For Want of an Ear
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. Which by now should be pretty obvious.
Author's Note: Here's my Fred n' George Day present to you all! P There are quite a few time-travel stories out there where Harry gets a second shot at setting things right, so I figured ... why not someone else? I've never seen anything like this done before, so I decided to have a little fun with the idea.
Timeline Note: In case you're lost ... this takes place approximately two months after the final battle. For the moment, I stuck mainly to canon, save for some shameless FredxHermione (yes, they got engaged. I couldn't resist, sorry.) At the moment that's my only planned non-canon ship, so even if you prefer RonxHermione, please at least give my story a chance. :)
The Ministry of Magic had once proclaimed itself the proud emblem of the British wizarding community, an image of elevated sophistication and prevailing influence stretching around the globe. After the war, however, the complex network of floors upon floors of underground chambers had been completely and utterly ransacked until it was nothing but a burned-out shell of its previous grandeur.
Enormous holes gaped in the walls from spells gone awry; the long pillars arcing away into the high ceiling, which was now blotched with sunlit gaps, were crisscrossed with thin cracks as fine as a spider's thread. Long scorch marks marred the gleaming marble floors, and the atrium itself was a minefield littered with glass shards from the high windows – now sightless eyeholes – looking down on all sides. The abhorrent statue of Muggles slowly crushed beneath the weight of the wizarding world was nothing more than a glob of melded gold and concrete, half blasted apart by some vicious spell.
Though the last sign of desperate combatants had long cleared after the war's end, a few short months ago, an ominous presence loomed in the thick air: it sent a chill down the young adults' spines as they crept across the atrium, lit wands held aloft and their gazes sweeping the wreckage, constantly on the alert for figments of enemies already long vanquished.
Harry Potter, surviving newly elected head of the Order of the Phoenix, brought his sleeve to his mouth and coughed. Something in the air made the back of his neck tingle; there was something in that musty scent that was all too reminiscent of bloodshed and death.
He forced that stomach-churning thought from his mind, gesturing the party of wizards ahead; they crossed from the dilapidated atrium into the welcome shadows of a passage. The winding hall led them farther and farther into the dank underbelly of the abandoned Ministry. At any moment, they expected the last dispersion of Death Eaters to come lunging at them out of the dark. Harry's shoulders were tense; he had his mind only on his mission: of finding clues as to where the last of the dark forces, petrified at the loss of their sole master and leader, had fled; to dwell on anything else only brought to the surface of his mind dark memories that he well preferred to let lie.
The Ministry, it seemed, concurred with that line of thought; no sooner was the war declared over than they had commenced rebuilding their government, albeit in a new, undisclosed location. The trepidation to return to the charred rubble of their old days seemed too great for any wizard to surpass.
Harry Potter walked on. Up ahead loomed a doorway; the door itself lay crumpled on the floor a few feet away, the metal warped from the center as if it had been hit by flames. Harry's lips twitched at a grimace and he stepped through the doorway, wand raised to attack or defend; behind him he felt more than saw the others, breathing hard, shifting into similar war-adapted positions.
Nothing; after a long silent moment Harry released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. Beside him, a bushy-haired witch muttered "Lumos" and light burst across their vision.
The floor sloped downward from where they now stood, the circular room carved out in the shape of a bowl with rows upon rows of low stone steps, like an ancient amphitheatre. Even here, the battle had left its mark: great chunks of stone had been forcibly blown apart, leaving treacherous craters in the steps; in other places, rusty stains of blood marred the cream stone. Down below, at the center of the room – amazingly intact, still billowing faintly in a nonexistent breeze – the dark tattered curtains rose out of his nightmares.
Harry swallowed hard, thrusting aside with difficulty images of his godfather's dying moments before he had tumbled through that very same innocent curtain. He turned to the others, instructing, "Search it, as usual – but let's move quickly. I don't like the feel of this place."
The group nodded and moved off without questioning the pallor that had then risen in his face. They all knew. Though each one's recollections might have varied, they were all haunted in the same way, reliving the terror in their nightmares every long night. Harry watched them get to work; the bushy brown-haired witch was already muttering under her breath as she drew her wand over a slab of rock, causing the surface to glow slightly with remnants of magic.
Before he turned off to begin searching himself, he caught the sympathetic smile of the red-haired woman next to him; he smiled thinly back at Ginny, understanding passing between them in an unspoken instant. Standing here ... recalling the memories – of death, of loss, of pain – dredged up the nightmares he had long waged futilely against in his sleep during the long months of rebuilding, of mourning. God, Harry thought as he turned away from Ginny, has it really only been two months...?
Down below, a young man with straggly red hair was picking his way carefully across the destroyed benches. By his features, one could tell he had once been quite handsome; but now his face was thinner, more haggard in the absence of his smile; his shoulders slumped with some weight that the man bore alone. Some of the others he heard murmuring amongst themselves as they worked; someone even dared a laugh in the deadly silence, but he quickly tapered off once more; the young man, however, did not address anyone, nor did he react at the laugh as he might have, once, violently – but that fire had died out over two months' time. Now he was nothing more than a weary, emaciated shell.
He descended further to avoid the section where his older brother Percy was picking suspiciously at the shards of stone; most of all, he didn't want to be forced into conversing with him now and to yet again see the guilt in his gaze. Instead, he hopped the last step down into the shallow bowl of the amphitheatre; he had his back to the waving black curtain, drawing his wand over a half-destroyed bench.
