“Oh my gods.” Angelina’s voice was little more than a whisper.
Seamus shook his head. “Makes the Battle of Hogwarts look like Quidditch Practice, doesn’t it?”
The two Aurors, who were the Proctors for today’s training session, had taken up positions on the rooftop of a building two blocks away from the fighting. They watched in awe as the Golden Quartet worked out their “relationship problems.” To the untrained eye, it would have appeared more like four people trying to murder each other. But Seamus and Angelina could tell their friends weren’t throwing lethal curses back and forth. Still, they were both content to keep their distance.
Seamus continued, “When you and George fight, is it this bad?”
Angelina chortled. “I never let him get the chance to explain. Gin and Hermione should’ve known better than to give them time to talk.” A loud explosion from below shook the night air, underscoring her point.
Seamus sighed. “Well, it can’t be pent up sexual frustration; those four shag like rabbits.”
“Definitely. You heard what happened with Harry and Gin in the Wizengamot?”
“I’d heard the rumors.” Seamus blushed as he began to laugh. Then he cringed as he saw Harry take a nasty curse from a wickedly grinning Ginny. “That had to hurt.”
“So what do you suppose they did wrong to get Hermione and Ginny so worked up?” Angelina asked, shielding her eyes from the flashes below.
Seamus frowned at her. “Now why do women always assume it’s the blokes’ fault?”
Angelina shot him her most condescending smile. “You’re kidding, right? Wanna put some Galleons on whose fault this is?”
Seamus hesitated as the building shook under the force of a hex Hermione had sent at Ron. “No.” With a shake of his head, he turned back to watch the spectacle; he couldn’t hear what was being said, but it looked like Ron was now yelling at Harry.
“Dammit, Potter! Stay out of my line of fire!”
“I would if you’d quit dodging around so much! Stay out of mine!”
Hermione hissed, “Potter, if you accidentally hex him before I do, I’ll feed you to a Manticore!”
Ginny spun to her right and loosed a Bat Bogey hex at point blank range, her fiery locks flying wildly about her. Harry stumbled as he shielded it. Gods, she’s beautiful when she’s angry. Despite himself, he started to smile.
“Harry James,” she grunted, “what’s so damned funny!”
Ron and Hermione’s attention was pulled to their friends’ exchange. The curses ceased to fly, leaving the night air to be filled only with the sounds of labored breathing.
Slowly, Harry let his wand hand drop to his side. “Nothing’s funny, Gin.”
She was completely caught off guard by the answer, which kept her from dealing the final hex to her defenseless boyfriend. “Then why…”
“Ginevra, you know how much I …”
Harry never had a chance to finish the thought.
Ten Death Eaters Apparated right in the middle of the transfigured alley the two couples had squared off in.
The Quartet’s shield spells just barely escaped from their wands before they would have been vaporized by twice as many Reducto curses.
Harry shouted, “Back to back!” With practiced precision, Ginny and Hermione spun to Harry and Ron’s sides, wands blazing.
Seamus and Angelina looked on in shock. “Merlin! Seamus, get back to the Auror’s Ready Room and…” Four more Death Eaters appeared on their rooftop before Angelina could send Seamus off to bring the full Auror Corps to the fight. The curses fell too thick for either of them to even think of sending off a Patronus.
In the alley was unrestrained warfare. Harry wheeled to the right shielding for Ginny as she sent Expulso hexes in all directions. Hermione was shielding for Ron as he did the same. It was a delicate dance the Quartet had practiced to perfection. The shielder had to know the spell rhythms of the caster well enough to realize when to shield and when to drop their defenses to allow for a riposte. With this many Death Eaters hurling curses, Harry and Hermione had their wands full. The concussion from the spells their shields absorbed shook the alley and threatened to throw them both off their feet.
Then Harry caught movement out of the corner of his eye. “Ron!” Harry shouted in alarm, as a Death Eater Apparated behind the redhead.
