Chapter 27

Harry sat at his desk, staring down at the wand he had taken from Dumbledore. At first he had assumed it was just a wand that was, by some miracle, compatible with his magic. It was more than compatible, in fact – it felt just like his own wand had. A miracle, almost, considering how complex his own wand had had to be to match him. It wasn't until he visited Snape that he realised the wand was more than that. Standard spells, transfigurations, even legilimency felt just as they always had, but when Snape's shields had managed to keep him out and he realised he would have to whittle them down, the wand had shivered in delight.

Curses were more powerful than they ever had been before. Anything intended to hurt or to destroy or to kill was more vicious than it should have been. A wand that wanted to be used to kill? Well, there was only one wand that fit that description. The little divot in the wand's shaft that he knew was a perfect fit for the resurrection stone was only the confirmation.

And it was that which now plagued his thoughts. The stone. It was sat innocently on his desk, the symbol of the Deathly Hallows occasionally glimmering in the light. Retrieving it from his vault had been one of the first things he did after he escaped, even before he knew that the wand he now possessed was the Elder Wand. He hadn't used it, though. Just… looked at it.

That wasn't to say he didn't want to use it. He did. He always did. He wanted to see her, to speak to her, to hear her voice assure him that it wasn't his fault and that he wasn't a curse, infecting all those in his orbit until he was alone once more. But, no matter how strong that feeling grew, he couldn't bring himself to turn that stone over in his palm. He still remembered the ache in his chest when he saw her spectral form, just as he remembered what she had said when he had used the stone the first time. She didn't belong here, wasn't supposed to be here. Was he hurting her? Was he wrenching her from paradise to somewhere that her soul ached to leave? He didn't think he'd be able to live with himself if he was.

That was why he had used the stone only once since that day, a few days after he had first spoken to Nymphadora. His unfamiliar emotions had driven him towards the comfort of her smiling face but seeing her like that had just made it worse. It had hurt. Neither of them had even spoken then; she had just smiled sadly at him, and then he had let her go. He had refused to use it since, no matter how many times he longed to hear her voice.

He was still struck by that longing sometimes, and he wondered whether he would still feel it if he had not found the stone. People always say that they get over the death of loved ones. Had he? Or was the stone taunting him with the knowledge that he could so easily see her again, preventing him from moving on? He wondered whether that was part of the stone's magic. The soft, enticing whispers that drew him to the distant corner of his vault to stare at the box in which it hid until he finally managed to wrench himself away. Resisting those whispers was among the hardest things he had ever had to do.

And now he had the wand. The stone would give its power to the wand he assumed, making the magic in his spells even more concentrated and, hopefully, more powerful. And power was something that he would need if he was to emerge from fate's maze victorious. The wand and the stone were two pieces of a puzzle that he wasn't sure should ever be solved, but which he would put together nonetheless. Or he planned to, hoped to, at least, once he had quietened his feuding thoughts.

What if the stone could never be taken off again? He hadn't used the stone in years, but the thought of never being able to use it again was a terribly painful one. Olivia's death hadn't been real ever since the day he found it. Not really. How could it be when he could see her by simply turning the stone thrice in his palm? But this… this could be permanent. He'd never even have the option. Not on his wedding day if that day ever came nor when his children were born if he ever had any, unlikely though he thought those events were.

And what if someone else died? He wouldn't be able to speak to them either. That had been a thought that had reared its head often during his imprisonment. It had been an important factor that allowed him to keep his sanity, actually. The knowledge that if anything that Dirlewanger made him watch truly had been real, then at least he would still be able to speak to them when – if – he escaped. Able to beg forgiveness for getting them killed.

Could he live without that option though? He laughed scornfully. Could he live the same way everyone else in the world did? That was the thought that convinced him. If everyone else could go through it then he definitely could.

His mind made up, he picked the stone up in one hand and the wand in the other before he stilled and put the stone back on the desk. He may have decided against using it, but there was someone else who might like to speak to the dead.

Harry flicked the wand into its holster as he left his office and made his way through the corridors towards Anaïs's room.

"Go away!" he heard her shout after he knocked softly on the door.

He cringed even as a laugh bubbled in his throat. She had been ecstatic when Fleur forced him from his office – and burned all his plans, annoyingly – and had been practically bouncing off the walls for the rest of the day. He had taken her to the arcade, the movies, a theme park, even snuck into the Holyhead Harpies stadium to watch them play Puddlemere. Since then, though, it was a very different story. The veela temper was infamous, as was the temper of teenage girls. When those two were mixed together… suffice to say he was currently suffering under her displeasure.

"Anaïs," he said, and he could practically feel her glare through the door, "I want to show you something."


"Please? I think you might like it and we might never get the chance again."

After a few seconds of silence Harry sighed and turned to walk back down the corridor. He'd put it off as long as he could, but the moment they got word of Madam Bones being attacked the stone would be going on the wand. Nymphadora had assured them that they would be notified immediately, how he did not know.

Just then he heard the reluctant click of the door opening behind him as Anaïs stepped into the doorway, still dressed in her pyjamas despite the fact that it was three in the afternoon.

"Where is it?" she asked with the expected glare.

"My office," he said, and with that she swept past and stormed towards the staircase.

This time he did laugh, quite loudly judging by the sharp look Anaïs gave him over her shoulder. Teenagers.

When he reached his office Anaïs was already sat behind the desk in his chair, peering down at the stone in front of her.

"Is this it?" she asked with well concealed curiosity, her hand already moving to pick it up.

"Yes," Harry said as he swatted her hand away and delicately picked the stone up, "this is it."

"It's just a stone."

"Have you ever heard the Tale of the Three Brothers?" he asked suddenly.

"Yes, obviously," she said, rolling her eyes, "you put in my room when I got here. Read it to me once too."

"I'm surprised you remember that."

She shrugged as she fought against the small blush that appeared on her cheeks, much to Harry's amusement.

"What does a stone have to do with the Tale of–"

She cut herself off, now staring at the stone in Harry's hand with wide eyes before her gaze flicked up to his face. He nodded.

"How do you know?" she asked, and he could hear an echo of the familiar longing in her voice.

"Because I've used it. Twice, years ago."

"Only twice?"

Harry smiled a sad smile, all traces of humour now gone.

"You'll understand if you decide to use it. It doesn't bring them back. Not like I hoped it would, anyway. It's more like summoning a ghost, except somehow… worse. I've been tempted to use it since then, but I never did. Why would I need to if I had you hanging around?"

The distressed frown on Anaïs's face lifted ever so slightly at his attempt to lighten the mood, but still she looked distinctly anxious when he set the stone back on the desk.

"To use it just turn it over three times in your palm and think of who you want to see. If you don't want to use it, don't."

