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Author Notes:

So, with less than a year between chapters - we continue with our tale...


The Unexpected Horcrux

Chapter the Fourth

I have spent most of my young life worrying about things that haven’t happened yet, or, perversely, when it comes to exams, I worry about things that I’ve just done, but can’t undo.  It never fails that after taking an exam; truly brilliant answers come to me, rather than the muddled, confused stuff and nonsense I’d just regurgitated.  I know that it’s silly for me to obsess about this, as from age five; I’ve received nothing but full marks at school, for every subject other than Potions.  Well, full marks in everything but Potions and Physical Education – which I despised, but that’s another story.

“Well, that’s the last of them,” Ron said, rolling the canister from the deck of the lorry we’d rented.  Several of the items on my list didn’t take too kindly to being miniaturized by magic, so we went thoroughly Muggle and engaged a lorry to transport those items.  Fortunately, I’d earned my driving license before we’d begun what Mum calls my “European holiday.”

We’d been working most of the day to acquire the items on Lily’s list.  I wasn’t privy to what was on everyone else’s list, but from what I could reckon, we’d just acquired enough bottled gas to hold a propane-powered ox roast – or, alternately, we were branching out from building Horcrux smashers to infernal devices.  One could argue the evidence either way.

Ron had been a good sport throughout the whole shopping trip.  I know by now that he hates wearing disguises of any sort, and I appreciated not hearing a litany of complaints while we were out today – he really is growing up.  This time around he looked like a brunette version of his brother Bill, complete with dangling earring (not a dragon tooth, mind you, but you get the picture) while I looked like a slightly chubby version of Cho Chang.  There are limits to glamours, don’t you know.

“C’mere woman,” he said, pulling me to him.  I didn’t mind the kiss, even though we were both dirty and more than a little fragrant from the day’s labours.   The kiss was brief, followed by an embrace that left his hands wandering on my backside.

“There will be plenty of time for that after we finish,” Lily said in a slightly amused tone.

I jumped a little when I heard her voice.  I hadn’t seen her in the garden when we were unloading the lorry.  It wasn’t quite like being caught in a clinch by Mum, but it was close enough. 

Ron gave one cheek an appreciative squeeze before retorting, “You promise?”

“I don’t promise anything, Weasley,” she said, giving him a saucy wink.

Lily turned to me, a look of anticipation on her otherwise tired face.  “Did you find the book, Hermione?”

“The first shop was out, but we found a used copy at the second store,” I replied, digging it out of my handbag.

Lily took the oversized purple book from my hands, looking like a child on Christmas morning.  She flipped through a few pages and then closed the book.  “Ginny’s kept dinner for you – everyone else has already eaten.  Bill’s back to Shell Cottage and Mister and Missus Lupin are back at their flat too.”

“Ginny been good company?” Ron asked.

Lily gave the two of us an appraising look.  “We – get along,” she said diplomatically.  “I’m fairly certain that she’d rather spend time with the other occupant of this body.”

I wasn’t going to bet against that proposition.

Ron and I untangled and then headed into the house.  I heard Lily poking through some of the items, and then I looked back to see her head to the semi-detached carriage house.  As much as I wanted to chat with Lily and satisfy my aching curiosity, my stomach was aching too.

Dinner was a very comforting stew, some bread from the bakery in the village, and carrot cake without frosting.  Ginny is fairly accomplished in the kitchen, which is no great surprise, given her mother’s talents in that domain, but if you value bodily integrity, don’t say anything remotely resembling “oh, you’re just like your mum.”  I’ve seen the results first hand – it’s not pretty.

Ginny served us up our meal, and then disappeared from the kitchen, making excuses about an essay that was due upon her return to Hogwarts.

“What’s she all ablaze about?” Ron asked, after swallowing the last of his baguette. 

“Ron, what’s tomorrow?” I asked.

“Friday?”

I flicked an imaginary bit of nothing at him.

“True enough, but tomorrow is Harry’s ‘on’ day,” I explained.

“Ah, got it,” he said.  “That’s got to be weird for her.”

“For Lily or Ginny?” I ask.

