A/N: I was trying to finish the whole thing before I posted anymore, so I could do them in pretty close succession, but a few crucial sections are stalling me. It is on a roll, though- some parts of it, anyhow, but I'm trying to move the actual plot again- very very slowly, but surely. Thanks to all of you who came back, and above all, those of you who lemme know you were.:) Honestly, I totally can't believe how much time has gone by since I started it- and hey, since you last read it. Thanks especially to otahyoni (you've been with the story longer than anyone except, well, me), to DanceDiva (can't promise I won't make you cry again, now that I know where I'm going) and to ArcticDemon (there is no greater compliment than that this story got you hooked, so even though there's definitely much better stuff out there which I'm sure you've found by now, gotta love addictions.)

At the rate I'm going the next chapter should be up soon-soon (meaning I'm hoping to measure it in days, not months, but somehow with me it's always iffy).

So anyway, finally, progress, enjoy and pleaaaase review. ;) It means a lot.

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"It's bad, then," he said flatly, taking in Podmore's expression. The man didn't meet his eyes.

George fingered the Luminous Balloons in his pocket, cursing them with the most powerful explosion hex he knew, and hurled them at the Death Eaters through the Patroni fog.

He hoped it took their heads off. "Where is he?" he demanded.

"George…" said Sturgis, wincing heavily.

Philips met his eyes from her half-crouched posture, expression as blank as his. "He's dead."

"No, he's not," he replied viciously. His knuckles were white around his wand. "He's not."

"Then why're you here, Georgie?" Sturgis replied softly, kindly for him.

He didn't respond, turning back towards the enemy. "Diffindo!" he bit, repeating himself frantically until he got the satisfaction of a scream, and began digging into his deep pockets for something still more painful than severing body parts.

The Death Eaters were pushing their way through silvery mist with its attacking shining birds, venturing where the dementors no longer could.

George hurled his Peruvian Darkness Powder at them, and the mist blackened.

"Where is he?"

Podmore cleared his throat roughly. "Angelina Johnson, she-"

"She was here??" he demanded, sounding furious but unsurprised. "She was here and I- FRED!" he bellowed, painfully. "FRED!! YOU GIT! YOU- YOuuu…" He shuddered, swearing in a steady stream, and fished into his pockets. "They're gone, then? They -they're- where?" he repeated, voice breaking.

"George-"

"He's NOT!" he snapped back, angry. He brandished his wand at them, and half-started a spell when Jenny wearily raised hers at him. He halted himself when she Stunned a Death Eater over his shoulder. "Where?"

"Headquarters," the man replied, and Podmore let go of the somewhat recovered witch with a mix of relish and relief, leaving her a little staggered as he hustled to cast a stronger Binding spell on Dolohov, who had stirred. Sturgis, with a little effort, recast a strong Shielding Spell around their group.

The spark of anger in his eyes deadened to wood again. "This is silly," said George brokenly, looking around. They fixed on the woman he had knocked over and flared once more.

"I'm-"

"You're silly," he snapped back without taking his eyes from where they had fixed on Bellatrix. "They're just going to Apparate around you and head to the prison in a minute, and you're going to get yourself Kissed. And Lestrange?" He kicked viciously at the woman's crumpled form. "Lestrange?"

She understood. "Yes," she breathed.

"You stop me if I try to kill her?" It was a question, not a request.

Jenny shook her head, eyes dull. "No."

George nodded vaguely. His chin shook. "We go. She's coming." He paused, coming up with something from his pocket. "Engorgio," he spat. It was a brightly multi-colored disk, etched with the cheerful emblem Wheezely! and a stuck-out tongue.

"What's that?" Jenny asked quietly, using the Banishing Spell to knock back Death Eaters who had Apparated behind them, trying to forge through the other side of the circle of murky fog.

"A toy," George said dully. "A chewy toy. How do you give it spikes?"

She hesitated.

"Else I'll just make it explodable." He held his wand above it, expression challenging.

If Death Eaters died, good. "Acercrio."

The round edges glinted with metal.

His grin spread wide as a skull. He held it slightly below the waistline and sent it spinning. It leaped forward in the air directly, whirring and lunging at Death Eaters. It began to herd them about, even as George busied himself with Flesh-Eating Foam.

"Grab the bastard," she told Podmore where he stood by Dolohov, and with a flick of her wand. Bellatrix, limp once more, floated upright.

George turned and stared at the woman's form, forgetting the foam about the leak across his hand. He glanced at Jenny, almost accusingly.

