It was hard to believe it was nearing the end of June. Not so very long ago the flat had been like an icebox, now it wanted to be a sauna. Harry had kicked the covers off sometime during the night. They were bunched at the bottom of the bed. Even so, he was still sticky with sweat.
“I thought you were never going to get up,” Ginny said. Without his glasses he could only see a blurry red shape hovering over him. “You said you wanted to be up early.”
“Yeah.” Harry reached out for his glasses, which she placed in his hand. “Thanks.”
One of the benefits of summer was the longer daylight hours. This morning it afforded Harry the opportunity to see Ginny clearly. The room was filled with a steely blue. It was just after dawn and so he couldn’t be sure if Ginny was really as pale as she appeared but she looked ghostly white and tired.
“Are you sick?” he asked.
Ginny shook her head.
“I’m just tired. I had a hard time getting to sleep last night. Nervous about the game.”
“Sure,” he agreed
It was absolutely reasonable that Ginny would be nervous. Over the last month the Harpies had been on spectacular form and were now one of the top five Quidditch teams. If they won their game against Puddlemere United tonight they’d clinch a spot in the World cup finals. As the Harpies best scorer, there was a lot of pressure on Ginny to put on a good game. Nevertheless, Harry had a feeling that she wasn’t looking ashen due to pre-match jitters.
“You’d better get up or you’ll be late for Moody.” She leaned down and gave him a kiss.
“Try and get some rest,” Harry advised, holding her arms to prevent her getting up. “You’ll need all your strength if you’re going to give Wood a run for his money.”
“I’ll try,” she said, standing up. “I’ll see you later?”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
Thirty minutes later, Harry stepped out of the Apparition area at Auror headquarters. It was only seven a.m. but the office was abuzz with activity. It was always like that these days. People were running scared and this translated to pressure on their case. The public was growing impatient. Three months and no news of Justin! What were the Aurors doing? Kingsley and Moody in particular were under pressure to get results, meaning longer hours for everyone involved. This was why he was here at seven a.m. They were to have another meeting and then be out the door, following up on the plethora of tips they had been getting.
Much as Harry didn’t like being involved with this case, since he had known Justin at Hogwarts, and Hermione’s current relationship with him, he was hoping that one of the many tips they were getting would lead to the capture of Justin’s captors. Though he tried to remain optimistic, Harry was sure that Justin wasn’t going to be found alive. The odds dwindled the longer he was missing and a great many days had passed since he had been abducted.
The eight members of the task force, including Dawlish (Hermione was talking with Kingsley) all sat down straight away. Harry looked around at his colleagues. They were all in various states of exhaustion, none more so than Briony.
Harry couldn’t really say he was surprised at Briony’s state of tiredness. Given all the interviews they had been doing lately, she’d been here all hours of the day and night, filing, categorizing, and who knew what else. Harry noticed that Tougas was also looking at her with concern. Brazill caught his eye, wearing a knowing smile. Before he could inquire into the meaning of her expression, Moody started talking.
“We’ve received a stack of new reports from many of the public about reported signings of Lestrange and Malfoy. Given recent interviews, we’ll be very lucky if even one of these turns out to be valid, but . . . “ He let those words hang for a minute. “Dawlish will be out in the field today – Miss. Granger will be spending her day in my company. You can each take a report and talk to these people. Potter, I want you to take Miss. Wright with you.”
Harry, who had been momentarily distracted by the idea of Hermione being without her guard (surely the reason for Moody’s comment about guarding her himself) was driven completely distracted by the thought of being out on his own, let alone the idea of having Briony with him. Thus far, he had been partnering with everyone; except Tougas, as they made these trips out.
“Me?” Briony asked, exchanging a look with Harry before turning her attention to Moody, a little more uncertainty in her gaze.
“I don’t like it,” Tougas said fiercely. “She’s not an Auror, Mad-Eye. Why’s she —“
“We’re just questioning people. Its not as if is any danger, Tougas” Brazill piped up. I think, given how much she knows, she’d be an asset. Hell, I’d take her myself if I’d thought of it before.”
At Brazill’s comment Briony blushed and looked down at the stack of papers in front of her.
“I agree,” Moody said. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t send her. We are not in the habit of endangering our employees, Tougas.”