With that he walked towards the door. This was a private moment; she would want to be alone.

"Please stay," he heard her whisper just as he reached for the door handle.

"You're sure?" he asked softly, surprised despite himself that she'd want him here for this.

She nodded, her eyes starting to glisten, and Harry conjured a chair beside her own and silently sat down in it. He grunted softly in surprise when she immediately crawled across the arm of her chair and into his, practically curled up in his lap while her fingers tapped nervous patterns on the armrest. She hadn't done this in years, not since she started Beauxbatons. Apparently it wasn't cool to be so affectionate with ones parents – or parental figure, in this case – which, frankly, he thought was fair enough. That didn't mean he didn't miss when things were a little more obvious, though. It had been very confusing and even more distressing at first.

She picked the stone up with shaky fingers and spent several seconds just holding it before, finally, she closed her eyes and turned it over three times in her palm. The air shimmered, and then standing in front of them were her parents.

Her father was a rather rotund man with brown hair and green eyes, his chubby face filled with laugh lines that made Harry imagine that he had been a jovial man in life. The word cuddly for some reason appeared in his mind, even if his current expression didn't agree in the slightest. In fact, the man seemed to be glaring at him.

Her mother, on the other hand, was smiling fondly at him with a warm look sparkling in her blue eyes. She looked exactly like an older version of Anaïs, right down to the way her silver hair flowed down and over her shoulders.

"Hi sweetheart," her mother said.

Anaïs whimpered and nestled further back into his chest, and Harry started tracing circles on the back of her hand to calm her down, just as he had done when she was younger. Her mother's smile became even brighter.

"And hello Harry," she continued when it became clear Anaïs wasn't going to answer, "it's lovely to meet you."

"It's lovely to meet you as well."

"Thank you for saving her," her mother mouthed. Her father was looking anywhere but at him.

Harry was a bit ashamed to realise he couldn't remember their names.

She looked back towards Anaïs who, judging by her no longer trembling fingers, had overcome her shock. Almost as soon as her mother looked at her she erupted into excitable babbles, telling them how much she missed them and about her friends and all about the things she'd done over the past few years. Both of her parents listened with love-filled smiles, occasionally making sounds of surprise or asking questions that Anaïs would hurry to answer. Harry knew that they already knew everything she was telling them.

It took a long while for her to finally run out of breath, and when she finally stopped her father was chuckling to himself.

"You always could talk for France," he said, amused, and Harry could feel the heat that rolled off of Anaïs's cheeks.

"It's nice to hear that you're having fun," her mother said with a grin, "and that you've got Harry here wrapped around your little finger. It's a very useful skill later in life. Your father made me breakfast in bed every day for a month when we found out I was pregnant."

Her father blushed slightly.

"And it's even better to be sure that you're safe and that you're happy," she continued. "An orphanage is no place for a young veela, that I can assure you."

"Safe," her father snorted under his breath. "She'd be safer with damn werewolves than with this murderer."

"Claude," her mother hissed, her face twisted into a glare.

Her father tried to glare back but quickly faltered under his wife's gaze, and she didn't stop glaring at him until several seconds after he had looked away. Harry could feel Anaïs's confusion as well as, shockingly, anger towards her father. He felt his heart swell even despite the fear that suddenly gripped it. She'd just heard her father call him a murderer. What would she think of him?

"Ignore him Harry," her mother said when she finally dragged her eyes from her husband. "And don't you dare even think about that hare-brained plan of yours. I thoroughly agree with Miss Delacour in that regard."

He gaped at her. Anaïs's own mother thought she was safer with him? With him? She smiled sadly at him, as if reading his thoughts.

"You of all people know what damage it can cause," she said with a sad, apologetic smile. It took a few seconds to click in his mind, and when it did he felt anger swell in his chest. Not with her, nor even with the Potters, but with himself. He had truly been considering doing what he had hated the Potters for for so many years. It was a sick sort of irony.

"You're not nearly as dangerous as you think you are, Harry," she said before her eyes drifted to her daughter. "And I think our time is up now, sweetheart."

"But I'll be able to see you again, won't I?" Anaïs asked pleadingly.

Her mother looked back towards him.

"I don't think so, darling. Like Harry said, this may be the last chance. We don't belong here. And even if you could call us back here again, it's not healthy to hold on like that. I think Harry would agree with me about that."

Harry nodded as Anaïs sniffled into his shirt.

"We love you," her father said, smiling a tearful smile, "and we will always love you."

"Love you too," Anaïs said quietly, her voice shaking.

Her parents smiled at her encouragingly until, finally, they faded away as the stone fell to the desk with a clatter that felt far too loud in the heavy silence. She immediately spun and nestled sideways into his chest, her knees drawn up to her chest and tears soaking through his shirt. He drew circles in her back while she cried until her sobs quietened to sniffles and then eventually faded into silence.

She'd fallen asleep, and as Harry listened to her gentle breathing he was struck by how much he missed this. He missed when she would follow him around in an attempt to spend as much time in his presence as humanly possible. She didn't need him anymore. And, he thought to himself as he struggled from his chair, he missed her being smaller.

He laid her gently her on her bed and twitched his wrist to bring the covers up over her before he returned to his office and stared down at the stone once more. Now was the time, he supposed. He flicked his wand from its holster and held it in his left hand while his right picked up the stone and, with a final deep breath, pressed the point of the stone into the matching divot on the wand.

It seemed to hit a barrier a hairs breadth away from the wand's surface, and then strange, ancient magic started billowing outwards. It was suffocating. Otherworldly. It caressed his skin while simultaneously prickling at it, and, somehow, he felt like he was being asked a question: the stone or the wand? Power over the dead or power over the living. A choice between creating death or destroying it. And somehow he knew that choosing one would render the other utterly ordinary. The stone would become a simple stone, the wand would become a wand just like any other. But the one he chose…

He paused. If he chose the stone, maybe he could bring her back properly. Even if he couldn't, all he would have to do was find the cloak and do the same thing. Surely that would be enough? He could have her back, Anaïs could have her parents back. He'd never have to lose anyone ever again.

But, everyone else would. They would lose everyone and everything to Voldemort. A part of him didn't care. He wasn't responsible for everyone else. They didn't come into it. Another, annoyingly large part disagreed because, even if everyone he cared about remained in this world, it would mean nothing if it was so dark that it wasn't worth living in.

His mind made up, he pushed the stone again, and this time there was no barrier. The stone sank into the wand until its flat top was level with the wands surface, and then a brief surge of power flooded out of it. Harry felt… destruction. Ash and tears, blood and death. And then the feeling disappeared, the air became still, and he looked down at the pale wand that now seemed to thrum in anticipation.

~Scene Change~

"You what?" Harry and Sirius spluttered in unison, and Tonks at least had the decency to blush.

