Last time on One Ring...

"Hermione!"

She stirred, then sat up quickly, pushing her hair out of her face.

"What's wrong? Harry? Are you all right?"

"It's okay, everything's fine. More than fine, I'm great." Harry paused nervously, only looking her in the eye for a moment before looking around the tent. "We should leave, though. I think there's someone searching for us out there."

Hermione opened her mouth to ask why but Harry was already grabbing at their meager supplies. She looked at Harry. He was still wet, still shivering. She looked at the Sword of Gryffindor that he set down near the tent flap. She noticed the blood stained blade.

"Fine, but you better start talking."

Chapter One

The Substitute

Harry talked.

He told Hermione about following a doe patronus in the forest and how it led him to an iced over pond. He told her about his dip in the freezing water to retrieve the Sword of Gryffindor. He told her he used the sword to destroy Slytherin's locket.

He didn't mention Ron at all.

"Any injuries?" Hermione looked over his form cataloging the cuts and bruises she could see.

Harry paused. He felt like he lost a fight, must look the part too if the blood on his face and hands was any indicator. How was he going to explain all that without mentioning Ron?

Hermione interrupted his thought process. "Was it the locket? Honestly Harry, the Headmaster was horribly disfigured because he underestimated how dangerous the ring was. You should have come back to me first. You are lucky to still be alive."

Unlike Ron.

"It- it was harder than I thought it would be." Harry allowed. "I had to use parseltongue to open it... it didn't go quietly either..."

Harry recalled the twisted vision which tested Ron. He recalled the dark parody of himself locked in a lover's embrace with Hermione and he recalled the two of them taunting his best mate. He remembered Ron's eyes flashing scarlet for a moment. That memory, bad as it was, fell before the memory of their fight over the ring and how Ron died.

Hermione must have seen the pain in Harry's eyes even if she didn't fully divine its origins.

"So... injuries?" The young witch asked again. "I see that black eye. And your glasses need to be repaired."

She looked again at the sword nervously. It was still bloody- but then Harry was still alive.

"Cut anywhere?"

Harry shook his head. "Scratches but nothing more."

Still, he had to explain the sword.

"That's all from the locket." Harry explained with a wave towards the blooded blade.

Hermione brought her wand up and cast a healing charm around his eye, she cleaned his wound and she fixed his glasses. She then paused her spellwork long enough to ask another question.

"You think someone is in the forest looking for us?"

Harry nodded quickly. "Clearly someone knew we're here even if they were helpful. Someone had to cast the patronus. Someone had to put the sword and the ring in the pond-"

"The ring? What ring?" Hermione interrupted.

Harry paused. His hand moved of its own accord to cover his pocket and the golden band inside. Hermione noticed. Harry briefly fought the urge to deny his words but that was silly. He could trust Hermione, couldn't he? Not like Ron. And she knew she had him, he could see it in her face.

"Y- yes. A ring."

Harry's hand dug into his pocket and pulled out the ring. It was still warm to the touch, still as pretty as it was before.

"It was at the bottom of the pond just like the sword was." Harry explained as Hermione leaned closer. "I think it might be another gift from whoever cast the patronus and put the sword in the pond."

That got Hermione's full attention. "What does it do, then?"

Oops. "I, err, didn't use it. Haven't put it on yet."

"Harry!" Hermione huffed. "If it was with the Sword of Gryffindor then it must have been there for a reason. A gift like this could mean the difference between success and failure. We need to know what it does. This is exactly why you should have come back to me for help, Harry. Honestly..."

Harry dropped his head in embarrassment and shame. Maybe Ron would still be alive if the two had just come back to the tent before dealing with the locket.

"Let's have a look at it, shall we?" Hermione half-asked half-commanded while palming her wand.

Harry's hand snapped closed around the ring.

"What are you going to do?" He asked suspiciously.

Hermione rolled her eyes at him.

"I'm going to cast a few charms. Try to discover its enchantments. I'll be more comfortable knowing what its for."

Hermione also muttered a few lines under her breath about items of known value being far better gifts than old snitches and books of children's tales.

A little voice in the back of Harry's head told him not to trust her but this was Hermione. No one deserved his trust more than her. With no small effort, Harry set the ring down on Hermione's bed.

