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Children's Crusade by theelderwand

Format: Novel
Chapters: 19
Word Count: 66,721
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Strong Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme, Contains Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Arthur, Molly, Lucius, Narcissa, Voldemort, Seamus, Ginny
Pairings: Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione

First Published: 11/19/2009
Last Chapter: 11/13/2011
Last Updated: 11/25/2012

Summary:
Banner:PhoenixFire; Betas:AvadaKedavra1, siledubghlase & 1917farmgirl



The guerilla war that followed the Battle of Hogwarts has been won by Hd Auror Harry Potter and Asst. Ron Weasley. But when an uninvited guest arrives at their engagement party,the news she brings could destroy the world the Quartet has struggled so hard to create.Written to stand alone,it picks up where Stop All The Clocks left off.


Chapter 1: The Fall of Beauxbatons
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

The explosion shook Hermione’s chamber so violently that she was thrown from her bed. She scrambled to her feet, immediately awake, only to hear the furtive wailings of the young redheaded boy who shared her lodgings. “Easy Ronnie. It’s okay love,” she soothed, scooping the child out of his crib and pressing him to her chest. Ronald Harry Weasley was just slightly more than three. Every day, Hermione had been stricken by the fact that he looked more and more like his father, dead these four years.

Hermione grabbed her beaded bag and her traveling cloak. It contained all they owned; the past years had taught her the importance of always being ready to run. Another violent tremor shook the chamber, nearly knocking Hermione off her feet.

“Mummy, make it stop!” the child wailed.

Make it stop. The words rang in Hermione’s ears. She had wanted nothing more than to do just that, ever since that fated day on the Cliffs of Dover, the day Ron had died saving her and their unborn son. With a grimace, she forced that horrid memory out of her mind.

Just then, a Patronus in the shape of an Abraxan horse sailed through the wall. “They’ve breached the gates. Come to my study! You must go now!” The ghostly winged-horse spoke in the unmistakable baritone of Madame Maxime, Headmistress of Beauxbatons.

“Ronnie, we have to go,” Hermione said, trying to keep her voice calm for Ronnie’s sake. She could almost hear the voice of her dead lover, “Hermione, you gotta get out! It’s your only chance!”

“The bad men found us?” Ronnie’s eyes were wide with alarm, tears streaming down his face.

Hermione bit her lip, knowing that lying to her son would serve no purpose. “Yes, dear.” Two months! The French Ministry promised that the Death Eaters would be held up in the wards of the hedgerow country for two months! How in Merlin’s name did they get here so fast! “Remember what I told you. Hold on to me and don’t let go.” The child nodded, eyes wide; he had stopped crying. Hermione slid into her trainers with practiced speed. Squeezing him to her she flung herself out the door, still wearing her flannel nightgown.

The corridors of Beauxbatons were in an uproar. Students were running down the cathedral-like halls that were only now beginning to be illuminated by the dawn. They sought the hoped-for safety of the grounds behind the school; the professors and staff flew toward the gates. The scene threatened to dredge up the horrific images of the Disaster at Hogwarts. No time for ghosts from the past. 

Screams and shouts in French were interspersed with explosions and Gods no! Hexes being hurled in German accents.

***************

Just inside the now destroyed gates that had protected the grounds of Beauxbatons Academy, two wizards surveyed the fighting. The taller of the two was a German in his 50’s, grey-haired and portly; he wore grey robes, shot with gold piping. His name was Frederich Dorninger, newly-anointed Head of the Wizarding Chancellery. The younger, whose robes were jet black, was in his early twenties; his black hood covered his head and most of his face. A third wizard, also clothed in grey robes, ran up to them and addressed himself to the Chancellor.

“Mein Herr, the gates are breached and our men have begun to occupy the main floors. Resistance is stiffening, but should crumble within the hour.” With a dismissive wave of his hand, Dorninger sent the messenger on his way.

The Chancellor then turned to the young man dressed in black on his right and, in heavily accented English said, “You know why the French planted trees along the Champs-Élysées? So that we Germans could march in the shade.” He laughed heartily at his own joke. But the younger man displayed no amusement.

“Dorninger. We need to take them now, before the Mudblood can escape. My Master’s instructions were clear. This isn’t happening quickly enough.”

“Patience. We must clear through the secondary defenses first. The halls are choked, as you can see,” he finished, waving his hand at the chaos and confusion before them.

“The Dark Lord has provided you with a cohort of Inferi. Send them in on the flanks.” The younger wizard ordered, turning on Dorninger.

“Loose the Inferi?” Dorninger was no saint. A few unlucky youthful casualties would not cost him any sleep. But the idea of wholesale slaughter unnerved him. “My young friend . . .”

But the young wizard cut across him. “Dorninger. I’m not your friend. Today, I’m the voice of your new Master. Do not forget what you owe him. Failure to repay him, in full, will be most unpleasant. I assure you.” The pure ice in the younger wizard’s voice chilled Dorninger to the bone. “You’ll do as you’re told.”

Dorninger calculated the consequences; he made his choice almost without hesitation. “I will see to it immediately.” In rapid fire German, Dorninger called to a messenger, who then ran off back to the fighting. Almost immediately, the screams from within the corridors escalated as hex and curse fell thick.

Beneath his black hood, Draco Malfoy smiled savagely.

******

Hermione dashed down the halls, wending her way through the frantic students and harried teachers. One voice rose above the din, she recognized it immediately; Hermione’s French had become flawlessly conversant. “Madame Granger! Thank the gods you’re both alright! We are breached!”

“Pierre, how bad?” she asked. Pierre DuChamp was Beauxbatons’ Charms Professor. An aging and grandfatherly wizard, he had taken a special interest in Hermione and little Ronnie. At five feet four inches, stout, with a balding pate, he reminded her so much of Slughorn in appearance, Dumbledore in temperament. She was relieved to see him.

“We have only minutes before they enter the main hall,” he said, hitching his bathrobe around his ample waist. As if to underscore the urgency in his voice, a portion of the ceiling cascaded downward, barely missing them both. Pierre grabbed Hermione by the arm, shoving her and Ronnie out of the way. “The passages! Madame Maxime sent me for you. Come!”

Off they sped. As they approached a large statue of Athena, Pierre shouted an incantation in Greek. The statue shot aside, revealing a secret passageway. Before either could enter, the wall opposite them exploded inward, throwing them off their feet. As she righted herself, Hermione soothed Ronnie, whom she had shielded from the blast. Slowly, Pierre, too, picked himself from the cold floor. That’s when they saw a wave of Inferi, flooding through the gigantic hole where the far wall used to stand.

Hermione whipped Bellatrix’s wand from her robes in a blur as she shouted, “Infernalis Conflagratio!” The column of demon fire spewed from her wand, fierce, tight and deadly. In quick succession the nearest Inferi were consumed with an ear piercing howl, and the grey-clad wizards behind them leapt back through the breach, diving for cover.

It had taken a great deal of time and effort for Hermione to master the spell that had claimed her lover; containing her grief enough to even attempt it had cost her months of nightmares. But, given the horrific world she lived in and the need to ensure that their son never met with his father’s fate, she knew she had no choice. Now, facing down the very horrors for which she had prepared for so long, her face was a determined mask of pure control. Unwilling to risk further exposure of herself or her child to the inferno, she coolly and calmly spoke “Finite Incantatem.” The flames, grudgingly, were sucked back into her deadly wand.

Pierre looked at her dumbfounded. I knew she was powerful, but this . . .

Hermione tried to soothe her traumatized child as she faced Pierre and asked him the question to which she feared she already knew the answer. “The German Chancellery has fallen?”

“The sons of Durmstrang are now in open league with the Dark Lord.” The pain was evident in Pierre’s voice.

They dashed into the passageway, which sealed itself behind them. “Lumos.” Pierre’s wand lit, showing the way. The Charms Professor gingerly took the young boy in his arms as his mother donned her traveling cloak while they ran. Pierre was one of Ronnie’s favorites; he went willingly. “They invaded through the Alps. No one knows how the wards there could’ve failed.” He passed the trembling boy back to his mother.

The Elder Wand, Hermione thought. Though muffled by the thick stone surrounding the passage, the cacophony of the battle that raged outside was still audible.
Pierre continued, “We received a Patronus just as this assault began.”

There had been persistent rumors that Voldemort’s power and influence were rising in the East. Despite this, when his forces breached the wards in Normandy, it was still hoped that the eastern borders would remain at peace. The Baltic and Slavic ministries had long been closely associated with the Death Eater regime; given their assumed proximity to Durmstrang, this was not surprising. However, everyone prayed that Germany would remain steadfast and that the Eastern associations would not become alliances. These prayers had obviously gone unanswered.

They could hear the battle raging as they ran down the passageway. Although he was trying to be strong, Ronnie clasped ever tighter to his mother’s neck.

“Don’t be frightened, love. We’ll be leaving soon.” 

She desperately hoped this was a promise she could keep after so many had been broken. Four years ago, Harry had promised to end Voldemort; instead it was he who had been killed by Bellatrix in the Forbidden Forest during what the Death Eater's called the "Battle of Hogwarts."  To Hermione, it would always be known as the "Disaster,"  not the "Battle." Ron had promised never to leave her, but had died four days later on the Cliffs of Dover, consumed by the Fiendfyre he had conjured to destroy the company of Death Eaters that had ambushed them, allowing Hermione to escape to Calais. Hermione had promised Ronnie that they were safe with Fleur’s family, only to have to flee for their lives when Death Eater assassins had found them in the dead of night. For the past two years, she had assured Ronnie that they’d found a refuge at Beauxbatons; something she had only recently dared to let herself believe. Now, that promise too had been broken. In the end, this world seemed to offer no patch of ground that was safe from Voldemort and his minions.

********

Madame Olympe Maxime’s study was adorned with enchanted paintings of former Headmasters and Headmistresses, works of art from around the globe and decorated with the finest furniture Wizarding Paris could offer. It represented a veritable fortune worth of Galleons. But the Headmistress would have traded it all for a squad of vicious French Aurors to save her dying school.

She had sent for help, which had been promised, but was still nowhere to be seen. She feared that the battles in the North were not going nearly as well as the papers had been reporting and, taxed to the limit, there was no help to send. Despite the terrific importance of the task that lay before her, she desperately felt the need to be in the middle of the fight, protecting her students. If this fails, more children will die. The thought helped steel her nerves and her resolve.

In the center of the room, Olympe had set up a boiling cauldron, to which she hurriedly added ingredients. She had just begun a counterclockwise stir of the elixir when Hermione, Ronnie and Pierre burst into her study. Another explosion rocked the Academy’s main building.

“Hermione!” she exclaimed as her English friend came rushing in with the Charms Professor. “We’re almost out of time. You must leave now.”

“Olympe, I don’t know how you managed to find it,” Hermione said breathlessly as she tried to comfort Ronnie.

“It just arrived last night.” She held up the vial that contained the last and most difficult of ingredients to obtain: the blood of Harry Potter. Looking at it gave Hermione a chill; it took a great deal of effort to restrain her grief. She couldn’t bring herself to ask how the Headmistress had obtained it.

Olympe instantly understood the wash of emotions that was nearly drowning Hermione, so she quickly emptied the vial’s contents into the cauldron. “No time for this. Here.” She handed Hermione a golden amulet in the shape of a teardrop, offset with an emerald stone, suspended from a long golden cord. The Talisman Deschain and the spells that were about to be cast represented nearly two solid years of work and research. Hermione hung the Talisman around her neck. In the hall beyond the door, they could hear the fighting getting closer.

“Pierre, please assist,” Olympe said, raising her head to the wizard.

Nodding, the aging Professor rapidly approached the cauldron and moved his wand in a figure eight, as he began repeating the incantations. Hermione knew the spells and the wand movements, having done the bulk of the research on the Talisman herself. However, there was too little time for this to be the work of only one magus; they combined their efforts. The shouts and curses of the fighting sounded as if they were coming from right outside the door.

Hermione lifted her arm over the cauldron, drawing blood from the limb with her wand. Several drops went into the mixture. Then she turned to Ronnie, looking into his blue eyes. His father’s eyes. His father’s blood . . .

“Ronnie, dear. Mummy needs you to be strong, ok?” The boy nodded nervously. “I need to prick your arm dear. It will just hurt for a minute. I promise.” Ronnie set his jaw and nodded. So brave. So like his father. Hermione had to restrain her tears as she lifted her wand to her young son’s arm and, ever so gently, drew a few drops of his blood. The child didn’t flinch and it was that display of strength that finally forced the tears from Hermione’s eyes.

“I’m ok, Mum,” he soothed through watery eyes. “Don’t cry.” Hermione tried to force a smile at her son and hugged him tightly as a few drops of his blood went into the cauldron.

With a last flourish of his wand, Pierre looked at Hermione. “It’s ready.” Hermione dipped the Talisman in the vat. Immediately, the stone changed from emerald green to ruby red.

Olympe banished the iron vessel, taking several steps backwards to clear the center of the room, which Hermione, Ronnie on her hip, now moved to occupy.

“I owe you both my life. Our lives,” she said, struggling to keep her voice steady.

Olympe, suppressing her own tears, said “This has to end or two worlds will be consumed in darkness. There is no other way. Remember, think of a better place.”

Hermione nodded as the tears spilled over her cheeks. Clutching her son in one arm and her wand in the other, she made the final incantation and wand stroke. Just as the door to the Headmistresses’ Study flew off the hinges, Hermione felt as though she was being pulled apart. The last thing she saw were curses and hexes flying through the air. Then everything went black …

******

Lucius Malfoy, his black cloak splayed behind him, walked briskly through the corridors of the Imperium; it hadn’t been called the Ministry in years. He took little comfort from the bureaucrats that cowed and scraped as they rapidly cleared a path for him. Providing this news to the Dark Lord would not be pleasant.

It had taken years of hard work and maneuvering, and the deaths of nearly the entire core of the original Death Eaters, for him to re-insinuate himself into the Dark Lord’s good graces. Now, having finally returned to his rightful place and restored his families’ honor, he was not relishing the audience that was about to follow.

He had only recently received word from Draco, who was “observing” the advance of their allies into southern France. In truth, Draco was actually leading the assault. That fool Dorninger couldn’t be trusted with something so important. Finally pulling Germany into the Dark Lord’s orbit was largely Lucius’ doing; thus any failure in the south would be, indirectly, his fault. At least the news from the north of France was no better than the news from the south. The Normandy invasion was the Dark Lord’s idea.

In Normandy, the coastal wards, which were hastily thrown up in the weeks following the Battle of Hogwarts, had collapsed easily. However, the new wards they faced in the hedgerow country had not been so easy to thwart. Now, the Death Eaters were forced to advance on foot and broom. The casualties were enormous.

In the South, Beauxbatons had fallen; the Academy’s coat of arms, two crossed golden wands each shooting three stars, was already on its way to London as a trophy. They were mopping up the last of the resistance now. But the Mudblood had escaped. Draco’s information suggested that, somehow, she had managed to Disapparate despite the Anti-Disapparation Charms that had been placed around the Academy by their fellow-dark wizards. The girl was infuriating; she had slipped the noose countless times and many had paid for their incompetence as a result.

Four years ago, Voldemort ordered Yaxley’s death shortly after Granger and Weasley had escaped the ambush Yaxley had set for them at the Tonks’ home. Not long after, Greyback was lucky to have been obliterated by the blood traitor’s Fiendfyre (at least the Unspeakables believed that was what happened at Dover); if Fenrir hadn’t, he would have met an even worse fate at Voldemort’s hands upon his return. The sole assassin who had survived the assault on the Delacour’s Chateau two years later had been Crucioed into madness before he could finish his report.

And now, that same ire was about to be focused on the delicate flesh of one Lucius Malfoy. Grimly he entered the Audience Chamber, which had formerly housed the Wizengamot. The Dark Lord had disbanded the assembly years ago. As he approached his Master’s throne, he dropped to his knees.

“What news, Lucius?”

“My Lord, Beauxbatons has fallen. Cannes will be in our possession shortly.”

“The city is of no importance, Lucius…She has escaped.” It was an accusation, not a question.

“It appears she was able to Disapparate…” The remainder of Lucius’ explanation was never uttered as the Elder Wand descended, dealing one of the most vile Cruciatus Curses ever inflicted.

AN:  If you've been reading this story and asking yourself, "How can this be a post Hogwarts tale?  Where's the engagement party for the Quartet I was promised in the story summary??  Hold tight; all will become clear by the end of Chapter 5. Promise!

I owe a HUGE thanks to ArithmancyWiz, who has now, twice, made sure this tale is ToS compliant.  Thank you!!

This tale is part of a whole universe of canon post-Hogwarts stories that are completed and posted. (I've included a timeline below). I wrote Crusade first, and the rest of the Crusade related stories (primarily prequels) were written later.  Special thanks to 1917farmgirl, ghostchicken (who tragically passed away on May 26, 2011- she will be missed) and AvadaKedavra1 for beta and muse help. Check out their magnificent stories in my favorites!

Eldy

Here's the updated Crusadiverse Timeline. (As of September 29, 2011).

1996 – Fall – "More Skill than Luck" (main story line) one shot - posted as Chapter 87 of "Phoenix in the Ashes," site-wide collaboration.  It's in my favorites.

1998 – July – "Hermione's Wand" – one shot - posted as Chapter 1 of "Tales from the Crusadiverse."

1999- August – "Journey of a Thousand Miles" – one shot - posted as Chapter 1 of "The Staffers Choice Awards," a Prefects Collaboration.  It's in my favorites.

2000 – August – "The Battle of the Pitch" (main story line) – short story – posted

2000 – November – "The Adventures of Reckless Git and Danger Ponce" – short story – posted as Chapters 2-4 of "Tales from the Crusadiverse."

2002 – Spring – "Best Laid Plans," one shot, and "The Proposal" – short story-both posted

2002 – Early Summer – "The Tipping Point" – short story – posted.as Chapters 5-7 of "Tales from the Crusadiverse."

2002 – Summer – "Children's Crusade"- novel – sequel to "Stop All The Clocks" – posted

2003 - ? - "More Skill than Luck" (introductory story line) - one shot - posted as Chapter 87 of "Phoenix in the Ashes," site-wide collaboration.  It's in my favorites.

2003 – December – "The Gift"- one shot - posted as Chapter 30 of "The Final Battle," site-wide collaboration.  It's in my favorites.

2004 – May – "The Battle of the Pitch" (introductory story line) – short story – posted


I do not own Harry Potter; the toys belong to JKR, she just lets us play with them.
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 2: A Better Place
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“Wake up.”

“Hmmmph.”

“C’mon. It’s beautiful outside.”

“Hmmmph.”

“Just because you made the front page of the Morning Prophet, doesn’t entitle you to waste the first day of our vacation having a lie-in.”

“Late night. Need sleep.”

“We’re going to the beach. Get up!”

“Hmmmph.”

“RONALD BILIUS WEASLEY WAKE UP!”

Ron pulled the pillow over his head. “Woman, you will be the death of me.”

Hermione decided to change her tactics. She lifted the pillow off Ron’s head as she ran her other hand down his bare back. She nibbled his earlobe and cooed, “If you get up, I’ll shower you and feed you, my mighty Auror.”

“Food?” Ron asked as he began to stir, “and sex?”

“Most men would prioritize that differently.”

“Yes, but then they wouldn’t be ‘Ron the Great,’ now would they?”

“That’s what the Prophet called you, not me. And I didn’t say anything about shagging you,” Hermione said teasingly.

“The shagging was implied.”

“That’s quite a leap of logic for an Auror; leave the thinking to those of us in Administration.”

“No, this is a leap of logic.” Lightning quick, Ron rolled over on top of his naked fiancée, pinning her arms by her head.

Hermione giggled. “So food isn’t the number one priority anymore?”

“It’s a priority alright; but even ‘mighty Aurors’ can’t live on eggs and rashers alone.”

Hermione laughed. “As if that’s the only thing you’d ever eat for breakfast.”

“No, I was thinking of nibbling on something else.” Ron fixed Hermione with a devilish smile. Hermione freed an arm and dug her nails into Ron’s scalp, pulling him into a deep, passionate kiss as she wrapped her legs around his waist.

They both gasped as they joined.  Then, looking deeply into her chocolate eyes, Ron breathed, “Marry me.”

“I said yes last month.”

“And now?”

“Now, tomorrow and forever. Yes! Now love me you fool.”

*****

“Oi! Keep it down in there! There’s people trying to sleep!” Harry shouted through the thin walls of Shell Cottage. He and Ginny occupied the room adjacent to Ron and Hermione’s.

Bill and Fleur had stayed at the Burrow the previous night and would travel on to France for a week with the Delacour’s in another two days. They had graciously lent the quartet the cottage for this, their first vacation in the four years since Harry's triumph over Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts. Loaning the foursome Shell Cottage was an engagement present to them all. Their joint engagement party would be at the Burrow later this evening.

Ginny playfully smacked Harry’s arm. “We’re not sleeping. In fact, I was planning on doing something similar,” she said with a seductive smile.

“I know.” Harry’s grin was even wider than Ginny’s. Ever since the Battle of Hogwarts there had been a subtle, but distinct link between the two. Usually, they could only read each other’s emotions. But at other more intense times, they could even communicate mind-to-mind. They’d chosen to keep this a Weasley Family secret. The Unspeakables could be very intrusive when their curiosity got the better of them. Hermione had researched their bond and had her theories as to what had caused it, but no one had any solid answers. The two were more than happy to just enjoy it without question.

Ginny persisted, “Since they’re obviously not interrupting our sleep, why are you shouting at them?”

“Revenge for all the times Ron interrupted us. Fair is fair. Oi!” Harry turned in the bed and banged his fist on the wall. The only response he got from the other room was more of the same.

“There’re better ways of getting even.” Ginny rolled on top of Harry, brushing his face with her long flaming locks.

“Why, Ms. Weasley, are you trying to seduce me simply to torture your brother?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Head Auror. Is this an interrogation? Torture’s a serious accusation.”

“The promotion’s not completely official yet. Don’t tempt the fates. But, since you ask, would you like to be interrogated?”  Harry ran his hands down his fiancée's naked flanks.

“I might want to be,” she purred.

“So, answer the question,” which he repeated, pausing to caress the beautiful redhead, who moaned at each stop: “are you . . . trying to seduce me . . . simply to torture . . . your brother?”

“It’s not the only reason,” she answered breathlessly. “But it’s not a bad one.” She covered his mouth with hers. Breakfast would be late this morning.

*****

Eight hours earlier . . .

The joking and side conversations came to an abrupt end as the Minister of Magic strode through the door of the Aurors' Ready Room to join Harry, Ron and Hermione at the podium.

Catching Harry’s nod, Seamus Finnegan shouted, “Atten-tion!” As one, the twenty-five Aurors, clad in purple robes, rose to their feet, standing ramrod straight.

“Take your seats,” Kingsley said, taking his place behind the lectern. He surveyed the room. So few. So young. But so determined. What little remained of the loyal Auror Corps after the Battle of Hogwarts had been all but wiped out during the first mopping-up operations. May would forever be known as the Month of Mourning.

Everyone thought the fighting would end after Voldemort's death. But what replaced it was, in some ways, worse: terrorist attacks, hit-and-run raids, houses burned in the night. For the last four years there had been no rest, no peace and no security. The most recent attack had landed Auror Alicia Spinnet in St. Mungos.

As Kingsley reflected over the dark days, he paused and took in the faces of the new Auror Corps. Despite the hardships, he marveled at how far these young warriors had come in only four years. It had been no small feat to coax an exhausted Harry Potter to cut short his long deserved holiday at the Burrow the month after the Battle of Hogwarts. Ron had only just begun to help out with George at his shop.

In the end, it was the waves of guerilla attacks that finally convinced them to respond to Kingsley’s plea to rebuild the Corps from Dumbledore’s Army. Soon after, it became clear that Kingsley’s idea had been a masterstroke. This new elite force fought with a determination and level of skill the old guard could only marvel at. Old guard? Kingsley thought, I’ve been the only one left of that cadre for nearly half a decade.

Kingsley cleared his throat. “I don’t need to tell you that tonight could finally see the end of the Death Eaters. Tonight could be the true end to the war.” The room was silent, but Kingsley could feel, not tension, but a subtle longing to finally put paid to the task. “I’ve been wearing two hats, Minister of Magic and interim Head of the Auror Corps ever since that fateful night at Hogwarts. But we all know who really leads this team and tonight I intend to make it official, as long as the Wizengamot does as they're told and confirms it,” Kingsley finished with a smile. This drew a flurry of chuckles from the room. “So, now, I’m going to turn this briefing over to the new Acting Head Auror, Harry Potter.” The room broke into cheers.

Ron leaned in to whisper to Harry before he got to the podium. “It’s not too late to take George up on that job offer at Triple W’s.”

“Don’t tempt me,” Harry said under his breath. Hermione smiled at the joke.

Harry took a deep breath. “All the Death Eaters that left the country and all the cells still in hiding will be gathering tonight in Diagon Alley. As you know, this will be the first time in nearly four years that we’ve got all of our rotten eggs in one basket. Acting Assistant Head Ron Weasley . . .” The room erupted into cheers again at this announcement, and beams of pure pride from Hermione. Harry waited for them to settle before he continued. “Ron will be briefing as to operational tactics, as usual, in a moment. We’ll go in heavy. Four Teams on site with only the Trainees to stay here in reserve.” This was met with groans from the youngest of the young warriors.

“Nigel?”

“Sir?” Nigel Prescott, two years out of Hogwarts, and the most trustworthy of the post Dumbledore’s Army wave of new Aurors, responded, rising to his feet.

“You’re in charge of the reserve team. Report to the Undersecretary in the watch room with your people after the briefing.”

“Yessir,” the young wizard responded.

“Good. Now, then. Seamus?”

“Aye.”

“You’re leading Team One: Dean Thomas, Dennis Creevey and Ernie MacMillan.”

Seamus said with a smile, “Mac, no crazy heroics this time.”

“No promises, mate,” Ernie replied, to chuckles around the room.

“That goes for you too, Seamus,” Ron put in with a smile. Seamus dropped Ron a wink.

“Cho?” Harry called out.

Sir,” she said, to more muted laughter.

Harry smiled at her. “Leading Team Two: Padma and Parvati Patil and Justin Finch-Fletchley.”

“Lee?”

“Bollocks! I wanted to stay here with the biscuit brigade,” Lee Jordan said to more laughter.

“No luck, mate. You’re leading Team Three: Michael Corner, Anthony Goldstein and Terry Boot.”

“And Team Four: Angelina’s Angels.” This was a running joke with the new Aurors. Angelina had first lead her team, comprised of Susan Bones, Alicia Spinnet, Katie Bell and Lavender Brown, shortly after the DA had been pressed into service. They had proven to be a vicious foursome, taking down Death Eaters in numbers far greater than their own. When Kingsley had remarked on their prowess, Angelina had responded “Just because we wear make-up doesn’t mean we can’t kick arse. Hell, we’re no Angels.” The name stuck.

Harry finished, “Ron has something special in mind for you ladies.” Even an Angel short, he had nothing but confidence in them.

“I’d expect no less from my brother-in-law,” Angelina said to more chuckles.

Harry gestured to Ron and Hermione. “Tomorrow night, as you know, is our engagement party.” Catcalls and whistles erupted again. “I expect to see all of you there.” Then Harry’s smile hardened and the room realized they were down to business. The quips and chuckles were done. “Before we go to Ron, I want to say this: keep focused out there; we’ve come too far, we’ve lost too much. I want your heads in the game tonight. I’ll be damned if tomorrow’s gathering turns into a wake. I want all of you back here when this is over, alive and well. Are we clear?”

“Crystal!” the room chorused in disciplined response.

“Ron?” Harry turned the briefing over to his best mate.

Hermione simply glowed, as she always did when Ron took over a briefing. Waving his wand, an aerial view of Diagon Alley appeared in mid air.

“This will be a Cannae Assault, Version Two, with a twist.” Under Ron’s tutelage, study of all tactics, Muggle and magical, had become mandatory for the Auror Corps. The Cannae Assaults were his signature tactical masterpieces. Their name referred to the titanic Muggle battle fought in Southern Italy two thousand years earlier, in which a force of Carthaginians under Hannibal had completely annihilated Roman Legions that outnumbered them by more than two-to-one. Given the Death Eaters always outnumbered the small squads of patrolling Aurors, Ron thought studying Hannibal made infinite sense. His genius had paid off in spades and led directly to forcing the final battle this very night.

“Teams One, Two and Three are on the rooftops overlooking this blind alley leading off the High Street.” He waved his wand and the Teams’ locations appeared on the buildings surrounding the dead end street; the positioning resulted in all the teams being placed in a “U” shape. “Teams Two and Three will be on the rooftops overlooking the flanks. Team One, at the base of the ‘U’ on top of Borgin and Burkes. Your team’ll get the brunt of the attack, Seamus, so look sharp. The Disapparation charms should cover the whole alley, but will be at their strongest at the base. So make sure the targets are drawn all the way in before opening up on them. Seamus, you’ve got overall command of the rooftops.”

The Irishman nodded.

“And Team Four?” Angelina asked.

“Airborne,” Ron answered. “I think its time to put my sister’s advanced flying drills to the ultimate test.”

Two years ago, the Death Eaters had attacked during one of Ginny’s Quidditch matches: the Holyhead Harpies versus the Appleby Arrows. If it hadn’t been for the entire Weasley clan being in attendance, the attack could have been a catastrophe. Realizing his girlfriend would forever be a target, Harry, and Ron somewhat grudgingly, had Ginny and Hermione begin Auror training.

Following the first session, over butterbeers at the Leaky, Ron, Ginny, Harry and Hermione had launched into an in-depth discussion of what was being called the “Battle of the Pitch.” Even though not trained Aurors, the professional Quidditch players had added a new dimension to the fight not often seen in wizarding duels. After this discussion, the Quartet had determined to speak with Kingsley about adding an airborne element to Auror training and tactics. Ginny was the obvious choice as instructor. It had proved exceptionally useful in the years to follow.

Ron continued, “Angels, you’re the cork in the bottle. You’re to stay in hiding on the roof of The Leaky Cauldron until you get the signal. Then, on broomstick, charge up the alley cutting off the Death Eater’s escape.”

“The signal?” asked Angelina.

“Me and Harry screaming in terror.” The reply drew the expected chuckles, but it made Hermione’s brow furrow.

Harry interjected, “My soon-to-be brother-in-law decided we’re the perfect bait.”

“Well, we are. It’s the only thing that will draw them out in force,” Ron said matter-of-factly.

Hermione knew the plan, but wasn’t thrilled with this particular nuance. Catching Hermione’s gaze, Ron turned serious once again. “Look for the sparks from mine or Harry’s wand, whichever of us lights up. Teams One through Three need to wait until the Angels are fully engaged before returning fire.”

“Mates, that’s a long time to have your arses hanging in the breeze,” Seamus said, shaking his head.

“We have to pull them as far in to the alley as we can. We’ll only get one shot at this,” Ron replied. “Madame Undersecretary?” Ron nodded to Hermione with a wry smile. Hermione moved to the lectern.

“Our contact has already let it slip to the Death Eaters that Ron and Harry will be having a late drink tonight at the Leaky. They’ve been waiting for this opportunity for months and have set up illegal portkeys in Knockturn Alley so they can appear in force on a moment's notice. Remember, our informant is to be seized, but not hurt.” She paused, taking Bellatrix’s wand from her robes, flourishing it before continuing. “The informant is Draco Malfoy. I’ve just placed a modified Langlock curse on all of us, so, if any of us are captured, we won’t be able to give away his identity.”

This drew murmurs of dissent from around the room. Harry immediately returned to the lectern and the murmurs subsided. “That was on my order. This was the deal. There was no other way. People, there’s too much at stake. I want this over. Tonight.”

“I don’t trust the git. Especially with the lives of you two in the balance,” Seamus said, nodding at Harry and Ron. This drew significant agreement from the gathered Aurors.

“Neither do I.” Harry fixed a steely eye on his troops. “Malfoy’s acting on his own self-interest. That makes him as reliable as he’ll ever be.”

“And what would make the sod’s self-interest come into play?” Angelina asked archly.

Kingsley stepped to the podium. “A full pardon and his father released from Azkaban on a lifetime ban from using magic.” The room was silent. Malfoy had managed to stay out of Azkaban, but his conviction for aiding the Death Eaters had denied him any chance of a future in the wizarding world. “Two former Death Eaters in exchange for the entire bunch still on the loose.”*

“It’s a fair trade,” said Harry to Seamus.

“The entire bunch?” Ernie asked.

Hermione answered, “Yaxley will be there tonight.” That drew silence. The Death Eater had escaped from Azkaban more than two years earlier. At the time, Kingsley had drawn significant fire for his decision to cease using Dementors as guards. All the Aurors understood the political ramifications if they were able, at last, to bring Yaxley back to justice. Since his escape, he had masterminded the Death Eater’s non-stop guerilla war, trying to fill the power vacuum left by Voldemort's death. 

Finnegan let out a sigh and nodded, grudgingly.

“Alright,” Harry said. “Remember, we’re outnumbered. One hex, one hit. I want this fast and non-lethal. No casualties tonight, on either side, if it can be avoided. Remember your training.” Harry had drilled the new Aurors, teaching them all he knew. His dueling skills were world class and his troop’s track record clearly displayed that they had absorbed much from his teachings.

Kingsley spoke for the final time. “Then I leave it to you, Head Auror Potter. Good luck to you all.” Kingsley turned to leave as Harry dropped another nod at Seamus.

“Atten-tion!”

As the door shut behind Kingsley, Harry turned to the Corps. “Suit up and move out.” The Aurors fell out to their lockers. They began to don the latest version of the enchanted body armor that was now Auror standard issue. It was based on Quidditch Padding – flexible and sturdy all at once. It had been Harry and Ron’s idea to use Quidditch pads for their larger assaults, shortly after they began rebuilding the Corps. Once they’d incorporated Hermione’s magical abilities to help enhance it, the armor had saved quite a few lives.

Hermione frowned as she saw Ron and Harry watching the teams suit up. Ron spoke before she could. “Love, it always amazed me that you kept Bellatrix’s wand. You used to hate it.”

“It’s my wand now, Ronald,” she said possessively. “I keep it as a reminder and a warning, and don’t change the subject.”

The use of his full name usually was a bad sign. “I didn’t know there was a subject to change,” Ron said, unconvincingly.

Worry creased her brow. “I really wish you two would re-consider wearing the armor.”

“We can’t go to the Leaky for a pleasant after-work drink dressed for combat,” Ron said, his hands making a pleading gesture.

“Hermione, neither of us intends to do anything but run them into the trap,” Harry added.

Hermione wanted to protest, but bit her lip. “Just…come back to me. Both of you.” She kissed Harry’s cheek and gave him a hug. Then, she melted into Ron’s arms as he pulled her into a deep kiss. “I love you,” she whispered against his lips, not meeting Ron’s eyes. Then she turned and walked briskly from the room, Ron and Harry watching her go.

“Undersecretary to the Minister for Magical Law Enforcement,” Harry said shaking his head. “She is one amazing witch, mate.”

“That she is. I don’t know what I’d do without her,” Ron finished with a deep sigh. Then, in a lowered voice, “Have you heard from my favorite Holyhead Harpy?”

“Only about every minute since she realized this briefing began.” Then he heard Ginny speak to him in his mind:
 
Don’t joke. I’m with Hermione; you should wear the damn armor. I want you both to come back to us, too.

As Ron saw Harry’s eyes glaze over, he knew his best mate and sister were in the middle of one of their internal conversations.

I’ll be fine, Gin. We’ll both be fine.

Harry felt her sigh. Then, he sensed a surge of vengeance from his fiancée. Finish them off. No mercy. Then, something softer…I’m going to block the link so you can concentrate, now. Give my love to Ron. Both of you be careful.  And then, with a surge of emotion that almost made Harry stagger, I love you, Harry Potter.

I love you, too.  The link was closed. But Harry knew, if he needed it, it would open again instantly.

“Well?” Ron asked.

“Ginny sends her love and a message.”

“What’s that?”

“‘Finish them off,’ and ‘No mercy,’ were her exact words.”

Ron couldn’t help but smile. “She would’ve made a fantastic Auror. Anyway, if they do finally get us tonight, I don’t relish what would happen to them when Hermione and Ginny get through with them.”

Harry laughed.  “Hmmm, maybe we should just turn this little task over to the girls and go put our feet up at Grimmauld Place.”

“Now there’s a plan.”

“Speaking of which,” Harry looked at his watch, “can I buy you a drink at the Leaky?”

“Absolutely.”

A/N: The idea of a link or bond between Harry and Ginny is nothing new. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize three great authors whose use of it inspired me: justanothermuggle with “Death Eater’s Quest” and “Right of Justice,” the latter in which sildebughlase was co-author; also, MyGinerva with “The Hogshead” and “Ginny’s House.” If you haven’t read them yet, you’re missing out.
*I have shamelessly stolen this Malfoy flourish from AvadaKedavra1; fortunately, he was cool with that. He also loaned me Angelina’s “just because we wear make-up” line. He’s a good bloke, no question. I do not own Harry Potter.  The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 3: The Battle of Diagon Alley
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“Oh, bugger!” Ron swore as he ran at a sprint down the wet cobblestone streets of Diagon Alley, curses exploding around him.

“Leap frog!” Harry shouted directing Ron into their standard retreat tactic; one would shield and the other would move. This was yet another new tactical flourish Ron added to their arsenal. “Protego!”

Ron slowed his sprint and turned, “Reducto! Protego!” as Harry sped past him, taking up a new position. They’d planned on catching all the remaining Death Eaters, but had never dreamt in their worst nightmares there would be so many.

“Forty! At least!” Ron shouted in utter disbelief. “What idiot came up with this brilliant plan?”

“You did mate,” Harry retorted, casting yet another shield charm, followed by several stunning spells as they continued their retreat.

“HARRY!” Ron shouted a warning, and then “Impedimenta!” just as a Death Eater Apparated behind his best mate.

“Thanks! Protego! Stupefy!” Harry blasted another Death Eater trying to blind side Ron. A killing curse flew by Harry’s head and exploded into Flourish and Blotts.

“They’re not playing. But at least their aim is terrible. Deprimo! Protego!” Ron shouted over the din of the battle. A group of Death Eaters were blown backwards by the whirlwind Ron had conjured. Luckily for Ron and Harry, the most dangerous Death Eaters were already dead or imprisoned. That made their problems more manageable, but just barely.

“Could use that help on Firebolts,” Harry muttered as he cast another curse at the oncoming mass.

“Too soon. We gotta keep moving. Protego!”

Harry continued his retreat, finally reaching the mouth of the alley where their ambush and safety awaited. Just as he turned to cover Ron, a lone Death Eater appeared at the head of the assault.

“Yaxley!”

“Dammit, Harry, NO!” Ron shouted.

Harry hurled his curse just as Yaxley loosed his.

We don’t have time for this! Ron seethed.

Harry and Yaxley’s wands locked, energy pulsing between them. Locked wands were all well and good for one-on-one duels, but in a battle like this, Harry was an easy target for the horde of Death Eaters not engaged in the fight. What galled Ron the most was that it was Harry himself who had repeatedly drilled this lesson into all of his Aurors.

Protego!” Ron’s shield spell struggled to hold off the onslaught of curses that were being hurled at his partner from all sides. But there were two things Ron did masterfully. One was tactical planning. The other was watching Harry’s back.

Harry was aware of the danger, but knew he had to gamble. The Death Eater’s were too spread out. Reaching into his robes, he pulled out his spare wand, crossed it over his Holly and Phoenix Feather wand and nonverbally, Disgorgio! A white-hot bolt of lightning burst from the two wands, traveling up the energy link connecting the two duelers. The explosion leveled Yaxley and the Death Eater’s surrounding them.

“Bloody show off!” Ron spat. “Leap frog!”

Harry smiled as he sped down the alley. “Had to be done, mate. Look.” Despite the recklessness of Harry’s actions, the ploy worked. As Yaxley regained his feet, his face was contorted into a grimace of pure rage. All caution was thrown to the wind as he ordered his men to bunch and charge after the two fleeing Aurors.

Ron turned to run, diving out of the way of an Expulso curse that was entirely too close for comfort. As he struggled to keep his footing, a Death Eater Apparated right in front of him. Ron cast a strength spell non-verbally and dealt the dark wizard a vicious roundhouse to the jaw, Ron’s clenched fist wrapped around his wand.

“Nice one, mate,” Harry said, as he leapfrogged past him, shouting Protego! covering his partner.

“Now?”

“Now!”

Still sprinting, Ron lifted his wand overhead as sparks shot into the dark London skies over Diagon Alley.

The Death Eaters continued their pursuit, hurling hex and curse as Harry covered Ron’s casting. Breaking their spells, at a run, Ron and Harry dived behind the stoop of a small cauldron shop as killing curses exploded around them. The barrage was so thick, Harry and Ron could only huddle in the scant protection provided, not daring to lift their heads and return fire.