“Both, probably,” he replied.  He spooned his way to the bottom of the bowl and then looked up at me.  “Did Ginny ever tell you how her chat with Lily went?”

“Not in detail,” I said.  “She said it was a little bit like spending an evening writing with a blood quill, except that it felt good when it was over.”

“That rough?” Ron asked.

“I think Lily had some false assumptions about the relationship,” I replied.

“Huh,” Ron grunted.  “I don’t want to know what they get up to when they’re alone; all I can say is that Harry’s been a lot happier since Ginny came to visit.”

“He needs her, Ron,” I explained.

“Yeah, this summer’s been rough on all of us, but at least we’ve had each other,” he said sagely.

Next he pulled me into a hug – a proper hug, not a grope.  When first I thought of experimenting with a relationship with Ron, I wondered if his immaturity would drive me crazy – or crazier.  Either my perspective is changing, or he really is getting better. 

~+~

The day-on, day-off cycle between Lily and Harry was proving to be a right pain in the bum.  After interrogating Snape, Lily came up with the notion of striking at the Death Eaters.  She assumed that we’d be working hand-in-glove with the Order of the Phoenix.  When we explained that at the end, even Dumbledore didn’t fully trust the Order, but did trust Snape, she concluded that he was stark raving mad, and that if she hadn’t been able to kill him personally for putting Harry with the Dursleys, she would certainly have been pushed over the edge by this exercise of discretion.  We reached a compromise – we would work with the Order on this strike, but we’d still maintain operational security on the Horcrux hunt.  Lupin knew, but Tonks didn’t, which must have been odd, but obviously they’d worked out an understanding.  Whether or not Harry had ever told Ginny, I wasn’t certain, but now that I think of it, it’s entirely possible that Lily might have told Ginny, which certainly posed interesting questions.

~+~

On the whole, Ron doesn’t have much use for the Muggle world – whatever caused Arthur’s fascination for all things non-magical, it certainly wasn’t transmitted to the next generation genetically.  This being said, Ron really likes Muggle movies, which was how we finished the day.  Two of the amenities at our cottage hideout are a serviceable colour television and a second-hand VCR that I picked up at a jumble sale.  I’d fallen asleep that night on the couch, watching a movie with Ron.  I found out later the next day that Ron had finished the movie and then covered me up with a blanket.  I was a bit disoriented when I woke up, but the blanket, the couch and the noises coming from the kitchen clued me into where I was. 

I washed up in the loo, and then searched for my morning coffee.

Harry was up and about, opening and shutting cupboards, a part of his modus operandi in the kitchen.  We’ve used this cottage off and on for months – he knows where every cup and morsel of food is and does the lion’s share of cooking, but every time he starts working in the kitchen, he opens and shuts cupboards.  I don’t think it’s that he can’t remember where things are; I think it’s just his way of organizing the job.  As I entered the kitchen he closed the last cupboard door and flashed me a smile, pouring me a cup of coffee – cream, one sugar. 

“Been up long?” I asked after swallowing my first taste.

“Couple of hours,” he answered.  “Bill came by and swept Ron away.  They’re working on the target.”

“So someone’s told you about the plans?”

Harry smiled.  “Yeah, I got it from the horse’s mouth, as it were.  Mum and I talked most of last night when we were sleeping.  I’ve had a lot of strange dreams, but last night was a bit over the top.”

I arched an eyebrow at him.

He shrugged and then turned to reach for his wand on the counter.  When he turned around again he was Lily, complete with a tattered yellow bathrobe.  She was now twirling the wand in her left hand, a complicated manoeuvre that sent the wand over and under her fingers at a blinding speed.  Remus says that she used to drive people to distraction when she did it during study sessions.

“The dividing line between us is getting pretty thin,” Lily said.

“Can you turn it off and on?” I asked.

She turned around and in a blink was Harry again, sans yellow bathrobe, wand back in his right hand.  There were some very sophisticated charms and transfigurations going on here.

“It’s like jumping in and out of a room – only one of us can be in the room at a time, and I can’t hear what’s going on in the other room – not very well at least, but she can speak to me in passing.  I dunno, it’s hard to describe without experiencing it,” he said. 