Hermione sat down next to the ring and picked it up. She didn't notice Harry flinch as her fingers made contact with the gold band. She looked it over inside and out before setting it back down not noticing Harry relax when she did so.. She then brought up her wand and began to cast a series of spells over the ring.

"Well..." Hermione muttered in between chants, "It is enchanted... and whatever it is is rather powerful magic... but that's all I can tell."

Harry smirked just a bit. "Hermione Granger. You mean to say there is something you don't know?"

The Gryffindor witch glared at her companion.

"Sorry!" Harry cringed back from her anger.

"Perhaps I should put it on to find out?" Hermione offered.

Harry's eyes popped. He couldn't have that.

"I'll do it if it's all the same to you." He said quickly. "You're the one with the wand. If something goes wrong then you can be the one to step in and set things right again."

Hermione huffed but then she relented. Seems she agreed with him even if grudgingly. Feeling responsible for breaking his wand may have had something to do with it.

"Very well." She stepped back. "I'll just be over here ready to save your life if you should happen to need it."

Harry could hear the annoyance in her voice but he didn't care so long as he was the one to put on the ring instead of her.

Harry picked up the ring and, almost sighing in relief, slipped it on.

"HARRY!" Hermione yelled panic.

"What!?" He called back, head swinging back and forth looking for the problem.

"Harry?"

"Yes?" He answered her again, this time looking right into her eyes. Eyes which were not looking exactly back into his as he would expect. She was in fact looking around him as if she didn't see him.

Hermione held out one shaky hand and slowly pushed forward until she made contact with Harry's chest.

"Harry?" The fear had lessened but it was still there. Curiosity was beginning to win out, however.

Harry reached out to comfort the distraught witch. Apparently that was the right thing to do as she immediately released the breath she was holding and pulled herself together.

"Invisibility then. Thank God." She huffed. "I thought you'd been taken by portkey."

'Invisibility?' Harry wondered. "You can't see me then?"

"No, I was just pranking you." Hermoine answered with as much sarcasm as she could muster. "Of course I can't see you, Harry, or I wouldn't have nearly died of fright just then."

Harry was about to apologize for scaring her when he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Something was different. Something was off.

"Huh..." He murmured.

"What is it?"

"I..."

Harry took a couple of steps, not that Hermione could see him but she could hear his movements as she was only an arm's length away.

"Do you see something odd in the shadows?" Harry asked.

Hermione looked in what few shadows there were in the tent.

"No Harry." Hermione brought her wand up once more. "Homenum revelio."

Harry felt a wave of something pass over him. Oddly enough Hermoine had to tap his chest again to assure herself he was really there.

"What is it you see?" Hermione said.

Harry turned back to the shadows that had caught his attention in the first place.

"It's kind of silly, really..." He mused aloud.

"Harryyyyy." Hermione near growled in frustration.

"It's like... it's like they're just as dark as before, yet I can see in them more clearly." Harry offered. "There's a dirty sock under my bed- not that it's all that important being a dirty sock and all- but the point is I didn't see the sock before or at least not so clearly anyway."

Hermoine worked through his explanation. "Are you saying that you have better night vision? That you can see in the dark?"

"That's right." Harry nodded, not that Hermione could see him doing so.

"Well." She continued. "That's invisibility and night vision in one ring. And we still have your cloak. Sneaking around will be much easier from now on."

"Yes it will." Harry agreed.

He pulled the ring from his finger, disappointed now that he had to remove a ring that fit so perfectly on his finger. He hadn't even noticed that it didn't start that way. He was reacting to Hermione's panicked yell when the ring shrank a little to fit snug, not that he would have been concerned. Hermione said it was heavily enchanted, didn't she? He was lucky to have it.

"You should hold onto the cloak from now on." Harry offered, hoping to keep Hermione from asking to be the one to keep the ring. "I'll keep this."

She didn't see anything wrong with the arrangement.

"Fine."

-o-0-o-

Deep in the cold frozen hell of Azkaban, the wizarding prison off the coast of northern Scotland, piercing inhuman screeching shook the auror staff to its core.

"Peterson, damn you!" The warden shouted. "I told you to find out what the bloody hell is going on down there and shut them demonic bastards up!"

The man stood hunched over the top landing of a stair heading deep into the rough bedrock of Azkaban Island. It was a stair no wizard ever bothered descending as all of the prisoners were on the upper levels and there was no need to intrude on chambers that the dementors had clearly claimed for themselves.

