Disclaimer: JK Rowling wins gold for fiction writing, but sadly doesn't place for maths.
A/N: Finally! These next three chapters have been fighting me tooth and nail every step of the way. I must have rewritten my outline four times because I just couldn't get the story to do what I wanted it to do. Every plan I came up with, it would throw back in my face and tell me, "No, that won't work because of this." I know that might be a sign that it's gone wrong somewhere, but there are several things that really need to happen in this section for the larger narrative, so I pushed through it. Writers are problem-solvers in the end, and I think I finally found the solution.
As a reward for your patience, the next chapter will go up in one week, and another one the following week, which will put us back on track.
George entered Hermione's loft and flipped on the lights.
"Gah! Not the lights!" Hermione said. She flicked her wand, and they switched off again before he could react.
"Sorry," he said.
The loft was lit only by an array of candles, all of them behind and to the sides of Hermione, out of her field of view but arranged so that the blackboard on her wall was fairly evenly illuminated. The slow movement of a Mozart symphony was playing from somewhere, and everything in the room was magically neat and straight.
Hermione held her wand like a pen, levitating a piece of chalk, which moved in perfect concert with it. She didn't want to get chalk dust on her hands, and she couldn't stand to wear gloves. The smell of the chalk dust was bad enough. So this was the best compromise solution. With the help of Ravenclaw's diadem, she was doing maths at breakneck speed. Granted, she was also wearing a nightdress in the middle of the day.
"Hi, Hermione. How are you doing?" her boyfriend said. He touched her on the shoulder, but she smacked him away with an annoyed sound. "Ow! Sorry," he said. "I keep forgetting about that."
"It's not complicated, George," she said. "I don't like being touched when I'm wearing the diadem."
"I know. I can tell. It's just strange. Are…are you still in your pyjamas?"
"They're more comfortable than my day wear. I still had to cut the tags off, though. Have you ever noticed how itchy tags are?"
"No, I can't say I have," he said uncomfortably.
"I didn't either until now, but they are."
"Hermione, are you sure that diadem isn't affecting you?" George said with concern. "You always act…odd when you wear it."
"I'm trying to cope with hypersensitivity, George. Too much effort to act normal. It goes away when I take it off."
George reached over and took the diadem off her head. She yelped and snatched it back before her mind caught up with her. "Ugh," she said, shaking herself out. She winced and rubbed her head.
"You okay?" he asked.
"…Yes? I just always feel like I'm in a fog when I take that thing off. Losing the hypersensitivity is good, but losing the photographic memory…It takes a minute to feel normal again."
"I think you might be overdoing it."
"I'm getting better," she insisted. "At first I couldn't even use the candles because of the flickering. I'm teaching myself to function with it."
"Just so I don't lose the real you, Hermione," George said, and he kissed her on the forehead. "I don't care how useful it is. That diadem freaks me out a little."
"I'll be okay, George. I always take it off when I'm not working." She kissed him back, on the lips this time, and he held her close. She definitely appreciated feeling more normal when he did that. She felt sorry for Harry, having to be separated from Ginny all this time. She really appreciated having George here with her. It was…comfortable, she thought, in a very difficult time. She didn't exactly feel the Earth move when he kissed her, but—
She pulled back from him silently, her eyes wide.
"One minute, please," she said, holding up a finger. She put Ravenclaw's diadem back on her head, closed her eyes, and concentrated.
"Hermione?" George said.
Her eyes snapped open. "Bill," she said.
"No, I need to talk to Bill," she repeated. "I know how to rescue Luna."
"What? Luna? You do?"
"I think. I think I know." She studied the blackboard and waved her wand in a wide arc. "Evanesco!" The whole board was blanked instantly.
"Don't you need that?" George said.
"Photographic memory." She started drawing with a levitated piece of chalk. "Get Bill!"
Bill entered the loft and just stared. Hermione was standing in her nightdress, wearing the Diadem over hair sticking out everywhere, frantically drawing with a levitated piece of chalk, creating a highly detailed map of the British Isles complete with ley lines and major magical sites and population centres.