Ron didn’t miss a beat as he cast a non-verbal strength spell and rammed his elbow into the dark wizard’s nose. The Death Eater crumpled in a heap as Ron dealt him a vicious kick; Hermione dropped her shield and hit him with a massive stunning spell.
Harry gasped with the effort of expanding his Protego to cover Hermione, as six Reducto curses slammed into his shield. Sweat ran into his eyes and he’d begun to shake with the effort of protecting all four of them.
Hermione peered through the carnage, watching Ginny blast two Death Eaters into the alley wall, their shield spells too weak to dampen her curses. Hermione was just about to help an overtaxed Harry with the burden of protecting them all when she saw two Death Eaters cross their wands just as the remaining ones turned on the spot and vanished.
“MERLIN! GRAB HOLD!!” Hermione screamed.
Without thought, Harry, Ginny and Ron grabbed Hermione’s robes as she Apparated. They appeared on a rooftop three blocks away just in time to see the alley disintegrate in a blinding red explosion.
Hermione went to her knees, drained by the effort of side-along Apparating three people so quickly. Ron had her in his arms in an instant. “Love?!” His voice was heavy with worry.
“Fine,” Hermione tried to clear her head and form a full sentence. “I’m fine. Just woozy.”
Harry and Ginny knelt beside her and helped them to their feet. Then Harry looked across to his girlfriend, concern etched into his face. “Gin?” he asked, panting.
“I’m fine, love,” she said, sucking in a breath. “Nothing wrong with me a massage won’t fix.” With a little effort, she managed to shoot him a smile.
Ron wasn’t nearly as calm as his sister. “Hermione…Dammit, woman! Don’t…”
But Hermione cut him off. “Don’t what, Ronald!? Don’t take risks that make you go grey!?”
“Of all the…”
Harry silenced his partner with a firm look.
Ron took a deep breath. “I’m…I’m sorry, love. You just…had me scared is all.”
Ginny crossed her arms over her chest. “I can’t imagine how difficult that must be for you.” Her tone was off the sarcasm scale. It made Harry blanch.
Then, Seamus and Angelina appeared with a crack.
“You alright?” Seamus asked, wiping blood from his brow.
“We’re fine. But you aren’t, mate,” Ron said.
Seamus shook his head. “Sectumsempra. Shoulda dodged when I weaved. Most of it missed me though.”
Angelina let out a breath, once she realized everyone was in one piece. “We saw you get jumped. Before we could do anything, four more appeared on our rooftop. We dropped two. The others Apparated away just before…” She shook her head at the still-raging fire three blocks away.
Harry, turned to his best mate. “We gotta put the fire out. Whatever they did, we can’t let them know how well it worked.”
Ron nodded and the four Aurors hefted their wands. Just as the flames were snuffed out, Hermione and Ginny put up charms to mask the damage.
Then Harry looked to Hermione. “You seemed to know what they were doing. Care to enlighten us?”
Hermione launched into lecture mode. “I’d been working on a new mass stunner spell.”
“So that’s what you two hit us with?” Ron asked.
Ginny smiled. “Stung a bit, did it dear brother?”
Ron scowled at her; Harry waved them off before a new fight broke out and motioned for Hermione to go on.
“I was still working out the kinks, but I discovered that, if it’s timed properly, crossing wands with another magus increases the power of the spell by the square of the number of casters. But it’s dangerous. Their timing has to be perfect. If not, the spell’s power will increase by the square of the square of the casters, which will be too much for them to control.”
Seamus couldn’t hide his smile. “You have to teach us that.”
“Unapproved spells, Finnigan…” Hermione shook her head. “We’ll discuss it later. Just before the explosion, I saw two Death Eaters cross wands. I figured a combined spell would be too much for us, but I didn’t think we’d be able to Apparate under fire, that is until all the rest vanished. I saw the opening and took it.”
