Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, nor am I attempting to make a profit. This is all for pure entertainment's sake! Hope you enjoy!

Author's note: I'm an addict, I admit. Full-blown. I can't seem to go a few days without working on some kind of fic! Actually, truth be told, I've had this fic in my head for quite a while now, but I'd been waiting until I finished THoT before I attempted it.

So anyway, here it is... One note: for those of you who have not read KotD, but plan to, please do so before reading this fic. The next chapter (and the rest of them after that) will spoil the major plot twists of KotD. If, however, you don't want to read KotD ever, then go ahead and read this fic, if you'd like :).


A Deal With The Devil
Chapter 1: All Things Sacred

It wasn't often that Ron woke before Hermione did. In fact, he could think of only a handful of occasions in which he had been roused from sleep by something other than her breath tickling his face, or her soft morning voice, still deliciously husky from slumber, murmuring his name as he slowly came out of some dream he'd forget soon enough. Sometimes, if he was in a really deep sleep, she would even brush her fingers up and down his bare arm, over and over again until she got a reaction from him, then later feign innocence when he finally did open his eyes to protest. Her guilty grin gave her away each and every time, though. He loved that grin.

Hermione liked to joke that he could sleep through a Hippogriff stampede; he reckoned she was right. But occasionally even the slightest flutter from her side of the bed would be enough to wake him, and it was always during those certain troubled nights--the ones that blended into morning, when darkness was not quite darkness anymore, but light had not fully emerged in its place yet, either.

Those were the times when whatever happened to be troubling him weighed heavily on his mind, the force of its gravity sometimes far too strong for even a stubborn git like him to fight against.

This was one of those times.

He had woken for the last time sometime before five o'clock, when that streak of charcoal across the sky was just beginning to lighten to a dull, gloomy grey. The curtains flapped against the slight breeze; they'd left the window propped open last night to fight the almost stifling heat. It was never this hot in early June.

Last night he had tossed and turned more times than he could count, muttering like a madman how utterly miserable this weather was. But he knew perfectly well even then that whatever this was that was keeping him up had nothing to do with the weather.

It was because of what awaited him when morning finally came.

This morning he was the one running his fingers up and down Hermione's arm, and when that failed to wake her, he began tracing letters on her back, right between her shoulder blades, where he knew she was most sensitive and gave out the most delightful of tremors. He managed to get to the second 'o' in "good morning" before she stirred at last.

"Mmm..."

It was more of a moan than a spoken word, the kind of moan she let out whenever they were just starting to make love and she wanted to voice her approval. She turned to face him, eyes still closed at first, then fluttering open when she gave him a lazy smile. She pulled on his chin with an index finger to tease him with a hint of a kiss.

"Good morning to you too, my love," she said into his mouth.

"My love?" He balanced himself on a elbow to hover over her, then let his hand slide down the side of her body, smiling at the slight shudder she gave as his hand glided over her skin. "I rather like that."

"Do you?"

"Very much so, yes."

She smiled again, only this time with just a hint of mischief that he swore could have come about only because of his bad influence over the years.

"Good," she said. "I'll have to remember that one, then."

"Oh, not to worry," he said, bending down to trace the contours of her collarbone with his lips, following its delicate line until he came to the base of her throat. "I'll be sure to remind you often."

She let out a sound that was halfway between a breath and a gasp--he thought he would actually die from hearing it--then it seemed she couldn't take much more of this sweet torture either, because she gently tugged at him and guided him back to her mouth.

But there was a sadness to her kiss. He noticed it straight away and almost said something, then came to realise it would probably be best to leave it to her to bring up. He heard her sigh, and when he opened his eyes again, he saw that she wasn't looking at him, but rather off into the distance, somewhere outside the open window where the sun was finally emerging from the thicket of clouds. He noticed she was stroking his arm, in that way she always did whenever she was troubled, and he tilted her chin up to force her to look him in the eyes.

"Why the long face?"

It was a silly question; he knew exactly why. But he had hoped he could at least try and cheer her up by making her smile.

"I hate it when you have to leave," she said softly. The words were infused with her own brand of quiet strength, but he knew full well how much it took for her to voice them.

He took the hand that was caressing his arm and put it to his lips.

"I know, love," he said. "I hate it too. I hate the thought of leaving you in this big, warm, comfortable bed when I could stay here and be cuddling up to this beautiful body-"

"Ron..."

She slid up to sitting but didn't pull away from him completely. After a while, she drew her knees to her chest, then rested her cheek on her knees and looked at him.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm being childish about this, I know. You'd think after five years I'd be used to you going away like this all the time."

He took her hand again and laced his fingers with hers.

"If you ever do get used to it," he said, "I think it might frighten me, to be honest."

