Chapter 1 : Confusion and Retribution
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Ron ducked behind the front stoop of Flourish and Blotts as the curse sailed by him. “Galloway! That wasn’t nice!”
“C’mon, Weasley, just let me go!” Bryce Galloway whined from the end of the blind alley as he pressed himself into an alcove.
Harry eyed Ron from the opposite corner. He’d only now caught up to his best mate and crouched just out of the line of fire. “He can’t let you go! His boss’s here and he’d get in trouble at work!”
“Potter?!” Galloway shouted, not a little alarm in his voice.
Ron whispered sarcastically to Harry, “Thanks, mate. I really love hearing that my prey is terrified of my partner and not me.”
Harry shot him a smile as he whispered back, “He’s scared of you. Especially after those headlines you got last week.”
“Yeah! I read that article,” Galloway shouted back. “You are intimidating, Weasley,” he said earnestly,” but c’mon. Your partner is the Chosen One, after all.”
“Shut it, Bryce!” Ron growled.
Harry shot Ron an apologetic look.
Ron shouted, “Besides, it’s illegal to eavesdrop on confidential Auror communications! Stupefy!” The curse sailed down the alley, blasting the masonry to bits.
“Ouch! Dammit, Weasley! Those shards of brick are sharp,” Galloway snapped.
“Then quit this tripe and give yourself up!” the redhead shouted back.
Harry whispered, “Anti-Disapparation charms in place?”
“Yeah. Only cover’s his end of the alley, though,” Ron whispered back.
Harry asked, “What’d he do this time?”
“Trying to pass off charmed oregano as Tentacula leaves.”
Ron nodded with a smirk.
“He’ll never learn.” Harry shook his head. “Still, really shoulda let the squads deal with this.”
“Probably. But it’s a nice break from chasing rogue Death Eaters. No killing curses,” Ron whispered back.
“That’s right, Weasley!” Bryce shouted. “I haven’t used any unforgiveables. Can’t you just cut me a break?”
“Damn, his ears are good,” Harry mouthed to Ron.
Ron rolled his eyes and shouted his answer down the alleyway. “No breaks today. Stupefy!”
Galloway yelped again as he caught another rain of sharp splinters.
Ron turned back to Harry. “So, have you thought about how you’re gonna do it?”
“I’ll Apparate up to the roof and see if…”
“No, you git! Propose. How are you gonna ask my sister to marry you?”
Harry shouted, “Protego!” blocking the Expulso hex that Galloway had sent down the alley. “Easy Bryce! We can charge you with attempted murder for using Expulsos!” Then, he whispered to Ron, “Gods, mate. I’ve been racking my brains for what to say to her and I got nothing.”
Galloway shouted back, “Just tell her how much you love her. Y’don’t need to be fancy. And, Potter that shot wasn’t aimed at you! Can’t be attempted murder; no intent!”
Harry shook his head. “Shut it, Bryce!”
Ron winked at Harry and shouted back. “Galloway! You’re making him angry. The last time I saw him this mad, Snakeface ended up six-feet under!”
Harry hissed, “Ron! I didn’t…” Ron cut him off with a wave of his hand.
“H-h-harry? I just don’t wanna go to Azkaban.”
Ron was exasperated. “You oaf! You’re not going to Azkaban; it’s Ministry detention. You of all people should know that! But if you keep this up, I’m turning Potter loose on you and he’s looking very, very peeved!”
Harry cocked an eyebrow at his partner, who smiled back and whispered, “He’s got a point. She loves you, mate. Maybe I should just try that approach with Hermione.” Ron looked very thoughtful.
Galloway shouted back, “But Reggie told me they’ve started taking everyone to Azkaban for counterfeiting Tentacula. No more Ministry detention!”
Ron answered, “Reginald Bates? You can’t really think that ponce has any clue what he’s talking about? Time’s running out, Galloway!”
Harry eyed Ron. “Wait a minute. You told me you’d already settled on what you were gonna say to ‘Mione.” With a frustrated flick of his wand, Harry sent a non-verbal Stupefy down the alley, which resulted in another loud yelp issuing from their suspect as shard’s of concrete bit into him.
Ron shrugged. “I lied.”
Ron whispered, “C’mon, mate. You couldn’t really have believed me.” Then louder, “I’m not joking Galloway! He’s really starting to go spare!”
Galloway shouted back, a note of bewilderment in his voice, “How can you two be dating the two most beautiful witches in Britain and not have the stones to propose to them?”
Harry and Ron locked eyes, turned and shouted down the alley at the same time: “SHUT IT, BRYCE!!”
If Harry wasn’t angry before, he was quickly headed in that direction. Ron wasn’t far behind.
“I’m gonna count to three,” Harry yelled. “If Ron hasn’t hexed you into next week by then, I WILL!”
“Okay, okay! I give up!” Galloway broke cover with his hands over his head, the butt of his wand pointed skyward. “I really can’t believe this. Ginny’s gotta be the hottest…”
“You’re one word away from a Crucio!”