A doubtful sneer appeared on Tougas’s face. Harry expected some comment about how they had hired him: the walking danger. Surprisingly, Tougas said nothing, instead turning his attention to Briony. Harry and Brazill glanced at each other, eyebrows raised. He seemed concerned for Briony, an emotion they didn’t know Tougas was capable of.
“You know what’s needed. Take a scroll and get to work.”
Each of the scrolls of parchment looked the same. Harry looked to Briony to see if she had a preference as to which he should choose. She wasn’t anywhere near him though. Tougas had dragged her off into a corner and was speaking rapidly, a frown on his face. The level of noise in the room as people moved around, chatting to each other, meant that Harry had no chance of hearing what Tougas was saying. Normally he wouldn’t care, but the fact he looked legitimately upset was fascinating.
The room started to empty and Harry, not wanting anyone to find out he was listening, moved with them, but he walked a little slower than the rest. He was rewarded for his imitation of a turtle when, just as he stepped out the door, their conversation became more heated, their voices louder.
“I won’t be in any danger,” Briony stated in an exasperated voice. “Besides that, when are you going to realize that I don’t need you watching over me all the time? I can take care of myself.”
“Like you did when you tried to apprehend Amycus Carrow?”
Silence followed this question. Harry had to resist his urge to peek in and see what was going on. He knew, of course, that Scrimgeour had allowed every Ministry employee to apprehend Death Eaters, but he hadn’t known that Briony had been among those who tried. He was even more thankful that Kingsley had more sense than his predecessor. Briony was brilliant with facts and figures, but her wand work was severely lacking.
“That was stupid, I grant you. But this is not a Death Eater, and I won’t be alone. I’ll have —“
“Potter? You think you’ll be safe with Potter? Haw many times do I have to tell you he’s dangerous?”
“He is not!” She sounded exasperated. After a pause she continued in a more sympathetic tone. “You’re just clinging to old hurts.”
“What?” Tougas asked, even louder than before. “This has nothing to do with my past, Briony. It has to do with the fact that he’s careless, a menace to those around him. If he allowed anything to happen to you —“
“I don’t have time for this. I’ll talk to you later.”
Harry barely had time to move and pretend he had been leaning against the other wall the whole time before Briony appeared. She eyed him as though she already knew he had been listening.
“Did you hear that?” she asked, watching him with her arms crossed. Harry debated about lying but decided against it. He nodded.
“Hmph,” she said again, walking away as quickly as her legs would carry her. Harry followed easily. When they were a safe distance away, he asked her what the conversation with Tougas had been about. She hesitated for a half dozen steps and then she turned and said, in an angry whisper, “You Gryffindors are all alike. You seem to think we can’t defend ourselves.” Then she continued walking.
Harry contemplated her statement. If he wasn’t mistaken, Briony was paraphrasing one of his least favorite of Hermione’s observations (that he had a “saving people thing”), but she didn’t seem to be talking only about him. Could she possibly mean that Tougas had also been a Gryffindor?
Harry groaned. Suddenly his former house at Hogwarts didn’t seem as great. Then again, the sorting had had placed the likes of Peter Pettigrew there, so it didn’t always choose the best witches and wizards.
The parchment Harry had grabbed contained less information than he would have thought. It was a statement sent in by a witch by the name of Hera Crane. Reading over her account, Harry thought he could already see how this visit was going to go. She seemed a fussy sort, probably with a lot of cats.
“Ready to go?” Briony asked for the seventh time in fifteen minutes. She had already read the report and was hovering over Harry, bouncing on the balls of her feet. He was finding this behaviour amusing and therefore distracting. Finally though, he finished reading and prepared to go. Briony bounded ahead of him, reminding Harry of Sirius the first time he had been out of Grimmauld Place. Briony spent enough time here that her excitement about leaving was understandable.
“Shall we?” Harry asked as they entered the Apparition area. He would have offered his arm, but after her comment on Tougas’s reaction, he decided against it.
Briony strode confidently into the Apparition area.
“See you there,” she said and twisted, shortly disappearing. Harry followed suit.
When he was able to draw breath he was standing on a rubbish strewn walkway that reminded him very much like Grimmauld Place. The heat of the day was doing nothing to improve the environment. Harry looked around for Briony, hoping to get away from the stench as quickly as possible, but she was nowhere to be seen.
Wondering if she had just landed badly, he peered around a large rubbish bin, behind several stacks of boxes that had been piled against a wall and, for good measure, up, to see if she was peering down from on top of one of the two houses that were towering over him.