“Last night was the first time that we could talk to each other; really talk, when this body was asleep.  I’m not sure now if it’s my body or hers,” he said with a smirk.

“Maybe Ginny could help you with that,” I quipped.

“My, my, was that a semi-lewd suggestion coming from the prim Gryffindor prefect’s pure little mouth?” Harry asked.

“I plead early morning,” I said, smiling at him over my coffee cup.

“Your deviant secret’s safe with me,” Harry confessed.  “Nobody would believe me anyway.”

“Probably not,” I agreed.

“So what is the plan?” I asked.

Harry smiled and turned to the stove, igniting a burner under a cast-iron frying pan.

“Later,” he said.  “I only want to explain this once, and Ginny’s not awake yet.”

I bridled at this rebuff, but chalked it up to early-morning crankiness. Harry opened the refrigerator, pulling out eggs and butter, beginning his smooth, practiced movements.  Ginny and Ron may admire him on a broom, but he’s pretty smooth in the kitchen too, and cleans up as he cooks, which my mum always considered a bonus.

Ginny’s timing was superb, entering the kitchen just as the toast popped in the toaster.  After a moment’s hesitation, she hugged Harry from behind.  Harry twisted in her embrace and then gave her a fairly ostentatious kiss.  Other than that first time in the Gryffindor common room, they weren’t much for public displays of affection.  Harry, apparently, was reading my mind, or at least predicting the destination of my train of thought.

“It doesn’t count in front of you, Hermione,” he said, giving Ginny a final quick peck on the lips before breaking out of her embrace.

Cups and plates and flatware clattered as Harry summoned all the components to the counter before loading three breakfast plates.  My plate was neatly arranged with toast at the top of the plate, eggs at the bottom left, and tomatoes at the bottom right.  Harry only looks oblivious; evidently he’d been paying attention during our years at school, where I’d arranged my breakfast in this same pattern since I decided in second year that I really did like tomatoes.  The bacon was on a separate plate in the middle of the table.

We ate in companionable silence, passing dishes and pinching rashers of bacon from the common plate.  Harry finished first, putting his knife and fork on the plate and then wiping his mouth and fingers on a napkin.  He then summoned what looked like a large, ugly doll house from somewhere else in the cottage.  It was amazingly detailed, complete with trees and shrubs; it settled with a muffled thump on the end of the kitchen table.

“The Carrows leased this house when they started teaching at Hogwarts this year.  They stay on the grounds during the week, but often escape here on the weekends.  Apparently, if Snape’s information is to be believed, there’s to be an all-hands meeting of Riddle’s little gang on Saturday morning.  Exactly what he plans for the day is not all that important to me right now, but the opportunity to catch them all in one place is not to be missed,” Harry said, adopting the quiet lecturing tone he used when he was in the DA.  When he got really intent while instructing, his voice would go soft, forcing a weird silence on the group.  Today was no different.

“So are we calling in the Aurors?” Ginny asked.

“Not exactly,” Harry said with a cold smile.

“What then?” I asked.

“Once we’re sure that Riddle is on the premises, we’re blowing up the house,” he said with satisfaction.

“Who is ‘we’?” I asked.  

“Same as now, friends from the Order, friends we know that we can trust,” Harry said.

“Collateral damage?” I asked.

“Not likely, the nearest house is more than a mile away.  The Carrows like their privacy, it would seem,” Harry said.

“So, we’re flooding the cellar with propane?” I asked.

“Ooh, very good, five points for Gryffindor,” Harry said with a broad grin.  “Ron and Bill are loading the cylinders into the cellar as we speak.”

“Won’t that be detected?” Ginny asked.

“Bill will make sure that not a trace of magic is left at the house,” Harry said.  “If the Death Eaters follow their usual procedure, the Carrows will arrive at the house early on Saturday morning, and they’ll sweep the place for magic.  They don’t do much with the cellar, as far as we can tell, so it’s not too likely that they’ll notice some Muggle junk in a corner already strewn with Muggle junk.”

“Alecto Carrow thinks that Muggles still use gas lights and ice boxes,” Ginny added.  “They won’t notice anything Muggle.”