"Peterson! Get back up here or you can kiss your overtime pay goodbye!"

The warden cursed to himself and readjusted his cloak. He may be deep inside the prison but warming charms never seemed to work right down here and heavy wool just barely did the job. The Orkney Islands were cold enough on a good day never mind the middle of winter. And if the cold weren't bad enough, the dementors weren't helping by starting up with a horrible racket in the middle of the night.

Soon, but not soon enough in his opinion, the uncomfortable senior auror heard the sound of boots coming back up the stair.

He was confused when the noise came to sound like more than one set of boots.

He was just about ready to tear his subordinate a new one when the man appeared at the top of the stair after traversing the full length in the dark.

"Lost your wand, did you?" The warden challenged as the cloaked form stepped into the upper chamber's torchlight.

The hiss he received in answer didn't sound anything like 'yes'. Not that the figure who rose out of the darkness looked anything like Peterson.

There before the warden of Azkaban stood a tall figure, neither wizard nor dementor, with a great dark cloak, a dark angular helm and vicious gauntlets and boots to match. It was clear that other similar figures were coming up the stair right behind him.

The warden readjusted his cloak, hardly believing his eyes. He was about to demand an explanation when yet another dementor screech pierced his ears and this one from right behind him. He turned to face the noise even as he flinched.

Not once had the fool reached for his wand. Not that it would have done him any good.

As soon as the warden was turned to face the dementor, one of those vicious gauntlets reached out, grasped his skull and tilted the man's head painfully far back. The helmed one bent forward over his panicking victim and began to speak in a harsh rasp. "Your man will not be coming to meet you. Let me send you to him instead."

The armored figure turned to the dementor and barked out a single command. "Feed!"

Arms and legs thrashed about wildly as the warden realized that doom was upon him. He tried to close his mouth, but held as he was with his head tilted back he could barely move his jaw much less beg for his life. A desperate keening wail left the man as the dementor swooped in to relieve him of his soul.

The man's struggles ceased quickly.

There were other wizards on the island that night. Not many but there were a few guards and a few more prisoners. Their ends would be no less ghastly than the warden's.

-o-0-o-

Harry apparated onto a hill just outside of Ottery St. Catchpole. Hermione stood before him, as she had made the trip a half second before him.

"There," Hermione pointed to a twisting mess of wood and tiles in the distance, "the Burrow."

Harry nodded eagerly.

He wasn't at all sure about making this trip with Hermione at first. Technically, they weren't even here to meet up with the Weasleys seeing as how dangerous it was to be seen in the company of Undesirable Number one. It was necessary though. Hermione wanted to go to Luna's house and talk to the quirky Ravenclaw's father about the odd symbol he wore as decoration at Bill's wedding. It was the very symbol that was in the book bequeathed to her by Dumbledore and also on the gravemarker in Godrick's Hollow… and the symbol even appeared in Albus's own signature in that trashy tell all that Skeeter wrote about the deceased headmaster. Only neither she nor Harry new exactly where the Lovegoods lived. All they knew was that the Weasleys and Lovegoods were neighbors and therefore must surely know how to get to each other's homes.

Harry knew Hermione hoped to find Ron home. He tried not to let his feelings on that matter show. To make matters worse it would seem that their best plan was to catch Ginny's attention and enlist her aid. Part of Harry wanted this more than anything. An equal part wanted her to be safe from danger and feared getting close to the petit firebrand while he was still a fugitive from the Ministry. Another equal part couldn't stand to face the girl whose brother he killed.

His nightmares had come to be so horrid that he barely got any sleep at all these days, not that before was much better.

"You sure we need Gin's help?" Harry asked his bushy haired companion as the both gazed longingly at the unnatural roofline some half-mile away or so.

"Quite." Hermione affirmed. "I haven't the foggiest how to find Luna without help and I'm not about to ask her mum or one of her brothers for help. Molly wouldn't let us go once she got hold of us."

"Ron?" Harry hated himself for even asking.

Hermione shut her eyes tightly and shook her head no. She wanted to see him, yes. She didn't want to patch things up. Her wounds were still too raw and the Burrow was no place to get into a shouting match if you were on the run. The Death Eaters suspect Harry would try to make contact at some point.

