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Chapter 11: The Strategy and the Ecstasy
Morning didn’t begin until much later than Harry would’ve liked. He’d already showered, dressed and eaten before anyone else was stirring. Ginny joined him in the kitchen soon thereafter.
“Love, can you plait my hair?” Ginny asked as she came out of the bedroom, her fiery tresses still damp from her shower. She handed him her brush as she kissed him. Ginny always preferred plaits to pony tails when she’d be flying.
“Sure.” Harry shifted his seat, leaving a space for her in front of him.
She pulled up a chair and began to eat the eggs and rashers he’d made. With a contented smile, Harry began to brush her thick red locks.
“That feels wonderful.”
His smile only got wider. How did I ever get this lucky?
Ginny didn’t hear the thought, but she felt it. She smiled. “Thought I’d have a peek about and see exactly where we are.”
Harry stopped brushing. “Not alone.”
She turned around. “We can’t both leave. Not with those two having a lie-in. Besides, you’ll need to guide me back in with the protective spells up.”
“Look, we need to get our bearings. I’ll take the Cloak.”
“No, I’ll go.”
She cocked an eyebrow at him. “I thought I was the best flyer, Mr. Head Auror.”
Harry didn’t like that logic at all. He was about to argue when a glare from Ginny stopped him.
He sighed. “All right.”
Her glare turned into a mischievous grin.
Harry frowned. He’d seen that look before. “But, you’ll definitely take the Cloak and the link stays open the whole time, thoughts or feelings, it doesn’t matter.”
“No problem. How else would I find my way back?” With a peck on his cheek, she turned back around. “Plait, please.”
“You’re lucky I’m such a dutiful slave,” Harry said as he returned to gently pulling the brush through her flaming locks.
“You are pretty well trained.”
Harry just grunted, but as he continued to run his hands through her luxurious hair, the smile slowly returned to his face. Once he was finished, she turned and gave him a proper kiss. Then she began to suit up in her Armor.
He eyed her warily as she was getting ready. “Gin, if you’re gone more than forty-five minutes, I’m coming after you. Do you understand?”
“Yes, love." She grabbed a rasher and flashed him a smile as she headed out the flap with her Firebolt. Harry noticed the Sword of Gryffindor was tucked into her broom-clutch.
He sat in silence for a moment after she left. Then he shook his head to clear it of his worries. He’d just refilled his cup of tea when his partner padded into the kitchen.
“Morning, Harry.” Ron sleepily slid into a chair and grabbed a roll.
Ron’s eyebrows shot up. “Yeah.” The roll was momentarily forgotten
Harry tried to measure his words. “Ron…”
“What?” the redhead asked somewhat hesitantly.
Harry heard Ginny very distinctly, Let it go for now. Don’t go there.
Reluctantly, he relented. “Ginny’s out doing a sweep. Just wanted to know you were up before I went out to guide her in when she comes back. The protective spells are still up.”
“Ok.” Ron nodded slowly.
Gin, how ‘bout if I just hint at the problem?
It’s not a problem. Yet. Gods you’re stubborn Potter… Be my guest.
Harry charged on. “Look mate, we were sloppy yesterday. We stayed in that field way too long and slept without anyone on watch.”
Ron winced. Harry was relieved to see that.
“We just…we need to be more careful is all,” Harry finished.
Ron nodded again, sheepishly.
After the two shared a knowing look, Ron relaxed and began to pile his plate with food.
“I’m heading out.” Then, an afterthought, “Hey, did you bring the Deluminator?”
“It’s always in my armor,” Ron said around a mouthful of eggs.
“Glad to hear it. If we left a small chink in the protective circle around the tent, it should let us find our way back, don’t you think?”
Ron stopped chewing. “It should. I’ll ask Hermione.”
“Otherwise, Gin and I could use the link to guide us back anytime we do a patrol, but that would mean one of us, either her or me, would always have to stay behind; not practical.” Harry grabbed his Firebolt and went out the flap to keep an eye and an ear out for Ginny. He found a tree stump inside the protected circle around the tent that he decided to use as a stool and settled in.
