A Stranger in His Own Home

Chapter Six - Planning Breakdown

The dark movement in the City of Plovdiv gathered in a dungeon underneath the ruins of a large fortress-like structure; something the aurors had only just recently found out after a large attack on a muggle dwelling. A small team of aurors had secretly followed two members of the dark movement, who apparently thought they had escaped their odious mission unnoticed, to this building, which had been under close surveillance ever since.

Although every movement within and around the building had been recorded, Harry and Ron had wanted to inspect it for themselves. They knew that many important observations had gone unnoticed by the Bulgarian aurors, due to the fact that the Bulgarian component had not experienced anything on this level before and were therefore stripping themselves of information that could assist them in their mission to bring down the culprits. Having defeated Voldemort only a mere four years previously, and seeing how the current dark movement had evolved from Voldemort's reign, the best friends knew exactly what to look out for.

Voldemort's defeat had found most of the Death Eaters spending the remainder of their lives either in Azkaban or the ward in St. Mungo's for those who had received the Dementors Kiss. Their punishment had depended on the severity of their crimes. Lucius Malfoy and a select few others, for instance, had been sentenced to death after brutally slaughtering the entire population of a small muggle school. Even now, four years on, the country was still trying to recover from such a heinous act. Hundreds of lives had been sacrificed, and thousands more destroyed; whole families had been taken, while others tried to rebuild their lives without their children, parents or friends, and in some cases, all three.

This event had hit an extremely raw nerve inside Harry. His will to crush Voldemort once and for all was driven to such a point that it had only been a matter of days before the final battle had ensued and the dark movement was defeated.

The handful of Death Eaters who had managed to evade capture had fled, the majority escaping to Bulgaria, their homeland. It did not take long for the two with the most knowledge of Voldemort's power to take over; both had been in Voldemort's tightest inner circle and were eager to continue his work. The problem was, both wanted to be the most admired, the most dangerous, the most powerful. One could not do that with the threat of the other looming overhead, and so they had split and taken over separate parts of Plovdiv; one the City of Plovdiv, the other the Town of Asenovgrad. Ever since, both had been gradually weaving their paths of destruction through Plovdiv, sacrificing muggles and destroying whole settlements just to be the one on top.

The Bulgarian auror department considered themselves lucky that the situation had been discovered early, before the devastation escalated into Voldemort-sized proportions. Harry and Ron, however, were still worried. Both "Dark Lords" had immense knowledge of Voldemort's proceedings and had already gathered quite a number of supporters. This task was going to be much larger than what they had experienced back in London.

Hidden under invisibility cloaks and crouched behind bushes surrounding the ruins, Harry and Ron observed the location in silence. Ron grimaced as he shifted slightly to relieve some pressure off his legs; sharp pins and needles suddenly shot up them and he let out a small hiss.

Harry quickly looked to his right where he knew Ron was located.

"Are you okay?" he whispered.

"Yeah," Ron replied, finding a comfortable position. "Just been crouched here too long."

Harry nodded, forgetting Ron couldn't see him, and then said, "We've only got another six hours. Then we can head back and start forming our plan of attack. We've already discovered a few more things that the Bulgarian's missed, so that shouldn't be problem."

"It's lucky we're over here … they'd be stuffed without us. If there's not a hot meal waiting for us when we get back, I'm telling you now, there'll be hell to pay."

As if to emphasise his statement, a deep, rumbling growl came from Ron's stomach.

Harry chuckled softly before returning to the task at hand.

Around seven hours later, and after digesting a huge meal of Kebapcheta and fried potatoes, the two men were seated around the desk in their office at Bulgaria Headquarters, joined by Viktor Krum and his partner, Ivana Volkovich.

Ivana's arrival into the office had Harry and Ron shamefully in awe. The tall, slender, yet well built woman changed the atmosphere of every room she entered. The deep chocolate of her eyes was so piercing and observant that it was obvious she was not someone to mess with. However, putting those imposing factors aside, Ivana was considered to be one of the most attractive women in all of Bulgaria. Her dark brown hair was pulled back in a tight bun, a few wisps of a fringe resting gently above her eyes, giving her a look of importance and independence, but also casting a soft shadow over her prominent facial features. High, perfectly sculpted cheek bones and a soft, lusciously plump smile completed the vision of authority and stunning beauty.