"Hermione?" he said. "You said you needed to talk to me?"
She spun around to face him. "Ah-ah," she said, and she motioned for him to step to the side. He looked confused, but inched sideways until he was standing between the candles. "There," she said. "Stay there."
"Bill, what happens when you move an active rune stone."
"When you—excuse me?"
"If you pick up an active rune stone and move it—like one of the milestones along the ley lines."
"Well, you'd…you'd put stress on the ley lines. If it's tied in properly, an active stone would drag the ley line with it and bend it."
"How much stress?" she asked. "Enough to open a hole in wards?"
"If they were big wards that were tied directly into the ley lines, sure. That kind of stress would weaken anything tied to it. Wait, you told George said this was about Luna? You can't do that to Malfoy Manor. The Ministry monitors the entire national network for any damage. They'd notice before you got anywhere."
Hermione smiled. "We don't have to move them. They've already been moved. Have you ever heard of continental drift?"
Bill stared blankly. "Continental drift?"
She pointed at the adjacent blackboard, which seemed to have some kind of cutaway drawing of the Earth on it. Bill took a step forward.
"Hey!" she stopped him and pointed. He stepped back between the candles. "Don't block the candles. I need even lighting. Too much flickering gives me a headache. Anyway. The continents…are not fixed," she said dramatically. "The British Isles, all of Europe, and most of Asia all comprise a single, massive slab of rock, twenty miles thick and stretching all the way from here to Indonesia. And this slab moves more or less eastward at a rate of about one inch per year."
"Continents moving?" Bill burst out. "That's preposterous!"
"That's what muggle scientists said until about thirty years ago. They were wrong. What do you think an earthquake is? It's the continents moving. They float on top of the molten interior of the Earth, and as it flows, it pushes the rock on top of them."
"It pushes a six thousand mile long slab of rock that's wedged in with other giant slabs of rock?" he said sceptically.
"On those scales, over millions of years, even rock behaves like a fluid. Please take my word for it. The British Isles are moving east, under the ley lines, at about one inch per year. How old is Malfoy Manor, Bill?"
"Well, they came over with the Normans, and they were rich even then. Probably about nine hundred years…So in that time, the anchor stones would have supposedly moved about seventy five feet, dragging the ley lines with them. That's not a lot."
"But that's not all," Hermione insisted. "Most of the milestones were laid down by the Romans two thousand years ago, and the oldest stone circles are five thousand years old."
Bill's eyes widened. "Of course, and repairs to the network would have mislaid the stones little by little over centuries. The ley lines have been bent by a patchwork of rune stones displaced as much as five hundred feet from true great circles. That could put a dent in any wards short of Hogwarts. Hell, Hogwarts itself could be affecting the global network."
"Wait a minute," Harry interrupted. He'd come in with Bill, but he'd been nearly lost through most of the conversation. "Are you telling me that Hermione just discovered a weakness in all wards everywhere?"
"I…I can barely believe it myself, but…if she's right about the continents moving—"
"Oh, she's right. I learnt it in muggle primary school."
"Bloody hell, she has! But you can see why. I mean, who would've ever thought of that? …That would actually explain a few things I've seen in my cursebreaking days."
"I imagine it would," Hermione said. "And Harry, it's a problem that was always there, but I'm guessing it's not big enough to notice if you don't know what to look for. Muggle schools have only been teaching it for the past twenty years or so. Even your mother probably never learnt it."
"Oh. Huh," he said.
"So Bill, do you think you could get through the wards at Malfoy Manor?" Hermione asked.
"Maybe," he said. "If I knew where to look. You said the motion was east. Do you know the exact direction?"
"I'm afraid not. It's very hard to measure for obvious reasons. But it's probably within…thirty degrees?"
"Hmm. That'll make it harder. I might have to find the weak point on site."
"See what you can do," Hermione said. "You can work with Dobby. He can't get into the Manor anymore, but he knows the layout and something of the wards themselves."