"Well we need to make sure we're notified as quickly as possible after Voldemort attacks Bones, don't we? So I just got myself assigned to her protection detail."

Sirius continued to gape at her.

"So," Harry said slowly, "knowing that Voldemort would soon be attacking and that he will be throwing everything bar the kitchen sink at her, you decided the best course of action was to make sure you're there when it happens? Even despite the fact that we know the aurors have been infiltrated? There could be a Death Eater on the protection detail for God's sake!"

"Nah, Bones is far too suspicious for that."

"I think you're missing the point, Dora," Sirius said.

"Why is everyone so utterly illogical?" Harry muttered to himself. "Honestly, it's like you're trying to get yourself killed."

"Says the rich lord who gets in fights with legions of dark wizards just for the fun of it," Tonks snarked.

Sirius couldn't help but snort.

"She does have you there."

"I don't know what you're laughing about, Sirius," she said with an impressive sneer. "It applies to you as well."

Harry and Sirius shared a sour look. They both knew that trying to persuade Tonks to get herself off that detail would be pointless, and that was assuming she still could. She was far too stubborn for that, especially when she felt like she had a point to prove.

"Well, it should be a fun night at least," Sirius joked lamely. "Who knows, Harry, maybe you'll manage to kill the fucker this time."

Harry shook his head.

"Oh come on Harry," Tonks said, "he had you outnumbered last time and you still almost killed him. If he hadn't thrown Death Eaters at you beforehand you would have done it."

"No, I wouldn't have," Harry said, shaking his head once more. "What I did should have killed him. My bone breaker should have shredded his insides, my cutting curse should have disembowelled him. But it didn't, and he was fine when I woke up in that cell. I've searched every ritual book in my library and I haven't found anything that describes what we saw. Even if we ignore the horcruxes, I'm not sure he can die."

They both spent several seconds blinking at him while their mouths opened and closed soundlessly.

"But you can still beat him," Sirius insisted, pleaded, almost. "Even if he's not dead, you can beat him and then we can dose him up on the Draught of Living Death and lock him up in the deepest, darkest pit we can find behind every ward that we can possibly cast until even he can't escape."

"Can I?" Harry asked, and he could feel the wand prickle unhappily in its holster.

"Harry," Sirius said with impatient reassurance, "you nearly did last time and that was after you'd fought off a couple dozen death eaters. Of course you can beat him."

Harry frowned to himself, refusing to meet anyone's eyes. He wasn't used to the feeling of defeat and he was again reminded how much he hated it. Why he went to such great lengths to only do things he knew he could do.

"Well," Tonks said with obnoxious cheer, "at least we don't have to worry about Dolohov, Rookwood, or Rodolphus Lestrange."

"Or Rabastan. I killed him on my way out."

Tonks and Sirius shared a look. That was the only time he'd spoken about his imprisonment except for his outburst at Fleur.

"Even better," Tonks said after a few seconds. "Shouldn't be too hard without any of them. All we'll have to worry about is Bellatrix, Malfoy and a bunch of idiots in masks."

"He'll have replaced those he lost by now," Harry said. "The replacements won't be inner circle obviously – Voldemort won't trust them yet – but that doesn't mean they'll be any less dangerous. More dangerous, probably. Trying to prove themselves."

"You think he'll have found replacements for them? Just like that? Rookwood was an Unspeakable, Dolohov duelled on the international circuit until he got banned, and the Lestranges were bloody vicious. You think he'll have found more like them?"

"Course he will," Harry shrugged. "Not all hateful people are idiots. There will be others who have similar skillsets and who lust for violence just like their predecessors did. A lot more, actually. Why do you think mercenary work is such an oversubscribed profession? A client could lose a dozen men on a job and there will still be a dozen more queueing up the next day to try again. Humans just like being violent. All three of us are evidence of that fact."

"But that doesn't mean that they'd join Voldemort, surely?" she protested. "I mean, they can't all be pureblood."

"Pfft," Harry snorted, "they won't care about blood status. If joining means they get a chance to kill then they'll do it, and Voldemort needs men so he's hardly going to turn them away simply because they're not pureblood. He doesn't even particularly care about blood status anyway – how could he if he's halfblood? It's an easy platform for him to use, that's all."

Sirius nodded in agreement with his words and an uneasy silence settled over the room. Tonks had never considered that Voldemort could just get more and more death eaters; she'd always assumed there must be a limit, but according to Harry there wasn't. And if there was, it was a long, long way off.

"Oh and, um, Harry?"

He raised an eyebrow at her sudden timidness and was struck by the sudden feeling that he was going to be asked to do something he didn't want to do.

"My parents want to meet you, and so does Sirius's family. Well, his wife does at least. I don't know if Harriet knows yet."

Sirius shook his head, ignoring Harry's look.

"Anyway," she continued nervously, "we were thinking of having a big dinner or something so you don't have to say everything twice. I mean, if you want to that is. You can meet them separately if you want. I don't know what you would prefer."

By the look on Harry's face he didn't particularly like either of the options.

"And you can bring Anaïs as well if you want to," Sirius offered. "Sofia worked out that there was some sort of relationship between the two of you."

"My parents don't know about her," Tonks said. "I wasn't sure if you'd want them to know so I didn't tell them. They know she exists from the Prophet article, obviously, but I think they assumed she was a relation of Fleur's. You could bring her too if you want!"

Harry looked at her strangely.

"Why would I want to bring Fleur?"

She shrugged with an extremely irritating look on her face.

"Fine," he grumbled eventually. "Anaïs will want to come too; I doubt she'd be willing to pass up an opportunity to glare."

~Scene Change~

Amelia Bones watched intently from behind her desk as Nymphadora Tonks had a hushed conversation with Kingsley. She always kept an eye on the most promising aurors, and Auror Tonks had been at the top of that list ever since Moody took her on as his protégé. But there had been something… different about her for a while now. Amelia had first noticed it shortly after the fiasco at the world cup, and ever since then there had been a series of small changes that had built up to make her near unrecognisable from the woman she'd been before. She knew full well that Auror Tonks could wipe the floor with almost anyone in the Ministry, the Department of Mysteries included. It was clear even from the way she moved that she had had further training; she just wondered who that training had come from.

It had been Auror Tonks that had warned her about the imminent attack on her home, and Amelia had assumed at the time that Dumbledore's little club had unearthed something. She knew full well that several of her aurors were in the group despite their best efforts to keep it secret, and as long as they didn't interfere with any active investigations and passed on any prudent information she was perfectly happy to allow it despite her own distrust of Dumbledore.

