AN: * I owe a tip of the hat to justanothermuggle and siledubhghlase for the excellent discussion of the use of Avada Kedavra in duels as laid out in, “Harry Potter and the Death Eater's Quest," a story I highly recommend. Also, a bow is owed to AvadaKedavra1 for his theories on dueling from “A Muggle’s Wand.” Thanks mates.
And, of course a HUGE thank you to my adopted little sis, 1917farmgirl, for muse and beta help.
He couldn’t walk anymore. It wasn’t his strength, which had been slowly failing. It wasn’t his resolve, which was battered but determined. It was his legs. Harry couldn’t move them.
When his right leg finally seized, he instinctively curled, protecting his wound from the impact with the ground. As a result, he didn’t have his hands out in front of him to break his fall. Now, in addition to his other injuries, he had a cut just above his hairline. While the pain from it wasn’t particularly worrisome, the fact it bled so little was.
NOT MUCH MORE OF THE STUFF LEFT IN YOU, IS THERE, HARRY?
He didn’t waste the strength on a response. Using his arms, he pulled himself across the road, foot by agonizing foot. He clenched his teeth as he struggled through the pain. Slowly, he finally managed to reach a tree by the side of the road. Very carefully, he propped himself against it.
WON’T BE LONG NOW. NOT LONG AT ALL.
“Arms still work,” Harry gasped. “I’m not giving up yet.”
YOU’LL NEVER LIVE TO SEE YOUR SON BE BORN, HARRY. IT WASN’T MEANT TO BE. “JAMES SIRIUS,” ISN’T THAT THE NAME YOU FINALLY SETTLED ON?
He winced as a sharp pain shot up his side. “That’s Ginny’s favorite. Not that it’s any of your business.” Harry tried to control his breathing, focusing his mind to dull the pain, which had now receded to a dull ache. “But, we might name him…”
“Arthur!” Kingsley’s voice boomed through the kitchen door of the Burrow.
“Minister!” Arthur Weasley threw the door open with a smile as he pumped Kingsley’s hand. “Molly!” Arthur shouted over his shoulder, to the kitchen. “Kingsley’s here!”
Molly rushed over to the Minister; she wiped her hands on her apron before pulling him into a hug. “King, you haven’t been here in ages,” she scolded. “Too bad you weren’t here yesterday for Sunday dinner. You could’ve seen the whole family and finally met the Grangers. Wonderful people Kathy and George Granger.” Shortly after the Battle of Hogwarts, Hermione had finally managed to bring her parents back to England. The Weasleys had welcomed them with open arms. “Although, I fear some of us have been a bad influence on Hermione’s father.” She shot a very disapproving glance at Arthur, who smiled back sheepishly.
Kingsley came to Arthur’s rescue, changing the subject. “I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long. Affairs of state…”
“Pish-tosh! You need a proper feeding. Not right for a man your age to be without some home cooking.” This was yet another not-so-veiled reference to Kingsley being a bachelor. Molly had been doing all in her power to find the Minister a wife. But Kingsley had remained a frustratingly elusive target.
He let out one of his booming laughs. “Still trying to marry me off, eh? You just might succeed one day.”
“Might?” She laughed. “But, as Ronnie would say, ‘first things first.’ You’re much too thin.” She eyed the Minister like she would one of her children after far too long a lapse between visits. “You’re staying for dinner.” It wasn’t a question.
To his credit, Kingsley knew who was in charge here. And it wasn’t him. “Of course. Your cooking is always a treat, Molly.”
“Good! Arthur, why don’t you get him a drink, while I finish up here? Should be ready in about an hour. Merlin knows the children will be famished by then. Especially Ron.” Molly inclined her head out the door toward the pitch, where the Quartet was in the middle of dueling practice. Then she darted back to the numerous pots and pans she had on the stove.
“Firewhiskey, butterbeer, mulled mead?” Arthur asked.
“A cold butterbeer sounds wonderful. Too hot for Firewhiskey.”
Arthur began to dig in the icebox. Then, with a grin, he asked, “Join us, Molly?”