“To the left! Finish them!” Yaxley ordered.

As the Death Eater’s closed on their prey for the kill, four Firebolts came screaming out of the night sky.

“Praise Merlin!” Harry gasped as Angelina’s Angels, in tight two- by –two formation, swooped in fast as lightning, hurling curses from on high. Their aim was deadly. Everywhere the Death Eaters were pummeled by the terror from above. In desperation, those who were still on their feet turned to face the assault of the airborne witches, who were screaming their war whoops with savage glee. From one end of the alley to the other, wizards robed in black fell, blasted into the surrounding buildings.

Just as the first curses from Angelina’s quartet slammed into the Death Eater’s rear, the ones in the middle broke and ran toward the alley’s dead end.

“NOW!” Seamus screamed. The three teams on the rooftops rose from their crouched positions. In a thunderous crash, a dozen Aurors loosed their pent up rage. The alley was illuminated in a blinding flash of curse and hex that fell on the Death Eaters below. The air was charged with magic, causing Harry’s hair to stand on end, more so than usual.

The Death Eaters tried to rally, Yaxley shouting encouragement. The first rank leveled their wands at the roof tops occupied by Seamus’ Team. Ten curses chewed up the masonry. Ron saw the explosions dislodge something. Darkly, he realized it was Dennis Creevey hurtling toward the cobblestones below.

“Merlin, no!” Ron broke cover at a full gait, his back to the assault, “Arresto Momentum!”

“Bloody hell!” Harry leapt to cover Ron’s back. Using both his wands he screamed “Salvio Hexia! Protego!!”

The target was too enticing. Every Death Eater in the alley saw it: the Chosen One vulnerable and out in the open. Too many curses to count slammed into Harry’s protective spells, hurtling him into the far wall with a vicious thud, just as Creevey landed in Ron’s outstretched arms.

Seamus never hesitated, ignoring the danger of using an untried spell. “They’re in trouble!! TOGETHER!!” With the precision borne from Harry’s tireless drills, the rooftop Aurors each crossed wands with the person next to them. As one, they screamed “STUPEFY!!!” A tremendous explosion shook the rooftops as a blinding red flash turned night into day.

Then, all was deathly quiet.

Angelina’s Angels pulled up their assault; the Auror’s under Seamus’ command looked on in silence.

“I’m going down. Hold your positions.” Seamus cast a cushioning charm and leapt from the rooftop. Above, Angelina’s Angels began to circle, providing cover.

As he landed on the cobblestones, Seamus had trouble seeing. His eyes were still dazed by the blinding flash of the combined stunning spell he’d ordered. The smoke only now dissipating in the alley didn’t aid his vision.

He began to make out three forms, dimly, through the haze. As he got closer he saw Ron, cradling Harry in his arms, as a shocked Dennis Creevey stood off to the side, his hand gripping Ron’s shoulder with determined stoicism. Ron had just cast a healing spell over their fallen leader. Seamus stopped, his wand falling to his side. He dared not ask the question that formed in his mind.

It was Ron’s voice that broke the deathly silence. “Harry?” he asked his best mate quietly, desperately, pulling the raven-haired wizard’s face to his chest. “C’mon, brother wake up.” His voice was soft, but real concern hadn’t quite consumed him, though it threatened to overwhelm. “Please, mate.”

Slowly, Harry’s eyes opened. “Ron?”

“Yeah, mate, I’m here,” Ron said, the relief washing over him.

Harry looked around, as he came to. With a nod from Ron, Seamus and Dennis helped the two to their feet. Supporting each other, Ron and Harry surveyed the battlefield, swaying slightly from side to side. The alley was choked with unconscious Death Eaters.

Not a single purple-clad Auror was to be seen among the fallen.

“It’s over.” Harry’s voice was laden with emotion. He turned to his best mate.

Ron nodded; he couldn’t bring himself to speak.

“Brother, it’s really over,” Harry said as tears began to leak from his eyes.

“Don’t start that, mate,” Ron said, through a watery smile as his own tears started to fall.

“We’re done,” Harry whispered. The realization that this long nightmare, this eleven-year horror was finally at an end became all consuming. “We’re done,” Harry repeated as he pulled his best mate into a bone-crushing embrace; tears cascaded down both their faces.

“It’s finished, Harry. We did it.” Slowly their tears became anguished laughter. “We did it mate!”

The Auror Corps descended from the skies and the rooftops, surrounding their leaders as Ron and Harry’s strained laughter and tears became contagious. Everywhere, Aurors clapped each other on the back, some openly sobbing, others too overcome with emotion to speak. All the anguish, all the heartbreak, all the sacrifice and pent up grief of the past eleven years was released within that single moment. Slowly, the Aurors bunched around the best mates, who clung to each other as if for dear life.

Then, Seamus grabbed Susan Bones and pressed her into a deeply passionate kiss.


“Damn you Finnegan,” she said fiercely, as she tried to catch her breath. She was smiling.

“Sorry, love. Heat of the moment and all.”

That broke the somber mood. Immediately, cleansing joyous laughter coursed through the crowd.

After several moments of unrestrained glee, Harry brought his Corps back to order. “Alright. Look sharp.” Harry’s eyes swept the alley as he took a deep breath, steadying himself. “Circle out. Collect all the wands and keep an eye on the prisoners in case they come to. Angelina? Take your team and check the ones that went down out in the High Street.”

She nodded and her team mounted their brooms and zipped out of the alley.

Ron gestured at the Death Eaters piled around them, “Little chance of any of these blokes coming to within the next hour. That stunner was powerful.”

“That it was,” Harry replied. “Good work, Seamus. Malfoy alright?”

Seamus turned his head and spat. “Bugger’ll live. He’s out cold like the rest of that lot.”

Harry shook his head and cast his Patronus. It had never leapt from his wand so easily.

“You’ll tell Hermione?” Ron asked.

Harry nodded with a tight lipped smile on his face. He sent his Patronus off to the Ministry with a message to Hermione that all were well and to send the squads to take the prisoners to Azkaban. Then, opening the link, he sent to Ginny, Love, we’re both fine. We’re all fine. It’s over and I love you more than life itself. Harry didn’t receive a verbal reply. Instead, he felt a huge wave of love come crashing through their bond.

Ron had to steady his best mate once again. “I assume my sister knows too?” he asked quietly.

Harry only nodded.

The squads began to Apparate in force and heft unconscious Death Eaters off to Azkaban. Within minutes, the alley was once again empty, save the Aurors who stood, unwilling to relinquish the ground that had become the site of the final battle.

“The Battle of Diagon Alley,” Ron mused. “Who’d have thought?”

Harry turned to his best mate. “It was a great plan. And I intend to make sure the Prophet knows who’s responsible for that.”

Ron looked somberly at the cobblestones. Harry gently laid his hand on Ron’s shoulder.

Seamus smiled. “I can’t wait to see the headlines. Good press for a change.”

The trio fell silent again. Then Harry shook his head, voicing his thoughts. “So much lost. Gods Ron, I never thought we’d live to see the end of it.”

“You didn’t.” It sounded like a joke, but Ron’s solemn look betrayed the comment’s severity. “Remember?”

Harry smiled. He didn’t laugh. “Only too well.”

They fell silent again.

“You ready to get out of here?” Ron asked.

“Ronald my brother, I’ve been ready for eleven years.” The Corps Disapparated to the Ministry en masse.

AN: Again, credit where credit is due. AvadaKedavra1 had an absolutely amazing fight scene that took place in an alley in his excellent work “A Muggle’s Wand.” It inspired this scene. If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for?

Also, if you're curious as to why Harry and Yaxley's wands locked, check out "The Tipping Point,"  which is chapters 5-7 of "Tales From the Crusadiverse."

I do not own Harry Potter.  The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 4: On the Beach and in the Shop
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“Here we go,” Harry said, squinting through the bright sunlight that was reflecting off the waves.

“Not again,” Ron moaned.

“Quiet, Assistant Head.”

Harry and Ron sat in beach chairs, soaking up the sun and downing butterbeers as fast as they could pull them from the cooler that was between them. Fluttering his copy of the Morning Prophet, Harry began to read aloud in a haughty, pinched voice:

Ronald Bilius Weasley, OMFC or ‘Ron the Great’ as this writer prefers to call him, will be assuming duties as Assistant Head of the Auror Corps., upon confirmation from the Wizengamot. ‘It’s no secret he’s a brilliant tactician,’ said Acting Head Auror Harry Potter, OMFC, who is also awaiting confirmation. ‘It’s largely because of him this war’s finally over. He should get a second Order of Merlin, First Class for what he did tonight. Not a single casualty. On either side. Wizarding Britain owes him a debt of gratitude.’

“Will you stop reading that bloody article?” Ron demanded. The towel he’d placed over his head to block out the sun muffled his voice.

“Not yet, I haven’t gotten to my favorite part,” Harry said with a mischievous grin, as he shifted in his beach chair. The quartet had long shared the limelight that Harry alone had used to occupy; to Harry, this was a huge relief. Fame could be lonely and brutal. However, Harry still relished with sadistic glee those times when the press focused solely on his best mate. With an ever-widening grin, he continued to read.

Unfortunately, the dashing young Auror is off the market. Auror Weasley was recently engaged to the ‘Anchor of the Golden Quartet,’ the lovely Undersecretary to the Minister for Magical Law Enforcement, The Right Hon. Hermione Granger, OMFC. The couple intends to be wed by the end of the year. 

“You wanna play?” Ron pulled the towel from his face and rested it over his wet swimming trunks. “Here.” Ron snatched the paper from his best mate.

“Hey!”

“Oh, so sorry there ‘Chosen One.’” Ron needled and began to read, doing his best Percy imitation:

Auror Harry Potter, OMFC, has been ‘Chosen’ once again. Just prior to the final battle of the Second Wizarding War, Minister of Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt officially announced he is appointing Potter to Head the Auror Corps. ‘I can think of no better choice or anyone more suited to this task. Mr. Potter and his Aurors, despite their youth, have at long last given us the safe and secure future we so desperately need.’ (See related story covering the Chosen One’s heroic stand at the Battle of Diagon Alley.)

Ron fixed Harry with an adoring gaze, batting his eyelashes at him.

“Merlin’s groupies.” Harry groaned.

Ron laughed. “Wait for it.” He continued to read.

The handsome new Head just recently became engaged to the stunning and talented Ms. Ginevra Weasley, OMSC. As you know, Ms. Weasley was awarded her Order of Merlin, Second Class, for her valiant efforts as a resistance leader at Hogwarts at the onset of the Second Wizarding War. She is currently an all star Chaser for the Holyhead Harpies. (See the Sports Section for predictions regarding her possible selection as Captain of the British National Team!) Sorry girls! This hero is no longer in the available category!

Ron collapsed into laughter. “And hearts break all over wizarding Britain.”

Harry couldn’t help but smile. “You gotta admit. It’s a lot better than the tripe they usually print.”

“That it is.” Ron pulled two more butterbeers out of their cooler and handed one to Harry. They tinked their bottles together and drank. “Even though you lied.”

“What? Ron, I meant every word I said about you in there…”

“Not about that. ‘Not a single casualty.’” Ron gave Harry a disapointed glance.

Harry looked sheepish. “It didn’t add anything to the story. It’s not important.”

“Harry, when my friend and brother nearly gets himself killed trying to protect his stupid git of a partner, it damn sure is important.”

“Saving Creevey sure as hell doesn’t make you a stupid git. That was one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen …Standing up in the middle of that crossfire…”

They shared a solemn look, which turned into a knowing smile. They tinked their bottles together again and reclined back in their chairs. The duo looked out over the shoreline to where the girls were gathering shells. Ginny was wearing a rather skimpy two-piece that showed off her amazing Quidditch physique, her long red hair tied up in a pony tail, swinging behind her. Hermione sported an equally revealing one-piece, her unruly hair tied in a bun. Drinking her in, Ron couldn’t help but observe that his Hermione obviously didn’t spend all of her time behind a desk. Realizing they were being ogled, the girls looked up and waved, devious smiles covering their faces.

“Touch my sister and I’ll kill you.” Ron smiled.

“In your dreams, Carrot Top.” Harry smiled back. Fortunately, Ron’s over-protectiveness had finally become something to laugh about instead of the weighty topic of urgent peace talks.

They both took a long pull on their butterbeers.

“The whole week off, right?” Ron asked collapsing back into his beach chair with a grunt.

“I told Kingsley if he owls us, we’ll quit.”

“Good show, mate. The least he can do for pulling us away from the Burrow four years ago is to leave us alone now.”

“Four years? Bloody hell, Ron. It feels like an eternity.”

“You can say that again.”

“Well, I intend to make the most of the next four.” Harry smiled wistfully. “I’m gonna sell Grimmauld Place and build your sister a decent house.”

“Hermione an’ me are already talking about kids,” Ron said with a bashful grin.

“You too?” Harry asked.

Ron nodded. “I guess it’s not really surprising though is it?”

“No. We’ve all had our lives on hold long enough.” A devilish grin spread across Harry’s face. “You know, if we time this right, our kids could go to Hogwarts together.”

Ron broke into a heartfelt laugh. “Poor Filch!” Harry joined in and the two tinked their bottles together again and drained them, trying not to spill the beer through their guffaws.

“Gods. They’re sure to be little hellions.” Harry laughed and then fell silent.

Ron sensed a swift change in Harry’s mood. “What is it, bro?”

“Nothing…it’s just…Well…I guess it just started to seem like it would never end.” Harry finished with a touch of pain in his voice.

“I know…Me too. I was really worried last night. More worried than I’d been in a long time in a fight.”

Harry fixed Ron with a troubled gaze. Last night had been too close. Far too close.

Ron continued, “There was a time there when I thought…”

“What?”

Ron shifted uncomfortably in his seat before he could finish. “That maybe we made a mistake proposing to the girls when we did. That we should’ve waited a little longer.”

“And not pounced just because we thought the end was in sight?” Harry asked, with a cocked eyebrow. 

Ron nodded.

Harry grabbed two more butterbeers, handing one to Ron. Then he sighed, trying to shake himself out of the reverie. “Doesn’t matter. It’s over now. We get back from vacation and we start chasing shop lifters and sorting out domestic disputes.”

“That sounds like all the excitement I could ever ask for.” Harry measured Ron’s tone as he spoke. There was more honesty than joke in it.

The girl’s laughter from near the water got their attention. They were just out of earshot.

“Now what do you suppose those two are up to?” Ron asked.

“Hmmm. Well, all I can tell is that Ginny is very, very happy.”

“Nothing more?”

“It doesn’t work like last night all the time. I’m not sure why.”

“Hermione had mentioned something about the space the Horcrux had occupied in your soul being filled by her, or you both having survived being possessed by Voldy or you focusing on her before you took the killing curse or, gods, take your pick. I don’t think she’s really sussed anything out about it,” Ron finished.

“A mystery Hermione can’t solve? Merlin, mate, I can’t imagine how much stress that must put you through.” Harry shook his head and smiled.

“You have no idea,” Ron said resignedly.

“If she’s figured anything else out, she hasn’t told us.” Harry shrugged. “I just like it. A lot.” Harry’s smile was a mile wide.

“I know you’ve heard me say it a million times, but I’m really happy for you two, mate. Besides, now we can finally make you a proper part of the family.”

“Thanks brother.” Harry smiled at Ron, nodding his head. The girl’s laughter interrupted their conversation again.

“Whatever’s going on down there may not bode well for us.” Ron said, mock worry in his voice.

Down near the shoreline, Hermione was laughing uncontrollably. “He didn’t!”

“He did!” Ginny responded.

“What did you do?” Mirthful shock filled Hermione’s voice.

“What do you think I did? I warned him that I couldn’t keep quiet if he kept doing that.”

“Oh gods! Right in the Wizengamot?” Hermione’s shock was evident.

“He finally had to put a Langlock curse on me, because the Chief Warlock kept looking around to find out where all the noise was coming from.”

“Why didn’t he just use Muffliato?”

“Well, I was doing my best to keep him from being able to concentrate, so I don’t think he was thinking very clearly.”

Hermione laughed so hard she couldn’t breathe.

“Oh, c’mon, Hermione. Don’t tell me you and my brother haven’t been just as bad. With the hours you’ve all been working, when else do you ever get the chance?”

Hermione turned three shades of crimson.

“Granger?” Ginny began to fear her story was about to pale in comparison. “Hello, Ms. Right Honorable…Gods. What have you two done?”

“Well…”

Harry and Ron were forced to look up when they heard Ginny’s uncontrollable peals of laughter. Both she and Hermione were blushing so violently Ron almost mistook it for sunburn.

“Ron?”

“Yeah.”

“I think we better break that up before the entire wizarding world finds out about our sex lives,” Harry said, only half jokingly.

“Oh, bugger,” Ron muttered, then, raising his voice so it carried down the beach, “Oi! Don’t you two want a butterbeer or something?”

“No thanks!” Ginny shouted back, holding her sides as she continued to laugh.

As Ginny caught her breath, she and Hermione sat on the beach facing the waves, leaving their men to think the worst.

“It feels good to laugh like that.” Ginny said.

“It does,” Hermione replied.

“The last few months have been…”

“I know.”

“At least you get to see Ron at work. Harry and I have the link, but it’s just been so hard lately, even with the weekly training sessions. I’m on the road or at Holyhead…” Ginny’s brow furrowed.

“Being together at the Ministry doesn’t help that much. Last night, waiting for Harry’s Patronus…Gin, I was really worried. How many times can 'Reckless Git and Danger Ponce' tempt fate? At least during the Horcrux hunt I was with them. Now, I’m stuck at the Ministry waiting for news…”

“At least you were with them back then.”

“I’m sorry Gin, I didn’t mean to bring that back up.” Hermione placed a calming hand on Ginny’s shoulder. Hermione knew that Ginny’s time at Hogwarts while they were off hunting Horcruxes had been brutal. She and Neville had been caught trying to steal the Sword of Gryffindor. The Carrows had tried to make her tell them where Harry was. The things they had done to her…

“No, Hermione, it's okay.” Ginny smiled. “I just want him back. All of you, actually. I’m tired of sharing Harry with the rest of the world. And the demands they place on him…I’ve seen the strain…” She shook her head, as if struggling to empty it of negative thoughts. “This drawn out war has been hell on all of us. I’m just glad it’s finally over.”

Hermione nodded. “I won’t miss the late nights, wondering if Ron’s going to be coming back. Or if he does, what news he’ll bring with him.” Hermione shuddered. “No more,” she said with finality.

“I knew Harry got hurt last night.” Ginny’s head dropped. “I could sense it through the bond. Waiting for him to finally tell me everything was alright nearly killed me.” Hermione put her arm around Ginny’s shoulders.

“I’m ok.” Ginny smiled at her best friend. “Thank you.” Then she continued, “You’ve noticed how much more powerful their magic has become? And ours too?” Ginny asked, though she thought she already knew the answer. “I figured it would keep them safe.”

Hermione nodded.

“But it is stronger, isn’t it? For all of us?” Ginny asked.

Hermione smiled. “Yes. I think so, too. Dumbledore always said love is the most powerful magic. I think, with everything we’ve been through our love has enhanced our magic more than anything else could. Exceptional circumstances…”

“Ok. I’ve noticed it and I was certain that you did too, but it just hasn’t dawned on them, has it?” Ginny fixed Hermione with a knowing look.

“No. I don’t think so. The rest of the Aurors have noticed how far ahead of them Ron and Harry are and I know it surprised them how quickly you and I picked up the new training…”

“Occasionally, I see Harry do some pretty powerful but unintentional wandless magic and it’ll obviously surprise him, but he still hasn’t completely put it together.”

“Ron’s the same way. Men.” She shook her head. “So dense. But I suppose that makes them more lovable.” They shared another laugh.

“Again, as long as it helps keep them both safe, I don’t care if they ever figure it out,” Ginny added.

“Well, I’ve been meaning to lecture them both about it, eventually.”

“Let’s save it for later in the week, then. That’ll be a good bonfire-on-the-beach discussion. Remind those two how important we are to them.”

“Now that’s a brilliant idea.” Hermione smiled. “So, are you keeping our Head Auror in line otherwise?”

Ginny grinned, “Harry wants to sell Grimmauld Place.”

“How did you finally get him to agree to that?”

“Do I really need to say?”

The two began to laugh again, until a shout from up the beach interrupted them once more.

“Oi! Don’t you two have an engagement party to get ready for?” Harry asked.

“Slave driver!”

Ginny and Hermione got to their feet and headed back up the beach to where Harry and Ron sat. Ginny plopped down in Harry’s lap. Hermione sat on the sand with her back against Ron’s knees.

“So, what was so funny?” Ron asked.

“None of your business big brother,” Ginny said, kissing Harry.

“I was afraid of that.” Ron grimaced.

“Time to go in?” Hermione asked.

Harry checked his watch. “Yes, I suppose it is. We’ve got about two hours before we need to be at the Burrow.”

“Remember, we need to stop off at Madame Malkin's to check on the dress designs, too,” Ginny added. “But we should be quick. Mum’ll go spare if we’re late.”

“So will mine.” Hermione’s mom, Dr. Kathy Granger, was helping Molly with the preparations. “Ron, love, it’s really nice of your parents to do this at the Burrow. I still feel guilty that we’re not helping,” Hermione said.

“She wasn’t having any of it,” Ron replied. “It was all Harry could do to have her let Kreacher help. Otherwise, your mum and mine; no one else.”

Ginny piped in, “I tried to help yesterday. She nearly hexed me out of the Burrow. Too bad, I was trying to find a distraction…” Ginny trailed off.

Harry hugged her close to him. “No worries, love. You know I’ll always come back to you.” Harry felt that familiar burst of emotion from Ginny.

“Yeah. And you better not forget it.” She kissed him quickly. “I have to get ready.”

“Why waste the hot water? I’ll join you,” Harry replied wickedly.

“Oi!” Ron chirped.

Hermione batted him playfully.

Ginny eyed Ron. “Get over it big brother or I’ll be sure to treat you to another dose of this morning’s medicine.”

After Ginny and Hermione shared a smile about which Harry and Ron could only speculate, the Quartet gathered up their beach things and headed back to Shell Cottage.


**********

“We can’t Floo?” Harry asked.

“This fireplace is down. We’ll have to Apparate,” Hermione answered. The idea of Apparating to Diagon Alley wasn’t particularly appealing.

The four were gathered in the sitting room of Shell Cottage, dressed and ready to leave.

“If we’re quick we may not draw too much attention,” Ron said hopefully. The original plan had been to Floo directly into Madame Malkin’s and avoid getting mobbed by the press. The battle the night before and the Quartet’s recent engagements had created quite a media frenzy. That is, larger than what the four regarded as the “normal” levels of the media frenzy they usually had to put up with.

“Here,” Ginny interjected, “I’ll send my Patronus off to the Harpy’s publicist. He should be able to run some interference.” With that, Ginny’s Patronus, which had changed from a horse to a doe in the last few years, sped off with a message. Hermione’s, which used to be an otter, was now a female terrier. She always complained about the transformation, but secretly, she adored it.

“Well then?” Harry looked around. “Let’s go.” Arm in arm, they walked out the door to the Disaparation point and with a loud “crack!” they were gone and reappeared in a small nook in Diagon Alley. The publicist was there waiting for them.

“Madame Undersecretary, Head Auror Potter, Assistant Head Weasley and Ms. Weasley, if you’ll follow me,” the Holyhead’s publicist said, gesturing.

Ron muttered under his breath, “I see this git has the order of protocol down.”

Hermione shot Ron a wry smirk.

“Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a crowd. They got word that you’d be coming to look at the dress designs today,” the publicist added -- Harry could never remember the man’s name. “I assure you it won’t be too bad.”

As soon as they turned into the street leading to Madame Malkin’s, they were mobbed by the press. The flashbulbs blinded them.

“Oh bugger,” Harry mourned.

“Ron! Ron! Do you think you’ll get that second Order of Merlin?”

“Harry, shouldn’t the minister have appointed you Head earlier? Is that a slight?”

“Will you take the Captaincy of the National Team, Gin?”

“What dress design are you getting, Hermione?”

It was Hermione’s turn to mutter. “Couldn’t ask me about my work on the House Elf law before I left Magical Creatures? No, it’s always about the girly stuff.”

Harry couldn’t help but chortle. He shot a look at the publicist. Rupert something… Ginandtonic? Feeling his distress, Ginny whispered in Harry’s ear, “Gingerly.”

“Thanks,” Harry whispered back. Then aloud to the publicist, “Gingerly, could you…?”

“Certainly Mr. Potter…Please, lads, this isn’t a press conference. No questions, please.”

That created an uproar. But with Gingerly leading the way, the Quartet managed to push through the mob, finally reaching the door to Madame Malkins.

“Ginny! Hermione! I thought you were going to Floo in?” Madame Malkin closed on the Quartet as soon as the door shut behind them, placing a kiss on each young witches' cheek.

“The Floo was down on our end,” Ginny explained.

“How horrid! Filthy press. Now. You two.”  The seamstress eyed Harry and Ron, “Stay there, make yourselves comfortable and don’t come anywhere near the back of the store or I’ll hex you both, Aurors or not. Bad luck for the groom to see the dress.” With that, the men were forgotten, much to their relief. “Quickly now ladies; can’t have you be late for your party.”

As the ladies descended into the dressing areas to look at designs, Harry pulled Ron aside.

“Ron?”

“What mate?”

“Am I the only one that’s troubled by the fact that the entire press corps knew we were coming and that even Penelope Malkin knew we were going to the Burrow tonight?”

“No. That thought had crossed my mind, too…But, dammit, Harry. Do we always have to be looking over our shoulders? Sooner or later we do get to start acting like normal people again, don’t we?”

Harry didn’t have an answer.

A/N: Once I read TheDirigiblePlum’s take on the Potter/Weasley kids, I knew I could never write a story about them that could ever compete! I highly recommend her stories. They’re hysterical and definitely worth the read. My reference to Ron and Harry’s children being “hellions” is homage to her work. Also, the phrase “Ron the Great” belongs to justanothermuggle; who was kind enough to let me appropriate it.  I do not own Harry Potter; the toys belong to JKR, she just lets us play with them.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 5: Party at the Burrow - BYOC
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“Hi guys! I can tell from the befuddled looks on your faces that you managed to find the press before you got here.” George and Angelina handed all four of them a shot of Ogden’s Old Firewhiskey with a smile. They had only just Apparated outside the Burrow to find George and Angelina waiting for them.

The first year after Fred’s death had been really hard on George. But, once he started dating Angelina everything seemed to turn around. He would never be the same without his twin. But he was as close to the old George as anyone could ask since he and Angelina had tied the knot.

Hugs and handshakes were passed around after the group had downed their shots. It was clear they were several behind George. “Medicinal,” he said, joining Harry and Ron in another.

“How’s my favorite Angel?” Harry asked Angelina.

“Absolutely great, Harry. We’re off the clock and it feels wonderful.”

Ron and Harry both laughed. Then Ron answered for them both, “I know exactly what you mean.”

“Ginny!” Angelina gave her sister-in-law an extra long hug. “Your flying drills really paid off last night!”

“Harry told me,” Ginny replied, full of relief that she’d played some part in keeping them all safe. “Thanks.”

“She’s amazing.” Harry’s eyes were starry as he gazed lovingly at his fiancee.

“Potter? I think you’re star struck.” Hermione laughed. “Or drunk.”

“What’s the difference?” Harry replied.

“Don’t forget the brightest witch of our age!” Seamus, another early arrival, strode up to the group and gave Hermione a peck on the cheek. She beamed. “That new mass stunner spell of yours was brilliant!”

Hermione tried to frown, but just couldn’t keep up the effort. “You know you’re not supposed to use…”

“…unapproved spells,” everyone finished for her. Hermione blushed hot pink as she joined in the group laughter.

“So. Who’s going to escort me in to this wonderful party?” Ginny asked, batting her eyelashes.

“That would be me, beautiful.” Harry extended his arm, which she gladly took. Ron and Hermione did likewise. As the four walked toward the Burrow they gave a collective gasp as they took in the decorations. The mothers had outdone themselves.

The trees gave off a soft glow. Between them were strung white veils that formed an enchanted canopy that would shimmer every so often. The veils sheltered the gilded tables and chairs that were used at Bill’s and Fleur’s and, later, George’s and Angelina’s, weddings. The center pieces were an arrangement of lilies, in honor of Harry’s mother, and red, white and pink roses, Ginny’s and Hermione’s favorite flowers. In the center of the marquis was a solid oak dance floor, with a magnificent ice carving, charmed to never melt. The carving was of Harry and Ginny and Ron and Hermione, dancing. To the right was a small stage where the band was still setting up.

Hermione looked up lovingly at the warrior on her arm. “It’s beautiful,” she said. “But I know what you’re thinking. Go ahead.” The scent of the food that was now being laid out by Kreacher on the long tables was overwhelming.

“Thank the gods,” Harry and Ron chorused and made a bee line for the food table.

“Just a small snack! The party doesn’t start for another half an hour,” Ginny called after them.

Ginny and Hermione shared a look. “I’d hoped they’d grow out of that.” Ginny shook her head as Hermione rolled her eyes.

Just then, Molly came bounding out of the door. “Hello dears!” She scooped the girls into one of her signature Molly Weasley hugs.

“Mum, this is positively wonderful,” Hermione said, almost in awe.

“You’ve outdone yourself this time,” Ginny added.

“Nothing is too good for our girls,” Molly said with a teary smile. “Besides, Kathy Granger and I have been waiting a long time for this.”

“Mum!” Harry and Ron said around mouthfuls of meat pies, hugging her.

“Haven’t you two broken them of that yet?” Molly asked the girls, referring to their fiancés’ eating manners.

Ginny and Hermione gave her pained and exasperated shakes of the head.

“It just makes us more lovable,” Ron said with a grin full of food.

Kissing them both on the cheek, Molly tried to fix them with a scornful look. It didn’t hold.

Swallowing, Harry smiled at the woman who’d joyfully filled the role of mother for him for so many years. “Mum, this is absolutely brilliant. Thank you so much.” The passage of time, and the love that surrounded him from his surrogate family, the Weasleys, had helped cushion the blow of the realization that Harry had no relatives coming, save Teddy, who had yet to arrive. Still, I wish Sirius could be here…

Ron nodded enthusiastically. “Absolutely amazing, Mum.”

She shot them both a smile and, turning to Harry and Hermione. “Hearing you two call me Mum is all the thanks I need.” With that, Molly began to tear up in earnest.

As she wiped her eyes on her apron, she composed herself. “Hermione, your mum’s been here all day, of course, but your dad just got here an hour ago. Your mum’s in the kitchen with me. Your father’s out in the shed with Arthur.” She said the last with a disapproving glance at Arthur’s “lair.”

“Mr. G’s here already?” Ron asked excitedly. Seamus and George had heard that as well and came hurriedly up to the group. Harry looked eager to join the duo in the shed as well. George Granger, or Mr. G as he was affectionately known, had become something of a hit with the extended Weasley family.

Hermione and Ginny turned on them before Molly could utter a word; the girls beat her to the punch of a preemptory scolding. Hermione’s eyes blazed. “If anything explodes tonight, or burns to the ground…”

Ginny’s eyes blazed just as fiercely. “Or if you try to plan to import Muggle liquor in exchange for firewhiskey again, or if you try to repeat that stunt where you enchant a broom so that Mr. G. can play Quidditch with you…”

Molly finished, “I’ll turn these two loose on you and see if they’ve been paying attention to what Kathy and I have been teaching them about how to deal with men who try to act like boys.”

The four former members of Dumbledore’s Army, two of them decorated war heroes, visibly blanched. It was George who summoned up the courage to respond. “Ladies, I promise you no harm will come to the other George.” With that, he gave Hermione a peck on the cheek and the four young men scurried off to the shed.

Molly whispered to Hermione conspiratorially, “Don’t worry too much, dear. They just think they’ve found a lost Weasley.”

Ginny couldn’t help but smile and try as she might, Hermione couldn’t help but respond in kind.

“Hermione!” a familiar female voice shouted from the kitchen door.

“Mum!” Hermione leapt through the door into Kathy Granger’s warm embrace. With that, Angelina, Molly and Ginny went into the kitchen where Kathy had already poured out five glasses of wine.

********

“Ron the Great!” Mr. G. shouted, pulling Ron into a bear hug after Ron embraced Arthur.

“So you got the Prophet I sent you?” Harry asked, with a sadistic smile as he pumped Mr. G.’s hand and hugged Arthur.

“Read it cover to cover.” Mr. G., said with a toothy grin.

“Potter!” Ron shot a look at his best mate. Harry just laughed.

“It’s all George and I have been talking about. We’re very proud of you boys,” Arthur said, including Seamus in his praise.

“That we are,” Mr. G. chimed in. “Head Auror, Harry? Well done. And from what I read, it looks like Seamus didn’t waste any time putting those Death Eaters in their place, either.” The Grangers had made a point of keeping up with their daughter and all things magical ever since the Battle of Hogwarts. In fact, for George Granger, it had become almost an obsession.

Once Ron and Hermione had found them in Australia and restored their memories, explaining everything that had happened, the Grangers had thrown themselves into the Wizarding World with a will. They weren’t going to be excluded from their daughter’s life again. The result had been yet another expansion of the ever growing Weasley clan; the Grangers were welcomed with open arms.

“Thank you, sir,” Harry replied sheepishly. As always uncomfortable with praise, Harry motioned to the long cylindrical tank that stood between Arthur and George Granger to change the subject. “What’s that, Mr. G.?”

Arthur answered with a conspiratorial whisper, “This is a secret, boys.”

“Artie, I think the grooms should probably go first.” George Granger handed a gas mask attached to the tank over to Ron. “Now, take a deep breath.”

“Oh my gods!” Ron was shaking with uncontrollable laughter.

“Mr. G., what is this stuff?” George Weasley asked.

“Special occasions call for special dispensations.” Mr. G. was smiling from ear to ear as Arthur slapped him on the back, guffawing. “We Muggles call it laughing gas-- completely legal when dispensed by a practicing dentist. Lucky for you, that’s what I am. Now, now, only one inhalation per patient or the ladies might get suspicious.” It was clear that Arthur and Mr. G. had already had a sample. Or two. Or three.

Arthur dropped George Granger a wink. “Form a line and be sure to get your shot of Old Ogden’s as you pass me by,” Arthur added.

Harry collapsed into an overstuffed chair next to a befuddled Seamus and just took in the scene, a sloppy grin on his face. Arthur’s shed had always resembled a Muggle electronics shop that had been ransacked by Dudley’s hooligan friends. But ever since the Grangers, and Mr. G. in particular, had become regular visitors to the Burrow, it had taken on more of a clubhouse feel. The various plugs, extension cords, televisions, can openers and other Muggle objects still adorned the walls and shelves. However, Mr. G. had introduced Arthur to the concept of the “man cave.”

Now the shed was adorned with its own icebox, second-hand furniture and a wireless set. Arthur and “the other George,” as he was also affectionately known, had made it their own personal hideout. As it turned out, Hermione was definitely her mother’s daughter. Kathy Granger (she usually preferred to be called “Doctor”) did not approve of her husband’s shenanigans, but so loved the Weasley clan and Ron in particular, she chose to turn a blind eye to most of the mischief her ne’er-do-well magic-addicted husband often got up to.

Harry turned to Mr. G (he definitely did not like to be called “Doctor”) and marveled at how well he fit in. Mr. G. really was the Muggle version of Arthur. In retrospect, it was no surprise that Hermione had taken to Ron. When they were at Hogwarts, Harry could never quite understand how her constant exasperation with Ron could turn to affection so quickly. After getting to know Mr. G. and realizing how similar to the Weasleys he really was, Ron and Hermione’s relationship made infinite sense.

“Oh, bollocks. I almost forgot.” Arthur dug into his shelves.

“What is it Artie?” Mr. G. asked.

“I got this for you.” He handed the dentist a small flask. “I charmed it.”

“You didn’t?”

Arthur didn’t even try to contain his Cheshire-cat-sized grin. “I did. It won’t run out of Ogden’s for at least a month or two.”

“Artie, I really can’t…”

Arthur put up his hands defensively. “George, after that MP3 player you smuggled in here for me last month…Fair is fair.” Before he struck up his friendship with Mr. G., Arthur would have surely mispronounced the gadget as an MCP or some such other misnomer. But in Mr. G., Arthur finally got the Muggle tutor he’d always hoped for.

“Thanks! This is wonderful,” Mr. G. exclaimed. He put an appreciative hand on Arthur’s shoulder as he stashed the flask in his coat. Sitting down next to Ron on the couch, he put an arm around his soon-to-be son-in-law and grinned. “Son, I love magic.”

Ron smiled. “Dad, that’s Harry’s line.”

That drew a round of laughter.

“Now. GW,” Mr. G. turned to George Weasley; he was always “GW” when Mr. G. was around, just to cut down on the confusion, “tell me what new and interesting things you’ve been cooking up in your shop, but be quick! I want to go give my little girl a hug.” 
 
GW smiled devilishly. “I was wondering when you’d ask…”

As the men walked up to the house, their peals of laughter grew louder, drawing the attention of the ladies in the kitchen.

“Mum?” Hermione asked her mother in exasperation, “Tell me Dad didn’t bring the nitrous oxide tank with him?”

Ginny shot Hermione a questioning look; Hermione mouthed “I’ll explain later.”

Kathy Granger fixed her daughter with a slightly amused smile as she refilled everyone’s wine glasses. “Dear, we regularly have to keep our men in their place to prevent them from being complete barbarians. But occasionally, a blind eye is called for. This would be one of those times.”

“Unfortunately, I agree with Kathy,” Molly added as Angelina chimed in her approval. “If I pounced on Arthur every time he brought one of his enchanted Muggle toys home, I’d have to hex him daily.”

Ginny was shocked. “Mum, you knew?”

“Ginevra, dear. Don’t be dense. Do you really think there’s anything that goes on around here that I don’t know?” Molly arched a knowing eyebrow at her daughter. The implications shocked Ginny to the core; she blushed. Seeing her daughter’s reaction Molly continued, “And yes, I knew you and Harry were sleeping together the summer after the Battle. But I knew you were being safe and I could see how in love you were.”

Kathy shot a similar look at Hermione, who blanched. “Girls, the first and most important lesson to learn about children, and trust me, children includes our husbands,” Kathy began as Molly and Angelina laughed heartily in agreement, “is that we keep a firm hand on them, but don’t crush them. Unless…”

“They really need it.” Molly finished. As the men walked into the kitchen, they were met with the women’s laughter which was even louder than their own.

“H!” Mr. G. shouted as his little girl bounded into his arms.

“Hi, Daddy.”

“How’s my girl?” he asked.

“Just wonderful.” She beamed as she saw Arthur pick Ginny up in a huge hug. Kathy gave Ron a peck on the cheek, which instantly made him blush; she smiled.

“Thank you so much for everything you’ve done here, Dr. Granger. It’s wonderful,” Harry said; Ron chorused his agreement.

“Our pleasure. It truly is.” Kathy gave all the kids a smile and Harry and Ron a warm hug.

“Well, we were just giving your prospective husbands a talking to and they made the grade. Just barely though…” Arthur grinned.

Molly shot her daughter a wink. “Really, Arthur? That’s what you were doing out there?”
Arthur began to stammer; Kathy came to his rescue, as she smiled at Molly. “Mmmhmm. So, let’s get the last of the food outside. The guests should be arriving any minute.”

As the men were loaded down with food and shuffled out the door, Molly whispered to Ginny and Hermione, “Even if you give them the blind eye, always keep them in fear of the crushing.” Kathy couldn’t stifle her impish laugh.

******

“Can Mr. Granger and I have your attention please?” Arthur rose from his seat at the head table, casting a light Sonorous charm on his voice. Mr. G. followed suit, George Weasley providing the spell so the Muggle could be heard.

“G.W., if you’d just take me to Ollivander’s, I’m sure I could find my own wand and you wouldn’t have to keep lending me yours.” Mr. G.’s magnified voice was thick with humor and drew laughs from around the yard and a roll of the eyes from his daughter. 
 
Most of the Auror Corps was present. As Seamus draped his arm over Susan Bones’ chair, many began to wonder if their kiss in Diagon Alley had led to something or was merely the first public display of a relationship that had been kept in the shadows. Fleur kept whispering to Bill and pointing at the couple, as did almost everyone else. Seated next to Bill and Fleur, Andromeda was trying desperately to keep Teddy from pulling Victoire’s hair as she settled in for the speeches. 

Everyone had been stuffed to the gills with Molly's and Kathy's excellent cooking. Only Ron and Hagrid seemed to have the wherewithal to keep eating. Empty tankards drained of mead were lined up in front of the half-giant like chessmen. Even Headmistress McGonagall was on her third glass of wine and Percy himself had smiled so much this evening, people were wondering if Audrey had hit him with a Confundus curse, at Ginny's request.