Harry could understand that argument even if he had trouble with the idea of the Deathly Hallows being something they needed to track down. Harry really only went along with Hermione's plan because they had no leads whatsoever on the next horcrux. That and it would be nice to do something other than look for a new camp site. Nice as she was it would be good to have some human interaction with someone other than Hermione. Maybe someone with bright brown eyes… and red hair…

"Come on, Harry."

Harry shook himself out of his thoughts and back into reality. Hermione was ready to do this. Who knew, maybe it could be a turning point? Raise their spirits to be on familiar ground?

The two walked down into Ottery St. Catchpole, winding their way through the village until they were just outside of the Weasley's property. They stopped and hid when Hermione saw some movement in one of the upper windows.

What luck. Ginny was in her room.

Hermione carefully conjured a small flock of songbirds and sent them over to the window. Moments later a rapid tapping could be heard through the crisp cold air.

Half a second later, Ginny's fiery mane filled the window.

Harry couldn't help himself. He stood up and waved.

"Harry!" Hermione hissed.

She grabbed her foolish friend and dragged him back behind a snow covereded shrub. Hermione was still quietly berating the boy by the time the Burrow's front door opened and a familiar voice called out.

"I'm just going for a quick fly, Mum!"

"Don't be gone too long dear. I'll need your help with the greens soon enough." Molly shouted back. "And stay under the tree line!"

"Yes, Mum!"

Harry and Hermione watched from behind cover as one of the few bright points in Harry's life first jogged and then stalked closer to the forest edge. She pulled her wand out halfway there and slowed down when within spell range of her visitors.

"Show yourself!" Ginny demanded.

Harry did so immediately.

Hermione huffed, punched the grinning prat in the shoulder and stood up next to him.

Ginny looked hopeful for a second but quickly squashed her eagerness under a healthy dose of constant vigilance. She stared Harry in the eye, brought her wand up and issued a challenge.

"If you are who you seem to be then tell me…" Her eyes gleamed. "How many times did we have sex last year?"

Hermione forgot her own paranoia to stare wide eyed at Harry. "How many times did you what?"

Harry looked incensed at the very question. "We didn't have any sex last year! As far as I know you're still a virgin!"

"That's my Harry!" Ginny lowered her wand and trotted over to the two older teens before jumping on her 'ex' boyfriend and laying a big open mouthed kiss on his gob.

Harry kissed back despite the part of his mind screaming not to. It was much harder to nobly sacrifice his love life for the greater good when eight and a half stone of lusty redhead was hanging off him attempting to suck his tonsils out.

Hermione looked away to escape the intimate moment as much as to look for Death Eaters or Ministry spies.

"So," Ginny almost sang she was so happy, "where's Ron?"

The younger witch watched the moods of her good friend and 'ex' boyfriend plummet at her querry.

"He isn't here?" Hermione asked.

"No." Ginny answered. "Should he be?"

"Nevermind." Hermione interrupted. "We're not here for him. We need to see Luna and talk to her father."

Ginny looked at Hermione without unwinding from Harry. Harry didn't complain. "I'll show you the way."

"No!" Harry blurted. This wasn't what he wanted. "Tell us how to get there. You need to stay here at the Burrow where it's safe."

Ginny glared at Harry though her arms stayed looped around his neck.

"You want to see Luna? I'm going." She demanded, then her glare fell to a look of concern. "She hasn't come by this break. Hasn't even written."

"What about your Mum? The greens?" Harry tried.

"If we go on brooms then I'm sure to be back before Mum notices anything's amiss."

"I don't have my Fire-"

"We've spares in the shed."

"Hermione's still no go-"

"She can ride with one of us."

Harry couldn't find another angle to argue. He honestly didn't want to.

"Okay."

His verbal surrender caused Ginny to squeal and steal another quick kiss before bouncing away to grab two old family brooms.

Harry looked at Hermione who was looking sternly back at him.

"Well it's not like you talked her out of it…"

Hermione chose not to reply. She did want a Weasley to come with them, but...

Seconds later, Ginny had two brooms in hand.

There was an offer to let Hermione have a broom all to herself that she had to politely refuse. As much as she trusted Harry she still didn't trust the brooms they were using any more than the ones Hogwarts used to teach ickle firsties.