She shook hands with both Harry and Ron before placing a gentle kiss on Viktor's cheek and seating herself beside him. The slight hint of a blush crept onto Viktor's cheek but soon disappeared as he began to speak.

"Ivana, Harry and Ron have observed the ruins for the past fifty-nine hours and have information that ve missed during our own observations. They are confident that ve now have enough to form a plan of attack," Viktor informed his partner.

Harry noticed that Viktor was gazing at Ivana with more than just professional partnership in his eyes, but pushed that to the back of his mind. He knew that Hermione would be interested to hear about it once he and Ron got home, but for now he had to focus on the task ahead.

"How is everything on your side, Ivana?" Ron asked, giving Harry a strange look.

Ivana smiled and said, "All is going excellently in Asenovovgrad. Kingsley Shacklebolt and his team have been very successful in their tasks so far. They still have a great deal of vork to do, however they have started vorking on small plans for different aspects of their attack and are almost ready to begin putting them together to form their overall plan. I vould say that they are at a similar stage to you."

"That's brilliant," Harry replied, "That means we should all be getting out of here soon."

Viktor nodded. "That vill be great for all of us. I am sure Hermione and Ginny are missing you very much."

Harry and Ron silently nodded, taking a short moment to think about their family back home. Ron couldn't wait to return to Hermione and welcome their child into the world. It was so close now; he desperately hoped she didn't go into labour while he was on this assignment.

"How are we going to go about this?" Ron asked, breaking the silence. He looked at the other occupants of the room, receiving a small smile from Harry and quickly returning it before concentrating on the information in front of them.

Viktor spread their findings out in front of them, along with a floor plan of the ruins and the dungeon underneath.

"First, we'll need to make sure we have as many of them in there as possible. We can't risk leaving too many free to sneak up behind us, or even run away as these ones did from London. We have to quash this movement as thoroughly as we can so that our efforts aren't wasted," explained Harry. "We also need to make sure they don't have an easy escape, but that we can get out of there quickly if needed."

He spread the floor plans out a little more and scanned them closely, tracing different paths with his finger.

"They gather mainly in this chamber here," he said, pointing to the spot on the parchment for his companions to see, "and use these entrances when entering and exiting the ruins. We can enter from either here or here without being detected in a hurry, then silently make our way down this tunnel here,"

Ron, Viktor and Ivana nodded in agreement. Ron reached out and added, "That hall off to the side there gives us a quick escape route in case we need it,"

"Yes, and entering through here leaves them trapped. If we came from the other direction, we wouldn't stand a chance."

"Vhat about that entrance there?" asked Viktor, indicating the spot on the floor plans. "If they come from there vile ve are in the tunnel, ve are in trouble."

Pursing his lips, Harry stared at the plans for a moment.

"We … what we need is bait. We have to send someone in there first, to be "captured" and then we make our move. Once they've got a hostage, they'll all be called to the main chamber. We'll then make our move and attack."

"What if they harm the person we use as bait before we get there?" Ron asked.

"We've got to execute this at the right time. There are no 'what ifs.' We don't have room for error in this situation. As it is, we'll only have a small margin of time to put this plan into action."

"Vhat do you mean?" asked Viktor, a puzzled expression on his face.

Harry shifted a few sheets of parchment on the desk before finding the one he was looking for and handed it to Viktor.

"These are the times we have seen them leave and enter the ruins over the last three days. A group of three always leaves at eight o'clock in the morning, returning shortly after at eight-fifteen. A larger group of five who leave at five-thirty promptly return at eight-forty. No outside movement is then seen until ten o'clock. It is only departures after that time, so between eight-forty and ten o'clock, we must assume that most, if not all, of the members are inside."

"So that's the time we have to execute the plan?"

Harry nodded to answer Ron. "If we don't do it then, we don't stand a chance."

Ivana shifted in her seat and looked towards the two men.