Although everyone was overjoyed for the two happy couples, it was clear something far greater was at work. This was the first time that everyone felt the weight of the Second Wizarding War begin to lift and all were determined to take advantage of it.

Arthur resumed his speech. “Marrying-off a daughter is not an easy thing for a father to do.” He gave Ginny a watery smile that she returned as Harry gave her a slight squeeze with the arm that was wrapped around her shoulders.

Mr. G. continued, “It’s usually a day we dread our entire lives.” He turned to give a sweetly-pained smile to Hermione, who began to tear up as she leaned into Ron. “But few fathers have the advantage that we do of knowing their little girls will always be protected, loved and cared-for like ours will be.”

“Ginny dear, it seems like it was only yesterday you were stealing the boys’ brooms from the shed and tearing around the pitch. And although you’ll always be my little girl, I want you to know I do realize you’re a grown woman--beautiful, talented, more than any father could ever hope for.”

“Hermione, you’ll always be my little H. But the brilliant witch you’ve become…I can’t even tell you how proud of you I am, with the way you’ve conquered this world that was so new to us only eleven years ago. You’re beautiful, smart and strong. You’ve done us proud.”

“Harry, you’ve really been a part of this family for years. Gods know you’ve saved the lives of more than one of us, including me, countless times. Your devotion to our daughter and the way you’ve always carried yourself speaks volumes about your character. You know we’ve always thought of you as a Weasley; but now, Molly and I are thrilled to finally be able to call you what you’ve been for so long: our son.”

“Ronald, Kathy and I never really knew if there was a man out there who could meet Hermione’s high standards. Like her lovely mother, she always expects perfection. We knew that for any man to succeed, he’d have to be truly exceptional. He’d have to be brave, strong and have infinite patience. Having seen the man you’ve become since that day in Diagon Alley ten years ago when we first met, I know she’s finally found him.”

“Harry and Ron,” Arthur continued, “You’ve protected our little girls—as well as each other—over the years and, before Ginny and Hermione get angry at us for portraying them as the damsels in distress, we both know how you’ve all been there for each other on countless occasions.”

Mr. G. carried on, “And that’s what solid friendships are based on. It’s also exactly what strong marriages are made of. We know all four of you have learned this lesson and that’s why, even though we’re sad to be losing our little girls, we have the peace of knowing that you, all four of you, will take care of each other.”

Arthur finished, “We love you all and wish you only the best. Cheers!”

With that, the two fathers raised their glasses and the crowd did likewise. Shouts of “Hear, hear!” and “Slàinte!” echoed around the Burrow. And afterward, a tearful Ginny and Hermione embraced their sadly happy fathers.

“Those two are a hard act to follow,” Ron said to Harry, motioning to the father/daughter hugs.

“No worries, Ron. We’ve got our entire lives to try.”

“Well, enough of the mushy stuff!” Mr. G. shouted, “This is supposed to be a party! And we want to dance with our little girls.”

“If you boys are lucky, we might give them back to you tonight.” Arthur finished. Smiling, they pulled Hermione and Ginny to the dance floor as the tables and chairs were banished and the band began to play.

Shortly after the first dance, the adults began to melt, either into the kitchen, or to their homes, letting the younger people have their fun. Andromeda, who’d drawn baby-sitting duty, Apparated with Victoire and Teddy, as soon as Harry promised to take his godson flying before the week was out. Eventually, Ron and Harry did get to dance with their fiancées.

Ron was drawing a tankard of ale when Harry whispered in his ear, “Mate, I need a favor.”

“Sure.”

“Gin and I are going to sneak back to Shell Cottage for about twenty minutes...”

Ron wheeled on his partner. “Damn you, Potter!”

Bugger, the overprotective brother’s returned, Harry thought with alarm.

“Hermione and I were going to do that after I polished off this ale,” Ron said, disappointed.

Harry relaxed instantly. “We can’t all four go. We’d be missed. I was hoping you could run interference for us if anybody asks where we are.” The plan was for everyone who hadn’t already left to stay at the Burrow. Molly had been insistent there be no Apparating while intoxicated. “Besides, I already used the sobering charm…”

“Fine,” Ron said grudgingly. “Twenty minutes. Not one minute longer or I’ll rat you out. Guess I’ll have to find Hermione and tell her we’re delayed. She was meeting me there.”

“Thanks mate!” Harry found Ginny and began to move nonchalantly to the Apparation point.

“Damn.” Ron downed his ale, as Bill and Fleur walked up to the kegs.

“I can’t believe I forgot it,” Bill said, shaking his head.

“Ees not too late,” Fleur replied. “I can go back to zee Cottage and get it.”

“No, no. I’ll go. It’ll be a quick trip.”

Ron muttered, “Double damn.” Then, louder, “So, what did you forget?” he asked the couple.

“I’d been saving a very special bottle of champagne Fleur and I brought back from France for tonight. I’m just going to Apparate back and get it. Won’t take me long.”

Ron didn’t want his sister and best mate to get interrupted, or worse, by his oldest brother. Think fast, Weasley! “I was just going back to get Hermione’s sweater. It’s no problem for me to bring the champagne back too. Where is it?”

“You don’t mind? This is your party little brother,” Bill said.

“No. They won’t even miss me. Where is it?”

“I took it out of the cellar so I wouldn’t forget it. Middle cabinet over the sink, third shelf, green bottle, Chateau le Lune.”

That gave Ron a start. “Bill, that’s really expensive stuff.”

“Special occasion. You’re all worth it.”

“Thanks. Thank you both.” Starting off toward the edge of the wards, Ron finished, “I’ll be right back.”

He appeared near the Cottage and approached the front steps. Trying to be as quiet as possible, he opened the door and had to suppress a grimace. Don’t those two ever use Muffliato? Not listening, not listening…Ron kept running the words through his mind as he made his way past the stairwell, down which the noise was descending, toward the kitchen, which was blissfully quiet. He decided to cast his own Muffliato, to keep from hearing the sounds coming from the master bedroom and just in case he banged around the kitchen too much in his search for the champagne.

As luck would have it, he didn’t need to; he found it quickly. He grabbed the bottle and immediately felt eyes on the back of his head. He spun around to find…

“Hermione?”

“Ron?” Her voice was desperate, choked with emotion; tears were glistening on her cheeks.

One look at the state she was in and Ron was overwhelmed with worry, so much so he didn’t quite register the young child in her arms (Teddy?) or the fact she was wearing a traveling cloak over a flannel nightgown he didn’t recognize. “What’s wrong love?”

“Oh, Ron!” She flew into his arms, kissing him as she wept uncontrollably.

Ron dropped the champagne bottle in a panic and pressed her to him. “Gods, ‘Mione, what is it? Tell me.” Then, looking over her shoulder, he saw someone standing in the doorway. But he simply couldn’t comprehend what his eyes were telling him. Hermione was here, in his arms, weeping into his chest. But she was also standing in the doorway, pure shock spreading across her face. Then the shock erupted into unrelenting rage. The Hermione in the doorway’s wand began to rise, held in a hand that was shaking in unmitigated fury.

AN: This story is written to stand on its own. However, if you want the full back-story of the Hermione that’s suddenly appeared with a child in her arms, I suggest reading my short story, Stop All the Clocks, before reading the next chapter.

I do not own Harry Potter.  The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 6: The Two Hermiones
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The force of Bellatrix’s two wands connecting in duel exploded every window in Shell Cottage. Neither of the Hermiones had seen fit to replace the wand they’d taken from Voldemort’s chief lieutenant; a trophy of war that was now pressed into action to annihilate its Doppelganger.

It was only due to his Auror training that Ron had managed to wrest the small child from Hermione’s arms and shield him from the impact just before the concussion threw the two redheads to the floor. Ron struggled to right himself, but even as he did, he still couldn’t fathom what was happening. Looking from right to left he saw Hermione, in a traveling cloak and nightgown, violently channeling her magic at…Hermione, standing in the doorway, pure murder in her eyes as she just as violently channeled it back. He took some solace in the fact that it appeared this rage wasn’t being vented at him. He tried desperately to determine which one was the imposter.

He pointed his wand first at the Hermione who had flown into his arms. Then he hesitated. They both have Bellatrix’s wand? You can’t Polyjuice a wand. He had no clue what to do or who to attack.

That was when Harry, dressed only in his boxers, Apparated directly into the kitchen from the upstairs bedroom, wand raised and poised to strike. The explosions had overwhelmed Ron’s Muffliato and the cacophony brought him to the scene ready for battle.

Harry had trained his Aurors to take in an operational situation before engaging to avoid hurting the innocent. With enough practice, any hesitation was negligible. But the sight of two Hermiones dueling to the death threw him off his game, much as it had Ron. Before Harry could react, both Hermiones shouted “NO!” and without breaking the flow between their locked wands, raised their non-wand hands, palm out. With two bursts of silent power, Harry hurtled into the kitchen wall.

Wandless? The word flew through Harry’s mind as he smacked into the cupboards.

Bellatrix’s wands spewed pure energy throughout the kitchen. The air crackled with the fury of the two curses that were not allowed to meet their mark. The Hermione in the doorway gave a savage cry and the back wall of Shell Cottage exploded outward.

Then, Ginny Apparated into the kitchen, wearing only a green negligee. “Protego!!”

With a violent crash her shield spell erupted between the two dueling Hermiones, flinging them apart and forcing them to cease their spells.

Ron regained his feet as the terrified little boy in his arms began to scream “MUMMY!” at the top of his lungs.

The Hermione nearest Ron snatched up her son, never letting her wand or her eyes leave the Hermione in the doorway. “YOU NEARLY KILLED MY SON, YOU BITCH!”

“I WAS TRYING TO KILL YOU, YOU POLYJUICED WHORE!!”

As their wands threatened to re-ignite, Ron leapt in between them. “WAIT!!”

“Get out of the way, Ron!” The demand was made in stereo.

As Harry regained his feet, Ron shot him a desperate look.

Harry focused on the Hermione in the doorway, trying to speak calmly and evenly. “She’s holding a child, Hermione.”

Ginny intervened. “Why don’t we all settle down and just lower our wands.” Slowly she moved next to Harry, but was facing the Hermione holding the wailing redheaded boy. As she looked at the child, she whispered to Harry, “Gods, he looks like Ron.”

Panting, the Hermione in the flannel nightgown breathed, “I’m not Polyjuiced. I’m you. From another place.”

“Time-turner?” Harry asked; that was when he noticed the other Hermione also bore Bellatrix’s wand.

“No. This.” Slowly, Hermione tapped the butt of her wand against the Talisman Deschain that hung round her neck. The business end of her wand never left the Hermione in the doorway.

“Reality-shifter,” the Hermione in the doorway responded.

The other Hermione nodded.

The doorway-Hermione shook her head. “They don’t exist anymore. The Talisman Deschain was the last one. It was destroyed in the last Goblin Rebellion.” She gripped her wand more firmly. “Try again!”

“That’s what I thought. This is the Talisman Deschain. It was hidden in Brittany.” She turned to the Head Auror. “Harry, please. Many lives were sacrificed for me to find all of you. Everything depends on you hearing me out.”

“Hermione?” Ron asked.

Both replied, “What?”

“This isn’t going to work.” Ginny shook her head. “Until we suss this out, you,” she motioned to the Hermione holding the boy, “you’re ‘Mione. And you,” she motioned to the Hermione in the doorway, “you’re Hermione.”

‘Mione clearly did not like the nickname, but she nodded slowly as she consoled her son. Harry took charge. “Good.  Now, everyone, on the count of three, is going to lower their wands to their sides. One…two…three.”

Very reluctantly, everyone’s wand descended into a less threatening position. “Good.” Harry sighed. “Now, Gin and I are going to right some of the chairs around the table and we’re all going to sit down, very slowly, and talk.”

As the chairs were put in place, Ron looked hesitantly from ‘Mione and her son to Hermione, waiting for the battle to continue with him in the crossfire. Luckily, the truce seemed to be holding.

“Okay. Now everyone. Very slowly. Sit,” Harry ordered.

In unison, they all began to sit, keeping their wands in hand, but resting them on the table, pointing away from any targets. As ‘Mione slowly took her seat, her son asked, “Mummy, who are they?”

“They’re…friends, Ronnie,” ‘Mione answered.

Hearing the boy’s name, Hermione stiffened. Realizing she was about to fly out of her chair, Ron rested a calming hand on hers. She glared daggers at him, but her wand remained peacefully on the table.

Seizing the opening Harry addressed the little boy. “My name’s Harry. This is Ginny and that’s Ron. And this is…Hermione.”

The little boy took a good look at Hermione for the first time. “Mummy?” Then he looked at ‘Mione, a confused look on his face.

‘Mione said, “No dear, she just looks like me.”

Ginny said, in as soft a voice as she could, “We’re not gonna hurt you or your mum. Okay? Everyone was just…startled before. That’s all. Your name’s Ronnie?”

The little boy nodded. “Ronnie Weasley; my first name’s the same as yours!” he said, looking at Ron. “And my middle name’s Harry, like yours!”

Harry’s eyebrows shot up. Then, Ron stared at the boy, dumbfounded. “He’s…mine?”

‘Mione’s eyes welled up with tears, as she struggled with the answer. “Yes. No. The Ron in my reality is the father…He died.”

“I’m not listening to this tripe!” Hermione shouted, threatening to upset the uneasy truce.

Harry raised his hand, making a calming gesture. Then to ‘Mione, “How else do our realities differ?”

“They’re identical. Until four years ago,” ‘Mione answered.

“Four years…” Harry dreaded the implications.

‘Mione was still unable to utter the name Voldemort. “The Dark Lord won.”

Ginny was nearly crushed by the sudden tidal wave of anxiety that crashed over her from her fiancé. Just as quickly, Harry slammed the link shut, even though he caught a violent glare from Ginny when he did.

Hermione seethed. “Bollocks! How can you listen to this Polyjuiced…!”

Harry interrupted her before she said something that would reignite the duel.
“Hermione, look at her wand. That isn’t the result of a potion.”

“This was Bellatrix’s wand,” ‘Mione said, motioning to it. “But there was a potion involved in me coming here. It took the blood of the three of us from my reality to force the Talisman to bring me to the three of you.”

“I don’t care what this, this,” she struggled to find the right word, “this person says. She’s not me from this or any other reality! I know what I saw. If she’s on some kind of mission it seems the objective is Ron and nothing else!”

‘Mione steeled herself. “I anticipated something like this happening.” She desperately wished there was another way to do this. “If you’ll let me try to put my son down somewhere to sleep and promise me you’ll not harm him, I think I know a way to make you all understand.”

“Mummy, I don’t want you to leave!” Ronnie wailed.

“Be strong dear. You need to sleep now sweetheart.” Gently, ‘Mione brushed her hand over the young boy’s brow, muttering a sleep charm. Slowly, Ronnie’s eyelids drooped and the boy went limp in her arms. “Do I have your word?” She looked directly at Ginny, Harry and then Ron, but her eyes rested on Hermione.

Through clenched teeth, Hermione had to concede to ‘Mione’s worry. “I didn’t know you were holding him when I came in. Your back was to me. All I saw was you kissing my fiancé.”

‘Mione blanched at that, and dipped her head, slightly; if the shoe were on the other foot… Then, raising her head again, “I still need your word,” she persisted.

Harry answered for them, “If you are who you say you are, then you should know you don’t need to ask that question.” But ‘Mione’s glare never wavered. Harry finally relented. “Yes.”

“Can I put him on the couch?”

“Yes,” Harry replied again.

‘Mione slowly took the sleeping boy into the sitting room. Harry noticed that she had left her wand on the table. He was sure it was intentional, a sign of good faith and trust.

As she came back, she sat, appraising the quartet that sat around her. One by one as ‘Mione’s eyes fell on their faces she felt the silent tears streaming down her cheeks. I’ve missed them all so much. Though her tears betrayed her, her voice was steady. “Legilimens is the only way. Ron, I assume you know how.”

“No way in hell!” Hermione spat. “Me. I’ll do it or this doesn’t happen at all. Are we clear?”

“Hermione…” Harry began, but was cut off by her blazing glare.

‘Mione interjected, “Fine, but I’m not going to let you rummage around in my head. The minute you go too far, I’m forcing you out.”

Hermione didn’t respond.

Harry spoke up. “We’ll have to do Chain Legilimens.” This was a technique Harry had helped develop for the Auror Corps. One person would enter the mind of a suspect while a second entered the mind of the interrogator and so on. In this way, multiple people could view the same thoughts without all of them entering the same mind, which could be dangerous for the person being read. “Hermione leads, Ron, you follow her, I’ll follow you. Ginny?”

“I can do it. I was never as good as you three, but entering Harry’s mind shouldn’t be too difficult.” She said the last almost sarcastically, casting a glare at Harry for shutting her out earlier. But she said no more about the link. Playing it safe, she figured it was best to keep their secret until they figured out exactly who or what they were dealing with.

The idea of a Chain Legilimens gave Harry some pause; he was determined to keep Ginny from feeling the crushing anxiety that was surging through him, but with her linked to his mind from a Chain Legilimens, this could prove difficult. He resigned to block her from his own thoughts and feelings as much as possible. Not engaged a month and already I’m shutting her out…Why did this have to happen now?

The Quartet leveled their wands and in succession, starting with Hermione, spoke the incantation.

Hermione entered, not so much as broke into, ‘Mione’s mind. ‘Mione’s intent was to lead her through her memories. Hermione brushed her off, like a rude guest traipsing through an open doorway. ‘Mione had a fair idea where Hermione was going and let her.

The first image that swam into focus was from the back seat of a Muggle auto, George and Kathy Granger in the front seat. Kathy was driving. George had just cracked a joke and Kathy, laughing, drove the car into the closed garage door. Kathy then began yelling at George, but couldn’t keep a straight face while she did it.

Hermione felt an archly aimed Satisfied? from ‘Mione, but still did not relinquish control of the tour. Next, Hermione trudged her way through ‘Mione’s memories until she found an image of George Granger leaning over his daughter, putting a bandage on a scraped knee. Before he could finish, ‘Mione closed her hand over the wound, which instantly healed, much to the surprise of her very shocked father.

Again, Hermione felt a surge from her double. Now, will you trust me? 

Hermione responded, No. Then, grudgingly, But go ahead and lead.

Hermione could almost feel the troubled sigh from her subject as the proffered images whirled until settling on the grounds of Hogwarts. What followed was a rush of horrific scenes.

A lifeless Harry was brought before the castle, carried by Hagrid. But unlike their own memories, the quartet never saw Harry alive again.

Harry felt his Ginny begin to tense next to him. Hold on love. This isn’t our reality. I’m right here. Expanding his control through the chain, Harry sought to dampen the emotional impact of everything they saw. It would prove a costly choice. But he was relieved when he felt Ginny’s pain ease slightly as the memories continued to flow past.

Next, they saw Neville consumed in flames as the Sorting Hat was forced, humiliatingly, over his head; the sword of Gryffindor never having appeared. One by one, during the battle in the Great Hall, all of their friends fell. When Arthur and then Molly were slain, the Quartet gasped, tears streamed down their faces. Again, Harry struggled to dampen the emotional impact on the group. He began to shake. Ron sent to Harry through the Chain, Dammit, Potter. Don’t take it all on yourself; you’ll burn out. Harry ignored him.

Then they received the image of Hagrid dragging Ron and ‘Mione from the hall, just as Ginny and then the entire Weasley family were consumed by Voldemort’s Fiendfyre. At this, Harry’s shaking started to resemble a seizure, tears flowing down his face. His reaction was so violent, Ginny had to brace him against her as his uncontrollable sobs threatened to break the chain. I’m right here next to you love. Holding you. I’ll never leave you. She forced her love through the link they shared, despite his attempts to shut her out. She desperately tried to steady him. As Harry’s control faltered, Hermione and Ron were both nearly consumed by the pain, their own and ‘Mione’s. Ron, overcome with emotion, tried to steady her and she him, picking up some of the emotional load from Harry. We have to keep looking, love.

The images faded and then the Quartet saw a dank cave. A bloodied Ron was leaning against ‘Mione as Hagrid told them second-hand how Voldemort had first Accio’ed the Hawthorne wand from Harry’s robes, at last becoming the true master of the Elder Wand. Then, catching Harry off guard, the Dark Lord used a brutally long and thorough Legilimens instead of the expected killing curse. The implications of this twist on history stunned them all; everything Harry knew, every secret he kept was now known by Riddle, including Snape’s memories. 

When Hagrid relayed how Bellatrix finally dealt Harry the deathblow, Ginny collapsed on to Harry’s shoulder, weeping uncontrollably. Hold on love. Don’t break the spell. I’m still here. Harry reasserted his control over the emotional flow of the spell and felt Ginny steel herself as the images continued to slide past. It was a small mercy that ‘Mione didn’t actually witness Harry’s death so that Ginny only got to hear of it instead of actually experiencing it. 

Last of all, Hagrid told Ron and 'Mione that Voldemort had ordered them killed at all costs.  Riddle would stop at nothing to eliminate them because they knew the secret of his Horcruxes.  But Hagrid had used Voldemort's name, which was still jinxed.  It brought a trio of Death Eaters to the mouth of their cave.

As Hagrid sacrificed himself to insure Ron and ‘Mione’s escape, the Quartet gave a collective gasp. Hagrid had always been their protector. For him to have had to make the ultimate sacrifice was nearly one horror too many.

Hermione felt ‘Mione tense when the memories turned to a tent that Ron and ‘Mione had shared. I’m not showing you this. Hermione’s jealous curiosity warred with her preferred ignorance, but Hermione relented. She feared she knew what happened in this tent and didn’t want to see more. 

The remaining scenes flashed by as Ron and ‘Mione ran for their lives for hours, unable to Apparate away from the Death Eaters that seemed to be around every turn. Voldemort had set up new wards around the entire country. Called the Dark Lord’s Teeth, they prevented any form of long distance or international Apparation; Ron and 'Mione could only Apparate within line of sight. It had nearly resulted in them being killed because they couldn’t put any distance between themselves and the pursuing Death Eaters.

Then, the group watched as Ron and ‘Mione learned of her pregnancy. Almost immediately afterward, a row broke out between the two as to what they should do next. Ron saw his other self argue that the duo had to leave the country for the good of the child and then felt the sharp sting when he saw ‘Mione accusing him of cowardice for wanting to “run away again.” Ultimately, they saw that 'Mione realized their child had to take priority over Voldemort; they decided to flee to France and seek refuge with Fleur’s family.

Then they saw plans, schemes and tests as to how to get through the Teeth and reach Calais by Apparating across the Channel from Dover, which ‘Mione believed might be the weak spot in the wards. Based on what they had heard over the wireless, 'Mione thought that anyone trying to Disapparate out of the country would be forced to appear at Dover, where scores of Death Eaters lay in ambush.  The result was a horrid killing field, strewn with the corpses of the desperate.  However, by focusing all Apparation to this one point, she theorized that the wards at Dover had weakened.  

Ron had a plan to test her theory.  They had managed to capture Yaxley and once 'Mione had placed him under the Imperius curse, they had made him try to Apparate through the wards. When the Teeth made him appear at Dover, he was cut down by the waiting Death Eaters who seemed not to care that he was one of them.  The quartet could feel 'Mione shudder at what the circumstances had forced her to do.  Worse yet, 'Mione hadn't broken her Imperius on Yaxley soon enough.  She had felt him die.

But her theory was proven true.  The wards did act as a funnel to Dover and the Teeth there had begun to degrade.

However, her memories of actually leaving the country were cordoned off by an immense wall of grief and some kind of memory dampening charm.

Due to ‘Mione’s exhaustion, all the images that followed her arrival in France were a muddled blur.

The Quartet saw ‘Mione collapsing into the arms of Fleur’s father, the birth of Ronnie and then the flight to Beauxbatons after Death Eaters attacked the Delacour’s chateau. After that were memories covering the discovery of the instability of their reality. For some reason the Dark Lord’s victory had made it dangerously unstable. Fate was trying to find a way to restore the equilibrium: merge with another reality where the Dark Lord had failed. 

The Quartet palled at the implications.  Voldemort and his minions would be alive again, here, in their home reality.  Despite Harry's best efforts, Ginny could feel her fiancé’s overwhelming anxiety.  His shaking became even worse.

Then came a jumbled kaleidoscope of memories: a rushed search for the Talisman Deschain. Then rush turned to panic as Voldemort learned that ‘Mione was searching for an ancient magical object. He didn’t know what it was or why it was so important to her, but he feared the worst. Nearly everyone she enlisted to help locate it was killed by Death Eaters or spies. Once the Talisman was finally in her possession, it took years of research to figure out how to use it; but, it was still largely a mystery.

The last images were of the news that Voldemort had created an army of Inferi using the Resurection Stone. Together with his Death Eaters and German allies, the Dark Lord launched a mighty invasion of France. Its sole purpose: eliminating ‘Mione.

The group took a collective breath once the parade of horrible memories was over. But Hermione refused to stop. She had to see what was being blocked. She had to know what happened at Dover. She threw herself at the guarded memory.

NO!! ‘Mione’s mind screamed in anguish. But Hermione was determined, focusing all of her might into the spell, she brutally sought to force ‘Mione’s mind to open.

Harry’s control was spent. He couldn’t prevent it. He desperately sent Ron a message through the Chain: Don’t let her do it! Stop her!

Hermione!! Don’t!!

Ron was a master duelist and strategist, but he was no match for Hermione as a Legilimens. She ignored him and with a concerted assault, ‘Mione’s mind, at last, gave way. ‘Mione let out a pitiful, gurgled scream. The flow of emotions from this memory were far too powerful. Harry’s control over the emotional surge collapsed so completely no one could break their Legilimens until one or the other of the Hermione’s would or could end it.

The image came rapidly into focus. They saw a worn and filthy Ron; he and ‘Mione were trying to force their way through the anti-Apparation barrier that was the Dark Lord’s Teeth. Then the group melted completely into the memory, with no buffers, no safeguards and no way to make it stop:

“This is it,” ‘Mione whispered to Ron, pushing her hand against the weak spot in the Anti-Apparation barrier. She could almost put her hand through it. Almost, but not quite.

They moved back several feet and lifted their wands, pointing them at the weak spot. ‘Mione nodded to Ron, signaling she was ready.

He shouted
“Expulso!” at the same time she yelled “Evanesco!”

With a thunderous crash, Ron was blasted backwards, smacking into a boulder. Blood rushed down his face. ‘Mione had been pulled in the other direction. She had been sucked through the twenty-foot wide hole their spells had made, coming to rest just on the other side of the barrier, near an outcrop of rock.

Ron rose, intending to dash through the hole after her.

Before he could, several dozen Death Eaters emerged by Portkey, hurling hex and curse.

As Ron took cover behind the boulder, he turned on the spot.

Nothing happened.

Even with the barrier breached, he couldn’t Apparate through the hole. He couldn’t reach her. 


“Reducto!”

The explosion slammed into the boulder Ron was taking cover behind. Blood ran into his eyes, mingling with dirt and sweat. Ron spied his target and returned fire at the Death Eater not ten feet away from him. “Bombarda!”

‘Mione, more than thirty yards to Ron’s rear, had taken cover behind the outcrop of rock she had been hurled toward. Between his position and hers, there was no place for Ron to find shelter from the exploding barrage of curses.

“Hermione! You’ve gotta get out! It’s your only chance!”

Tears of rage, grief and exhaustion were leaking from ‘Mione’s eyes as she cast shield spell after shield spell at the never ending onslaught, trying to keep them safe, trying to keep the last of those she loved alive.
“Protego!”

“I’m not leaving you, Ron!” she screamed through her tears.

“Apparate dammit!” he shouted in desperation, casting two Reducto curses nearly simultaneously, trying to keep their enemies at bay. “You have to go! This has all gone bollocks! Get out! GET OUT NOW!”

Greyback shouted above the din of the battle, “Cut off Weasley. Circle to the right! I’ll have the head of anyone who lets them escape!”

The battle intensified as ‘Mione tried frantically to cover Ron so he could make a desperate run through the hole in the Teeth. But there were too many Death Eaters and her strength was rapidly failing.

Then she saw Ron rise from the cover the boulder had been providing.

“GREYBACK!” he shouted.

‘Mione gasped, “Ron,
please!! NO!!”

“HOLD!” Fenrir barked as his wand dropped slowly to his side. His battered men ceased their assault, although they continued to close on Ron, cautiously, taking their cue from Greyback.

“Hermione, stay there!” Ron shouted over his shoulder, giving her a reassuring wink.

Greyback snarled, “Give up now. The Dark Lord doesn’t want you dead.”

“Take me and let her go.”

‘Mione stiffened. She’d rather die than see this happen.

“We already have you. The question is whether she wants to watch you die here,” was Fenrir’s retort, which spurred laughter from his men, “or gives herself up and keeps you alive.” He leered at ‘Mione with a glint in his feral eyes as he continued to slowly close on Ron.

“You don’t have me yet. If you haven’t noticed, it seems you have about half as many pups with you as you did when you first got here,” Ron replied coldly. All the while, the Death Eaters had closed the distance.

“Then she can watch you die.”

Too late, ‘Mione grasped what Ron’s plan had been all along. All of the Death Eaters were within wand strike of any of a number of spells lethal to a group. Such spells would likely kill the caster, but she didn’t think Ron knew any of them. Then, cold fear spread through her as she realized what he was about to do; Voldemort had spoken the incantation at the Disaster at Hogwarts. Before she could break cover and stop him, a monstrous
Fiendfyre leapt from Ron’s wand. He had cast it nonverbally to catch all of them by surprise.

The
Fiendfyre raged with an ear-piercing roar. Greyback and his Death Eaters, stunned by the redhead’s ferocity, desperately hurled curses at both of them.

The
Fiendfyre consumed the frantic spells that were aimed at its wielder and the woman under his protection. Then it devoured Greyback and all of his men without mercy.

‘Mione saw Ron focus all of his might on keeping the flames away from her. But that focus came at a cost; the inferno turned on its master. Just before the blaze reached him, he turned to her. She saw his look of grim concentration soften into a small, sad smile as he locked his eyes on hers. A silent tear slid down his cheek; she couldn’t hear the words he spoke over the screeching of the inferno, but she understood them, nonetheless:

“I’m sorry, love. Save our child.”

The conflagration wailed like a tortured banshee. Then in a blinding red flash, Ronald Bilius Weasley was no more.

Even with Ron’s passing, the fire from the abyss refused to yield immediately, so powerful was the force behind its creation. At last, free of its restraints, it sought to spread through the breach in the Teeth. ‘Mione had no choice but to Disapparate across the channel.

She sat on the shores of Calais, weeping uncontrollably, rocking back and forth. As she clutched her knees to her chest, her steady stream of tears began to soak her dirt-covered jeans. The agony she was suffering threatened to engulf her. The three words she kept repeating through her tears became a whispered litany; a desperate prayer to have the last few minutes wiped out of existence.

“Ron, please, no.”


With a will suffused of soul-crushing grief, ‘Mione violently purged Hermione from her mind. GET OUT!! 

The chain spell broke abruptly and painfully. All five of them collapsed forward in their chairs. None of them noticed that the Talisman’s jewel had been glowing and throbbing during the spell.

‘Mione was consumed by her anguish. “I wasn’t trying to hide it from you…” The sobs choked her words. “I couldn’t sleep or eat…I had to dull it…Ron! Oh, Ron!”

As the rest of the table sat frozen, tears streaming down their faces, Ron rose and rushed to ‘Mione. “It’s okay, love. I’m here now.” He scooped her into his arms as she wept inconsolably into his chest.

Hermione ran from the room.

“Ginny?” Still shaking, Harry barely finished saying her name before his tear-streaked fiancée took his cue and dashed off after her best friend.

“No. No!” ‘Mione pushed Ron away; she was deathly pale. “This isn’t right,” she said, shaking her head. Her breathing became ragged. “We can stop the realities from merging, but you have to come back with me.” Then she fainted into Ron’s arms.

AN:  I do not own Harry Potter.  The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 7: Choosing to be Chosen
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Harry sat on the cliffs near Dobby’s grave, the sun rising behind him. He’d been here for hours, isolating himself from the goings on in the cottage once they’d put the unconscious ‘Mione to bed. There had been several tense moments when an irate Molly had Apparated to Shell Cottage to find out why her children had so callously abandoned their engagement party. A few measured words of explanation from Ginny and one look at the young boy, whom Molly instantly recognized as, not just a Weasley, but Ron’s son, completely defused the volatile situation.

With the help of several potions, Molly pronounced ‘Mione well, but emotionally exhausted. Ron had taken charge of ‘Mione and then tried to speak to his fiancée, to no avail. Hermione had remained locked in her room. Harry had heard some shouting and crying coming from upstairs after Ginny had ultimately forced her way in, but he didn’t dare open the link to find out what exactly was going on. He was deathly afraid of what his fiancée would find if she could feel his emotions.

But all of this was a footnote; Harry was completely detached from the melodrama playing out at Shell Cottage. He had dressed hurriedly and stolen away at the earliest opportunity. And there, next to the House Elf’s grave, he stayed.

It was Ron who ultimately found him.

“Mate, it’s a disaster in there.”

Harry didn’t respond or even acknowledge Ron’s presence.

Ron ran his fingers through his hair as he sat down next to his raven-haired brother. “We need to talk about this, Harry.”

This was met with silence.

Ron continued, “’Mione keeps muttering in her sleep. ‘Unite the Hallows.’ And that ‘time is short.’ Something about the Talisman only allowing passage between the worlds for short periods of time. That if we go there and stop Riddle, we can prevent the two realities from merging. She and…Ronnie are going to be pulled back to that godsforsaken place in a few days…”

Again, Harry didn’t respond.

“Harry, mate?” Ron’s voice was laden with concern.

Nothing.

“Harry?” Concern turned to frustration.

Harry didn’t move, but continued to stare off into the sea.

“Dammit, Potter. We have a major crisis here. If ‘Mione’s right, and the realities merge, we could end up with Voldemort and an army of Inferi and Death Eaters on our bloody doorstep!”

No reaction.

“POTTER!” Ron screamed, “LISTEN TO ME!” grabbing his best mate roughly by the shoulder.

Harry’s head snapped around as he threw Ron’s hand off. The two locked eyes. Seeing what was in Harry’s, Ron relented.

Harry turned, staring off again at the sea. They sat that way as the minutes slipped past and the sun crept further up into the blood-red sky.

Then, just when Ron thought it was hopeless, Harry broke the silence.

“Choices,” Harry said quietly. “Sometimes you get to choose; other times you get chosen. I always thought it had to be one way or the other.”

Ron shifted uncomfortably on the cold ground, peering at his brooding friend. He’d never seen him this bad before.

“No one ever asked me if I wanted to be the ‘Chosen One.’ Riddle made that decision for me. I didn’t get a say. All those years at Hogwarts were just more of the same. Riddle, Dumbledore, Sirius, the Dursleys, Crouch, Moody, McGonagall even your mother and Snape. Everyone had a say in what I would do. Everyone but me.”

Harry cast his eyes out over the crashing waves and took a deep breath, his mood lightening, ever so slightly.

“After the Battle of Hogwarts when we limped back to the Burrow, I was so damned relieved, exhausted, but relieved. Even that gods awful Month of Mourning, the funerals and the memorials…I wanted to grieve Lupin, Fred, Tonks, but deep down inside I was just so damned happy to be free, I really couldn’t mourn. I went through the motions, kept the somber face and cried on all the right shoulders but I decided I was gonna be selfish for once. I was gonna think about my happiness, my future and not the whole bloody wellbeing of this entire cursed wizarding world. I was through with being chosen; I decided I’d be the one to make the choices for once. Only thing that really stopped me from achieving real peace were those horrid nightmares.”

Ron nodded, remembering the blood curdling screams that would tear from the depths of Harry’s soul as he visited his own private hell every night.

“But, then there was Ginny. I chose her; she chose me. It drove the nightmares away, her love, our bond. Choices, Ron. It all came down to choices.” Harry fell silent again, peering off into the distance.

Ron didn’t know whether he should fill the silence, so he waited.

Harry’s voice broke the stillness again, but this time, it had a sharp but restrained anger to it. “Then the attacks started. It didn’t take long before Kingsley showed up on our doorstep.” Harry let out a disgusted laugh. “Remember it like it was yesterday. Gin and I had just made love in the orchard behind the pitch; we were heading back to the Burrow for dinner when I saw him. I almost froze to the spot. I knew what he wanted. I knew why he’d come. Back then, I didn’t have that much control over the link and Ginny felt me tense. She felt my fear, my loathing. Gods Ron, I was so afraid she’d be disappointed in me.” Harry hung his head, shaking it.

Ron, gently, rested his hand on Harry’s shoulder. Harry didn’t seem to notice the contact; he didn’t brush him off. Never meeting Ron’s eyes, Harry continued bitterly.

“ ‘The Ministry needs you, Potter. The wizarding world is in jeopardy.’ Tripe, bollocks, bullshit. We’d done enough, hadn’t we? We’d done our part. Enough was enough. I put him off. But, then those bastards attacked that last memorial service…More blood on my hands. I didn’t have a choice; I got chosen. Again. So, off I went, dragging you with me on some crazy fool’s errand to see if the leftover Death Eaters could finally finish what Voldemort started. Bastards came close. Four years, Ron, four more bloody years. And the whole time my life, and yours, and Gin’s and Hermione’s are left on hold. Again. Your poor sister…waiting for me to do a repeat performance of saving the world before her life can start. Four years. Four shitty years…Then, by some miracle, fate manages to give us a way to round up all the renegade Death Eaters at once and, just like that, it’s over. Finally, it’s over.” A smile had threatened to creep across Harry’s face. “I finally get to be with Gin; I get my life back…”

Harry’s face fell. “And now I don’t.”

Silence descended again.

Then Harry turned to Ron, speaking quietly, somberly.

“You remember what I told you about King's Cross, when I talked to Dumbledore?" 

Ron nodded slowly.

“He said I didn’t have to come back here. I could’ve left this all behind and gone beyond the Veil. Hell, I’d died. The hard part was already over. For the first time, I had a choice.” Harry’s voice was laden with contempt. “That time, I did the ‘noble thing.’ I chose to be chosen; but I really didn’t think there was another option. I was so used to having things decided for me.” Ron was deathly afraid of where this train of thought was taking his best mate.

“In that other reality, I guess that version of me saw things differently. It shouldn’t have happened. Hell, with my mother’s blood protection still running through Riddle’s veins I don’t think it even could’ve happened. That’s probably at the heart of why that reality’s so unstable…” Harry shook his head and smiled bitterly. “Doesn’t matter. The me over there had just decided enough was enough. He’d decided to make his own selfish choice for a change. He figured it out, Ron: you don’t have to be chosen if you don’t want to. Do you know how I know that, even without seeing it in ‘Mione’s memory?” Slowly, Harry turned, fixing his empty thousand-yard stare on Ron.

Ron shook his head.

“Because that’s exactly how I feel now.” Harry looked out over the sea again.

Ron was shocked. This couldn’t be happening.

But, then, Harry spoke.

“There’s only one thing stopping me. There’s only one thing that’s keeping me from shrugging my shoulders and letting the whole world go straight to hell…I can’t watch your sister die, Ron. I won’t.” Harry hung his head, as he began to sob. “I can’t let it happen. I can’t go through what ‘Mione did. Not now. Not now…” As the tears coursed down Harry’s cheeks Ron pulled Harry into his shoulder, tears streaming down his own face. For what seemed like an eternity, Harry’s sobs echoed over the cliffs.

Ron consoled him, sharing Harry’s pain. Gods, can’t you just let him rest? Sooner or later, if you keep doing this to him, to us, he’ll shatter. We’ll shatter.

Slowly, Harry began to settle. His breathing finally became steady and they both sat up. Harry took off his glasses, wiping his eyes on his robes. Seeing Harry was gradually coming back to something like normal, Ron spoke.

“It won’t be like last time.”

Harry nodded, taking a breath and regaining his focus.

Ron continued, “We go heavy. Round up the Corps, full assault. Shouldn’t take more than a few days to make the preparations.”

“No.”

Ron looked a question at Harry, as his partner explained. “The Ministry’s still too weak. Can’t leave it vulnerable. Besides, if things go pear-shaped and the realities do merge, we’ll need a fighting force here for protection, and someone to lead it.”

Ron immediately saw where Harry was headed. “Not bloody likely, Potter. I’m going.”

“Ron…”

The redhead cut him off. “Do you think I’m going to wait here for them to come for Hermione? If there’s the slimmest chance that I can keep her from even having to smell Riddle by beating him there instead of here, I have to take it. You’re not the only one that doesn’t want to see his fiancée hurt. Or worse.”

Harry nodded at his best mate with a grim smile.

Ron let his head drop. “But there is something else. I’m not quite sure if that’s my son sleeping in there or not, but he sure feels like he is. From what ‘Mione was saying, he’ll be pulled back to that horror show of a reality with her. I’m bloody well not gonna let this turn into another Children’s Crusade, like last time.”

Harry missed the reference, cocking an eyebrow at his best mate.

