Harry watched the crowd very closely. No one seemed to be acting suspiciously. After an hour, Harry chastised himself, "You are just too paranoid to be among normal people."
The guests began to taper off and finally it was time for the newly married to take their leave. Tonks and Lupin left first. Harry was sorry he hadn't gotten to go over some final details with Lupin, but he finally admitted to himself that Lupin's concentration should have been on Tonks. As Bill and Fleur prepared to go, Harry saw what Fred and George had done to their broom. The twigs had been dyed dark purple. As soon as Bill and Fleur mounted the broom, it began to emit shapes. They flew away leaving a contrail of purple hearts. Everyone left in the garden cheered. Soon they were just a dot on the horizon, then they were gone.
"Well, time to clean up," said Mrs. Weasley after she said goodbye to the last of Fleur's family.
"It's a shame that Tonks and Lupin didn't have any family here at their wedding," noted Hermione.
"They have no one," responded Mr. Weasley. "Neither of them have any living relatives. It's good to see them together."
"Yes," said Mrs. Weasley, "but it's just as good to see Bill and Fluer tie the knot. After Bill was injured I was afraid..."
"You needn't have worried," said Harry. "Fleur can see the inside character, not just the outside man."
Ginny turned to him. "How do you know that?" she asked.
"I talked, well not really talked...I listened to her grandmother. She told me," said Harry.
"You spent time alone with a Veela," asked Mr. Weasley in amazement. "Not many men can say that!"
His wife hit him with a balled-up napkin. Every one laughed and started to clean up the mess left from the wedding.
They had worked for a quarter of an hour when a huge crack sounded. A single red and gold phoenix feather appeared suspended in the air outside the Burrow. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley looked at each other apprehensively.
Mr. Weasley took the feather by the quill and waved it in the air. Rubeus Hagrid appeared in a shimmering mist.
"Arthur, quick, is Perfesser McGonagall there?" the panic in his voice was barely disguised.
Minerva McGonagall swept to Arthur Weasley's side. "What is it Hagrid?" she asked quickly.
"Perfesser McGonagall! The Minister of Magic was just 'ere. 'e needed you an' me an' any 'elp we could muster. The giants 've come back ter Britian. They're atackin' the countryside outside Bristol. Minister Scrimgeour wants me ter take Grawp an' meet 'im there. 'e wants you too, an' any other Order members we can scrounge up. Who's with yeh?"
McGonagall looked around quickly. "Molly, Arthur, and Charlie," said McGonagall quickly. "All the others have left."
"Well I'll need one o' yeh ter come 'elp me get Grawp ter Bristol. If I 'ave ter do an overland trek, it'll take a month o' Sundays."
"I'll be right there Hagrid," committed McGonagall. She turned to the Weasleys. "This could be bad if the Minisrty is asking the Order for help. You do what you feel is right!" McGonagall turned on the spot and disapparated.
Harry had not just stood idly by as he heard of the dire need. He focused his entire mind on how much he needed Capricio. In seconds, the dragon was at Harry's side.
"I want to help," said Harry vehemently.
"No Harry, you're not in the Order, you're under age, and you're not equipped to fight giants," said Mr Weasley.
"I beg to differ," said Harry. "I have been tested in battle with giants, and I have Capricio."
"We'll go too," said Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Fred and George in unison.
Capricio looked toward Ron and growled menacingly.
"None of that," scolded Harry, "we're on the same side!"
Luna, Neville and Verity chimed in their desire to assist in the battle.
Fane watched from behind Ron and said nothing.
"Harry, you can't go," said Charlie. "You'd be doing magic right beside Ministry wizards. Even if they weren't fussed about you being underage, even Ministry wizards would notice a dragon. Be reasonable, it could get Capricio confiscated or killed!"
Harry started to complain but Charlie cut him off. "Unless I took Capricio with me! I have a dragon handler's license. No one's going to question me."
"Then I'll go with you," shouted Harry.
Capricio looked from Harry to Charlie. He left Harry's shoulder and flew to Charlie.
"That's settled," said Charlie.
"No it's not!" shouted Harry.
Capricio growled at Harry. Harry looked at the dragon thunderstruck.
"Yes it is," said Charlie. "Mum, dad, if I'm going to direct a dragon, I need my gear. I'll meet you between Bristol and Bath!" He summoned his broom, turned on the spot and disapparated.
Harry looked at the empty space in disbelief.