Soon the Burrow was behind them and the forest was a blur beneath their toes. They followed a path Ginny knew well, a path that slid behind hills when necessary to keep out of sight of muggles and between trees when she felt adventurous. Harry loved the path Ginny took. Hermione, not so much. Were it not for the mad rush away from Privet Drive last July, Hermione probably would have held her eyes shut during the adventurous bits, but now she was at least willing to take 'riding shotgun' seriously.

A new structure soon dominated the tree line ahead. It was at the top of a hill and it was distinctive in that way that, for Harry at least, screamed wizard. The building was a giant black stone cylinder with windows at set points around the circumference. It looked more like a watchtower or perhaps a chess piece than a house but there was no denying they were heading straight to it. The tower had to be their end destination; the Lovegood home.

Ginny set down well outside the wildly overgrown yard at the base of the tower. Wards, you see. Besides, it just isn't proper to just appear without warning. Anti-disapparation wards were as much about being proper and respectful as they were about being safe, or so Hermione lectured Harry on the way up the path.

Mr. Lovegood answered the door, not Luna. He didn't seem all that pleased to see Harry either. Hermione said she had some questions for him yet still he hesitated. Ginny asked after Luna and he finally grudgingly let them in. Not the best beginning but the three Gryffindors had questions that needed answering and a nervous wizard was not going to dissuade them in the least.

Luna's home was a stack of rooms pierced by a central spiral stairs. The kitchen was a hand painted explosion of primary colors, the living space one floor up was a cluttered mess of fantastic contraptions, bizarre curios and large explosive horns. Luna's bedroom was apparently the next room up. They didn't go that far just yet, not with Luna not being present to show them around. She was down by the stream collecting Freshwater Plimpies, or so her father claimed.

He offered to go fetch the girl.

"Something's not right here." Ginny whispered to Harry and Hermione as Mr. Lovegood stumbled downstairs and made his way to the door outside. "He's not his normal self today."

"And he didn't really want to let us in, did he?" Harry mused aloud.

"But he knows about the symbol, Harry. He need to know everything he knows about it. Dumbledore left us plenty of clues but the trick is figuring out what they all mean. I need to talk to Xenophilius about the symbol Grindelwald used."

"Clues to what?" Ginny asked.

Harry felt guilty that he couldn't tell her, not that he didn't have far worse to feel guilty about... but at least he had the ring. A finger slid over the bulge in his pants pocket. He immediately felt better.

"I'm really sorry Gin but we can't tell you. It's too dangerous a secret to spread around even to people we trust."

"Ever the hero, Harry," Ginny purred, "protecting me even when I don't want or need protection."

"I agree with Harry, Ginny." Hermione added. "This is bigger than just one or two people. Secrets like this can be the difference between life and death for every muggleborn, half-blood and light pureblood in the British Isles not to mention non-human sentients like house elves and goblins."

"May I offer you all an infusion of Gurdyroots?" Mr. Lovegood called from behind them. He was back from his excursion to get Luna and he came bearing a tea tray and a pot full of a deep purple juice. Apparently Luna wasn't quite done fishing just yet but she would be done soon. The three were of course invited to share in the soup when it was done.

Hermione finally had enough distraction for the day and asked about the necklace Xenophilius wore to Bill and Fleur's wedding.

"Are you referring to the sign of the Deathly Hallows?" He asked.

Apparently she was.

Ginny knew that one. It was one of the story's her mum used to put her brood to bed when they were smaller. It was clear to Harry when looking in the pureblood witch's eye that she thought she could help them out simply due to her pureblood roots. Ginny grew up knowing the kinds of things that a wizard like Albus Dumbledore might chose to use as obscure clues in a vital must solve puzzle. Even with all her book-smarts, Hermione would still lose in a game of Wizarding Trivial Pursuit to the ginger challenger from Ottery St. Catchpole.

The next half hour was spent in a four way discussion of the Deathly Hallows. Harry was the odd wizard out as he knew nothing about them. The legend of three immensely powerful magical items was a bedtime story to Ginny, a fanciful piece of wizarding fiction to Hermione and a factual piece of world history to Mr. Lovegood. Hermione wanted Xenophilius to either prove they were real or admit that they were just a myth. Xenophilius wanted the painfully limited and closed minded girl to open herself to the mysterious wonders of the world around her.