“And Granger? She’s got the best…”
“Bugger Crucio, it’s Avada time!”
Galloway pressed on. “Easy! I’m just sayin’ why are you two making this so damned hard? Merlin! They’re, they’re…”
Ron and Harry’s eyes bored into Galloway as he walked slowly toward them, both hoping for any excuse to hex him to Hampshire.
Slowly, the two Aurors’ wands dropped to their sides. Then Ron looked a question at Harry.
Harry shrugged his shoulders. “I never sent a Patronus off for back-up. Nobody knows but us.”
Ron turned to Galloway and fixed him with a hard glare. Then he sighed. “Beat it.”
“We’re not your mates, you git. If I catch you again…” Ron grumbled.
“Nope! New leaf! Changed man!” Galloway sped off down the street. Then he turned back. “Good luck!”
Harry sighed as he looked at his partner. “We’re gonna need it.”
“Ms. Weasley is here to see you.”
Hermione looked at her watch and then frowned at her assistant. “She’s early. Send her in.”
Ginny, dressed in her Auror’s robes, appeared in the doorway as Hermione rose from her desk. “Hey, Gin. Our training session doesn’t start for another hour.” Although Ginny was still playing professional Quidditch, ever since a Death Eater ambush at one of her matches, she’d been taking Auror training once a week with Hermione.
“I know.” Gin pressed her best friend into a hug.
She nodded. “If you’ve got a minute, we need to talk.” Then Ginny took a good look around Hermione’s office. Stacks of parchment and books were heaped on the chairs, the tables and the floor. Ginny couldn’t see the surface of Hermione’s desk. Her normally prim and orderly office was a disaster. “What in the name of Merlin’s cyclone happened to this place?”
Hermione looked at her shambles of an office as a hint of exasperation snuck into her voice. “Malfoy.”
One week earlier, Draco had managed to get a letter to Hermione. It offered an open-ended commitment to help end the four-year guerilla war that had been raging since Voldemort’s death at the Battle of Hogwarts. Although the Wizengamot had convicted Draco, Harry’s testimony had kept him and his mother out of Azkaban. Nonetheless, the Malfoy family was all but exiled from the Wizarding community. Lucius hadn’t even been that lucky. He was serving 20 years. In exchange for his help, Draco wanted pardons for himself and his father.
Hermione continued, “His offer’s just too sensitive for me to delegate any of the paperwork to other people. We still have leaks.”
Ginny nodded knowingly. With the exception of the Golden Quartette, only Kingsley was aware of what was being planned: an operation to round up all the renegade Death Eaters at once, using Malfoy to set the trap. “Still, ‘Mione, I could help with some of this.” She gestured to the piles of parchment.
“Careful. If I say yes, you may never see daylight again.”
They shared a laugh.
“Actually, it was the operation I wanted to talk to you about.” Ginny levitated a pile of books off of one of Hermione’s chairs as she sat.
Hermione followed suit. “The planning’s progressing; that’s all I know. Ron never likes to share the details of his masterpieces until they’re ready to hang on the wall. But I can tell you, whatever he’s brewing, it’s creating a mountain of Ministry paperwork.” Ron had been in charge of tactics since day one, when Kingsley had begged Harry and Ron to reconstitute the nearly extinct Auror Corps out of Dumbledore’s Army.
“I’m afraid I know a little bit more than that,” Ginny said, cocking an eyebrow.
Ginny nodded. Harry and Ginny had shared a psychic link ever since the Battle. Hermione was still trying to figure out how it had happened, but the answer remained frustratingly elusive. “Harry didn’t want me to know, but I caught him thinking about it this morning before he left Grimmauld Place for work.”
“Gin!” Hermione scolded.
“I know, I know! I wasn’t trying to pry.” One of the couple’s rules concerning the link was that they wouldn’t violate each other’s privacy. At first it had been difficult to control the flow of thoughts and emotions. But with time, they’d managed to make it a very pleasant part of their relationship. “It just happened. I was trying to send him an image of what I had in mind for tonight.” A devious smile crossed her face.
Hermione couldn’t help but smirk, until she saw all the mirth flee from her best friend’s face.
“Then I got a flash of what they were planning,” Gin finished.
Hermione felt her stomach lurch. “Gin? Is it that bad?”
Ginny nodded. “They’re going to be the bait.”
Hermione began to smolder. “They’re what?”
“Yes. ‘Reckless Git’ and ‘Danger Ponce’ are swinging into action. Again.” Ginny’s anger was anything but subtle.
Hermione’s complexion changed from peaches-and-cream, to pink, to crimson to fire engine red. Ginny watched in amazement, wondering if the room was going to explode. “Whoa! Easy there Granger. I’m supposed to be the fiery one. Remember? Breathe!”
Despite herself, Hermione let her temper dampen.