The occasional glass of wine was all Molly ever touched. And Arthur knew it. Molly shot him a wry smirk. “You two take your butterbeers outside and watch the kids practice. Can’t have you under foot. Shoo!” She kissed Arthur on the cheek and smiled up at Kingsley as the two wizards walked out to the garden. From there they could watch the Quartet dueling, but be far enough away not to risk catching a stray hex or, more importantly, distract the foursome from their practice.
They took up residence on a small stone bench, shaded by a large oak tree. The gentle summer breeze, laden with the scent of apple blossoms from the orchard, helped combat the oppressive August heat.
“Merlin, it’s hot.” Kingsley took out his handkerchief and mopped his brow. With a flick of his wand he cast a cooling charm. It wouldn’t last long against the afternoon sun, but it helped.
“George Granger was telling me yesterday that its one of the hottest months on record. If I didn’t know better, I’d think the Death Eaters were to blame,” Arthur said with a smirk.
“That’s all The Prophet would need to hear to start printing more tripe.” Kingsley chuckled, but there was no mirth in it.
The Saturday edition of The Prophet had been full of stories of the latest battle with the renegade Death Eaters. Despite Kingsley’s best efforts, it reported that Yaxley had escaped with the wand of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Worse yet, The Prophet refused to call him “Riddle” even though every Ministry official had done so for the past two years, on Kingsley’s orders. Yesterday’s edition, the Sunday Prophet, had done the unthinkable: Yaxley’s Manifesto was printed on the front page. Although the accompanying articles denounced it, The Prophet had, even if unintentionally, become a recruiting tool for the resurgent Death Eaters.
Arthur sighed. “It’s started again. Hasn’t it?”
“I’m not sure it ever really stopped.”
Arthur nodded. “That’s been Harry’s attitude all along. Except, there for a while, it did seem like he’d finally begun to be at ease. All of us really.” Arthur leaned back against the oak as the two wizards gazed across the field to the pitch where the Quartet was practicing shielding drills.
Kingsley nodded slowly. “I dropped by to check up on them when I heard they were here. Nasty bit of business Friday was.” Kingsley fell silent, staring off into the distance. “I’m not sure how much more we can lean on them, Arthur. They’re all still so young and they’ve been through too much already.”
Arthur cocked his head at the Minister. “We were forced to grow up pretty quickly during the First War, too, as I recall. I thought that was hard, but watching the children go through it…That’s worse.”
Kingsley rested his elbows on his knees, as he leaned toward his Senior Secretary. “Your family has sacrificed more than most. Even through the relative peace of the last year, yours has been in the thick of things, while others have gone back to their lives. I know you’ve practically adopted Harry and Hermione…” A sorrowful expression on his face, Kingsley said what he’d always felt he owed to the Weasley Patriarch. “I’m sorry I’ve done this to you and your family.”
Arthur’s head snapped up. “King, you haven’t done anything to us. Do you really think Harry would’ve sat idle after that last round of attacks the month after the Battle? Or that Ron would’ve let him go off and do it alone? Or Hermione? Or Ginny? Actually, I think Harry was hard pressed keeping her out of the Corps. Still, he hasn’t been able to stop her from being involved in most of the decision making.” He shook his head. “Gods know we couldn’t have reconstituted the Aurors by promoting from within; neither the Hit Wizards nor the squads were reliable. They still aren’t; Friday’s security breach is proof of that.” His eyes rested on the Minister. “It’s not your doing. It’s the Death Eater’s.”
The Minister stared down at his butterbeer. “Still, I would’ve preferred to have the Order deal with things after Hogwarts once the Aurors were put out of action…” He trailed off.
“Wasn’t an option, King and you know it.” Arthur hung his head. “Dumbledore, Sirius, Moody, Lupin, Tonks, even Snape, gone. And Fred.” Arthur bit his lip as he mentioned his lost son.
Kingsley let out a breath. “The Order of the Phoenix died in the Second Wizarding War.”
The sounds of dueling caught Arthur’s attention, pulling him out of his dark thoughts. “You’re wrong, Minister. The Order of the Phoenix is alive and well.” He gestured down toward the pitch. “There they are.”