"The rest of you lot," said Mr. Weasley, "some of you are still under age..." Fred and George began to complain, but Mr. Weasley cut them off. "None of you are Order members. I've no time for arguments. If you were there, Molly and I would spend most of our time looking over our shoulders making sure you were safe. You can do us the most service by staying here where it's safe. Let the Order and the Ministry sort this out!"
"You can clean up around here," said Mrs. Weasley. We love you all." She and her husband turned in practiced unison and disappeared.
"Well can you beat that!" said Ron. "We train and train, and they leave us here. I've half a mind to follow anyway."
"You're right about one thing," said Fred. "You have half a mind. We're not going to win on this one. You could hear it in mum's voice. Even I know better than argue with that tone."
"Well," said Luna dreamily, "I'm glad I stayed so I could help clean up." She began gathering dishes as if no fuss had been made. Neville went to her aid.
Fane and Verity avoided Harry's eyes and started gathering tablecloths.
Harry turned to Ron and Hermione. "Shall we follow?"
"If you are going, I'm going too," demanded Ginny.
"You're underage," reminded Harry.
"Look who's talking," she shot back. "You're underage too."
Harry was about to answer when Luna put her hand on Harry's arm. "It's all right Harry. We'll get our chance. He also serves who sits and waits."
Luna's quiet manner diffused Harry's aggravation. He slumped into a seat. The others left him to his misery. Ginny sat down beside him.
"I know how frustrating this must seem to you. It's frustrating to me too. We are capable of much, but Harry, you're the only one who has faced off against a giant. Even Hagrid sounded scared. Maybe we need to start smaller like we did with the D.A. training." She squeezed his shoulder and started to help the others.
"Let them have their way," thought Harry. "I can still have mine." He stalked off to the Burrow. At the back step he vented some of his anger by kicking one of the Wellington boots half way across the garden. When it landed, a garden gnome climbed out and walked dizzily away.
As soon as Harry was inside the Burrow, he sped up. Halfway up the stairs he almost ran over Dobby.
"Is Harry Potter all right?" asked Dobby.
"I'm far from all right Dobby," he responded angrily.
"Can Dobby help? Dobby would do anything for Harry Potter."
"I don't see how. The world seems to have just conspired against me." Harry bypassed the elf and retrieved his haversack. He was fingering his wand when he heard a giggle and then a loud cackle. Myrtle was waiting for him take off his robe, and Peeves was leering beadily.
"Potty's thinkin' of bein' naughty!" cackled Peeves. "Potty's thinkin' of doin' magic!"
"Shut it Peeves or I'll glue you lips together," said Harry angrily.
Peeves blew a great raspberry. "I've not got to mind my manners now. The great lady and the Headmistress is gone. Peeves can do whatever he wants." He zoomed out the window to find someone to torment in the garden. Myrtle went with him.
Harry changed out of his dress robes and defeatedly headed back downstairs with his haversack. He knew he was going to get an argument for his plan, but he didn't care. As he descended the stair he heard the crack of apparition. "Ginny!" he shouted, and pelted down the stairs and through the empty house.
As soon as he hit the garden, he looked for Ginny. She was nowhere to be seen.
"Where did Ginny disapparate to?" he asked Hermione.
"She didn't disapparate anywhere Harry. Honestly, I think you are a bit paranoid. Ginny took care of Fane and then she and Ron went for a walk to talk about a double wedding." Hermione went from anger to blushing in an instant.
"Discussing a wedding at a time like this! And what's wrong with Fane?" asked Harry.
"He said he was feeling ill," explained Hermione. "Ginny showed him to the bathroom. When she got back out here, Ron invited her to go for a walk. They went toward the paddock."
"Why didn't you go with them?" demanded Harry.
"I thought they needed some brother-sister time," said Hermione. "They don't always see eye-to-eye. I thought it was a good thing. Why?"
"Look around Hermione. We are here alone without any adults. Doesn't the series of coincidences bother you?" Harry waited.
"I see what you mean," she said suddenly nervous. "Let's go find them."
Together, they hurried up the hill. They passed the bowery but saw no sign of Ron and Ginny.
"This doesn't seem right," said Hermione. "Let's hurry!"
They had almost reached the crest of the hill, when Peeves came screaming toward them.
"Murder! Flee for your lives! They are fighting! The Dark Lord strikes through his minion! Brother and sister fighting! Sister calls for help! Someone's going to die! Murder! Kidnap! Flee!" Peeves continued to scream as he zoomed down the hill.
Harry and Hermione sprinted to the top of the hill. Ron and Ginny were gone.
Harry's mind raced with the enormity of the information.