Counting the minutes seemed more like counting hours. If anything happens to her, I’ll skin Ron.
He knew she could take care of herself, but that didn’t make it any easier to think of her in danger. At the Battle of Hogwarts she’d gone toe-to-toe with Bellatrix. With Hermione and Luna’s help and she still almost got killed. Harry shuddered as he remembered the killing curse that had sailed within inches of his fiancée. But she dodged it. She’s scrappy.
The Battle of the Pitch was nearly worse. A cold tingle crept up his spine as his troubled mind drudged up the memory of that horrible day.
Ginny had been the one that rallied the Quidditch players to attack the dark wizards as Harry and her family desperately tried to protect the panicked crowd. The Death Eaters quickly realized she was organizing the aerial assault and were determined to stop her; they focused all their fury at the red-haired witch. Curses slammed into her shield spell and she spun and dove away from the killing curses that paid no attention to Protego.
By the time Harry had fought his way through the crowds to get a clear shot at the rampaging Death Eaters threatening her, Ginny had already dispatched two of them. Even so, it took the concerted efforts of the entire Weasley clan and the remnants of the Quidditch teams to drive the dark wizards back.
The Death Eaters had placed anti-Apparation and anti-Dissaparation wards around the pitch, hoping to catch Harry and the Weasleys in one fell swoop. The wards had also prevented the Auror Corps from aiding the besieged wizards inside the pitch until Harry had killed the warder with an Expulso hex. Once the barrier was down any of the Death Eaters that were still able to, Disapparated. The Battle of the Pitch was over.
Harry would never forget the feeling of relief that washed over him when he finally got through the crowds and reached Ginny. He nearly smothered her in his embrace, all the time asking nervously if she was hurt, if she was okay. She kept assuring him she was fine and probably would have laughed his concern away if she hadn’t felt the pure terror that was pouring off him in waves through the bond.
The idea of losing her had nearly crippled him during the battle. After so many losses in his life, Harry didn’t think he could withstand another. It had taken all of his self-control to keep focused through the fighting, especially after his best mate was wounded.
For his peace of mind, if for no other reason, having Ginny go through the Auror training was the only solution he could find to his ever-present worry that she would always be a target. Because of me…
Harry shook his head, trying to clear it of dark thoughts as he scanned the skies, listening for the telltale sound of Ginny’s broom. But he still couldn't help but reflect over all of the near misses, all of the narrow escapes the last eleven years encompassed. It was simple maths; sooner or later, the odds would have to catch up to them. How much longer can our luck hold?
At forty-five minutes on the dot, Harry thought he heard the whoosh of a broom. He couldn’t measure the relief he felt when he finally saw Ginny whip off the Cloak and land in their clearing. He guided her in through the protective spells.
Harry nearly crushed her with his hug.
“Easy, Potter,” she said with a smile. “But it’s nice to know you care.”
He shot her a grimace.
She smiled and placed her hand on his cheek. “Love, I was careful.” She kissed him gently. Then she was all business. “I got a very good look around. No Death Eaters or Inferi. And I know where we are.”
When they entered the tent Hermione was sitting on Ron’s lap, feeding him what had to be his second breakfast.
“Hi you two,” Hermione cooed.
Ginny felt Harry tense. Patience. Get down to business. But don’t be an arse about this.
Harry grunted, “Ron, we need the maps. Gin’s found out where we are.”
Reluctantly, Hermione leapt off Ron’s lap as he pulled the maps out of one of the pockets of his Armor that was hanging over a chair. At least Ron’s showered and dressed, Harry thought.
Sorting through the maps, Ron settled on one of northern France, which he then spread out on the table.
“We’re here.” Ginny pointed to Brittany, the westernmost province on the French Coast. “Just east of Rennes.”
“What did you see?” Harry asked.
“Refugees. Miles and miles of refugees coming from the east. The roads are choked.” Ginny continued, “There can’t be anyone left in Normandy.”
Harry turned to Hermione, who was still dressed only in a bathrobe. “Can we Apparate through the Teeth and just cut across the channel from here?”
Hermione shook her head as she cinched her robe around her. “No. It’s a two-way barrier. As you saw, it’s different than other wards.”
