The heavens rumbled above the soggy ground as wizards prepared to battle yet again with Voldemort's fanatics. However, this time, the fight was not in war. No longer was there a Voldemort or a cause. The Death Eater was a simple relic of the past. Yet, in a small shack upon a jagged hill lay in wait some of the strongest and devote followers of a dead tyrant. To them the battle had not ended on the field of Hogwarts that fateful day on the Ides of March. Instead, they believed themselves as the bearers of a sacred belief that they alone were the saviours of a world they so nearly destroyed years ago.
Walking past the small outcrop of Aurors busy preparing their wands for the fight, the boy who was now the man revered as a hero pushed past the drenched, crimson flaps of a weary tent. It stood as a barrier between the harsh winds of the outside storm and the warmer comfort of the Auror outpost where the battle plans were being drawn.
"Harry, are the men ready?" The calm voice of Remus Lupin questioned.
Harry nodded his head as he fell into the circle of Aurors who were to lead the ambush and bring the few remaining Death Eaters to justice.
"Good, Stebbins and Jones should be back momentarily from their scout. Apparently, Hopkins stumbled upon a rather nasty Conjunctivitus curse while patrolling, and we have to be positive there will be no more surprises as we make the attempt on raiding that house."
"Is Wayne going to be all right?" A concerned Su Li asked, not wanting to sound overtly concerned over Wayne Hopkins' unfortunate accident.
"He'll be fine," the baritone voice of Knightly Shacklebolt interjected, walking into the meeting with Stebbins and Jones at his heels.
Su sighed in relief, but quickly pushed the thought of Wayne from her mind, as the Aurors huddled around the rickety table supporting its weight in maps, dark wizard paraphernalia, and enough coffee to keep a Hippogriff flying for a year.
"Be on your toes lads, them dark wizards are a crafty bunch," Alastor Moody began. "Their wands are rotten to the core and there is nothing that lot will not do to save their own hides."
Lupin nodded his head in agreement. "Don't get caught up in Ministry bureaucracy. You do what you must to stay alive. Though I don't condone the use of unforgivables, if bludger comes to bludger, I'd rather have you at the handle of an Avada then at the tip of the blasted curse. Do I make myself clear?"
Everyone nodded their heads as they shifted on their feet. The anticipation was palpable, the air taking on the nervous flight each felt in the pit of their stomachs. However, experience on the battle-field had hardened most, and the lessons they had learned would serve them well now.
"Remember, extreme measures are our last resort. We want them alive. They don't deserve death, it's too good for them," Lupin finished as he let Stebbins and Harry take over, running through the plan of action.
"Patrols have confirmed that Bellatrix Lestrange, Fenrir Greyback, Walden Macnair, and two other unidentified witches are hiding in the house. The two witches are assumed to be hostages, and will remain so until their identity can be confirmed, but if they resist during the raid, do whatever is necessary to apprehend them," Harry explained, eyeing each of his members carefully, though keeping his gaze on Ron as he spoke of Greyback.
"Four teams will take the North, South, East, and West passages up the hill respectively. Once there, Moody's team on the South end will make their move through the front doors. When Moody sends the signal, all remaining teams will enter, while the support Aurors lie as backup around the grounds."
Once again, heads bobbed up and down.
"The signal is Moody's patronus, a kneazel," Alexander Stebbins explained.
Snickers would have run through the group if it hadn't been for the first hand account of seeing Moody's patronus rip through a horde of Dementors during the war. Never underestimate a kneazel.
"Everyone has five portkey pendants. Once you've incapacitated any of the Death Eaters or hostages, bind them with a Petrificus Totalus and place the pendant around their neck. The portkey will send them directly to a holding chamber in the Ministry. From there, the Aurors at Auror Headquarters will guard the prisoners until we arrive to take over interrogations."
Alexander stepped back and let Moody say the last words to the Aurors now ready to make their move, which brought all one step closer to finally tying the lose ends of a war better left forgotten.
"This ain't the time or the place to play hero. You want an Order of Merlin, go back to the Ministry and kiss Scrimgeour's arse, for you're not going to find one out here tonight. Tonight, it's all about bringing an end to those sorry excuses. They've lived free while their victims rot in the ground, and I'll have no more of that injustice. So, be prepared to fight."