“That was a stunning spell gone wrong?” Angelina asked.
Harry shook his head. “I couldn’t hear over all the carnage. But I saw their lips move.”
Ginny wasn’t sure she wanted the answer, but mustered the courage to ask. “What was the incantation?”
“Reducto.” Harry’s voice was devoid of emotion. “What’s worse, I could tell they didn’t even try to coordinate the casting.”
“Mate, that means…” Ron went pale. “It was a bloody suicide attack.”
Hermione nodded, slowly, as Harry stared off to the side.
“That was the plan? That’s why the others left?” Angelina asked.
“Yes,” Harry answered. “That was the plan. Two sacrificial lambs in exchange for the four of us.”
“Diabolical.” But the strategist in Ron couldn’t help but be impressed at the pure terror of this new tactic. “I don’t know how often they could repeat it. There simply can’t be that many of them left. They can’t afford the casualties.”
“I’m sure if they get desperate enough it won’t matter. This war has to end, and soon,” Ginny said with finality.
Ron sighed. “You and Harry are both right. Our best bet is to make sure they don’t find out how well it worked.”
“Ideas?” Harry asked his partner.
Ron was silent for a moment as he thought. “Plant a false story in the Prophet: Death Eaters tried a new spell that backfired; only resulted in the death of their own. No damage, no Auror casualties,” Ron said. “Otherwise, if they try to use it again, it’ll definitely…bollix things up.” Ron eyed Harry, who knew in an instant his best mate was making a veiled reference to the coming operation to round up the remaining Death Eaters. The security levels regarding planning for it were strictly need-to-know. They couldn’t discuss everything else that needed to be said about it to Hermione and Ginny if Seamus and Angelina were within earshot. At least, not yet.
Harry turned to Angelina. “Can you handle the press release?”
“Creative writing’s a hobby,” she said with a smile. “No worries.”
Seamus interjected, “What about spotters? If they had even one Death Eater watching from a safe distance, we have a problem.”
Once again, Harry looked to Hermione. With a nod, she hefted her wand to the sky, murmuring an incantation. The clouds illuminated in a quick flash. Then she stood, eyes closed, as if she were in a trance. A moment later, she let out a breath and opened her eyes; she looked very drained. “No one else was here. The others Apparated away before they could see what happened.”
Seamus was amazed at this display of magic. “How…”
“Don’t ask,” Hermione said evenly. Then she turned to Harry. “No witnesses; I’m sure.”
“Good.” Harry turned to Seamus and Angelina. “Both of you get back to the Ready Room and take the two Death Eaters you stunned back with you. Before you go, it couldn’t hurt to do a sweep and see if any of the Death Eaters we stunned survived that blast. All prisoners to be held in complete isolation until I say different. Standard interrogations. Start the paperwork on this debacle. Ron and I will finish it in the morning. For the time being, no mention of the spell they used.”
Technically, Hermione should’ve been giving the orders, as Undersecretary to the Minister for Magical Law Enforcement. But this was Auror jurisdiction and everyone treated Harry as if he were Head Auror, even Kingsley who still nominally held that title as well as that of Minister of Magic. Sometimes, leadership is about more than titles and job descriptions. This was one of those times.
“Get that wound looked to.”
The Irishman nodded as he and Angelina turned on the spot, leaving the rooftop to the Quartet, who eyed each other, silently. With the crisis averted, their own problems began to bubble back to the surface.
Harry raised his eyebrows. “Grimmauld Place?”
Hermione looked to Ginny, who nodded.
Ron eyed his partner. “I need a drink.”
“We all do. Let’s go,” Harry said.
They all turned on the spot; the rooftop was empty.
The cork came out of the bottle of Old Ogden’s with an audible “pop.”
“Music to my ears,” Ron said with great satisfaction as he poured out two tumblers for himself and Harry.
“Not so fast there, big brother,” Ginny chastised.