When Harry still didn’t see Briony anywhere he began to run through the possible scenarios that would prevent her from being here. Had she Apparated to the wrong place, or perhaps Splinched herself and was injured somewhere? If that were the case how could he possibly find her?
He began walking up the walkway towards the street, decided to check and see if Briony had misjudged their Apparition point and was one or two alleys over.
There you are,” Briony called, coming around the corner. “I was wondering if I’d lost you.”
“What d’you mean? We were supposed to meet in the walkway, away from prying eyes.”
Briony looked a little sheepish at Harry’s comment and mumbled that she had been trying to Apparate to their predetermined spot, but had overshot it a bit.
“I guess I need to work on accuracy. Usually I’m bang on, but today I guess I was too eager to leave.”
“You do have to be careful,” Harry agreed as they began walking up the street, looking for number thirty-six. “If you landed in a crowd of people there would be some serious paperwork.”
The street they were walking down stood near the edge of Chatham. The buildings were very close to the street and overhung the small sidewalk. Windows stood open, although there wasn’t much of a breeze to cool the interiors.
Number thirty-six was a house like all others, standing in the middle of a row. It was not the structure, but rather the interesting choice of landscaping that solidified Harry and Briony’s certainty that they were in the right place.
While all the other lawns were neatly manicured, or at most in need of a slight trim, Hera Crane’s yard was a good replica of the garden at the Burrow. The grass was at least a foot longer than the other yards, and looked as though all sorts of creatures could be hiding in it. Harry was almost positive he saw a Bowtruckle scramble up a tree. That was definitely a violation of the statute of secrecy. It would be a near miracle for the creature go unnoticed.
“Charming,” Briony said in a distracted voice, as she looked around the yard her hand on the brick fence. “This should be fun, don’t you think?”
Harry led the way down the garden path, keeping one eye on the rapidly approaching door, and one eye on Briony. He hoped that a slight miscalculation in her Apparition was the worst thing that happened today. He had a fleeting vision of his wand flying out at his hand as Neville Longbottom tried to disarm a Death Eater. If anything like that happened here . . .
But why should it? They were only here to question an old woman about a potential, and unlikely, sighting of Malfoy and Lestrange.
The door was flung open when they were still ten feet away. A humped-back old woman with curly blue-gray hair stared at them through spectacles perched on the end of her hooked nose. She clutched a rickety looking wand between frail fingers.
“Identify yourselves,” she called in a high-pitched, scratchy voice. “I warn you, if you try anything you’ll be sorry.”
Harry pulled his own wand from his pocket and kept it ready at his side.
“Mrs. Crane, we’re here from the Ministry to discuss your statement,” he said, stepping ahead of Briony.
The elder witch dropped her wand and straightened up infinitesimally. She adjusted her glasses and squinted at Harry and Briony who were now standing on her stoop.
“You look a little young to be an Auror, sonny,” she said. “How do you know — Oh.”
Harry pulled the scroll out of his pocket and showed it to her. When she recognized her own handwriting a small smile appeared on her aged features.
Though she might be pleased they were there she didn’t relax her suspicion when it came to her two visitors.
“Do you mind if we come in, m’am?” Briony asked.
The old woman reacted quickly, pointing her wand in Briony’s face, her jaw set.
“I do mind, missy. You still haven’t told me who you are.”
“This, Mrs. Crane, is Briony Wright, and I’m Harry Potter.” He held out his hand but he old woman’s head had snapped up to give him a once over. When she caught sight of his scar she gave another pronounced, “oh,” and immediately shuffled into her house, muttering to herself. Harry and Briony were left to stand in the doorway exchanging looks.
“Do you think that means we can go in?” Harry asked, flattening his hair. Briony shrugged. Returning the gesture Harry took the plunge.
The hallway was a deep pink colour, with flowered wallpaper, and a dark wainscoting. Several half-round tables were covered in doilies, knick-knacks and elaborate flower arrangements. The air was stale, as though the windows hadn’t been open for years.
“I think she and my aunt used the same decorator,” Briony whispered as they squeezed into a sitting room crowded with furniture. Harry bumped into a table covered with what looked like different sized crystal balls, and at the same time they heard a large crash from the kitchen.
“Mrs. Crane?” Briony called.
“I’m fine. I’m fine,” the croaky voice called irritably. “I’ll bring you tea in a minute. Sit down. Don’t touch anything!”