"Okay, I think I can work with that," Bill said. "I'd like to talk to Ron, though. If we want to do this, he can help plan it…Wow, this might just be able to work."
"Great," she replied. "Oh, while you're here, I want to run some things by you about Harry's problem, too."
Bill stared for a moment. "Well, I don't know if I'm as qualified to help with that."
"I trust your advice, Bill," Hermione said. "And now that I…don't have Septima, I'd really appreciate your help. It's hard to do all of this alone."
He shrugged and said, "Well…Thank you. I'm flattered. I'll help you any way I can. I don't know how much help I'll be with the horcrux problem, but with this…I think we might be able to pull off saving Luna."
"Absolutely not!" Kingsley said.
"What? Why not?" Hermione said.
"Why not? Has it not occurred to you that You-Know-Who uses Malfoy Manor as a base of operations?"
Hermione's face fell. She'd been so caught up in her "brilliant" idea that she'd been blind to the obvious pitfall.
"Wait, seriously? He's still there?" said Ron. "But Lucius is disgraced, and Draco's dead. Why would he bother?"
"Money," Hermione grumbled. "They're still his richest followers. Dammit." Could they find some way to lure him away? Or even just verify he was away? No, that would be nearly as dangerous as attacking the Manor blind. There had to be something. They'd all dropped the ball there. Bill apparently hadn't known, the Twins hadn't thought it through, and Harry himself—well, she didn't really know.
For his part, Harry sat quietly as they wrestled with the fatal flaw in their plan, but suddenly, he spoke up: "I think there's a way it will still work."
Everyone stopped. "How?" Kingsley asked.
"Because You-Know-Who doesn't sleep there."
"What?" said Ron.
"How can you know that?" asked Bill.
"He's too paranoid," Harry said. "He'll sleep alone, where no one can stab him in the back."
Kingsley closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Harry, we can't just rely on your intuition about him."
"My intuition's been pretty good, sir," he said.
"Not good enough to risk something like this," Kingsley said.
"Could someone watch from a distance outside the wards?" Ron suggested. "See when he leaves without being seen themselves?"
"That doesn't sound much better," he said sceptically.
"No, that could work," Harry said. "He's got to leave the wards to Apparate even if he's keyed in, right?"
Bill nodded. "If the wards are standard ones," he said.
"Unless he takes the Floo," Kingsley pointed out.
They paused and considered that. "I don't think he'd use the Floo," Harry said. "I'm not as sure about that, but if he does Apparate out, we'll be able to see it. He might expect someone to attack him, but he won't be expecting anyone to be waiting for him to leave because he won't think anyone can break in."
Hermione turned to Harry in surprise. She'd never been as confident in his intuition as he was himself, especially about You-Know-Who, but that made good strategic sense regardless. The whole point of this plan was that they could sneak without being noticed by using a security flaw no wizard would even think was possible. It wasn't something they'd be watching for.
Kingsley looked resigned, but a little thoughtful. "If," he stressed, "we can see You-Know-Who leaving Malfoy Manor without being spotted…Who would you expect to go on this mission?"
"Not Harry," Hermione said quickly. "We're not making that mistake again."
"No, not Harry," Bill agreed. "Me for sure. I need to be there to cut through the wards. Ideally, Hermione, too."
"I think it would be nearly as bad an idea to send Hermione as it would to send Harry," Kingsley said.
"She's the only other person who understands the calculations," Bill insisted. "I might need her help. I suppose she wouldn't have to come in, though." He turned to her: "Sorry, but he has a point. You're Undesirable Number Two, and they know you're running with Harry."
"And you said how important your other project is, whatever it is," Kingsley added.
"Yes, that's fair," she admitted. "Dobby is the other definite. Malfoy Manor is Unplottable, so we'll need his help getting to the location. Other than that…maybe just ask for volunteers?"
"Hmm…" he said. "I suppose I can talk to Hestia about setting a watch. Would your elf be able to do it?"
"Dobby? I'm sure he could. I'm not sure he'd be any less noticeable than a person with an invisibility cloak, though."
"I'll keep that in mind. Is there anything else?"