Ron’s head snapped to his sister. “Look…”
She cut him off. “Four glasses, Ronniekins.”
That raised eyebrows from the wizards in the room. Gin and Hermione were wine and butterbeer drinkers. But this didn’t seem to be the time to argue about alcohol preferences. Ron grabbed two more tumblers as he finished pouring out. He handed the first two to his girlfriend and his sister.
Gin and Hermione had taken up residence on the couch to the left of the fireplace, leaving Ron and Harry the two new Wingback chairs across from them. Redecorating Grimmauld Place had been a never-ending project for Ginny. Slowly, the Black Family home began to take on the comfortable familiarity of the Gryffindor common room, and feel less and less like a Dementor’s summer shanty, as Ginny put it.
Harry had already collapsed into his chair, after draping his cloak over the arm. He took his tumbler from Ron with a nod and a smile; he took a sip.
However, Ginny’s and Hermione’s drinks disappeared in one long pull before Ron ever managed to take a seat.
“You’re still on bartender duty,” Hermione said archly, waving her tumbler at her boyfriend.
Slowly, Ron replied, “Okay.” Taking their empty glasses, he went back to the sideboard and refilled them.
All the while, a slightly bemused Harry couldn’t help but smirk. “Just bring the bottle back, mate.”
With a shrug, Ron set the bottle on the coffee table and settled into his chair with a sigh.
Hermione eyed them both. “Talk.”
Harry looked to Ron, who nodded, indicating he should start.
“Ron showed me that letter from Draco last week at the Broomsticks. We had a long talk about…it.”
Ron’s eyebrows shot up in alarm when his best mate almost let the Kneazle out of the bag.
Harry continued, “Ron had one of his moments of inspiration…”
Hermione cut across him. “Firewhiskey induced?”
Ron shrugged his shoulders. “Somewhat.”
“Anyway,” Harry continued, “if we let Draco tell his Death Eater contacts that the two of us had gone out for a drink, without protection…”
“They’d come after us in force,” Ron finished. “We might just get all of them at once.”
“And that’s why you two are the bait,” Ginny deadpanned.
Harry nodded. “After what they tried tonight, I’m even more certain they’d commit if they were sure we were vulnerable.” The Chosen One’s voice filled with conviction. “Ron’s plan will work.”
“Something else, mate. I know where to set the trap,” Ron said. “That blind alley we cornered Galloway in. It’s narrow, good cover on the far end for us. If we can get them to chase us in there, with the Corps on the surrounding rooftops and Anti-Dissaparation Charms in place, we’ll have them.”
“Ron, that’s brilliant! Why didn’t I…”
“You two trapped in a dead-end alley by all the renegade Death Eaters is…brilliant?” Ginny’s voice had raised an octave as she finished, with an angry toss of her head.
Harry was gobsmacked. He looked to Ron, who was equally at a loss as to how to save his best mate from this colossal blunder. Harry and Ron braced themselves for the explosion.
Of all people, it was Hermione who came to the rescue. “I’m not liking this at all.” Then she took a deep breath. “But, we’ve talked about it.” She rested a calming hand on Ginny’s knee as the two shared a look.
Ginny nodded, grudgingly.
“We understand the ‘why’ and, right now, could care less about the ‘how,’” Hermione said, her voice starting to betray her emotions. “What we’re mad about is how silent you’ve been about it.”
Ironically enough, neither Harry nor Ron knew what to say. For several heartbeats, Grimmauld Place was as quiet as the tomb it used to be before Ginny had breathed life back into it.
Harry finally found his voice. “There was more to what Ron and I talked about that night at the Broomsticks.”
Ginny frowned. “We’re listening.”
Ron shot Harry a panicked look. “Not like this, mate.”
“You’re going Flobberworm on me now?” Harry asked, exasperated.
“Not like this!” Ron said again, forcefully. “Hermione, c’mon, we’re…” It took Ron a full second to find an excuse to get his girlfriend alone, “...gonna find some food.” Ron was out of his seat, pulling Hermione into the kitchen before she could protest.
