Author's Note: I'm not happy with this chapter, I will let you know up front. I just needed to crank it out and get the writer's block out of me. Just to let everyone know, I have outlined the final chapters of this story. Yes, Vocare Prabia will actually end. I never thought I'd see the day! We still have some stuff we need to go through first so strap in and get ready. Also, apologies for taking such a long time – I have been pounded by midterms like nobody's business, not to mention this is my last semester in college. As of December, I shall be a college graduate with a single published book and a whole lot of decisions to make. Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys the chapter regardless of my opinion of it.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter does not belong to me. The characters are merely my puppets. My free puppets. Sigh.
Chapter 46: Planning
Harry swore never to complain again for an entire week if only his head would stop pounding. He felt as if someone had set up shop inside his skull and thought it would be great to throw a hard metal party. And when he opened his eyes, he could have sworn some idiot with a beer had bumped into the stereo and cranked up the volume in his head. With a soft groan, he rolled over and fell off the bed.
With a muttered curse, he carefully lifted himself off the floor and opened his eyes again, looking around. The room was one big multi-colored blur. Harry wondered if this was because his glasses were missing or because he felt as if he'd just woken up on the wrong side of a hangover. Someone grunted somewhere above him and he looked up, squinting into the semi-darkness. He might as well have closed his eyes for the good they were doing him.
Reaching instinctively into his robes, Harry took out his wand and stood, pointing it in the direction he remembered the sound. He carefully moved with his hand outstretched, slightly crouched to feel anything that might trip him. Despite his efforts, something low to the ground seemed to curl around his feet as he walked and with a surprised curse, Harry crashed into what felt like a desk, if the pens and papers that pinched and fluttered around his head were any indication.
"Wha? What happened?" Ron's surprised voice came from where Harry had come from. Harry grunted, feeling embarrassed that he'd gone to all that trouble thinking that RON was the dangerous one in the room. He carefully extracted himself from the desk and brushed himself off, squinting in the direction Ron must have been in.
"Have you seen my glasses?" Harry asked.
"Wha? Oh, yeah, one second. I see them," there was shuffling from Ron's direction and then he heard Ron's heavy footsteps. Harry extended his hand and Ron put something metallic and familiar into his hands. Harry sighed with relief as he cleaned the glasses on his shirt and then put them on. "Wow, you look terrible," Ron said as he came into focus.
"You don't look all that great either," Harry said, arching an eyebrow. They eyed each other, specifically the multiple bandages and some splints, but especially the deep purple and green bruises coloring their faces.
"Weren't we in Azkaban?" Harry said, frowning. The headache had finally started to recede, for which he was eternally thankful. He mentally swore not to complain, reorganizing his thoughts.
"My dad busted us out," Ron said, sitting on the bed with a wince. Harry reassessed Ron's condition and realized that he looked worse than usual. He moved to sit as well so that Ron wouldn't have to move around. "Mad Eye was there… and Tonks and Remus too. My dad was there. Er, I don't really remember what I said to them. I wasn't thinking straight." He glanced down at himself and then back up, pointing out his obviously painful situation.
"Just my luck to miss out when you spill your guts," Harry said, looking thoughtfully around the room. It looked painfully familiar. Where had he seen that decaying wallpaper before?
"I'm sure I said something particularly negative about Malfoy," Ron said a little hopefully. "It'd be nice if they go kill him for us now."
"Yeah," Harry said. "Where's Hermione?"
"They took her to another room," Ron said, his face tensing as he tried to remember. "I think she broke her hand in the explosion… they were healing her. By the way, we should kill Mad Eye. He's the one that blew everything up."
"Hmm," Harry said. "Well, I don't remember any of it so I'm not really mad at him. I just want to make sure Mione's okay." He stood again and went to the door. He paused, staring at the doorknob. There was a little nick under the keyhole. It reminded him of where he was. "Oh!" he said.
"What?" Ron groaned as he dragged himself to his feet. He limped a little but stubbornly came after his friend.
"We're in Sirius's house," Harry said, sounding surprised. "I mean… well, of course they'd bring us here. I just didn't… think about it. I guess Kretcher must be around here somewhere." He made a face as he carefully opened the door and looked around. Much as he wanted to relax, knowing he was among friends, he still tensed and felt in his pocket for his wand. It was there, ready for him.
"I guess we were officially rescued by the Order," Ron said. "This must still be their headquarters even after everything that's happened in this universe. Someone on the Order must have believed that Sirius and your parents were innocent."