For the first time, Kingsley cast an Auror’s eye on the practice taking place not more than one hundred yards away. Ginny had just spun to Harry’s side, shielding for him as he cast stunning spells at Ron and Hermione. Their precision and timing were seamless. Ron shielded Harry’s spells, as Hermione dealt a riposte. Their movements were equally flawless.
But what they did next made Kingsley’s eyebrows rise. With one deft movement, Harry and Ginny fell back, one covering for the other as Ron and Hermione advanced. Their shields never wavered and not a single stunning spell hit its mark.
“Arthur, how long have those four been practicing like this?”
The Weasley Patriarch beamed pure pride. “Since yesterday.”
“Not even that long. Harry refused to let Ron and Hermione cast even a summoning charm until a Healer pronounced them fit yesterday afternoon. Knowing Harry, he would’ve waited longer if it wasn’t for that wretched article in The Prophet. There was no holding Ron and Hermione back after that.”
The Minister’s attention was again drawn to the dueling practice. Ginny had just Apparated behind Hermione and cast another stunning spell as Harry tried to draw their fire by doing the same from the front. Hermione spun behind her boyfriend and, back to back, their shield spells turned the stunners aside. Effortlessly, a paired-duel morphed into two one-on-one fights.
Kingsley was amazed. “It impressed me how quickly Harry and Ron picked up the Auror training, a full three years worth in six months, before I turned the reins over. The rest of the new recruits were quick studies too, though not like Ron and Harry. Still, they weren’t fighting as a cohesive unit until at least two months into the training, which was still monumental. But this?” Kinsgley gestured to the pitch, then shook his head, bewildered.
Arthur laughed. “Seamus was here earlier and he said the same thing. Fine boy, Finnigan.” He stretched out his legs, resting his butterbeer between his knees. Then he cocked his head back toward the pitch. “There’s something special about those four. No question.”
Kingsley just shook his head again. Some in the Ministry still thought the Orders of Merlin he had bestowed on the Quartet were simply for show. He wished those naysayers could be here now. While the trio’s accomplishments were well known, most knew far less about Ginevra’s. Her time at Hogwarts during her sixth year was still a delicate subject, one that Kingsley knew better than to raise with her father. She paid a particularly heavy price for her actions as a resistance leader at Hogwarts. He didn’t know the full tale, but he knew enough; she suffered greatly at the hands of the Carrows for trying to protect Muggleborns and attempting to steal Gryffindor’s Sword. Even so, the Minister had no idea her prowess with a wand was so formidable. Like mother, like daughter. Ginny’s Order of Merlin, Second Class should’ve been a First.
Arthur took a pull from his butterbeer and sat back with a contented sigh. “No surprise really. They’ve been practicing and fighting together since before the Battle at the Department of Mysteries. Miracle they survived that.” Arthur shook off the thought. “But, you’re right. There’s really no comparison between what they did then and where they are now.” Underscoring his point, the air shook with the force of a massive Reducto curse Hermione loosed at a moving target Ron conjured for her; the Quartet had ceased to duel and began target practice with explosive spells.
Again, Kingsley took in the Quartet’s practice with wonder. “There’s more to it than that with those four, Arthur.”
The Senior Secretary smiled. “Molly says the same thing. Dumbledore was right.”
“‘Love is the most powerful magic.’”
The two old wizards shared a smile as they looked back toward the pitch. The foursome had huddled together, catching their breath.
A panting Harry, his hands on his knees, appreciatively took the water bottle Hermione handed him. “Thanks.” He downed nearly half of it in one long gulp.
“Save some for me there, Sahara!” Ron chided.
Hermione laughed as she tried to catch her breath. “Don’t be such a baby. Aguamenti.” She cast a cooling spell on the refilled bottle as Harry handed it to his best mate.
Ron took three large drinks before pouring the bottle over his head and then casting a drying charm on his hair. With a flick of his wand he refilled the bottle and handed it back to Hermione.
Only Ginny appeared to still have some air left in her lungs. “You’ve gotten soft, people.”
“Says the Quidditch star.” Ron wiped water from his brow that the drying charm had missed.