"I won't stop you," she said chilly.

He jumped, bit as a drop of foam ate into his palm, and without a thought flicked a streak at Bellatrix, where it hit her cheek. Still floating, she failed to even twitch as the flesh sizzled. "I want her to suffer," he said with venom, more powerful than that in his hands. George sized her up bleakly, letting out a hiss of air from between his teeth. "I'll leave her to Mum."

He breathed in deep and wished he hadn't. "Apparate," he nodded at them. "I'm casting it to mist. Headquarters."

"We can't take Death Eaters to headquarters," Podmore muttered, shaking his head. He was on his knees, Dolohov half-raised before him as a human shield. "Incendio!"

There were shouts and spells from further beyond the mist, out of the range of their visibility, but the sight of figures shooting bright streaks of spells at the figure who had burst into flame suggested the Wizarding Hit Patrol had regrouped at long last.

Dismally, Jenny forced a nod. She stepped forward on her shaking feet and reluctantly gripped Lestrange's wrist, wishing her nails were long instead of clipped the better to dig into the paper skin.

"Headquarters," repeated George. He was levitating the spurting package in front of him with strong intent.

"You go," she said hoarsely. "With Sturgis. I'm into Azkaban. With them." She glanced at George. "Don't hit the whips," she instructed, using slang for the patrolmen.

He didn't reply, but gazed blankly back, waiting for them to get out of the way.

"Whoa no," said Sturgis, rising. "I'm with you."

"What? Why?" she replied back, shocked.

He snorted. "Hestia's on her way here, I'm not leaving her to get boffed along with you. Besides," he said condescendingly, "you can't even walk."

She could too.

She cast a second Shield Spell. The barrage had seemingly stopped, though the shadowy figures remained, busy with the Hit Patrol and attempting to subdue the still-cycling disk of death. The dementors, though, were nowhere to be seen- apparently streaking for their old home. "You go to Fred-"

The shudder was back, but his wand stayed steady. "'M not leaving her to get away. She's NOT getting away with it. I'm setting this off. Go. Three counts and I'll follow. One-" he began menacingly.

Crack!

Podmore disappeared with Dolohov, presumably to reappear somewhere in the prison.

"George-" started Jenny guiltily.

"'M coming," he snarled. "Two."

Her crack! bit through the fog, and a Death Eater lunged forward with concern, only to be thrown back by a cycling, rapidly fading phoenix-Patronus.

He bent, briefly, to pick up a rubber ferret near his feet and closed his eyes. He felt sick, beyond sick, nothing. He tapped the disk in rapid succession to unleash it, then muttered, "Three." Alone, he vanished with a crack! as the foam darted viciously into the air at the nearest robed figures.

((""))

Oliver Wood was finding it increasingly hard to sit still.

His father was on a floor somewhere above him. His mother…

He wanted out of the hospital. There was a din rising from the waiting area behind closed doors, which was bothering his still-splitting headache.

Wood twitched, nervously stretching his fingers. He desperately needed a drink.

"Don't crack up on me, Wood," Ginny muttered, kicking his shin slightly. She was seated next to him, elbows propped up on her lap, palms forming a base beneath her chin. Sitting was an option again; it was a magical hospital, after all. Unfortunately the ointment left a whiff of peppermint, onions, and dragon's blood potent enough to burn nostril hairs.

"Ow," he commented. His shin really stung. He eyed her with a mix of approval and deep-seated apprehension, a feeling startling reminiscent of the uncomfortable itches he got on his spine when Fred and George whipped out the Filibusters and set them crackling on the seat of some unsuspecting Slytherin. Preferably Flint.

He did appreciate she didn't find him cracked already. It was a pleasant change, especially with girls. "Except for the bruise that's going to leave, I'm doing fine," he assured her, a touch too maniacally cheerful. He amended his tone. "Really. I'm all right. Swell, even-" under her dubious sideways glance, he shifted gears in a more blunt direction, "that is- considering." He rubbed at his hair. "Right- yes- considering-"

"Say," said the burlier of the two vampires, the one who hadn't run off with Remus. He crouched near them. "You play for Puddlemere, don't you?"

Ginny tilted her head at a bemused angle, to better catch Wood's expression, which was fluxing somewhere between delighted and pained. "Another one," she said. "The way the night's going, you'd think you were Harry. You might as well have it emblazoned on your robes in sparkly letters, it'd save a great bit of time." She shrugged. "Also," she added thoughtfully, "it would be sparkly."

