred.
"So," Alecto began speaking, "now that you've all experienced a taste of what we have to offer, are you sure you don't want to tell us where you hid the Sorting Hat?"
"No!" Ron spat. "Get stuffed!"
The only answer Ron received was the return of the dreaded pain from the Cruciatus Curse, but this time, it only lasted about a second and Ron was suddenly aware that not only was he free of the pain, but Neville was screaming instead.
"Neville!" Ron cried. "No!"
Then Luna began screaming as Amycus Carrow joined in, and he saw her collapse on the floor, landing practically on top of Neville.
At the sight of his friends' pain, Ron saw red. He leapt to his feet and, despite the pain in his limbs, all his attention was focused on getting to the Carrows and forcing them to stop. He drew his wand and charged at the Carrows, but before he was even half way across the room, he felt something impact with his stomach. With a cry of surprise, he flew through the air and hit the nearest wall with a bone-crunching thud.
Then the world spun, pain enveloped his entire body, and then there was nothing.
The next thing Ron knew, he opened his eyes and found himself looking straight up at Luna's face.
"Oh, good!" she exclaimed. "We weren't sure how long you were going to sleep."
"W-Wha—?" Ron slurred, feeling stiff, sluggish and confused.
"You're in the hospital wing," a voice said from somewhere out of his eye-line and Ron turned his head to see Neville sitting in a nearby chair.
"What happened?" he queried.
"You broke your arm," Luna said simply. "The bone was even sticking out. It wasn't quite what I imaged a bone to look like, though."
Despite everything, Ron chuckled. He knew that if Luna was back to her quirky ways, she couldn't have been hurt too badly.
"What about you guys?" Ron asked.
"We're fine," Neville replied. "Just some aches and pains."
Ron nodded. "Wha…" He yawned widely, suddenly feeling incredibly tired. "Huh…"
"Madam Pomfrey had to give you some painkiller. She said they might make you sleep," Neville supplied.
"Oh," Ron replied drowsily. "So…" he questioned, "did they just let us go?"
"Oh yes," Luna replied. "I think when they realised you were hurt, they were worried Snape would find out."
Before either Luna or Neville could reply, Madam Pomfrey appeared in Ron's eye-line.
"I think I have to agree with Miss Lovegood's theory," the matron replied. "I've just had a very interesting conversation with our deputy headmaster. He's informed me that you were injured while taking an unauthorised fly."
"What!" Neville exclaimed. "But that's not…"
"I'm quite aware of what happened, Mr. Longbottom," Madam Pomfrey interrupted briskly. "Unfortunately, I am not allowed contact with anyone outside of the school in case I decide to inform any parents about injuries that may occur. I don't have any choice but to accept their orders. At least obeying their orders…" She shuddered. "As much as I hate it, if I follow their rules, I'm at least here to help students recover. If I disobey them…" She fell silent, and stared into space for a second. "If I disobey them, I'm afraid they'll decide the school doesn't need me, and then who will heal the injuries they inflict?"
Ron couldn't argue with that, at least with Madam Pomfrey here, people could get medical attention.
"For now, Mr. Weasley," Madam Pomfrey continued, "you can stay here overnight, but you two need to get back to your common rooms before curfew. I don't want you two ending up in here as well."
The trio looked as each other and, after a few seconds' hesitation, Ron nodded. "I'll be fine. Nev, will you see Luna back to Ravenclaw Tower?"
"Sure," Neville replied faintly. "We'll pop up before breakfast."
"Thanks," Ron answered with a tried smile. "At least if they make us go to detention tomorrow, we'll have Snape," he laughed. "I never though I'd be glad that I had detention with Snape."
Adam February 6th 1998
"Stupefy!" Ginny said, leaping forward and sending a Stunner at Hermione.
"Protego!" Hermione cried.
Hermione's shield easily absorbed Ginny's Stunning Spell and she immediately replied with a Stunner of her own.
Ginny, having seen the spell coming, agilely leapt to one side and replied, "Stupefy! Stupefy! Stupefy!"
Three Stunners one after the other were far too much for Hermione's shield and it collapsed under the onslaught, forcing Hermione to dive frantically to her left, where she tripped and landed on the ground with a thump.
Ginny, taking advantage of Hermione's vulnerable position, quickly ran towards her and, when Hermione pulled herself to her feet, she was soon held at wand-point by Ginny.
"I win," Ginny said with a wide smile, lowering her wand and helping Hermione to her feet.
"Brilliant job, both of you!" Adam praised.
"I lost, though…" Hermione said, looking downcast.
"Yeah, but your spells were excellent. Ginny won because she has more experience. You rely too much on shields when you should try jumping and dodging spells."
"Oh," Hermione replied, still looking downcast.
"You were really good though," Ginny praised. "If you had just dived out of the way instead of trying to protect yourself against my last lot of Stunners, then you'd have had time to do it properly and wouldn't have tripped. You might have even been able to Stun me back before I was ready."
"Thanks," Hermione replied. "I'll remember all this. I will be better next time."
"I know you will," Adam answered.
"But…" Hermione interrupted, "am I good enough?"
Adam sighed. That really was the question. Hermione had pleaded to be allowed to go with them when they tried to break into Malfoy Manor, but Adam had refused unless she could prove she could defend herself.
Adam glanced over at Ginny and saw her nodding her head. He thought for a second, then coming to a decision, he replied, "Yes, I suppose you are."