That was easier said than done. The coffee table was pushed up to the sofa, leaving only six inches between the two. Harry and Briony banged their shins as they tried to sit down without knocking any of the knick-knacks taking up all of the table’s surface.
“She’s definitely been speaking with my aunt,” Briony said, adjusting her robes. “This is Aunt Dolores’s house except she’s gone for roses instead of kittens.”
It was an uncomfortable wait, but finally Mrs. Crane appeared, with a tray with a teapot and cups on it.
“So . . .you sure took your time coming here, you did,” she said, sitting down. “I was beginning to think that Mad-Eye Moody really was mad after all, that the Ministry was going to throw my statement onto the dungheap.”
“We’re sorry. We’ve just had a lot of reported sightings that we have to follow up on. We’re working through them as quickly as we can,” Briony responded.
“Are you?” Mrs. Crane looked Briony over and then turned her attention to Harry. “I’m glad that you were sent here, Mr. Potter. At least it shows they are taking my information seriously for the first time.”
Harry allowed her to nod before he plunged into the reason why they had come.
“Mrs. Crane, you said you thought you saw Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange on your street last night.”
“I sure did. Right down the walkway at the end there.” She pointed a gnarled finger in the direction Harry and Briony had come from.
“What makes you so sure it was them?”
“What makes me so sure?” the old witch asked incredulously. “I may be old, sonny. My spell work and my eyesight may not be what they used to, but I would know that Malfoy hair anywhere. When to Hogwarts with Lucius’s grandfather, I did. Arrogant as a hippogriff he was. Grandson’s the same, no doubt.”
“Wait,” Briony said, exchanging a puzzled look with Harry. “You saw him? He was unmasked?”
“Pale pointed face was as naked as an unpotted mandrake.”
Hera Crane’s words normally would have been amusing but both Harry and Briony were troubled. This was not the first time in recent weeks that there had been confirmed sightings of the two Death Eaters, but they had always worn their masks. The only reason they had been identified before was because experts in spell casting had identified their style of spell work. Even they had to go careful, but now they were walking around unmasked? Either they thought they were invulnerable or they wanted people to know they were out and about. Then again, the two could both be true.
“How did you come to see them?” Harry asked. The location of the walkway and this house weren’t in good proximity to give a ready view.
“I was letting my owl out. It was raining last night. I wasn’t going to leave the window open. Its easier to see the walkway from upstairs.”
Harry cast a fleeting glance into the hall at the narrow staircase. They’d have to go upstairs eventually, something he wasn’t looking forward to. He was going put that off as long as he could.
“What did they do?” Briony asked, a slight cringe in her question. Harry understood. Bellatrix Lestrange and Lucius Malfoy were rarely somewhere for an innocent reason. Learning about their activities was sometimes a stomach turning experience.
“Not much. They had a child with them – A misbehaving child. It was kicking up quite the fight.”
“Wait.” This time it was Harry who interrupted. “A child, you’re sure?”
“Saw it clear as day. Tiny form, about the size of my great grandson. He’s eight. Here, I’ll show you.”
“That won’t be necessary, thank you.” The last thing they needed to was to be waylaid by pictures of her family. “Any idea why the would have a child with them?”
He was asking Briony. She shook her head, chewing on her bottom lip uncomfortably, thinking hard.
“Maybe they were extorting someone,” Mrs. Crane supplied. “It wasn’t long before a fourth figure appeared. This one was larger than the child, but shorter than Malfoy. I couldn’t see much. This one stayed out of the light and was dressed in dark clothes.” She leaned back in her chair, sipping tea. Harry could see the self-satisfied smile on the woman’s face.
“What happened when this fourth figure arrived?”
“Now that is a very interesting question.” There was a sparkle in Hera Crane’s eye as she rubbed her hands together. “I think they were using that child as bait for something. Like I already said, I couldn’t see that larger figure, but he — and I say he because it looked more like a man than a woman — seemed to be pleading with them for the child. Once or twice when he stepped into the streetlamp’s light he was gesturing wildly and pointing at the child.”
This was bad news. If what he was hearing were true, Malfoy and Lestrange had kidnapped a child. Why they would do that was another matter.
“Did — do you know what happened to the child?” Briony asked in a shaky voice.
“They shot a couple of spells at each other, those two Death Eaters and the fourth man. If it was a duel it was very short-lived. Just a few minutes after they arrived, they disappeared with the child.”
