Chapter 2 : A Better Place
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“C’mon. It’s beautiful outside.”
“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!”
“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.”
“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.
“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?”
“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.”
“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.
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.”
“‘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?”
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.
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