Hermione’ll be displeased. Harry couldn’t help but laugh at the thought, despite the sharp pain it caused. Slowly, he slid down the cold stone wall. The Enchanted Auror Armor he wore was Hermione’s brainchild. She’d charmed the first sets of Quidditch Padding that Harry and Ron had begun to wear during their larger operations with the Auror Corps. In the first few months of fighting that followed the Battle of Hogwarts, six years ago, it had proven to be a lifesaver. But it couldn’t cope with the curse that blindsided him tonight.
Cold, Harry thought. It was still so cold in May. A fit of coughing struck him, forcing up more crimson blood that he spat on the cobblestones. Gotta keep moving. Not gonna die here. That’d displease Gin. Gin and Hermione…Can’t displease the witches in my life.
His hand clutching his side, Harry forced himself to stand. The cool wind rustled through the trees; the night air threatened to sap what little strength he had left. He chanced a look at his forearm, which was desperately clinging to the wound on his side that neither the potions he carried in his Armor, nor the spells he’d repeatedly cast upon it could mend. Bleeding out, Potter. Bleeding out. He shook his head and steeled himself to resume his painful trek.
On wobbly knees, Harry tried to force himself forward, but the pain shooting through his abdomen caught him up short. He gasped as he collapsed back into the stone wall that lined this quiet country road. Not here, he thought again. But a persistent nagging voice, one that had become steadily louder as he staggered ever onward, too weak to Apparate, would not be so easily dismissed:
WHY NOT HERE? WHEN IS IT ENOUGH? HERE’S AS GOOD A PLACE AS ANY. SLEEP, HARRY. JUST SLEEP. WHY NOT?
“Because, I’m gonna be a father,” he croaked. “Because, I won’t let him grow up without me.”
But the voice wasn’t placated by that: IT’S NOT YOUR CHOICE. NOT THIS TIME. YOU CAN ONLY ROLL THE DICE SO OFTEN, HARRY. EVENTUALLY, THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS. AND IT’S MAY, THE MONTH OF MOURNING. FITTING, REALLY. SO MANY GOOD MAGI DIED IN MAY. NO SHAME IN JOINING THEM NOW.
“No shame,” Harry gasped. “No shame.” Slowly, he slid back down the wall.
The voice was right. The house always wins. Harry tried to suppress another fit of coughing, which always brought up more blood. He seized as he tried to hold it back. But it was no use, his body shook as he hawked and spat. Black this time.
The house always wins. That’s what George told him four years ago, not long before the Battle of the Pitch. The house…
“…always wins. You’ve gotta be careful with how you bet.” George was adamant. He, Ron, Hermione, Harry and Ginny were all gathered around the kitchen table of the Burrow, enjoying an informal Weasley family get-together on a muggy Saturday afternoon, the day after Ginny’s nineteenth birthday. Dinner would be later: leftovers from the party the night before to compliment the hours of Quidditch they’d been playing in the pitch near the orchard.
“Better idea,” Harry said around a large piece of pie. “Don’t bet at all. I’ll just watch.”
George frowned at his sister’s boyfriend. “Watch? The great Harry Potter, the consummate risk-taker, the vanquisher of Baldy Shorts is just gonna watch?
“Well…yeah.” Harry smiled at Ginny as she plopped another piece of pie on his plate. “Thanks, love.”
“You say thanks now. If you balloon up later, I’ll be looking for a thinner wizard,” she said with a smirk.
Harry laughed. “You wish.”
“Daily. Actually, we play the Arrows beginning of September. Their Seeker’s a real hottie.”
“Oi! Not so fast there Super Chaser. There’s only room for one Seeker in your life.” Harry pulled her to him as she laughed and batted her eyelashes at him. He knew it was good-natured ribbing. He could feel the love she was sending him through their link, a psychic bond they’d shared ever since the Battle of Hogwarts, two years earlier. The bond, which still remained a mystery, had manifested at the same time Ginny’s Horse-Patronus changed to a doe.
“Are you two done?” George asked, as he feigned desperation. He knew the two were sharing one of their “moments.” Their bond was a closely held Weasley Family secret. The Unspeakables could tend to be very intrusive about things like this if they were to get wind of it.
“For the time being,” Ginny replied, not looking at her brother.
George finally managed to get Harry’s attention. “Potter, we’re going to Monte Carlo. You can’t just watch!”
“Why not?” Harry asked.
Ron was taking in this exchange with subtle glee, but his primary concern was that Harry didn’t finish off all of his mother’s peach pie. “Mate, he’s got a point. It’s his stag party; you gotta gamble. Otherwise you’ll miss out on all the fun.” Then Ron looked to the rapidly diminishing pie. “You’re not gonna have another piece, are you?”
Hermione interjected, “There’s another one in the stove. Gods, where do you put it all?” she asked in bewilderment.
“I’m still growing.” Ron was only half kidding. At six feet, three inches, he was a tower of a wizard. He and Harry had both gained weight, most of it taught muscle since Hogwarts; Molly had seen to that. But Ron’s size was truly intimidating. “First things first. There’s another pie?”