Wood eyed him skeptically. "Why do you want to know?" he demanded, a flicker in his eye that suggested he was poised to flee. What side are you for?"

The vampire grinned toothily. "I'm a Bats man myself. Anyway- I was hoping you'd sign this for me?" Somewhere he'd snagged a quill and parchment, which he thrust at them.

Ginny snorted.

"Erm," said Oliver. "Not a problem." He hesitated. "You sure you don't have me muddled up with someone else?"

"Wood, innit?" said the vampire, frowning. "Last Kestrels game United had you in play when Troy dinged his head on the post and knocked you half through the hoop."

Wood was somewhat impressed. "All the way through, actually. It doesn't happen that many times a decade; they weren't really designed to fit people." He scrawled his name down, and looked poised to say something further, but didn't as Lupin frenetically rushed back in.

"Alright," snapped the tall man circling around him. "The big man's waking up and your friend's 'll see to the rest. Can we get going?"

"Yes, we'd better," Lupin said grimly, rolling up his sleeves. "Ginny, if Philips shows here, have your father get in touch. We'll be at headquarters. Don't let anyone come after us." He paused. "Except Nymphadora and Charlie. They can-"

"She's a smart girl," hissed Fitz. "I assume she can figure it out."

"Lupin," called Arthur Weasley, hustling up. His face and the top of his head were flushed very red, and he strode closer. He lowered his voice. "The Ministry has a situation."

"Oh?" said Remus, sounding much less alarmed than he actually was.

"A- frankly, our sort of problem-"

"Arthur," Lupin interrupted. For the first time, he sounded fed up. "What do you want of me? I'm not the-"

Arthur interrupted right back. "McGonagall says Dumbledore's not responding, so from where I'm standing, you're the one to go to. Remus. We need to get to Dover. I'm afraid it's critical."

He hesitated only briefly. "Yes. Yes, of course, Arthur, but we need to get a man to headquarters as well."

The man sucked in a breath, somewhat pale. "Ron's at headquarters. Mad-Eye's there, though," he consoled himself. "It's Dover that's the trouble."

"The white cliffs are no skin off my back," Fitz said angrily. "What about this roost of yours? What about the Perilous Gard? What about Philips?"

"The Perilous Gard?" Wood repeated. No one paid him any attention.

"Jenny Philips merits some acknowledgment that she can take care of herself," Remus said smoothly.

"That's a load of CROCK!" Fitzgerald hollered. Ignoring the stares, he got control over himself. "She's – she's- fantastically competent," he sputtered out in lower tones, trying to explain himself. "But she has horrific luck. Bucko, you haven't the foggiest, but count on this anywhere she is, though, we're going to have a problem. She's looking for problems. She cannot be trusted to not try and get herself killed." He ran his fingers through his hair, breathing out. "I'm getting consterned," he informed them, his other long arm to reach up to his head. His stork-like elbows poked far out to frame his face. "Seriously consterned."

"About the Gard?" Wood tried again.

Lupin considered the other man. "I think," he said easily, "you mean concerned."

"I think," Fitz said tautly, "I know what I mean a tad better than you do."

Lupin raised an eyebrow.

"Gentlemen," said Arthur urgently. "I'm afraid the situation is dire."

"Isn't it usually?" he muttered. "What's it this time?"

He told them.

Fitz dropped his shoulder. "All right, darlings, we're with you," he gave in sadly.

"We are?" Liam asked, face contorting interestingly. "Fitzy, I'm still sore as a purpled an-"

"Nevermind that," he waved off, looking quite angry. "Francis!" Fitz barked, and the wizard swiveled sharply from where he was painstakingly chatting up a mediwitch. He gestured sharply, crooking a finger.

The non-vampire nearly tripped over himself striding over in earnest. The vampire side-stepped the group to latch onto his friend, draping a clandestine arm over the thin man's shoulder and pulling him close. "I need you to stay here," he muttered.

"Brilliant," replied Francis. "What am I doing?"

"See if she shows. Call me if she shows. Find out where she is from anyone else who shows. And, y'know, help out the French girl with whatever. Oh," he added lightly

and then in a voice so low he was barely mouthing the words, finished sharply, "Call Izzy." He released the other man, clapping him hard on the upper arm and squeezing it in a warm gesture before turning on his heel. He left Francis working his mouth like a steady gum-chewer in an attempt to draw out words, then paused and swiveled back before striding too far. Fitz skittered his gaze over at Lupin, remarking, "Consterned's a word, right?"