"It can't be Ron, it has to be Voldemort's doing. He has Ginny and Ron! It's just what I dreaded most since I began my quest to vanquish Voldemort. He is attacking me through my friends!" said Harry to Hermione, as he fought down the urge to vomit.
"Voldemort won't kill them right at the off," continued Harry, pacing the hilltop. "His plans would be to use them as leverage against me. Little comfort, but it offers a small window of hope. If we act quickly enough, we might be able to save them before Voldemort has a chance to do damage. I believe that Ginny and Ron aren't Voldemort's target. I believe he abducted them just to get me to react predictably, but how did he know I was here?"
Harry purposefully calmed himself. He gathered his thoughts and layered them. "What resourced do I have? How would Voldemort expect me to react? How can I make it appear that I'm acting in an expected way while working toward my own goal of freeing Ginny and Ron? What course do I take from here?" The entire process took less that a minute but when Harry emerged from the layering he saw that Hermione was ashen faced and trembling.
"I just can't believe it. I can't believe Ron is involved. Oh, Harry, what are we going to do?" wailed Hermione with a tremble in her voice.
"I don't believe Ron is involved," said Harry flatly. "First, let's decide who we are." He then ticked off on his fingers... "You, me, Neville, Luna, Fred, George, Fane and Verity. McGonagall, along with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, and Charlie and Capricio have disapparated to fight the giants. I could, given a bit of time, trace the magic of their disapperation. Bill and Fleur, along with all the wedding guests, are all long gone. Peeves cleared out. There is no one else. If I'm to take time tracing magic, I'll be tracing Ginny and Ron!"
"You are forgetting Dobby and Moaning Myrtle," said Hermione with more control in her voice now that something was being done. "And we can call up the D.A. in short order."
"Yes, and I may be leading anyone I call up...to their death," said Harry bitterly.
"You know the commitment that each member of the D.A. has made. Each of us would willingly give our life to stop," Hermione's voice faltered a bit, "Voldemort," she finished.
"I don't want anyone to have to give their life!" Even as he shouted the words, two memories forced their way to the front of Harry's thoughts vying for attention... "A hero cares not for the loss of their own life. A true leader, however, recognizes that a time will come when necessity may require the lives of those who will serve the cause." Quickly on the heels of those words came "When you realize you are under attack, don't wait for the second blow to fall. Respond with all your resources." Harry quickly weighed the memories and launched into a series of instructions for Hermione.
"You're right. Gather up the twins, Fane, Verity, Neville, Luna, Dobby, and Myrtle and bring them back here. I'll determine where Ron and Ginny went from here and how best to follow them."
With her instructions in hand, Hermione did not ask questions. She turned on her heel and in a swirl of robes and a "pop" she disapparated.
Harry fought down the panic that threatened to engulf his mind. He mastered the rage that he knew was clouding his judgment. As a calm, cold sense of purpose filled his mind, Harry began to look for the traces of magic he knew must be present if a dark deed had been done. In only a matter of moments Harry found what he had dreaded. His heart sank. Arnold, Ginny's pet pygmy puff, lay motionless amid greenish traces of dark magic. A terrible battle had raged in the little glen and someone had access to Voldemort's power and training. As Harry searched more closely he found a scrap of black cloth torn from a cloak, partially hidden under a low bush. Harry held the scrap in his outstretched hand concentrated his mind on "Centinella Previa." Immediately he could see a floor covered in dust, "No, that isn't right," he thought, "it's not dust, it's flour. It's a mill of some sort. Dark streets, boarded and broken windows, a foul stream, a bent street sign proclaiming...Spinner's End. Spinner's End, it appears to be manufacturer's row. It had to be an old industrial section, but where exactly?" Harry held the cloth up in his hand and was heartened to see the view tilt upward. Far in the distance, Harry could see the outline of a huge Ferris wheel that told him unmistakable he was seeing London. Orienting himself to where the Eye and Bullet appeared under the disapparation trail, Harry felt confident he could apparate to within a short distance of the mill he saw associated with the cloth. He had no more than gotten his bearings when Hermione and her entourage arrived.
Harry knew that Hermione could have only given a brief explanation to the assembled group in her hurry to get them so quickly. Without preamble Harry began, "Ginny and Ron are gone. I don't know much more than that Peeves screeched they were fighting for their lives before he vanished. I do know that initially they went to the outskirts of London. If they didn't disapparate to another location, I am confident that I can guide us to within a short distance of where they are. This is most likely a trap. The trail was too easy to follow, the magic too blatant. It is probably Voldemort's intent to lure us, me more particularly, to a location of his choosing for a confrontation. I believe that is why Ginny and Ron have been taken."
