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Chapter 16 : Return To The Cliffs Of Dover
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Just before midnight, Ginny awoke from her quick nap to the sound of a bubbling cauldron and a smell so horrid it could only be a healing potion brewing.
“Are you awake?” Hermione asked over her shoulder as she stirred the concoction on the long table in front of her. She was surrounded by her books and potion ingredients. She looked about as at home as Molly did in her kitchen at the Burrow.
Ginny was lying on a cot in the corner of the small tent the French had provided. The Quartet hadn’t bothered erecting their own as they didn’t plan on staying long enough to warrant it. She propped herself up on an elbow. “With the smell of that disgusting brew in the air, who could sleep?”
Hermione cringed at that. “Sorry. It’s…”
“No. It’s ok. I’m not sure what you’re putting in this stuff, but it’s working.” She rose, a little stiffly, and placed her hand on her best friend’s shoulder. “Thank you for doing this.”
Hermione bit her lip. “You’re thanking me…”
“Yes. And for saving Harry.” Ginny’s eyes were full of gratitude, but she couldn't resist a smirk. "Besides, compared to you, he and Ron are pants at potions."
Hermione broke eye contact and turned back to the cauldron. She simply couldn’t speak.
A tear slid down the brown-haired witch’s cheek as she finally found her voice. “Ginny, I’m really sorry…”
“Don’t be. It wasn't your fault what happened to me.” Ginny pulled her into a hug.
"Thank you," Hermione breathed.
But, as they broke apart, Ginny saw the concern, grief and worry that was still etched in Hermione's face. Then, a single word escaped from Ginny's lips. "Dover."
Hermione nodded, her lips tight.
“That wasn't your fault, either." Ginny rested her hand on Hermione's cheek. "You had to escape, to survive.”
“But it’s…We’re almost there. And I…I haven’t been back since…”
“You won’t be alone.” Ginny took both of Hermione’s hands in hers. “We’ll be with you…This time.” But Ginny knew there was more to it than that. The end of their journey was rapidly approaching and they all knew it.
Once the Talisman had vanished, Hermione had shared with them how, if they were successful, she would be divided into two people again and how they would all be pulled back to their own reality. ‘Mione would be left behind with Ronnie. She would be alone again.
Ginny tried not to choke up as she spoke. “No matter what, no matter where we all end up, I’ll always be your sister.”
Hermione smiled, tearfully as they embraced. “That means everything to me.”
Just then, Harry poked his head in the tent. “Ladies…Oh! Am I interrupting?”
“No. Just brewing,” Hermione answered as she quickly turned back to her cauldron and wiped a tear from her eye with the cuff of her robes.
Harry pulled his fiancée into a hug. Are you two ok?
We’re fine, nosey. Just some girl talk. And before you ask, the potions are working wonders.
Harry crossed to Hermione, gave her a peck on the cheek and then a concerned frown.
“Don’t give me that look, Potter,” Hermione grumbled, arching an eyebrow at her soon-to-be brother-in-law. “I’m fine.”
Harry’s frown only deepened. He wasn’t going to let it rest.
Ginny knew her stubborn love only too well. That’s why she decided to change the subject before Harry could say anything more. “Nagini’s mine, if you were curious.”
Harry’s head snapped from Hermione to his fiancée; he was gobsmacked. “Ginevra…”
“Don’t you ‘Ginevra’ me, Harry James. That bitch has a date with Gryffindor’s Sword and I intend to make sure she keeps it.”
Harry turned to Hermione for help.
It was her turn to frown. “Gin is the one who claimed the sword, Harry.”
“Et tu, Hermione?”
“Don’t bully her, love,” Ginny chided.
“I’m not bullying her…”
“Everyone’s had a go at a Horcrux but me.”
Harry opened his mouth, closed it and then tried again. “That’ll likely mean you’ll be alone in the Imperium and I’m not thrilled about the prospect, especially in your condition.”
“I can finish her off. The potions have me at nearly full strength.”
Harry was about to speak again when Hermione interjected. “They’re working, Harry. And the Elder Wand…She’s healed faster than I ever thought possible.”