Francis swallowed air. "A word, yes. Not a particularly real one."

He frowned. "Real enough, though?"

"I suppose-" Francis started.

"Right then," Fitz said decisively, taking a running step off.

"Fitz?" said the very-confused Francis to Fitz's back. Only great exertion of will kept him from babbling. "That, ah, other matter…?

"Y'heard me," he responded acutely, without turning back. Thumbs hooked into his robe pockets, he strode back towards the others.

"Doy-!"

"Stay," Fitz warned. His posture was not to be argued with.

Arthur Weasley had a solemn line to his mouth and a weak smile in his eyes as he finished speaking to his daughter, whom he had pulled aside.

"Ready then?" the vampire demanded to the werewolf, a touch impatiently.

Lupin shrugged calmly. "Arthur," he called over his shoulder before folding his arm to face Fitzgerald. "We were merely waiting on you."

"Wait no more," he said smoothly, and made for the exit.

Regretfully Liam heaved himself to his feet and handed the signed parchment back to Wood. "You'd best be holding onto that for me."

"Liam!" Fitz ordered, holding open the door.

He scampered after them.

Wood's eyebrows steepled in a somewhat disgruntled fashion. He stared at the swinging doors for a bit, then veered his gaze to the remaining Irish wizard, who was nervously clearing his throat. "Is it a bit important, the Gard?"

Francis looked somewhat peaky. "Yes, I'd say- if you'd excuse me," he managed abruptly, "I'm feeling rather ill." He hurried off.

Wood was pretty sure he was headed in the direction of the little witches' room. Tiredly, he hung his head. He found himself staring on a pair of shoes and lifted it back up.

Ginny was looking at Wood shrewdly. "What's the perilous gard? Some kind of castle?"

His brow stayed creased. "No one would listen to me," he complained. "'S not a castle, perilous or not. It's Yaxley Hall, in Suffolk. Big sort of house thing, with some turrets and such."

She wrinkled her nose thoughtfully, brown eyes sparking. "What's there?"

"The Yaxleys," he said warily. "Not a bad sort, if you leave the delusions of grandeur."

"And the vampire thought it was going to be attacked?" Ginny mused. "Or something a lot less friendly than that. I wonder…"

"Don't," Wood ordered bluntly. "No wondering. No ideas. I know your brothers. And I've seen a bit of you. As far as I'm concerned, the apple doesn't fall far from … the other apples."

"You're forgetting," Ginny reminded him less warmly, "Percy the Ponce."

"He rolled a bit," he acknowledged.

"I feel as useless as he is about now," she grumbled, standing very straight. "The way the week's been going, I hope someone fetches Harry. I wish," she uttered suddenly, "Ron were here."

Wood cocked his head at her. "Really?"

"He's at headquarters," she added quietly. "Which is where we should be. With Professor Lupin gone, there's nothing for us to do here."

He caught the light in her eyes. "Your father said to stay," he insisted stubbornly.

"No," she corrected readily. "He said to stay safe. Aside from Hogwarts, where's safer?"

"Right here," said Wood, crossing his arms. As if to make his point, he sat down on the bench against the wall, dropping a little too fast and hitting hard. "Besides," he added, to close the case. "It's not like you can Apparate, and the Floo lines here are so jammed, they're crossing. You and I are staying."

She looked at him coyly, biting the corner of her mouth in thought. "There's Charlie's Cumulonimbus 1000."

He stood very still. then his face reddened and began to purple.

"It's close by to begin with," she continued, as his face reddened. "A matter of minutes. If that, I'm not sure how long it takes. What do you say? Oliver?"

Slowly, his cheeks were turning slightly magenta.

"We could come right back," Ginny added hastily. "Wood? Wood?!"

Oliver opened his mouth and breathed at last. He huffed for a moment, trying to speak. "Charlie's Cu- His cu-his… what- Where," he muttered to himself, "can I start?"

"It's here right over b-"

"Is Charlie?" he vocally pounced, looking almost equally excited at that prospect.

"You're in, then?"

Wood's expression suggested she was mentally incompetent. "Obviously. I'm flying, you realize."

"""""(""""")""""""""""""""

At the moment Ron didn't understand anything.

"They can't come in, though," he argued for what he thought might be the seventh time.

Hermione was still crying, even as she kept her hands busy grabbing everything she thought worth keeping, anything Harry might want. Everyone once in a while she wiped her eyes with a darned pair of Sirius' socks. "You weren't listening to Professor Moody, Ron," she said dismally. "They can flush us out. We have to leave before-."