Kingsley hadn't even been surprised that she knew when she had asked him how the Order of the Phoenix had discovered that the Dark Lord was planning an attack. As it turned out, though, they hadn't. It had been Auror Tonks that told them. Her interest had piqued at Kingsley's blank refusal to even speculate on how she had found out, and she had even seen true unease in his eyes when she pressed. Nothing scared Kingsley Shacklebolt.

Her thoughts drifted to the attack on Beauxbatons. Tonks may not have been there herself, but her cousin was. Maybe her informant was the man who had duelled the Dark Lord, though he was in all likelihood dead by now. No one escaped the Dark Lord, especially not after so long. Maybe it was Sirius Black that had discovered the planned attack? He may just be Lord Black now, but Amelia remembered all too well how vicious the man could be.

She was reliving the extremely bloody aftermath of Sirius Black's duel with John Wilkes during the first war when, suddenly, she felt the wards come crashing down. All of them. 'That should be impossible,' she thought as panic seeped into her veins. The very moment they fell she felt new wards spring up around them, trapping them inside and preventing help from coming, and the panic gained even more strength. She should have felt her wards being broken long before they finally fell. How the hell had she not felt it?

A pair of patronuses shot through the wall, and as Amelia watched through the window them bound away in different directions she saw a mass of black cloaks marching ever closer with a nightmare at the front, smirking up at her with cold red eyes. The majority stopped and spread out around her lawn while a small group came to a halt a little closer, just close enough for Amelia to see the bloodthirsty grin on Bellatrix Lestrange's face, and then a bulging red spell sped form the Dark Lord's wand.

This time she felt her interior wards splinter under the impact, but they held. A second spell struck, identical to the first, and still the wards held. Amelia smiled grimly. If he planned to use brute force then he would be here a very long time. The Bones family was not renowned for their wards for nothing.

The Dark Lord swiped a pale hand through the air and a man came striding forwards. The way he moved suggested confidence born of experience, but Amelia didn't recognise his wand. A new recruit, probably. Instead of casting spells form distance, the man wandered right up to her front door and started waving his wand in complex patterns. Amelia recognised a few of them as advanced ward analysis charms but the rest were a mystery to her. A wardbreaker, then, and a good one at that.

She looked towards the few aurors who were crammed into her office while the rest hurried to create defensive positions throughout the corridors, just as she had told them to in the event of an attack. Where the hell were the reinforcements or even Dumbledore's fan club? She'd take just about anyone right now.

Instead of the usual feeling of wards crumbling, Amelia felt them start to shift and twang as individual threads of magic were cut. She felt herself pale; it was an extremely difficult skill that she would never be confident enough to even try despite her own capability in warding, and it was much, much faster than breaking the ward completely. They had far less time than she had thought.

She heard mutters from beside her and turned to see Tonks mumbling spells under her breath, her eyes closed and her face etched in concentration. Amelia didn't recognise any of what she was casting, but she could feel the threads that had been cut start to twitch and haltingly join back together. Her wand movements were sharp but clearly unfamiliar, and even despite her fear Amelia felt questions dance in her mind. Tonks was no warder; she had been taught these spells specifically.

Unfortunately, she was no match for the man currently breaking the wards; the threads were being cut far more quickly than they were being joined back together. All she was doing was buying them time.

She continued to watch helplessly until she felt the wards shiver a second time a few minutes later, but this time over the back door. Threads were being cut so fast she could barely comprehend it even despite Auror Tonks's spells. In fact, her spells didn't even seem to be affecting the new attacker.

"Aurors!" she shouted, "cover the back door!"

Kingsley sprinted from the room with the rest of the aurors on his heels, leaving her with Tonks and two other aurors to watch through the window as the man's wand continued to twitch and glide through the air. Amelia let out a shuddering breath when she felt the wards over the back door move aside and heard crackles of spellfire, and then felt relief flood into her when she heard Kingsley's barked order to stand down.

Dumbledore's fan club had arrived, then. She wondered who had cut through the wards – Bill Weasley maybe? – and hoped that Dumbledore was up to the task of holding this monster off when the wards over the front door were finally carved through, and she knew that would happen sooner rather than later. She reached over to grasp Tonks's wrist, halting her spells.

"Don't bother, auror. You'll just tire yourself out."

Tonks nodded, and Amelia could practically feel the wardbreaker's relief at his opposition disappearing.

The door to her office swung open, and the two aurors that still remained both instantly cast stunning spells which bounced off a sliver shield.

"Friendlies!" Kingsley shouted.

Their wands dropped, but judging by the expression on his face Amelia wasn't entirely sure that Kingsley believed that description of the newcomers was accurate. There was Sirius Black and Fleur Delacour, and at the front was a vaguely familiar figure that she recognised from the memories of Beauxbatons professors. The man who had duelled the Dark Lord. Not only was he alive, but he was also in the Order? She might just survive the night.

"Where the hell is the rest of the Order?" she demanded as Kingsley approached.

"The rest? The Order aren't here, Amy. Those two," he said with a flick of his head towards Tonks and Sirius as where they stood a few steps behind the man from Beauxbatons, "were only ever his informants, and he certainly isn't in the Order."

"And Delacour?"

Kingsley shrugged. "Definitely on his side too. No idea how they got in so fast; Bill is working to get through the exterior wards but from the sounds of it he's struggling, and he's one of Gringotts' best."

"You and you," the man snapped towards the two aurors who were still in her office, "you're going to be protecting Fleur. Fleur, get started. We don't have long." He paused for a second, twitching his fingers. "Five minutes at maximum."

"Why?" one of the aurors demanded. Amelia almost smirked; Robbins was well known for being headstrong, but even she wasn't stubborn enough to talk back to that particular man in this particular mood.

"Because she's going to be breaking the anti-phoenix ward so Dumbledore can get his pet parrot to give him a piggyback and save the day. Now shut up and do what you're told."

This time Amelia really did smirk. Definitely not in the Order, then.

"Hey, you recognise this guy?" Black called from the window, and the man stalked over and spent several seconds peering at the wardbreaker who was still crouched at her front door.

"Bad choice, McKinney," he murmured so softly Amelia barely heard him. "Make that two minutes," he said, much more loudly. "Fleur, reckon you can do it in two?"

"Non," she said, though admitting as such seemed to pain her. "Someone is blocking my attempts."

The man flicked a strangely familiar wand into his hand and started tracing it through the air, frowning. Fleur was right; there was someone blocking any attempts to break the exterior wards. He wasn't even sure he could break the ward within two minutes with such interference. No wonder it had been harder for him to get through the exterior wards than he expected.

"Sirius, there's a maintenance team somewhere to the south blocking attempts to break the exterior wards. Tell everyone who needs to know about them and about the hole I cut over to the east; hopefully Weasley's kept them busy enough that they haven't repaired it properly yet. If not they'll have to deal with the warders, but after that it should be doable for them."