"So this person you vill use as bait …"

Harry closed his eyes and gently rubbed his temples. "I really don't want to put someone in that position, but it needs to be done. I just don't know who it will be," he said. "I would do it myself, but I want to make sure the rest of the plan goes how it should. I'd curse myself if I was in there playing helpless victim while everyone else was held at wand point in the tunnel by a bunch of slimy murderous gits."

Ron could tell that his best friend was distressed and sick of the whole situation, as was he, but there really was nothing else they could do. The sooner they put this plan into action, the sooner they could go home. That's all there was to it.

He sat a hand on Harry's shoulder and gave it a small squeeze.

"I'll do it. I'll go in as bait and you can lead the rest of the team in after."

"No you bloody well won't!" Harry cried, rising suddenly from his chair. "What the hell do you think Hermione would do to me if she found out I offered you up as a diversion? She'd get me worse than any 'dark lord' ever could."

Ron got to his feet too and faced Harry. "Look, mate, that's all it'll be; a diversion. I'll go in, they'll think they've got the better of us, then BAM! In you come and we'll crush the bastards."

"No! Ron, I won't let you do it! I … I just won't." Harry slumped back down into his chair and let his head fall into his palms. "I need you beside me, Ron. I can't do this without you."

Ron felt his heart constrict as Harry's words reached his ears. Both knew how much they meant to each other, how much they relied on each other, but never felt the need to express it in words. Harry doing so was practically a plea; he was begging Ron not to leave him.

"Harry, I'd never leave you to deal with this on your own. I will always stand and fight with you, right by your side," he said fiercely, gripping Harry's shoulder firmly, "But who else do you know who will be able to handle that situation? No one on our team, that's for sure."

He knelt down in front of Harry and forced him to look up from his hands.

"I've been there, Harry, I can do it. You know I'm the only option. I'll handle the bait, you handle the rescue. We're partners, Harry, that's how we always do it. We will succeed, I know it. All my faith is with you; it always has been."

"I don't know how I'd survive if something happened to you," Harry choked, un-shed tears starting to sting his eyes.

Viktor rose from his chair and offered his hand to help Ivana up also.

"Ve have a few things to attend to, so ve shall leave you alone for a bit," said Viktor, leading Ivana towards the door. "Ve vill come back later to help finalise the plan."

Ron nodded at them in thanks and turned his attention back to Harry.

"If something happened to you before I could get there, I'd … I wouldn't be able to go on, Ron. You're my best mate, and you're practically my brother. Hell, you are my brother and have been for a long time. That's what makes things so much harder … if something happens to you, I won't just have to deal with my own guilt; I'll have your whole damn family plus Hermione to deal with too. They'd treat me just like one of them, and wouldn't put the blame on me, but deep down inside I'd always be on the outside."

"Harry, that's not true and you know it! You're just as much a Weasley as I am,"

"That's the thing! I'm not. When I'm with you and Ginny, and even the twins, yeah, I feel like I could be, but Hermione's more a Weasley than I am. She's actually part of the family; she has your surname, she's carrying a Weasley grandchild …"

Ron sighed with frustration and began to pace around the desk.

"Harry, what do I have to say to get it into your thick head? You are part of the family! You always have been, and if that's not enough for you, you'll be married into it soon if Ginny has any say in the matter."

"Ron, I -"

"Look, I don't want to hear another word about it, okay?" Ron said sternly, staring directly into Harry's eyes.

Harry fell to pieces right there. Sobs wracked his exhausted body and all the remaining strength he had in him dissipated.

Ron rushed over and wrapped his arm protectively around Harry's shoulders.

"Harry -"

"Ron, I can't lose you. I won't let you do it. Please don't do it … I know it won't end well for you, I can feel it," he sobbed, "Meeting you was the best thing that ever happened to me. You were the first good thing to ever come into my life. You showed me what life is, that there's more to it than sleeping in a cupboard and playing slave to the Dursleys. Ron, I can't lose you!"

This was the first time Ron had ever seen Harry lose himself like this. Sure, he'd seen Harry fall apart a few rare times over the climax of the last war, but it had been nothing like this. Ron had no idea what to do, what to say, how to react … he just sat there with his arm around Harry's shoulders, letting his best friend fall to pieces beside him.