Ron explained, “Thousand years ago, the European Muggles kept trying to conquer the Middle East for some stupid reason. They kept failing. Then some arse got the idea that if they sent only the ‘pure’ and ‘sinless,’ they might finally win. Children Harry! The stupid gits were going to send children off on a crusade! Sound familiar? In the end, they wound up slaves. I won’t let Ronnie end up like that. Like us.”

Harry nodded. “The girls aren’t coming with us.”

“Agreed.”

“But, Ron, you’re not gonna have an easy time making peace with Hermione over this. She won’t be thrilled about you going back with ‘Mione.”

Ron sighed. “I know. Choices, huh? I made a smashing one when I comforted ‘Mione instead of my fiancée. Bollocks!”

“If it had been Ginny and not ‘Mione…” Harry shuddered at the thought, “I would’ve done the same thing. You have to make her see that.” Harry grimaced as he said it; making Hermione see anything when it came to her Ron was a Herculean task.

Harry stood up, hesitated, and looked down on Dobby’s grave. “No more, Ron. No more.”

Ron nodded as he rose. “Are you ready?”

“Are you?”

“Riddle, again? Merlin, Harry…Choices…I don’t like the ones we have, either.”

Harry managed a half-smile. “Let’s go face the girls.”

“That’s supposed to be easier than Riddle?”

As Harry’s half-smile finally became a full one, Ron at last felt that his best mate had come back from the brink. “Think of it as practice.”

As they approached the cottage, a simultaneous flick of their wands repaired the damage that the dueling Hermione’s had inflicted on the kitchen walls. They exchanged a smile at their timing and then noticed that someone else had already repaired all of the broken windows.

When they walked through the door, they made their way into the sitting room. They looked around, amazed at what they saw. The girls had been busy. It seemed they had already Apparated back to Grimmauld Place and Ron and Hermione’s flat, the Auror Ready Room and gods knew where else. A pile of provisions, body armor, books and whatnot were piled in the middle of the floor. ‘Mione and Ronnie were gone, but they thought they heard Hermione rummaging around in the attic. Just then, Ginny walked briskly into the sitting room and crossed the distance to the two Aurors.

“What…” Harry never finished the sentence before Ginny smacked him. Hard.

“That was for shutting me out! Harry James, if you ever do that again, you’ll be lucky if smacking you is all I do!”

“Gin, I…”

Her wand came up fast as lightning, pointing in his face, daring him to say another word. Then she spoke to her brother. “Ron, you have to go talk to Hermione.”

Ron stared at her, dumbfounded.

“Now!”

Ron shook his head apologetically at Harry and bounded up the stairs.

Ginny’s blazing eyes never left Harry’s, but she waited until she heard the attic door close before she resumed. “Do you remember what you said when you proposed to me?”

“Gin…”

“Potter, you said you wanted us to be together forever, even though you knew the Death Eater troubles weren’t over yet. You damn well better remember that.”

“I remember.”

Ginny lowered her wand. “‘Mione’s at Mum’s with Ronnie. She’s trying to suss out a way to leave him here where he’ll be safe while we go back with her. I said we, Harry. We. You left me behind during the Horcrux hunt. I didn’t like it, but I understood why. I’m not an Auror, so I’ve never given you any grief about tagging along on your missions. But this, this is different. And don’t even think Hermione and I didn’t know you two geniuses were thinking about doing this on your own. We’re coming with you.”
 

“Ginny…”

“No, Harry. This isn’t a debate. Did you ever stop and think what would happen to us if we were separated like that? What would happen to us because of the link?”

Harry’s head spun. “It would sever.”

“It would kill us.”

“Gin, you can’t know that…”

She cut him off. “Hermione does. We talked about it this morning.”

Harry was struggling to get the words out. “Gin, I can’t lose you, I can’t bear the thought of anything happening to you!” His emotions were still raw from the overload the Chain Legilimens had caused him. Facing an irate Ginny just wasn’t within his abilities right now. He looked at her abjectly.

She sighed, relaxing now that she saw she was getting through to her fiancé, her poor, overtaxed, love. “Harry,” she almost whispered, “I’m sorry I slapped you. I really shouldn’t have. But that’s what it felt like when you slammed the link shut. It was emotional and physical. You really hurt me doing that. I know why. I get it. But that’s not how it works between us. Not anymore. It’s time for you to realize that.”

“Gin, I can’t put you in harms way.”

“You’re not the one doing it, love. Riddle hasn’t left us any choice, no good ones anyway. Even a reality away that bastard can still bollocks things up…It comes down to choices, Harry. A lesser of evils.”

She knows? “How did you…”

“Do you really think you could go through an emotional upheaval like that and completely shut me out? If I was truly determined to feel you, to make sure you were safe?”

“How much did you feel?” Panic and worry filled Harry’s voice.

She slid into his arms, pulling him into a warm embrace. “Enough, love. Enough. I didn’t want to violate your privacy, but I had to know you were okay. I could feel your pain, but I could also tell you weren’t going to do anything…stupid. That’s all I was worried about.”

Harry rested his head on hers, breathing in the scent of her hair. The scent that always drove the nightmares away. “Gin, I’m sorry, love. I just want to protect you.”

“And you have. You always have. But this time, we’ll just have to protect each other.” She pulled him into a gentle kiss that continued to deepen. As the bond opened fully, Ginny’s love poured through. Harry felt the weight of two worlds lift off his shoulders.

******************

Ron closed the door behind him. Hermione continued to organize her books on the bed, her beaded bag off to the side. She didn’t turn around when she heard him come in.

Ron felt like he was back at school, the immature git that could never get it right. He’d thought that he’d left that version of himself in the Chamber of Secrets during the Battle of Hogwarts. But now he feared the old Ron had managed to escape. Steady, Weasley. You can do this. “We need to talk.”

She stopped packing; her shoulders slumped as she let out a breath.

Ron tried to keep the stammer out of his voice.  “I thought she was you.”

Hermione stiffened. She still hadn't turned to face him. “That’s what hurt the most.”

He took a deep breath and charged on. “When she first got here, and I saw her standing in the doorway, the only thing I saw was my Hermione, crushed by…something. I was so worried when I saw the look on your face. Dammit! Her face. I couldn’t think of anything but comforting her. You.”

Slowly, Hermione turned around. “Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?” A single tear slid down her cheek. “That you couldn’t tell her from me?”

“I think I do.”

Hermione arched an eyebrow at him. She hadn’t expected that answer.

“You’re thinking that, if I think she’s that much like you, that I can’t tell you apart, I’ll think she needs me more because of what she’s been through. That I’ll leave you for her.”

Hermione felt her legs give, as she sat on the bed.

“And you’re feeling horrible about forcing your way into her mind. Trying to figure out if you did it to hurt her, or to protect me by finding out what she was hiding. You still don’t know why you really did it.”

Had I ever really accused this man of having the emotional range of a teaspoon? 

“You’re hurt because I went to her after we saw that horrible memory. But you’re also mad at yourself for being jealous about it. Deep down, you know that actually being there had to be worse than just reliving it through Legilimens. You feel sorry for her. But you really don’t want to. You really want to hate her.” Ron took another breath. “But I think you’re most worried that Weasley family loyalty will overcome us, what we have, because ‘Mione has a son by me. By the me in the other reality, anyway. You’re worried that, if for no other reason, I’ll eventually go with her because of Ronnie. And you can’t think of a single way in hell that I could prove to you that I won’t.”

Ron moved slowly to her. Kneeling in front of her, he looked up into her chocolate eyes, seeing the worry that was only now becoming infused with hope. He took both of her hands in his as he continued. “Love, that’s got me stumped too. I can’t prove it. If you can’t figure out a way, the brightest witch of our age, how’s a simple git like me supposed to?”

Her breath caught. She didn’t know what to say.

Ron dove in. “But, some part of you has to know that I love you. You’re the one I’ve been crazy about for eleven years. You’re the one I nearly tore a cell apart for, trying to reach you when we were locked up in Malfoy Manor. You’re the one that kissed me at the Battle of Hogwarts. And most importantly, you’re the one I asked to marry me.”

Hermione smiled through her tears.

“I’ll be protective of the other Hermione. I don’t think I can help it.” Ron sighed. “But the reason for that, is because I love you.”

She hugged him, and breathed into his ear, “Love, I’ll never be alright with this. We’ll just have to work through it.”

“I understand.” They broke their embrace. “But, Hermione, you and Gin…This is something Harry and I have to do alone.”

Then, she smacked him. Hard.

When the slap resonated down the stairwell to the sitting room, Harry stopped rummaging through their provisions. “You told her to do that, didn’t you?”

“Yep.” Ginny, never looked up as she continued to sort through their supplies.

In the attic, Ron was at a loss. Damn, that was going so well…

Hermione’s voice was cold as a Dementor’s. “Ronald Bilius Weasley, if you think for even one minute that I’m going to let you go anywhere with her and leave me behind, you are twice the git you were at Hogwarts.”

“No. Not a git anymore, love.”

“Good." Hermione smiled. "Now, prove it.” She ran her fingers through his hair, pulling him toward her.

Downstairs . . .

“Don’t those two ever use Muffliato?” Harry shook his head at the all too familiar sounds that were coming down the stairwell.

Ginny just smirked at him. “Hey. Why didn’t we get to have makeup sex?”

Harry didn’t have to be asked twice.
 
 

AN:  I do not own Harry Potter.  The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 8: Dreadful Note of Preparation
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AN: This chapter’s title is taken from William Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act IV, Prologue.  Thanks Bill!  I do not own Harry Potter.  The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.

‘Mione Apparated just outside the wards of Shell Cottage, pulling her traveling cloak around her. She’d changed into jeans and a jumper before she left for the Burrow.

It was still so odd to see the Cottage standing there, whole. The last time she’d seen it, four years earlier, it had been a smoldering ruin, destroyed by rampaging Death Eaters. She and Ron had dug through the debris to find some food and a tent. The tent. The thought of the only time she got to make love to Ron, the memory she’d been allowed to keep to herself earlier, flitted through her mind.

She was desperately struggling with the fact that, here, Ron was still alive. Strong, confident, so like how she remembered him. Except this Ron was happy. And so was her double. It had taken such an effort to keep her jealousy in check. She so wanted to have Ron take her in his arms, hold her and tell her everything would be all right.

This isn’t my world, she kept telling herself. No. Her world was full of pain, fear and war. But maybe, if this worked, at least there could be peace and an absence of terror in the place she was forced to call home.

Leaving Ronnie at the Burrow was nearly the most difficult thing she’d ever done. Seeing Molly and Arthur had brought her to tears. But sharing a few hours with her parents had been emotionally overwhelming. It took some doing, but with Molly’s help, she was able to explain how she and Ronnie had come to be here. The idea that she’d finally found someplace safe for her son was a relief she never could’ve hoped for and he seemed to take to her parents and the Weasleys readily enough.

She’d checked over the Talisman research she’d brought with her. Then, she’d performed some incantations over it once she was sure that, if she willingly returned to her reality soon, that would allow Ronnie several days, maybe even weeks, that he could stay here, out of harms way. The only problem was, it was hard to time when the spell would return her to her world, without Ronnie. They might have a day, but not any longer. Regardless, with any luck, Ronnie wouldn’t be forcibly pulled back to their hellish reality until after they’d killed the Dark Lord. If they failed, it wouldn’t matter; the two realities would merge.

As she walked toward the Cottage she hesitated. She could hear Harry and Ginny laughing. A peek through the window into the sitting room as she closed the distance and she realized why. They were half-naked, trying to find their clothes, but didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry. She stopped, deciding to give the couple a few minutes before she knocked. She couldn’t suppress the sad smile that covered her face. This is how it’s supposed to be. This is how everything should’ve turned out. 

When she thought she’d waited long enough and knocked on the door, she had to remind herself again not to be too jealous of this reality.

“’Mione. You’re back!” Ginny hugged her and let her in.

It felt so good to be with Ginny again. Dealing with her double, on the other hand…

“Ronnie ok at the Burrow?” Harry asked.

“Very. Teddy’s going to come over later. I’d really like them to meet…” ‘Mione left unspoken that Teddy Lupin never lived to meet her son in her reality.

Ginny broke the silence. “You got to see your parents?”

‘Mione smiled.“Yes.”

Harry tried to be delicate. “In your reality, are they…”

‘Mione’s smile vanished. “No. I don’t think so. But, I haven’t risked trying to find them in Australia.” ‘Mione’s eyes drifted to the floor.

Dammit, Potter, Harry cursed himself for asking. Ginny placed a hand on his shoulder and he relaxed. Then she took ‘Mione’s hand and led her to the couch. “We’re packing, as you can see.” The floor was covered in books, clothing and provisions. “This is especially for you.” She motioned to a suit of Auror armor.

“What is it?”

Harry answered, “An edge. It’s the newest enchanted armor the Auror Corps uses. Gin and Hermione brought this back for you.” Harry picked up the suit. “It’s based on Quidditch Padding, but Hermione has made some nice modifications. It stands up to most stunning spells, dampens most hexes, even Crucio, and can heal most minor wounds instantly. Its got special clutches for wands at both wrists; Accio proof. Potions in the inner pockets, which are impervioused; Polyjuice and whatnot. It’s saved quite a few lives.”

“We really could’ve used these during the Horcrux hunt, Harry,” she said, smiling.

“Tell me about it. I don’t wanna leave anything to chance this time.”

“Good. Then I won’t have to make your face swell up like a bloated blast ended skrewt again,” ‘Mione said, chuckling.

Harry laughed. “I’d like to avoid that.”

The laughter was cut short when Ron and Hermione came down the stairs.

Everyone noticed that the temperature in the room had dropped ten degrees.

Hermione gripped Ron’s hand tightly, almost painfully.

‘Mione broke the silence, addressing Hermione. “Thank you for the armor. Harry was just showing it to me.”

Hermione nodded. Then, coldly, “You’re welcome.”

Ginny looked from one Hermione to the other. “So. We should probably pack everything up.” She stood and began to shrink their gear; the others followed suit.

“Where did you get this?” Harry asked motioning to the magical tent he had just began to shrink down.

Hermione answered, “This morning in Diagon Alley. I figured we’d need a bigger one than last time. Three bedrooms.” She finished the last pointedly, with a look at ‘Mione; that earned her a glare from Ginny.

Ron and Harry tried to ignore the exchange as they divided up their gear and then stowed it in five pouches that would fit nicely into a special pocket on the front of each of their sets of Auror Armor, which the Quartet then donned over their Auror robes and clothes.

‘Mione was fumbling with hers. Without thinking, Ron began to move toward her to help, when Hermione grabbed his arm. Ron stopped dead in his tracks. Harry, who had just finished lacing up his boots caught the look between the two and rushed over to ‘Mione. “Here. Let me help you with that.” Harry buckled the gauntlets in place and then began to maneuver her into the chest piece that fit snuggly around her; Ron definitely didn’t need to be helping with that.

“Thanks, Harry.”

He turned to Hermione. “When you were at the Ministry, did you talk to Kingsley?”

“Yes. He’s been briefed; he knows what’s going on.”

“Good. Any messages or directives?”

“Three words: ‘Head Auror’s Discretion.’ He trusts your judgment.”

Harry nodded.

Ron turned to his best mate. “What else?”

Harry sat down on the ottoman, rested his elbows on his knees and steepled his fingers as he thought. “Firebolts. We only have four?” He motioned to the brooms standing against the wall.

Ginny answered, “I brought back our two from Grimmauld and the two at Ron and Hermione’s.” With Ginny’s training through the Auror sessions, Hermione had become a passable flyer. “I tried to find a fifth in the Ready Room but the stock was bare.”

Hermione chimed in, “Angelina got word last night when Mum got back that something big was happening. She’s got the teams out doing flying drills.”

“So, we’re going airborne?” Ron asked.

Harry nodded. “I want us to be mobile. Very mobile.”

“George’s. We can nick his from the shop in Diagon Alley,” Ron suggested.

“Good. Now, this anti-Apparation barrier, the Dark Lord’s Teeth? Only line-of-site Apparation is going to work right?” He looked at ‘Mione.”

“Yes. But only in Britain.”

“Well, that’s where we’re going, right?” Ginny asked.

‘Mione shook her head. “When we arrive, we’ll be in France. And I’m not certain where. That’s a problem because, by this time, there’s no way for me to know how much of the country will be under the Dark Lord’s control.”

“Riddle,” Hermione corrected. “We don’t call him that.”

‘Mione fought to keep silent.

Harry cleared his throat; This fragile peace keeps getting more fragile.  Then out loud, Harry asked, “There’s still a jinx on the name ‘Voldemort’ over there, but what about ‘Riddle?’ That’s a mistake we can’t really afford to make.” Harry was again reminded of ‘Mione’s comment about bloated blast ended skrewts.

“No. That name should be safe.”

“That’s a relief. Well, the brooms will be very necessary. Ginny, I always want you airborne, understand? You’re the best flyer of all of us and…I’ll just feel better with you up there.”

Ginny felt a wave of worry come from her fiancé; she squeezed his shoulder. “No problem. I’ll hex anything that gets within 200 yards of us so badly they won’t be recognizable.”

That wasn’t exactly what Harry had in mind; rather, he was thinking a very fast moving target would be hard to hit. But the idea of Ginny covering all of them from the air whenever the rest were grounded made sense.

“‘Mione, how’s your flying?” Ron asked.

“About the same as before the Disaster at Hogwarts,” she replied. Everyone took in stride how she referred to the Battle.

“Well, stay near the center of the formation. Your dueling skills seem fine.” The words were out of Harry’s mouth before he could stop them, drawing glares from both Hermiones.

Ron decided to keep them on track. “We’ve got plenty of food.” Ron referred to the piles of Auror rations the girls had nicked. “Thank the gods for that. I really wasn’t looking forward to going hungry this time. Now, what are the rules of engagement?” Ron was expecting a specific answer and would be very displeased if he didn’t get it.

Harry’s look was deadly serious as he reflected on what he saw in ‘Mione’s memories. “We don’t have any friends where we’re going, do we?”

‘Mione answered, “There’s a small resistance in Britain; very few of them left.”

Harry frowned. “Unforgivables are authorized, but with restraint. Otherwise, hex first and ask questions later.”

Ron nodded grimly. Bloody well right; not taking any chances, not with the girls along for the ride. “What else?”

‘Mione interjected, “The statute of secrecy was holding, somewhat, until Riddle," she looked pointedly at Hermione as she said it, “invaded France. Secrecy hasn’t completely broken down, simply because Riddle doesn’t want to have to deal with ruling the Muggle population yet. The Muggles think there’s been a nuclear catastrophe of some kind in Northern France. That’s the cover story. With that said, we won’t have to worry too much about using magic in front of them.”

“Nuclear catastrophe?” Ginny asked.

“It’s a very powerful and nasty explosive. It leaves a residue that’s lethal. That story has pretty much cleared most of them out of Normandy,” ‘Mione finished.

“Mione,” Harry asked, “Are you certain that the only Horcrux left is Nagini?”

“As certain as I can be.”

Harry continued, “Gryffindor’s Sword. We’ll need to make a stop at Hogwarts.” The Goblins had tried, twice, to collect it after the Battle, but it refused to remain in non-Gryffindor hands. Harry wasn’t sure how McGonagall did it, but she eventually managed to get them to agree to let it stay in her office. For the time being.

‘Mione interjected, “We have to unite the Hallows.”

Harry’s brow furrowed. “Ron mentioned that.”

‘Mione looked at him quizzically.

Ron responded, “You talked in your sleep.” That drew a dagger-filled glare from Hermione.

Harry rushed to fill the awkward moment. “The cloak is packed. I’m not thrilled about taking the Elder Wand back, but I suppose there’s not much choice.”

“Take it back?” ‘Mione asked.

Ginny answered, “Harry put it back in Dumbledore’s tomb. We’ve tried to keep it a secret that Harry ever had it.”

‘Mione had to ask. “You killed Riddle with it?”

“No. He tried to use a killing curse on me with it, but I was its true master; I countered with Expelliarmus and his curse rebounded because of that and the blood protection. Nagini had already been killed by Neville,” Harry finished. He didn’t like recounting this tale, but realized it needed to be said.

“I figured something like that was what Dumbledore had in mind. It just didn’t work out that way…” She began to mist up. It was all Ron could do to keep from going to her; Hermione noticed and gripped his hand even more tightly.

Harry changed the subject. “But why do we need the Resurrection Stone?”

‘Mione steadied herself. “The Inferi. It may be the only way to stop them.”

Harry let out a breath. “Dumbledore had mentioned that Grindelwald believed it could be used that way, but I just thought he had it figured wrong.”

‘Mione was taken aback. “When did Dumbledore tell you that?”

Harry briefly explained the discussion at King’s Cross.

‘Mione was shocked as she continued. “Unfortunately, Grindelwald was right.” She saw Harry’s face fall. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m not sure exactly where the Stone is,” Harry said steadily.

Ron shuddered. “That’s not a very nice place to be rummaging around looking for something.” They all immediately took his meaning. Harry had dropped the Stone somewhere in Aragog’s lair. It would literally be crawling with the remnants of all the Acromantulas that survived the Battle, and their very angry descendants.

Hermione sighed, “I suppose it can’t be helped. We’ll have to find it.”

‘Mione spoke up.  "We don’t have much time. Insuring that Ronnie stays here has cut my time short. The return spell will activate on its own soon.”

“How long?” Harry asked.

“Not much more than a day.”

“Alright.” Harry rose to his feet; the rest followed suit. “Ron, go get that fifth Firebolt. Also, track down Seamus and Angelina. Brief them and let them know they have full authority while we’re gone. Make sure they know they need to prepare for Inferi; so, drills with all flame spells.” While he was talking to Ron he sent to Ginny, Love, I need to talk to the Hermiones. Would you mind tagging along with Ron? 

She sent back, Do you really think that’s a good idea?

No. But I don’t have a better one.

Be careful. They’d just as soon hex each other as breathe. 


Ginny rose. “I’ll go with you big brother.” Ginny conjured five clutches for the Firebolts. It was a spell of her own design for the Auror Corps that allowed the wearer to strap the broom to their back and retrieve it in one swift movement. Taking hers and handing one to Ron, the two gathered up their brooms and walked to the front door.

“We’ll meet you at Hogwarts?” Ginny asked, kissing Harry.

“Yes. One hour?”

Ron barely hesitated when he kissed Hermione goodbye, but she noticed. He gave her a solemn look as the two redheads left the Cottage.

When the door closed, Harry turned to the two Hermiones and said, very formally. “Madame Undersecretary, sit down please. ‘Mione, you too.”

Hermione was taken off guard by Harry’s tone. ‘Mione was still trying to digest the fact that her other self had risen so far in the Ministry in just four years. Hesitantly they took their seats.

“Madame Undersecretary, you received the message from the Minister?”

Hermione didn’t like where this was going. “Yes.”

“Then you understand that, under the Security Charter of 1609, this is an emergency situation and, pursuant to the Minister’s directive, I have full authority over this mission and all of its members, independent of oversight from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.”

“Potter…” she said archly.

“Madame Undersecretary, answer the question.”

Hermione was seething. “Yes, Acting Head Auror Potter.”

“Excellent. Because I’m about to put my people down in very hostile territory. I have every intention of bringing my team back alive and in one piece and I can’t do that if I have to worry about two of its members warring with each other at every turn.” He surveyed the two witches before he finished. “Are we clear?”

They both nodded, but Hermione’s was defiant.

Harry sighed. “I know how difficult this is for both of you, but we have to stick together. We have to work as a team and that needs to start now. I’m about to ask you two to do something together and I need to know that you can put your animosity aside for the good of the mission.”

“What do you want?” Hermione demanded, her tone bordering on insubordinate.

“ ‘Mione I need you to tell Hermione everything you know about the Talisman; not the general stuff we saw in your memories, but the fine details. It’s too important for that information to be held by only one member of the team. I want you two to go in the kitchen and get started on that now. Can you do that?”

Hermione didn’t answer, but she got up and trudged toward the kitchen. Then she stopped and looked at ‘Mione. “Are you coming?” she asked stiffly. ‘Mione rose and followed.

Harry collapsed back into his chair and took off his glasses. As he massaged the bridge of his nose he muttered, sarcastically, “Brilliant.”
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 9: The Battle of the Forbidden Forest
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With a thunderous crash, the Headmistresses’ window exploded outward, raining glass and stone fragments on the ground below.

“Bloody hell!” Ron shouted.“What was that?!”

As one, the quintette looked up from the front gates. They’d only just met at the edge of Hogwarts’ wards when the blast drew their attention.

Then, they heard the telltale sounds of dueling coming from within.

“Bollocks!” Harry hefted his broom, but Ron stopped him.

“No mate. Get the wand first, we’ll go.”

Harry hesitated, but a reassuring look from Ron sealed it.

“Go,” Harry ordered.

Harry ran toward Dumbledore’s tomb, just as everyone else grabbed their brooms from their clutches and prepared to kick off toward the blown out window.

They’d hardly gotten airborne when ten blue-cloaked wizards came screaming out of the sky on Nimbuses, hurling hexes at the airborne quartette.

Hit wizards? Ron was dumbstruck. There was no love lost between the Hit Wizards and the Corps. The Aurors had always considered the Hit Wizards wannabes; but combined with the fact that most of the Hit Wizards were holdovers from the previous regime, the rivalry had, at times, come to blows. But an all-out assault? What the hell is going on? 

Ron pulled up to face the closing threat. “Get to McGonagall!” he shouted to the witches. “I’ve got these ten cornered.” Ginny and the Hermiones frowned knowingly, but continued on their way.

Ron forced his broom to maximum speed, drew his primary wand from the clutch at his wrist and cast the largest, strongest Protego spell he could muster. As he continued to close on his prey, a savage grin spread across his face; the few of their hexes that met their mark bounced harmlessly off his shield.

Ron slammed into their formation just as they went defensive, their shield spells barely cushioning the impact. “TOSSERS!” he shouted, as the hapless Hit Wizards went careening out of control.

Below, Harry had just reached Dumbledore’s tomb and unceremoniously forced his way in. He’d expected this to be a solemn occasion, but the circumstances simply didn’t allow for reverence. As he grasped the Elder Wand, he spared a second to rest a gentle hand on the old wizard’s shoulder. Sorry, old friend. He dashed out to join the battle.

In the skies was complete chaos, as Hit Wizards tried to rally and force their way through Ron’s attacks to get to the Headmistresses’ office. Ron was getting the best of them, but the odds were stacked in their favor. Seeing his best mate was severely outnumbered, Harry grabbed his Firebolt and leapt into the air.

“Where are the girls?” he shouted.

“McGonagall’s!” Ron answered, hurling a hex at a diving Hit Wizard.

“What the bloody hell is this?” Harry yelled to Ron as he leveled the Elder Wand casting Protego. The concussion of the shield sent the Hit Wizards spinning off into space, buying the Aurors some time.

“No idea. But I love your new wand!”

Harry scowled at Ron and dove back into the fight.

********

Ginny in the lead, the three witches flew through the Headmistresses’ window; Ginny was nearly at top speed. She had to loop to kill her velocity and used the maneuver to kick one of the blue-clad wizards that had squared off with McGonagall. Ginny’s blow caught him in the face, dislodging something long and metallic from his hand. The Sword! 

Ginny deftly caught it, and dismounted her broom with a flip that landed her in the center of the office. She came up wand in one hand, sword in the other, only to find that the two Hermiones had already hexed two of the remaining three Hit Wizards that were still in the fight. McGonagall, having stunned the third, was standing over him, with her foot on his throat. The menacing look on her face turned to surprise as she saw the redheaded Quidditch star.

“Ginevra? Thank you for coming.”

“Professor, what are Hit Wizards doing here? Attacking you?” she asked.

“They came for the sword. They were going to use it as bait for…” Minerva took a good look at the two witches only now dismounting their brooms. “You.” She looked directly at ‘Mione, with great surprise. “It’s true, then?”

‘Mione nodded. There was so much she wanted to say to her favorite teacher. But her outrage at what she saw hanging on the wall got the better of her. “What is that git doing here?!” She motioned to Snape’s portrait; Snape sneered back.

Ginny whispered, “I’ll tell you later.”

McGonagall ignored the exchange. “I got an owl from Kingsley, explaining what happened yesterday. But…” Minerva shook her head. Then she turned her attention back to the Hit Wizard under her heel. “Tell them why you came here, Mr. Carstairs.” The loathing in her voice suggested that he had not been one of her favorite students while he was at Hogwarts. Slowly, she released some of the pressure she was exerting on Carstairs’ throat so he could talk.

“Orders from the Department of Mysteries,” he gasped.

Hermione was livid. Turning a scowl on the Hit Wizard, she demanded, “Do you know who I am?”

Carstairs gurgled, “Yes, Madame Undersecretary.” 

"Neither they nor you have any authority here." Her voice was filled with righteous rage.

"Matter of Mystery Security," he croaked. "Mysteries has sole jurisdiction, independent of the Minister or the DMLE…" His voice was shut off by Minerva's grinding heel.

"Bastards!" Hermione hissed. "You work for me you little stain, not the Department of Mysteries!"

Minerva nodded to the three. "I have this in hand now. Go."

"Wait," 'Mione interrupted. "Professor?" 'Mione hesitated, then hugged the Headmistress.

McGonagall was taken aback, at first, then she welcomed the embrace. "I know, dear."

Unseen by the Professor and 'Mione, a look of understanding spread across Hermione's face.

Minerva turned to the paintings behind her desk. "Albus?"

The portrait of Albus Dumbledore that had been taking in the whole scene with a small smile on his face addressed 'Mione and for the first and only time she could recall him doing so, he used her first name. "Hermione, there is no time. You've chosen the right path. Don't yield to temptation and leave it."

'Mione could only give a half-knowing nod.

Then he and the Undersecretary shared a brief look; Dumbledore's eyebrow arched. It was the closest thing to a scolding the old Headmaster had ever given to the brightest witch of her age.

Hermione broke her gaze, looking guiltily at the floor. "I know, sir. I'll…try to be more understanding."

Dumbledore nodded, with a smirk. "Quite right. That would be more befitting of someone of your talents and wisdom."

Then he turned to Ginny. "I'm sure my former apprentice has told you the most important lesson I ever taught him?" He smiled at her. "But, then, I think you've figured that out for yourself."

Ginny smiled back, the words unsaid between them. With that, Ginny placed Gryffindor's Sword in the Firebolt Clutch on her back as the three witches sought to rejoin the fight over the grounds.

Ginny sent to Harry, We’ve got the sword. Could you hear that conversation?

Parts of it. Department of Mysteries? Gits! Ron and I are gonna lead this lot out over the Forest. Can you take them from behind? 

Just watch me, love! Which rules of engagement are we using? Harry could read the evil smile in the question.

Non-lethal for the time being. After all, we’re one big happy Ministry.

Ginny told the Hermiones the plan as they watched Harry and Ron dart off over the Forbidden Forest, dodging curses. The Hit Wizards still able sped after them, their original mission forgotten in the heat of battle.

The three witches held position under the awnings until they were sure they were unseen by the Hit Wizards and then began their pursuit.

At the front of what was now a caravan of speeding broomsticks, Harry shouted over to Ron, “You ready for this, mate?” He gestured downward toward the rapidly approaching den of Acromantulas.

“No. Do it anyway,” Ron yelled back.

Now, Gin!

The trio of witches bringing up the rear loosed a barrage of stunning spells. Caught completely unawares, Hit Wizards fell from the skies. All but two of those still conscious sped to rescue their falling comrades. The Hermiones, grudgingly, threw cushioning spells on the ground below to soften their impact.

Ginny saw their targets had all grounded safely and well away from the monstrous spiders. Well, we can’t let the conscious ones get back in the fight…A smile worthy of George spread across her face as a downpour of bat bogey hexes fell on the dismounted Hit Wizards. Ginny sent back, We’ve got this lot taken care of. Only two left on your tails! 

Thanks, love, we’ve got it from here.

Harry and Ron dove below the tree line, as curses flew past them.

“And how the hell are we supposed to find the Stone and not get eaten alive?” Ron asked.

“No idea.”

“Brilliant.”

As another curse shot past Harry’s head, he pulled up, dodging tree limbs. Ron broke right, doing the same. The Hit Wizards behind them tried to copy the maneuvers, only to catch branches in the face.

Looping, Harry and Ron pulled up, placing the Hit Wizards directly in front of them. Realizing the danger too late, the two blue-clad wizards sped for the canopy, Ron and Harry in hot pursuit. That’s when the Hit Wizards ran directly into a giant web.

The two Aurors hovered above the would-be spider bait.

Harry couldn’t help but taunt them. “We really should just leave you there. You two buggers do know whose home this is don’t you?”

Acromantulas began to descend into the web, their pincers clicking hungrily. Ron couldn’t suppress his shudder. “Mate, don’t even joke about that.”

Harry and Ron exchanged looks as the Hit Wizards began to scream for help. “I’ll take the one on the right,” Ron said with a grimace.

“Fine.”

As they dove in to take the Hit Wizards off the menu, a glint in the web caught Ron’s eye. It couldn’t be…Ron was never much of a Seeker, but, this once, the fates smiled on him. As he increased his speed, hitting the web at full tilt, he pulled his Hit Wizard free and grabbed the Resurrection Stone, just as Harry completed his dive and pulled out his.

Ron shouted triumphantly, “I’ve got it!”

“Let’s get the hell out of here!” Spiders had begun to descend from all quarters.

Desperately, their overloaded Firebolts strained to carry them through the limbs and above the canopy.

“Geroffme!!” Ron screamed, knocking a small Acromantula off the end of his already overweight broom. The spiders had begun to swarm through the trees.

“Stupefy!!” Harry shot spells left and right as they tried to make for the light.

“Look!” Ron shouted.

“Oh, bugger!”

At the top of the canopy, directly in their line of escape was a web three times the size and thickness of the one they’d just rescued the Hit Wizards from. It was teeming with Acromantulas.

The two Aurors lifted their wands and shouted, “CONFRINGO!!” The web burst into flames. At top speed, the two Firebolts screamed through the inferno into the light.

The Aurors sped back to where the other Hit Wizards had fallen and the girls were waiting. They dumped their passengers unceremoniously from their brooms while they were still ten feet off the ground. Then they touched down. The witches had the group gathered in a circle, disarmed. It took little more than the threat of a bat bogey repeat performance for them all to remain timid and compliant.

As Harry and Ron joined the group, the girls heard the end of their conversation.

“…not for all the galleons in Gringotts, Potter. No. Never again. Absolutely not. Never. Ever. Won’t happen. In fact, I want extra combat pay for that, that, ughh…” Ron kept brushing invisible spider webs off his robes.

‘Mione had to stop herself from closing the distance to Ron; Hermione didn’t. “Was it bad?”

“You have absolutely no idea.” Ron scooped her into a hug.

“Well?” Harry asked Ginny, motioning to the Hit Wizards.

“Hermione sent a Patronus to Seamus. A team’s on the way now to take charge of these gits.”

“Well Hermiones? Any ideas what this fiasco was about?” Harry asked both of them.

‘Mione spoke first, with a shrug. “Only that the Department of Mysteries must have found out about Riddle’s Horcrux secret and the importance of the sword. Goes without saying, they’ve apparently known about the problem with the realities for quite awhile.”

“Nice of them to fill the rest of us in,” Harry said in disgust.

Hermione finished, “With the Unspeakables, it’s always about control of information. But even I didn’t think they’d go to this extent…” Then she got a far away look in her eyes. “Technically, I suppose they do have the right to dispatch the Hit Wizards to carry out their orders. Of course, that raises a conflict between the Mystery Department Special Codicil of 1723 and the Security Charter of 1609. But that was resolved with the Conflicts Act of 1783…”

“Love, is that really necessary?” Ron asked with a tired smile.

“Err, no. Sorry.”

I was interested,” ‘Mione interjected.

For the first time, Hermione smiled at her. ‘Mione smiled back and watched as her double’s smile faded quickly into pure concern.

“What?” ‘Mione asked worriedly.

“The Talisman. It’s happening!” Hermione shouted, pointing at the brightly glowing gem of the Talisman Deschain.

‘Mione yelled, “Everyone, join hands. NOW!”

Rapidly, brooms and wands were thrust into clutches as the quintette hurriedly clasped hands.

As everything went black, ‘Mione could see that everyone else was feeling the sensation of being pulled apart. Everyone except herself and Hermione…
 
 AN:  I do not own Harry Potter.  The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 10: Is One Hermione Better Than Two?
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Slowly, Ron came swimming up from the darkness.  His eyes fluttered open.

What's that sound?  His mind was still too clouded to make it out.

He sat up too quickly, which did nothing to stop his head from spinning. He moaned, as he tried to steady himself.  His vision cleared first.  Then his hearing.  That's when he finally realized that someone nearby was desperately gasping for air. He looked to his left and saw one of the Hermiones, still unconscious, breathing as if a Hippogriff were sitting on her chest.

He rushed to her; seeing the Talisman round her neck, he shouted, “‘Mione! ‘Mione!” He shook her, trying to figure out why she couldn’t breathe.

Gotta clear her airway. Pulling his wand from his clutch, he cast “Anapneo.”

Nothing.

Gods, she’s dying right in front of me! 

Frantically, he looked around for his fiancée. “Hermione? Help!”

Where is she?! Harry and Ginny lay unconscious to his right. There was no one else there. Then he looked back at ‘Mione and it hit him. ‘Mione was wearing two sets of Auror armor, the outer one was straining over the inner, constricting ‘Mione’s chest.

“Engorgio!” As the outer suit of armor expanded, ‘Mione’s breathing instantly eased. Slowly her eyes fluttered open, a stricken look on her face.

“Ron?” she asked, through a raspy voice, coughing.

“Right here, love.”

“S-something happened.”

“I know, love. Just lay still. Harry!”

Harry began to stir, shaking his head to clear the fog.

“HARRY!” Ron shouted again.

The raven-haired wizard stumbled over to his best mate. “What happened?”

“I…I…”

“Where’s the other Hermione?” Harry persisted. Sluggishly, Ginny joined them.

Ron stammered, “Th-there isn’t one. Not anymore.”

“What?”

“Look!”

Slowly, Harry took everything in. Himself, Ginny and Ron, here. Only one Hermione, wearing two sets of armor…Merlin’s twins!! “They merged?”

Ginny gasped, “Is she ok?” her voice full of worry.

“It’s not like I’m not here,” Hermione answered as she slowly rubbed her eyes. “I’m woozy. Head's swimming...” She tried to stand. 

Ron wouldn’t let her. “Oh no, just stay there.”

When her vision finally cleared, the first thing she saw was her fiance.  Then her face fell, as if she'd woken only to find herself still in a nightmare.  “Oh, Ron!” She pulled him into a desperate kiss as the tears began to stream down her face. “It was so horrible! So horrible!”

“What, love, what?”

She choked back the sobs. “Losing you.”

"I'm here, love.  Right here."  He held her tight, gently rocking her.

Several moments passed as Harry and Ginny looked on worriedly.  Then Hermione took a long, calming breath.  "Sorry...I'm better now.  That was just...it was just too much."

Very slowly, Ron let her stand.  But he was still supporting her.

As Hermione steadied herself, she tried to explain.  "I.. we, feared this could happen."  She took a breath.  "Shifting realities together brought this on, combined with that Chain Legillimens."  She staggered at bit and Ron steadied her.  "If the realities merge, this will happen to everyone still alive on both sides of the divide."

"The armor?" Ron asked.

"Enchanted."  Very carefully, she stood on her own.  But she refused to let go of Ron.  "It couldn't merge.  My other clothing isn't a problem."

Ron was trying to get his mind around this latest development.  "So are both of you in there or..?"

"It's not like that.  I'm me.  I just remember everything that happened.  There," her face fell, "and here."

Ginny was dumbfounded.  "Both sets of memories..."

Harry rubbed his hand over his forehead and sent to Ginny, Do you think she’ll be alright?

Not my area of expertise, love. But, she seems to be fine. Dazed, but fine. 

Ron ran his free hand through his hair and looked at his best mate.

Harry let out a breath. “Let's get out of the open and get the tent up.  We're awfully exposed here.  We'll figure things out later."

Ron took in their surroundings. They were in the middle of a large tilled field. Sitting gnomes for anyone to see them. He cursed himself for losing his situational awareness. That’ll get your fiancée killed, or worse, you git! 

Gathering himself, Ron directed, “Tree line on the right.”

“Got it. Let’s get out of here. Brooms,” Harry ordered. “I don’t think anyone’s in good enough shape to Apparate.”

The Quartet zoomed off to the tree line, Ginny carrying the extra Firebolt. Once they’d gone far enough into the woods for Ron and Harry’s liking, they found a good spot with a small brook.

“Ron?” Harry deferred to his partner as to whether this was a good defensive position.

 “This’ll do. Nicely.” Ron nodded.

Harry turned to his fiancée. “Gin, can you do a sweep?”

Ginny nodded and flew off.