Harry looked from one to the other. The two witches in his life always seemed to have him outnumbered and outmatched, no matter what the circumstances.
Harry scowled and locked eyes with his fiancée, who stared just as stubbornly back.
She sent through the link, Nagini’s mine. No debate.
Then she batted her eyelashes at him and sent a wave of love through the bond.
Merlin’s love potion…Promise me you’ll be careful.
I’m always careful. Don’t worry, love. I’ll be fine.
Harry scooped her into his arms and drew her into a deep kiss, his tongue probed for hers as she leaned into him, digging her fingers into his cloak as she pulled him closer.
Hermione cleared her throat. “I take it the silent debate is over? And Harry lost?”
“Was there ever any doubt?” Ginny asked coyly, cocking an eyebrow as they broke apart.
“Hmmph,” was all Harry could manage as a retort.
“Potion's done,” Hermione announced. With a flick of her wand, the potion vanished from the cauldron and began filling three phials. She handed them to Ginny. “You should take one now. This may be a little more…harsh than the last batch.”
Ginny stashed two phials in her robes and grimaced as she opened the third.
“No potion, no Nagini,” Harry admonished.
Ginny’s eyes blazed at him; he smiled as he said, “No debate.”
She smirked at him as she downed the vile swill and began to cough.
Harry grabbed a water flask from off its hook on the tent pole and handed it to her. She drank her fill and handed it back to him.
“Oh, gods, ‘Mione,” Ginny coughed. “Harsh? That’s an understatement. Why are all healing potions so bloody wretched?”
Harry tried to wave Ginny off. Too late. Hermione had already launched into lecture mode. “Well, Stink Sap is usually the core ingredient in any good healing potion. I wanted to improve the taste with peppermint, but that would only diminish its effects. Now if I had some nightshade, I could’ve still used spearmint or maybe some of those Honeyduke’s chocolates Ron always carries around to improve the taste. However, cocoa can tend to lessen the effects of the Skele-Gro I included. Of course, if I had some…”
“Hermione?” It was Harry’s turn to change the subject.
“What?” she asked, still a far-away, almost Luna-like look in her eyes as she held forth on potion lore.
“Ron; I need to find him. I was actually hoping he would be here with you. Have either of you seen him?”
“Have you checked the mess tents?” Ginny asked, with a slight smirk. It was hard to smile with the taste of that horrible concoction still coating her mouth.
“First place I looked.”
Hermione answered, “He told me he was going for some air, down by the beach.”
“With the smell of that stuff, I’m not surprised. I’ll be back.” With a nod, Harry went through the flap, slinging the water flask over his shoulder.
He found Ron sitting on the sand, looking out toward Dover. Judging by his posture Harry knew in an instant his best mate was deep in his thoughts. And that they weren’t good ones. Harry didn’t even hesitate as he nonverbally transfigured the water in the flask to Firewhiskey. He tossed the flask to his partner, shouting “Heads up!” Ron caught it with a Keeper’s reflexes.
“Hey, mate.” Ron looked up and nodded as he uncorked the flask.
“Transfigured Firewhiskey, not water. Go easy on it.”
After taking a swig, Ron handed it back to his partner with a grateful, but solemn, nod. Harry sat next to him with a grunt and then took a pull off the flask before corking it.
The beach had gone quiet since the Inferi assault had been broken. Even the sounds of war from Calais were fading. Reports had come in that most of the Inferi had been concentrated on the beach. With them gone, the French had started to take the upper hand in the fighting.
Considering that the redhead had just saved an entire city almost single-handedly, the last thing Harry expected his best mate to do was brood. But then Harry noticed that Ron had the Resurrection Stone in his hand, almost as if he were pondering it.
The Resurrection Stone, the most dangerous of the Hallows, was never a good thing to ponder. Harry knew he’d have to have this talk with Ron, which was why he’d gone looking for him.
Harry nodded toward the Stone. “You’re getting good with it.”
“Yeah.” Ron started to say more, and then stopped.
“Fred,” Harry said.
Damn. “Dumbledore and I had a long talk about the Stone…It’s dangerous, brother.” Harry rested his arms on his knees and looked out over the Channel.
“Suppose you want it back now?”