Harry drew a circle around the doll house with the tip of his wand.  “There’s some sort of security perimeter that the Carrows activate once they’re inside.  Only marked Death Eaters can pass through without harm,” Harry explained.  Looking up to meet my eyes he added as an aside, “Ask Bill how it works, my eyes glazed over when he tried to explain it.  The guests will arrive here,” he said, pointing to a gap in the hedge surrounding the grounds.  “Once we’re certain that most of the Death Eaters have arrived, we’ll open the propane canisters with a remote device and then, once the cellar is inflated, we’ll trigger the air-gas mixture.  Mum’s explanation is that we’re turning the house into a bomb.  As we flood the cellar with propane, we activate a containing field outside of their security perimeter – Bill says it should stop Apparation and Portkeys, as well as any type of physical movement.  Lupin’s not sure that it can’t be broken, but the window of opportunity for the Death Eaters discovering that they’re sitting on a bomb is rather small.”

We were silent for a moment.

“What about Nagini?” I asked.

“Well, first off, I’m not certain that she really is a Horcrux – that was just a guess on Dumbledore’s part.  Second, if she’s there, she’ll be blown up with the rest – if we have to burn the wreckage with fiendfyre to make sure, I think we’ll have time to do that too.  If she’s not there, I have a pretty good notion where she is, and once Riddle’s gone, she shouldn’t be too hard to dispatch.”

“So what can go wrong?” Ginny asked, staring at the doll house.

“Oh, lots of things,” Harry said glibly.  “Riddle could get hit by a lorry on the way to the meeting, the Carrows could decide to clean up the cellar before the meeting; the meeting could be called off.  Riddle could get away.”

“But you said the containing field should stop anything,” Ginny objected.

“That was Bill’s opinion, actually.  While I value his experience in this area, I’ve studied Riddle for a long time now – he usually has several layers of planning and fallbacks to his fallbacks.  If Riddle gets away, I’m going to have to go after him.”

Ginny bit her lip, struggling to stay silent.

“I’m the only one who can kill him,” Harry said.

We didn’t have any argument to counter that.

“We’re going with you,” Ginny said, chin set resolutely.

“No, you’re not,” he said adamantly.  “Look, you two are two of the most important people in my life.  I know that you’d die for me – but that’s exactly what I don’t want.  If I’m putting my life on the line, it’s so that both of you can live.  Ginny you’re the best thing that’s ever happened in my miserable life, but I want you to have a life – too many people have died for me already.  Hermione, it’s got to be this way so you can grow old and tie the Ministry of Magic in knots.  I can’t be distracted with whether or not you’re safe, and I don’t want either of you taken hostage.”

“So, Ron’s not what you value most these days?” Ginny asked.

“Wrong Weasley,” he said with a grin, looking from Ginny to me.  “Love kind of reorders a bloke’s priorities, I guess.”

I don’t think Harry noticed Ginny flinch.  Knowing him as I do, I rather doubt that he’s yet come straight out and said that he loves her.  As declarations go, this was rather unambiguous – for Harry at least.

“Are you going to make us swear oaths?” Ginny asked peevishly.

“No, that’s something that Riddle would do,” Harry answered.  “I’ve just explained my reason, and now I’m going to ask you both to not come with me.” 

Harry caught my eye, and then Ginny’s.

“If ever you loved me, please don’t follow me if I have to chase after Riddle.”

The mantle clock in the living room chimed the half-hour.

Ginny smacked the table with her fist and stormed out of the kitchen.  “I hate you, Harry Potter, I do!” she shouted as she slammed the kitchen door for emphasis.

Harry stared at the doll house, and then looked at me.  “That went well, I suppose.”

I tossed my napkin at him.  “You prat, go after her,” I commanded.

“This is one of those mad girl things, isn’t it?  Leaving means ‘come follow me,’ and ‘I hate you’ means ‘I love you?’”

“You’re catching on, Harry.  Go mollify your Weasley, I’ll clean up,” I volunteered.

Harry nodded and followed Ginny’s trail.  Given the amount of noise she was making, it shouldn’t be too hard to find her.

Once again, I was left to clean up the kitchen, but this time I didn’t mind. 

Harry’s right, love does reorganize your priorities.