"Er, there is one other problem," Hermione pointed out. "Luna's still underage until the thirteenth of February. If we Apparate her out, they'll be able to track us. She'll have to fly." I should have broken the Trace on her when I had the chance.
"Can we wait until her birthday?" Kingsley said.
"That might be too late." It wasn't Hermione who said it, but Harry. "We don't know why they're still keeping her now with Liberation being done. Who knows what could happen by then?"
Kingsley sighed: "Fine. I'm not making any promises, but I'll see what I can do."
Ron stood with the raiding party in the woods just outside the wards of Malfoy Manor, his whole body tense with anticipation, waiting for Bill to give the signal to go. When Hermione had told him he would do a better job than she would at planning this raid, he'd been flattered—eager, even—but now, he was terrified. People died on missions like this, and no matter how well he'd planned it, he was terrified he was going to get someone killed.
Mum had been livid that Ron was going on this mission—almost as livid as Fleur had been that Bill was going, and a cranky, pregnant part-Veela was the last thing anyone wanted to deal with. But Bill at least had an excuse. He really was the only person they had who could crack the wards (besides maybe Fleur herself), even with whatever weird trick Hermione had discovered. Ron, however, had had a massive row with Mum and nearly walked out on Aunt Muriel's house to join Hermione's group. He wasn't needed, she'd said, and to be honest, she was right. But this was his plan, and if he was going to be putting people in danger, he'd be unworthy of Gryffindor if he wasn't willing to go himself.
He'd won the fight, and now, he almost wished he hadn't, just like he almost wished Elphias Doge hadn't reported back that You-Know-Who and several other Death Eaters on the Azkaban escapee list had left Malfoy Manor hours ago.
"The wild card is who's going to be there," Ron told the volunteers at the briefing. "If You-Know-Who isn't there, we think it'll only be ol' Lucy and Narcissa. The danger is if the Lestranges, or some of the other Azkaban escapees are on site."
"We know for sure that Dolohov, Mulciber, and Travers have other family they're staying with," Kingsley said. "The Lestranges have their own manor, and Dupont is dead." He was the one Hermione had knocked off his broom. "That narrows it down to Osbert, Pettigrew, Pyrites, and Rookwood, if any of them are there."
"We hope," Emmeline Vance spoke up.
"Yes, we hope. We can't say for sure how many people are in the house, but even so, they're not likely to keep a guard, so they should all be asleep."
That was the hope, anyway. According to Doge's report, the lights lit in Malfoy Manor suggested that more than just the Malfoys were there, but also that they weren't playing host to half a dozen other Death Eaters. It was a serious uncertainty, but all the lights were put out two hours ago, so they had a good chance. Ron was still on edge.
He looked over to where Bill and Hermione were working. It was pitch black, so he could barely see. They couldn't risk lighting a wand so the only light came from a crescent moon rising in the east. "Well, you were right, Hermione," Bill whispered. "I'd never have noticed if I didn't know what to look for, but there's definitely strain on the wards. Even if I had seen it, I would have blamed it on misplaced ward stones, but…"
"In a way, that's exactly what it is," Hermione whispered back.
"True," he said.
"Can you get through?"
"I'm not seeing the weak point yet. I need to look at how the stress is aligned." Bill waved his wand back and forth, and a faint shimmer of light appeared at the edge of the wards, barely visible even in this deep darkness. There were fuzzy lines in the air every ten or twenty feet, which disintegrated into a swirl like a cloud of dust whenever anything passed through them and slowly reformed in its wake. These were the ley lines themselves—the smallest, weakest ones far below the level of what anyone considered important except the most meticulous warders. "This way," Bill said.
They stepped through the trees as quietly as they could: eight of them, including Dobby—almost certainly more than were in the house, though probably not as skilled. Ron surveyed the group. Bill and Hermione were needed to get through the wards. Dobby knew the location and helped them to Apparate in. And George? George had insisted on coming.
"I don't know if that's a good idea," Hermione said. "I know you're capable, but this is a stealth mission, and too many people could be as dangerous as too few."