“Gotta ‘Unite the Hallows’ to deal with Snakeface.”
“Unite the Hallows to thwart death…” Harry shook his head. “It’s a myth, mate.”
Ron cocked an eyebrow.
“There’s no thwarting death. Even if I had all three in my possession, like Riddle does now, its not gonna make me any stronger or any weaker. They’re just very powerful magical objects, not Death’s tools…I’ve got the Elder Wand. It’s all I’ll need, one-on-one.”
Ron wanted to protest Harry’s insistence on facing Riddle alone, but his mind was too burdened with other thoughts. Slowly, he put the Stone back in his robes and turned his troubled gaze out across the dark waters.
Harry could see that Ron would need some coaxing to say what was really on his mind, although Harry feared he already knew what that was, especially after the abbreviated exchange he’d caught between Ginny and ‘Mione in the tent. Not as dense as they give me credit for.
Harry gestured across the channel, toward Dover. “That’s where it happened. Isn’t it?”
Ron nodded. “That’s where he died. And where her life ended.” Ron dropped his head as he finished.
“This is about more than Fred, then, isn’t it?” Harry asked, keeping his eyes forward.
Ron hesitated. “Yeah.”
Harry turned to him and rested his arm on Ron’s shoulder, waiting for the redhead to find the words. He could tell how much this was tearing at his best mate and it pained him to watch.
“How...?” Ron stopped, took a breath, and tried again. “How do I just leave her here?” The words were heavy with torment, so much so, they almost didn't escape Ron's throat.
Harry let out a long breath. Just as he feared; it was only a matter of time before the guilt of leaving ‘Mione would start to weigh on his best mate. That time, apparently, was now. Harry steeled himself. “I don’t know as we have a choice in the matter.”
“I thought it always comes down to choices.” Ron shot Harry a wry, but pained, smirk.
Harry’s face broke into a half grin, but it was mirthless. “I thought so too, mate.”
They fell silent as they stared off across the Channel again. Then Harry added, “Well, if we all die, I guess it won’t matter.”
Ron looked at him in shock. Then Harry smiled. Ron started to laugh. “Back to the gallows humor, eh?”
“Necessary, don’t you think?” They shared a smile. Then Harry cocked his head. “Mate, this isn’t our home. It’s our responsibility, for the time being, but it’s not where we live.”
“I know.” Ron fidgeted on the sand. “But, gods, you’ve seen what she’s been through here. For me to leave her again…”
“Not you,” Harry corrected. “As much as it feels like this place is filled with our failings, it isn’t. It’s not our home,” he repeated. Then he took a deep breath before he said what he knew Ron had to hear, and what Harry had to admit. “At the very least, she’ll have our Hermione’s memories and the memories of our days here together, now. I was wrong to begrudge her that.”
Ron fixed him with a sad smile and a grateful nod; then he sighed. “You’re right. I know you’re right." He fell silent again. Then, his face contorted, displaying the conflict of emotions building in his soul. "But it doesn’t feel that way." He turned to Harry, the frustration and guilt finally overcoming him. "Right now, she’s my Hermione. And, Merlin, Harry, I can already feel her starting to mourn…” Ron's head dropped, the pain evident on his face. “I just can’t bear to see her hurt that much, because of me. And this time, it is because of me. Me leaving, not the other me dying. And what about Ronnie? For the past week he’s gotten to live at the Burrow; I’m sure Mum’s been spoiling him. Now he’s been ripped away from all that to come back to this wretched place. Back to a ‘Mione who’s gonna be grieving, because I left her here. I know none of this is our fault. I know we’re just here to try to make things better. But it feels like we’re making things worse. Even if we’re not, even if I could force myself to accept the truth, it won’t make it hurt less.”
“No. It won’t." Harry''s eyes fixed on Ron with a sublte intensity. "But do you think leaving her the Resurrection Stone, so she can summon the other you back, will help?”
Ron hung his head, unable to meet Harry's gaze. Again, he was at a loss for words and more than a little startled that his best mate had figured out what his brood was really about. Then he shook his head, guiltily.
Harry let out a breath. “Remember the story about the Peverells? Remember what happened to the one who kept the Stone? Cadmus? It drove him over the edge. He killed himself, for gods sake.”