~+~

Harry took off after Ginny, who’d just left the kitchen in a snit, leaving me to clean up breakfast and do the dishes.  This vision of domesticity was not exactly my notion of my place in this narrative, but I was willing to let it slide for the moment.  That time in front of the sink was my last quiet moment of the day.

The cottage became the hub of activity. Bill and Ron came back from their errand, covered in a musty layer of grime.  After a very quick clean-up, we were all out again, digging holes in the moor surrounding the Carrows’ rented house.  The notion that in a few days someone, somewhere was going to have to explain to the landlord just what exactly had happened to his rental property was somehow hysterically funny at that moment, which was my tip-off that my stress level was winding up to mania. 

The holes were an interesting bit of manual labour.   For three of the five holes we were able dig up a divot by hand and then use a power auger to drill a neat hole.  We then inserted a rune-covered granite obelisk into the hole, and covered it neatly with the turf we’d displaced with our spades.  The two remaining holes were, of course, much more troublesome.  Because we couldn’t use any magic that would leave traces, Bill and Ron were reduced to pulverizing rocks with a long iron rod and pulling the debris out of the hole by hand.  I tried to take a turn at the rock-breaking duty, but I am not built for the job, however much Ron enjoyed watching me.  The obelisks were designed to anchor the containment field we were going to raise as we sprung the trap. In between rock pulverizing sessions, I got a quick tutorial from Bill in the charm-crafting that went into the obelisks and the field itself.  It is a fascinating area of magic, one that ties together a number of areas I’d studied at Hogwarts as separate disciplines.  Contrary to my reputation, I am far more interested in applied magic than pure theory.  There’s only so much excitement to be found in Arithmancy equations.

Bill carefully tested each site for traces of magic, and after he was satisfied that none remained, we groomed the sites physically, so they would look like any other bit of moor.

It was dusk when we finished the last site, which was pushing our schedule a bit.  We made it back to the cottage, where Remus had take-out waiting for us.  The guest list at dinner was Remus, Bill, Ron, Harry, Ginny and me.  Tonks was out on the moors, conducting surveillance of the Carrows’ house.  She signalled when the Carrows arrived, as expected, at 7:00 p.m.  Now was time for waiting – something that I had a lot of experience doing, but not much affection. 

Harry slipped out some time after dinner, and to my surprise, I didn’t notice it until Tonks reported in at 9:00 p.m. that the Carrows were down for the night without any apparent alarm.  By that time, at Ginny’s suggestion, I’d been teaching Bill, Remus and Ron how to play a Muggle board game.  Ron whinged a bit about it, but after converting Pounds Sterling into Galleons and an introductory trip around the board, he was an avid convert.  Having enough money to purchase Park Lane and Mayfair cinched the deal.  The game broke up, by mutual consent, at 11:00 p.m. – Bill having been reduced to mortgaging all of his properties to Ron.

Tonks was relieved of her sentry duty by someone I didn’t know from the Order.  A part of me was wondering if we had too many people from that group involved in this operation, but I put that worry away for another day.  Bill excused himself to go home to Fleur, and Remus made some tea for his wife, who was rather chilled by the end of her shift.

“Besides the obvious, is something bothering you, Hermione?” he asked, handing me a cup of tea that I hadn’t asked for.

“Just a bit of unease about tomorrow’s operation,” I said.  “It seems too much like mass murder.”

Remus pondered this for a bit before replying.

“The Death Eaters fly no flag, and have no declaration of war, yet they seek to overthrow Britain’s magical government.  If they win, it’s an open question which of us will die or be imprisoned first, dark creatures or the Muggleborn,” Remus said wearily.

“Since Tom Riddle returned, Hermione,” Tonks added, “we have thirty-two missing persons otherwise not accounted for and over a hundred confirmed murders perpetrated by the Death Eaters.  I admire Lily’s plan – it’s neat, effective, and only deals death and destruction to the bad guys.”

“If it works,” I quibbled.

“Yes, if it works,” Remus said.  “If we wait for the government to act, we might as well surrender.  The Minister is well intentioned, but the Wizengamot is split and the Ministry is heavily infiltrated.  This is an irregular war, and it’s up to us irregulars to finish it.”