"Someone was bound to have a brain," Harry muttered. He instinctively opened the door immediately to his right and smiled in relief. Hermione was sleeping in the only bed in the room. Someone had taken the time to clean up before putting her there – a clearly defined line separated Hermione from years of grime.
Ron limped into the room, his hand already outstretched to touch Hermione's shoulder. She seemed to relax at the contact, even smiling a little. Harry sat down at the corner of the bed, smiling at the picture his best friends made. They were the only couple he'd ever seen that didn't make him jealous. They usually fought like cats and dogs, often put Harry's life before their own lives (and also in front of their relationship most of the time), and he'd known them for so many years, he just couldn't feel anything but adoration for his closest friends finally realizing they were in love with each other.
"Stop it, you're going to make me throw up," Harry said softly to Ron. He couldn't keep the smile out of his voice.
Ron ignored him, gently petting Hermione's hair back. "You wish you didn't think we were cute," he said softly. "She looks awfully pale."
"It's your face," Harry insisted, inspecting her. Hermione did indeed look a little pale. "She can't stand the sight of you." He gently lifted Hermione's head and inspected her more closely. "Yup, see? There's a little tinge of green around her ears."
"Wha're you mumblin' 'bout?" Hermione groaned, her eyes fluttering open. She scowled at Harry in such a grumpy way, he couldn't help laughing. Ron grinned and helped her sit up, propping her against the pillows so that she could look at them.
"Good to see you too, Mione," Ron said. "We don't know what's going on, we just woke up," he added, seeing the question in Hermione's eyes. She frowned deeper and shifted painfully, wincing once or twice as she adjusted on her bed. She took a moment to pause and look at her hand for a moment – it was in a cast.
"What's this?" she asked. "Are we in a Muggle hospital?"
"No," Ron said. "We're at Grimmauld Place. The Order brought us here after they blew up Azkaban."
"They blew up Azkaban?" Hermione asked with a frown. "Why would they do something so ridiculous?"
"We're not sure," Harry said. "But I'm pretty sure it was to, oh, I don't know, rescue us?"
"Ah," Hermione said with the same disapproving tone. She looked wearily at her arm in the cast again and sighed. "I probably don't even want to know why they couldn't heal this the normal way." She looked directly at Harry, her expression resolved. "What are we going to do?"
"I thought I was supposed to ask you that," Harry grumbled. He didn't mean it – he'd been considering their options since the moment he'd woken up. "We should probably prepare ourselves for some kind of interrogation and a long explanation from our side so that they can understand exactly what they're dealing with. We should also prepare a game plan… the usual: rescue Ginny from Malfoy, kill Voldemort, save the world…"
"… except this time we're saving TWO worlds," Hermione interjected.
"Except this time we're saving two worlds," Harry continued. "And at the same time find a way back home…?" he made the statement a question, looking at Hermione. She scowled down at her hand – her wand hand – and tapped the cast lightly.
"We'll need to wait for my hand to heal a little more before we can do that," Hermione said. "Ron and I know the spell and we've trained to do it but… yeah."
"You're mortally wounded," Ron said cheerfully. He was pacing back and forth in front of the door. "Whenever you're ready, Mione. My dad's down there."
"IS he," Hermione said, looking interested now. "Did he blow up the prison then?" she said this last bit with more of an edge in her voice than Harry expected. He frowned and looked between a suddenly tense Ron and a scowling Hermione.
"Of course he didn't," Ron said, trying to sound casual. "Jeez, Mione, he didn't mean for us to get injured. And besides, we aren't even dating in this universe."
"It seems to be a mutual dislike," Hermione said in that same forced calm. Harry frowned and looked between his best friends again.
"Okay, what's going on? Why are you mad at Mr. Weasley?" Harry demanded.
"I'm not mad at him," Hermione said in a voice that said yes, yes she WAS mad at Mr. Weasley. Harry looked at Ron, who'd resumed pacing in front of the door. Ron wore a scowl on his face as he stomped around, making the dust on the doorframe fleck off lightly and coat the air so that he seemed to be a whirlwind of activity in the room.
"Ron, what the hell? Tell me what's going on," Harry said. Ron remained tight-lipped, still scowling. Harry stood and grabbed his arm. "Do NOT leave me in the dark. What happened?"
Hermione and Ron refused to look at each other, glaring at opposite ends of the room. Finally, Ron caved under the pressure and exhaled sharply. He dug a hand through his hair, looking somewhat like a Q-tip as he did so, and glared at the back of Hermione's head.
"Dad and Hermione got into a fight before we came here," Ron said.
"He was completely unreasonable," Hermione said sharply.