He managed to get a smile out of her this time, but he knew underneath it there were still lingering doubts and fears that were very real and deeply rooted.

"I'll be careful."

"You'd better."

He laughed. "Or you'll have something to say about it."

"Exactly."

She placed her hand on top of his and gave it a squeeze, as if to let him know she would be all right. He never doubted she would be, somehow. She was strong, his wife. Sometimes he even thought she had enough strength for the both of them.

"We still haven't decided what to get Emily for her christening," she said. Ron was a bit startled by the abrupt change of subject, but didn't really mind all that much. "It's next month. Don't you think we ought to agree on something soon?"

He groaned and collapsed back onto the bed.

"You know that's not my forte," he said. "I'll go along with whatever you decide."

"What do you mean it's not your forte? You've got loads of nieces and nephews-"

"Four," he said. "That's hardly what I would call loads."

She rolled her eyes. "All right, four, then. That's four more than I've got, and you can't fool me, Ron Weasley. You're a natural with children. We're getting this gift together, and that's that."

At times such as these, he knew it would simply be easier to concede.

"Yes, mum."

Her jaw dropped in indignation, but she recovered quite quickly with a dangerously cool smile.

"I'll pretend I didn't hear that," she said warningly. "And you most certainly were not calling me mum last night."

He laughed and pulled her back down onto the bed, easily gathering her into him.

"Oh yes, now I remember..."

He kissed her longer this time than he normally would. Part of him wanted to savor as much of this moment as possible, or at least make it last as long as he possibly could. This had become habit for him since he'd become an Auror; he never took anything for granted anymore.

"Can you believe Harry's got a kid?" he said. "Or Ginny, for that matter. My baby sister with her own child..."

"And they seem to be really happy, too. I don't think I've ever seen either of them look this happy."

"Or deathly tired."

She giggled.

"Yes, I suppose there's that, too," she said. "But they really do seem overjoyed, don't they?"

"Mmm. Very." He looked down at her and smiled. "When did we all get so grown up?"

She started to answer him with a kiss, but the clock on the bedside table happened to pick that very moment to sound its alarm--rather obnoxiously, Ron noted with mild annoyance. He felt Hermione give him an involuntary squeeze as if to resist letting him go, but he gently patted her arm and rolled her onto her back.

"I've got to go," he said softly.

She merely nodded, giving him no words of protest nor agreement, then reached over to fetch his clothes, which he'd slung over the bed railing late last night. Hermione had told him that doing so would shave off a few precious minutes in getting ready this morning; now he wished he could get those minutes back.

Not too long after, she shrugged out of his arms to go downstairs and leave him alone to get dressed. She wanted to make breakfast, she told him, but he knew better. He knew she just didn't want to have to watch him getting ready to leave her yet again. And in truth, he didn't want her to have to watch him leaving either.

It would just make everything that much harder, though they'd already been through this routine hundreds of times.

She was still in the middle of cooking when he came down into the kitchen. He knew she had heard him come in, but she hadn't turned to face him, so instead he came up behind her and slid his arms around her waist.

"I can't stay for this, love."

"I know," she said quietly.

He waited for her to turn around and eventually she did, leaning back against the counter, into his clasped hands.

"I hate this part."

"Me too."

He brought his hands up to brush the hair out of her eyes, then cupped her face.

"Don't buy Emily's gift without me."

She burst out laughing, the last thing had probably wanted to do at this moment, but simply couldn't help.

"Go on, then," she said. "I'll have a surprise for you when you get back."

"What kind of surprise?"

"You'll see. There's something I've been wanting to talk to you about. We'll do it when you get back." She trailed a finger down his jaw line. "So you'd better get back soon."

"Mmm, just for that, I will," he said, grinning, then he touched his forehead to hers. "I'll owl you as soon as it's safe."

She was quiet for a long time, then she said, "Be careful."

"Always."

He kissed her before he lost the nerve, then smiled at her, taking one last good look before apparating. This was the image he would be taking with him.


By eight-thirty, the sun had fully announced its presence, and burned away the clouds that had been hovering since just after dawn. The unfathomable heat was back, shockingly even more unbearable here than it had been at home last night, which Ron didn't think could actually be possible. For a few moments he wondered whether that Global Heating (or was it Global Warming?) thing that Hermione had once spent an entire Saturday afternoon meticulously explaining to him really was something to worry about after all.

Bloody hell, it really was atrociously hot. He clawed at his collar, where his robes were fastened. The clasp seemed to be getting tighter with each second that passed; he was practically choking at this point. Of all the days to have to wear a robe. Normally he wouldn't be caught dead wearing them (he'd had enough of the damn things in school, thanks), but in times such as these he needed to be especially inconspicuous, and Sylvan Wentworth had given him specific instructions to wear his plain black robes--and keep his hood up to hide his face and that tell-tale shock of ginger hair, for good measure.