“Stay close!” Harry shouted after her.

She furrowed her eyebrows at him, but nodded, then circled, hugging the tree tops.

The other three dismounted and spread out. Ginny joined them shortly. “French farm house off to the east. Saw a road sign. I think we’re in Brittany. Otherwise, everything’s quiet.”

“Ok,” Harry said.

He took the tent out of his pouch as Ginny, Ron and Hermione put the protective spells in place around their campsite. Harry would’ve preferred a Fidelius Charm, but even Hermione hadn’t been able to figure out how to affix it to a structure as flimsy as a tent. As he looked over his shoulder, he noticed that Ron never let Hermione get more than three feet from him; for her part, she seemed to be clinging to him.  Probably for the best he keep an eye on her.  But, she seems fine, all things considered.  He shook his head as he tried to digest the latest development Fate had thrown their way. 

Harry took his Phoenix Feather wand from its clutch. “Erecto.” The Elder Wand remained in the clutch on his left arm. He still didn’t feel comfortable using it. His spare wand he’d given to Ginny as a backup.

With one last look around the campsite, the Quartet entered the tent.

Harry was the last one in. “Hermione, this is amazing.”

She smiled. “I thought we should go in a bit of style this time.”

The tent was cavernous. The flap opened onto a sitting room that would have been comfortable for eight, complete with fireplace. Off the sitting room was the kitchen, with an attached storage room, two full bathrooms and three bedrooms. Three bedrooms. No need for that now, Hermione thought with a smirk.

With a flick of her wand, books flew from her beaded bags to the bookcases, together with Sneakoscopes and other magical items. Seeing that, Harry shot her a nervous look.

“Don’t worry. We won’t lose them if we lose the tent again. I’ve put a spell on them that combined Accio, Reducio and a Proximus charm; if we get separated from the tent for too long, the books will be shrunk and summoned back to my beaded bags,” Hermione finished.

“An unapproved spell?” Ron chided. Hermione glared at him. Then she smiled, never letting go of his arm. Ron patted his stomach. “Well, I’m hungry.”

“That’s news?” asked Ginny as she drew the Sword of Gryffindor from its clutch on her back and laid it against the coffee table. Then she threw herself into a chair and began to take off her boots.

Hermione gazed lovingly up at Ron. “I’ll cook for you.” She pulled him toward the kitchen, the smile never leaving her face. “We’ll eat in bed,” she said mischievously. Ron laughed as the two disappeared into the kitchen.

Harry watched them go. “Well, let’s settle in.” His voice rose as they retreated further away. “But then we need to talk.”

Only Ginny was paying any attention to him.

“Ron? Once you eat….” Harry’s statement was cut off by more laughter from the kitchen as the couple banged pots and pans around.

Hermione giggled impishly. “No, you git. The saucepan.”

“Git? I’ll show you a git!” Ron grabbed her from behind and began to tickle her mercilessly.

Harry tried again. “Guys?”

Neither she nor Ron took any notice that Harry was even there.

Harry stopped himself from trying to interrupt again and stalked off into the nearest bedroom. The link seemed to have reverted, for the moment, only to a flow of emotions. Ginny picked up a strong note of worry and frustration from her fiancé. She instantly rose and followed him.

Her brow furrowed. “What’s wrong?”

He cast Muffliato non-verbally with an irritated flick of his wand. “Them.” He waved an arm toward the kitchen.

“Love, you saw her memories. Don’t you think part of her just has to be overjoyed to have him back without her double getting in the way?”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Ginny cocked an eyebrow at him.

Harry explained. “Gin, we’re not here for a honeymoon. I need their heads in the game. Somewhere out there,” Harry motioned to the tent wall, “is an army of Death Eaters and Inferi. Somehow, we need to get through them, get to England, kill Nagini and then Riddle. But those two think we’re on holiday.”

Ginny let out a breath. “Would you rather have two warring Hermiones again?”

“Yes.”

Ginny fixed him with a disapproving frown.

“All right, no. But this isn’t necessarily all good. What happens when we leave?”

Ginny began to speak, but then she realized she didn’t have a retort.

Back in the kitchen, Ron and Hermione discovered a new game: Could they strip off each other’s armor and still keep the chops from burning? With Hermione’s roaming hands, Ron couldn’t concentrate at all.

“Love, they’re burning!” Ron laughed as her hands moved farther south over his robes.

She waved her wand at the stove, saving them. With a quick glance at Harry and Ginny’s room, making sure they weren’t coming out, she cast a vanishing charm on what clothes she was still wearing. “If you’re that hungry bring them with you.” With a seductive look over her bare shoulder, she walked into their bedroom, her naked hips swinging back and forth. 

Ron started after her and, almost as an after thought, waved his wand at the stove, summoning the food and plates.

As he entered the bedroom, her smile vanished. There was nothing in her eyes but pure determination and a smoldering need he’d never seen before.

With a flick of her wand, the flap to their bedroom closed. She slid up against him, wrapping her arms around his waist. Her tongue probed his mouth as she began to rip off his clothes.

Gods, she’s on fire. 

Finally stripping him bare, she wrapped her legs around him where he stood.  "Take me!  Take me, now!"

Ron thrust upward as they both gasped. All the while, Hermione’s eyes were locked on his, with a fiery intensity, full of desire. She seemed intent on not just making love to him, but devouring him. It was all Ron could do to match her passion, her ardor.  Within minutes, she began to call out, moaning as she dug her nails into his back.

Spent, for the moment, they collapsed onto the bed, Hermione still tightly wrapped around him. 

As their breathing eased, Ron felt tears falling on his chest. “Love?”

“It’s okay,” Hermione said. “Just remembering.”

Ron knew, but had to ask. “Remembering what?”

“We only had one time together, in this reality. It was in a tent. That part of me only ever had you again in her dreams.”

Ron caressed her bare back. “I’m here now, love. I’m here.” Slowly, a subtle but persistent twinge flared in the pit of his stomach. He began to feel guilty, like he was cheating. “We just made love this morning…”

Hermione understood instantly what was running through her fiancé’s mind. She knew she had to put him at ease. “After I slapped you. Ron, don’t worry. It’s still me. I remember…It’s just that, the pain from this reality, the loss…It’s overpowering.” More silent tears fell on his chest.

Ron didn’t know what to say, so he just held her.

After a few moments, Hermione broke the silence. “I don’t know what’s worse. The memory of Dover or knowing that part of me will lose you again.”

“I’m not going anywhere, love,” Ron reassured her.

“Not you. Me. When we kill Riddle and keep the realities from merging, I’ll be two again. One part of me will leave with you; the other part will be left here, alone.”

Ron didn’t have a response, so he kissed her. His only goal was to drive those thoughts away, as far and as fast as he could.

Part of her remembered dreading the idea of sharing a tent while the other Hermione slept with Ron. Part of her remembered wanting desperately to make love long and loud to him so that the Hermione next door would know who he belonged to. The Hermione that was here now, caressing and being loved by her soul mate, was having a hard time relating to any of those thoughts.  She cried out again as he brought her to the end.

It was several hours later when Ginny, yet again, had to recast the Muffliato charm that the couple next door either had forgotten or didn’t care to cast. Her wand movements betrayed her frustration. As she did so, Harry rolled over and faced her, propped up on an elbow.

Six times? Merlin, Gin, are they ever going to sleep?”

“Not tonight. Just get some rest, Harry. Please?”

He let out an exasperated breath and rolled over on his back.

Ginny turned to face him. “Harry, remember what we were like after the Battle?”

He shot her a glance. “How could I forget?” The month after the Battle of Hogwarts had only four items on their agendas, excluding the memorials: sex, food, sleep and more sex.

“The Hermione in this reality never had that.” Ginny’s face was somber. “It’s been four years since the Battle and, as bad as our reality’s been, this one was far worse. Don’t be so dense. You’re just gonna have to give her this time.” She curled up on his shoulder. “I love you. Now go to sleep.”

Harry laid back, putting an arm around his fiancée. I guess she’s right.

I’m always right, you dolt. Sleep! 

Damn link.

Harry finally drifted off.
 
 
 AN:  I do not own Harry Potter.  The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 11: The Strategy and the Ecstasy
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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.”

“Gin…”

“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.

“Late.”

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.
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 12: Dieppe
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Harry was exhausted. His back hurt, his arms were sore and he felt like he hadn’t slept in weeks. He’d spent the last hour scouting the beach to the east of their new campsite, while the others had stayed behind to set up camp after six grueling hours of sneaking up the coast on broomstick. Harry’s scouting mission had, luckily, revealed that the beach to the north of their new campsite was blissfully quiet. When he saw the sun was threatening to creep up over the horizon, he turned back.

Traveling up the coast to Calais was much slower going than he’d hoped. Keeping track of each other proved near impossible with the disillusionment charms. It wasn’t until their third night of flying that Harry finally figured out a way to do it.

The lead flyer, who would be wearing the cloak, would use the Deluminator to keep a very dim light that the others would follow. All the while, the Quartet had to be exceptionally careful that they weren’t spotted. There was an almost constant flow of Inferi arriving by Portkey from England, being herded by Death Eaters. They’d toyed with the idea of seeing if they could use one of the return Portkeys to sneak into Britain, but wrote it off as too risky. There was no way to know where they’d end up.

Harry had taken the Deluminator with him on this scouting mission, that way Ginny wouldn’t have to wait up for him. He hoped she might take advantage of the opportunity to get some sleep. Hermione had figured out how to leave a small hole in the protective spells when anyone had to be away from their campsite; Harry’s Deluminator ploy had worked. Hermione’s usually the one that comes up with ideas like that…Harry shook his head in frustration. He needed the brightest witch of their age, not a lovesick schoolgirl too distracted to keep her mind on their mission.

Hermione didn’t seem to have had any breakthroughs with the Galleons. Sure, he’d seen her with her books open in the sitting room but she refused to let Ron out of her sight. And even then, it seemed she wasn’t doing any real research. Inevitably, Harry would hear a book slam shut and find his two friends snogging each other silly on the couch.

At least the watch was being kept during the day. But whenever Ron or Hermione had the guard, they always ended up doing it together. On more than one occasion, Harry had dragged himself out of bed only to find them both awake when one of them should have been sleeping. He was sure one or both of them had been asleep and only jerked awake when they heard him coming. He was starting to feel like a babysitter, or worse, Filch.

Every time this happened, Harry became more anxious. He knew it was only a matter of time before his friends’ distraction got someone hurt, or worse. But Harry’s worry was doing more than creating grey hair. It had started to keep Ginny from sleeping too. As Harry would lie awake, fearful of dozing off while either Ron or Hermione were supposed to be on watch, his anxiety would spill through the bond. And Harry simply couldn’t shut the link. The last time he suggested it, two days ago, Ginny had nearly bat bogeyed him.

As Harry stumbled toward the tent, he was relieved to find that Ron was sitting in the doorway. His relief evaporated when he saw Hermione awake, in the kitchen.

“Everything alright?” Ron asked.

“Brilliant,” Harry answered. “I’m beat. We’ll talk an hour before sundown.” Harry stumbled toward his bedroom.

When he opened the flap, he saw Ginny quickly fold up the Marauders Map and place it back in Harry’s nightstand.

“Love?”

She looked at him guiltily, then sat on the bed, casting her eyes at the floor. “I had to see.”

He felt his insides go cold. He sat next to her, gently placing his hand on hers. He peered into her haunted chocolate eyes. “Are they there?”

Ginny nodded, biting her lip. The waves of fear and revulsion coming from her were nearly overpowering.

The Carrows were at Hogwarts.

“They don’t know we’re here, love. No reason for us to even see them on this trip.” He coaxed her head onto his shoulder.

“I know.” Ginny pulled away from him as she rose and began to undress, leaving Harry sitting on the bed, unsure what to do. He kept catching alternating bouts of anger and fear radiating from his fiancée. Tired as he was, he tried to send a wave of love back to help steady her. It didn’t seem to be working.

As they curled up in bed, the first rays of dawn struck the tent. Harry fought to stay awake, but the rhythmic breathing of his fiancée and the exhaustion of the last several days got the better of him…

The stone wall was cold and damp as it pressed against Ginny’s swollen cheek. It was soothing compared to the agony of the manacles cutting into her wrists. Her eyes fluttered open as she heard the heavy door to her cell creak open and immediately winced as her eyes were dazzled by the light streaming through the doorway. The afterimage confirmed what she thought she saw: a wizard carrying a torch. She had no doubt he’d come to torment her again.

She’d been left hanging on the wall of the dungeons of Hogwarts for what felt like days. No food. No water. No light. She was afraid she’d begun to hallucinate as she lost track of time.

Amycus Carrow roughly grabbed her hair and pulled her face to his. “How’s our blood traitor today?” he hissed sweetly.

She dredged up what strength she had left and spat in his face.

“Bitch!” He backhanded her. “Where is he?!” he shouted.

“I wouldn’t tell you even if I knew!” she croaked; her throat was raw.

“We’ll see about that, now won’t we.” He backhanded her again. “Where’s Potter?!”

Ginny shook her head, defiance filling her eyes as blood ran down her chin.

He moved out of view. She heard the door open again. As she turned she saw Alecto walk though the door and hand something to her brother.

“Will she talk?” Alecto asked.

“She’ll talk,” her brother assured.

Ginny had no idea what had happened to Neville. They were split up not long after they were captured.
We were so close!

For months the DA, lead by Ginny, Luna and Neville, had been living dangerously. They had hidden Muggle-born students before they could be taken away. They had rescued Muggles that had been kidnapped by the Carrows for purposes they could only shudder to imagine. But, her final mission was to be their crowning achievement. She and Neville had come within a hair’s breadth of stealing the Sword of Gryffindor when they were ambushed at the base of Dumbledore’s study. The DA refused to refer to it as Snape’s.

The Carrows had beaten her savagely for hours, refusing her the “honor” of the Cruciatus Curse; that was for the more respectable students, they’d told her. The next thing she knew she was chained to the wall of the dungeon. The rest had been pain, hunger, thirst and darkness for what seemed like an eternity.

“Muggles used to use these,” Amycus said to Ginny, matter-of-factly. “Since you’re such a Muggle-lover, I thought you might like a taste of how they used to interrogate their prisoners.” He walked toward her and thrust a bullwhip into her face. “Ever seen one? No? First time for everything.”

She heard him take several steps backward. Then, the seconds drew out, the anticipation grating her already frazzled nerves.

The whip cracked viciously next to her head, gouging a hole in the stone. Despite herself, Ginny screamed out.

Amycus loosed a diabolical laugh. “That was just a warm up. The next one’ll lay your back open.”

Then she felt her shirt being torn off and still there was that horrible laughter. 


Gods Harry! Where are you?! She tensed, waiting for the blow to fall…

“NO!”

Ginny came awake with a start, wand in hand. She was covered in a cold sweat as she began to shake.

Harry pulled her into his arms, trying to soothe her. “It’s okay, love. It’s okay.” He gently rocked her in his arms. “You escaped. You got out. You’re safe now.”

Harry knew this history only too well. Before the blow could fall, the cell had gone black with Peruvian Darkness powder, hexes had flown through the air and the next thing Ginny knew a cloak had been thrown over her head and she was being whisked to Madam Pomfrey. Before she passed out, she could’ve sworn she’d seen a black cape and the stringy hair of her old potions master and heard a single phrase whispered by an agonized voice: “So like Lily.” But she dismissed it at the time as an hallucination. Only later would she learn that Severus had risked everything to save her from the dungeons that night. This was yet another debt Harry owed his father’s old nemesis.

As he rocked her, Harry tried to catch his breath. He cursed himself.

My fault. Harry gritted his teeth. My fault I wasn’t there for her then; my fault I wasn’t there for her now. 

Ginny hadn’t had nightmares like this in years. It was the nightmares, among other things, that had finally made Ron understand how much Harry and Ginny needed each other. It was during the second week of the Month of Mourning when Ron and Hermione had become willing accomplices in what the Quartet secretly called the “nightly bedroom switch.” Once they started sleeping together, Harry and Ginny learned to spot the telltale signs of each other’s nightmares through the link and stop them before they progressed too far. But, this time, Harry had been sleeping too soundly and Ginny had paid the price.

“Harry,” she gasped, still shaking, “If I see them here, I’ll kill them.” The ice in her voice unnerved him.

Harry just continued to hold her, sending as much love through the link as he could. Slowly, she finally got back to sleep. But Harry stayed awake the rest of the day.

************

With a flourish of his Phoenix Feather wand, Harry found a hole in the wards. He whipped off the invisibility Cloak and put the light out on the Deluminator. This was the signal for the group to drop their disillusionment charms and land to see if they could find a place to camp.

Ron and Hermione descended toward the beach. Hermione shot a smile at Ron as she hefted her wand, and, non-verbally thought Portis Revelio. No one noticed that she flourished her wand too much.

Hermione gave the arm-wave that signaled the beach was clear of Portkeys. Finding a hole in the wards meant two things: an entry point for invading forces using Portkeys in Britain and a return-Portkey at the same spot. Because the Quartet had to use the holes in the wards to go inland far enough to camp, they had to be extremely careful they didn’t do so too near one of the Portkeys. 

Gin?

High sentry. I got it. We’re clear for at least a mile up the coast. I can see what must be the town of Dieppe from here.

Thank the gods for that
, Harry sent back.

That meant only one more night of flying before they finally reached Calais. Satisfied, Harry grounded near Ron and Hermione as Ginny continued to circle overhead.

Harry had just put his Firebolt in its clutch when he tripped over something metallic. It was a Muggle fan. Then the ground started to rumble.

Oh, Merlin. NO!

Harry didn’t even have a chance to shout a warning to Ron and Hermione before an army of Inferi dropped on top of them, transported by Portkey.

“Shit!” Ginny heaved on the neck of her broom, evading the falling Inferi.

Harry was up in a flash and, for the first time since the battle with the Hit Wizards, he filled his hand with the Elder Wand. “CONFRINGO!” But they were too close; one had already grabbed his wand arm.

Ron and Hermione were only a beat behind him, spraying flames from their wands. But there were too many Inferi. In desperation, Ron drew his spare wand, fighting two handed. Taking his lead, Hermione, wielding both of Bellatrix’s wands, tried desperately to clear a perimeter around them. She didn’t dare cast Fiendfyre for fear she would burn Harry and Ron to a crisp; the Inferi were in and among them.

Ginny’s Firebolt screamed out of the night sky as she hurled Confringo hexes left and right. But it was no use; she could see Harry literally drowning in a sea of the animated dead. She dropped the nose of her broom into a Wronski-feint dive, hoping, praying that she could pull Harry out of the swell of Inferi that were threatening to smother him.

Just then, the Inferi’s Death Eater masters appeared on the beach. The curses they hurled at Ginny blindsided her, hitting her in the ribcage and catching her broom on fire.

“NO!” Harry screamed as he saw his love hurtle to the ground in flames just as the wave of Inferi broke over him. He felt his heart shatter; the link flickered out.

“THE STONE! RON, USE THE STONE!!” Hermione shrieked as she frantically cast shield spells around them.

In a flash Ron sheathed his spare wand and dug the Resurrection Stone out of his robes. Once in his hand, he realized he had no idea how to use it. In desperation he shoved his fist in the air and filled his mind with a single, all consuming thought.

STOP!

The ground began to shake as lightning cascaded down from the darkened skies. The Inferi froze and, in a massive thunderclap, exploded into dust.

“EXPULSO!” Harry screamed, all of his rage loosed in the spell. The three Death Eaters that had attacked Ginny exploded in a blinding white flash.

Harry stumbled to his feet, running at a full gait to where he saw Ginny lying in a heap on the beach. “No, No, NOOOO!”

He dropped by her side, Ron and Hermione hot on his heels. “Ginny! Ginny!”

Ginny was coughing up blood, struggling for breath. She was trying to talk, her eyes wide.

“Don’t talk. Lay still.” Harry forced back his tears as he fumbled with the pockets in his armor, looking for the healing potions. His hands were shaking so badly he could hardly get the vial open.

Hermione tried to help. “Here, let me…”

“DON’T YOU TOUCH HER!”

Harry’s scream was an accusation, a curse. Hermione felt it like a blow.

With an effort of pure will, Harry steadied his shaking. Placing a hand gently under Ginny’s head, he poured the potion down her throat. Almost immediately, her labored breathing eased. The link flickered back; but it was dim. Ginny was deathly pale. Holding back his sobs, Harry cast “Diagnostio Corpus.” 

Concussion, both arms shattered, her ribs had punctured both of her lungs. The potion seemed to begin healing the ribs and lung tissue, but didn’t have the strength to cope with the other injuries too. Thankfully, the armor had protected her from the flames.

Ron rested a hand on Harry’s shoulder, and said, gently, “Harry, we have to move her.”

Harry sobbed, “Can’t.”

“Brother, we don’t have a choice. We can’t risk staying here.”

Ginny gasped, “…have to...move me…love…” Her words were cut short by a fit of wet coughing.

Hermione hefted her wand to immobilize Ginny, but Harry clutched her wrist in a vice-grip as his eyes met hers. She had never seen that look before, not directed at her.

“I’ll do it mate.” Ron cast a petrification spell and levitated her off the beach. Harry walked along beside her, holding her hand.

Once they’d moved far enough away from the entry point, Ron and Hermione began setting up camp, in silence. Harry never noticed, not leaving Ginny’s side.

Slowly they moved her into the tent and then into her bed. Ron handed Harry another potion, which he gave her. Then, flourishing the Elder Wand, Harry cast several healing spells, including one that would make sure she slept. Only then did Harry, very gently, remove her armor and vanish her outer clothing. Removing the Sword from her charred broom-clutch, he placed it next to her nightstand.

Ron grabbed a chair from the kitchen, pulled it up to the bed and let Harry settle into it. Then, he ran his hands through his hair, Not this. Not her. Ron tried to steady himself before he spoke. “Mate, she’ll need to sleep for at least a day before we know anything.”

Harry didn’t move as Ron placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.

Hermione tried to speak. “Harry…”

He cut across her, his eyes never leaving his fiancée. “Until the Hermione I know shows up, I’m not interested in hearing anything you have to say. Get out.” His tone was deathly even.

Hermione began to choke up as she fled the bedroom.

Ron was torn.

“Go to her.” Harry’s eyes finally left his Ginny. He tried to steady his breathing and keep his voice in check. “Straighten her out, Ron. Straighten her out before I do something I’ll regret.” Silent tears leaked from Harry’s eyes as he finished, turning back to his broken love.

Ron nodded and closed the flap behind him.

******

Lucius Malfoy was relatively happy. That was because the Dark Lord’s vengeance had finally found another outlet. He didn’t even try to hide his smile as he looked up at the form dangling in the air of the Audience Chamber.

“There aren’t enough,” The Dark Lord hissed.

“My Lord, we’ve been rounding up Muggles as fast as we can,” the middle-aged woman dangling by her ankle croaked. Her head began to swim as Voldemort’s spell made her spin in circles.

“How many did we lose, Lucius?”

“Two-thousand; more than half of them during that inexplicable attack at Dieppe last night.”

“Two-thousand?” The Dark Lord seethed. “Replacing them will take time, Lucius. Time we don’t have.” Then he turned to the pink clad woman spinning before him. “To make Inferi, I need fresh corpses. And that, Dolores is what I have you for, is it not?”

“Yes, my Lord,” Dolores Umbridge said through a shaky voice.

“And if you aren’t providing me with the materials I need, what use are you?”

“It’s become difficult. There are no more Mudbloods to use. Too many Muggle’s disappearing could create…” Her explanation was cut short by the savage Crucio curse that Voldemort had bestowed upon her.

The minutes seemed to draw out into hours as Umbridge was wracked with unspeakable agony.

Then Voldemort turned to his chief lieutenant. “Lucius?”

“She still has talents, Lord. It would be a shame to waste them.”

“And what do you think, Dolores? Are you still useful?”

Umbridge tried to smile as she nodded. Her entire body still shook from the after effects of the brutal curse.

“Good.” Voldemort dropped her unceremoniously to the floor. “See to it.”


AN: I chose this scene to take place near the port city of Dieppe for a very specific reason. In 1942, the Allies staged an amphibious assault of the place and it was a complete disaster. More than fifty percent casualties. Throughout the war following the Dieppe Raid, merely mentioning the name of the town conjured images of calamity. From what I've read, it had a connotation similar, albeit much less strong, than "Hiroshima" does now. So, the chapter title and location were a bit of foreboding for you history buffs out there.

I don't own Harry Potter.  The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 13: War On All Fronts
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

AN:  There are some brilliant "Book Eights" out there, so I've never had the courage to write one myself, although I have filled in a fair bit of the back story for Crusade - those tales comprise the Crusadiverse.  However, I've mentioned a few of the more spectacular book eights that I've read, but my absolute favorite is "Healing" by my adopted little sis, 1917farmgirl. It's in my favorites.  So, stop reading this story and read that one first.  You'll thank me latter.

This chapter is dedicated to siledubhghlase, who passed away on May 26, 2011.  Her inspiration made this chapter two fold what it once was.
   I don't own Harry Potter.  The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.


**********

Harry couldn’t move. He couldn’t think. His entire life lay broken on the bed before him. Why fight? Why even live? 

He clutched Ginny’s hand ever tighter, praying for a sign. From the link, all he felt was blackness. Darkness. But at its center, was a tiny speck of light. And it was that light that Harry clung too. Like a man hanging on for dear life to a piece of flotsam as the raging storm carries him away on waves of anguish.

For hours he stayed that way, unmoving, his fingers intertwined with Ginny’s. His Ginny. My fault. I never should have let her come. We shouldn’t even be here. Why? Why? 

As he looked at her, he had to bite his lip to hold back the pain. Her eyes were black and blue, her arms swollen from the numerous broken bones that had yet to begin to heal. Her breathing was shallow and labored. And that’s what troubled him the most. Harry had begun to count each breath, begging that it would be followed by another. Pure terror began to grip him. What he had feared most, the real reason he’d lost so much sleep over the last week, that which he dreaded above all else appeared to have come to pass.

I’m going to lose her…And it’s my fault.

From the sitting room he could hear voices as the hours dragged on. Crying. Yelling. Muffled sobs and hushed whispers. Then silence.

Slowly, the sun finally began to sink below the horizon, the shadows growing longer in the tent. As the day died, Harry could feel his spirit dying with it.

To have come so close to finally achieving true happiness, only to have it so brutally ripped from him was crushing. After everything that had been lost, he’d finally started to build a life. But that life began and ended with Ginny. His mind drifted. So many years wasted… 

Cho. Ginny being “Ron’s little sister.” That day in the common room when they’d finally become a couple and their walk...His birthday kiss. Then, the months apart, months in which she’d nearly been killed because of him. After the Battle he couldn’t measure the joy of holding her again; in the few weeks afterward, before Kingsley sought him out, he’d caught a glimpse of what his life could be, should be.

The Weasley’s had taken him in. Molly had insisted. Harry was too exhausted and undernourished to argue, as Molly aptly pointed out. Once the heartbreak of Fred's funeral was behind them, everything seemed idyllic.  No Dursleys, just Molly’s hugs and cooking, Arthur’s antics, his best mate’s and Hermione’s company and…Ginny.

The first time they’d made love had nearly been a comedy of errors, dodging her parents, Ron, even Hermione. The whole time, Harry was so nervous, so apprehensive. It was their first picnic.

Harry never knew that Molly had helped with the cooking; Ginny never knew that Molly was acutely aware of what her daughter really had in mind when she suggested a “picnic,” until the engagement party.

“What if we get caught? What if I hurt you? What if the contraceptive charms don’t work?” Harry’s face betrayed pure panic.

“Merlin, Potter. You’re the one that killed Riddle?” She laughed, tossing her fiery locks over her shoulder as she rolled over on top of him. A secluded spot in the orchard behind the make-shift pitch was her favorite spot. Later, it proved to be
their favorite spot.

They were barely clothed. Harry had pulled off her halter-top, she had literally torn off his shirt and shorts in the course of their extremely intense snogging session. But his passion had come up short after he slid her shorts over her ankles. I
nstead of feeling, Harry started thinking.

“Gin, this is different.”

“So, I’m more terrifying than the worst dark wizard in history?” She smiled as she toyed with him.

Harry was exasperated. “No. Dammit, Gin. Stop twisting my words!”

She laughed. “Harry, maybe you haven’t been eating enough. Mum said you were too skinny for your own good. It can cause dementia, ya’ know?”

“Gods, do we have to talk about your mum now?”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“On whether or not you love me?”

“You know I do. Ginny, you’re what kept me alive out there. More than life itself, I love you.”

Ginny’s smile faded as she fixed him with her honey-brown eyes, eyes that peered into his soul. “Then love me.” 


“More than life itself,” Harry croaked. Overcome, he buried his head in his hands.

Slowly, he looked up, resolved in what he had to tell her, his voice no more than an anguished whisper. “Gin, I…I know how much you hate Grimmauld Place. I want you to know I meant it when I said we’d move. It was gonna be a surprise. I haven’t even told Ron this, but…” Harry had to force his throat from constricting. “I think I’ve found a good piece of land. It’s in Cornwall; near Shell Cottage…I know how much you love it there. It’s by the sea…” The tears blurred his vision as he struggled to go on. “We’re gonna spend every Knut I have in Gringotts to build it, if need be. Just the way you want it…” Harry was simply unable to say anymore.

He was desperate to hold her, but knew embracing her or even resting his head on her shoulder might hurt her. When his fingers weren’t entwined with hers, he could only fumble with his hands. Every time he forgot himself and reached for her, he pulled back and shifted in his chair. Finally, he took to just wringing his hands in his lap. “Ginny, love…” The words stuck in his throat, the tears spilling over his cheeks. “Gin…It won’t mean anything to me without you…Ginny, come back to me. Please. Come back.” His head dropped back into his hands as the pain of it all overwhelmed him.

For hours he stayed that way, the evening fading into night.

Then a hand rested on his shoulder.

“Ron, not now…” But as he looked up, it was Hermione who was standing over him.

She didn’t speak. With tear-filled eyes, she handed him a coin. His Enchanted Galleon.

Then, in a very small voice, “I made it work.”

Harry took the Galleon. Breaking eye contact with her, he looked down at it. Then, back up at Hermione.

“Harry…” So much she wanted to say, she needed to say, but she couldn’t bring herself to speak the words. What happened to Ginny only filled her with horrid thoughts of Dover, of losing Ron, of her other self’s world ending. The tears finally spilled over her cheeks.

Harry felt lost. As he stared back at the coin, his mind was awash in conflicted emotions, but it was blinding rage that ultimately took him.

“This is supposed to make things better? She might die because of you!!” He rose from the chair, advancing on her. Hermione gave ground, retreating into the sitting room where a very concerned Ron looked on in shock.

“So, who are you now? ‘Mione? Hermione? Someone else who thinks they can buy off my pain with an effing Galleon!!!?” Harry spun out of control.

“Mate?” Ron tried to intercede.

“Shut it Ron! None of this would’ve happened if you’d managed to keep it in your pants!”

Ron’s concern began to turn to anger. “You’re way out of line, Potter.”

I’m out of line?! How many watches have you slept through? Huh? Have I got to do everything, while you two shag yourselves silly?”

Hermione burst into tears.

That clinched it; Ron saw red. “Ponce! That’s my sister in there! Don’t even unload that tripe on her or me! You think you’re the only one hurting?!”

“Hurting?” Harry was livid. “MY ENTIRE LIFE IS ENDING IN THAT ROOM!”

Hermione found her voice. “I know,” she screeched through her tears. “I’ve lost it before!”

Her grief missed the mark with Harry. “And now you get your honeymoon. Bravo! And because you can’t keep your hands off him, you can’t clear an effing beach of Portkeys! Enough! I thought it was bad when there were two of you, but at least then I could count on one of you to do their godsdamned job!”

Hermione’s grief turned into a boiling rage. “Don’t you dare make light of my pain, you bastard! She’s still alive. The Ron that’s supposed to be here isn’t; neither are you! You left! You don’t even have a hint of what real suffering or loneliness is. Take a walk in this reality, Mr. Chosen One, and I’ll show you what pain is!”

Harry seethed. “The git that chose to die in the Forest wasn’t me! But now his problems are mine. As if saving one world wasn’t enough. Well, I’m here now. And to top it all off, Ginny’s forced into this too. She stopped me from saying anything about the way you two have been carrying on and I let her!” Harry’s voice rose ever higher. “And now it’s finally caught us out! She’s paying the price!” He nearly spat the words at his friends’ feet.

“Here now? Really?” Ron’s voice was thick with sarcasm as he slowly advanced on Harry, his arms crossed over his chest. “I know this is the last place you wanna be. ‘Choices, Ron. It’s all about choices,’” Ron said in a sing-song voice. “Look around you! We’re in this godsforsaken reality up to our eyes just like you are and you’ve got the nerve to act like you’re doing this alone? And spare me the ‘mistakes’ shit. Like you never made one. When’s the last time you ever remember Hermione making a mistake? What’s wrong? Need more time to think? Save the righteous attitude! She’s entitled to be human too!”

It was all Harry could do to keep his wand in its clutch; his voice was low and smoldering. “So you’re going to kill Riddle this time? How? I’d like to know because none of the old tricks are gonna work. It’s me, Ronald. It’s always just me.” Harry shook his head as his frustration and anger rose. “Four years in the spotlight and you suddenly think you know everything there is to know about being me.” Then anger turned to bitter sarcasm. “‘Ron the Great,’ you don’t even have the vaguest idea what it’s like. Not an inkling. If you ever completely shed the git role, maybe then, you’ll understand.”

Ron was so furious he couldn’t speak; his hand went for his wand. Then, a voice stopped him from hurling the hex that was on his lips.

“Hard to sleep with you lot screaming at each other.”

“Gin?” Harry rushed to her, then held up, not wanting to harm her with an embrace.

“Just a little fragile, love.” She swayed slightly.

Harry immediately tried to steady her. “Are you okay?” Everything else was forgotten, as, slowly, Harry felt his life returning to him.

“No. I’m a Weasley. What do you think I need?” she asked through a weak smile.

“Food?” Harry replied.

“There’s hope for you yet.” Ginny moved, slowly, toward the kitchen table. Ron held a seat out for her, as Hermione began to cook. Harry sat down next to her, not wanting to let her out of his sight.

After Ginny eased into the chair, she slowly met everyone’s eyes. “If the last Horcrux hunt was at all like this, it’s a wonder any of you survived in any reality.”

The words were hardly out of her mouth when the Talisman Deschain vanished from around Hermione’s neck with a loud crack.

*********

“Nana Molly?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Why can’t mummy an’ me stay here?’

Molly had to suppress the tears that threatened to fill her eyes. She turned from the sink and looked lovingly at her new grandson, who sat at the kitchen table, his feet playfully swinging back and forth. “You like it here, sweetheart?”

“Yeah! Uncle George is so funny! And Teddy and I get to play together and I love your biscuits!” Ronnie had a mouth full of what had to be the third batch of biscuits she’d made for him today. He eats like his father. Again, Molly had to hold back her tears.

She couldn’t bring herself to answer; she just scooped him up and pressed him into one of the softest and most loving Molly Weasley hugs she’d ever given. “I love you, dear.”

“I love you too, Nana,” he said through his smile, wrapping his arms tightly around her neck. Then he pulled back and fixed her with a very serious look. “Can I have more biscuits?”

Molly smiled. “Just one more. Dinner’ll be ready soon.”

Ronnie grinned. He’d already snuck an extra biscuit and put it in his pocket. Molly knew he’d already snatched an extra one and didn’t have the heart to stop him. But she was impressed; even Fred and George, at Ronnie’s age, weren’t quite that quick.

“Tell me the story about Mum, Dad, Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny?” he asked through a full mouth.

Molly sighed. She’d tried to keep her promise to ‘Mione and not tell Ronnie too much about this reality. But, after a long talk with the Grangers, they all knew it was a promise they just couldn’t keep. They’d finally told him the truth about themselves and the people he’d met at Shell Cottage, parts of the truth, anyway.

After that, the Grangers and the Weasleys had set about spoiling Ronnie rotten in the days that followed, trying to make up for four years of lost time. The grandfathers regularly took him out to the shed to play with the newest Muggle toys that Grandpa G. had snuck in. GW, much to Molly’s and Kathy’s dismay, had introduced Ronnie to some very age-inappropriate Weasley Wizard Wheeze’s merchandise. He and Angelina had taken him flying. Molly and Kathy had stuffed him with every kind of food imaginable. And then, there were the stories, yarns spun as fairy tales that recounted the Wizarding Wars.

But, this morning, Arthur had to go into the Ministry for a few hours.  Despite his best efforts to keep work at bay, he felt duty-bound to at least move some of the more important paperwork off his desk.  As Senior Secretary to the Minister, he refused to completely neglect his duties to Kingsley, despite the Minister's protestations to the contrary.  Arthur promised to be home as soon as he could.  The Grangers had gone to the store in Ottery St. Catchpole, but would be back shortly.  For now, Molly had little Ronnie all to herself.

She picked her tea up off the counter and, pulling Ronnie into her lap, sat down at the kitchen table to tell him the story of his families' final confrontation with the dark wizards at Hogwarts, which had now become his favorite. Ronnie had definitely inherited Hermione’s brains; he knew the story nearly by heart now.

Hugging him close to her, she began, “Well, once upon a time there were two very brave wizards and two very brave witches.”

“Mum, Dad and Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny!” the boy shouted with glee.

“That’s right, dear. And there was a very bad, mean and evil wizard…”

“Baldemort!”

“Yes! Baldemort. And everyone was scared of him.”

“But not Mum!”

“No, your mum’s not scared of anything.”

“And not Uncle Harry!”

“Merlin no, dear. Uncle Harry’s very brave.”

“And not Aunt Ginny!”

“Of course not. Matter of fact, I think Baldemort was very scared of her.”

“And not Dad! Dad’s not scared of bad old Baldy!”

Molly smiled. “No dear. Your dad’s very brave, just like you.”

“And they’re Aurees, too.”

Aurors, dear. Yes, Dad and Uncle Harry are Aurors.”

“They stop bad wizards?”

“Every time. Because they’re so brave. But everyone else was scared of bad old Baldy. Until your mum and dad and Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny stopped him.”

“At Hogwarts.”

“That’s right, dear. It’s where young wizards and witches go to learn magic.”

“Will I get to go to Hogwarts, Nana?”

Molly bit her lip when she heard the question. She was saved from having to answer when Arthur came through the kitchen door. “Our family versus Baldy, again?” he asked with a huge smile as he whipped off his traveling cloak

“Grandpa Arthur!” Ronnie jumped out of Molly’s lap and ran to the door, where Arthur snatched him up and threw the young boy over his shoulder. Ronnie began to laugh hysterically as Arthur spun him in a circle.

“Arthur! That boy’s had enough biscuits to stuff his father. You’ll make him sick!” she scolded.

Arthur shot her a wink. “Now, Mollywobbles, you know us Weasleys have strong constitutions. Don’t we, Ronnie?”

“What’s a cantatushan?”

“We don’t throw up.”

“Right. Nana Molly, we don’t throw up.”

“Arthur!” Molly tried to look stern, but the identical grins on the faces of her husband and grandson were contagious.

“Can I go play with the Gnomes?” Ronnie asked, once he was sure he’d dodged a scolding.

May, I go play with the gnomes,” Molly corrected. “Yes. But be careful.”

Arthur set his grandson down and ruffled his hair before Ronnie tore out of the kitchen. Molly’s eyes never left him as he headed into the garden. He inherited Ron’s courage, too. Gnomes twice his size ran in terror when they saw Ronnie coming for them.

Arthur kissed his wife and made to reach for one of the few biscuits still on the table.

Molly bit her lip. “He said he wants to stay here.”

That brought Arthur up short. “What did you say to him?”

Molly’s eyes finally spilled the tears she’d struggled to hold back all afternoon. “I…I didn’t answer him.”

Arthur pulled Molly into his chest as he tried to soothe her. “I don’t want him to go either, dear. But ‘Mione was very clear that we can’t control the magic involved.”

Pulling back, she looked up into her husband’s eyes. “That other place is so horrid. Voldemort’s been chasing the two of them for four years! Arthur, there has to be some way. I won’t let that bastard harm that child!” Molly’s tears had dried up. What replaced them was a burning rage Arthur hadn’t seen since Bellatrix had made the mistake of crossing his formidable wife.

“Molly, if ‘Mione couldn’t find a way, I don’t now how we could.”

“Then I’ll go back with him.” Molly’s voice was determined.

Arthur knew arguing with his wife on a matter as important as this would get him nowhere. Besides, after hearing about the horrors of ‘Mione’s reality and spending the last week with Ronnie, he agreed with her.

Then, Molly saw realization dawn on her husband’s face. “What is it, Arthur?”

“Well...” Arthur tilted his head as he thought aloud. “The way ‘Mione described it, it should work like side along Apparation. But, we’ll have to keep a close watch…OH MERLIN!” Arthur’s eyes were wide with alarm.