"He only meant to protect us!" Ron said, obviously falling into some age-old argument that he and Hermione were comfortable having. Harry only watched in surprise as the two started bickering. "Besides, it doesn't matter what he said, we're here now aren't we? We're helping Harry and we're going to get home as soon as you're all healed up."
"Doesn't change the fact that he was completely off-base saying what he did to me. He knows that it isn't like that with me and Harry and for him to assume that the only reason we wanted to do that was just… just…!" Hermione scowled sharply and fell silent, glaring at the wall again.
"What is going on?" Harry demanded when he could take it no longer. "Mr. Weasley couldn't possibly think that Hermione and me…?"
"What?" Ron looked at Harry and turned bright red. "No! That's not it at all!"
"Then explain to me what the hell you're arguing about!" Harry yelled, glaring at him.
"Mr. Weasley," Hermione said in an acidic tone, "didn't want us to come to this universe after you." She said this as if it explained everything. Harry waited exasperatedly for her to continue. "He," she continued when she saw the look on Harry's face, "said that Ron and I are too connected with you, that the only reason we started dating is because we're both in love with YOU."
Harry just stared at her. When he realized that this was IT, the reason they were angry with each other, he started laughing. When Ron thwacked him on the arm to shut him up, he only laughed hard, clutching his sides to keep from exploding. He fell back against the grimy wall, felt the wallpaper stick to his shirt, but he kept laughing so hard that tears creased from his eyes.
"He t-thinks you're…" he laughed harder. Ron was blushing, glaring at the wall.
"He didn't mean it literally!" Ron said. "He meant that Hermione and my worlds kind of… kind of circle around you, when you're in danger, when bad things happen. And he meant that we're a little too obsessed with keeping you safe and he THOUGHT that us going to this other universe to find you was just more proof that Hermione and I needed to… to distance ourselves from you for a while so we could figure out who WE are, as a couple and as people and he just… STOP LAUGHING!"
"He meant that we aren't a good couple," Hermione said sharply, "and he didn't think YOUR BEST FRIENDS should risk their lives to go find you."
"It isn't that!" Ron said. "He was just trying to protect us! He would never purposefully want us to put our lives on the line but he was just as willing to come here himself to get Harry!"
"Okay, okay," Harry said, holding a hand up as he wiped tears of mirth from his eyes. His friends instantly fell silent, glaring at each other. Harry huffed a little, getting back his breath before he looked at his friends in turn. "You both need to calm down. This isn't the time to worry about this stuff, especially to fight over it. Mr. Weasley was just trying to protect you both AND-," he raised his voice when Hermione tried to interrupt, "AND, he probably does think that you're both a little too obsessed with me. So you're both right. Happy? Now can we please get back to the subject at hand, namely what are we going to say when we go downstairs?"
There was a moment of tense silence but Harry let it linger, waiting for them to cool off. Hermione gnawed on her bottom lip, fighting with her own stubbornness as Ron glared at the floor. Ron finally huffed sharply and sat beside Hermione, stubbornly grabbing her hand and looking up at Harry.
"Okay," Harry said, seeing that they both had grudgingly put the argument aside for now. "Let's start brainstorming. What's our strategy?"
"We need to find out how long we've been unconscious," Hermione said, gently squeezing Ron's hand. "We need to know how long we've been without news of Voldemort. We need to find out how much on our side they are."
"All good questions," Harry said. "Now let's hear some more."
Remus looked around the kitchen as he sipped his very bad tea. He remembered that particular grandfather clock being in the living room, the china was definitely chipped from the last time he'd seen it, and the oppressive window by the sink was still as nightmare inducing as always (Mrs. Black had once threatened to skin him on it). As he looked around, he wondered how his life could have possibly taken him to this place. He'd only been in Sirius's house once before, only to be yelled at for being "unpure" by Sirius's insane mother, but now he was in the kitchen getting yelled at by the house elf. It was something he'd never expected – to be yelled at again. He'd spent most of his life ensuring that no one could ridicule him, at least not to his face.
"Mistress wants you to stop touching Mistress's cupses!" Kretcher was shrieking, jumping up and down in front of him. He never would have dared do this in front of Sirius, but then again Remus and Kretcher had a history. Namely, Remus locking Kretcher in a closet and magically sealing it for three days while Aurors searched the Black house for evidence of Dark Magic. He'd been training to be an Auror (something that was cut off when Kretcher tattled that he was a werewolf). At the time, Remus had still been angry and had thought at the time that Sirius had indeed been a Dark Wizard like the papers said he had been.
