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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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