Sirius nodded and cast a patronus that bounded off through the wall while the man turned his attention to her.

"Evac routes?"

She shook her head. "The wards should have notified me they were being tampered with. That should have given me more than enough time to escape."

He gave her a scathing look.

"Any possibilities? Tunnels? Passageways? Exterior walls or windows that are not unbreakable?"

She shook her head again and felt the unfamiliar sensation of shame wash over her under his gaze.

"You're lucky he wants a spectacle; if he didn't have such a big ego he'd have broken in and killed you without anyone the wiser. Sirius, Nymphadora. Ideas?"

"Back door," Black said with eerie calm. "We thinned the herd in that area on our way in; hopefully they haven't managed to redistribute numbers yet."

"Agreed," the man said as Amelia felt the breach in her interior wards finally take shape over her front door and, judging by his face, he felt it too. "Sirius and Nymphadora, you're with me at the front. Kingsley and Fleur are with Bones behind us, and the rest of you follow on. You see a death eater, you kill them. Move."

Robbins looked ready to argue that he had no right to give orders until Kingsley shoved him forwards.

"This is no time for your ego," he snapped, and Robbins looked shocked at the usually unflappable man showing signs of strain.

They had barely made it two steps out of her office before they felt a great explosion shake the house. Amelia cringed as cries of pain echoed up the stairs and almost immediately she heard spellfire sizzling the air, interrupted only by the sounds of splintering defences and mad laughter.

"Move," the man said, hurrying along the corridor with soft footsteps, "if we're quick then we can get to the back door before he gets through the aurors at the front."

Amelia scowled at his dismissal of her aurors lives but couldn't deny the accuracy of his statement. There was nothing they could do short of getting into a duel with the Dark Lord to stop them dying now, and that was more or less suicide. This man might have just about survived it once, but she doubted his luck would save him a second time.

They weren't quick enough. By the time they reached the bottom of the now smashed staircase there was only two defensive positions left. Half a dozen aurors were huddled behind them, firing blind curses over the top or around the corner while they frantically tried to heal their wounds, and Amelia felt a lump bob in her throat; there had been nearly forty aurors down here an hour ago.

The Dark Lord's snarl turned into a smirk when he saw her, a smirk which quickly became a snarl again when she saw the man in front of her. The hatred in his eyes was only matched by that of Bellatrix Lestrange, and they were forced to throw themselves back behind the wall to avoid the blasting curse which would have turned them all into mist.

She was just thankful that Susan was still at Hogwarts and again scolded herself for not simply hiding behind the Hogwarts wards with her. Looking like a coward, even surrendering the Ministry to Voldemort's puppet was more than worth keeping her family together, but after this night she feared that Susan would be an orphaned a second time.

"Fuck, there's not enough time," the man said, the smallest hint of panic in his voice. "All of you, make for the back door. If you're lucky there will be people there to help make a path out. Once that's done send a few people in to help me out."

"Fuck that," Tonks hissed. "Kingsley, Fleur, you do what he just said. Me and Sirius are staying."

He glared at her, but she simply glared back, unmoved.

"We will provide covering fire," the man scowled when it became clear neither she nor Black were going to obey, "and as soon as we do you all run for the back door."

Tonks nodded to herself, seemingly pleased that she would soon be duelling the Dark Lord, Bellatrix Lestrange, and dozen or more others. The man glared even harder.

"We are not duelling. This a controlled retreat; we just need to slow him down enough to provide time for an escape."

Tonks and Sirius nodded grimly, already having similar thoughts themselves. Of the three of them Harry was only the one who would be comfortable in such a confined space.

"Three, two, one… now!"

With that Harry threw himself from behind the wall and started casting curses as quickly as he could, halting Voldemort's salvo on the lone auror that remained and giving her enough time to curse a few unsuspecting death eaters before Bellatrix's killing curse struck.

With the final distraction eliminated Voldemort was free to fling curses at them with abandon, and Harry concentrated entirely on transfiguring, conjuring, and summoning as many physical shields as he possibly could. Every one of them was blown to pieces almost immediately, but all those shards were banished straight back. Harry was satisfied to hear pained groans and the yell but knew it was not enough; even after only ten seconds under the death eater's assault they were being pushed back along the corridor far too quickly.

He could barely manage to slip a curse in here and there, none of which provided Voldemort with an ounce of trouble. Sirius and Nymphadora were having better luck in that department but their success was nonetheless limited. The death eaters were advancing down the wide corridor four abreast, Voldemort a half step ahead, and when two of those four were Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange very few curses struck their mark. It was fortunate that Voldemort didn't care about his followers enough to try and shield them – if he did they would have already been overrun.

"I need an opening," Harry grunted as he flicked the remains of the wall into the path of Voldemort's killing curse bare inches before it struck his chest, growling in pain as splinters embedded themselves in his skin.

Curses continued to whizz past their ears, but as soon as Sirius and Nymphadora found the slightest of breaks in the death eaters spells they cast a pair of blasting curses at the floor a few feet in front of Voldemort. The curses themselves were of little trouble, but in such an enclosed environment it forced Voldemort and the front row of death eaters to shield, and that gave Harry just enough time to start mounting an offence of his own.

Spikes erupted from the walls, skewering death eaters in a shower of gore before crumbling against a shimmering shield bare millimetres from Voldemort's skin. His crimson eyes narrowed, but before he had a chance to cast another curse he was forced to defend himself from the golden sconces that thrust for his neck. He could hear wet choking and screams of pain from his death eaters, and when he chanced a look behind him he saw several of his men stood lifelessly with candles stabbed in one side of their necks and out the other, their candles still flickering happily while blood mingled with melted wax.

Wolves and bears and lions pounced for those that remained, wallpaper skin rippling as glass claws rent flesh from bone, and Voldemort heard Travers' familiar cry of pain as his arm was ripped from his shoulder. He was besieged by the boy's creations; wooden eagles and plaster acromantula, curtains that reached for him and plants that wanted nothing more than to strangle him, and through it all the boy's insolent companions continued to rain curses down upon him.

He was struggling, he knew. He didn't like duelling in enclosed space, and much longer in such confinement and attacks would start to slip through. Already far too many of his death eaters had fallen. This was supposed to be a simple attack with such overwhelming numbers on his side, an opportunity to show once again why they feared to speak his name. And now, this boy was thwarting him yet again.

Harry grinned as yet another death eater was mauled by one of his creations. Voldemort's defence was gradually weakening and Harry was delighted to see silver drip from shallow claw marks in his shoulder. The Elder Wand was laughing in his palm. This was who its wielder had been so worried about? Fearful of, even?