"I'm not letting you go on a dangerous mission alone," George told her.
"I won't even be going through the wards," she said. "I'll be holding the line at the exit point."
"Then I can be your bodyguard," he said.
"I don't need a—"
"Actually, he has a point, Hermione," Kingsley said. "After seeing how the last few missions have gone, I don't want you there alone. Especially since you'll be the highest-value target on this mission. You and George can hold the exfil point together, and he'll be one more wand in case something goes wrong."
"Make that two more wands," Fred spoke up. "I'm going too."
Kingsley shook his head: "No, Fred," he said solemnly. "Hermione isn't the only one who needs a bodyguard. I need you to stay with Harry."
"He'll be behind the Fidelius," Fred protested.
"This isn't just about the mission. If something goes really wrong, God forbid, we'll need to have one of you still out here to help Harry. I'm making the call."
Ron could just barely hear Harry mutter, "Wouldn't matter anyway." He wanted to tell his best mate to buck up, but he couldn't think of anything to say. It was kind of true if they lost Hermione.
"You can't split the Dynamic Duo," Fred cut into his thoughts. Hermione had to fight to keep from giggling for some unknown reason. "C'mon Ron. Tell him you need me on the mission."
Ron frowned and shook his head sadly. Discretion was the better part of valour here. "I'm sorry, bro, but Kingsley's the boss. And he's right. We need to be careful about how we distribute our forces."
Fred had sulked for a while, and George wasn't too chuffed either, but they eventually agreed. That didn't make Ron feel much better. Splitting up the Twins just felt wrong, somehow. But he had to admit Kingsley had the measure of the situation.
The rest of the group were volunteers from the Order: Elphias Doge, Emmeline Vance, and Cedric Diggory. It was a shame Kingsley was the only Auror they had left who was in full fighting form. Doge and Vance were no pushovers, though. They had fought with the Order in the first war, and they were still alive. Ron turned and looked as Cedric as he passed. Cedric was the weak link here, but he had volunteered, and others hadn't.
"Hi, Cedric," Hermione said. "I wasn't expecting to see you."
"We're here to save Luna, aren't we?" he asked. "She's my friend. We grew up as neighbours. I want to help her."
"Of course," she responded. "But are you sure you're up to this?" She glanced at his prosthetic arm.
Cedric twirled his wand in his left hand. "I've been practising," he said, "and I made it through the last fight okay."
She shrugged. "Well, if Kingsley and Ron are okay with it, I guess."
Ron had accepted him, but it wasn't ideal. It was true, they'd brought Hestia to the raid on the Ministry, and she had the same handicap, but she was also a trained Auror, and Cedric wasn't. Still, it was hard to get volunteers for this mission, so he took what he could get.
They continued walking along the perimeter of the wards, Bill leading the way, scanning the magical terrain and muttering to himself. "No…no, no…this doesn't look right."
"What's wrong?" Ron whispered.
"I'm not seeing the weak point where it should be. There's some stress on the wards, but not enough. Hermione, you said it was on the west side?"
"You said it was, Bill," Hermione insisted.
"I said I should be opposite the direction of motion."
"Which is east," she said. "I'm certain it's east. The Atlantic Ocean is widening. Europe is moving farther away from America."
Ron still thought this whole idea of continents moving sounded absolutely mad. The other volunteers had been shocked when they heard. How could anything move the solid rock of the Earth? But Bill and Hermione said it would work, and he believed them. He was starting to wonder, though. They weren't where they had expected to be, getting farther and farther from their planned entry point.
"Well, it looks like it's in this direction, but we're already pretty far from due west."
Hermione sighed almost inaudibly. "Maybe it's southwest, then. I can't imagine it's past there."
Bill shook his head, but kept going. "Alright, then. I'll keep looking," he said.
The weak point turned out to be pretty much southwest of the Manor—much farther south than Hermione had originally predicted. She admitted that the motions of continents weren't measured very accurately, so she'd been wrong about the direction, but not the distance. The muggles supposedly understood it pretty well in its broad strokes.