“Damn,” Harry said before he could stop himself.
“Now, really,” Mrs. Crane said. “That’s not going to find that poor child.”
“No,” Harry said apologetically, but he quickly asked, “the child. Was it still struggling when they Disapparated?”
The elder woman had lost her enthusiasm for the tale as soon as Harry swore. In the blink of an eye she had turned back into the cantankerous woman who opened the door. She was most unwilling to allow them upstairs, finally relenting when Harry told her they’d have to come back later with a team.
The upstairs was just as cluttered and even more stifling than the first floor. It was just a quick visit to confirm that the upstairs window would allow her to see what she said she had. Once he stared down from the same window there was no doubt.
“You satisfied now?” she asked when Harry turned away.
“Yes. Thank you.”
To the relief of Harry, Briony and their host, they were soon in the fresh air again. Harry breathed deeply. Even though the humidity was still high, it was better than being stuck inside that house.
“What now?” Briony asked, trying to stifle a yawn. “Is it report time?”
Harry, who had been staring towards the walkway, trying to visualize what the street would look like in the dark, turned back to her.
“Only you would be excited about writing a report. I think you need to spend some time with Hermione. The two of you have more in common than I thought.”
“No. I don’t want to go back just yet,” he said, walking back the way they had come, looking up at the streetlamp. “I have a feeling that their meting here was significant. But . . . why?”
Briony followed him, not saying a word. When he looked back at her, Harry saw she had her head down and was yawning again.
“Hmmm . . . No, well, I’ve been having trouble sleeping in all this heat. I’ve been trying to conjure fans, but they keep disappearing,” she said.
“Maybe its time to invest in air conditioning.”
“What?” she asked.
They walked around for another fifteen minutes, finding nothing that indicated Bellatrix and Lucius had been there. Harry hadn’t expected that they would, but was still disappointed. He had a feeling there was a logical reason two Death Eaters were meeting here but it eluded him. As he was ready to return and start on the dreaded report, Briony spoke up with a theory.
“Something has been bothering me,” she said, leaning against one of the houses. “This child. None of the reports we’ve read or received mention anything connecting them to a child at all. Are we sure that this woman saw what she thought she did?”
“What d’you mean?” Harry asked, leaning against the other house and mopping his forehead. The air was getting muggier.
Briony shrugged. “I know she said it was small. Could they maybe have had a house-elf? Or maybe it was a really short person. Think of people like Professor Flitwick at Hogwarts. He wasn’t that tall. I’m not a giant myself, come to think of it. And the dark plays tricks with the eyes. She said she doesn’t have the best sight.”
It had been bad enough to think that they had a child in their grasp. Briony’s thoughts, extremely well reasoned, increased the possible victims they were now searching for. Things were getting more and more complicated without any answers.
“You do sound like Hermione,” Harry said eventually. “You win. Let’s get back and file this report.”
Harry was glad magical maintenance wasn’t aiming for a pay raise. Through their magical windows blew a fresh breeze. He mopped his brow again as he flopped down in his chair. He could not believe they had been gone for four hours. Apparently time in Hera Crane’s house worked differently than it did anywhere else. “We’ve got to do this fast. Ginny’s game starts in a few hours and I’ve still got to get home for Dudley.”
“Well, Briony said, yawning widely this time. “I’ll write. Others need to be able to read this, and your writing’s illegible at the best of times. Once we’re done I can go home and sleep too.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, still distracted by the location. It seemed random for two Death Eaters to appear in the middle of a Muggle town in the dead of night. Chatham wasn’t known as a meeting place for witches and wizards. It was close to Little Whinging, which was about the only significant thing that Harry knew about Chatham, hardly an explanation as to their presence.
They worked right through the afternoon, writing every detail they could recall of the story they had received from Hera Crane, along with supporting details. When Briony dotted her last sentence it was almost six. Ginny’s Quidditch match would start in under an hour.
“See you,” Harry stated, hurriedly leaving, thankful for the fact that there were others working on the case now.
He Apparated into the usually empty alley to find that it was not empty. There were two other people there.
“What the fu —“ one of them started to say.
Harry repeated the spell twice in rapid succession and then hurried away. He hated having to do that, but the paperwork he’d have to complete otherwise would be endless and they would still have their memories modified.