And then, suddenly, the air exploded. A concussion curse the likes of which Harry could barely comprehend shot towards him, and even despite his hasty shield he was thrown backwards at least twenty feet. His ears rung and his vision blurred, but he still had just enough presence of mind to conjure a stone wall while he rolled backwards. It was quickly reduced to powder, but it gave him just enough time to block the spell that followed and throw himself out of the way of the next.

Neither Sirius nor Nymphadora had got their shield up as quickly as he had; Sirius's left arm was bent at an odd angle, and Nymphadora had blood oozing from her forehead as she scrambled to her feet. They had bought more than enough time by now. Or at least, he hoped they had.

"Back door! Now!"

They both limped away as fast as they could, firing curses over their shoulder as they went, and Harry resigned himself to what he knew was a very bad idea.


The cursed flames roared from his wand, somehow hungrier than they had ever been before. They did not struggle against their caster; they had no interest in him, not when there was so much to devour in front of them, and Harry could hear them hiss in excitement as the walls caught fire.

Voldemort's own fiendfyre came rushing in just as they had done before, and Harry braced himself for the battle of magical power that he knew from experience he couldn't win. It came, only there was not the chasm between them that he remembered. It was less a meeting between a river and a stream and more a clash between two oceans, and this time his fiery creatures fought back. They raged at their opponents, slashing and clawing and biting, and Harry could almost hear the Elder Wand urging them on.

He continued to back slowly away, keeping all of his attention on maintaining the shackles that bound the flames to his will. When he felt the cool marble of the kitchen counter bump into his hip and saw Nymphadora and Sirius by the door to his right, he pushed the fire outwards and then let the shackles break. They roared and swept through the building, destroying everything they could touch while Voldemort desperately tried to draw them into his own.

Fiery eagles were swooping through the roof as they stumbled out the door, and their eyes widened when they saw the chaos. It was carnage; the lawn was filled with bodies from which streams of blood trickled together until they formed rivers and lakes; hedges and trees had been set aflame; the greenhouses were shattered and the quidditch hoops cut in two. It seemed like every death eater Voldemort had brought had rallied in one place.

Madam Bones and the aurors were being swarmed by as they desperately tried to fight their way to the edge of the wards, but the crushing tide of black cloaks and white masks was being held back by the almost welcome faces of the Order. More aurors were streaming in from the break in the wards, but even despite the growing number the Order was struggling. It was clear that even with Dumbledore's help they would soon be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers that Voldemort had brought. In fact, there were several that he seemed to be struggling with by themselves.

The moment the three of them emerged from the building a mob of death eaters rushed towards them, and he could feel the wand start to sing in his veins. A melody that dripped with blood as it poked and prodded, begging and baying for blood and slaughter. He embraced the feeling.

He stepped between two curses and cast a cutting curse that split a man in half, and then swung his wand in an arc while water spewed from its tip. Several of the approaching death eaters were knocked off their feet and the others were drenched, and then they stiffened and convulsed as lightning struck the now waterlogged ground, their robes smoking while electricity leapt between them. The water around the feet of the remaining death eaters froze, and as their feet stuck in the ground or slipped out from under them Sirius and Nymphadora cast a series of piercing curses that swiftly dispatched them.

More death eaters abandoned their attack on the Order in favour of attempting to head them off before they could reach Madam Bones, but before they could come within range Harry felt the roaring heat behind him suddenly disappear as Voldemort finally managed to bring the rampaging fiendfyre under his control. The death eaters that had been running towards them stuttered to a stop, and Harry felt a flash of disappointment in his palm before he turned to watch Voldemort step out of the crumbling remains of Bones Manor.

Loathing was squirming on Voldemort's face as his wand shook in has hand, red eyes narrowed. The skin on one side of his face had melted and dripped down his cheek to expose grey flesh, and through the holes in his tattered robe Harry could see softly glowing symbols slinking across his body.

Behind him stood what remained of the death eaters that had followed him into the house. Harry felt the horror shift from his face to be replaced by satisfaction; there must have been at least twenty death eaters in that corridor when they reached the bottom of the stairs with Madam Bones in tow, and now there were only six.

"Who do you want?" Nymphadora murmured.

"Well I've always hated Malfoy," Sirius replied as he cast healing charms over his injured arm,

"I'll take dear old Aunt Bella then. Should be fun."

Sirius let out a soft snort.

"You dare interfere…" Voldemort whispered, his voice floating across the lawn

Harry sucked in a slow breath. He hadn't come here planning to fight Voldemort. Quite the opposite, in fact. He had wanted to avoid it if at all possible. He had come solely to ensure that Voldemort could not install a puppet government and make everything harder, but as he stood there he couldn't help the exhilaration that shot through him.

Voldemort's overreliance on powerful curses had given Harry the advantage in the house, but now on the flat expanse of open lawn that advantage was gone.

The wand seemed to tingle in excitement as its song came to a crescendo. A proper challenge. All the doubts, all the fear he had held just hours before at the prospect of duelling Voldemort, just... melted away. Such emotions were unacceptable to the wand. It was the Deathstick; any wizard that feared another did not deserve to wield it.

Voldemort's first spell was the killing curse. Harry almost sighed as he conjured a slab of stone and transfigured the fragments into a thousand stone wasps that swarmed back towards Voldemort's head. It was just so unimaginative.

Next came an organ withering curse that Harry swatted with surprising ease towards one of the death eaters that were now duelling furiously with Sirius and Nymphadora. The poor bastard didn't even see it before it struck him, and the next second he collapsed with his heart blackening in his chest. Harry twirled his wand as the moisture in the air coalesced into spears of ice that shot towards Voldemort, only to be blocked by a haze of vicious heat. Steam hissed as it billowed outwards, obscuring Voldemort's vision, and Harry sidestepped his blind curse and used a gust of wind to push the wall of scalding vapour into Voldemort's face.

He cried out in pain and Harry pressed his advantage, casting curse after curse and transfiguring the remains of the house into lions with charcoal fur. Clangs echoed across the lawn as his spells bounced off a silver shield, and Voldemort slashed his wand through the air to turn his lions to ash just as they leapt for his throat. Lightning shot across the lawn with a deafening clap, forking and crackling through the air, and Harry twirled his wand around his head. The electricity seemed to coil around the tip of his wand as it whipped around his head and then stretched out, arcing for Voldemort's neck.

Voldemort summoned a corpse into its path and the lightning coiled around it, squeezing and squeezing until the body was cut in two. The stench of burning flesh filled the air, and as the two halves fell to the ground they were transfigured into a pair of still bleeding axes that Voldemort banished towards him. The axes became chirping ravens that flapped off into the night, their red-black feathers shimmering in the crimson light of Harry's next spell.

The deathstick shivered happily.