The story of the Deathly Hallows was about the three Peverell brothers and their fateful meeting with Death itself. Each brother was given one gift by the immortal being. Antioch Peverell received a wand of frightening power; he was unmatched in a straight duel. If only he'd kept one eye open at night for the thief that took both his wand and his life as he slept. Cadmus Peverell was gifted a stone which could, after a fashion, return the dead to the mortal plane. Neither he nor his dead wife enjoyed that experience. It was rumored that he killed himself due to the pain he suffered while keeping his wife on a plane she no longer desired to visit. The third and final brother, one Ignotus Peverell, was said to have received an invisibility cloak of rare power, one that would not fade over time. One Ignotus could use to cheat Death itself. Ignotus was the only winner of the three brothers for he used the cloak to evade death long enough to live a long and prosperous life. His last act in life was to cast off the cloak and welcome death as a brother would. It was the three items, the wand, the stone and the cloak that were known as the Deathly Hallows. These three items, if united under one master, could supposedly give that master control over life and death.

The three teens fell into a minor argument over the possible existence of the Deathly Hallows. Their host went downstairs once more to fetch the soup. Could such powerful artifacts exist? At least one was likely... the cloak. Ginny knew well that normal methods of invisibility were temporary. Charms rarely held for more than a few hours. Wards needed to be maintained to prevent failure. Even a Demiguise hair cloak became visible after a few short years of use. If Harry's cloak really was a family heirloom then it was clearly far more powerful and valuable then Harry had ever realized. It may very well be a Hallow.

"Oh my..."

"What?" Ginny's odd exclamation pulled Harry out of his mental drifting.

"Come look at this!"

The little redhead shot up the next flight of stairs, going from the second floor living space to the third floor bedroom. Luna's bedroom.

"Whatever you say about the girl and her creatures you can't deny her skill with the brush." Hermione admitted as the three teens studied the mural on Luna's ceiling.

It was a mural of them. Harry. Ron. Hermoine. Ginny. Neville. Five faces stared back at them with near lifelike detail. They didn't move as Hogwarts' enchanted portraits did yet they had a life all their own. And then there was the chain that held all five faces together. The chain was fine and golden and it flowed in and out of the group of friends. It was only upon closer inspection that the links in the chain were letters spelling out the word 'friends' over and over and over again.

"Shit!"

"Ginny!" Hermione berated her foul mouthed friend.

"Stop looking at the ceiling and look at the floor!"

Harry and Hermione both did as she asked.

"But... but why..." It didn't make sense to Harry. There was dust, heavy dust, on the carpet, her bed, just about everywhere. Her wardrobe was open and empty; cobwebs decorated the interior.

"I have the soup!" A voice called from two floors below. "Ginny? Harry?"

Ginny practically flew back down the stairs to confront her childhood friend's father with Harry and Hermione quickly following in her wake.

"Where is Luna?" Ginny demanded of the nervous man.

"I- I've already told you, Ginny." He answered as he sat a tray with four bowls down. "She is down at the Botions Bridge fishing for Plimpies."

"I don't believe you." Ginny returned defiantly.

"Mister Lovegood, where is Luna?" Harry repeated Ginny's words. "Four bowls of soup for four people. I find it hard to believe that Luna wouldn't get any of the soup she had a hand in making."

Xenophilius was speechless. He took one nervous step back, upsetting the bowls of soup and disturbing one of the room's noisiest fixtures. It was a printing press which had been hidden under a tablecloth, a press that was still operating, and it was churning out new copies of the Quibbler with Harry's picture on the cover. It wasn't a flattering picture. In fact, it was little more than a wanted poster in magazine form.

"Luna's not fishing down by the bridge is she Mister Lovegood?" Harry challenged.

"You supported Harry! You were doing the right thing... why would you do this to him- to us?" If anything Ginny was more incensed than Harry that Xenophilius would turn on them.

The older wizard wilted under the combined glares of three teens.

"They took her. They took my Luna because of what I'd been writing." He whispered. "And I don't know where she is or what they've done to her... but maybe if- if I..."

"If you turn Harry in?" Hermione finished his sentence for him.

"We need to get out of here, Harry." Ginny warned. "We have to leave now."

"They'll be here soon." The man summoned what courage he could and stood in front of the stair as if to deny them an escape. "I must save Luna. I can't lose her."