Moody finished and walked out, his team following on his heels. Soon Shacklebolt, the second team leader, made his exit along with Lupin, who happened to be the third team leader of the mission. Harry, who was the final team leader, stayed back in the tent as he dismissed his team, except for one wizard.
"Moody's words also extend to revenge, Ron. Keep your head on straight, they'll be time for retribution," Harry explained.
Ron scoffed at the notion. "Yeah, in a gilded cage in Azkaban, right? I'm not looking for blood, but it is personal, and there is nothing you can do about that, Harry," Ron commented.
Harry held out his arm and stopped Ron in his tracks. Though the red-head was a few inches taller than his childhood friend, Harry possessed a quiet, dangerous air that no one dared prod.
"You won't be doing anyone any favours going into the fight hot-headed, Ron. Your temper has never been a virtue, let alone in a fight. You need to keep this impersonal," Harry explained, but soon met rage.
"Impersonal? How the bloody hell do you propose I do that, Harry? Bill is slowly losing his life because of that mangy beast, and I'm not supposed to feel nothing more than Auror duty toward that wizard. How could I imagine doing that?" Ron spat, his cheeks turning deep crimson as his anger rose.
Harry stepped back, letting Ron have his space. He wasn't the only person affected by Greyback and his twisted delights.
"Just like Lupin does, Ron. Lupin has been robbed a life since his childhood and he manages to keep himself in check. I need all of you for this fight, Ron, not just the angry side of you."
The plea helped somewhat in cooling Ron's temper, but did so slightly, as the wizard paced about the cramped outpost, slowly wearing the ground bare.
"All right, Harry. I'll do my job and not look for Greyback, but if he crosses my path, Merlin as my witness, I will do whatever is in my power to bring him down."
Harry agreed to the compromise as he patted Ron's shoulders. The two wizards exited the outpost, and pulled their robes around their bodies. Their telltale blue, Auror uniforms under their invisibility cloaks each required for this particular mission.
Soon only disembodied heads bounced below the hill, and with a quick signal to all approaching groups, the hoods went up, and no one was the wiser to the approaching ambush.
The raid was calculated. Days of preparation making sure nothing was some of the defensive curses and spells protecting the area, Moody's team came up to the front door, all wands at the ready. Breathing heavily, a sign that Moody was perhaps getting a bit too old for this job, he muttered the unlocking charm and went to wiggle the doorknob. Under his experienced hand the door gave way, not even daring to cross the aged Auror by making a sound.
The Aurors slipped in, grateful no one was in the foyer, and soon found their bearings as they honed in on the kitchen, where two distinct voices could be heard shouting.
"You and your stupid blood lust will be the end of us all, Greyback. We can't afford to run every time you go and abduct fresh meat from these villages," the distinct rasp of Macnair shook the house, his bellows deafening the Aurors as they took their positions at the entrance of the decrepit kitchen.
"How else do you expect me to survive, Walden, on the turnip stew Bellatrix so kindly brews everyday?" The voice was laced with sarcasm, but the Aurors paid little attention to the argument. To them, the situation was pure Felix Felicis come to life.
"On three," Moody whispered.
"Then pinch something more useful then two cunts, Greyback."
"Like what, old hag?"
"Don't tempt me from doing away with your two little toys before you've had your fun."
Greyback never had a chance to respond as the kitchen lit up like a Chudley Canon after-game celebration. Macnair was immediately hit in the back with a Stupefy, and as heads appeared from thin air, Greyback growled and made to make his stand.
"Expecto Patronum!" Bellowed Moody, as he sent his Patronus out through the back door where Harry's team laid in wait.
Nearly missing a nasty Sectumsempra, Greyback so graciously sent his way; Moody took to follow the mangy man, but soon encountered resistance in the form of the stark raving mad, Bellatrix Lestrange.
"What do we have here? Little Aurors come to play?"
The entire assembly of Aurors hit the decks as Bellatrix took to incinerate the kitchen wall.
Harry barely had time to register the carnage playing out before his eyes, as he cast a Protego around his group, stopping a nasty entrail-expelling curse from harming one of his fellow friends.
"Take cover," Harry wisely ordered, and soon his team dove behind what little remained of the kitchen wall facing the open parlor, which was where Bellatrix was now holed up, sending a frenzy of curses to anyone daring to pop their head up.