His brow furrowed; the rock was flickering with magical refuse, but he couldn't keep his focus on it. Something – some strange feeling – tingled the back of his neck, as though he was being watched. Unnerved, he cast his glare in either direction, but everyone else was immersed in their search, as well. He clenched his jaw and repeated the spell.
Again, the bench began to hum with energy, and again he felt a presence ... but this time, it was more than a lingering sensation; a voice had awakened in the back of his mind, a whisper that renewed a dull ache in his heart.
Pleading. Calling. Without thinking he turned his eyes back on the black curtain; its frayed tails waved lightly in the breeze, beckoning him; and beyond it he heard...
The others muttering and shuffling around him fell away as he felt himself called forward by something stronger than magic. Just beyond the curtain. He only needed to reach out...
A hand descended on his shoulder and he jolted from his trance; he flinched back and found himself staring into Harry's solemn face. He blinked, glancing downward, and realized he was standing with one foot up on the raised dais, about to propel himself into the curtain's reach. He could not recall his feet moving forward. A small shiver went down his arms.
He took a shaky breath, imploring Harry with his gaze; and for the first time in long weeks, hoarsely, George Weasley spoke. "I ... I hear him, Harry ... He's right there –"
"It's not him," Harry said, very quietly. "I know – I hear them, too. But they're not real, George, they're not." His hand tightened on his shoulder, a slight gesture of understanding. "Come on –"
"Harry!" Ginny called across the room. "Look at this!"
Harry moved off at the urgency in her tone, leaving George standing there, eyes riveted to the gentle rippling of the Veil. Even after Harry's warning, he could still hear it; he could still hear that voice calling to him, begging him.
George tore his eyes away with a faint growl. Snap out of it, he thought, his fist clenching around his wand as he moved back toward the benches; Hermione had taken over the section he'd deserted, frowning slightly as she scanned the rubble. George approached her. He didn't know why, but he found himself needing proof; he was clinging to the idea that maybe Harry was wrong, that maybe there was still a little bit of him left.
"Hermione. Do you hear it?"
She glanced up at him. "Hear what, George?"
He said nothing, but his eyes drew back toward the black curtain waving innocently in the stale underground air. Hermione drew a sharp breath, moving to stand beside him.
"I don't hear anything," she whispered, her hand closing on his wrist. Her cold fingers were trembling. "George – we should report back to Harry..."
"It's him," he countered, knowing full well of all people she should know, she should be able to tell him; after all, she had been the one engaged to him before that – before that day... "I hear him, Hermione."
Hermione shook her head, blinking hard against the tears that threatened to overwhelm her eyes. "No, George, it's not. Don't –"
At that moment a scream went up from across the room, driving any thought of the argument from their minds. The duo whirled about, each with wand raised. From the entranceway they had come in by, dark figures were now pouring, unmasked and in tattered disarray. The Death Eaters' strength in numbers was gone – now, these last stragglers rose up with feral light in their eyes. These were the men too far mutated to return to living undercover as their past pureblood selves; too proud to fall back into Azkaban; too hungry for vengeance to bow to the new regime.
The Order of the Phoenix reacted. At the frontline, Harry and Ginny fought back to back with fervent strokes, reading one another's movements with feeling alone. But the Death Eaters were too many, and soon the room was awash in a sea of black and bright flashes of spells. Hermione and George fell into stride, warding off the dark figures that came lunging down at them; his face pale, Percy struggled over to their side and joined them, his glasses slipping on his sweat-streaked nose. They fought, side by side, but the tide jostled them backward; now the trio stood on the edge of the dais, the chill of the Veil at their backs, struggling to ward off attack.
"Stupefy!" At Hermione's cry a man went down limp, but in his place rose what George was sure was a werewolf; and baring dirty fangs the man lunged, long nails outstretched. Hermione shrieked; he had gouged her sleeve and now blood glistened along her wand arm; a wild light in his eyes now, the werewolf lunged hungrily for her neck –
In slow motion, it seemed, George saw the man's gleaming teeth snap down; and then, hardly realizing he was moving, he was; his vision was red, for these bastards had already taken all else from him and there was no way they'd take away his last reminder of him -!
George swung out and his fist connected with something; the Death Eater fell back, stunned, and in the moment's opening he had clasped Hermione's wrist, pulling her back beside him. She was panting, her other hand pressed to her wound; the slightest whimper escaped her. Then with a snarl the werewolf lunged for the two of them.
And George, still clutching tight to her arm, stepped backward. For a moment he felt nothing, but then a cold was seeping through his limbs as if he had plunged into icy water. He tried to shiver, but his body didn't respond. The chaos around him was fading; the last thing he saw was Hermione's eyes widening and her lips moving in a soundless scream as he pulled her in with him.
And then the welcome darkness overtook him.
For a heartbeat the combatants froze, numb with shock; Percy lunged with a wild shout, but his fingers only feathered empty air; he fell to his knees, suddenly alone on the raised dais, as the Death Eaters' laugher coldly echoed around the chamber. Percy could only stare in horror at the place where his younger brother and Ron's fiancée had just tumbled through the Veil.
To be continued...
Ehehehe. So many questions... Please review!