In any case, Bill had found the bend in the wards that was caused by the bending of the ley lines—or so he said—and he was confident that his curse-breaking skills were up to the task of putting a kink in them large enough to slip through. Ron then turned to the rest of the team.
"Okay," he whispered to them. "It looks like we'll be ready to go soon. We're gonna have farther to run to get to the house than we expected, but we're keeping the plan the same. We'll go under Disillusionment. Even in this light, they might spot something if someone gets up and looks out the window."
The rest of the group nodded. Dobby wouldn't be Disillusioned, exactly, but elves had ways of going about unseen, and he could be right scary if he wanted. Doge, Vance, and Cedric all got ready, Disillusioning themselves. Bill worked meticulously, turning the bend in the wards into a kink and the kink into a gap large enough to walk through. Now that he'd found it, his calculations were perfectly accurate, or so it seemed.
"A little more, and…got it," he whispered. "Okay, it's ready." There was a faint red glow in the air with a gap little more than a foot wide in it. "It's scary how easy that is."
"You really broke into the wards of the richest dark family in the country?" Doge whispered.
"Yeah, but barely," Bill said. "If the Manor were any younger, I don't think it would've worked. As it is, this is as far as I can open it. It's like opening a gap in a curtain." He marked rune on the ground with his foot where the gap was—an Eihwaz rune, Ron noted: strength and stability. That should help hold it open. "Okay, we're ready, but don't touch the sides. Hermione, you're set?"
"Yes," she said. "When the prisoners come out, I can guide them by laser signal without anyone else seeing. You know my Unsealing Spell?"
"Good. There's not much that'll stop it, but it's not very discreet, so don't use it unless you have to."
They were ready. "Alright, let's move," Ron said. They slipped through the gap one by one, being careful not to touch the magical fields of the wards, and headed for the house. He went over the steps of the plan in his head, making sure he hadn't missed anything.
"Alright, so Bill and Hermione get us through the wards," Ron continued. "It'll be different from the Ministry because it's smaller, and we've only got one target."
"What about the Malfoys?" Cedric cut in.
Kingsley shook his head. "Too dangerous. They could alert You-Know-Who in a second if we let them. It's risky enough just sneaking in at two in the morning."
Crossing the grounds was the most dangerous part in one way. They had to cross a lot of open ground, and no matter how careful they were, there was always the chance they could be spotted, especially with six of them. But they weren't noticed, either by the sleeping white peacocks outside, or by anyone in the house. They came to the back door, and Bill opened it with ease. The Malfoys weren't worried about anyone already inside the wards.
"Dobby, you're up," Ron whispered.
Dobby tiptoed into the house, followed by Bill. Ron looked into the scullery after them from the doorway The elf sniffed around for a minute and then opened a cupboard door. There was a squeak and a flash of red light, followed by a soft thump.
Bill motioned for them to come inside.
"So here's how we do it. We make a chain, so everyone can see the next person, and everyone acts as a lookout where they can see. Hermione and George will stay at the ward boundary in case we need help quick from outside. Dobby will go in first. The Malfoys will have a house elf, and it could be up cleaning well past midnight, but they won't be expecting Dobby. House elves can sniff each other out. Apparently."
He looked to Hermione, who nodded. She'd said she'd nearly forgotten herself that house elves had a much keener sense of smell than humans.
"So, Dobby and Bill will take care of the elf if they spot it. Cedric, you're at the scullery door." Ron pointed at the map Dobby had drawn of the Manor. It was lucky they had someone who knew the place inside and out better than anyone, because he used to mop the floors. "Mr. Doge, you're at the entrance to the kitchens…"
Cedric stood just inside the scullery door, leaving it open a crack, for minimum visibility, and Ron, Vance, and Doge followed Bill into the house. Dobby stayed in the kitchen to watch the other elf, and Doge stood watch at the entrance to the room, able to see Cedric back at the scullery and forward to the entrance hall.