"Shut it," a grumpy voice said from the doorway. Remus looked up as Arthur Weasley trudged into the kitchen and slumped into the chair across from him. Remus took a moment to observe his friend, something he had not done in years; Arthur had the look of being trampled on my stampeding hippogriffs. His eyes were slightly blood-shot and dark with heavy bruised bags.
"You look bright and chipper," Remus observed, nursing his tea. "Didn't get too much sleep?" Arthur snorted, fumbling with the kettle to get some of his own tea.
"I couldn't sleep," Arthur admitted. "I kept having nightmares about Ron… it's too strange. The boy upstairs is not Ron, but I'll be damned, he does look and sound like him. It's very frustrating." He shuffled around the room, scratching his balding head as he poured the hot water into a chipped mug. Kretcher gnawed on the edge of his tea cozy, hopping from foot to foot behind Arthur as he came to sit across from Remus. He sipped the hot liquid, made a face, and took a second sip.
"So…" Remus said, "Ron."
"He's dating that other girl," Arthur exploded. Remus jumped, nearly dropping his mug. "He's dating that girl! Remus, he is dating. I mean, I knew he was around that age where boys become interested in girls, and god knows I've gone through it all with the other boys, but Ron is dating. Do you have any idea what that means?"
"Er…" Remus said, cringing a little from the angry man across from him. "You need to have "the talk" with him soon?"
Arthur opened his mouth and then closed it, his face draining of color. "You don't think he and… he wouldn't…"
"I'm sure your counterpart in the other universe has already had a talk with him about that," Remus said quickly, seeing the panicked man sway a little in his chair. This assuaged Arthur's impending heart attack and returned the ruddy color to his cheeks.
"What this means is that I'm getting old," Arthur said in a much calmer voice. "He mentioned something about Ginny dating now too. I'm not sure how I'm going to tell Molly. She always says she can't wait for Ginny to start dating, but I just know, I know she's going to start crying and complaining about getting older too and want to buy all of those youth regenerating potions and reminiscing about our younger, wilder days," here he paused and had the decency to blush as Remus's uncomfortable expression, "and I don't know if I can take it again. I could when she did it for Bill and Charlie… and even with Percy, but I have a lot of kids, Remus. I can't take much more of this before I start thinking I am an old man."
"I'm… er, sorry?" Remus said, feeling like a caged animal. He'd never experienced a break-down quite like this and Arthur did not show any signs of slowing down. In fact, he seemed to be gathering steam now that Remus was listening. Hell, he could have been anyone by the looks of Arthur's slightly crazed expression.
"It isn't easy," Arthur continued, "being a father to so many children. I love all of them but the stress…" he shook his head, "I can't even tell you. Do you have any idea how many times Fred and George have blown up some form of school property?"
"329 times," Arthur continued, "and do you have any idea how many times I have had to bail Charlie out of prison for trespassing on private property chasing animals that are more interested in burning his fingers off before letting him pet them?"
"I really wouldn't know," Remus said, searching for an exit.
"Dad, stop complaining," a gruff voice said from the doorway. Arthur stopped in mid breath and looked up as Ron, Harry, and Hermione came into the kitchen. Hermione looked slightly uncomfortable but Harry looked extremely amused.
"Hi," Arthur said in a strangled voice.
"Hey, Dad," Ron said as he plopped down in a chair and immediately groaned, leaning to one side with his arms wrapped around his stomach. "Ow, that was stupid."
"Mmm," Hermione said as she sat next to Ron, glancing at Remus. "Hello Mr. Weasley, Remus," she nodded to both.
"Hello Kretcher," Harry said. Kretcher, who'd been about to scream at all the new people, jerked back in surprise.
"Hello Harry Potter," Kretcher said uncomfortably.
"How have you been?" Harry continued pleasantly. Kretcher seemed about to swallow his own tongue, looking around worriedly.
"Kretcher has been… well," he said.
"I'm glad. I don't know how things are in this universe but I hope that Dobby has been here helping you, and I suppose Blinky too," Harry said. Kretcher continued to stare at him as if he were from another planet. "Blinky's a house elf too?" Harry tried, thinking Kretcher didn't know who he was talking about. "Um, she's the house elf for the Pettigrew family?"
"Kretcher knows who is Blinky and Dobby," Kretcher said in a strange voice.
"Oh, good. Well, if you see them please tell them I said hello," Harry said, smiling. "I never met Blinky in my own universe, but I know Dobby pretty well. He helped me during a… er, bad time at school."
"And you freed him," Hermione chirped happily.
"And then," Ron said dryly, "you went on a let's-free-the-house-elves spree."