“I don’t know about the rest of you, but parts of that Legilimens were a blur,” Ginny added; she was met with nods around the table. “Can you tell us more?”
Hermione launched into lecture mode. “The Teeth aren’t like other wards. They’re special. They don’t seem to have any effect on Muggles, but no one magical can pass through them, so no flying in on Firebolts either.” She steeled herself for what she knew she had to say and where they had to go. “We have to cross at Calais and enter the country at Dover.”
Ginny shot Harry a worried look.
“Riddle didn’t close the weak spot?” Ron asked.
“He did and made some improvements, too. But, before the invasion, the resistance managed to open it back up, with help from the French Ministry. But there’s a catch. There’s only one spot in Calais that we can leave from, by Apparation or by broom; line of sight only. No one’s sure why, but when we tried to reach it from any other angle…” Hermione shuddered. “It’s the only safe way in.”
“I could try to force a breach with the Elder Wand, unless…Alarms?” Harry asked.
Hermione nodded again. “They’d know we were there as soon as it breached. It took months to force an opening at Dover again and not raise any eyebrows. The Elder Wand might change things, but there’s no way to be sure.”
“Not worth the risk. It’ll have to be Dover.” Harry didn’t like the prospect, but preferred the safer approach. “What about Riddle’s wards in Normandy?”
“Hard to say. But they should be relatively solid. There will be holes on the channel side where they’re landing. The last we heard they had Portkeys in Britain that emptied on to the beaches and return Portkeys at the arrival points,” Hermione added.
“Can’t we just Apparate to Calais from here?” Ginny asked.
Hermione shook her head. “If Riddle’s wards in Normandy are anything like the Teeth, that could be very dangerous. We could end up getting sucked into a killing zone.” Hermione shuddered as she remembered the tests on the Teeth she and Ron had done that revealed just that. Judging by the looks she received from around the table, it seemed everyone remembered that memory vividly. “Flying into the wards in Normandy shouldn’t have the same result, but they’ll still act as a barrier.”
Ron jumped in. “Then we have to fly east, up the coast, staying near the beach.”
Harry was glad to see his chief strategist had finally gotten it together enough to offer advice. “That’ll take us a few days. Even on Firebolts.”
Ron shrugged. “No choice. We travel in arcs. We’ll fly out over the channel, coming in to find the holes in the wards and camp on the beaches as we go. But we’ll have to do it at night to be safe, even with disillusionment charms. Tricky, but doable. It’s a new moon this week. Or should be if time runs the same way here as it does back home.”
“It does. But travel between the worlds isn’t instantaneous; we should’ve lost about two days in transit, even though it feels like we didn’t,” Hermione responded.
Ginny piped in. “This all depends on the French holding Calais until we get there. Will they be able to?”
Hermione’s brow furrowed. “It was a strong point; the French Ministry vowed to hold it till the end. It should still be free of Death Eaters.”
“Alright. Are we sure Nagini’s at the Ministry?” Harry asked.
“The Imperium,” Hermione corrected. “Riddle abolished the Ministry and the Wizengamot. Now it’s called the Imperium. The git. Anyway, Nagini’s there. In the Department of Mysteries.”
Ron looked a question at her.
Hermione answered, “The resistance. I thought long and hard about letting anyone in on the secret of the Horcruxes. Maxime knows. But, on her advice, we didn’t tell the French Ministry. That may have been a mistake.” She shook her head. “The resistance knows only as much as they need to. But they know Nagini’s important; they were able to verify that she’s there,” Hermione finished.
“Do we have any way of contacting them?” Harry asked.
“Not without Maxime; she was the only one I know who knew how to reach them; other people must, but I don’t know who they are. Gods, Harry, I don’t even know if she got out of Beauxbatons alive.” Hermione fought to keep her voice steady. “I did have some indirect contact with the resistance. We always tried to keep things on a need-to-know basis for their safety and mine. From those second and third-hand communications, I think there may be a surviving member of Dumbledore’s Army with them.”
Ron turned to Hermione. “Any idea who?”