"The chimney's not safe," interjected Moody grimly, stomping in. "Too much of a risk. You'll find yourselves in enemy hands, and their hooks go far deeper than the navel. Muck about with this and your entrails'll-"

"Stop," said Angelina, strangled and shaking her head. They had moved to the kitchen, pulling Fred along, and she was seated now at the kitchen table. Her hands were still. "Please. Stop."

Surprisingly enough, he stopped. "We'll have to get rid of the body. I might be able to blast some sort of underground escape-"

Ron stood up, fists clenched. "No-"

"Boy," said Moody chillingly. "Let me press this through your hair and skull. There's a dragon parked in front of Number Eleven Grimmauld Street, and it's not your brother with it."

"I hope," said Hermione as stoically as possible, "that you're speaking metaphorically."

Outside, there was a whoosh. "I don't do metaphors," Moody growled back. "We need-"

"Fred and George have stuff in the attic," Ron interrupted suddenly. His lip twitched nervously. "After the other night- they have this sort of thing. They have darts, for disapparating-"

"Higher ground," barked Moody briskly. His wand hand stirred in Fred's direction.

"Ah," Ron started hurriedly, stomach churning at the thought of Fred limply bobbing after them up the stairs. "We'll get him." He took a step towards the form on the floor, so still and un-Fred-like, and his hands chilled and turned to weights dragging on his arms and wrenching his shoulders. "I, uh- I-"

"I'll help you," said Angelina wrenchingly, chin up. "You get his legs, right?"

Hermione was kneading the right side of her red eye nervously, even as she looked up. "There's a spell, to make him lighter-"

"We've got it," Ron replied harshly. He bent, hesitating as his hand brushed Fred's shoe.

She looked down. "I only want to help, Ron."

"You can't," he said blankly, shrugging, and he hoisted Fred's legs. "You got him alright?" he asked Angelina, who was tugging on Fred's arms with some effort.

"Stop snapping at her," the older girl hurled back, straining even with her Quidditch fitness to keep up Fred, particularly since she looked half-ready to collapse already.

Hermione shoved the balled-up pile of Sirius' things into the arms of the perplexed Moody and gently slid next to Angelina, lightly touching her forearm. Breathing unnaturally hard, the other girl moved over a bit for her to slide in, and with effort Hermione took Fred's other arm.

Until today Hermione was relatively sure she'd never actually touched Fred Weasley. Maybe she'd snagged his sweater once or twice to ask him if he'd seen Ron or Harry, or swatted him with her book. It was a strange realization, but she clasped the clammy hand and pulled as hard as she could. She met Ron's forlorn gaze over it and huffed out a breath as they lifted.

"Best hurry," said Moody gruffly, eyeing them strangely. He held the effects of Sirius and the house of Black at a half arm's length, sniffing suspiciously.

Between the three they held up Fred Weasley, and if Hermione's end sagged a little lower than the rest, Ron knew better than to say anything. They shuffled awkwardly towards the stairs, jerking when Ron bumped into the kitchen chair with a bang, stopping awkwardly before the stairs when both sides moved to be the end walking up backwards.

There was a boom and a shout in the street and an explosion from Number 13 Grimmauld Place.

Carefully, they turned, and Ron, very precisely, stepped backwards up a step. He balanced delicately and stepped up and back once more, and the girls followed. Moody stumped up after them, face grim.

Eventually they reached the room that had once been the library of Sirius' father, where a table with a chessboard and boxes marked Weasley's Wizard Wheezes were haphazardly left around from changes the twins had been slaving on of late.

They lowered Fred as softly as possible onto the wood floor, but there was still a thud. Ron winced, looking away; Angelina cringed, curling in on herself, and Hermione sighed and rested her hand against her hand for another moment. Moody surveyed their surroundings with something of a sniff.

"Li'l Saboteur's Stealth Sack," Ron muttered to himself, diving at all products Fred and George had left scattered about with a relish.

Hermione twiddled her fingers and looked about, her brown eyes following Angelina sympathetically as the Chaser drifted over towards the chess pieces with strange ambivalence, lightly running her padded fingertips over a bishop shaped like a cat. It came to life with a sudden purr and Johnson jerked back frenetically, knocking over a chair and sending the figures all about. Throat catching audibly, she bent to pick them up, Hermione sliding over to help.

"Fleet, boy, be fleet about it," Mad-Eye barked at Ron, accompanied by a grunt notably softer than usual.