Sirius growled as he flicked away Malfoy's withering curse and transfigured a pair of wolves from some of the wreckage that was now strewn across the lawn. His arm hurt every time he moved, and to make matters worse they were still outnumbered two to one even after two of the death eaters were dead. Malfoy and Bellatrix were the problems, of course, but the other two were still providing an irritating amount of interference.

Malfoy's blasting curse reduced one of his wolves to fragments, but the second leapt out of the way of his second curse and pounced forwards. He managed to throw himself out of the way just in time, but his friend was not so lucky. A gurgling scream trickled from the mouth of one of the nameless death eaters as he had his windpipe ripped out by stone teeth. Sirius could see Malfoy's eyes widen in alarm behind his mask as his distraction disappeared, and that gave Sirius just enough time to remove the head of the other death eater before he could sneak yet another curse at Tonks as she duelled furiously with Bellatrix.

Tonks had a nasty gash zigzagging across her thigh, but Bellatrix wasn't faring any better; her left hand was shattered with fragments of bone poking from the skin, and she had a nasty burn on her stomach. Blood was trickling down her arm where a transfigured bear had swiped his claws across her forearm, and each vicious slash of her wand sent droplets raining through the air.

She didn't even seem to notice her injuries as she cackled madly, casting another entrail-expelling curse at her traitorous sister's mudblood offspring. It was slapped away, and Bellatrix recognised the wand movements for a summoning charm before she quickly sidestepped the wooden stake that would have plunged into her back.

The mudblood's piercing curse was flicked towards Sirius, forcing him to shield against it and allowing Lucius's cutting curse a chance to sneak past from the opposing angle. Bellatrix giggled as her cousin stumbled out of the way of a killing curse and cast yet another cruciatus at the mudblood. It was blocked, predictably, but the second one managed to sneak between the stone fragments as they fell. The mudblood's screams were blissful, and Bellatrix felt herself shiver as pleasure coursed through her. It served the bitch right for sullying the House of Black. She only wished Andromeda was here to watch.

She saw purple light flare and hurried to cast a shield, but in her pleasure fuelled haze she was a second too slow. A crushing pressure squeezed in her chest as she gasped for breath, and she had just enough time to see the grim satisfaction on Sirius's face and Lucius's lifeless body before her heart exploded.

An expression strangely like loss washed over Voldemort's face when Bellatrix crumpled to the floor, and Harry was forced to leap backwards as spike erupted from the ground in front of him, its point grazing the top of his head. Earth sprung up to shield him from a barrage of spells cast so quickly that they seemed to blend together as they shot towards him, all of which were absorbed by earth that rippled and swirled as if it were water.

Voldemort narrowed his eyes and started to hiss a familiar spell. The Boomslang curse – a slow acting curse that would work over the curse of days or even weeks to thin the blood until the victim would bleed profusely from even the slightest of injuries. A paper cut could kill as could a simple bruise, completely irreversible unless parseltongue was used to counter it, and to make it worse very difficult to shield against. One of Salazar's favourites. Harry had hissed the countercurse before the spell had even left Voldemort's wand, and when it fizzled out on the tip of his wand Voldemort stared down at it in shock.

"Salazar says hello," Harry said with a mocking smile.

Voldemort screamed in rage and started to cast killing curse after killing curse so quickly that Harry struggled to avoid them all. He was so consumed by anger that he was hardly bothering to defend now, and Harry managed to sneak several curses through while he danced around Voldemort's attacks. A blood-boiling curse seemed to have no effect, nor did an entrail expelling curse, and Harry watched in horrified fascination as Voldemort's flesh bubbled and writhed, the skin slowly crawling over the holes his piercing curses had made.

Sirius and Nymphadora started casting curses at him from the side, and Voldemort paused in his assault to cast a pair of rapid blasting curses that forced them behind their shields. Even then their shields rattled, but their curses had had the desired effect. Harry had a chance to breathe.

He whipped his wand around his head as if spinning a lasso, muttering all the while in an ancient tongue. All the blood that stained the ground lifted into the air and shimmered as it rushed towards him in raging rivers of crimson, and when the rivers collided the blood swirled and mutated into the fifteen foot form of what could almost be called a man.

It ran towards Voldemort in great lumbering strides, leaving crater-like footsteps in its wake. Voldemort's eyes widened and he cast a killing curse that shot straight through, just like the two spells that followed. Just as it reached a huge hand for Voldemort's head, intent in squeezing it to a pulp, a continuous purple beam sped from his wand and into the giant's rippling torso. Its hand continued to swing through the air as steam poured from its rapidly shrinking fingers until, suddenly, the giant exploded in a flash of steam and plasma.

While he was distracted Harry flicked his wand to send a ribbon arcing across the lawn, and by the time Voldemort's furious eyes turned back towards him it was bare inches from his leg. It seemed to push and strain at his skin for a second before it forced its way through his calf, spurting silver over the lawn. Voldemort screamed as he fell backwards, and the sound seemed to echo across the grounds even after he had disappeared in the swirl of a portkey.

Harry's curse impacted uselessly against the ground and he let out a growl of frustration. Even a second longer and the bastard would be dead. Hopefully, at least. A piercing curse to the forehead ought to do it, he thought.

"Well at least the Malfoy and the Lestrange's are dealt with," Tonks said breathlessly as she and Sirius appeared beside him, her limbs still shaking slightly from the cruciatus.

Judging by the lack of sound from behind him the remaining death eaters had fled with their master, and Harry grunted before he approached what remained of Voldemort's leg. It was already black and shrivelling with rot while occasional globs of dull silver fell to the floor, hissing as they hit the ground and sending wisps of smoke drifting lazily upwards. Harry cast a stasis charm on it, hoping to preserve it long enough that he could work out what the hell it was, but the moment he did so it burst into flames.

Harry growled.

"Let's get out of here."

He hardly waited for either Tonks or Sirius to answer before he turned and stalked towards the edge of the wards.

Madam Bones was gone, thankfully, though Harry wasn't sure precisely when she had managed to escape. There were aurors milling around, some showing signs of battle and others fresh from the Ministry, arresting the still living death eaters that had been left behind. A contingent of healers looked to have arrived from St Mungo's to treat the injured. By the looks of things they would be here a while.

The Order too were walking through the carnage but had not emerged unscathed. Harry saw several bodies being gently covered by white sheets and other vaguely familiar faces being worked on by the healers. Those that remained were either staring at the bodies, lost in mourning, or they were staring at him.

"Any idea who?" Harry asked quietly as he tried to ignore the gazes of Dumbledore and the Potter family and, judging by the way he could feel his blood sparking, not doing a very good job.

"That's Hestia Jones. She's a – she was a senior auror, as is Emmeline," Tonks said softly, gesturing first to a now covered body and then to another witch who was being attended to by a pair of furiously working healers. "The rest are mostly new recruits; either junior aurors or administrative staff that Moody and Kingsley have been doing their best to train up."