As the words sank in, Fane cleared his throat and said, "Conscience requires me, though loath I am to bring it up, Harry, are you sure they have been "taken"? You have hinted at the possibility that we have a counterfeit confederate among us. Now I know that Ron is your best mate and Ginny is one of the trusted, but I have to ask; could either Ron or Ginny be the traitor?"
Harry raised his wand and Fane blanched. "Don't ever say anything like that in my presence again. Both Ginny and Ron have faced more than their share of death and danger by just being my friends. I trust them completely."
Fane pressed, but with a placatory edge to his now shaking voice, "Seizing on what Hermione told us, Peeves said Ron and Ginny were fighting for their lives. I don't want to belabour his words, but did he say the fight was against someone else or against each other?"
Harry thought back to Peeve's cackling announcement and realized it could be taken either way. Unbidden came a memory of Ginny and Ron in a Hogwart's corridor yelling, with wands drawn, and making very sincere threats towards each other. Then a memory of Hermione setting a flock of birds after Ron when he was with Lavender Brown. Harry's mind raced with the thought, "Do I really know how far they would go? Do I really know how far anyone would go?" Harry wrestled with the question. Immediately he recognized that he either had to trust Ginny and Ron, or he had to conclude that one or both might be in league with Voldemort.
Still not lowering his wand, Harry said, "Fane, I really don't know who they were fighting. For all I know, they were fighting you. Regardless, I know they are gone and I don't believe it was by choice. We proceed with trust in both Ron and Ginny. We will find out whom Voldemort is using, but it isn't Ginny and it isn't Ron. You either commit to help both of them or you stay here. As a matter of a fact," said Harry surveying the assembled group, "any of you who don't particularly want to die today may stay here. You could always alert the Ministry of the kidnapping, or you could stay at the Burrow and wait for the Weasley's to return. Either way, I'm not forcing anyone to come, but your decision must be made in the next thirty seconds because that is when I'm leaving." Harry fell silent, the ominous pronouncement floating heavily in the air.
Fane shifted slightly where he stood but said no more.
Cries of protest assailed Harry's ears. It was difficult to say who was the most vehement, Hermione or the Weasley twins. Harry raised his hand to still the cacophony. Silence. "Fine, I take it you are all willing to go. Just be warned that Voldemort will be looking to kill anyone who is with me. Your skills and training will be put to mortal test. If you stay here I won't think the less of you." Silence thundered once again. "Very well, prepare to side-along apparate. I will guide you. Stay connected as we apparate. Scatter when we appear at the other end of the journey. If we are not attacked immediately, we will get the lay of the land and reassemble to plan our next move. If we are attacked, work as teams and protect each other's backs. I want everyone disillusioned before we leave."
At this Fane looked more than a bit embarrassed and said to no one in particular, "Foreign stuff that magic is to me. I've never been very good at it, could someone assist me with the charm?"
Harry considered the courage it had taken for Fane to make the request of this group after questioning Ron and Ginny's loyalty and said, "Fane, stand by Hermione and she'll take care of it." With that, Harry saw people flicker to chameleon-like invisibility as they tapped their wands on their own heads. Fane went obediently to Hermione and quickly joined his companions in near-perfect invisibility. Harry tapped his own head and felt the familiar icky-sticky feeling running down his spine. Seeing that everyone was ready, Harry queued them and said, "Let's make sure we all turn clockwise. No need to have a fall-down either here or when we land. Fane and Verity, you two stay close to Fred and George. Everybody keep a tight hold on each other and I'll guide. Think about what you are going to do as soon as we land. Prepare for a battle, but if none appears, scatter and then remain absolutely still for the disillusionment charm to be most effective. Keep your wands out."
From somewhere around his knees, a familiar squeaky voice reached Harry's ears. "Harry Potter, Dobby doesn't need to be guided. Dobby can follow and bring lovely Miss Myrtle along."
Harry started. He had nearly forgotten about the elf and the ghost standing nearby. He knew that house elves had access to great magic but he hadn't seen this manifestation of their abilities before. "Yes, Dobby, that would help tremendously. I'll call for you when it is safe," said Harry processing a mental picture of trying to keep a hand on Dobby three feet off the ground or on Myrtle's non-corporeal shoulder.
Harry got everyone's arm arranged on the closest shoulder and said, "on my count of three; one, two, three!"
Like a group of choreographed dancers, on Harry's count, everyone turned on the spot and, in a flurry of robes, vanished.