Seeing that there was no longer a risk of casualties due to uncontrolled magic, Ginny continued. “I’m just as livid with them as you are. More for not telling us than anything else.”
Hermione wanted to argue about that, but was caught off guard by Ginny’s relative calm. Then she realized why. “You think the plan will work. Don’t you?”
“When I first got the flash of what he was thinking, and that’s all it was, just a sharp glimpse, I was ready to Bat Bogey him until he begged for death. Lucky for him, he was in the kitchen at the time. I was still upstairs. Before I could Apparate down there and turn him into The-Boy-Who-Lived-To-Regret-It, I picked up something else through the bond.”
“What was that?”
“Hope. Happiness. Relief. He thinks Ron’s plan could actually end the war.”
“And then I closed it down. I didn’t want him to know I’d been reading him.”
“You still didn’t answer my question.”
“Do I think it’ll work?” Ginny didn’t have to think long. “I do,” she said with a resigned sigh.
Hermione was shocked that her best friend was going to let them get away with this.
Gin read her expression in an instant. “Oh no, Hermione, don’t even think I’m letting that raven-haired git off the hook. Not by a long shot. He knows the rules. I don’t interfere with his Auror work, and, unfortunately, this probably is the only way to get all the Death Eaters to come out of their holes, but Potter damn well knows we’re supposed to discuss something like this first.”
Hermione nodded as she slowly came to grips with the necessity of Ron’s strategy. “Same with my red-headed ponce. He hasn’t breathed a word of this to me. And this has been the plan for awhile, hasn’t it?” she asked archly.
“I’m sure of it. So. As Mum would say, ‘It’s time to pay the piper.’”
Ginny smiled. “However, it occurred to me that my normal methods of vengeance might not be adequate. But, as luck would have it, the most brilliant witch of the age happens not only to be my best friend but also an aggrieved party.”
“So, you want to collaborate on this and drop the hammer on them together?”
“Right in one.”
“You are deviously brilliant. Do you know that?”
“I’ve heard it mentioned.”
The Auror practice field erupted in a blinding explosion.
“Angelina, don’t you think we should, errm, do something?”
“Finnigan, you couldn’t pay me enough to get in the middle of that,” she responded, with a shake of her head.
Seamus took a long hard look across the practice field. It was transfigured for today’s session to look like Diagon Alley in the dead of night. He and Angelina, the Proctors for the exercise, had gotten specific instructions from the Undersecretary herself: stay out of earshot and out of the way…or suffer the consequences.
It had begun like any normal training exercise. The Aurors were split into opposing groups. Today, Harry and Ron were leading the “Death Eaters.” Ginny and Hermione were supposed to be leading the “good guys.” But Hermione had given specific instructions that, ten minutes into the session, everyone was to peel off and leave an unsuspecting Ron and Harry on their own.
Now, as his eyes adjusted following the flash, Seamus gazed ruefully at his two former dorm-mates as they dangled helplessly from their ankles, under the control of gods knew what new spell the Undersecretary had thought up.
“Angelina? After much consideration…You’re absolutely right.”
“So there is a brain in that head, eh?”
“Me mam raised no stupid children,” the Irishman said with a smirk.
Once Harry's head cleared - What the hell did they hit us with? – and he’d heard the recriminations shouted from the two witches in his life, Harry was trying to decide whether to go spare or go with the flow. He settled on the later.
“Ginevra,” he said as calmly as he could, while hanging by his ankles.
“Don’t you 'Ginevra' me, Harry James!” Ginny seethed. “When were you two gits gonna tell us?!”
Harry looked to his upside-down partner. “You wanna take this one?”
Hermione’s frown only deepened. “Cut the banter or I’ll cut something else! She asked you a question Potter. And we both expect an answer.”
Ginny and Hermione hadn’t noticed, but during their exchange, Harry had signaled to Ron to counter Hermione’s hex on his mark. Ginny hadn’t yet picked up on it, largely because the couple had agreed to block the link during Auror training.
“Can we talk about this? Rationally?” Harry asked.
Ginny laughed. “What in Merlin’s name makes you think we’re rational right now?”
Hermione smirked in agreement.
“Love,” Ron said. “We were gonna tell you about the plan, but…”
“But you didn’t want to! That’s what you were about to say, isn’t it?” Hermione finished for him.
“Bugger,” Ron muttered. “No. But we knew…”
“That we’d go spare?” Hermione finished again. “And you thought waiting would be better. Well, do you think so now?”
Ron sighed as he swung from side to side. “Not particularly.”
“I think the better question is how you found out?” Harry was eyeing his girlfriend, indignantly.
“Don’t you dare!” Ginny hissed.
Harry passed another glance to Ron and, with a force of will, the hex was broken and they dropped to the ground shield spells up.
The four magi eyed each other, as they stood, wand to wand.
AN: I do not own Harry Potter. The torys belong to JKR; she just lets us play with them.