Molly’s blood ran cold as she looked out the window to see what had so startled her husband.

Ronnie had stopped chasing the Gnomes. With a curious look on his face, Ronnie lifted the tear-shaped amulet that had appeared around his neck. It had begun to glow brilliantly.

The Talisman Deschain had come for him.

“NO!” Molly beat Arthur out the kitchen door by a fraction of a second. If I can just reach him before he goes! 

Molly was only inches from grasping Ronnie’s hand when he vanished right before her eyes.

“R-ronnie?” She stumbled, collapsing to the ground. “Ronnie!”

Arthur kneeled down beside her. He wrapped her in his arms as she began to weep. “H-he’s gone, Molly. He’s gone.”

Molly was grief-stricken. “I didn’t get to say goodbye…Just like Fred.” Her tears began to soak into her husband’s shirt.

Arthur tried to sound strong. “Harry and Ron are there. So’s our Ginny and his mum. He’ll be looked after.” It was all he could do to keep his voice steady and even.

As the sun set over the Burrow, the Weasleys held each other, weeping in silence. For the second time in four years, they’d lost a child.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 14: Victory At Any Price
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“What do you want, Mother.” Draco didn’t bother to look up from his desk as Narcissa Malfoy walked hurriedly through the front flap of his tent.

Taking off her gloves, she looked at the monster she’d created. Monster, yes. But he’s alive. And powerful. “Corpses. Fresh ones. Begin sending all the fallen to England; both ours and theirs.”

Draco tossed his quill aside in frustration and looked up at her, darkly. “The Inferi already outnumber us 300 to 1. We don’t have enough wizards to control the ones in the field now.”

“That’s why the Dark Lord needs more,” she replied evenly, ignoring his tone. “Our progress here in France has stalled. It’s not gone unnoticed.”

Draco grabbed the edge of his desk. “That’s not my fault. Dorninger refuses to commit more of his men to the fight.”

“Refuses?”

Draco rose from his chair, the pent up frustration showing in his face; but his voice was almost apologetic. “Not openly.”

Narcissa tried to contain her concern. Since that night in the Forbidden Forest when she had realized her families’ survival lay in complete subservience to the Dark Lord she had stopped at nothing to please Voldemort and advance the Malfoy cause. What followed had been a string of murders, conspiracies, vile court politics and double-dealing. Not even the Dark Lord knew the depths to which she had sunk to ensure that her family endured. Lucius’ rise back to prominence had been her doing, as had her son’s shedding of his last scrap of humanity. Neither truly appreciated how much their fortunes depended on her actions in the weeks after the Battle of Hogwarts.

She steadied herself, locking her ice blue eyes on her son, her demon. “Convince him.”

Draco’s exasperation boiled over. “Mother, why must you always do this?” He brushed past her, but halted at the tent flap, staring out into the night. “At every turn, I get no peace from you. Not even a country away!”

She advanced on him and roughly grabbed his shoulders as she spun him to face her. “This has nothing to do with that Greengrass girl!” Her voice was as cold as her eyes.

“Did I say it did?” Draco’s voice rose an octave.

“Your eyes betray you, Draco.” She grabbed his chin, harshly. Then, slowly, her grip turned more gentle. “She was weak. And so are you, if you continue to pine over what can never be.” Then her grip became firm again, almost painful. “Strength, Draco! Strength. Never forget what it is that has made us who we are. Never!” She released him as he jerked backward.

Narcissa straightened the folds of her creaseless black robes. “Now. Summon Dorninger. I’d have a word with him.”

With a barely contained scowl, Draco called to his servant through the tent flap. “Bring me Dorninger!”

Draco walked briskly back to his desk and threw himself into his chair. Narcissa followed slowly, standing behind him, off to his right, gloves in hand.

There was an uncomfortable silence that continued to build between them until the stout German walked through the flap.

“Frau Malfoy! An unexpected pleasure.” Dorninger’s smile never reached his eyes; it was clear his emotions did not match his words.

“Frederich, a joy to see you again.” Narcissa approached him, kissing him on both cheeks, her voice thick and syrupy. “I bring greetings from the Imperium.”

“Excellent. Please return the sentiment on behalf of the Chancellery. And how is Lucius?”

“He does well. But, given some recent diplomatic developments, I’m afraid we’ve run into some difficulties.”

“Of course the Chancellery always stands ready to aid its British friends.”

“How fortuitous you should offer.” Narcissa’s tone was soft and dangerous. “Your son, Werner, is among your staff?”

Dorninger’s hesitation was barely perceptible. “Yes. And he’s proven to be indispensable in our joint campaign.”

“So I’ve heard. His reputation for efficiency and tact has preceded him.” In fact, she thought Werner Dorninger was even more of a fool than his father. But the truth rarely aided Narcissa’s ends. “You must be exceptionally proud?”

Dorninger sensed a trap. “Yes. Well. He’s actually just about to return to Berlin on some urgent business.”

“Oh, I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” Narcissa said dismissively. “The Dark Lord requires his presence in London.”

“London?”

“Yes. Certain of Werner’s former classmates at Durmstrang have proven to be…shall we say difficult? His presence at the Imperium would be exceptionally helpful at the moment.”

“Frau Malfoy, I’m afraid he simply cannot be spared at present.” Dorninger began to sweat. He knew what this was about. Voldemort wanted a hostage to insure his continued obedience.

“He’s going to Berlin as a courier?”

Dorninger’s hesitation was all the confirmation she needed.

She moved in for the kill. “Surely the work here in France takes priority. If you can spare him for that, you can spare him for this,” she clucked. “The Dark Lord was insistent. Werner shall return with me by Portkey within the hour.”

“But…”

“Be sure he’s ready.” Then she turned to Draco. “My good boy. I’ll give your love to your father.” Kissing him she whispered in his ear, “Strength.” Then she breezed out of the tent. “Auf Wiedersehen, Frederich.”

Meine Dame,” Dorninger answered with a bow.

Draco fixed the Chancellor with his coldest stare. “Now. Three more cohorts of your men will be arriving by week’s end?”

Dorninger conceded defeat. “Of course.”

******

Zacharias Smith walked at a measured gait, his eyes down, through Diagon Alley. All the while, he could feel his Enchanted Galleon burning a hole in his pocket. Never should’ve kept it! He trudged on, trying to look as inconspicuous as possible.

The shell-shocked remains of Britain’s Wizarding community lived a life of abject paranoia. Everyone was a potential informer. Everyone lived in fear of the dreaded late night knock on the door that heralded the arrest of a loved one by the Imperium’s Security forces. Those who were taken were rarely, if ever, seen again.

In the first few months following the Disaster at Hogwarts, most of those taken were distantly associated with the Order or Dumbledore’s Army. Those more closely aligned had long since been murdered or forced into hiding. But, now, the arrests in the dead of night were done purely for some form of gain. Most often, it was just an excuse for a Death Eater to confiscate property from someone who was not lucky enough to be one of the select few. Or it was done to avenge a slight. Occasionally, it was done simply out of cruelty.

Smith continued down the street, not looking up, although he pulled the collar of his tattered travelling cloak up around his neck to shut out the almost ever-present chill. The few people he passed were doing the same as he was, keeping their heads down and trying to get on with their business without drawing any attention to themselves.

But, now and then, a passerby would break the mold of the downtrodden lemmings that filled the streets of Wizarding Britain. Ramrod straight, eyes lifted haughtily, they would have that cocky, self-assured air, a sneering smile, new clothes, and bags bursting with items newly purchased from the few stores still doing business. They stood out. They were unmistakable. They were the Death Eaters, the Slytherin purebloods, the few who had the Dark Lord’s favor.

Smith couldn’t help but smirk in disgust at the thought. Everyone’s a Slytherin now or will be in another two generations. 

Within weeks after the Dark Lord seized power he had loosed the mindless bureaucracy of the former-Ministry on a new task: re-writing the History of Magic. Edicts had flown out of the Imperium as fast as the owls could carry them. Within weeks, to even mention the name Gryffindor was made a crime punishable by death. It didn’t take long before the name Huffelpuff joined Gryffindor as another casualty in the Imperium’s new war on words. Helga had joined Godric on history’s ash heap primarily due to her stance on Mudbloods and Muggles. There was even talk of putting a jinx on the names. Mention of Ravenclaw wasn’t outlawed, yet. But it was frowned upon in “polite” circles.

At the start of term at Hogwarts, instead of the usual sorting ceremony, Headmaster Carrow had given the “honor” of letting the new Head Boy and Girl, both purebloods, cast the Incendio curse at the pile of banned books that were heaped on the spot where Dumbledore’s tomb used to stand.

And even this despicable act had its casualties. Three days before the start of term, Irma Pince had gotten word of what was being planned. She’d barricaded herself in the library to keep the books from being destroyed. When the Death Eaters came for her, she had fought valiantly. It was hours before they finally rooted her out. When they had finally forced their way in, they purposely stunned her, rather than kill her, on the Dark Lord’s orders. She was the first to be made an example of in public on the gallows that had been erected in front of Gringotts. Smith shuddered as he recalled how long it took before they finally executed the poor woman. And even that had its consequences. It was Pince’s niece Audrey, under the Imperius Curse, who had dealt the deathblow.*

I won’t go out like that, Smith thought. And not like Potter, either. Despite the Imperium’s best efforts to slander Harry as a coward, word spread that he had faced the Dark Lord as a willing sacrifice. Noble git. If I go, I’m going like Weasley. Take as many of the bastards with me as I can. That tale too, had spread like wildfire. The ambush at Dover was nearly as much a legend among the resistance as Harry’s tragic end, thanks to Hermione’s efforts. But it’s always better to be a live jackal than a dead lion… 

He forced these thoughts from his mind as he tried to focus on his surroundings. Keep your head, Smith. This isn’t the time to reflect on life since the Disaster at Hogwarts. Too dangerous to be woolgathering here.

He thought it was pure insanity to meet in Diagon Alley. But the message he’d received by Patronus was adamant that they didn’t have time to find a safe place to talk in a Muggle neighborhood. Fools. Our entire resistance cell in the only wizarding neighborhood in London. He tried not to shake his head at the thought or do anything else that might draw attention to himself.

Smith did appreciate the one saving grace of walking with his eyes on the pavement; it prevented him from having to see the rotting corpses hanging from the Gringotts’ Gallows, which were directly ahead of him. Around the necks of the condemned hung signs displaying their crimes to the cowering public. These days, “Mudblood” had been replaced with “Bloodtraitor” as the most common capital offense. If any Mudbloods were left alive in Britain, they were in hiding.

Turning, he saw his destination: Flourish and Blotts. Not the worst location, but hardly the best. The proprietors allowed them to use their basement when need required. But it had been years since a meeting had been called anywhere near Diagon Alley.

As he opened the door, it was obvious that the shopkeeper was just as displeased at the meeting place as he was. Jude Carstairs barely suppressed his grimace as he lifted the swinging door in the counter to allow Smith access to the hidden passage to the basement. All the while, Carstairs looked nervously around the empty shop and out through the front windows.

Could he be more obvious? Smith thought.

“The others are already here. Make it fast,” the shopkeeper muttered.

Smith grunted a reply as he passed him and climbed down the hidden staircase.

Two forms were huddled in opposite corners of the basement, purposely staying out of the dim candlelight, looking anxiously at the form descending the stairs. Smith could tell their wands were out. 

He froze to keep from getting hexed. “It’s me. And, Edgecombe, I know you have a butterfly tattoo on your left hip, so don’t bother asking for proof. Put your damn wands down.”

“You’re late,” Dennis Creevey said.

“Like running down Diagon Alley wouldn’t raise any suspicion? We shouldn’t have met here,” Smith spat.

Marietta Edgecombe sighed. “We don’t have time for this.”

Slowly, the other two surviving members of Dumbledore’s Army moved into the light. Their clothing was threadbare and worn. The circles under Marietta’s eyes were larger than Smith remembered. Creevey was going grey very, very young.

Guess I don’t look much better, Smith thought. Life on the run tends to do that to you.

The past four years had been nothing but hiding and sleeping in alleys and doorways and then, the occasional mission. Assassinations. Retributions. Dumbledore’s Army? We’re becoming more and more like the Death Eaters everyday. He didn’t know what was worse; being stupid enough to have joined the DA in the first place, which now marked him for life, or being coward enough to have run out before the fighting started at the Disaster at Hogwarts. Six of one…

Creevey had his brother to avenge; Marietta, her honor to restore, but what did Smith have to fight for? My life…

“Let’s get this over with.” Smith heaved himself onto a stool.

Marietta suppressed the urge to comment and began the meeting; with the murder of Susan Bones several months earlier, she had taken control of their cell. They had yet to find a new fourth member. “Did your Galleons change?”

Creevey nodded.

“But how?” Smith asked. “We have no idea who the message is from.”

Creevey said, “Only Potter’s coin can change the others. It has to be…”

He wasn’t allowed to finish as Smith cut across him. “He’s dead. And so are we if we go to Dover.” He was adamant.

Creevey insisted, “We don’t know that for sure. All we’ve heard is what the Imperium tells us. Even if the Dark Lord did kill him that night, like Potterwatch said, the prophecy…”

“Save the ‘Chosen One’ bullshit, Creevey. I’m too tired.” Smith cut across him again.

Part-time lover or not, Edgecombe finally lost her patience with Smith’s attitude. “Dammit, Zack! Granger made the Galleons. She’s supposed to be in France. If anyone could change the coins to make them show a meeting place as well as a time and date to meet…” Marietta fixed him with a stern look. “I think it’s her.”

“If it is, what in Merlin’s name would she wanna come back to this place for?” Smith asked.

“We’ll have to go to Dover to find out.” Marietta was firm.

Creevey nodded his assent.

Smith shook his head in disgusted disbelief. “Gods, you two have a death wish. This isn’t how it’s done. You know that. We get word from the French when someone’s coming across the Channel and they’ve never used the coins. For all we know, this is an ambush set by the damned Death Eaters.”

“Zack…”

“No, dammit! The site of Weasley’s Last Stand sounds to me like the perfect place for a Death Eater assault! How many more of us have to be killed or worse, before you start thinking? For Merlin’s sake, Susan was in effing pieces when we found her! And the bastards purposely left her alive. So we could see…” He hung his head. Even Smith was having difficulty recalling that horrid memory.

Edgecombe’s response was glacial. “And we took retribution.”

Creevey couldn’t meet either of their eyes after that comment; Marietta regretted it as soon as she said it. Dennis had drawn the short straw. He had been the one to ensure that an eye for an eye was taken for Susan.

Smith just shook his head. “This is another godsdamned suicide mission. Just an excuse for another pointless death.”

Marietta seethed. “Pointless?! How can you even..?”

“That’s right. Pointless. Can you tell me why verifying that the Dark Lord’s effing snake was in the Department of Mysteries was worth Susan’s life?!”

She fixed Smith with an icy stare. “It mattered, Zack…Never think it didn’t.”

“Have you even cleared this with the higher-ups? Or are they still alive?”

That caught her off balance. Marietta frowned. “I told them.”

“And?” Creevey asked.

“They gave us the go-ahead. They want us to meet whoever activated the coins.”

“Great.” Smith shook his head.

Dennis ignored him. “We should go separately. Meet up there an hour before. That’ll be safer.”

“Agreed.” Marietta looked pointedly at Smith.

Zack looked at the two of them, exasperated. He realized he was not going to win this debate. He hung his head as he let the word slip between his gritted teeth. “Fine.”

*****

“This can’t be right, Lucius!” Voldemort was seething.

A very nervous Lucius Malfoy did not meet his master’s eyes; he remained on both his knees. “The informant believes it. The Unspeakables were able to verify the magic.”

Voldemort rose from his throne, resting a hand on its arm. “You’ve spoken to the traitor? Personally?”

“I have.”

“And?”

“He believes it’s a message from....” Lucius dared not mention the name, “him.”

Voldemort collapsed back into his throne, as Lucius tried to brace himself for the Cruciatus curse that he was so sure would fall. When it didn’t, he chanced a look up.

Voldemort hissed, “What has he been promised in return for his cooperation?”

“A meeting with his dead brother.”

Voldemort contemplated that. “Bring him in.”

Malfoy rose and moved hurriedly to the door. With a wave of his hand, two Death Eaters brought a manacled young man in and thrust him onto his knees, the chains clanking on the hard stone floor. The prisoner was shaking and bore the telltale signs of rough treatment.

“A mighty veteran of Dumbledore’s Army? There aren’t supposed to be any of you left,” the Dark Lord spat.

Dennis Creevey shook with shame, pain and loathing. But he couldn’t bring himself to speak; he just nodded.

“Let me see this enchanted coin of his.” Voldemort gestured to Malfoy, who immediately handed the Galleon to his master. “So the Mudblood made these when she was still at Hogwarts?”

Creevey nodded, his eyes never leaving the floor. “H-her fifth year.”

Voldemort spun the Galleon between his fingers; his face betrayed none of the surprise he was feeling that a witch so young could have created something like this. He felt some satisfaction when it occurred to him that she had probably gotten the idea for the coins from his own creation: the Dark Mark. Riddle turned his deathly gaze on Creevey. “When did you receive this message?”

Dennis contained his fear. “Yesterday.”

“And you’re to meet at Dover in two days?”

Dennis had one final battle with his conflicted emotions. Four years of fighting this hopeless cause had gotten him nothing. In that time he had wanted only one thing: to atone for letting Collin die alone at the Disaster at Hogwarts. But the long years on the run, with no hope of victory had never truly cured his grief and guilt. The horrible things he’d done in that time had condemned him. He knew it. There would be no meeting his brother in the afterlife. Even if Potter was coming with redemption, there’d be none for Dennis Creevey. The only chance of meeting with his brother again depended on the rumors about the Resurrection Stone being true; this would be his only chance. The tears leaked from his eyes as he nodded.

“You think this is a message from your ‘Chosen One?’ From beyond the grave?” Voldemort cackled.

Dennis stammered, “H-he’s the only one who could make the coins change; his Galleon controls all the others.”

Voldemort took in the words and nodded. “Very well.”

“And, my brother? I was promised you’d let me see him.” Dennis’ voice was thick.

“Ah, yes. And so you shall.” The killing curse leapt from Voldemort’s wand before Dennis could move. He fell dead with a thud.

With a quick gesture, Lucius motioned to the guards to take the body to the Inferi room. Then he turned to his master. “Your orders, my Lord?”

“Send a company of our men to Dover. It’s not Potter,” he spat. “It’s an imposter. Potter’s body was disturbed not two weeks ago. It’s likely the master-coin was taken then. Nonetheless, we may be able to round up several of the resistance in the process.”

“Yes, Lord.” Lucius turned to go.

“Wait.” The Dark Lord made a hasty decision. The last time he had done so, four years earlier in the Forbidden Forest when he cast Legillimens instead of a killing curse, it had proven beneficial. The same could be true now, even though the risk involved was significant. “Send to the Carrows at Hogwarts and tell them to bring it. Immediately…And recall your son from France with a company of our best men. It might be wise to have a contingent of Death Eaters here. France can do without him for awhile.”

Malfoy bowed and exited the Chamber.

It wasn’t long before Alecto and Amycus Carrow entered. Amycus bore something wrapped in a black velvet cloth. The siblings dropped to their knees in front of the throne. “Lord.” They chorused.

Amycus lifted the cloth-draped gift toward Voldemort, always keeping his eyes on the floor at his master’s feet. “As you ordered.”

Voldemort snatched it briskly from him and turned, walking back to his throne, “Leave me. But stay in the Imperium. I don’t want either of you leaving for Hogwarts until you hear from me. Have the doors sealed.”

They bowed and exited, the doors clanking shut behind them.

Placing the bundle on his throne, he drew the Elder Wand. Taking a breath, he thrust it into the air:

“ANIMA SCINDUS!!! NECARE ACCOMPLI!!!”

And again,

“ANIMA SCINDUS!!! NECARE ACCOMPLI!!!”

And again,

“ANIMA SCINDUS!!! NECARE ACCOMPLI!!!” 

For hours, the Dark Lord screamed the incantation to the fires of Hell. For hours, the black fog that leapt from his wand swirled around him. Tremors shook the Imperium.

Muggles and wizards alike, crouching in their homes, could feel the darkness, the evil that was seeping in through their windows and doors. They couldn’t describe it. They tried to ignore it. But it was there, in the back of everyone’s mind. A subtle dread. A hint of uneasiness.

Only Lucius, huddled in his darkened apartments at the Imperium, in front of the fire, a tumbler of Firewhiskey nearly forgotten in his hand, had the slightest idea what was happening. He hoped the vile magics being loosed didn’t wake his wife and son, but cared less as to whether it disturbed Werner Dorninger’s slumber. The son of the German Chancellor was quartered down the hall. As another temblor shook the building, Lucius was filled with dark thoughts and darker fears.

Nearly at the end of his strength, the thing that once was human, that once was Tom Riddle, collapsed to his knees. With a violent scream he knew he had at last succeeded.

With a shaking hand, he reached up and withdrew the Sword of Gryffindor from the black velvet cloth on his throne.

Not the blade, he thought, infused with basilisk venom. The ruby on the hilt! That will suffice! 

As he drew out a fragment of his mangled soul, Voldemort felt the satisfaction of the ultimate revenge on Slytherin’s old nemesis. The Dark Lord had at last turned the only remaining Sacred Object of the Founder’s into a Horcrux.

*AN: Again, I cannot take credit for this brilliant, albeit dark, flourish. LilyGreenEyes, a tremendous author, first wrote the idea of having Imperiused friends hurt each other, courtesy of the Death Eaters, in her amazing story “Within The Heart of the Battle.” You can find it in my favorites. It details the war fought at Hogwarts, while the trio was out hunting Horcruxes. It’s the untold story we all so desperately would like to read. So, go read it!

I don't own Harry Potter.  The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 15: The Siege of Calais
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The funeral pyre that was now Calais lit up the night sky, the Statute of Secrecy a memory. French Magi, some barely in their teens, screeched through the air on burning brooms, hurling curses at the multitudes of Inferi swarming through the streets.

The Muggle government had collapsed within minutes after their weapons first confronted magic. No bomb nor shell, no bullet nor mortar could pierce a Protego spell cast by the youngest, most inexperienced Death Eater. Muggle flames were ineffective against the tsunami of Inferi drowning the coastal city. Now, the remnants of the Muggle army were only added to the teeming population running for their lives.

On the rooftops, in the alleys, at every corner, Magi hurling hexes with English accents advanced on the haggard defenders of the port city. Buildings were engulfed in Fiendfyre; bridges shattered under barrages of Expulso and Reducto curses. Muggle and Magi corpses alike were heaped on mass fires for the dead that had blazed for days. Aware of the Dark Lord’s new ploy, the French were desperate not to provide him with any new subjects to turn into Inferi.

In clusters of twos and threes, small bands of French Magi, wizards and witches who used to be shopkeepers, Quidditch players, Ministry functionaries and students, fought side by side with the ever dwindling numbers of Aurors and Hit Wizards. Men, women, children, young or old, there was no distinction any longer. Anyone with a wand was pressed into service to save the dying French Wizarding Republic. Everywhere Confringo and Incendio hexes raged. Everywhere the cries of the dead and dying, Muggle and Magi, filled the night air.

To no avail; on the Death Eaters and their Inferi slaves came. The wards that should’ve held until doomsday had finally succumbed to the concerted effort of the Dark Lord and his minions. After months of brutal fighting, The First Wizarding World War had finally become a total, all-consuming firestorm.

No patch of earth was safe.

Save one.

“DuChamp!”

“Over here!” the aging Professor called out, creating a hole in the defensive barrier that the wizards in his charge had hastily erected. He was exhausted, bloody and filthy. But his wand hand still proved to be deadly enough to keep this small patch of coast, the entry point to Dover, free of the hordes grinding his country under its heel.

“Pierre, thank the gods you’re still here!” Olympe Maxime exclaimed.

DuChamp smiled despite his exhaustion. “When we didn’t hear from you yesterday we feared the worst.”

The pair of teachers had only just managed to escape from her study before Beauxbatons had fallen, shepherding a small contingent of students and teachers beyond the wards, they had Apparated to Paris. After Maxime told the Ministry of Hermione’s escape and her mission, at last sharing the secret of the Horcruxes, the Minister had immediately dispatched them to Calais with orders to hold it at all costs. All costs had come to mean more than either of them had dreamt in their worst nightmares.

The half-giant collapsed behind the barrier; even sitting she was still at eye level with the old Charms Professor. She was filthy. Her face betrayed the agonies she’d faced when she fought her way into the city to try and see if the reason for their valiant defense was anywhere in sight. Only the “Chosen One” could defeat the Dark Lord; that was why it was so vital for Hermione to bring Potter back. If the prophecy wasn’t fulfilled as it should have been, fate would subject yet another world to the horrors they’d been enduring.

Pierre asked desperately, “Granger?”

“No sign of her yet.” She shook her head, trying to keep up a tough exterior that faded despite her best efforts. “I think I’ll stay here, tonight. No chance of getting back to command. Besides, it looks like you could use the help.”

Pierre’s heart sank. “Olympe, we can’t hold this patch of beach much longer. Another wave of Inferi like last time…” He waved his hand at the battered and beaten wizards around him and shook his head. Old men and boys. He used to think it a cliché. Not anymore.

Maxime fixed him with a tired smile. “I know, old friend. I know.”

Pierre handed her what was probably the last bottle of wine in Calais. “Then what do we do?”

She drank and then placed the cork back in the bottle. “We hold anyway.”

****

Harry looked on at the unrestrained carnage that used to be Calais. “Hell on Earth. That bastard Riddle finally got his way.” Harry tried to contain the rage and channel it, save it for the duel he knew was only hours away. You need to mean it, Potter… *

The Quartet was holed-up on a ridge just west of the port city. Even these hardened veterans were shocked at the death and destruction spread before them.

“We could go around?” Ron suggested.

Hermione shook her head. “Too dangerous. No idea how far out into the sea the Teeth extend and this close to Dover, even contact with brooms might be lethal.”

“Then we fly through.” Ginny’s tone was defiant.

The Elder Wand had done wonders to her injuries that even amazed Hermione. Her survival had been a close call. But a day after she’d first risen from bed and despite her fatigue and the soreness in her ribs and arms, Ginny was determined to continue their quest, over everyone’s protests. This even included Hermione, although she knew the disappearance of the Talisman could mean only one thing: Ronnie was being brought back. If they were lucky, they might have two days before he appeared; worse, Hermione wasn’t sure where, although she assumed he would be drawn to wherever the Quartet was.

Given Ginny’s injuries, she had tried to keep this information to herself. When Harry finally wheedled the truth out of a very tearful Hermione, the Quartet went deathly silent.
 
“Gods, Hermione,” Harry said breathlessly.

Ron had pulled his sobbing fiancée into his arms. “We’ll protect him, love. Don’t worry.”

Hermione pulled away from Ron just as Harry rested his hands on both their shoulders.

“I promise, nothing will happen to your son.” Harry’s tone was firm.

Ron nodded, conveying an unspoken “Thank you” with his tight-lipped smile.

Harry took a breath. “I’m sorry for what I said…”

Hermione pressed him into a hug. “Me too.” Her tears fell on Harry’s shoulder. “When I lost Ron…I lashed out at everyone. I know what it’s like…But, you were right…”

Harry silenced her with a shake of his head. “No. Don’t.” He couldn’t finish as he began to choke up. Seeing that, and the pain in Harry’s eyes, she nodded and hugged him again.

Ginny wiped tears from her eyes as Ron stood, stoically to the side until his best friends broke apart.

Harry and Ron shared a look.

“I’m not after your fame,” Ron managed.

Harry sighed. “Merlin, mate. I know that.”

“Since the Forest of Dean, I’ve always had your back,” Ron said defiantly.

Harry cocked his head at Ron. “And I’ve had yours.”

Ron just barely broke eye contact.  Then, grudgingly, “I’ve been a little distracted.”

Harry looked to Hermione and then back at Ron. “We have to get past this.”


There was an uncomfortable silence as the two best mates eyed each other.

“Git,” Ron said forcefully. But then his face broke into a lopsided smirk.

“Ponce,” Harry said, with a grin, resting his hand on Ron’s shoulder.

Then they laughed and nodded at each other.

“That’s it? That’s your apologies?” Hermione was dumbfounded.

Ron and Harry both stared at her, uncomprehendingly.

“Men!” Hermione exclaimed. Ginny could only shake her head. 


But the happy memories of reconciliation were long gone, consumed in the death throes of the anguished city that lay before them.

The flames from Calais reflected sharply off Harry’s glasses as he looked at his best mate and partner. They shared a nod.

Ron let out a deep breath. “Nothing for it. Top speed. No stopping. Steepest arc possible to avoid anyone else in the air and all…that on the ground.”

Hermione nodded, her face set. Ginny hefted Harry’s broom, her Firebolt having been too mangled to salvage after Dieppe. As she was more comfortable with her fiancé’s Firebolt, Harry had insisted she use it. Luckily, the other Hermione’s armor replaced her own, which had also suffered too severely during the ambush.

Ginny winced as a dull ache spread through her ribs. Seeing that, Hermione handed her some of the special potion she’d brewed for her. Part pepper-up, part healing and part pain killer, Ginny’s steady intake of the concoction had nearly brought her strength and stamina back to normal. She smiled gratefully as she handed the empty flask back to her best friend.

Harry mounted George’s broom. “Tight two-by-two formation. Ron and I are in the lead. Ginny’s on Ron’s tail, Hermione’s on mine.”

That prompted a nasty look from Ginny.

Harry turned to her. “No debate.”

That brought an even nastier look.

Harry softened. Please, love? “This way, we can separate, if need be and we’ll still be able to communicate through the link.”

Ginny gave in with a begrudging nod.

Harry didn’t relish the thought of separating from his fiancée, but steeled himself to the necessity.

Ron dropped him a wink to assure him Ginny would be fine.

Harry continued, “Hermione, once we’re on the descent and clear of trouble, take the lead to the Apparation point.”

Hermione nodded. “No problem. I have a feeling it won’t be hard to find tonight.”

Then he turned to his partner. “Ready mate?”

Ron dropped his signature line. “No. Do it anyway.”

As one, they kicked off; four Firebolts zipped into the blazing skies over Calais.

Like a rocket, Harry in the lead, he pulled the neck of his broom into as close to a ninety-degree climb as he dared, his robes flapping behind him.

Ron’s face was pure concentration. As he pulled his wand from its clutch, the others followed suit. They knew their chances of simply arcing over the dying city without trouble were slim at best.

Hermione chanced a look below them. Worse than Dover…The duels taking place beneath them were simply too many to count. As their altitude increased, the blazing curses being exchanged became tiny points of red and blue light. But the shockwaves of the explosions below buffeted the air, violently shaking their brooms.

Her red braid streaming behind her, Ginny streaked like a comet into the night sky, keeping tight near her brother. She too risked a look below at the horrific scenes beneath them: Inferi tearing over burning cars, shop windows exploding, Magi blind-sided by killing curses. With a will, she ripped her eyes from the scene, only to see, Merlin no! twenty brooms circling over them.

They’d been spotted. The airborne Death Eaters descended on their prey.

Not this time, you bastards! The Elder Wand spat a stream of deadly magic before anyone else could react.

His spell would buy them time, but Harry knew the dark wizards had the advantage; they were above the Quartet. His team had to break off and increase speed to have any chance of winning an aerial duel.

“Down! Break the climb! NOW!” he ordered over his shoulder. Harry forced his Firebolt out of its ascent, the others following suit. The Death Eaters he’d cursed screamed as they fell from the skies.

“Bollocks!!” Ron shouted as the city that they’d hoped to avoid came rushing into sharp focus. Then he saw at least twenty more airborne Death Eaters below, as yet unaware of the Quartet screaming toward them. “Here we go.”

Harry?

I see them. Expulsos. Full pattern. 


Harry shouted the command to Hermione as Ginny did the same to Ron, who nodded grimly.

Four wands spat death. The air exploded in a vicious white shockwave, clearing the way ahead. The screams of outrage from the Death Eaters behind them when they saw their comrades fall were audible in the after shock. Curse and hex began to fall thick around the Quartet.

“Bugger! Into the alleys!” Ron shouted.

“Break! But keep angling heading east!” Harry yelled.

The Quartet divided, Harry and Hermione shooting up a tree-lined boulevard to the north, Ron and Ginny plowing through a burning street heading south. Windows began to shatter with the shockwave of the speed-wake their brooms were leaving.

Five blocks up, five blocks over, five in; we meet at the next east-west street!

Got it. 


The Death Eaters split up, hounding their prey.

Through the carnage Harry and Hermione sped, explosions and screams surrounding them. All the while the Death Eaters were hot on their tails.

Hermione shot curses behind her at the closing horde. Harry chanced a look over his shoulder, seeing the trouble she was in. “Dammit! Switch!”

Hermione sped past him as Harry slowed, weaving through the barrage of magic trying to consume them. A lucky Confringo curse caught the end of his broom just as his Protego charm deflected three Reducto hexes that would have vaporized them both. The combined effect threw him off George’s Firebolt. He was flung into space.

“NO!” Hermione screamed. Now’s the time to put those flying drills to the test, girl! Hermione heaved on her broom, looped, threw two hexes in rapid succession at the arc of her climb toward the nearest Death Eaters and deftly caught Harry on the neck of her Firebolt.

“Oi! Watch the hands!”

Hermione quickly pulled her hands from underneath Harry’s bum.

“I’ll fly, you hex! " He commanded. "Oh. And thank you.” Harry shot her a huge smile.

She returned it. “You’re welcome.” Hermione spun around on the broom and cast a sticking charm so she could wield both of Bellatrix’s wands at oncoming threats. Then she began to hurl a barrage of hexes and curses to her beaming heart’s delight, but much to the dismay of the Death Eaters that fell in droves at the hands of the brightest witch of the age.

Once he heard Hermione cast the sticking charm, Harry’s smile only got wider. Time to teach these ponces how to fly! The Firebolt danced over the streets at full tilt, an impossible blur of a target. All the while, Hermione’s aim only became more deadly.

Five streets over, the pursuing Death Eaters were about to learn a hard lesson that Harry and Hermione already knew. One angry Weasley was dangerous; but two angry Weasleys, especially if one of them were Ginny, was a gigantic cauldron of vengeance primed to explode.

The redheads had decided to let the Death Eaters close on them, which they readily did. The black-cloaked wizards never knew what hit them.

In and out Ron and Ginny weaved, with the instinctive skill and grace only siblings who’d been flying together almost since birth could master.

A Death Eater broke left to close on Ginny’s tail, only to find a savagely grinning Ron, wand in hand blasting him off his broom. Another tried to blind-side Ron, just as Ginny cleaved his Nimbus in two with a graceful slash of Gryffindor’s Sword, her wand clamped between her teeth.

Below them, cars exploded and hexes fell thick, as the whoosh of their Firebolts, at near top speed, zoomed above the streets of war. Billowing smoke and flames were dragged along in their wakes; with every turn, fewer and fewer Death Eaters remained in the chase.

Continuing to scissor, cutting across each other’s tails, spells ceased to fly as Ron took to simply kicking the nearest Death Eaters off their brooms, Quidditch-style, as he shot past them. Ginny did likewise.

As the last Death Eaters turned tail and ran, she spat, “Gits should’ve learned to fly on the pitch at the Burrow.”

Speeding around the last turn, they saw Harry and Hermione waiting for them, circling over a blessedly peaceful intersection. Sticking charm removed, Hermione was facing forward.

Ron shot them a look once he’d closed the distance. “One broom?”

Harry shrugged. “We had some trouble. Hermione had to pluck me out of a tight spot.”

Ron shook his head. “I’m not telling George about his Firebolt. That’s your problem.”

Ginny shot a smile at her best friend, who had her arms wrapped tightly around Harry’s waist. “Take your hands off him. He’s mine.”

Hermione smiled back and looked at Harry. “Redheads.” She and Harry both laughed. “But come to think of it,” she continued eyeing the raven-haired wizard, “our lives would be much more simple if the two of us…”

Ron grimaced. “Don’t even think about it Ms. Know-It-All.” He pulled his broom even with theirs.

Hermione hopped on the back of Ron’s Firebolt, hugging him tightly as she kissed his cheek. “Don’t worry, sweetie. Glasses have always been a deal-breaker for me.”

“Oi!” Harry shouted. “I make these work.”

Ginny just smirked at Harry, as she pulled even with his broom and kissed him. “Ever thought of contacts, Potter?”

“Never,” he said through his smile. “Hermione? Can you lead us to the Apparation point?”

“Right. That way, Ron.” She pointed toward the east as the three Firebolts climbed above the rooftops and into the safety of higher skies.

****

“They’re coming again!” DuChamp shouted to the ever-dwindling Magi under his command. Grimly, he looked out over the beach.

Inferi. Everywhere. More than he’d ever seen. Hundreds. Thousands. And all of them heading straight for his redoubt. The wards had finally collapsed.

“INCENDIO!” was screamed from every quarter.

“Pierre, look to the sea!!!” Maxime shouted.

He looked to their right. Then, slowly, out of the murky waters on their right flank, first heads, then necks, then torsos…

“Gods!” he gasped. “Every third man, pivot right!”

Desperately, the few defenders shifted to face this new threat of Inferi emerging from the Channel. The air smelled of sulfur and death as flame spells sought to repel the walking dead that were intent on only one thing: their destruction.

Pierre hadn’t the strength to cast Fiendfyre and none of his surviving defenders had the skill to control it. He looked to his old Headmistress. “Olympe?”

“I can, but it’s not going to be well controlled.” She hefted her wand in a slightly shaking hand.

“WAIT!!” Pierre commanded. He thrust his arm in the air, pointing as a smile of untold relief spread across his aged face.

Out of the skies came three Firebolts. Maxime could’ve sworn she saw the wild brown locks of Hermione Granger on the back of one of them during one of the flashes. Then she was sure. “Bless the Fates!!”

“HOLD THE LINE!! KEEP YOUR SPELLS LOW! FRIENDLIES IN THE AIR!!” Pierre shouted to his men. 

Maxime saw the wizard that was flying double with Hermione hold his fist in the air. A red glow began to pierce the night from his left hand. Lightning cascaded from the cloudless night skies. Deafening thunder!

The hordes of Inferi exploded into dust. In a panic, their masters tried to run, but were cut down by the defenders.

As the brooms grounded to a swell of cheers, Hermione ran to Maxime, who nearly crushed her in a massive hug.

Hermione turned to the trio standing behind her. “Madame Maxime, I think you’ve met Harry Potter? This is Ginny Weasley, and this…this is my fiancé.”

AN: 1917Farmgirl has just posted an absolutely amazing one-shot entitled "Yes, Ginevra, there is a Santa Clause."  Words cannot express how awesome this story is.  Do yourself a huge favor and read it!
 
*quote taken/paraphrased from "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," by J.K. Rowling, p. 810 Scholastic Press, 2003.  I don't own Harry Potter.  The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.


Chapter 16: Return To The Cliffs Of Dover
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

AN:  I don't own Harry Potter.  The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.

Just before midnight, Ginny awoke from her quick nap to the sound of a bubbling cauldron and a smell so horrid it could only be a healing potion brewing.

“Are you awake?” Hermione asked over her shoulder as she stirred the concoction on the long table in front of her. She was surrounded by her books and potion ingredients. She looked about as at home as Molly did in her kitchen at the Burrow.

Ginny was lying on a cot in the corner of the small tent the French had provided. The Quartet hadn’t bothered erecting their own as they didn’t plan on staying long enough to warrant it. She propped herself up on an elbow. “With the smell of that disgusting brew in the air, who could sleep?”

Hermione cringed at that. “Sorry. It’s…”

“No. It’s ok. I’m not sure what you’re putting in this stuff, but it’s working.” She rose, a little stiffly, and placed her hand on her best friend’s shoulder. “Thank you for doing this.”

Hermione bit her lip. “You’re thanking me…”

“Yes. And for saving Harry.” Ginny’s eyes were full of gratitude, but she couldn't resist a smirk. "Besides, compared to you, he and Ron are pants at potions."

Hermione broke eye contact and turned back to the cauldron. She simply couldn’t speak.

“Hermione?”

A tear slid down the brown-haired witch’s cheek as she finally found her voice. “Ginny, I’m really sorry…”

“Don’t be. It wasn't your fault what happened to me.” Ginny pulled her into a hug.

"Thank you," Hermione breathed.

But, as they broke apart, Ginny saw the concern, grief and worry that was still etched in Hermione's face.  Then, a single word escaped from Ginny's lips.  "Dover."

Hermione nodded, her lips tight.

“That wasn't your fault, either." Ginny rested her hand on Hermione's cheek.   "You had to escape, to survive.” 

“But it’s…We’re almost there. And I…I haven’t been back since…”

“You won’t be alone.” Ginny took both of Hermione’s hands in hers. “We’ll be with you…This time.” But Ginny knew there was more to it than that. The end of their journey was rapidly approaching and they all knew it.