“Dudley,” he called as he entered the flat. They were running a little later than Harry would have liked. If Dudley put up a struggle about Apparating that was going to waste even more time . . . Even if he didn’t they were going to need to find a new Apparition point.
Dudley didn’t respond. Feeling his impatience grow, Harry searched the flat and found Dudley nowhere. He swore and checked his watch. Thirty minutes until game time. Where was Dudley?
Thinking that he had, perhaps, stepped out to the grocer’s, Harry decided to give his cousin fifteen more minutes. It would give him time for a quick shower in any case. If Dudley weren’t back by then he’d just have to miss the game.
Ten minutes later Dudley still wasn’t back. Harry had lost patience with waiting. He had told Dudley when the game started and that they weren’t going to be late. Since he couldn’t be there on time, Dudley was just going to have to miss the game. He would leave a note explaining this.
Harry’s attention was turned away from his desk by a warm breeze. Someone had left the window open. How many times did he have to tell them to close the window before they left? As he made his way over to close it, he stepped on something that turned out to be a piece of parchment.
“What’s this doing here?” he asked himself. A doleful hoot from the direction of his desk made Harry turn around.
Hedwig was sitting on his desk amid a mess of papers. Everything had been scattered across the top of his desk and there was parchment littering the floor. It was only as he looked at the mess that Harry marveled at how he could have missed it the first few times he’d been through the room.
“I didn’t think it was that windy out,” he said to Hedwig as he gathered up the papers that had fallen on the floor and threw them pell mell onto the desk. He’d sort them out later. “Have you been taking a feather out of Pigwidgeon’s book?”
Harry stretched out a finger to stroke Hedwig but with an annoyed screech she nipped his finger so hard she drew blood.
“Ouch,” he replied angrily, sucking on his finger. “There’s no need to get angry. I’ll see you later.”
Without a backwards glance, Harry turned and left his flat. He’d just have to explain to Dudley later. He took a chance and Disapparated just outside the door after making sure the corridor was empty. Normally he didn’t like to do that, in case one of his neighbors was peeking out theor door.
The sound of thirty thousand people screaming themselves hoarse told Harry he was in the right place. The crowds had thinned dramatically due to the game starting in less than ten minutes. Harry was able to navigate to his seat easily — the best part about being so late.
“There you are. We thought you were going to be late,” Hermione said as Harry took his usual seat beside her. “I thought you were bringing Dudley.”
“I would have done if he’d been home when I got there.” Harry greeted Ron, Arthur, Molly and the rest of the family before he turned to look at the large scoreboard, currently displaying each of the seven members of the Harpies and their Quidditch records. When Ginny’s face came up there was a loud round of cheers and the crowd started chanting, “Weasley, Weasley, Weasley.”
Ron was smiling broadly.
“What happened to your finger?” Hermione asked, looking at the bleeding that had not stopped. She took her wand out and pointed it at his finger, sealing the woundd.
“Harry?” Molly leaned across Ron and Hermione to get his attention. When he turned to look at her he was met with a concerned expression. He was about to tell her it was nothing, but quickly learned there was something else she wanted to talk about. “Was Ginny looking peaky to you this morning?”
“Yes, she was. Why?”
Molly turned to exchange a look with Arthur.
“Why?” Harry repeated.
“We were there to see her earlier,” Hermione said so Molly didn’t have to shout above the noise of the crowd, “and she looked like she was going to faint. She said she didn’t get much sleep last night and that was why. Is that true?”
“That’s what she told me this morning when I asked her,” Harry replied, ignoring the stern note in Hermione’s tone. “I take it you don’t buy her story. What? D’you think she’s come down with a bug?”
Ginny had never been one to let things get to her. She got nervous, sure, but that usually translated into a display of overconfidence, not illness. He hoped, for Ginny’s sake that she wasn’t coming down with something. She would be impossible to console — and would blame herself for the Harpies performance without her.
Hermione and Molly were conversing as quietly as they could. Harry tried to listen at first, but only stray words carried to him and he soon lost the thread of their conversation.
The crowd was letting off their excitement by getting louder and louder as the start of the match ticked nearer. Harry borrowed Ron’s set of omnioculars and scanned the crowd. He saw a lot of green clad supporters. Puddlemere’s navy supporters were sparse among the spectators. It was another example of the home court advantage.