Ginny smiled. “Flying eight hours a day will build up your endurance.” Then her smile turned devilish. “Unless you fly for the Chudley Canons, in which case it just makes you flabby.”
“Oi!” Ron shouted. “Knock it off! I root for you when you play them; we had a deal.”
“That we did, big brother,” she said. “I’ll make it up to you. You can have my dessert tonight.”
“Fair trade.” Finally catching his breath, Ron turned to Harry. “What next?”
“Find some shade, then we talk,” Harry answered. “Too hot to go on.” They were all dressed in shorts, t-shirts and trainers, but the brutal sun wasn’t taking any prisoners.
Hermione nodded as she took a long drink of water. “That sounds good to me.”
“I really don’t want you two overdoing it,” Harry said with a nod to Ron and Hermione.
“We’re fine, Harry. You need to stop worrying so much,” Hermione responded.
“Slim chance of that,” Ginny said to her best friend. “C’mon. I know a good place.”
Harry raised an eyebrow at the remark. Ginny shot Harry a wink as the Quartet retreated into the orchard.
Hermione transfigured three handkerchiefs into a blanket and pillows as they all sat under two large trees that provided blessedly cool shade, which was aided by the cooling charms Ginny cast.
Harry leaned up against an apple tree after shoving a pillow behind him, just as Ginny reclined against his shoulder. He wrapped an arm around her as she settled in and nuzzled his neck.
“Gin, I smell horrid,” Harry warned.
“I don’t mind it.”
Ron stretched out, his head propped up against Hermione’s thigh as she lay on her side, a pillow under her elbow.
“Comfortable?” she asked Ron, sarcastically.
“Wonderfully,” he responded with a large grin and a sigh.
Hermione absent-mindedly began to run her hand through his now-dry hair, a peaceful smile covering her face. Harry couldn’t help but grin. His two best friends could fight like kneazles and hellhounds one minute and the next they looked as if they were the happiest couple in the world.
Harry didn’t want to break the serenity of the moment, but this wasn’t a picnic. “Reductos, Expulsos and Bombardas. We need to move on to incorporating the exploding spells into our dueling practice.”
Ron tensed at the suggestion, but kept his temper in check. “Bit early for us to be trying to kill the girls, don’t you think?”
Ginny had a very snappy retort for that, but held her tongue. From Hermione’s raised eyebrows, Gin was certain she did too.
Harry shook his head at his red-haired brother. “We won’t be using them. But they will.”
Ron slowly nodded; Gin and Hermione took it in stride as Harry continued. “Next training session, we’ll pair up wizards on witches. Ron and I will limit ourselves to non-lethal spells, but I want you two to come at us with all the explosives. You have to get used to using them in a duel.” He looked to Ron, hoping his best mate had worked out his inner reservations. He wasn’t disappointed.
Ron nodded, grimly. “He’s right. The spells you use in a duel have to be second nature. They have to be the first spells that pop into your mind.* Stunning has its place, but I know you both remember Death Eaters don’t play nice. A simple Rennervate and the Death Eater you just put out of action is back in the fight, trying to kill you.” Ron’s brow furrowed before he finished. “The explosive curses can be lethal; at the least, they’ll keep your opponent out of the fight.”
Hermione shot a glance at Ginny, who nodded. Saturday night, the two Aurors had discussed with them how they thought the foursome should begin training together. The following morning, while Harry and Ron had a lie in, the two witches had a long talk about what was discussed the night before. It was, in fact, a continuation of the discussions the two witches had been having over lunch ever since the breakout.
Ginny and Hermione remained best friends ever since they moved out of the Burrow. They usually managed at least one lunch together a week, but their wizards never really knew what they talked about, despite their burning curiosity. Their most recent conversations concerned what Hermione was about to spring on Harry and Ron. Ginny agreed that Hermione should take the lead.
The Undersecretary cleared her throat. “Sit up, love.” She urged Ron off her lap. Ginny moved away from Harry as the foursome made a small circle.
Ron looked worriedly at Harry. Harry cast a befuddled look at Ron. Neither of them were ready for what came next.