It was a testament to what a parent would do for their child, something Harry could appreciate that more than most. He still didn't want to be detained by the Ministry though and calmly asked Mr. Lovegood to step aside lest things get unpleasant.

"Harry!" Hermione screamed in warning.

Figures on broomsticks swooped by the nearest window. The three teens' eyes moved instinctively to the next window and they weren't disappointed. The broomriders continued on a full circuit of the house before dropping out of sight, presumably to land near the front door.

Harry almost missed seeing Xenophilius draw his wand to cast a stunner. He dodged. Mr. Lovegoods's stunner struck a horn that was quite a bit more explosive than he thought it was.

-BOOM-

No one missed the explosion which riped the house apart at the seams. Harry and the girls were tossed like ragdolls across the room only to cry out in pain when they hit a wall or a chest of drawers. Xenophilius faired no better as he was thrown bodily down the spiral stair.

"Didn't I tell you there was no need to hurry, Travers?" A voice called out from the floor below.

At least two Ministry wizards were downstairs and they were clearly none too pleased with Mr. Lovegood.

"No... no... upstairs... Potter!"

This clearly wasn't the first time Xenophilius had called the Ministry out to his home in an attempt to get Luna back.

"I swear... I swear... Potter's upstairs!"

"Homenum revelio."

It was the same spell Hermione used when she thought Harry disappeared because of his new invisibility ring.

"There's someone up there all right, Slewyn." Travers' voice could be heard through the clouds of dust and plaster.

Xenophilius was desperate to earn his daughter's release. He swore to them Harry Potter was upstairs.

Slewyn told Xenophilius the if he delivered Potter that he would get Luna back, but if he didn't deliver Potter then he might get part of Luna back. Just enough of her to bury. Soon the sounds of a crazed man digging his way up the blocked stair could be heard.

"Come on," Harry whispered, "we've got to get out of here."

Hermione was about to answer him when a small whimper crossed the room.

"Ginny?" Harry asked, his stomach tying itself in knots.

"I- I-" She hissed. "I think my leg's broken."

The young witch was half buried under a pile of furniture and knickknacks which pinned her firmly to the floor. Her head and right arm were free but little else was. Harry flinched upon seeing the girl grind her teeth against the pain. If only she hadn't come. If only he'd been strong enough to turn her away. If only he weren't so weak.

Harry shook his head to clear the darker thoughts out and focus on their current problem. They were dazed, bloodied. They were stuck in the center of a broken house with the father of a friend, a man who called the Ministry on them. They had two wands between them- and who knew if Ginny could even reach hers- and their opponents were quick with the hexes as poor Mr. Lovegood well knew.

Not coming up with a better idea, Harry moved to help dig Ginny out of the rubble pile.

Hermione bit her lip, her dust covered brow wrinkled in thought. Brown eyes franticly taking in the room as Harry made his way to the youngest Weasley. With Ginny in such a bad position the quick and clean escape plans just weren't coming.

"How do we get her out of here?" Harry pressed Hermione.

"I don't know! She can't disapparate on her own and side-along apparation with an injured passenger is risky in the extreme... especially with her pinned under that dresser."

Xenophilius's broken printing press began to move and shift at the top of the stair. Harry still didn't know what to do. Harry's hand slid over his pocket as he tried to dry his sweaty palms.

Hold on. He wasn't totally defenseless. He did have the ring... and Hermione had the Sword of Gryffindor in the mokeskin pouch she was wearing around her neck. The blade was a guaranteed quick death for anyone who felt it's bite but it was a weapon and Harry wasn't about to take Hermoine's wand from her leaving two defenseless girls at the mercy of Voldemort's stooges.

He didn't want to be a killer... but then... he already was one, wasn't he? How else was he supposed to get Ginny out of the trap he'd led her into yet again? Was he willing to risk Hermione only to have one wand against three?

"Hermione," Harry stated with more confidence than he truly felt, "give me the sword."

"What?"

With a growing sense of purpose, Harry slipped the ring on his finger and promptly turned invisible.

"Harry?!" Hermione called with rising alarm.

"The sword!" He whispered furiously. "Now!"

Hermione only hesitated a moment before grabbing the pouch and sifting quickly through its depths. A few seconds later her hand came out wrapped around the jeweled pommel of a sword gripped firmly under white knuckles. Harry carefully took control of the goblin blade before using it to smash open a nearby window. Glass shards showered down from the impact just as Mr. Lovegood pushed his printing press aside with one final heave.