Ron nodded grimly.
Harry continued, “That wasn’t just a fairy tale, brother. At least not the part about what happened to him and the poor soul he summoned back…I got lucky when I used it. Remus, Sirius, Mum and Dad were coming for me as opposed to the other way around. That saved me. ‘Mione’s situation is different. Leaving her the Stone…That’s a path to disaster. I think she knows that. Even if you did leave it for her, I doubt she’d use it. But the temptation could only hurt her, brother. Think of that.”
Ron turned to face his best mate. “You sound more like Dumbledore everyday, you know?” Slowly, a smile crossed his careworn face.
Harry laughed it off, but he was glad to see he’d brought Ron some peace. “I should be so lucky." Harry rose to his feet with a grunt. "C’mon. Let’s eat before we jump over this creek.” Harry helped him up as they headed back to the camp.
Ron shook his head. “Ya’ know, we’ve been having some awfully intense conversations on beaches lately. What’s up with that?”
Harry shrugged. “Maybe it’s the scenery…” Then, he stopped short.
Ron noticed Harry’s look, as if he’d been struck by a bludger. “What is it, mate?”
“The Stone. I think I have an idea…”
There were six of them crowded into DuChamp’s tent. With one of them being a half-giant, it felt more like ten. Harry and Ron stood, leaning on the map table. Hermione and Ginny were sitting at the foot, while Maxime sat at the head, DuChamp on her right. Everyone was speaking English for the benefit of Harry and the Weasleys.
Hermione turned to Maxime. “Right now, we’re counting on the resistance. I don’t know if our attempts to contact them worked, but hopefully, there’ll be people waiting for us at Dover. Even so, I don’t know how easily they can communicate with the rest. How long would it take you to contact the resistance through the French Ministry?”
Olympe took a second to think. “Too much to say with just a Patronus... I’d have to get to Paris in person.” She shook her head. “Several hours to get through the fighting and the wards before I could Apparate. Not even I know how the Ministry speaks with them, but I know they’re the only ones who can.”
Harry spoke up.“Too long.” Hermione had already told her French friends about the Talisman’s disappearance and Ronnie’s impending arrival. “We can’t wait. We’ll have to go now and hope the Galleons worked.” Then he shook his head. “Regardless, it’s vital once we hit the Imperium that the word gets out to the populace. Otherwise, even if we’re successful, dislodging the rest of the regime won’t be easy. So, even if we’ve already reached the resistance, we’ll still need the French Ministry’s help on that front.” He looked to Ron.
“That’s only too true. I can only imagine how entrenched the Death Eater regime is, so it may take more than killing Riddle to turn the tide back home,” the redhead added.
“Riddle?” DuChamp asked.
Ginny piped in. “That’s his real name. Git doesn’t deserve a title.”
Ron smiled in agreement. “If things continue to go well here, any forces you could send across the Channel would do the trick. Right now, the weak spot is here.”
DuChamp nodded slowly. “It’ll be hours before we could muster a force like that. But I think we could.”
Harry let out a breath. “As soon as I can do it without losing the element of surprise, I’m gonna try to collapse the Teeth. That should make all the difference.”
Olympe looked concerned. “How are you going to assault the Imperium?”
Harry smiled at his best mate. “Ron? Why don’t you tell the lovely Headmistress what we have in mind?”
Hermione stood at the center of the Quartet. They were not far from the spot that she had Apparated too when she’d escaped from Dover. Returning here had frayed her nerves. Despite the memory-dampening charms, the vision of that horrific day, the day she had lost everything, threatened to overwhelm her. She took a deep breath and looked at her friends and at her lover, people that comprised a family that a part of her would never see again, if they succeeded.
Harry, as always, had that determined, set look about him. Ginny was all business, even though a slight hint of concern shown on her face as she locked eyes with her briefly. But Ron, her dear sweet Ron…the look he gave her reminded her of the last time she’d seen him in this reality.