“Ginny and I have talked about this. Matter of fact, we’ve talked of little else since the escape.”
“Talked about what?” Ron asked, archly.
“Auror training,” she responded.
Ginny piped in. “Do either of you really think several weekends of dueling practice will do the job?”
Hermione’s tone was deathly firm. “If they’re coming after you, they’ll be coming after us, too. We need to be ready.”
Harry looked at Ron. Ron looked at Harry.
“Oh, bugger all!” Ron shouted as Harry started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” Ginny wasn’t sure whether to be angry or to join in the laughter.
Harry collected himself. “Ron and I had the same discussion Friday night. We just weren’t sure you two would be ready for that.”
“Ready? Are you serious?” Hermione immediately knew which wizard it was who suggested waiting before their witches started properly training with the Corps. “Ronald! You ponce!” She began smacking him with one of the pillows.
“Cut it out, ya lunatic!” Ron shouted as he tried to grab the pillow away from her.
“You deserve it, dear brother. And you!” Ginny turned on Harry, who gulped visibly. “I thought we got past this. When I get you home…”
“Easy, love. Easy!” Harry shot her one of his signature grins and sent a wave of love through their bond. She was still glaring Fiendfyre, but, slowly she smiled, shaking her head at him.
“Not fair!” Ron shouted as he continued to fend off Hermione’s attack. “I can’t calm this wildcat down with a smile and a bond! Will you stop it?!” He finally managed to pull her into a bear hug. She continued to struggle, but as he waggled his eyebrows at her, she smiled in spite of herself.
“Peace?” Harry asked.
Ginny and Hermione nodded, ever so slightly.
Harry let out a breath. “Crisis averted.”
Ron muttered, “Easy for you to say.”
“Can we get back to business?” Harry asked. Ginny sidled back up to Harry’s shoulder; Hermione began to run her fingers through Ron’s hair again, after giving it a slight pull and shaking her head at him.
“Killing curses,” Hermione said. “We need to discuss that. How many of the escapees are skilled enough to use them in a running duel?”
Ron hardly hesitated. “Definitely the top four; the others…Hard to say.”
“Top three,” Hermione gently corrected as she softly patted her lover’s shoulder. Ron tensed a bit when he remembered his duel with Rowle, but calmed at Hermione’s touch. Rowle’s death hadn’t troubled him much. As far as Ron was concerned, Rowle’s life was forfeit the moment he tried to take Hermione’s.
Ginny leaned forward. “Why don’t they use them more often? A curse that can’t be blocked, I was always amazed that wasn’t all they’d use.”
Harry interjected. “That’s right. You weren’t there when Moody, err, Crouch gave us a…demonstration.”
“Git was mental, but that lecture was helpful.” Ron looked up at Hermione, who held her tongue; she was about to say how amazed she was that Ron paid attention to any lecture during their Hogwarts days.
Harry took a deep breath. “Crouch’s lecture was a lot more informative than anything we’ve read in the Auror manuals.” He shook his head as he continued. “Killing Curses take a lot of focus. You have to channel an immense amount of hate and intent into the spell, more so even than Crucio, to make it lethal. It takes a lot of skill to be able to do that during a duel. So, if you can keep your opponents off-balance, they probably won’t be able to cast it effectively.* The explosive curses are much easier to cast and can be almost as dangerous. That’s why we, and they, use them so much.”
Ron picked up from there, turning to his sister. “But even if they do manage to loose a Killing Curse, there’s still ways to protect yourself. The trick is to get out of its way, like you did during your duel with Bellatrix, or to put something in between it and you.”
Harry shuddered as he remembered how close his Ginny came to dying that day. “Summoning charms, levitation spells, those are key to blocking an AK.”
It took Ginny a minute to figure out Harry was referring to Avada Kedavra.
Harry cast somber eyes on his girlfriend, who was looking up at him from her place on his shoulder. He knew, with a little work, she’d be more than capable of handling herself against multiple Death Eaters, but he just didn’t want her to go through this. Trying to protect her by leaving wasn’t an option; he could never do that to her, or to himself, again. But the alternative wasn’t to his liking either.