Ron never thought the day would come when enough people would actually know what he looked like that he would be forced to disguise himself just to do his job. Funny how life worked out. For as long as he could remember, he had longed to be in the spotlight right along with his brothers, and now after five years of being the most highly-profiled Auror in the Ministry, he found himself actually wishing for those days of obscurity again, when being the faithful sidekick of the Boy-Who-Lived was reason enough for small-time notoriety.

Wentworth was late.

He'd told Ron to be ready here at the rendezvous point at eight-fifteen exactly, but he was nowhere in sight, and Ron didn't even know where here was. It was some tiny coastal village near Liverpool--he couldn't even remember what it was called right at that moment--populated by dilapidated cottages that lined the shore, whose exteriors had long since suffered under the elements and the salty sea-air.

Ron reckoned it was mostly a Muggle village; he'd made sure to dress as appropriately as he could under his otherwise very conspicuous robes. He wondered why Wentworth would pick this of all places to give him his assignment, and it didn't look as if his answer would be coming any time soon.

A small crack just behind him jolted him out of his thoughts, the sound of heavy feet balancing on the rocks that littered the ground. Ron spun around, one hand shoved into the inside pocket of his robes, ready to draw his wand, when he saw who it was.

"At ease, Weasley."

"Sir..."

Ron let out a breath and let his hand down.

"I'm sorry. I'm a bit on edge."

Wentworth nodded solemnly. Ron wasn't used to seeing the normally jovial man so blank-faced; it was almost enough to unnerve him.

"Has anyone seen you?"

"No, sir. It's Sunday morning, I reckon most of them are having a bit of a lie-in."

"Good."

He wobbled across the rocks to come closer to Ron, and motioned for them to walk back even further, just beyond an especially large piece of rotting wood--large enough to obscure them somewhat--that looked to have been chopped and subsequently abandoned long ago.

"Last night we got word that some activity had gone on here," Wentworth said. "The Prophet hasn't found out about it yet, though I expect they will soon enough. It will be in tomorrow's edition for certain."

"Activity?" Ron said. His stomach gave a lurch. He didn't like the sound of this, not one bit.

"Several Muggles saw the Dark Mark in the sky."

"Was anyone attacked?"

"No," Wentworth said. "No, thankfully no one was attacked. But it's just a matter of time."

Ron clenched his jaw and looked back at the row of cottages in the distance.

"How many were there?"

"We're not sure," Wentworth said. "Ten, fifteen, maybe. Only a few of the Muggles saw them gathering round right there by the shore. They disbanded rather quickly after that."

He let out a laugh of disgust.

"Just like the rats, they are. Scarpering away once you catch onto them."

Ron absently watched the sun shower sparks of light onto the slowly-rolling waves of the sea.

"It doesn't make sense," he said.

"What do you mean?"

"It doesn't make sense, sir," he said. "Why would they scarper away? They'd have no reason to. They have every advantage in the world. They're Dark Wizards. These are just powerless Muggles who'd have no hope of defending themselves against that kind of magic."

Wentworth furrowed his brow. "They must not have felt very powerful last night, then. They scattered off almost as soon as one of the Muggles spotted them."

None of this felt right, Ron thought. Nothing he had ever read or heard about the Death Eaters have given him any indication that they were anything but bold and savage, and though their attacks may have grown fewer in number over the last eight years since Voldemort's return, each strike had been deadly and memorable.

He shuddered to think how bloody this one would be if they didn't find a way to prevent it.

"They'll be back," Wentworth said soberly. "Last night was only a warning, we both know that. They'll be back again tonight, and they won't run off this time. I need you to make sure they don't get to any of these Muggles."

Ron took a deep, but silent breath. There was no need to elaborate; he had not forgotten what had happened the last time the Death Eaters had struck. The death toll had been staggering, and they were left shell-shocked and shaken at having been too late to avert disaster.

"Your back-up will be here by tonight. I've staggered their arrivals so they don't attract suspicion, but all of you must be on your guard, is that understood?"

"Yes."

Wentworth reached inside his robes and produced a small vial seconds later, then handed it to Ron. Polyjuice Potion. The last step before the gates would be thrown open and there would be no turning back.

"This will last you twenty-four hours," Wentworth said. "If anything goes wrong and it wears off before you can finish this mission, apparate out of here, do you understand? They will come after you before they go for anyone else. Let the other Aurors take care of it, but do not let them see you."

Ron was too numb to nod, but did so anyway, and without further hesitation, gulped down the nasty potion. He would have twenty-four hours.

He couldn't wait for the bastards to show up now.