“You’d know that if you hadn’t spent all of this morning on the pitch,” she said archly. “We made two.”
“We?” Ron asked.
Hermione eyed him as she smiled. “Molly taught me the recipe this morning.”
“Hermione, have I told you lately how much I love you?”
“No, actually. But, now’s a good time.” She leaned in for a kiss from her adoring boyfriend.
George rubbed his forehead, as he shifted in his chair. “Priorities please, lovesick siblings! Harry, we’re going to the gambling capital of Europe. What in the name of Merlin’s loaded dice is wrong with you?”
Harry shrugged. “I’ve been lucky enough for ten wizards.” He wrapped an arm around Ginny as he finished. “Why press it?”
Ginny’s smile was a mile wide.
George rolled his eyes. “Let’s try a real excuse there, Harry.” Then he ignored the look Ginny shot his way. “Can’t be money. Goblins don’t still have your gold tied up in knots?” George asked. “I thought you cleared that mess up. And, by the way, probably should try not to rob Gringotts again anytime soon.” He smiled wickedly.
“Don’t worry. It’s not on the agenda. Unless…” He shot a smile at Ron.
“Nope. No more for me, thanks.” Ron laughed.
“Me neither,” Hermione added.
George put on a look of mock disappointment. “Too bad. Really woulda liked to have been included in that caper. Fred would’ve loved it. Brilliant...” It had finally gotten to this; George could speak fondly of his brother without the pain that used to accompany the memories. The family quietly attributed this to his fiancée’s influence. It was good to see. “But, seriously, Harry. Stay with me and I’ll make sure you find your way around the craps tables.”
That’s when Molly came down the stairs, a load of laundry in her arms. “George, dear, quit pestering him. I’m sure Harry will be the perfect rake when you get to Monte Carlo.”
“Thanks, Molly,” Harry said.
“I’d expect no less,” she said, patting Harry’s head gently as she smiled at him.
Ron was gobsmacked. “Mum, did I miss something, or are you actually encouraging reckless behavior?”
Molly arched an eyebrow at her youngest son. “You’re all of age now. After all you’ve been through, I expect you to know your limits without my intervention. However, if you’d like the firm hand to reach out and find you again…”
“No, Mum. No need,” Ron answered quickly.
Molly muttered something that, to Harry, sounded a lot like: “That’s what I thought.”
As Harry tried to hide his smile, Molly turned to George. “Angelina’s not here yet?”
“No. But she’ll be here for dinner,” George said as he grabbed himself a slice of pie. “Unfortunately she’s got the watch today until five.”
“Sorry about that, mate,” Harry apologized. “Her turn on the Auror rotation.”
“No worries,” George said with a huge grin. “I feel safer with my fiancée running the show rather than you two irresponsible blokes. You’re both too much like me.” This drew heartfelt laughs from Ginny and Hermione and looks of righteous indignation from Ron and Harry.
Before either Harry or Ron could find a snappy retort, the back door opened. “Hello Weasleys!”
The kitchen filled with warm greetings as the family patriarch swept into the kitchen. “Pie? Ron, I hope you saved some for me.”
“Lucky for you Dad, Hermione and Mum made a second,” Ron said through a full mouth.
Ron grinned and nodded.
“Fabulous!” Arthur exclaimed. “Hermione, if I were a little younger…” he said, cheekily, which made Hermione blush in spite of herself.
Molly batted her husband playfully and brushed his cheek with a kiss. “Expected you home earlier. This late at the Ministry on a Saturday?”
Arthur was all smiles. “Important bit of work today. Kingsley needed me.”
Molly set down her laundry basket. “So you mentioned. Now, out with it Arthur. What’s the big surprise?”
Arthur took his place at the head of the table as Ginny handed a plate of pie to Harry to pass down to her father.
“Oh, that looks good!” Arthur rubbed his hands together and then grabbed a fork.
Molly shook her head. “Hermione, now you know where Ron gets it. No attention span when food’s anywhere near.”
“What’s that Mollywobbles?”
The entire table erupted in laughter, even Ron. “Dad?” He laughed. “What’s the news?”
“Well, all of the Minister’s Senior Staff needed to be in today. Special meeting.” Ever since the Battle of Hogwarts, the Weasley families’ fortunes had increased dramatically. Arthur was now Minister Shacklebolt’s Senior Secretary. He wielded power in the new government second only to Kingsley himself.
“We’ve had a devil of a time trying to reorganize the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, as you and Harry both know.”
Harry nodded. Although Kingsley still held the title of Head Auror as well as Minister of Magic, it was really Harry and Ron’s Auror Corps. After the Battle of Hogwarts and the month of brutal fighting that followed, Kingsley was the only Auror left that was fit for duty. He’d commissioned Harry and Ron to rebuild the Aurors out of Dumbledore’s Army. It was a monstrously difficult task, but with Ron’s help, they’d risen to the challenge. Now, two years later, there were still renegade Death Eaters running about, but security was improving, unlike the dark days immediately after the Battle. Things were finally starting to look up.