At this, Hermione grinned. "I won't let you down."
"I know you won't," Adam replied. "Now, shall we head back?"
"Yeah," Hermione replied. "We still have more aerial photographs to go over. I'm convinced that, as it's bound to be hidden from Muggles, the manor will appear on the photographs as ruins. It's what wizards always use."
Adam nodded. To her credit, Hermione had come up with an excellent idea for locating Malfoy Manor. Firstly, she knew that the Manor was in Wiltshire. Then, she had been able to use a Muggle library in London to acquire aerial photographs of large areas of the county.
However, it wasn't an ideal situation. So far, they had found three likely sets of ruins and they weren't even half way through the maps of the county yet. By the end of their search, Adam knew that they would have to go out and physically check each of the deserted ruins and, hopefully, one of them would be Malfoy Manor.
Ron February 6th 1998
Ron was dozing in one of the chairs in the Gryffindor common room. He was absolutely exhausted. He had lessons, DA meetings, plus, he was in detention pretty much every night.
After their first detention, Snape has insisted on splitting the three of them up. Some evenings they had detention with Snape himself, some evenings they had detention with the Carrows and some evenings they had detentions with Hagrid.
As much as the detentions with Hagrid were a very welcome break, the detentions with Snape and the Carrows were hard to cope with and, even after only four detentions, he wasn't sure how long he was going to be able to cope with them.
"Ron!" A voice and the feeling of someone shaking him woke him with a start.
"Wha—?" Ron said, shaking himself awake. He blinked and saw one of the other Gryffindors, Demelza Robins, standing in front of him. "Padma is outside. She wants to speak to you."
That got Ron's attention. What was Padma doing here?Why had she risked sneaking all the way over to the Gryffindor common room?
Jumping to his feet, Ron dashed across to the portrait hole and ushered Padma inside.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Luna's disappeared," Padma answered immediately. "She didn't come back from her detention."
"We've got to go out and look for her!" Ron exclaimed, suddenly feeling a terrible sense of worry forming. Something bad had happened, he just knew it.
"We…" Padma said, swallowing, "We've already been out — Anthony, Terry and I. We checked the hospital wing, the Carrows' room and the Room of Requirement."
Ron just stared blankly straight ahead. "I can't think of anywhere else…" he said softly. "I was with Hagrid tonight and Neville was with Snape."
"Neither could we," Padma replied. "And… and, it's just getting too dangerous to spend too long in the corridors, even for Prefects."
Ron was silent once again. Trying to come up with a plan, something, anything, they could do to help Luna.
"We—" Padma continued, "We found this in Luna's room. I think… we think this is why… why she's gone."
Ron stared down at what Padma had just pulled out of the pocket of her robes. It was a copy of the crazy magazine that Luna's dad published, The Quibbler.
Quickly grabbing it from Padma, Ron read the title:
The Truth Behind the Death of Albus Dumbledore
"Oh… no," Ron mumbled. "Did he not know how much trouble printing something like this would get him in?"
Before Ron could read anymore of the article, the portrait hole opened and he hurriedly stuffed The Quibbler behind his back.
"Ron?" Neville exclaimed, nearly bumping into him and Padma. "Padma! What's going on?"
"Get in and close the portrait," Ron ordered and, as Neville stepped fully inside Gryffindor Tower, Ron noticed that he was hobbling. "You okay?" Ron asked with concern.
"Yeah," Neville answered. "My leg's beginning to act up. I'll be fine, but…" He paused. "Something's happened, hasn't it?"
"We think—" Padma began, choking back a sob. "We think Luna's been kidnapped."
"Kidnapped!" Neville exclaimed loudly.
"Ssh!" Ron hissed. "Take a look at this."
Ron then withdrew the copy of The Quibbler and held it out so Neville and he could read.
The Truth Behind the Death of Albus Dumbledore —Was Adam Winters framed? —Was it all a plot by You-Know-Who? —Is our Minister for Magic working for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named? Inside: The truth behind the greatest conspiracy of our time revealed. Also, never-before information about the Boy-Who-Lived: Harry Potter.
Neville groaned loudly. "They've probably taken Luna so her dad starts printing what they want," he sighed. "It's probably the same crazy stuff that's always in there but this is close enough to the truth to probably worry them."
Ron could only nod in response.
"What can we do?" Padma exclaimed.
"I …" Ron hesitated, hating what he was about to say. "I'll speak to Professor McGonagall to see if she can help, but if Luna has been taken by the Death Eaters, there's probably nothing we can do."
"But we need to do something! We're like captives here for them to take as soon as our families do something they don't like."
"I know…" Ron said, thinking hard. He should have seen this coming. He should have been able to do something to protect Luna. "We need to have a DA meeting and we need to think of way to hide people if we think they're going to be taken."
"We need some way to get people out if we need to," Padma said thoughtfully, "a way for people to escape if they have to. So they can get back to their families."
"That's exactly what we need, but how we can do that?" Ron replied. "I just don't know."
Hogwarts was supposed to be one of the safest places in the Wizarding world. If that was true, how in Merlin's name would they be able to sneak people out of the school? Then, as he was thinking, his mind drifted back to his conversation with Ginny on the way to school after Christmas. She'd seemed pretty confident that she and Harry could get into Hogwarts. So, if they could get in, then there must be a way to get people out.