Puddlemere United’s seven players took to the pitch amid loud cheers from their supporters, and even louder boos from the Harpies fans. The reverse was true when the green-clad Harpies took to the pitch, however it was short-lived. The scoreboard flashed a picture of each of the fourteen players before it cleared and started recording the scores for the game. When Ginny’s turn came there was more than one gasp or anguished cry. Her face was completely drained of colour. It almost looked like she had taken too much of a sleeping potion and was fighting its effects.
“Oh my. She looks worse,” Hermione gasped. “She’s not going to play like that, is she?”
“’Course she is. She can’t back out now, she’s their best scorer,” Ron said. Though he started out sounding confident, his voice weakened a little by the time he finished talking.
“I hope she’ll be all right,” Molly said, seeming like she was torn between covering her eyes and running down to drag her daughter off the pitch. For one of the few times in his life, Harry agreed with her. He didn’t love Quidditch enough to have Ginny go out and risk her life for a game.
“If anyone could play in that state, it would be Ginny. I wouldn’t be surprised if she kicks Wood’s ass just to prove a point,” Fred said from the row behind.
It soon became clear that Fred’s prediction was wrong. Ginny’s performance was absolutely horrendous and that was putting it nicely. She fumbled easy passes and gave up the Quaffle to members of the opposing team even more frequently. She barely missed the Bludgers a half-dozen times. Harry couldn’t be sure, but he thought it looked like the Puddlemere Beaters had taken pity and stopped directing the Bludgers at her. Ginny did manage three goals so she wasn’t a total drain on her team, but they were easy points. Harry, who wasn’t that great a Chaser, could have made those goals, he was sure.
He completely lost interest in the game, intent upon watching Ginny as he was. He worried that she was going to fall off her broom. By the end of the match her face had changed from ghostly white to sickly green.
“I’m going down there to find out what’s going on,” Harry said. As he stood up, he saw Keddle shooting toward the snitch, neck and neck with her Puddlemere counterpart. He was already halfway down the stairs that would lead him to the changing rooms. The loud cheer made it sound like Keddle had caught the snitch. He was glad, even though that meant the Harpies had still lost by forty points.
Harry was able to walk quickly down the corridor and reach the edge of the pitch. It was only as he stepped out and saw the Harpies just landing that it dawned on him now quickly he was able to get here. There hadn’t been the usual security wizards that would stop and check everyone for concealment or disguise. Harry looked back the way he had come, disturbed by the completely empty corridor. Something was very wrong here. He would get answers, but first he wanted to make sure Ginny was OK.
The rest of her teammates, looking sullen, dejected and even angry, marched past Harry without saying a word. He didn’t pay them much attention as he watched Ginny slowly make her way across the pitch, supported heavily by Jordana and Colin. He started to cover the distance between them but hadn’t taken more than a few steps when Ginny, who had been barely conscious at all, finally succumbed, and slumped into Colin.
“Get a mediwizard,” Jordana called loudly to Harry over the gasps and cries of the crowd. Harry turned to do so, but both of the team’s mediwizards had already run past him, Harry following.
“I’m fine,” Ginny said as loudly as she could as Harry approached. “I don’t need medical attention. I need sleep.”
“Get out of the way,” the first mediwizards cried, grabbing Colin’s arm as if to pull him back.
In that split second Harry knew without a doubt something was wrong. The mediwizard who had grabbed Colin to get him out of the way didn’t let go. As Harry watched this, he saw, out of the corner of his eye, the other pull out her wand and raised it to the sky.
One only needed to hear that incantation once in their life to know what it did. As though in slow motion Harry raised his own wand and shot two stunners.
He was too late.
As the spells were about to collide with their intended targets they Disapparated with Colin. One stunner hit Jordana and she toppled over backwards. The other sailed on until it hit a wall, which absorbed it.
Harry stood frozen in place for a moment, taking in the two forms now on the ground. They were bathed in a green glow cast by the Dark Mark now hovering over the pitch.
A dead silence fell over the stadium; Harry assumed everyone was studying the new addition to the night sky. He was looking at it, too. This, combined with the smirks he was sure he saw in the second before the two mediwizards disappeared with Colin in tow made him sure he had just been face to face with Bellatrix and Lucius, polyjuiced to look like the team’s mediwizards. Colin Creevey was Muggle-born. This abduction would certainly fit their pattern.
A shrill scream broke the dead silence and was closely followed by others, filling the stadium with the sound of people’s panic.