“Isn’t ‘irregular’ just another word for pirate?” Tonks asked.

“Yes, love,” he replied, giving her a wink.

“Arrr,” Tonks said.  “I seem to have misplaced my hook and my patch.”

“Maybe you left it with your parrot,” Harry said.

We all startled a little and looked into the hallway where Harry was taking off a coat and muffler.

“Where have you been?” I asked, realizing after I’d spoken that it sounded rather cross.

“Hermione, I have one mother already, dogging my every move, I don’t need another,” Harry said, tapping his forehead with one finger.

“Sorry,” I said, in a much nicer tone.

“It’s all right,” Harry responded.  “To answer your question, I went out to fetch some documents for Mum – she wanted to go over some of her old notes.”

“Her notes survived?” Remus asked incredulously. 

“Better than she did, apparently,” Harry said.  “She had a dead-drop system – very cloak-and-dagger, but it worked.”

“I had no idea,” Remus mused.  “I thought it all was lost in the fire at Godric’s Hollow.”

Harry pulled two old ledger sized notebooks out of a satchel, plopping them on the table.  “Mum said you two might want to go over the notes sometime.”

“You’re okay with us looking at them?” I asked.

“Yeah, but not tonight – we all need to get to sleep if we’re going to be up at dawn,” he said.

Lupin murmured assent to this notion, and Tonks volunteered to whip up some sleeping cordial.  No one took her up on the offer.

I noticed with some interest that Harry and Ginny still seemed to be avoiding each other.  I resolved to officiously interfere at the first opportunity, probably after I kissed Ron goodnight.

~+~

Ginny volunteered to brush out my hair after I was dressed for bed.  Her own hair was already plaited.  I was indulgently savouring the luxury of her attentions when there was a knock at the door.

“Who is it?” I asked, sounding more peevish than I’d intended.

“Lily.”

Ginny and I exchanged glances and then Ginny stood to open the door.

Lily smiled when she saw Ginny, motioning for her to draw near.  She whispered something into Ginny’s ear, and then the two of them went out into the hallway.  I grabbed the brush and resumed combing out my brown thatch.

By the time Ginny returned, I’d plaited my hair and was in bed, reading.

Ginny mouthed “Sorry” and pushed the door closed behind her.

“So,” I began, “you’re now on speaking terms with her, but not him.”

“It’s complicated,” Ginny said.

“It always is,” I replied.

Ginny plopped down onto her bed.  “Harry and I – we’re actually better than we’ve ever been.  It’s just – I was so angry with him, thinking that he has to protect me like some little china doll.  Tom Riddle took a lot from me, and I want payback,” Ginny said, hissing the last word.

“So what did Lily want?” I asked boldly.

“To talk about Harry, of course,” she said.

“She’s worried about what he’s going to do?” I asked.

“Of course, so she turns to ‘the girlfriend’ for help,” Ginny said, lacing the phrase with an acid tone. 

“What did she want you to do?”

Ginny snorted.  “If Harry goes running off after Riddle, she wants someone to be able to find him afterwards.”

“The fireworks and explosions won’t do that?” I quipped.

“That was my thought too,” Ginny answered.

“So what did she propose?” I asked.

“Something like the trace that the Ministry puts on the wands of under-aged wizards and witches,” Ginny said.

“Did you agree to it?” I asked.

Ginny nodded.

“So, what’s the plan for patching things up with Harry?”

“Nothing,” Ginny said.  “It’ll blow over – we discussed it, reached some agreements, and concluded that we’d both have a different perspective tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow’s Lily’s day,” I objected.

“The day-on, day-off thing is over – they can switch back and forth seamlessly now,” Ginny observed.

“So who said goodnight to you out in the hallway?”

“Who do you think?” Ginny answered with a grin. “I may be a Weasley, but I don’t stay mad forever.  It was kind of romantic in a clunky sort of way – ‘Ginny, I don’t want you mad at me – I might die tomorrow – I love you.’  Not every girl gets to hear those words in just that sequence.”

“Ginny, how wonderful!” I gushed.  “Was that the first time?”