Hermione, to her slight surprise, found the queen she had picked up resembled, somewhat disturbingly, the girl in front of her. "Erm," she started, but Angelina was closely scrutinizing a rather heroic looking Weasley-piece, poking upward with a sword. She looked about for the other one and noting it, could not reach out to pick it up. Instead she burst into tears again.

Hermione felt a burning behind her own eyes in sympathy, and reached to pat the other girl on the back, but her slightly awkward gesture was forestalled.

"Found it!" Ron cried, bitterly triumphant, holding up what appeared to be tipped bunches of red fathers. "No bally idea how to work them, but I think it involves stabbing- it- she alright?" he asked concernedly, then twitched as the stupidity of his own question hit him.

"As can be," Angelina replied, smoothing her robes and standing up. She ran both hands from her brow to the back of her hair, pushing it down. It had been in a crimped ponytail before it was windblown and loosed, she had no idea what it looked like now. Odd that she would think of that.

"Mmm," said Ron awkwardly, then turned to Hermione, shoulders lifting towards his ears. "For- for that stuff," he muttered, tossing an emptied Wheezes sack at her.

She caught it. "It's not all that important," she answered back, voice low. She felt silly now, though busying herself in collecting things had felt important a scarce few minutes ago. "It's… things, that's all."

His shoulders flopped down, a half-hearted attempt at a shrug. "Maybe it's a teaspoon way of thinking, but things mean something to me," he said. "Can you fit my chess set?"

She looked at the black dog piece on the floor and wondered how Fred and George knew about Padfoot, what else she had never known about Ron's brother that could be lost now. "Of course."

Moody let the pile he was holding drop. "Hustle it up. The sooner you lot get gone, the sooner I'm out there," he growled.

Ron looked up from the darts he was scrutinizing, trying to determine the best way to take Fred's body along. "You're kidding?"

Moody inclined his head slightly, fixing him in the gaze of his swerving eye. "Hnn. Keeping the Muggle lot alive while the Ministry gets its heads screwed back on and gets out here's been a hobby a'mine for several of your lifetimes, Weasley."

They stared at him, faces progressively growing paler.

"Don't go digging my grave already," he snarled at them. "I got a few pieces of me to go first. The likes of Travers-"

"But there's a dragon!" Hermione interrupted with a snap, half a wail and half correction.

His eye lolled frightfully. "Appreciate you clearing that up," he growled. "It's the nammy-pammy lizard-hugging that's brought this, mind you. Nothing good'll commat leaving fire-breathing empty-headed chilly meat-eaters the size of blithering houses runnin' about in the Highlands chomping on sheep! If I said it once I said it thirty dozen times, we should've turned 'em all into wands, potions, pants and seat covers before they're turned against us!" His pallor was progressively reddening, cheeks puffed slightly.

Ron, desperately, sent mental signals to Hermione that now was not the best time to bring up dragons rights. She stayed silent, though whether because she received or simply because she was the brightest student of her class was debatable.

"And so it's me that's got to clean up the mess until the Ministry gets the notion of vigilance through their thick noggins," he continued darkly. "Per usual. Hightail it, Weasley."

Angelina Johnson rose to her feet, a bit wobbly. She set her chin sternly, though her eyes kept watering. "I want to stay and help y-"

"Sit down!" Moody roared at her.

She sat, looking crumpled

"Those things working, boy?" he asked Ron, who was fiddling with the feathered darts.

"Go, then- don't give me those sheep eyes, missy," he warned Hermione, whose lip was trembling. "I'll make out all right. You keep your guards up once you're out of my watch, though. Potter needs you lot safe, and it's safe you'll be, so get on! GET GOING!"

"B-B-" Ron started, face contorting.

"ARE- YOU- DAFT? LEAVE!"

"Grab Fred," Ron stuttered to Angelina, who was clutching the boy's wrist again anyways.

"Prof-" Hermione started.

"Save that," said Moody. "See you lot later."

Hermione clutched her sacks of crumpled remnants of the House of Black and chess pieces, took the dart Ron tossed at her, and with a stubborn refusal to wince, pricked it deeply into her finger.

She felt a rushing warmth billowing up from toe to crown, and as her vision suddenly blurred, a firm yank upward from beneath both her armpits. It was only then she wondered where, exactly, they were going.

Moody watched them vanish in puffs of fading flame, breathed in through the twisted corner of his mouth, and set his stout walking stick against the floor hard as he turned back towards the stairs. He could already see a growing tinge of orange from the bottom floor.

"Dragons," he sneered. "Henh."