"I still can't believe that Dumbledore is willing to allow them to fight death eaters after so little training, or that they're willing to," Sirius murmured. "Can they not see that its suicide?"

"Hope's a powerful thing, Sirius," Tonks said sadly. "They want to save their country before its too late, and with the infamous Mad-Eye Moody teaching them they think they're good enough to defend themselves."

Sirius seemed to restrain the impulse to growl.

"I don't even remember that guy's name," Sirius hissed as he watched Kingsley conjure a sheet over one of the bodies, "and now he's bloody dead!"

"Both of you go over there," Harry said softly and immediately had to fix them with a glare. "This is the first time this war that the Order has lost someone, and like it or not you are part of the Order. You'll feel guilty if you don't."

"And you?"

"I'll just go home."

He shrugged, but quickly gave them impatient look when they still didn't move.

"Go," he urged, and that seemed finally to be enough as they turned and picked their way across the lawn.

With that Harry wandered off towards the edge of the wards, the wand pulsing happily in its holster. He was in a rather good mood if truth be told. Giddy almost. He hadn't felt such a rush after a fight in years. He supposed it had been quite a long time since his last fight at Beauxbatons, and the personal satisfaction of beating this particular opponent wasn't something that could be ignored. Neither could the wand, though. The Elder Wand did have a thirst for bloodshed after all. A part of him wondered if it was affecting him, and the other part didn't care enough to think about it.

Silver hair flashed in his peripheral vision and he turned to see Fleur sat up on the ground, her robes torn and stained with blood while a healer waved his wand sloppily over her clearly broken leg.

"I am sorry Miss Delacour," the wizard said with slight breathlessness, "but this leg break is quite severe. It will take me quite a while to heal it. It may be better if I accompany you back to St Mungo's."

Harry's stride didn't even pause as he knocked the wizard over and silenced his protests with an icy glare. He cast his own diagnostic charms over her and scowled, and then swiftly banished the healer the fifteen feet to the next closest person in need of healing, this one an injured death eater. Personally Harry wouldn't have bothered healing the injured death eaters, but as the healer was clearly a weak-willed excuse of a wizard considering how enthralled he had become by Fleur's allure even with it restrained, and all weak-willed people were also idiots, the result could well be the same.

"Sorry Fleur but this is going to hurt a bit. That idiot has screwed up everything he's done so far."

She nodded with a grimace, and with a series of careful flicks Harry undid all the sloppy work that the wizard had done and then set about healing her injuries properly. The cutting curse across her ribs split back open and then stitched itself together to leave a barely visible line rather than a vivid slash, her broken fingers clicked into their proper place, the fragments of bone in her leg were pulled back into place and then fused and then all the small cuts and scrapes that littered her skin closed up. It all made Fleur hiss and groan in pain even despite the numbing charms, and once he was done Harry shot the healer another glare, but the coward was studiously looking anywhere but up.

"You'll be bruised and it will hurt to put significant weight on it for a few days, but after that you'll be fine. Everything else is now healed properly as well," he said with another glare at the man.

"So he thought that pretending to heal me in St Mungo's would have made me willing to go on a date with him," Fleur said with a tired sort of humour.

It was clear that she was used to things like this, and Harry felt strangely angry at that fact.

He reached down and grasped her hand to pull her up. She spent a few seconds hopping on her good leg before Harry conjured a wooden cane shaped exactly like the bones of a leg, smirking slightly. She glared at him but took it nonetheless, and then gingerly put weight through her injured leg.

"I thought I told you to leave as soon as you could?" Harry said.

Her look told him exactly what she thought of that suggestion.

"I'm going to have to teach you to fight some more then."

"You have to, do you?" she asked, a teasing smile playing around her lips. "Am I that much of a burden?"

Harry shrugged despite the annoying fluttery feeling in his stomach. What was that? Had he been cursed? A gradually acting one maybe?

"Not a burden, I just don't want you getting hurt. Who knows, it might even be fun."

"Not for me it won't be," Fleur grumbled under her breath, but judging by the smirk that briefly appeared on his face he heard her.

He had only briefly trained her to fight before he focussed more on warding, but even in those few hours she learnt that Harry's definition of training varied greatly from her own. If Nymphadora was to be believed it got much worse as well. She almost shivered at the thought.

"Are you not busy?"

"No, and we can always just use the time we've been using for warding if you have other things to do," Harry said, and she was sure that she saw a frown on his face when he mentioned 'other things' she might rather be doing. "You're more than capable enough at warding anyway."

She smiled at the complement before it faded into a scowl.

"Not enough to help today," she grumbled.

She almost stumbled in surprise when he softly gripped the hand that was wrapped around the cane for a second before yanking it back as if he had been burned. She caught a strange, almost confused expression on his face before it vanished. She had to fight to hide her laughter; he was the most awkward, socially repressed man she had ever met.

"I wouldn't worry about that," he said without a hint of the awkwardness she knew he felt. "The wardbreaker he had was one of the better ones, and it seemed like the maintenance team weren't bad either. I'm not sure I would have been able to get it down before Voldemort got through the interior wards."

Fleur wasn't entirely sure if he meant it or if he was just saying it to make her feel better, but either way it had the same effect. The shame and guilt she had been feeling began to fade away; if Harry couldn't do it then she really had no reason to beat herself up over it.

"Is there any way to attack maintenance teams through the wards?" she asked curiously. If Harry had managed to work out where they were, at least roughly, surely there was more that could be done.

Harry actually grinned at the question.

"A few, and all of them are very complicated and can take a while to pull off. It would have taken a little too long to be used today unfortunately, especially considering we would have still needed to break the wards afterwards. If we had another six or seven minutes I might have tried it."

"Excellent. You can teach me that as well."

Harry smiled at her and she stopped the blush appearing on her face with great effort. She noticed his eyes flick over her shoulder yet again and finally turned to look, irritated despite herself at the fact his attention was drifting off of her. Much of the Order were staring at them, and Lily Potter in particular seemed to be drinking the sight of Harry in while her husband accosted Sirius. She saw Harry's face twist into a snarl before he turned away and began to lead her away.

"Let's get out of here."

AN: It has been an atrociously long time since I updated or even wrote, so hopefully this one was at least semi-worth the wait. While writing this chapter I found that I had somewhat lost my spark for this story, so my plans of continuing it on past Voldemort aren't that likely. I'll probably still write it the same way (I hope to still finish this storyline at least) as there is already some groundwork laid for that continuation, so if things seem underdeveloped as we move into the final _ number of chapters that is why. Also, a huge thank you to all the people that private messaged me to say how much they like this story, and to everyone else for reading it.