Harry's words had touched Ron so much that he couldn't speak, even if he had known what to say. He'd known that Harry's childhood up until Hogwarts had been stripped from him by the Dursleys, and his adolescence by Voldemort, but coming from a large family and not knowing anything but love, it was hard for Ron to even try to understand what Harry was feeling, let alone imagine what life growing up without his family would be like. If he lost Harry, there was no way his family would just leave him alone to deal with it and he knew it would be exactly the same if something happened to him. His family would treat Harry like one of their own; however, Harry refused to see that, no matter how many times they all said it. He was afraid of being hurt; of finally belonging somewhere, of knowing happiness and love, and then losing it all, just like he lost his own family …

That was something Ron could somewhat understand, and he wished he didn't. The horrible thought of losing his family and having nothing … it was the worst feeling in the world.

"Harry," Ron said after a while, "You're not going to lose me. And I'm not going to lose you, okay?"

Harry's sobs had calmed immensely, although he kept his head in his hands.

"I can't do this anymore, Ron. I'm not cut out for it. I'm tired and I just want to go home."

"That's what we're going to do. We're going to go in, do this, and then go home. Then you and I are going to quit this job and find new ones a little less dangerous and time-consuming. We've done enough fighting, Harry. You have done enough fighting. I mean, you've spent your whole life battling evil! It's time you got to do something else with your life," explained Ron lightly in an effort to raise Harry's spirits. "We can spend all day playing Quidditch! You can marry my sister, have some children and we'll spend our Sundays at The Burrow watching our children play with their other cousins … you deserve a peaceful life, not one chasing after these bloody power-driven gits."

"You're still not going in as bait," Harry replied, straightening up in his chair. He rubbed his hands roughly over his face in an attempt to freshen himself up a little. "We'll send someone else. We'll send anyone … I'm just not sending you."

"That's fine. Honestly, what ever you want, Harry."

Rising from his chair and walking around the desk, Harry quietly said, "I'm sorry for … for losing it like that."

"Don't worry about it. Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. I just can't take this anymore, Ron, all this stress and danger. You're right … when we get back, I'm giving Shacklebolt my resignation."

"We'll do it together. This is our last assignment, mate; in a few days we'll be done with this life and we can start afresh."

With that thought it mind, Harry's spirits lifted and he gave Ron a small smile of gratitude.

"So what are we going to do now? Who will we send?" Ron asked.

Harry absentmindedly shifted the parchment around the desk and said, "Let's get the team back here and see if any of them will volunteer. Otherwise we'll have to decide for them."

"Shall I go get Viktor and Ivana, and then summon the rest back here? Are you going to be okay to do this right now?"

"Yes, I'm all right. The sooner we get this done the better," replied Harry wearily.

Ron hesitated slightly, casting a worried glance at Harry, before nodding and heading towards the door.

"I'll be back soon."

***

"Right, since none of you have volunteered, we'll volunteer one of you ourselves," Ron explained, staring intently at each member of their group. Their group of six aurors had been joined by another twelve from Viktor's department, in order for them to be able to pull their plan off successfully.

Turning his gaze beside him to Harry and Viktor, he silently questioned them with his eyes. The trio stepped back from the group a little and huddled together to quickly discuss the situation.

"Send one of my men," Viktor whispered, "They are more familiar vith the area and the problem at hand than your team are. That leaves you free to instruct your entire team in the attack vithout vorrying about their safety."

"We'll still worry about the safety of your men though," Harry replied. "I'd hate to think something happened to one of your team because we stuffed up."

Ron sighed, "Harry, Viktor's right. His team are more knowledgeable on the situation and we stand a better chance of succeeding if one of them goes in first. I know you're worried, but we won't have any problems if we go in at the right time."

"No offence to your team, but my men are a lot stronger in build. Men here begin training at a very young age and continue it all their lives. Ve vill be better off if ve send one of my men in first."

Harry looked at Viktor and nodded. "You're right. Our team are nothing in physical strength compared to yours. So who do you feel the most comfortable about sending?"

Viktor scanned the group before them and pondered his decision for a moment.