“Straight out ‘I love you?’ – yes.  But we’ve had other – conversations.”

“Like this morning at breakfast?” I asked.

“It was after breakfast,” she quibbled, “but yeah, like that.  Harry’s not much for talking about his feelings, but when he does, it’s eloquent – in an awkward sort of way.”

I turned out the lights and we continued chatting in the dark until Ginny fell asleep – at least I think Ginny fell asleep first, but don’t quote me on that.

~+~

Fleur Weasley shook me awake before dawn, placing an elegant finger on my lips as I began to protest.  I shook my muzzy head and then pulled on the clothes I’d laid out just a few hours earlier.  By the time I made it downstairs for breakfast, the kitchen looked like a committee meeting of the Order of the Phoenix.  Bill and Fleur were there, of course, along with the Lupins, Kingsley Shacklebolt and a one-eyed witch I recognized as an Auror, dressed in civilian clothes today, but still wearing a rakish looking eye-patch.  I didn’t know her name.  Harry and Ron and Ginny were huddled together over something, each of them cradling a steaming mug of coffee.

I pulled up a chair next to Ron.  Fleur appeared next to me as soon as I was sitting, brandishing a mug of coffee (black) and some sort of bun filled with meat and potatoes.  Ron passed cream and sugar to me without asking, and more out of routine than hunger, I began to gnaw on my bun.

Half-way through the mug of coffee, I felt awake and human.  It was still rather dark out.  Remus brought the doll-house model into the kitchen and set it down on the table.

“I’m not going to repeat myself, but if all goes well today, we may well break the back of the Death Eater organization,” he began.

“Hear, hear,” Kingsley said.

“Shush, Shack,” Tonks said.

“Fred and George Weasley are on lookout right now.  We intend to Apparate to spots close to the runic anchors for the containment field and monitor the target area.  About an hour after dawn, we expect the first visitors to arrive, with the remainder arriving an hour after that.  We expect that we won’t have to do anything other than monitor the anchors, to insure that they are not disturbed,” Remus said, pausing to take a swig from his own coffee mug.  “Any questions?”

“What are we supposed to do if we see anyone in the area?” the unnamed one-eyed witch asked.

“Good question – rules of engagement are wide open – you can safely assume that anyone you don’t recognize who is carrying a wand is on the other team – act accordingly.  You’ll have Muggle mobile phones for communication – they have a silent signalling capability.  If for any reason you need to approach a station other than your own on foot, you need to use one of these clickers to announce your approach,” Remus said, holding up a drab coloured clicker.  Once we’re in place, I don’t recommend Apparation – the containment field may interfere with your trip.”

“Will the containment field interfere with the mobile phones?” I asked, raising my hand as if I were still in class.

“We tested that yesterday, Hermione.  No, there’s no interference.  If we get into a fire fight hurling hexes and curses, I make no guarantees, but our best hope of avoiding detection by whomever is on their security perimeter is using no magic that can be detected.  None of you are smokers, so lighting cigarettes won’t be a problem.”

“No camp fires then?” Kingsley asked in a jocular tone.

“Uh, no – that’s a definite no,” Remus said firmly.

“Warming charms?” the one-eyed witch asked.

“No.”

“So,” Tonks drawled, “we basically need to freeze our arses until we blow these buggers up.”

“That about sums it up,” Remus said, smiling at his wife.

“No more questions?  Let’s go then,” he said quietly, all levity vanishing from his face.

~+~

Right up to the end, it held about as much excitement as waiting for a train.  My station was the highest, affording a nice view of the front entrance to the Carrows’ house.  We’d been there for about half an hour before the first Death Eater Apparated to a bend in the road leading to the house.  It looked like a man, but I wasn’t sure at that distance.  He walked slowly to the house – as he approached an amber coloured wall became visible.  Baring his left arm, he approached slowly until an opening appeared and then passed through it.  I leaned over to whisper to Remus.

“I assume it’s keyed to the dark mark,” I whispered.

“Right in one,” he replied.

“What would happen if I approached it?”

“How do you feel about immolation?” he replied.

“Not today, thanks,” I said drolly. 

“Why don’t they leave it up all the time?  It seems like a neat bit of security.”