“No. Until a few months ago, I didn’t think there were any left…” Hermione fell silent. Ron wrapped his arm around her. “If they are DA, we might be able to contact them with the Galleons. I never risked using the coins before out of fear that I’d expose myself or whoever still had one. But it might work. Hard to tell them where to meet us though. Maybe I can do something with that and modify them to indicate a meeting place too.”
“Will ours work here?” Harry asked.
“They should. Do you have them?” Hermione looked around the table. Nostalgia ran deep with the Quartet, in seconds three of Hermione’s Enchanted Coins bounced on the table in front of her.
Hermione smiled. “I brought both of mine too.” She put their coins in the pocket of her bathrobe. “I’ll see if Harry’s affects the one I have from this reality. If it does and I can alter the Protean Charm, there might be a way to communicate with the DA, if any of them are…” She didn’t finish.
Harry nodded slowly and gestured back at the map. “Once we get to Calais, line of sight Apparation to Dover, and the same to the Imperium. Then what? We can’t wait for the opportunity to infiltrate like we did last time.” Harry hesitated before continuing, hoping Ron would stay focused.
“Blitz,” Ron answered.
Ginny raised an eyebrow at him.
Ron turned to his fiancée. “Love, most of Riddle’s people are in France right now, aren’t they?”
“Yes. The fighting in Normandy was so brutal, they started to pull anyone and everyone they could find into the Battle of the Hedgerows. Even with Germany in the fight, they still should be stretched pretty thin.”
Ron turned back to Ginny. “Lightning strike. Uh, think Quidditch. Two Chasers on the Keeper with the Beaters out of the way. We hit the Ministry hard, late night or early morning. Quick assault, with the Elder Wand to breach its wards. It should work because they’ve left the homefront weak.”
“Imperium,” Ginny corrected her brother. “And, even with fewer Death Eaters, there’s still Riddle to contend with.”
“There is that.” Ron frowned.
Hermione filled the silence. “The Talisman is still largely a mystery, but…”
Harry’s head snapped around. “Blood protection?” He remembered that the Talisman was infused with his other-self’s blood.
Hermione gave him a thoughtful look. “Maybe…All we knew for sure was that your blood, mine and Ron’s was key in finding you…us, in the other reality. But there’s no telling if the Talisman can do anything against Riddle. Here,” Hermione paused; she knew she had to say it, to remind them of what they saw in her memories, but she dreaded the words, “Riddle didn’t kill you; Bellatrix did. The blood protection that protected you, that protected all of us against him after you…went into the Forest never came into being.”
Harry wasn’t willing to give the point up. “But my mother’s blood still runs through his veins. It has to count for something. As long as he lived, it anchored me to life. That must be why this reality’s so unstable.”
Hermione shook her head. “Either way, I don’t think the blood protection that saved you in the other reality holds here, now.”
Harry sighed, exasperated. “Of course not. Choices…”
Ginny felt the wave of anxiety hit her fiancé again. Clutching his arm she sent all of her love through the bond to steady him. It seemed to work. Then she turned to Hermione. “So, Imperium not Ministry; has he changed anything else there or will we still be able to find our way around?”
“Comparing my memories and what I know from what the resistance sent to us, the Imperium is still the same layout that we’re all familiar with from the other reality. That should help. And Riddle’s made it his home. The Wizengamot Chambers are his personal quarters.”
Ron frowned. “Still, hitting the Ministry, err, Imperium and getting both Nagini and Riddle in one fell swoop won’t be easy. I’d really like to talk to the resistance first, find out what help they can give.”
Harry nodded. “Well, at least we have a strategy. One problem though. Even if the Imperium is lightly guarded, we still have to get through all those Death Eaters and Inferi in Normandy to get to Calais.”
No one had a response to that.
Harry took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. As he put them back on he sighed. “We have to be very, very careful.” His eyes fell purposely on Ron and Hermione. “We break camp at nightfall.”
“Well, then I’ll get dressed. Ron? Care to help me?” Hermione fixed him with a seductive smile and the two disappeared back into their bedroom.
Harry was about to object, but when Ginny put an arm on his shoulder, he stopped. “Don’t say it, Harry.”
AN: I don't own Harry Potter. The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.