"Stoev. He has been heavily involved vith this from the beginning and also assisted vith your defeat of Voldemort. He is the best on our team and vill be able to handle anything they might try on him."

"Stoev it is. Viktor, would you like to take it from here?" asked Ron.

Viktor nodded and the three returned to their positions in front of the group.

"Stoev," Viktor announced. "Ve have chosen you to enter the ruins first. Once this meeting is through, you vill remain here for debriefing of your task."

The man named Stoev remained silent, nodding his head once to confirm that he understood his orders.

"Are there any questions about the task ahead of us?" he continued, addressing the group in full. "No? Excellent, you are all dismissed. Go to your chambers and get some rest; you vill be needing it for tomorrow. Ve shall meet you back here at zero six hundred hours."

The group of seventeen began to murmur amongst themselves as they all exited the room. Harry, Ron and Viktor watched them all leave, most still unaware of how immense the task that lay ahead was. Stoev moved towards them, awaiting the details of his fate.

"Stoev, the task we are sending you on is the most important component of the execution of our plan," Harry began, "Just before the last group return at eight-forty tomorrow morning, you will enter the ruins as though you are observing the goings-on inside in order to report back to Headquarters. You will enter through the entrance they most use and will remain in the main passage they pass through, so that when the group do return, they find you and 'capture' you. Is that clear so far?"

"Yes, sir," Stoev replied.

"Once you have been 'captured,' if all goes to plan, you should be taken to the main chamber and all members of the movement will be called to meet down there. We will fit you with an invisible string-less Extendable Ear before we send you in, that way we will know all that happens from the moment you enter the ruins. We will hear when you are in the chamber, giving us our cue. We will not enter straight away, however we will not leave it long enough for them to try anything too harmful on you. Once we are certain that most of the members are down there with you, we will then enter. If you are feeling that something may happen before we get there, or if things aren't going the way we planned, give us a sign through the extendable ear; whisper to us, say something in code to us, anything inconspicuous that will alert us of the problem without the movement catching on."

"Yes, sir, I understand."

"Excellent," Harry replied, "Do you have any questions?"

"Yes, sir, what if some of the members are sent out to search the area for more of us?"

"Good question. We have that covered, however it is highly likely that none will be sent out without them all having been summoned to the main chamber first. Once they are all gathered there, they will receive their orders. If that does not happen, we will be prepared and waiting outside. As soon as they appear exiting the ruins, we will attack from our hidden positions. Anything else?" asked Harry.

Shaking his head, Stoev replied, "No, sir."

"Okay, you are dismissed. Go get some sleep."

Stoev exited the office, leaving the three senior aurors alone once more. They stood in silence for a few minutes, contemplating the events of the past few days and the one that was fast approaching. In a few short hours they would attack, risking their safety and their lives for the protection of the muggle and wizarding worlds for the second time in five years. They needed to succeed this time; if they didn't, Harry knew it would only be a matter of time before he was right back where he was now. Whether it be another five, ten, or twenty years from now, all his dreams of a peaceful life would be abandoned once more.

"I guess there's nothing else to be done until morning," Ron said, breaking the silence, "So we may as well try to get some sleep too."

"Yes, ve vill need our vits about us ven ve begin tomorrow," Viktor agreed. "You both are invited to stay in my chambers tonight, if you vish. The beds are more comfortable there."

"Will there be enough room for the three of us?" asked Harry.

"I vill be staying vith Ivana tonight as ve have a few things to discuss before tomorrow." A blush began to once again creep across Viktor's face. "The room is all ready for you. I shall see you in a few hours."

"Thank you, Viktor," Ron said with genuine sincerity. His days of holding a petty grudge against the man who had stolen his wife's first kiss had vanished over the duration of this assignment.

Viktor lead Harry and Ron to his chambers a few floors below their office. The three men walked in silence, shaking hands upon reaching the room before Viktor bade them goodnight.

Harry and Ron quickly readied themselves for bed and climbed under their covers.

"G'night, Harry," Ron mumbled.

"'Night, Ron," Harry replied, casting all thoughts of the following day aside by thinking of Ginny and the life that lay ahead of them as he drifted off to sleep.