Treading softly on the marble floors, they reached the entrance hall: a grand, two-storey room with wide staircases that could have fit a small house inside it. Ron silently scoffed at the extravagance of it.
"Ms. Vance, you're at the door from the hallway to the entrance hall. You'll be the main one on watch. If one of the Malfoys is up, that'll be the most likely place for them to run into us. Then, it's just into the drawing room."
They left Vance behind in the entrance hall, where she could see both Doge back at the kitchen and forward into the drawing room. It was just Ron and Bill, now. Ron had assigned himself the forward-most lookout position, right behind his brother. All Bill had to do was go down into the dungeon and open the cells. They would pass the prisoners from one lookout to the next until everyone was outside the wards.
Together, Ron and Bill rolled back a heavy carpet, revealing a trapdoor in the middle of the floor. They knew that was there already. The Aurors had raided that little hiding spot in better times. Bill scanned it.
"Can you get in?" Ron breathed.
"Doesn't look too hard," he said. "There's an alarm, but it's dead simple. It's designed to keep people in, not out."
Ron nodded, and Bill made short work of the alarm and lock and opened the trapdoor. A stone staircase lay beyond, and he descended into the darkness. Ron kept one eye on the entrance hall and one ear on the dungeon below as he waited.
"Hello?" came a whisper from below, barely audible.
"What? Who's there? What's going on." A gravelly male voice, so loud in the silent house that it made Ron wince.
"Shhh! I'm here to get you out of here."
A pause. "Weasley?" the first voice hissed more quietly.
"Nagnok?" Bill whispered. "I thought you were dead."
"Hmph. It takes more than that to kill an arch-goblin, Cursebreaker."
Nagnok? Ron vaguely recognised the name. Something to do with the Twins' business dealings, and Bill had mentioned him once or twice from work.
"What are you doing here?" Bill said. "Wait, never mind. How many are down here?"
"Hello?" A female voice. Barely above a whisper. It might have been Luna's. "Is someone there…? Oh, William. It's good to see you. Mr. Ollivander, wake up."
Ollivander? Ron mouthed. He thought he was dead, too by now.
"Ollivander?" Bill repeated.
"Huh, wha—?" an old man said.
"Shh! Mr. Ollivander. Merlin, it's good to see you. Is anyone else down here?"
"Here. Over here." Another woman.
"Mr. Cresswell and Miss Fawley," Luna said.
High-value prisoners, Ron thought to himself. The Fawleys were a rich family with influence on the Wizengamot if he remembered right. And he remembered Dirk Cresswell being mentioned on the radio campaign. Head of the Goblin Liaison Office and a muggle-born. He wasn't sure why they would keep him here instead of just killing him or sending him to Azkaban, but…come to think of it, he was probably the highest-ranked muggle-born in the Ministry right before it fell. Maybe something—
A toilet flushed upstairs.
Ron's heart skipped a beat. He looked at Ms. Vance and saw her eyes wide with worry. They had to be visible to see the prisoners out. They couldn't just hide. He turned back to the stairs. "Bill!" he hissed. "Someone's awake up there. We have to hurry."
"Damn," his brother whispered back. "Okay, I'm close. They weren't expecting a serious cursebreaking attack on these wards either. I just need a minute…"
Ron bit his lip to keep from tapping his foot. His wand twitched anxiously in his hand. It took about another minute before he heard the clanking of bars. A moment later, light footsteps came running up the stairs, and Luna popped into view. She looked dirty, dishevelled, and even thinner than usual, but she had a cheerful smile on her face.
"Hello, Ronald," she whispered.
"Hi," he said. "Quick, follow the path out. We'll point the way." He pointed out to where Ms. Vance was standing.
Luna quickly padded her way out. She was only wearing socks, he noticed, but she stopped when she stepped into the entrance hall. "Ron," she whispered.
"What?" Ron hurried out to her, but when he reached the entrance hall, he stopped cold.
Emmeline Vance stood stock still in a combat stance, staring down her wand at a heavily pregnant Narcissa Malfoy.
"Stay right there, and don't make a sound until we're gone," Vance whispered.