"I'll get you for this you son of a bitch!" Harry shouted for all the world to hear before leaping through the window and colliding with one of Xenophilius's crabapple trees. His descent was as loud as it was painful and he only avoided falling on his own sword by the slimmest of margins. Harry quickly rearmed himself, taking a moment to admire the sword as it became invisible in his hand.

"C'mon Travers!" Slewyn shouted in excitement. "Think of all them galleons the little tosser's worth!"

The two men rounded on Harry's landing site. No one was there.

"Damn!" Slewyn roared. "He's run off!"

Travers grunted and spit on the nearest shrub. "Well the little coward left 'is bird upstairs, didn't 'e? She's likely to be worth a bit of gold on her own."

Harry's face flushed in anger, not that anyone could see. He'd be damned before either one of these two men got their hands on the girls upstairs. Harry's hand gripped the sword tighter and tighter.

"And who's to say we need to hand the little twat over right this minute, eh?" Travers asked his mate with a leer.

Slewyn smiled knowingly. "We should interrogate her ourselves, yeah? S'not like anyone will care what she looks like when we bring her in if she really is Potter's bird."

No. Absolutely not. The air whistled as an invisible sword whipped around in a tight arc.

"Aaaaah!"

Slewyn jerked hard and fell onto one of the stumps lining the path, his wand falling to the ground in the middle of a fine spray of blood. Somehow Slewyn's troubles had yet to end as long prickly vines shot out of the top of the stump he fell onto and immediately drew the wizard down against itself. The 'stump' was a Snargaluff. Slewyn shook violently as he suffered assaulted from within by Basilisk venom and from without by a flesh-eating magical herb.

-bang- -bang-

Travers fired off two dark spells at the invisible teen but missed both times. Harry was already slipping around him in preparation for another swing.

"Homenum revelio." The man tried to no effect.

"Dammit Travers," Slewyn groaned, "help me!"

Travers must not have been a very loyal friend- that or he was smart enough to see the trouble he himself was in- because instead of helping his mate out he spun in place and -pop- disapparated away. Not wanting to waste what little time he had, Harry quickly picked up Slewyn's wand and sprinted into the Lovegood home.

In the garden behind him, Slewyn's pained moaning lessened. Then it stopped. The Snargaluff continued to feed on him.

"Hermione!" Harry shouted.

"Harry!" She returned from the second floor. "She's not pinned anymore but she's still injured!"

Harry scrambled over an unconscious Mr. Lovegood picking up that man's wand in the process. A quick look at the girls showed that Hermione had indeed pulled Ginny free from the pile of broken wood and stone but the smaller girl was clearly in a bad way. Her right leg was broken below the knee and she was leaning heavily on Hermione.

Harry's heart felt like it was going to rip itself out of his chest. He did this to Ginny. Once more she paid the price for his inability to avoid traps. Once more her body was sacrificed in place of his. Once more those closest to him paid in blood.

Ginny looked Harry in the eyes and grinned through the pain. "We're going to have to sit down and have a long talk about what is and is not acceptable behavior when taking a witch out on a date, Harry. No wonder your date with Cho was such a spectacular failure."

Harry fought to keep from smiling. They weren't out of danger yet.

"We need to leave now." Harry told Hermione who was even now applying healing charms to her friend's broken leg.

"It's too risky to apparate with her like this!" Episkey. A numbing charm. A wound cleaning charm. A conjured splint.

"The brooms are downstairs-"

A staccato wave of disapparation could be heard at the gate beneath the Lovegood home.

"No time!"

Harry grabbed Hermione's hand. Understanding the dire situation they were in, she wrapped her arm tightly around Ginny's waist.

Without any other warning, Harry focused on getting the three of them out out of there and

-pop-

End Chapter

Chapter Notes:

This chapter follows along with Deathly Hallows chapters twenty and twenty-one. Once again, a few lines sink up closely to cannon as the story hasn't completely fallen off the beaten path. It's only as I now go back through book seven several years after I first read it that I am reminded how weak Dumbledore's clues were and how much sheer dumb luck influenced the horcrux hunt. I tend to think that luck, not love, was the power he knows not. McGonagall called it first year after the troll.