Once the Talisman had vanished, Hermione had shared with them how, if they were successful, she would be divided into two people again and how they would all be pulled back to their own reality. ‘Mione would be left behind with Ronnie. She would be alone again.

Ginny tried not to choke up as she spoke. “No matter what, no matter where we all end up, I’ll always be your sister.”

Hermione smiled, tearfully as they embraced. “That means everything to me.”

Just then, Harry poked his head in the tent. “Ladies…Oh! Am I interrupting?”

“No. Just brewing,” Hermione answered as she quickly turned back to her cauldron and wiped a tear from her eye with the cuff of her robes.

Harry pulled his fiancée into a hug. Are you two ok?

We’re fine, nosey. Just some girl talk. And before you ask, the potions are working wonders.

Harry crossed to Hermione, gave her a peck on the cheek and then a concerned frown.

“Don’t give me that look, Potter,” Hermione grumbled, arching an eyebrow at her soon-to-be brother-in-law. “I’m fine.”

Harry’s frown only deepened. He wasn’t going to let it rest.

Ginny knew her stubborn love only too well. That’s why she decided to change the subject before Harry could say anything more. “Nagini’s mine, if you were curious.”

Harry’s head snapped from Hermione to his fiancée; he was gobsmacked. “Ginevra…”

“Don’t you ‘Ginevra’ me, Harry James. That bitch has a date with Gryffindor’s Sword and I intend to make sure she keeps it.”

Harry turned to Hermione for help.

It was her turn to frown. “Gin is the one who claimed the sword, Harry.”

Et tu, Hermione?”

She blanched.

“Don’t bully her, love,” Ginny chided.

“I’m not bullying her…”

“Everyone’s had a go at a Horcrux but me.”

Harry opened his mouth, closed it and then tried again. “That’ll likely mean you’ll be alone in the Imperium and I’m not thrilled about the prospect, especially in your condition.”

“I can finish her off. The potions have me at nearly full strength.”

Harry was about to speak again when Hermione interjected. “They’re working, Harry. And the Elder Wand…She’s healed faster than I ever thought possible.”

Harry looked from one to the other. The two witches in his life always seemed to have him outnumbered and outmatched, no matter what the circumstances.

Harry scowled and locked eyes with his fiancée, who stared just as stubbornly back.

She sent through the link, Nagini’s mine. No debate.

Then she batted her eyelashes at him and sent a wave of love through the bond.

Merlin’s love potion…Promise me you’ll be careful. 

I’m always careful. Don’t worry, love. I’ll be fine.

Harry scooped her into his arms and drew her into a deep kiss, his tongue probed for hers as she leaned into him, digging her fingers into his cloak as she pulled him closer. 

Hermione cleared her throat. “I take it the silent debate is over? And Harry lost?”

“Was there ever any doubt?” Ginny asked coyly, cocking an eyebrow as they broke apart.

“Hmmph,” was all Harry could manage as a retort.

“Potion's done,” Hermione announced. With a flick of her wand, the potion vanished from the cauldron and began filling three phials. She handed them to Ginny. “You should take one now. This may be a little more…harsh than the last batch.”

Ginny stashed two phials in her robes and grimaced as she opened the third.

“No potion, no Nagini,” Harry admonished.

Ginny’s eyes blazed at him; he smiled as he said, “No debate.”

She smirked at him as she downed the vile swill and began to cough.

Harry grabbed a water flask from off its hook on the tent pole and handed it to her. She drank her fill and handed it back to him.

“Oh, gods, ‘Mione,” Ginny coughed. “Harsh? That’s an understatement. Why are all healing potions so bloody wretched?”

Harry tried to wave Ginny off. Too late. Hermione had already launched into lecture mode. “Well, Stink Sap is usually the core ingredient in any good healing potion. I wanted to improve the taste with peppermint, but that would only diminish its effects. Now if I had some nightshade, I could’ve still used spearmint or maybe some of those Honeyduke’s chocolates Ron always carries around to improve the taste. However, cocoa can tend to lessen the effects of the Skele-Gro I included. Of course, if I had some…”

“Hermione?” It was Harry’s turn to change the subject.

“What?” she asked, still a far-away, almost Luna-like look in her eyes as she held forth on potion lore.

“Ron; I need to find him. I was actually hoping he would be here with you. Have either of you seen him?”

“Have you checked the mess tents?” Ginny asked, with a slight smirk. It was hard to smile with the taste of that horrible concoction still coating her mouth.

“First place I looked.”

Hermione answered, “He told me he was going for some air, down by the beach.”

“With the smell of that stuff, I’m not surprised. I’ll be back.” With a nod, Harry went through the flap, slinging the water flask over his shoulder.

He found Ron sitting on the sand, looking out toward Dover. Judging by his posture Harry knew in an instant his best mate was deep in his thoughts. And that they weren’t good ones. Harry didn’t even hesitate as he nonverbally transfigured the water in the flask to Firewhiskey. He tossed the flask to his partner, shouting “Heads up!” Ron caught it with a Keeper’s reflexes.

“Hey, mate.” Ron looked up and nodded as he uncorked the flask.

“Transfigured Firewhiskey, not water. Go easy on it.”

After taking a swig, Ron handed it back to his partner with a grateful, but solemn, nod. Harry sat next to him with a grunt and then took a pull off the flask before corking it.

The beach had gone quiet since the Inferi assault had been broken. Even the sounds of war from Calais were fading. Reports had come in that most of the Inferi had been concentrated on the beach. With them gone, the French had started to take the upper hand in the fighting.

Considering that the redhead had just saved an entire city almost single-handedly, the last thing Harry expected his best mate to do was brood. But then Harry noticed that Ron had the Resurrection Stone in his hand, almost as if he were pondering it.

The Resurrection Stone, the most dangerous of the Hallows, was never a good thing to ponder. Harry knew he’d have to have this talk with Ron, which was why he’d gone looking for him.

Harry nodded toward the Stone. “You’re getting good with it.”

“Yeah.” Ron started to say more, and then stopped.

“Fred,” Harry said.

“Yeah.”

Damn. “Dumbledore and I had a long talk about the Stone…It’s dangerous, brother.” Harry rested his arms on his knees and looked out over the Channel.

“Suppose you want it back now?”

“Why?”

“Gotta ‘Unite the Hallows’ to deal with Snakeface.”

“Unite the Hallows to thwart death…” Harry shook his head. “It’s a myth, mate.”

Ron cocked an eyebrow.

“There’s no thwarting death. Even if I had all three in my possession, like Riddle does now, its not gonna make me any stronger or any weaker. They’re just very powerful magical objects, not Death’s tools…I’ve got the Elder Wand. It’s all I’ll need, one-on-one.”

Ron wanted to protest Harry’s insistence on facing Riddle alone, but his mind was too burdened with other thoughts. Slowly, he put the Stone back in his robes and turned his troubled gaze out across the dark waters.

Harry could see that Ron would need some coaxing to say what was really on his mind, although Harry feared he already knew what that was, especially after the abbreviated exchange he’d caught between Ginny and ‘Mione in the tent. Not as dense as they give me credit for. 

Harry gestured across the channel, toward Dover. “That’s where it happened. Isn’t it?”

Ron nodded. “That’s where he died. And where her life ended.” Ron dropped his head as he finished.

“This is about more than Fred, then, isn’t it?” Harry asked, keeping his eyes forward.

Ron hesitated. “Yeah.”

Harry turned to him and rested his arm on Ron’s shoulder, waiting for the redhead to find the words. He could tell how much this was tearing at his best mate and it pained him to watch.

“How...?” Ron stopped, took a breath, and tried again. “How do I just leave her here?” The words were heavy with torment, so much so, they almost didn't escape Ron's throat. 

Harry let out a long breath. Just as he feared; it was only a matter of time before the guilt of leaving ‘Mione would start to weigh on his best mate. That time, apparently, was now. Harry steeled himself. “I don’t know as we have a choice in the matter.”

“I thought it always comes down to choices.” Ron shot Harry a wry, but pained, smirk.

Harry’s face broke into a half grin, but it was mirthless. “I thought so too, mate.”

They fell silent as they stared off across the Channel again. Then Harry added, “Well, if we all die, I guess it won’t matter.”

Ron looked at him in shock. Then Harry smiled. Ron started to laugh. “Back to the gallows humor, eh?”

“Necessary, don’t you think?” They shared a smile. Then Harry cocked his head. “Mate, this isn’t our home. It’s our responsibility, for the time being, but it’s not where we live.”

“I know.” Ron fidgeted on the sand. “But, gods, you’ve seen what she’s been through here. For me to leave her again…”

“Not you,” Harry corrected. “As much as it feels like this place is filled with our failings, it isn’t. It’s not our home,” he repeated. Then he took a deep breath before he said what he knew Ron had to hear, and what Harry had to admit. “At the very least, she’ll have our Hermione’s memories and the memories of our days here together, now. I was wrong to begrudge her that.”

Ron fixed him with a sad smile and a grateful nod; then he sighed. “You’re right. I know you’re right."  He fell silent again.  Then, his face contorted, displaying the conflict of emotions building in his soul.  "But it doesn’t feel that way."  He turned to Harry, the frustration and guilt finally overcoming him.  "Right now, she’s my Hermione. And, Merlin, Harry, I can already feel her starting to mourn…” Ron's head dropped, the pain evident on his face. “I just can’t bear to see her hurt that much, because of me. And this time, it is because of me. Me leaving, not the other me dying. And what about Ronnie? For the past week he’s gotten to live at the Burrow; I’m sure Mum’s been spoiling him. Now he’s been ripped away from all that to come back to this wretched place. Back to a ‘Mione who’s gonna be grieving, because I left her here. I know none of this is our fault. I know we’re just here to try to make things better. But it feels like we’re making things worse. Even if we’re not, even if I could force myself to accept the truth, it won’t make it hurt less.”

“No. It won’t." Harry''s eyes fixed on Ron with a sublte intensity.  "But do you think leaving her the Resurrection Stone, so she can summon the other you back, will help?”

Ron hung his head, unable to meet Harry's gaze.  Again, he was at a loss for words and more than a little startled that his best mate had figured out what his brood was really about. Then he shook his head, guiltily.

Harry let out a breath. “Remember the story about the Peverells? Remember what happened to the one who kept the Stone? Cadmus? It drove him over the edge. He killed himself, for gods sake.”

Ron nodded grimly.

Harry continued, “That wasn’t just a fairy tale, brother. At least not the part about what happened to him and the poor soul he summoned back…I got lucky when I used it. Remus, Sirius, Mum and Dad were coming for me as opposed to the other way around. That saved me. ‘Mione’s situation is different. Leaving her the Stone…That’s a path to disaster. I think she knows that. Even if you did leave it for her, I doubt she’d use it. But the temptation could only hurt her, brother. Think of that.”

Ron turned to face his best mate. “You sound more like Dumbledore everyday, you know?” Slowly, a smile crossed his careworn face.

Harry laughed it off, but he was glad to see he’d brought Ron some peace. “I should be so lucky." Harry rose to his feet with a grunt.   "C’mon. Let’s eat before we jump over this creek.” Harry helped him up as they headed back to the camp.

Ron shook his head. “Ya’ know, we’ve been having some awfully intense conversations on beaches lately. What’s up with that?”

Harry shrugged. “Maybe it’s the scenery…” Then, he stopped short.

Ron noticed Harry’s look, as if he’d been struck by a bludger. “What is it, mate?”

“The Stone. I think I have an idea…”

****

There were six of them crowded into DuChamp’s tent. With one of them being a half-giant, it felt more like ten. Harry and Ron stood, leaning on the map table. Hermione and Ginny were sitting at the foot, while Maxime sat at the head, DuChamp on her right. Everyone was speaking English for the benefit of Harry and the Weasleys.

Hermione turned to Maxime. “Right now, we’re counting on the resistance. I don’t know if our attempts to contact them worked, but hopefully, there’ll be people waiting for us at Dover. Even so, I don’t know how easily they can communicate with the rest. How long would it take you to contact the resistance through the French Ministry?”

Olympe took a second to think. “Too much to say with just a Patronus... I’d have to get to Paris in person.” She shook her head. “Several hours to get through the fighting and the wards before I could Apparate. Not even I know how the Ministry speaks with them, but I know they’re the only ones who can.”

Harry spoke up.“Too long.” Hermione had already told her French friends about the Talisman’s disappearance and Ronnie’s impending arrival. “We can’t wait. We’ll have to go now and hope the Galleons worked.” Then he shook his head. “Regardless, it’s vital once we hit the Imperium that the word gets out to the populace. Otherwise, even if we’re successful, dislodging the rest of the regime won’t be easy. So, even if we’ve already reached the resistance, we’ll still need the French Ministry’s help on that front.” He looked to Ron.

“That’s only too true. I can only imagine how entrenched the Death Eater regime is, so it may take more than killing Riddle to turn the tide back home,” the redhead added.

“Riddle?” DuChamp asked.

Ginny piped in. “That’s his real name. Git doesn’t deserve a title.”

Ron smiled in agreement. “If things continue to go well here, any forces you could send across the Channel would do the trick. Right now, the weak spot is here.”

DuChamp nodded slowly. “It’ll be hours before we could muster a force like that. But I think we could.”

Harry let out a breath. “As soon as I can do it without losing the element of surprise, I’m gonna try to collapse the Teeth. That should make all the difference.”

Olympe looked concerned. “How are you going to assault the Imperium?”

Harry smiled at his best mate. “Ron? Why don’t you tell the lovely Headmistress what we have in mind?”

“Gladly…”

*****

Hermione stood at the center of the Quartet. They were not far from the spot that she had Apparated too when she’d escaped from Dover. Returning here had frayed her nerves. Despite the memory-dampening charms, the vision of that horrific day, the day she had lost everything, threatened to overwhelm her. She took a deep breath and looked at her friends and at her lover, people that comprised a family that a part of her would never see again, if they succeeded.

Harry, as always, had that determined, set look about him. Ginny was all business, even though a slight hint of concern shown on her face as she locked eyes with her briefly. But Ron, her dear sweet Ron…the look he gave her reminded her of the last time she’d seen him in this reality.

For the briefest of moments, in less time than an eye could blink, a heart could beat or a life could change forever, she considered not going through with this and letting the realities merge. She could tell by the way Ron looked at her that he knew what she was thinking, that he knew how difficult going through with this was for her. But then his face broke into a gentle, resolved smile. And from that smile, she knew he was leaving the choice in her hands.

As she hesitated, consumed in her own private war of emotions, it was the voice of Albus Dumbledore that won the day:

“You’ve chosen the right path. Don’t yield to temptation and leave it.”

That had already happened once and it nearly cost Ginny her life. Hermione wouldn’t let it happen again. Closing her eyes, she forced the thought of giving up from her mind, cursing herself for even thinking it. “All right. Grab hands and hold on.” With a pure act of will, she turned on the spot.

They appeared on the Cliffs of Dover.

“BUGGER!” Ron and Harry’s wands cleared their clutches as fast as lightning, pointing them directly at Riddle himself.

“Wait!” Hermione stayed their hands. “It’s a statue.”

Harry shook his head, still filled with ‘Mione’s memories of this awful place. “That bastard put a statue here?”

“Yes.” Hermione’s face was grim. “But wait. It’s not all it appears to be. It’s used to mark the weak spot in the Teeth for the resistance.” She steeled herself as she waved her wand; the statue transformed.

Ginny gasped as Ron and Harry looked on in shock.

Where only a moment before there was a single statue, there now stood two, facing out over the Cliffs. Both were wizards in their late teens. Both had their arms crossed over their chests, wands held in their right hands. They had a battered but defiant look on their faces. The one on the right had a thick mop of hair, the other’s was unruly and he had a lightning bolt scar on his forehead. Beneath their feet, at the base, was an inscription carved into the stone: 


                          HARRY JAMES POTTER                  RONALD BILIUS WEASLEY 

                       31 July 1980 – 2 May 1998           1 March 1980 – 6 May 1998

                                                   The Bravest of the Brave

                                                  We Will Always Remember 


Harry felt a cold tingle up his spine. He could feel Ginny fighting back the tears before they fell. I’m right here, love. He grabbed her hand and sent a wave of love through the bond. He felt her ease as her hand squeezed his tighter.

Ron was still dumbstruck as Hermione put her arms around him. “It was my idea. But this is the first time I’ve seen it…I couldn’t…” She bit her lip as she stopped, unable to finish the thought. Ron couldn’t speak, so he just held to her, tightly.

It was Ginny who finally broke the silence. “Let’s go kill the bastard.”

“You’ll need help.”

The four spun around at the sound, wands out.

“Easy. We’re friends.” Slowly, two forms appeared from the darkness.

“Marietta?” Hermione asked.

“And Smith,” Zacharias Smith added defiantly.

Harry felt like he’d been confunded. When he found his voice, the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. “You two were the last ones I expected.”

“Pretty rude for a dead man,” Smith shot back.

Marietta ignored the remark, as she was still so shocked to see Harry Potter and Ron Weasley alive. “Dennis Creevey was supposed to be here. I’m worried he…”

Before they could finish exchanging the not-so-niceties, Reducto curses began to explode around them.

Hermione clung to Ron as the six of them dove for cover. I can’t go through this again! Not here! 

Frantically, Harry scanned the plains, trying to find a target, but the curses seemed to be coming from every direction. Then a blast kicked dirt into his face, another violently threw Ron flat and sent Hermione flying. A third knocked Ginny into him so hard his glasses flew off. They were being pummeled from all sides.

He heard Ginny scream.

“ENOUGH!” Harry shouted, as he rose and stepped from behind the statues. Walking out into the open, curses exploded around him. Slowly, almost casually, he looked right, then left as he leveled the Elder Wand. He never uttered a sound as the full fury of the Death Stick was loosed, turning night into day, his wand hand a blur. Ginny, Ron and Hermione looked on in utter shock at the display of raw power they were witnessing. Smith and Edgecombe were frozen in place, their eyes the size of saucers.

Then the dust settled.

There was no return fire.

There was only Harry, standing in the open, with murder in his eyes. They approached him slowly, Ginny cautiously resting a hand on his. Despite Harry’s outer calm, the link only spewed pure rage.

Zack and Marietta closed on the trio surrounding the Chosen One, almost too scared to break the silence.

After several drawn out moments, Harry spoke:

“This ends…Now.” 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 17: Assault On The Imperium
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“The children of England would never be slaves…”               
        -Sting, “Children’s Crusade,” Dream of the Blue Turtles, 1984 (A&M Records).

AN:  *quote taken/paraphrased from "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," by J.K. Rowling, p. 810 Scholastic Press, 2003.  I don't own Harry Potter.  The toys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.

****

“Are you ready?” Harry asked with ice in his voice. 

Ron nodded, slowly. Then he turned the Resurrection Stone over in his hand three times. Perspiration gathered on his forehead as he focused, and in a far-away voice, “It’s done.”

“Good.”

****** 

Voldemort was alone in his chambers, drifting through a trance-like state that was as close to sleep as his twisted form and tattered soul would allow.

Rest was a luxury he had not seen fit to bestow upon his minions tonight. Those still left in the Imperium were ordered to patrol until they heard back from the ambush that had been set at Dover.

But it wasn't the mutterings of tired Death Eaters, tediously making their rounds through the Imperium that disturbed the Dark Lord's slumber. Nor was it thoughts of the war raging in France.

It was the sound of someone walking through the throne room that brought him fully conscious with a start.

"Lucius?"

He was met with silence. Slowly, he grabbed his wand from the nightstand as he rose.

"Lucius? Have we gotten word from Dover?"

There was no answer.

He walked out of his bedroom into the Audience Chamber. No one was there.

"Lucius?"

Still no answer.

His anger rising, he turned abruptly...And came face to face with Harry Potter.

Riddle had visited horror on countless millions. His name was synonymous with death and despair, fear and loathing. This was the first time those same terrors were visited upon him.

The Dark Lord blanched. "You're dead!"

"I was. Why did you bring me back?"

***

Not wanting to break her brother’s concentration, Ginny whispered to Hermione before she struggled to down another potion, “I would love to be a fly on the wall for that conversation.”

The six of them were gathered on the rooftop of a shop across from what used to be the Ministry. Dementors in numbers floated about the entrances, casting a pall over the entire block.

Seeing that Ron’s fugue-state had passed, Harry placed a hand on Ron’s shoulder. “Has he made the ghost-me disappear?”

“No. Not yet anyway.” As Ron spoke, the color began to return to his face and he started to smile.

Harry had coached Ron on the other aspects of the Resurrection Stone; but until they tried, they couldn’t be sure if the spirit summoned would appear for the summoner or could be directed to Riddle, assuming he was wearing his Resurrection Stone. Apparently, Harry’s hunch paid off.

Letting out a deep breath, Ron nodded to Harry, “I think Riddle’s so shaken, he hasn’t thought of banishing him. I think it worked. We’ve bought some time.”

Harry didn’t hesitate. He thrust the Elder Wand into the air. Again, he cast his spell non-verbally. The air was filled with electricity as a quick white flash reflected off the sky.

Almost instantly, everyone felt a weight lift; the Dark Lord’s Teeth had collapsed and, with it, the Imperium’s wards. Harry gave a nod to Zack and Marietta. Sparks flew from their wands, signaling the resistance members on the surrounding rooftops to loose their Patronuses on the patrolling Dementors. The second the sparks flashed across the sky, the Imperium was hit with ghost-like creatures of all sizes, driving the Dementors away. Within seconds, a wave of curses and hexes hit the building, covering the small teams that were assaulting all of the entrances. The few Death Eaters posted at the doors, half asleep, were completely overwhelmed.

Harry smiled, satisfied; but there was no joy in it.

Ron watched the assault, impressed. The resistance might be few in numbers, they may be ragged, but they were scrappy. He was still amazed at how quickly they were able to rally for this assault. It had taken less time than he would have thought necessary for Hermione to explain all that had transpired to Smith and Edgecombe. The resistance duo’s Patronuses had sped off shortly after with a call to arms: “Potter is alive. Muster at the Imperium two hours before dawn.”

Most of them didn’t believe it until others had confirmed it. Then the muster reached critical mass in minutes. Luckily, most of the resistance had been hiding in and around London that night. With the Dark Lord’s Teeth out of action and normal Apparation possible again, they could see resistance members who must have been farther away, instantly appearing on the surrounding rooftops. Looking to their mates, they joined in the fight without question or need for direction. Again, Ron had to wonder at their discipline, likely born of desperation.

Marietta turned to Harry. “We’ll keep them occupied. Good Luck.”

With a crack, the Quartet Disapparated.

****

Ginny Apparated into the Department of Mysteries. The resistance could only give her a vague idea of where Nagini was. But from what they described, it sounded like the snake was in the Death Chamber, where the Veil was kept.

She appeared in the hallway leading to the Chamber and rushed down the corridor, but slowed when she heard voices coming from around the corner. She recognized them immediately and pressed herself against the wall.

Slowly, the footfalls came closer. She steeled herself, every muscle tensing, but her breathing remained even.

She struck just as the Death Eaters reached the corner.

The Sword of Gryffindor separated Alecto’s head from her shoulders before she could even register that the redhead was there.

Amycus staggered backwards in shock, just missing the recovering stroke that would’ve made him share his sister’s fate.

Ginny crouched as she sheathed Gryffindor’s Blade next her broom in its clutch and filled her hand with her wand. Her face was set and determined. “Remember me?”

Amycus could only stammer as he continued to retreat in shock and horror. He fumbled for his wand.

She casually cast a non-verbal Reducto just to toy with him; Amycus barely managed to shield it, but it made him stumble backwards even further.

She continued to advance as he gave ground. “All the nightmares. All the terrors.” She easily shielded an Expulso spell emitted from his shaking wand with a casual flick of her own. “Dying’s too good for you.”

“Can’t! YOU CAN’T BE HERE!”

She laughed. It was cold and deadly. “Oh, I’m here. And I’ll be the last thing you ever see.”

Avada…” the curse never left his lips as Ginny’s non-verbal Confringo engulfed him in flames.

She spared a moment to say goodbye.

She spat on his corpse.

Then, her breath caught.

All the horrible nights, all the cold sweats, the nightmares where the beatings never seemed to end, worse yet, the terrible dreams when Snape would always come too late, all of those horrid memories, all of the trauma was drawn from her, like an infection that cried out for the high fever to purge it from a diseased body.

Harry had fed off her emotions, siphoning off her fury.

Gin?

Harry? What did you...?

You did what you had to? 


Yeah… I’m alright. She took a breath.

She could feel Harry’s barely subdued rage nearly overload the bond. She tried to force a wave of love back to him; but he was blocking her. Something was wrong. She tried to ignore it and sent to Harry, Just hold tight, love. I’m going for Nagini now.

I’m shutting the link.

As Harry slammed the link closed, Ginny tried to suppress her worry. She had never felt him so cold, so hard. It was a side of him she hadn’t felt before. The fact that he fed off her vengeance like that deeply troubled her. Shaking her head, she tried to cast off her doubts. It’ll keep him alive, tonight. But in the back of her mind, she heard Dumbledore’s old lesson: love is the most powerful magic. She shook her head again.  No time for this debate. 

As she closed on the door to the Death Chamber, she downed the last of the potions that Hermione had given her, tossing the empty flask aside with a grimace. Then, she drew Gryffindor’s Blade and her Firebolt simultaneously.

The last time she’d had to face a monstrous snake and a Horcrux had not gone well. This was her chance to even the score in one fell swoop.

As she blasted the door off its hinges and kicked off on her broom, what she saw filled her with terror.

****

“Oh, Bollocks!”

“That’s my line,” Ron said to Hermione as they hurled hex and curse at the hornet’s nest of Death Eaters that had met them as soon as they’d Apparated into Level 6 of the Imperium. A well-timed Patronus, Hermione’s female terrier, had brought a small team of the resistance to aid them. They were the internal distraction, buying time for Harry and Ginny, but they also needed to shut down the Portkeys and the Floo-Network. The main body of the resistance was to draw the Death Eaters to the entrances, away from the interior.

It may have been a good plan, but Ron didn’t like it. He wasn’t fond of leaving his sister and surrogate brother on their own. The problem was, they all knew a force inside the Imperium, wreaking havoc and knocking out transportation and communication was the key to success. But they also knew that the resistance’s dueling skills would never equal that of two of their own.

During the briefing in Calais, Ginny was adamant that Nagini was hers and Harry had just waved her brother off when he tried to protest. Besides, Ron didn’t have the courage to try and wrest Gryffindor’s Sword from her. Even so, during the briefing Ron had found the grit to argue with Harry over his facing Riddle alone; but after the ambush at Dover, he thought it wise to let it rest.

This was especially true after Ron uneasily watched Harry cast a brutal Legillimens on Smith and Edgecombe to ensure they weren’t traitors. Ron preferred to think that it was Harry’s display of raw power at Dover that had prevented the two resistance members from starting another duel after Harry’s intrusion on their minds. But he knew better. They were impressed by that, but it was his voice that pulled them up short. Harry hadn’t said much since the ambush. But when he did speak, the frigid tone he used made one thing perfectly clear: he wasn’t going to be trifled with tonight.

However, as far as Ron was concerned, one thing about the plan was not debatable. He wasn’t about to let Hermione out of his sight.

Ron hurled hexes and curses as he and Hermione leap-frogged down the hallway. He was pleased to see that Smith was keeping up and that the other resistance members were copying their tactics.

“On the right!” Hermione shouted. Smith and his team blasted the Death Eaters out of the way. “There!” Hermione pointed toward the door to the Floo Network Authority.

Six Reducto curses tore the room to shreds.

Overkill, Ron thought with a smile. But it faded as spells began to fly in their direction.

Ron blocked a jinx aimed at Hermione with the gauntlet on his left forearm. “Keep moving! Portkey Office. Now!”

They sped down the halls.

Hermione shouted to Ron, “The boards in the Floo Office were clear. No one’s en route. They haven’t called for help yet.”

The words had hardly escaped her lips when the Malfoys, a German in grey robes and a squad of Death Eaters brought them up short.

“Lucius,” Ron spat.

“I see the rumors of your death were exaggerated, Weasley,” the older Malfoy sneered.

“The Mudblood’s mine,” Draco hissed.

Hermione smirked, “I’ll turn that hair even whiter by the time I’m done with you ferret-boy.”

Narcissa’s wand lunged, hurling a killing curse at Hermione; she dodged it deftly.

Ron didn’t waste any more time on small talk. “Reducto!”

The curse was barely loosed from his wand when Hermione’s locked with Narcissa’s. “Keep going! We’ll deal with this lot!” she shouted to the resistance team as her second wand conjured a whirlwind that smacked Draco into the wall.

As Lucius blocked Ron’s attack, Smith shouted over the din, “I’m staying.” His wand hand was a blur; Werner Dorninger squared off against him. “Let’s see what you’ve got, Gerry.”

“Shweinhund!” Dorninger shouted, as he loosed his wand on Smith. 

Ron couldn't help but smirk. Maybe Smith's not such a git after all. The tall redhead brought out his second wand to fight two-handed.

The Death Eaters divided, some chasing the four resistance members still fighting their way to the Portkey Office. The rest double-teamed the three members of Dumbledore's Army, the corridor trembling with the force of the curses that shook the air.

****

Ginny dodged as Nagini’s massive head struck at her broom. Massive? The damn thing’s as big as the Basilisk. 

Ever fearful of the destruction of his last Horcrux, Voldemort had plied Nagini with fell meats and potions that made her grow ten-fold. The giant snake was now a true monster.

Ginny swooped, lashing out with the Sword. The blade sliced into the monstrous reptile, but the wound wasn’t fatal. Dammit! Nagini slammed into her as she dove, nearly knocking her out of the air. Ginny spun sideways as she desperately tried to recover.

Then, heaving on the neck of her broom, she shot up toward the arched ceiling, nearly at full speed. Nagini coiled, and struck again. Ginny just barely dodged the attack as she pulled into a loop and came about.

Nagini reared. Ginny feinted to the left. The snake struck to the right. Ginny climbed, Nagini wrapped herself around a pillar, climbing at a speed Ginny had thought impossible.

At the arc of her ascent, she broke right.

But Nagini anticipated her feint this time. With a snap of Nagini’s massive head Ginny hurtled from her broom. Relying on the reflexes only an Auror or professional Quidditch player could boast, Ginny just managed to snatch her wand from its clutch at her wrist and cast a cushioning charm. Just the same, she simply wasn’t at her best; she was too slow. She could feel several of her ribs snap with the impact.

She had to use the sword for support as she painfully regained her feet. Ginny raised the blade, shakily. As she prepared to dodge Nagini’s next strike, she had a brief moment to realize what she’d smacked into. It was the Arch surrounding the Veil. She’d come within a hairs-breadth of passing to the other side, where Sirius had gone.

Nagini coiled, sensing her prey was wounded, the snake prepared to deal the deathblow. Ginny moved to her left, placing herself squarely in front of the Veil. “C’mon, you bitch!” The redhead could hear the whispered voices coming from beyond as she clutched her aching ribs.

Nagini struck. Ginny sidestepped and with all her might brought Gryffindor’s Sword down into the snake’s neck, just as its head went through the Veil. YES!! 

Ginny collapsed to her knees, grimacing with the pain. Her shattered ribs were too much for the armor to heal on its own. Dammit! Ginny gritted her teeth as she pointed her wand at her midsection. “Brackium Emendo!”

The redhead couldn’t stifle her scream as the bones fused. Then, she slowly rose back to her feet and, panting, opened the link. No more Horcruxes, love.

****

The door to the Audience Chamber exploded in a rain of splinters.

“RIDDLE!”

The Dark Lord was standing in the center of the room, in front of his throne, the Elder Wand at his side.

He hissed, “Clever trick. But I sent the other you away. I should’ve realized that the Mudblood was looking for the Talisman Deschain.”

Harry didn’t speak as he walked through the shattered doorway.

Riddle cocked his head to the side. “It was foolish to come here tonight, Potter.”

Harry couldn’t resist. “Why? Are the Aurors on their way, Tom?” he laughed icily. “Actually, they’re already here.”

Riddle returned the laugh. “Auror in your home reality, eh? And so young. But I’d guess no brats yet. Except, I do believe the Mudblood that belongs here did have a bastard by that blood traitor before I had him killed.” Riddle’s voice was full of loathing as he leveled the Elder Wand at Harry.

Something’s not right. He has a play I don’t see. 

Riddle stepped to the side, allowing Harry an unobstructed view of who was sitting on the throne.

“Uncle Harry!”

*******

Ron parried Lucius’ Expulso, just as he cast Reducto at Narcissa and the Death Eater alternating his fire at him and Hermione.

Hermione flung a statue in front of the killing curse that Draco had aimed at her, leveling Bellatrix’s other wand at Narcissa. Down the hallway she heard the telltale explosions of Expulso curses slamming into stone. Portkeys are down. No reinforcements for this lot. She blocked a curse meant for Smith.

Ron shouted, “That’s the signal!” Once the Portkey Office was down, they needed to fight their way back to the Atrium.

Smith had become a good dueler, but his strength was failing. Years on the run had sapped his endurance. Hermione tried to pick up the slack as Werner Dorninger hurled a Confringo curse at them both. Protego! 

Counter and attack, counter and attack. Slowly, the small band of fighters made their way to the Atrium, bloodied and tiring.

Hermione cringed as she blocked Expulsos from two Death Eaters that were aimed at a cluster of exhausted resistance fighters on her right. C’mon Harry, we can’t keep this up forever! 

“I’ve got something we’ve been saving for just such an occasion, Bloodtraitor,” Lucius spat.

“You talk too much,” Ron sneered. “Bombarda!” 

Narcissa blocked Ron’s curse just as the elder Malfoy flicked his wand at the door on Ron’s left. It flew open.

The two Inferi hiding inside sprung on Ron before he could bring either of his wands about. Collapsing in a heap, the Resurrection Stone flew from his robes, bouncing across the stone floor.

Hermione leapt in front of her fiancé, shielding him from the curses the Malfoys hurled at her defenseless love. But Ron’s bloodcurdling scream nearly broke her concentration.

“FRED? DENNIS? NOOO!!” 

******

Harry’s blood ran even colder as he saw Ronnie perched on the throne, the Talisman hanging around his neck. The boy was bound by an Incarcerous curse. Though his body trembled, Harry was proud to see his eyes betrayed no fear. Ginny! Riddle has Ronnie. Get up here. NOW! 

“Tom, you’ll be dead before you raise your wand to him.”

“Wand?” Riddle loosed a deathly grim smile. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

In a smooth motion, the Sword of Gryffindor emerged from behind Voldemort’s back. He pointed it menacingly at the boy. “Drop your wand.”

“No.”

Riddle wasn’t expecting the answer. “Drop your wand!” he commanded again.

“Lower the Sword and let the boy go or I’ll kill you where you stand.”

Riddle’s head twitched as Harry leveled the Elder Wand at the source of his nightmares.

Focused on Harry, Riddle didn’t realize that Ronnie’s eyes remained locked on him as the Talisman began to glow.

“I’m not going to tell you again, Potter. Disarm. Now!”

Harry shook his head. “I came here to kill you, Tom. I won’t be a lamb to the slaughter this time and neither will he.” Harry could see the Talisman begin to throb; whatever it was doing, he couldn’t afford to take his eyes off Riddle.

“Lamb to the slaughter. Yes.” The Dark Lord cackled. “Killing you was easy. I expected so much more from the vaunted ‘Chosen One.’” 

"You've a short memory. You couldn't do it. Had to have Bellatrix do your dirty work for you. Pieced it together from Snape's memories when you read the other-me's mind, didn't you? You were too afraid of the blood protection you'd unleash. You feared the other-me more that night than he ever feared you." Then Harry loosed an arctic smile. "But I've already had the pleasure of killing you once. I'm looking forward to doing it again."

Riddle wasn’t prepared for such a cold retort, but he rallied. “There’s much you don’t know, boy. Too much.” Slowly, he raised the Sword, preparing to thrust it into Ronnie.

Then in a blinding red flash, a burst of energy leapt from the Talisman, focusing on the ruby on the hilt of Gryffindor’s Blade.

Riddle realized the danger too late. “NO!!” He screamed as the ruby disintegrated right before his eyes. 

Voldemort's shock at the destruction of the gem lead Harry to only one possible conclusion. Bastard turned the ruby into another Horcrux! REDUCTO! Harry's curse was blocked, but it threw Voldemort's sword thrust off, just as Harry had intended.

Harry stretched out his non-wand hand, summoning Ronnie to him, and with a gesture, the ropes binding him vanished. Lightning quick, Harry hurled another curse at Voldemort as the Dark Lord advanced on them both. Harry gave ground, the boy clinging to his neck as he retreated.

“It’s alright, son. Your mum’s here. You’ll see her soon.”

With all Harry’s might, he desperately tried to shield Ronnie. As the two wizards each cast and blocked hex and curse, Harry was being forced toward the door; it took all his abilities to protect his nephew from the onslaught. Each of their spells was timed slightly behind the others. Until, at last, the inevitable happened.

Their wands locked.

The explosion of blue plasma, suffused with the rage of the two men intent on each other’s destruction wreaked havoc on the Audience Chamber. The throne exploded, splinters flying everywhere. The outer rows of the viewing gallery shattered and burst into flames. The walls cracked and buckled as the two most powerful wands in the world clashed for supremacy. The earth trembled beneath their feet, large cracks opened in the floor of the Chamber; fire spewed from the depths as the very air began to scream in a rage of magic and vengeance.

But Harry knew Voldemort had the edge. Riddle smiled savagely as he forced all of his will into the spell. Harry couldn’t retreat any further. He didn’t dare loose his magic in full to counter the spell in kind. If he did, the concussion might kill the boy in his arms.

Just then, Ginny’s Firebolt screamed into the Audience Chamber. In a red streak, she snatched Ronnie from Harry’s arms and, in an attempt to cut her speed, and just for pure satisfaction, she looped out, kicking Riddle in the jaw as she sped back towards Harry and the doorway. The stream between the Elder Wands broke when her foot connected with Riddle’s deformed face.

Kick his arse!

She plucked the Sword of Gryffindor from its clutch and dropped it into Harry’s open hand as she and her nephew burst out of the Chamber.

Harry peered darkly at his nemesis. “Now we finish this.”

********

“Stupefy!” Smith screamed. The blast caught the Inferi that used to be Dennis and threw him into Lucius. But the other Inferi, Ron’s dead brother, had closed his hands firmly around the redhead’s neck. Smith knew he couldn't risk using a spell; he might hit Ron.

“Fred!” Ron gasped. “Don’t…It’s me. Please!” Ron raised his wand but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not Fred! His clothes were rotting away, his eyes were sunken, his hair nearly all gone. But it was still his brother, George’s twin. Slowly Fred’s lifeless hands continued to close around Ron’s throat.

Hermione grabbed the Resurrection Stone as she blocked yet another round of spells meant to kill her fiancé.

Ron saw what she was doing and forced Fred’s hands from his throat. “HERMIONE! IT’S FRED! DON’T!!”

In a shaking fist, she raised the Resurrection Stone above her head, her face displaying her conflicted emotions. She hesitated.

Ron looked up at her pleading, his face contorted in grief. “PLEASE!” 

Smith began shielding for Hermione, exhaustion etched on his face. “Whatever you’re gonna do with that thing, do it! We’re all dead if you two don’t get back in the fight!”

Hermione squeezed the tears from her eyes as she concentrated on the Stone.

It glowed red. Then, in a ripple of thunder, both Inferi collapsed into dust.

Ron staggered back to his feet, in shock. It was only his Auror reflexes that saved him and his fiancée. His wand shot out, blocking the barrage of curses that had finally pierced Smith’s shield.

“‘Bout bloody time!” Smith panted.

“I’m sorry, love,” Hermione said through her tears as she re-joined the fight. 

Ron gasped; his whole was body shaking, his mind reeling. He had to thrust the words from his throat. "Don't be."

He struggled to get hold of himself and focus on the fight raging around him. It took all of his will to concentrate on keeping his shield between his small band and the curses exploding around them. Steadily, the horrific image of his brother, twisted into an Inferius, retreated from his troubled mind.


********

Riddle circled to the right; Harry followed suit as the fires raged around them. Glancing down at the Sword, Harry cast a Protego charm over it. Instantly, the blade was engulfed in blue flames.

Voldemort nodded. “Impressive.” He flicked the Elder Wand; his Sword ignited in red fire. With a savage cry, the Dark Lord Apparated just as Harry cast a non-verbal strength spell.

Riddle appeared in front of him, his Sword careening toward Harry’s head. Harry caught the blade on his own, riposting with a stunning spell that Riddle just barely deflected with his wand. Their swords clanged again, sparks and jolts of electricity crackled from the enchanted blades as the fires set by their dueling threatened to burn out of control.

Riddle cast a stunner that Harry deflected with his blade, and rapidly countered with Confringo. Riddle parried it just at the last moment, the flames cascading around him as he gave ground.