Ron came to his senses and frantically pointed for Luna to run down the hall to where Doge stood. He heard her go and another set of footsteps come up behind him.
Narcissa shook her head. "Lucius knows I came down," she whispered tremulously. "And Bella will kill me if she thinks I had anything to do with this."
Bellatrix?! She was supposed to be with her husband! Ron turned and ran back for the dungeon stairs, passing a surly-looking goblin as he did. "Bill!" he called down. "Narcissa's downstairs. She says Bellatrix is here. I don't know if it's a bluff."
Bill swore a little too loudly. "Go! Go! Go!" he hissed. Ron stayed, though. A man who must have been Cresswell scrambled up the stairs and ran past him. And then Bill came, helping old Mr. Ollivander hobble up the steps.
"I said go!"
"We're going now," Ron said. They hurried toward the exit as fast as Mr. Ollivander could go, passing Vance and a now-bound and gagged Narcissa. Ron motioned for Vance to follow and covered their retreat—first in and last out. He motioned for Doge to start running too. That picked up Cedric, and in moments, everyone was out and running across the grounds. Ron had just reached the scullery door when—
He guessed the voice was Lucius Malfoy's but it didn't matter. He slammed and locked the door shut with his wand, hopefully buying a few seconds. They ran flat out for the gap in the wards. Lights in the windows flipped on in rapid succession behind them, and there were shouts from within the Manor.
The scullery door slammed open, and a tall figure stormed out. A bolt of green light whizzed past Ron's head and exploded in the grass next to Cedric. George and Hermione were running in from the ward line. No point in stealth anymore. They threw curses over the retreating Order members' heads. One of them slammed into the side of the Manor and set a large chunk of stone crashing down.
Another green curse exploded around their feet, but they kept running. All they had to do was reach the ward line, and they could Apparate out. Cedric and Luna reached it first, and he whisked her away. Ron just had to hope they could find an Untraceable way to get to a safe-house. Doge and a woman who must have been Fawley. Gone. Vance and the goblin. Gone.
They were almost there. Hermione and George were with them now, running with them and helping cover their retreat. More curses were flying—
Ron felt a flash of pain as he went flying through the air and slammed into the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of him. He heard a sickening crack as his wand snapped under his weight.
"Get them!" a voice roared. Ron struggled to get up, but without a wand, he couldn't defend himself. He felt a rope tie itself around his feet. He kept trying to get up anyway.
Bill was trying to move, but his leg was crushed and bent at the wrong angle. Hermione was bleeding from her forehead as she and George struggled to fight from the ground. Cresswell was the only one on his feet. He was just at the edge of the wards, helping Ollivander get up.
"Run!" Ron yelled.
The Death Eaters were closing in. Lucius. Bellatrix. Yes, she was there. Pettigrew! That rat-bastard! And Rookwood. The Unspeakable was duelling Hermione and winning on raw power.
"Occulus Flammare!" he roared. A blazing orange curse flashed right past Hermione's head, shattering her shield with a glancing blow. Hermione hissed forcefully, and a blue-white light lanced out and struck Rookwood's face. But before it had any discernible effect, he shot back with, "Hemorrhagia! Tetania!"
Hermione dodged the deadly purple curse, but to Ron's horror, the second one struck her in the leg as she lunged, missing her more protected torso. She went down hard, her legs seizing up and twitching uncontrollably. She let out a ragged cry of pain. George fell on top of her, trying to protect her.
Ron turned and looked back to the trees one more time. If he could get there, maybe he could do something. With runes, maybe. But he knew there was no way they would give in a chance. When he looked, he saw one last very strange sight—so strange he thought he might have imagined it. Ollivander snapped a twig off a tree and wrapped one of his long locks of hair around it. He grabbed Cresswell in a bear-hug. Ollivander's hair caught fire. And yet, a moment later, they were gone.
Ron saw a flash of red, and everything went dark.
A/N: Occulus Flammare: Credit to EssayOfThoughts for this idea.
Tetania: from "tetany", the medical term for uncontrollable muscle contractions.