These thoughts had been running through his mind so quickly, he hadn’t even considered their bond. When it occurred to him that Ginny had probably read him like an open book, he tensed.
She smiled up at him, a small tear forming in the corner of her eye. Then she gently placed a hand on his cheek and forced a wave of love through the bond to let him know everything would be all right. “C’mon. Dinner should be ready. I’m sure you’re hungry.” She stood, pulling Harry up with her. “And I know Ron’s starving.”
Hermione laughed. “I knew I could hear his stomach roaring. Can’t say I’m surprised you heard it all the way over there.”
Ron snorted. “Joke all you want. But I get Ginny’s dessert.”
Ginny smacked Harry’s arm as they walked back to the Burrow. “So, you almost dodged it.”
“Dodged what?” He was more than a little lost.
She smirked at him. “The primary question, you dolt! When do we start training with the Corps?”
Hermione shook her head. “Gods, you two are dense. We never finished that discussion.”
“Well, love,” Ron said with a gleam in his eye, “you were the one that changed the subject.”
“I…” Hermione was dumbfounded. He was right. She was the one that steered the conversation to Killing Curses.
“Oh, sweet Merlin.” Ron doubled over with laugher. “I’ve done it! I’ve finally caught her out.”
Harry laughed. “Only took nine years!”
Ginny wanted to show her solidarity with Hermione, but this turn of events was just too novel. Despite herself, she started laughing.
Hermione was gobsmacked. She looked at her friends, then back to her lover “I…I… Oh shit!” She broke down, finally joining in the laughter, which only escalated when their normally prim and proper Hermione resorted to profanity.
Once they came to their senses, Harry spoke. “I think you both could start pretty soon. You were always the best in the DA and you’ve picked up most of the basics of group tactics today, really well. Impressive. Can’t say I’m too surprised,” he finished with a proud smile.
Ron let out a breath. “Another session with explosive spells wouldn’t hurt. We could cover that next Sunday, after Gin’s match. Then we can discuss a time to have you join the Auror’s drills.”
Harry could see that Ron still wanted to delay the inevitable. Maybehe’s right. If Yaxley’s caught, none of this will be necessary. But still…
Ginny piped in. “The week after Appleby, then.”
Harry nodded, slowly. “That’s pretty much what I was thinking.”
Hermione didn’t want to let it go. “I don’t know if waiting that long is wise. Especially given the circumstances.”
“Well, love” Ron hesitated, “I’d feel a lot better if we ran through some of the more dangerous dueling curses before I toss you in with that lot.”
She bit her lip. Then let out a breath. “Fine. After Appleby. But, Ronald, no more holding back after that. Neither of you will be doing either of us any favors if you do.”
The wizards both nodded as they walked through the kitchen door into the Burrow.
Ron muttered to Harry, under his breath, “Well, that didn’t go as badly…”
“…as I thought it would,” Harry gasped. With minimal agony, he’d managed to pull himself up onto the stone wall lining the road, making it easier for him to see and be seen. The pain had faded. It wasn’t really there anymore. It was almost as if it belonged to someone else.
What troubled him now was that his left arm had started to go numb. He began to massage it with his right, trying to force feeling back into the limb.
THE PARALYSIS SPREADS FAIRLY QUICKLY FROM HERE ON, HARRY. NOT MUCH LONGER.
He’d finally lost his patience with the voice. “Who the hell are you?!”
THOUGHT YOU’D KNOW THAT BY NOW.
Harry was panting, heavily. He was nearly spent from the extra effort of shouting at his invisible tormentor.
I’LL GIVE YOU THREE CLUES. YOU’VE HAD MY CLOAK FOR YEARS. YOU HAD MY STONE FOR A SHORT TIME, BUT HARDLY HAD THE DECENCY TO USE IT. MY WAND, ON THE OTHER HAND, YOU DIDN’T EVEN BOTHER WITH BEFORE CASTING AWAY, AND ONLY RETRIEVED IT WHEN YOU HAD NO CHOICE.
Harry felt cold terror grip him.
He’d been talking with Death himself.
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