For the briefest of moments, in less time than an eye could blink, a heart could beat or a life could change forever, she considered not going through with this and letting the realities merge. She could tell by the way Ron looked at her that he knew what she was thinking, that he knew how difficult going through with this was for her. But then his face broke into a gentle, resolved smile. And from that smile, she knew he was leaving the choice in her hands.
As she hesitated, consumed in her own private war of emotions, it was the voice of Albus Dumbledore that won the day:
“You’ve chosen the right path. Don’t yield to temptation and leave it.”
That had already happened once and it nearly cost Ginny her life. Hermione wouldn’t let it happen again. Closing her eyes, she forced the thought of giving up from her mind, cursing herself for even thinking it. “All right. Grab hands and hold on.” With a pure act of will, she turned on the spot.
They appeared on the Cliffs of Dover.
“BUGGER!” Ron and Harry’s wands cleared their clutches as fast as lightning, pointing them directly at Riddle himself.
“Wait!” Hermione stayed their hands. “It’s a statue.”
Harry shook his head, still filled with ‘Mione’s memories of this awful place. “That bastard put a statue here?”
“Yes.” Hermione’s face was grim. “But wait. It’s not all it appears to be. It’s used to mark the weak spot in the Teeth for the resistance.” She steeled herself as she waved her wand; the statue transformed.
Ginny gasped as Ron and Harry looked on in shock.
Where only a moment before there was a single statue, there now stood two, facing out over the Cliffs. Both were wizards in their late teens. Both had their arms crossed over their chests, wands held in their right hands. They had a battered but defiant look on their faces. The one on the right had a thick mop of hair, the other’s was unruly and he had a lightning bolt scar on his forehead. Beneath their feet, at the base, was an inscription carved into the stone:
HARRY JAMES POTTER RONALD BILIUS WEASLEY
31 July 1980 – 2 May 1998 1 March 1980 – 6 May 1998
The Bravest of the Brave
We Will Always Remember
Harry felt a cold tingle up his spine. He could feel Ginny fighting back the tears before they fell. I’m right here, love. He grabbed her hand and sent a wave of love through the bond. He felt her ease as her hand squeezed his tighter.
Ron was still dumbstruck as Hermione put her arms around him. “It was my idea. But this is the first time I’ve seen it…I couldn’t…” She bit her lip as she stopped, unable to finish the thought. Ron couldn’t speak, so he just held to her, tightly.
It was Ginny who finally broke the silence. “Let’s go kill the bastard.”
“You’ll need help.”
The four spun around at the sound, wands out.
“Easy. We’re friends.” Slowly, two forms appeared from the darkness.
“Marietta?” Hermione asked.
“And Smith,” Zacharias Smith added defiantly.
Harry felt like he’d been confunded. When he found his voice, the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. “You two were the last ones I expected.”
“Pretty rude for a dead man,” Smith shot back.
Marietta ignored the remark, as she was still so shocked to see Harry Potter and Ron Weasley alive. “Dennis Creevey was supposed to be here. I’m worried he…”
Before they could finish exchanging the not-so-niceties, Reducto curses began to explode around them.
Hermione clung to Ron as the six of them dove for cover. I can’t go through this again! Not here!
Frantically, Harry scanned the plains, trying to find a target, but the curses seemed to be coming from every direction. Then a blast kicked dirt into his face, another violently threw Ron flat and sent Hermione flying. A third knocked Ginny into him so hard his glasses flew off. They were being pummeled from all sides.
He heard Ginny scream.
“ENOUGH!” Harry shouted, as he rose and stepped from behind the statues. Walking out into the open, curses exploded around him. Slowly, almost casually, he looked right, then left as he leveled the Elder Wand. He never uttered a sound as the full fury of the Death Stick was loosed, turning night into day, his wand hand a blur. Ginny, Ron and Hermione looked on in utter shock at the display of raw power they were witnessing. Smith and Edgecombe were frozen in place, their eyes the size of saucers.
Then the dust settled.
There was no return fire.
There was only Harry, standing in the open, with murder in his eyes. They approached him slowly, Ginny cautiously resting a hand on his. Despite Harry’s outer calm, the link only spewed pure rage.
Zack and Marietta closed on the trio surrounding the Chosen One, almost too scared to break the silence.
After several drawn out moments, Harry spoke:
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