Kretcher sucked in his breath as if he'd been mortally wounded, his tennis ball eyes nearly popping out of their sockets as the "freed" part of the conversation. Hermione and Ron glared at each other and both opened their mouths but Harry put a stop to the fighting before it could start.
"Yeah, but Dobby was happy I freed him. The Malfoys mistreated him and didn't treat him well," he said. "The house elves at Hogwarts were happy to be there. Anyway, we're past that. Just tell Dobby and Blinky I said hi if you see them."
"Kretcher will," Kretcher said, still sounding a little stunned. He looked around the kitchen nervously and played with the end of his tea cozy. "Does… does Master Harry want some tea?" he finally asked. Remus and Arthur, stunned by the conversation, nearly had heart attacks in the same moment. But, since heart attacks are not things to be experienced in the same moment by two men in different stages of health and age, they settled instead for making strangled sounds.
"That would be great, Kretcher, thank you," Harry said and sat down, smiling at him. Kretcher nodded absently and went to the oven, casting furtive glances at Harry as if expecting the dark-haired boy to throw something at him while he wasn't looking. Ron shook his head and muttered softly.
"He isn't nearly so bad in this universe," he said.
"That's a good thing," Hermione whispered back. "At least it's less likely he'll give us away like the Kretcher we know did."
"What are you talking about?" Remus half-whispered, feeling foolish about intruding on this somewhat secretive conversation. Harry and the others glanced at him, guilt flashing across their faces, before Ron grinned.
"Nothing, just remembering some stuff from our own universe," he said.
"Speaking of which," Hermione cut in, "thank you for rescuing us from Azkaban. Dumbledore told us you'd be coming."
"Dumbledore?" Remus said. "How would Dumbledore know we were coming? We didn't tell him." He glanced nervously at Arthur. Had someone leaked information? Why would they tell Dumbledore when the Headmaster must have already been overloaded with other duties? He'd been placed in charge of the Ministry now that the media had gotten ahold of the information that the Minister was missing, kidnapped by You-Know-Who, and the man was also running one of the most prestigious magic schools in all of Europe. Who would have been dumb enough to-,
"The Dumbledore from our universe told us," Hermione amended. "He's been trying to keep track of things from his end so that he can tell us what's going on. Unfortunately, the connection was interrupted and we didn't get too much information from him."
"We know bad things are happening," Ron pointed out. "Which isn't anything new."
"Anyway," Harry said, "we want to get involved with the Order. If you're willing to break us out of Azkaban, we thought that you could help us."
"Help you do what exactly?" Arthur asked.
"Kill Voldemort," Harry said firmly. Kretcher dropped the teakettle over the stove and the sharp noise of metal-on-metal made everyone but Harry jump. Arthur stared at him slack-jawed and Remus mumbled something about needing a drink.
"Kill the Dark Lord?" Arthur said incredulously.
"He isn't the same Dark Lord," Ron said. "He's the Dark Lord from our universe."
"He isn't someone you want to mess with," Hermione added. "I have a plan for how to find him and make sure we can have the upper hand in a fight."
"Wait wait wait," Remus said. "Hang on a minute. You want to kill the Dark Lord from your own universe? What makes you think you can?"
"Harry can," Ron said firmly. "It's the whole reason he's been trying to kill Harry for so many years." Remus was about to argue when a memory clicked in the back of his mind. That's right, he'd had a similar conversation with Sirius a little while ago. Things were different in this other universe – much different then anyone was immediately aware of. Even the people from that other world were constantly surprised by the radical changes and this one, Harry being the Boy Who Lived instead of Neville Longbottom, seemed to be one of the biggest differences.
"As I said, I have a plan," Hermione said. "But we'll all have to split up and do different things. For starters, we have to get Ginny."
"Ginny?" Arthur piped up. "Why in the world do we need to get Ginny?"
"…Dumbledore didn't tell you?" Harry asked, his eyes widening. "Draco Malfoy took her to Voldemort."
"Malfoy did what?" Arthur roared, rising to his feet.
"Dumbledore didn't tell you?!" Harry demanded.
"Malfoy did what?!" Arthur said louder.
"He's the Malfoy of our universe," Hermione said. "He's working for the Dark Lord."
"Ginny…" Arthur gasped, clutching his chest. Remus very suddenly had a good idea of what Arthur meant about children and stress. Arthur looked as if he very well might have that heart attack they'd almost experienced together and this time, there was no law of averages to get in the way of him experiencing one at that moment.
"Mr. Weasley, please calm down," Harry said firmly. "Hermione was just about to explain her plan to get Ginny out of there. We can't very well go through with it if you're having a coronary."