They were hardly out of earshot when Ginny asked, “What the hell is up with you two?”
“No, seriously.” Her voice caught. “You’re starting to scare me, Harry.”
He felt cold hard fear coming off of her in waves through their bond. That, and seeing his strong-willed Ginny, with her face starting to cloud over, nearly broke his heart. He came out of his chair and crossed the room to her nearly as fast as if he’d Apparated there.
He pulled her to him as he tried to soothe her, rubbing her arms. “Gin, no. It’s not like that…”
“Then, what’s it like Harry? For the love of Merlin, tell me!” Rare tears had begun to fill her eyes.
“This isn’t the way…”
“We were also talking about getting engaged!”
Ginny’s face went through such a wide range of emotions so fast that Harry couldn’t catalogue them even with the bond as a guide. Man-up, Potter. This wasn’t how you pictured it, but you’re here now. Do it!
“Ginevra…Draco’s letter, it changed things. It took Ron literally beating me over the head with it to see. But, I saw.” Harry hung his head. “I know you’ve started to feel…like we were drifting.”
“Harry, I didn’t…”
“Just shut up long enough for me to get this out,” Harry said through his smile. “Can you do that?”
She smiled back, as her eyes finally started to shed the tears she’d denied for so long. What she felt from him through the link calmed her. But…he isn’t really gonna do this? Is he? Oh, sweet Merlin! “Shutting up.”
“Ever since Kingsley dragged us into the Auror Corps, Ron and I always had an understanding. Until the war was over, really over, we wouldn’t propose. My plan, actually. I couldn’t bear leaving you behind that way, if things went…wrong.” Harry’s voice had threatened to betray him as he got the words out.
Ginny rested her hand on his cheek, urging him to go on.
“With that letter and Ron’s plan, the end’s in sight. At least, we think it is. But, Gin, even if it isn’t, I want my life, our lives, to finally start. Even though our troubles with the Death Eaters aren’t over yet, I want us to be together. Forever.”
Bugger, where’s the ring? The thought had hardly crossed his mind when he heard a loud “snap” and felt something appear in his shirt pocket. He peered just past Ginny to see none other than Kreacher at the top of the stairs, smiling down at him.
With a grateful nod to the old house elf, Harry slid off the couch and dropped to one knee, just as Ginny’s hand went unbidden to her mouth.
Then he pulled the box out of his pocket. “This was my mother’s. I got it from the vault a few days ago. But, Ron and I…We were trying to find a way to tell you, both of you, but the plan and the proposal got wound up all together and…we just got lost.”
He snapped the box open, revealing a two-carat diamond, surrounded by emeralds in a magnificent gold setting. “Ginny, I don’t want to be lost anymore. Help me find my way. Marry me?”
Ginny gazed down at the ring Harry was holding; her hands gently began to shake as she nodded. “Oh, Harry…”
Then she was interrupted by screams from the kitchen.
“YES! YES! YES! OH GODS, RON, YES!”
“What the hell?” Harry was at a loss.
Then they realized the shouting had subtly turned into moaning; they both started to laugh.
“Sounds like my brother got the answer he was looking for, too, and then some,” Ginny said through her laughter. “Gods, we eat in there.”
“Not anymore.” Harry could hardly get the words out as he chuckled. “Don’t those two ever use Muffliato when they…” His laughter dried up as he turned back to his…girlfriend? fiancée? Wait a minute! “Gin, you still haven’t given me an answer,” Harry said, a little concern in his voice.
“Apparate me upstairs and I’ll give you one a lot louder than my soon-to-be sister-in-law is giving Ron right now.” Ginny shot Harry her most wicked smile.
“Your wish is my command!” Harry scooped his fiancée up into his arms as he turned on the spot. Fiancée. I like the sound of that!
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