“I’ll show you fire, boy!” Fiendfyre spat from his wand, descending on Harry with all of its screaming fury.

Harry crossed the Elder Wand with Gryffindor’s Blade, forcing all of his will into the shield. The flames buffeted around him. Then, holding the curse back with the Sword, razor sharp ice shot from the Elder Wand. In a hiss of steam, the Fiendfyre vanished.

Harry Apparated behind Riddle, striking downward with his blade. Voldemort parried behind his head, staggering from the blow as he gave ground. Harry kicked him savagely in the back, hurtling him across the Chamber.

Staggering as he spun around, Voldemort cast a killing curse; Harry flicked the Elder Wand dislodging a column from the ceiling that took the blow. The stone shattered in a blast of dust and fire, the thunderous explosion echoing around the Chamber.

Voldemort hissed as Harry loosed a Reducto curse that nearly blasted Riddle off his feet. But the Dark Lord caught it on his blade, spun and hurled lightning from his wand, which bounced off Harry’s Sword, as he was rocked backward by the impact.

Once again, their wands threatened to lock as Voldemort cast all his will into an Expulso curse. Harry wouldn’t allow it. His shield spell strained against the explosion, finally deflecting it into the far wall, which erupted into a cloud of stone and flame, caving in part of the ceiling with a tremendous crash.

Harry continued his advance, striking, parrying, cursing, his heart and mind filled with the lust for vengeance. And again, the words flashed through his mind: You need to mean it.... *

Riddle continued to retreat, perspiration covering his brow as the fires in the Chamber grew hotter and hotter. But it wasn’t the extreme heat that caused the Dark Lord to sweat.

Once again they closed on each other, their blades colliding with a deafening clang and a shower of sparks. With every cross of their blades, one of them would counter at point blank range with his wand, threatening to send the other flying into the stone walls as the earth shook beneath them. Each time, either their blades or wands would catch the curse. But, slowly, deftly, Harry was pulling Riddle’s wand and blade out of position for the next attack.

As Harry continued to pummel his foe, he began to realize something that Riddle had missed. For four years Harry had continuously been at war, dueling renegade Death Eaters too numerous to count. Each one had a separate fighting style, their own strengths and weaknesses. To survive, to win, Harry had to adapt.

Riddle didn’t. Others did his fighting for him. Voldemort’s wand was for punishment, not for dueling.

That’s when Harry realized he had Riddle outmatched.

Riddle knew it too.

It’s a dance of death, Tom. You don’t know the steps.

Harry saw he was about to Disapparate. No you don’t! Harry dove for the dark wizard. He just managed to grab him by the scruff of his robes before Riddle completed his spell. With a focus of will, Harry turned on the spot, at the same time Voldemort did.

They were both sucked into the vortex, both wands fighting for supremacy over their destination, the wizards locked in a brutal struggle as reality spun around them. On they fought, being pulled in all directions at once. Harry balled his fist around the Elder Wand and, again, cast a strength spell. With all his might, he crashed his fist into Riddle’s jaw.

Voldemort’s concentration broke.

********

Unrestrained warfare continued to swirl around the Atrium as a squad of Draco’s Death Eaters advanced on the ever dwindling band of resistance fighters. 

Desperately, Ron tried to be everywhere at once to protect his team, forcing the grief and shock of seeing Fred from his mind as best he could. Hard as that was, he knew if he didn’t, he’d be seeing Fred again only too soon, with Hermione by his side. He couldn’t let that happen. 

Grimly, Ron summed up their situation.

Smith was near the end of his strength, although he still had a deadly wand.  The few of his mates still on their feet were all but spent.   Methodically and meticulously, they were being surrounded, cut-off and pumelled. Ron knew it was only a matter of time before…

Checkmate. These Death Eaters are crack troops. Why in the name of Merlin’s bloody wand are they here instead of France! 

Although none of the resistance fighters had the strength for it, someone had to Apparate to the rear of the squad of Death Eaters that was threatening to surround them.  Someone had to hit them from behind to break the circle of death that was forming around his band of warriors.  It was a tactical necessity. But, whoever that someone was, would be out in the open, alone. In a fight like this, that could mean only one thing.

As Ron cast a Protego, sheltering his team, he realized who that someone had to be.

He chanced a look at Hermione. Her face displayed pure concentration as she kept their foes at bay, her brown locks flying wildly about her.

Hermione, love. I’m sorry…It has to be this way. Please, forgive me for doing this to you. Again.

The redhead steeled himself, filling his mind only with thoughts of his fiancée. He began to turn on the spot.

But then…

“Reducto!” 

The blast caught the Death Eaters from behind and opened a hole in their lines, which the resistance immediately dashed through, taking up positions behind the statue at the center of the Atrium.

Ron looked up as he ran to see where the curse, and his salvation, had come from.

Ginny! 

She had swooped in, Ronnie tucked tightly against her. She desperately wanted to take him to safety, but knew there was no safe place. And she was needed.

Hermione looked up in shock at her son. “Ronnie!”

“Mummy!”

Seeing she was distracted, Draco unleashed a killing curse at Hermione. Ron hurtled himself at her, the curse just barely sailing by her head as Ron took her to the floor.

“BASTARD!” Ron forced all of his emotion into the counter curse he aimed at Draco.

“NO!” Narcissa lunged to block it, but the spell was too strong. It pierced Narcissa’s shield, the impact tossing both of them violently into the stone walls with a vicious thud. Narcissa lay motionless on the floor; it was anyone’s guess if she still drew breath. Draco staggered to his feet and took three steps forward before his eyes rolled back in his head. Blood trickled from his mouth as he collapsed, lifeless, next to his mother.

Speechless, Hermione stared from Narcissa and her dead son, to Ginny and her own child.

Ron shielded her from the curses that fell around them. “He’ll be safer with Ginny than down here with us, love,” Ron implored.

Hermione nodded grimly and regained her feet.

“WEASLEY!!” 

Ron's head snapped up as an enraged Lucius Malfoy descended on him, his scowl terrifying as he loosed his rage at the redhead and his fiancée. Ron nearly lost his feet as he tried to block the curse that caught him off guard. Hermione's wand was fully engaged, blocking curses and riposting with the swarm of Death Eaters that moved to blind side them.

Back and forth Ron and Lucius dueled at a blinding pace. Consumed with grief, Lucius savage curses battered Ron's shield, keeping him off balance. It looked as if Ron simply couldn't fend off the ferocious attack as he continued to retreat.

If he gets through me, Hermione's next. If I'm weak…Not bloody likely!

Gritting his teeth in a sneer of pure determination, Ron dug in. No force on earth could move him from the spot.

The concussion from their exchanged curses blasted all the Magi around them flat.

Above this raging storm of magic, in and out Ginny flew, spinning and diving, gripping tightly to her nephew as she hurled hexes at the Death Eaters below.

C'mon, love. Now would be a good time.

With an explosion that shook the Atrium, Harry and Voldemort Apparated into the center of the battle. The concussion knocked plaster from the walls and exploded the horrendous statue of Magi resting on the backs of countless Muggles.

Ginny let out the breath she'd been holding. Finally.

This had always been the plan. Riddle had to be defeated soundly and publicly.

The two Apparating wizards spun violently as they entered the Atrium. Both of their swords went flying into space. Harry’s was caught by Ginny; Ron managed to snatch Voldemort’s, leveling it at Lucius’ throat.

Riddle came to rest facing Harry; but Harry landed with his back to the dark wizard.

The first curse on Voldemort’s lips was the one he used the most, “Crucio!!”

Harry didn’t have time to recover before the pain spread through his shoulder blades, completely overwhelming the back plate of his armor. His entire body was burning; blinding pain shot through his limbs. His very soul was being scrubbed with an acid fire.

“YES! When I’m done with you, your blood traitor bitch is next!”

NO!  With all of Harry’s will, he forced his body to obey his commands. He rolled to face Voldemort. His breastplate could only diminish a Crucio curse of this magnitude for a split second before it gave way. But that was all the time his tortured body needed.

“STUPEFY!”

Voldemort had to break his curse to sheild the spell.  But the force of Harry's stunner still threw the Dark Lord to the floor.

He regained his feet as Harry stood.

All of the fighting stopped. It was as if the very building was holding its breath.

You need to mean it… *

Ginny looked on in horror; Harry’s eyes had gone black with undistilled vengeance.  The only thing she could feel through the link was all consuming hate. Dumbledore’s lesson again flashed through her mind; she realized the danger too late. Harry, NO! 

As the two wizards screamed “AVADA KEDAVRA!!!” everyone in the Atrium stood frozen.

For the final time the Elder Wands locked.

The plasma between the two wands was black as pitch. Every window in the Atrium shattered with the concussion as a deafening roar consumed the Imperium. The ground heaved as the foundations began to give way. With a thunderous crash the roof of the Atrium exploded upwards, the shards of stone disintegrating into dust. Lightning began to cascade down into the flow of energy between the two wands as the very air crackled and popped with the deathly magic being unleashed by the two dueling wizards who lived only to murder their foe.

Harry channeled death though his deadly wand.

Voldemort began to shake uncontrollably as he screamed his rage to the sky.

Then, non-verbally, and without pulling the Phoenix wand from its clutch, Harry’s wrath-filled mind spat forth another curse. DISGORGIO!! 

A burst of pure fury shot up the link between the two wizards, snapping Riddle’s wand and consuming him in black fire. The shockwave leveled the wall behind the Dark Lord as his soul, already violently unstable from its numerous sunderings, shattered in a tremendous red explosion.

Harry fell to his knees as Maxime and DuChamp, together with a company of French Aurors, burst into the Atrium, surrounding the Death Eaters. But the fight had gone out of the dark wizards with the defeat of their Master. Only Lucius seemed willing to fight on, but the Sword at his throat stopped him.

No one moved. No one spoke.

Harry collapsed in a heap.

Ginny landed and ran to him, kneeling by his side; Ronnie followed close behind. What she’d feared had happened. What she was receiving now from the bond wasn’t Harry.

It was Riddle.

Having filled himself with hate, Harry had unwittingly made himself the perfect receptacle for the last shards of the Dark Lord’s soul.

She pulled his head to her chest, sobbing, Harry! Harry, love! Please! I know you’re in there!! HARRY!! The tears streamed down her face as Hermione and Ron ran to her.

She looked to Hermione, pleading, “I can’t reach him. It’s Riddle…Riddle’s got him.” Ginny’s voice was filled with agony.

“Merlin!” Ron cursed.

Hermione’s hand went to her mouth.

Ginny held her love tighter, desperate to reach him, Fight him, Harry! Please, fight!

All Ginny could hear was Voldemort’s laughter, He’s mine, now! 

NO! HARRY!!

Ronnie ran to his mother who pressed him to her as she cried. Ron sobbed as he rested one hand on his sister’s shoulder and the other on his fiancée’s. He knelt between them, his eyes never leaving his raven-haired brother. But once his consoling fingers closed on Hermione’s robes, linking all five of them by touch, the Talisman began to glow.

Hermione’s tear-filled eyes were dazzled by the Talisman’s light. Her head snapped to Ron and then to her son. “We can still save him! Focus. Quickly!”

“Hermione?” Ron asked, “What..?”

“The Talisman! Harry’s your brother! Focus on that thought and don’t let go of us!”

Ron kept a firm grip on his sister and fiancée as he closed his eyes and bowed his head; Hermione did the same as she clutched Ronnie to her chest. Slowly, the Talisman drenched them all in a golden light; the gem had again changed colors.

Ginny desperately tried to brush Voldemort aside and find her Harry, her love, her life.

Harry! Harry, can you hear me?

Nothing.

Harry! Please, Harry. Hear me! 

Nothing.

But then, as the glow from the Talisman consumed her, very weakly, as if from the bottom of a deep well, she heard,

Ginny?

Yes! Yes, Harry!

It’s dark...I’m so cold…I can’t find my way. 


Harry, listen to my voice. Feel me Harry. Please. Feel how much I love you. You can’t leave. You have to fight.

So cold…So dark…


The tears streamed down Ginny’s face as, with all of her might, she forced every ounce of her love through the bond. The Talisman throbbed; its light became blinding. Ron and Hermione felt themselves being pulled into the link; hearing Ginny’s plea to Harry, they desperately tried to channel their friendship and their love to their fallen brother through her.

Please, Harry. Know how much I love you. How much we all love you. Me, Hermione, Ron, even little Ronnie. We’re all here. Feel our love, Harry.

Ginny cringed as she sensed Voldemort struggling, not wanting to let go.

Get away from him! She began to shake as she forced all of their emotion, desire, hope and love through the bond. He’ll never be yours! 

Harry let out an ear-piercing scream in Riddle’s voice. Then, a black cloud spewed from Harry’s mouth as his body was lifted off the ground. Ginny held him tighter as she Hermione, Ron and Ronnie began to shake with the effort of expelling the Dark Lord.

Then the cloud vanished with a loud crack. Harry slumped back to the floor.

Ginny collapsed onto his chest.

“Harry?” she sobbed, “Oh, Harry!”

Hermione wept into Ron’s shoulder. He pulled her and his son to him, clutching them both to his chest, as the tears cascaded down his cheeks.

Harry gasped. His eyes fluttered open. “Ginny?”

“Right here love,” she said through her tears. “Right here.” She wept, rocking him gently.

“I want to go home.”
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 18: Parting
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“Leave us a friend, ‘cause livin’ life is lonely;"
-Alberta Cross, “Old Man Chicago,” Broken Side of Time (Ark Recordings/ATO Records, 2009)

They had moved Harry to Lucius’ Chamber so he could recover in peace and quiet. The Death Eaters in the newly-christened Ministry had been locked into the cells in the Auror Department, where Hermione had taken singular pleasure in having Umbridge roughly tossed into the cell headfirst. This drew cheers from the recently-released prisoners who awaited their turn to be transformed into Inferi.

“How is he?” Maxime asked.

Ginny exhaled heavily, “He’s fine. Just sleeping.” She gazed at her love as he slept, always keeping the link open so she could drive away anything that might disturb his slumber, which up to this point had been peaceful. “No nightmares, thank Merlin.” Ron and Hermione sat on a love seat near her, Ronnie curled up in their laps. He’d fallen asleep not long after he’d asked if Uncle Harry would be all right. His mother assured him that he would be.

From the link through the Talisman, all of them had realized what the Grandparents had told Ronnie. Hermione was sad, but pleased. He had the right to know…

Harry stirred and began to wake. His first conscious thought was of Ginny, as their link lay wide-open. Turning, he opened bleary eyes and squinted up at her. Gently, she set his glasses on his face for him.

“How long was I asleep?”

Hermione answered, “Just a few hours.”

“Is…?”

Ginny very softly rested her hand on his chest. “Everything’s fine, love.”

“Had us worried, mate,” Ron said with grim relief and a shade of his cockeyed grin.

Hermione frowned. “We thought we’d lost you to him.”

“I remember being engulfed by his soul. It was worse than the last time he possessed me, worse than all the times I’d descended into his mind before.” Harry shuddered. “How did you pull me out?”

Maxime sat on the edge of his bed. “Hermione and I have talked about it. Shall I?”

Hermione nodded, with a small smile.

Maxime continued, “It was Ronnie. Actually, it was all of you.” She nodded to Hermione, Ron and Ginny. “The Talisman is very old magic. Despite all the work that Hermione’s done on it, there’s still so much we don’t know.” She rested her hand on his, “But, this is what we think:

The heart of blood-protection is always loving sacrifice. The sacrifices made by the Harry and Ron from this reality were significant. While they didn’t create a blood-protection against Voldemort, they still evoked very powerful magics. And yes, Harry, your mother’s blood-protection still ran through Voldemort’s veins as well as this reality’s version of you and that was key. But the Talisman was imbued with the blood of three noble sacrifices: One, your mother’s, was directly channeled at Voldemort and the other two were indirectly created by him. Finally, with Hermione’s blood, the Talisman was imbued with the strong ties of love and friendship you three share. But even though the Talisman combined all of these elements it still lacked something vitally important.”

“Ginny,” Harry said breathlessly, as he turned to his fiancée, who smiled tearfully back.

Maxime nodded. “Yes. Ginny’s love for you, Harry. That was what was missing. With Ronnie and the Talisman as the catalyst, it was able to call on all of that love and sacrifice. Once it combined with Ginny’s link with you, it allowed her to reach you.”

Harry’s eyes fell on his fiancée and then his friends. There was simply too much to be said with words. He was met with watery smiles. “I…”

“No need to say it, brother.” Ron rested his hand on Harry’s shoulder as Ginny squeezed his hand. Hermione fixed him with a solemn look.

Harry took a deep breath. “The Talisman destroyed a Horcrux, too. That is, Ronnie did.”  Harry told them how Ronnie's eyes had remained locked on Riddle and about the jet of light that consumed the ruby on the hilt of Gryffindor's Sword.

Hermione was shocked.  "I can't believe he made another one."

Harry shook his head. “I'm sure Dumbledore would be just as surprised.  He was certain Riddle wouldn't risk creating another."  

The words escaped Ron's mouth before he could stop them.  "Seems Dumbledore didn't get anything right in this reality."

Harry stifled a frown as he continued.  "I'm sure Ronnie's focus on Tom had to trigger the magic, but I'm still at a loss as to how the Talisman destoyed it."  He looked to Hermione.

"Fiendfyre," she answered.

"What?" Harry, Ron and Ginny all asked.

Hermione bit her lip as she thought.  "The legends surrounding the Talisman claim it was forged in Fiendfyre.  I never believed them - nothing can exist in that inferno..."  She trailed off, unable to continue, until Ron placed a consoling arm around her.  At his touch, she managed to finish.  "The legends must be true.  My best guess is that the Talisman still had some essence of the Fiendfyre within it and that Ronnie, even unwittingly, was able to channel it."  She looked lovingly upon the small boy curled up in her lap, and hugged him, gently.

His strength returning, Harry swung his legs over the side of the bed.

“Careful.” Ginny’s voice was full of concern.

“I’m better. I am.” Slowly, Harry stood. “What about the Imperium?”

Ministry,” Ginny corrected.

Harry arched an eyebrow.

Ron smiled, although Harry noticed there seemed to be some pain behind it. “Hermione’s the new Interim Minister of Magic, mate.”

Harry laughed. “I knew it would happen sooner or later. But this soon?”

Hermione dropped her gaze. “I’ve put Marietta in charge of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. It turns out she was the leader of the resistance. She kept it such a closely-guarded secret, not even Smith knew.”  Hermione almost regretted that she was responsible for the jinx that had scarred Marietta for so long.  It had taken more than a year before the word "Sneak" had finally faded from her forehead.

Harry smiled. “Good. The regime’s collapsed, then?”

Hermione nodded. “The French are helping us sort things out. But we’ve got lots of work ahead of us.”

Ron fixed Harry with a small smile. “There’s more. That German git Smith was dueling? Turns out he’s the German Chancellor’s son. Soon as he heard Riddle was dead and his son was our prisoner, he sued for peace. The war’s all but over in France.”

“Brilliant,” Harry said. 

Maxime interjected, “With the Statute of Secrecy all but gone and northern France in ruins, it’s not going to be a simple matter of rebuilding our world, but the worst appears to be over.”

“One thing at time. We’re alive and Riddle isn’t. That’s enough,” Harry sighed.

Ron tensed at Harry’s words. Hermione looked askance at her fiancé, whose head fell slightly. She knew in an instant what he was thinking. We’re alive. But Fred isn’t. In either reality.

“What is it?” Harry asked, concern filling his voice.

“Fred, mate,” Ron bit out through clenched teeth.

“What about Fred?”

Seeing Ron couldn’t go on, Hermione finished for him. “Inferius. He and Dennis both.”

Harry seethed, “Riddle! That bastard…”

Ginny, who had already heard the tale, began to tear up again, but the flash of anger from her fiancé pulled her up short and made her bury her own outrage. “Don’t Harry. Don’t.” She forced a wave of love through the bond. “It’s over now. Let it go.”

Harry sighed as he nodded. “I saw some of Riddle’s memories.” Harry relayed Creevey’s horrible end.

“Git,” Ron spat.

Harry’s brow furrowed. “Mate, he did it to see his brother again; he was promised Riddle would use the Resurrection Stone to bring Colin back.” Harry gripped Ginny’s hand tightly, calming himself. “After everything he must’ve gone through, after everything everyone in this reality’s been through, I’m finding it very hard to be judgmental, for the most part…” he trailed off.

Realization dawned on Ron’s face. “You saw Riddle’s talk with the ghost-you, didn’t you?”

Harry gave Ron a sad smile as he nodded.

Maxime raised an eyebrow. “Hermione told me how you believe the blood-protection and your double’s choice not to return made our reality unstable.”

Again, Harry nodded. “Yes. But, there’s more to it than that. More to it than just a choice…It’s difficult to explain.”

Ron shot Harry a look.

Harry shook his head. “Just let the other me in rest in peace. But know this: He deserves that statue at Dover. Bellatrix killing him instead of Riddle bollixed things up; his decision to go wasn’t completely his own. But even though he didn’t come back, he refused to completely cross over, until much later.”

Hermione asked, “A ghost?”

“No, something else -- a guardian. I don’t quite understand it; but his presence was still here trying to protect you. In the end, it was the other Ron’s sacrifice that saved you, but the other me played a small role from beyond the grave…I was too hard on him.”

Maxime eyed the Quartet. “I’ll let you have some time alone.” She rose and walked to the door. “Thank you. Thank you all.”

Ronnie began to stir in his parents’ laps; the Talisman still hanging around his neck. Harry noticed, for the first time, that the gem had changed to a diamond -- clear, sharp, and full of fire-- no longer the color of blood.

Hermione looked down at it, and her sleeping son. Then her eyes rose sadly to Ron, Harry and Ginny.

Ginny choked back a sob. “It’s time. Isn’t it?”

Hermione nodded as a silent tear streaked down her face. “Yes.” She stood and placed the boy in Ron’s arms as she took off her armor. “Can’t be wearing this now.”

Ronnie asked, “Mummy?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Are they going away?”

She smiled as she tried to suppress the tears. “Yes. Yes they are.”

“Mummy, can I…?” The boy looked at the trio.

“You want to say goodbye, dear?”

The boy nodded and Ron reluctantly set him down. As soon as he did, Ronnie flung himself at Ginny and Harry. “Bye, Aunt Ginny and Uncle Harry.”

“Goodbye sweetheart,” Ginny said through her tears, hugging the little boy.

“Mind your mum,” Harry said ruffling his hair. “You’ve been a brave young man today. We’re very proud of you.” Then he took the boy in his arms and hugged him, tearfully, as he whispered, “Thank you.”

Ronnie smiled and turned that shade of beetroot-red only a Weasley could produce as Harry set him back down. Then the boy turned to Ron with what Hermione was certain were a slew of questions in his eyes. When Ronnie glanced back at his mother, she nodded through her tears.

Ronnie uttered a single word as he looked up at the tall redhead: “Daddy.”

Ron’s heart nearly broke as he scooped the boy into a tight and reassuring hug, not unlike the many his own father had given him when he was small. “Take care, son. I love you.”

Ginny and Hermione’s eyes locked, as the tears streamed down their faces.

“I’ll miss you.” Ginny hugged her tightly.

“You too,” Hermione sniffed. “I’ll miss our talks.”

“Remember what I said? No matter where we all end up …” She couldn’t finish.

“I’ll always remember.” They hugged again.

Harry was next. “I love you ‘Mione,” he said through his tears, hugging her. “I always have. You’ll be a wonderful Minister. This world’s in good hands.”

“I love you too, Harry. Hard as this is, I’m just glad I got to see you again…and say goodbye.” Hermione wiped the tears from her cheeks as she turned to Ron.

Their eyes locked, but before either of them could say anything, she took his hand and covered it with her own. Looking down, he saw she’d placed the Resurrection Stone in his palm. He quickly looked back up at her, overcome.

Harry wasn’t sure what his brother would do. He could see Ron hesitate, his face awash in emotions. “‘Mione…I’m so sorry. I love you so much. And here I am, leaving you again. I just…I have to go. I…Oh gods, I…”

She placed a finger on his lips and shook her head. “Don’t. I know you don’t belong here. I know why you have to leave. But if you say too much, the part of me that goes back with you will smack you silly.” She laughed through her tears. Ron tried to join in. Then he pulled her into his arms and, slowly, pressed his lips to hers. She tilted her head as her lips parted, burying her hands in his hair.

Very reluctantly, they broke apart. She breathed, “I love you,” and then stepped back, her eyes never leaving his. She took the Talisman from Ronnie’s neck and placed it around Ron’s. The Quartet joined hands in a circle.

Choking back her tears, Hermione whispered, “Think of a better place.”

**********

Ginny awoke to the call of the seagulls. As her eyes opened and focused, she took in the breathtakingly-clear blue sky. Slowly, she rose up on her elbows, clearing her head as she got her bearings.

Shell Cottage. 

She looked to her right and saw the only man she’d ever loved.

“Harry?” She rolled over into the crook of his shoulder, leaning over him. She brushed his unruly locks from his forehead. “Love?”

Harry’s eyes fluttered open, dazzled by the sunlight and the gorgeous redhead whose eyes were filled only with love for him. He smiled. “Ginny.” He didn’t get a chance to say more as she covered his mouth in a passionate kiss. Harry dug his hand into her fiery locks.

“We’re home,” Ginny said breathlessly, breaking the kiss.

“Home,” Harry sighed.

To their left Ron and Hermione began to stir. Ron sat up, resting his arms on his knees and shaking his head. One hand drifted to his chest; the Talisman was gone. With a sigh of resignation, he gently cradled Hermione in his arms. “Love?”

Hermione’s eyes opened and she blinked a few times so her eyes could adjust to the light. “Ron?” Her smile was full of love and contentment as she drank him in.

Then she slapped him. Hard.

“What...?” Ron asked, shocked.

Hermione cut across him. “Ronald Bilius Weasley, don’t you even try to find the nerve to ask what that was for.” Then she pulled him into a deep kiss.

Ginny and Harry burst into laughter.

“Yeah, she’s back,” Harry chuckled.

*****

“Mummy? Mummy?”

‘Mione collapsed into the loveseat when the Talisman had sent the Quartet home. But it’s left something behind…. Her eyes fluttered open to see her very concerned son looking up at her.

“Are you ok?” He eyed the Talisman that had appeared around his mother’s neck as it throbbed. Twice.

‘Mione took a deep breath, “I’m fine, dear.” She pressed him into a hug as she wiped the last tears from her eyes. How do I tell him?

Slowly, the boy smiled in obvious relief. “They went home?”

Clearing her head, ‘Mione nodded.

“Are you still sad?” Ronnie asked.

‘Mione had to give the question some thought. “A little, dear. But, things will be better for us now.” Then she smiled, “I missed you so much.” She hugged him again as the world stopped spinning. “Did you like it at the Burrow?”

“Mummy, it was brilliant!”

“You know, the house is still here.” The Death Eaters had left the Burrow intact as bait in the hope that ‘Mione would go to ground. “I was thinking we might live there. Would you like that?”

The boy’s smile was a mile wide, “YES!”

“Me too,” ‘Mione smiled tearfully.

“I’d get to play with the Gnomes every day, just like I did when I was there with Nana....”

Hermione couldn’t help but laugh as Ronnie began to regale her with tales of life at the Burrow, de-Gnoming the garden and playing with the Weasleys, her parents, Teddy and Uncle George, in particular. I’ll never really be without Ron; not as long as I have this darling, mischievous child and... 

“…and Nana’s biscuits were the best!” Then, slowly, the little boy’s face clouded over. “But she never answered my question.”

“What question, dear?”

“I asked her if I’d get to go to Hogwarts.”

‘Mione fixed him with a determined smile, “You will.” Then she hesitated before continuing, “And so will your brother and sister.”

Ronnie cocked his head at his mother. She smiled as she began to explain to her son that the two of them wouldn’t be alone anymore.

‘Mione had awoken knowing instantly that the Talisman had ensured that one last wrong had been righted -- the Burrow would be filled with Weasleys again.

She was pregnant. With twins.

The Talisman wouldn’t split them. Sensical; they’re needed here. ‘Mione shook her head in wonder. Fate’s tool… She was sure that the other Hermione didn’t know -- how could she? The Talisman hadn’t seen fit to make this fact known to her until after her Doppelganger returned to her home reality.

Ronnie wasn’t sure at first what to say after his mother finished explaining about his new siblings. But, the first question on his mind was probably the most obvious. “What’re their names?”

‘Mione’s eyebrows shot up; she spoke almost without thinking, “George Frederick and Ginevra Luna.”

“After Uncle George and Aunt Ginny?”

“And Grandpa George, too. Do you like that?”

The boy nodded as his father’s lopsided grin covered his face.

“Good. I do too. Now, we’ve a lot of work to do. But, as soon as we can, we’ll need to take a short trip.”

“Where’re we going?”

‘Mione smiled. Just before Harry had awoken, Maxime had told her the news she had so longed to hear. “Australia, dear. That’s where we’ll find Nana Kathy and Grandpa George.”

*******

Ron and Harry had returned to their beach chairs, letting the sun dry them from their dip in the sea.  Bill and Fleur had decided to extend their trip, allowing the Quartet to, at long last, have their well-deserved vacation. 

Ron handed a bottle to Harry, as he dug his feet into the sand.

“What’s this?” asked Harry.

“A Muggle Ale. I thought we could use something with a little more kick than butterbeer today. You especially, since George has banned you from Triple W’s until you replace his broom.”

Harry smiled, “Cheers,” then he downed half of his bottle in one gulp. “I guess we better go easy on these though. It’s not Firewhisky, but its not pumpkin juice either.”

“Today, I don’t care.” Ron downed his in one long pull and grabbed two more out of the cooler.

“You will if you give the brightest witch of our age, the Right Honorable Undersecretary to the Minister for Magical Law Enforcement, also known as our boss, any other reason to -- what was the phrase -- smack you silly.”

Ron smiled and chuckled a bit.

Harry turned serious. “Everything’s good now with you two?”

The redhead nodded. “Real good…’Mione’s memories were powerful, but Hermione’s strong, mate. She was finally able to separate ‘Mione’s memories from her own last night. And…she understands.”

Harry rested his arm on Ron’s shoulder as he fixed his brother with a concerned look. “You know ‘Mione and Ronnie are gonna be alright?”

Ron hung his head for a moment. Then he cocked his chin at Harry, with a half-smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.” For a reason Ron couldn’t put his finger on, he was at peace. Deep down, some part of him just seemed to know that they had managed to leave things better than they were and not make them worse.

Harry stared off to where the girls were, once again, collecting shells by the shoreline. “I sent Kingsley an owl this morning -- told him we were back.”

Ron dreaded having to do a briefing now. “I hope you told him we quit,” he said, taking a long pull from his second ale as he collapsed back into his beach chair.

“I told him we were dead.”

Ron looked up with a start. Then he caught Harry’s wry smile and spewed ale all over the beach. “Git! I was drinking that!” he coughed. “Not funny.” 

Then they both started to laugh. With all the stress they'd been under, the sudden rush of mirth hit them as if a dam had burst. Before long, both he and Ron were guffawing so uncontrollably the girls took notice. Hermione shot them both a mock-scornful smirk from beneath the straw beach hat she was wearing, while Ginny cocked an eyebrow at them, resting her hand on her hip. Harry waved them off before they became too suspicious.

Catching his breath, Harry continued. “I gave him the basics and Hermione took care of writing up most of the fine points. But I told him we weren’t gonna be back for another two weeks and…”

“If he owls us, we’ll quit,” Ron finished.

“Right in one.”

“It’s over, now,” Ron said with conviction.

Harry frowned. “I don’t know if it will ever really be over. There’ll always be something else.”

Ron shot Harry a look.

Harry shrugged. “Something I kind of figured out. It’s not gonna be all domestic disputes and shoplifters. Isn’t the life we chose.”

“Choices again, eh?”

Harry chortled, “Something like that, yeah.”

A calm silence filled the air.

Ron looked over at his best mate. “What about you? You okay?”

Harry frowned at the question as he looked out over the beach. But then his eye caught the beautiful form of his bikini-clad fiancée. She waved and shot him one of the smiles she kept only for him.

“Yes, brother.” Then he finally smiled. “I’m in love.”


Chapter 19: Epilogue
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

The Burrow stood still and silent as 'Mione made her way up the path from the Apparation point, a child in her arms and two more lying in her womb. A flood of memories cascaded over her as her eyes swept over the Weasleys’ beloved home.  Thoughts of wild family Quidditch matches in the orchard and water fights in the pond beyond filled her heart and mind. A warm breeze blew through the trees, carrying with it a hint of apple blossom. The makeshift goal-rings showed themselves just barely above the treetops, and a family of ducks had noisily taken up residence in the pond.

With a melancholy smile, she gently opened the kitchen door, which squeaked on its rusting hinges. She didn't know what she might find there besides a heavy coating of dust on Molly's otherwise immaculate, but lived-in, home.  The Auror-class Revelio spells she’d learned from her double’s memory assured her all was safe.  Any curses the Death Eaters had left for her had vanished with Riddle’s death.

As she passed over the threshold, even more memories washed over her.  In her mind, she could still hear the pounding of feet as they raced down the stairs on many a first of September to the cadence of Molly's insistent admonishments that they eat quickly so they could make the Hogwarts Express on time.

"Mum, have you seen my jumper?"

"It's not much, but it's home."

"Hello, Weasleys!*

Tears filled her eyes. So much had been lost that could never be replaced.  So many joyful and exuberant voices had been silenced, leaving her and Ronnie to tell the stories--the only way the newest Weasley twins would ever know their father and his family. They'll know you, Ron. They'll know all of you. I promise.   A gentle tug at her sleeve shook her from her thoughts.

"Mummy, why are you crying," Ronnie asked, his sapphire blue eyes wide.

"I'm not really crying, dear," she replied. "I'm just thinking about a long time ago when Daddy and I and Uncle Harry, Aunt Ginny, Uncle George, and Nana and Grandpa Weasley all lived here."

Ronnie cocked his head at his mother, his father’s wry smile covering his face.  “And now I live here. Right, Mum?” he  asked.

"Yes, dear.”  She nodded, a gentle smile of her own crossing her face.   Then she kneeled down, to better meet her son’s eyes, as she rested her hands lovingly on his shoulders.  “And we're going to make it the wonderful place it used to be, a better place, just for us. I promise," 'Mione told him. And that is a promise that will, at last, be kept. She wiped the tears from her eyes and face and looked around. Everything was just as she remembered it, except for the dust.

With a ghost of a smile, she rose and took her son's hand in hers. Mother and son climbed the rickety old staircase to the top floor where she and Ron and Harry and Ginny spent many an hour talking and laughing. "This was Daddy's old room, Ronnie. And now it's yours."

Fin.

AN: Updated November 13, 2011. If you liked this tale and are sad it’s over have no fear.  A timeline of all the Crusade-related prequels is included below this author’s note and more are on the way!

 So many people to thank. First and foremost, I want to thank my wife, for being so patient with me throughout this process. I couldn’t have done this without her. She is my muse, my inspiration and the love of my life.  There is more than a little of Mrs. Eldy in my versions of Ginny and Hermione.  I’d be lost without her.

Thanks to my betas! I didn’t let them see this note, so the mistakes contained within are all mine.

AvadaKedavra1 was the first to see this tale and offer some excellent critique at a time when I was writing in a vacuum. That was key. He was also the first person to reach out to me when I acquired the fanfic addiction. Thank you my brother!

Siledubhghlase was a true master when it came to writing and I owe her big time. When she passed away in May 2011, the fanfic world lost a great talent and I lost a dear friend.  I miss her terribly.  That amazingly emotional and wrenching epilogue you just read was her doing.

1917Farmgirl, my adopted little sis, was always there for encouragement, critique and, whether she wants to admit it or not, was the evil genius behind losing George’s broom and turning Fred into an Inferius. Little Sis, you are aces!

Folks if you haven’t read these three authors amazing stories, check my favorites and do so now. You won’t regret it.

Special thanks to Arithmancy_Wiz, Noblevyne  and WeasleyTwinMom (aka momotwins) for checking my ToS compliance. In fact, Arithmancy_Wiz has been kind enough to suffer my “ToS paranoia” and check this tale numerous times, and WeasleyTwinMom was kind enough to check the “Bumping” Rule for me, which allowed me to safely separate this Epilogue from the final chapter; this is an edit I’ve been wanting to complete for ages.  After that, it was only a matter of editing it a bit to make sure the text of the Epilogue itself topped 500 words. (It does, just barely, at 519). Thank you all so much for ensuring I keep my TA status!

And thanks to JKR.  I don't own Harry Potter. The toys belong to her, she just lets us play with them!   *The three quotes used are roughly hewn/paraphrased from JKR's Chamber of Secrets, both the film (Warner Bros., 2002 - Steve Kolves and JKR -screenplay) and the book (Scholastic Press, 1999).

Another shout out! Is owed to my wonderful friends who nominated this tale for the Story Seekers: Princesspadfoot and 1917farmgirl.  A HUGE thanks is owed to LovlyRita (my hero) for that amazing podcast in StorySeekers8, as well as her on-air crew that day:  lillyandjamesfan, keroberros and, of course, PrincessPadfoot.  I would NEVER have won a Dobby if it wasn’t for StorySeekers.

Which leads to the next batch of much-deserved thank-yous to all the folks that nominated this tale for a Dobby: Melian (Oh Captain, My Captain!), PrincessPadfoot (she’s like a stalker, ain’t she?) , Farmgirl (sis, you rock!) and the irrepressible WriteYourHeartOut.  Winning that Dobby was truly amazing and I owe you all (and everyone who voted for Crusade!) quite a lot.

And to my wonderful reviewers, blueirony, Karkaroff, Manwe Valarian, Sirius Black Dog, You Know Who, Ginny Yeske, Ron Weasley is My Hero (btw, he’s mine too!), Estelle Black, Alopex, pinks, felix the great, Laugharama Llama, Weasleyismyking17, Aurorofthelight,1OldHPFan, Chocolab, lily flower, Ilisten2potterwatch,Basilisk27, Mintleaf, TallestTower, whisky, Mini Moony, MrsKatieGrint, Jackson Robles, Marissa, emma, Psyber 014, Ronsgirl29, baldurpotter, Miss Lily Potter, Chuckelangel, ShePotter, Ninja Potter, Sammy J, Harryfan100, bea,  edward ollivander, Pacific Wizard (amazing reviews mate!), Sabya Sachi, mrsyaya, Pixileanin (You rock!) CapellaBlack, MafadaPrewett, white eyebrow, laine,lauraf68 , and the amazing TheDirigiblePlumb and the brilliant Ronsgirlfriday. I can’t thank you all enough for the wonderful reviews. And, LilyGreenEyes, who supported me throughout “Clocks” as well. She’s the best.

Thank you to Sting (A/K/A Gordon Sumner) for obvious reasons, if you’ve been reading the notes and my review responses and, especially if you’ve read “Only Gordon Can Save Us Now.”

And, finally, thank you to Alberta Cross. If you haven’t cried reading these last two chapters, you will if you re-read them, while listening to “Old Man Chicago.”

Thanks again for reading. It’s so hard to perform without an audience. And if you leave a review, rest assured I’ll respond promptly.

Now, as to what’s next, I’ve been contemplating what may be the final Crusadiverse tale.  I hope to begin writing it in the Winter of 2011-2012.

On a personal note, I can’t help but feel a little like Dr. Sam Beckett, “setting right what once went wrong.” If any of you see Tuesday Christine, Lupi Erminea, datbenik513, RonMione4ever or any of the other readers that I haven’t heard from who shouted “NO!” at the end of “Stop All The Clocks,” please, let them know ‘Mione’s well, and she’s found a home.

Eldy

Crusadiverse Timeline of Posted Tales:

1996 - Fall - "More Skill Than Luck"- one shot - posted as Chapter 87 of "Phoenix in the Ashes," a site-wide collaboration.  It's in my favorites.

1998 – July – “Hermione’s Wand” – one shot - posted as Chapter 1 of "Tales from the Crusadiverse."

1999- August – “Journey of a Thousand Miles” – one shot - posted as Chapter 1 of "The Staffer's Choice Awards," a Prefect's Collaboration.  It's in my favorites.

2000 – August – “The Battle of the Pitch” (main story line) – short story – posted.

2000 – November – “The Adventures of Reckless Git and Danger Ponce” – short story – posted as Chapters 2-4 of "Tales from the Crusadiverse."

2002 – Spring – "Best Laid Plans," -one shot -posted.

2002 – Spring - “The Proposal” – short story – posted.

2002 – Early Summer – “The Tipping Point” – short story - posted as Chapters 5-7 of "Tales from the Crusadiverse."

2002 – Summer – “Children’s Crusade”- novel – sequel to “Stop All The Clocks” – posted.

2003 – December – “The Gift”- one shot - posted as Chapter 30 of "The Final Battle," site-wide collaboration.  It's in my favorites…

2004 – May – “The Battle of the Pitch” (introductory story line) – posted.


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