Remus paused for a moment before speaking.  “Two reasons,” he began, “it takes a fair bit of power to establish that ring.  The effect breaks down after an hour – the longest I’ve seen one last was two hours during the last war.  Other than that, it’s a bit of magic that can be detected from a distance, so if you know what you’re looking for, you might as well erect a blinking sign saying ‘here I am, come and get me.’”

That was the last thing he said to me for the next hour.  He had a small notepad and a pair of Muggle binoculars and was writing down the arrival time of the Death Eaters, writing in names when he could identify them.

When the head count reached 60 a cluster of figures appeared, including one with a smooth, hairless head.

“Looks like the guest of honour is here,” he said, picking up his mobile phone.  He thumbed in some numbers and then pressed ‘send.’

“Now what?” I asked.

“The valve has opened on the gas – the fuse will be lit when we throw up the containment field,” Remus said, looking down at his watch.

Remus punched in another set of numbers and pressed ‘send’ again.  I saw something moving at the Death Eater’s Apparation point.  I tapped Remus’ arm and pointed.  Remus looked and then pulled the binoculars to his eye.

“Son of a bitch,” he gasped.

“Who is it?” I asked.

“Snape.”

The figure now identified as Snape was walking with a pronounced limp.  He passed the Death Eater’s barrier and then limped towards the house.

“Is he going to sound the alarm?” I asked.

“He doesn’t know that we’re doing this.”

“But he knows that he told you about the meeting,” I objected.

Remus shook his head sadly.  “No, he doesn’t – all he remembers is injuring his foot in an accident in his laboratory.”

“Will Voldemort be able to tell that his memories have been modified?”

“Only if he goes looking for it, and by the time he does that, it’ll be too late,” Remus said.

“What’s your confidence in that?” I asked.

“Fairly high.”

I never heard anything, but I felt a humming come from the runic anchors – rather like being close to an electrical transformer.  Remus’ phone buzzed quietly.

“Yeah, I know,” he spoke into the phone.  “No, nothing’s changed.”

I could see a shimmering dome over the house, the soft folds of light puckering as they came towards the ground.  I heard a crack like a rifle shot and then the dome collapsed.  Remus shouted something, but I never made out what it was.  He pushed me to the ground as the house exploded.  Most of the force went straight up, but a lot of debris went out in all directions.  Some of it fell like hail, falling around me.  Although my ears were ringing, I heard Remus’ mobile buzzing.  Remus got up off of me and put the phone to his ear and then brought it down again.  He did a swishing movement with his wand on either side of his face, and then repeated it on me.  The ringing in my ears stopped.

“Station Two – report in.  Okay.  Station Three?  Okay.  I heard you Station Four – can anyone see Station 5?” Remus barked into the phone, no longer taking any effort to be quiet.

“Anyone hurt?” I asked.

“Go ahead Station Five,” Remus said, holding up a hand.

Remus nodded and then gave the signal to meet up at the cottage.  My guess was that we’d comb through the wreckage when the dust settled (literally) and the fires burned themselves out.  How we planned on keeping the Muggle neighbours from calling in an explosion to the Police and Fire Department wasn’t something I’d anticipated.

“We’re all good,” Remus said. “Let’s go home.”

~+~

It wasn’t quite like the Gryffindor common room after winning a Quidditch game, but it bore a strong resemblance to it.  Fleur had opened a bottle of Champagne and was pouring it out liberally to anyone with a glass.  I scanned the room and then shouted, to be heard over the chaos.

“Where’s Harry?”

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Copyright 2009 – J Cornell – all rights reserved.

Kokopelli20878@yahoo.com

Write to me – I write back.

A note about canon – this tale is HBP compliant, but not DH compliant.  In this alternative to canon, Voldemort attempted to overthrow and replace the Ministry of Magic, but failed.  The taboo on Voldemort’s name is not in place.   The deus-ex-machina of the ‘Deathly Hallows’ has so many logical inconsistencies that I can’t even begin to unravel them, so no, there is no Resurrection Stone or Elder Wand in this non-canon universe – it’s fanfiction, so deal with it.

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Author Notes:

Thanks to Aaron St. Vines for backup beta