But the organization of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, of which the Aurors were a part, was a disaster. This was due primarily to one Dolphus Dredge, Minister of Magical Law Enforcement. Simply put, Dredge was an incompetent fool. Fortunately, he was absent from the Ministry most days, so he could do little damage. But, by the same token, having an empty robe in charge of all the Magical Law Enforcement offices thwarted most attempts at reform, outside of the miracles Harry and Ron had accomplished in what was now called the Auror Corps. The Aurors had always been marginally independent of the larger Law Enforcement Ministry and this helped, but it couldn’t change the fact that their nominal head was a first-class ponce.
Harry set down his fork. “Arthur, please tell me you and King have finally found a way to get rid of that moron Dredge.”
Ron nodded vigorously. “I’d be willing to give up all my interest in that second pie if you pulled that off. Everything Harry and I’ve been able to accomplish has been done in spite of that git.”
Arthur sighed. “I know boys and so does Kingsley. Unfortunately, Dolphus still has a sizable block of support in the Wizengamot.”
Harry’s and Ron’s faces fell. But then, Arthur smiled. “Honestly, boys. Don’t you think a true Weasley could still find a way around this problem?”
Harry and Ron eyed each other and then looked back to a very content and happy Arthur, who had just taken another large bite of pie. “Hermione and Molly, this really is excellent.”
“Dad? You’re killing us here,” Ron pleaded.
Arthur chuckled. “Well, it seemed to me that if we can’t get rid of Dredge, we can at least appoint an Undersecretary who could get things done in his name. Then, if we kept the old fool busy with other ceremonial things on those few days when he does bother to come to the Ministry that would be almost as good as sacking him. Don’t you think?” Arthur scooped up another piece of pie with a very satisfied look on his face.
George was thoroughly impressed. “Dad, you’re an evil genius.”
“Well, son, where do you think you got it from?”
That drew another round of laughter.
“The only problem was finding the right magus for the job,” Arthur said wistfully. “It had to be someone with excellent organizational skills, a superb leader and, after all the problems we’ve had with employees secretly loyal to the Death Eater cause, it had to be someone we could trust implicitly. Not many can fill that role.”
Everyone at the table sat rapt, waiting to find out who the new Undersecretary would be. Everyone that is, except for Ron. He’d put the pieces together faster than most because of his familiarity with the one person in particular who had those qualifications in spades. Ron leaned back in his chair, smiling. This is gonna be good.
Arthur forked up some more pie as he asked, “Hermione dear, could you grab that large parchment out of my briefcase for me?”
Hermione’s eyebrows shot up. “Uh, sure Arthur.” She dipped into his brief case and pulled out a large parchment with Kingsley’s official seal.
“Why don’t you go ahead and read it to us?” Arthur asked with a barely subdued smile.
Her hands slightly shaking, she broke the seal and began to read:
“Be it known, that on 12 August, 2000, Hermione Jean Granger, OMFC, is officially designated, assigned and appointed, Undersecretary to the Minster of Magical Law Enforcement…” She looked up at Arthur, and then to her boyfriend, who both wore identical smiles. Harry, George and Ginny were all beaming with pride as Molly dabbed at her eyes with her apron.
Ron spoke first. “That’s right. My witch. Undersecretary!” He pulled her into a huge hug while she was still speechless.
Finally, she spluttered, “Arthur. I…I don’t know what to say.”
“Say you’ll take the job. Harry and Ron desperately need your help. As do Kingsley and I. You’ve done wondrous things in Magical Creatures, getting the House Elf Law through the Wizengamot so quickly. But now its time for you to move up to administration and you’re practically a member of Magical Law Enforcement anyway, what with the work you’ve been doing with Harry and Ron on the side.”
“Yes. Yes! Of course!”
The Burrow erupted in cheers. Arthur clapped his hands together. “This calls for a…”
…drink. Gotta drink it, Potter. With a shaking hand, Harry brought out the vial that contained the last of his Sanguinus potion. It would help replace some of the blood he’d been losing.
He took a breath as he uncorked it. But he needed a minute to steady his hands. Maybe, I’ll try the link, again. Harry did his best to focus. He’d been trying to contact Ginny through the link for the past two hours. Since the Battle of the Pitch, they were on occasion able to communicate mind to mind, as opposed to just being able to sense each other’s emotions. But, tonight, ever since he’d been wounded, something just wasn’t right. He could feel her, he knew she and the baby were alive and well and that calmed him. But he simply couldn’t convey any emotions or messages back to her. He’d tried to cast his Patronus, but his wand only spat a wispy mist. This hadn’t happened in years and it bespoke of just how desperate his situation was.
Shaking his head, he forced the potion to his lips. He struggled to swallow it all. It’ll help, he told himself. But deep down, he feared it wouldn’t.
Deep down, Harry knew, this was the place.
This was where he would die.
AN: The Sanguinus potion is the creation of TheDirigiblePlum; she kindly gave me permission to use it in this chapter. Thanks DP! I highly recommend her stories – check them out in my favorites. I do not own Harry Potter; the toys belong to JKR, she just lets us play with them.
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