"Greyback is getting away!" MacDougal yelled as she sent an Impediment curse towards Bellatrix. Luckily it hit, and it slowed the witch down enough for an array of Stupefies and Petrificus Totalus' to hit her square in the chest.
A scream died on Bellatrix's lips as she fell to the ground, bound. Jones, being the closest to the witch, quickly rushed over to her body and placed the pendant-portkey around her neck. In a whirl of black, Bellatrix was gone to where a brigade of Aurors waited at Headquarters.
"One down, two more to go," Shacklebolt announced, but as Harry looked around, his blood ran cold as he saw Ron's red mop dodge one of MacNair's curses while he pursued Greyback to the second floor of the rotting house.
"Ron!" Harry exclaimed exasperated, while turning his attention to MacNair, who clearly wasn't going down without a fight.
Stebbins ran to Harry's side, there to relay some important information.
"Moody said the two witches are hostages. He thinks they might be in the basement. We got to find them before the house collapses."
The assumption that the house was barely standing on its foundation was no lie. The house was beginning to sway slowly as the wind and barrage of curses worked to whittle away what little support it had.
Harry nodded his head and looked about the room. In the corner, near the stove, was a hatch. Below, no doubt, were Greyback's victims.
Sliding across the floor, Harry blasted the lock from the latch, and lifted the few spells set to lock the girls in their jail. Throwing open the hatch, Harry jumped in, the tip of his wand soon bursting into fantastic light.
In the corner, huddled in complete fear, were two girls, no older that sixteen, dirt ridden, and barely covered by what little remained of their clothes. Approaching the scene, the girls shrank from Harry's presence, but soon realised that come to save them was none other than Harry Potter.
"Am I dreaming?" The smallest girl queried, still shaking, bruises and scratches littering her once creamy, unblemished skin.
"No," Harry reassured, as he bellowed for some help. In popped Shacklebolt and his team, as the anti-apparition spells lifted.
"We're close to taking Macnair willingly, Lupin is negotiating. However, we haven't the faintest clue as to where Greyback went."
However, Harry did know where Greyback had scurried off to and let Shacklebolt take over the welfare of the two girls as Harry apparated to the ground floor, where Macnair was in the process of putting his wand to the ground and letting himself be taken willingly by Aurors.
Harry ran past the scene, nudging Stebbins to follow his lead up the stairs. Harry emerged on the second floor, fearing for his safety as some of the floorboards fell to the ground below. Apparently the house was about to give up with its own fight against gravity.
"Ron!" Harry called out.
As the roof began to fall, Harry strained to hear the muffled voices embroiled in a fight. Throwing caution to the wind, Harry ran to where he was certain Ron was getting himself into trouble. Ron indeed, was in the midst of danger, as Greyback lunged towards his worn body.
Ron had ambushed the sneaky werewolf in the master bedroom, but since losing his wand when Greyback knocked him off his feet, the two adversaries had been at each other's necks with their bare hands.
"I can still taste the flesh of your brother," Greyback wheezed as he drooled over Ron, some of his bloody spit falling into Ron's matted hair.
Ron filled with a new rage and disgust as the spit rolled off his forehead and down the side of his face and swung to hit Greyback in the nose. The punch finally connected getting the wizard off Ron's body. Rolling to the end of the room, Greyback snarled as he prepared to jump back and finish the fight, already anticipating the feel of ripping the upstarts throat out with his bare teeth. However, before either wizard continued with their brawl, the house gave a violent jerk and soon the distinct sounds of wood cracking echoed through the house.
Ron barely registered Harry grabbing the collar of his robe, as he pulled the red headed wizard into the hallway. The action did not come a moment too soon, as the floor of the bedroom gave way, sending Greyback tumbling into the jagged, wooden boards cool breeze of the stormy air chilled Ron's sweaty form, glad that he had come out of the fight unscathed. However, Ron's excitement did not come to an end as he suddenly followed Harry and apparated from the house, onto sturdy, solid ground. Ron didn't remain on his feet for long though, as Harry threw his friend to the soggy grass and went on a frenzied search for any scratches or bites Greyback might have left behind.
"Harry, get off, he didn't touch me," Ron tried reassuring his friend.
"Bullocks," Harry cursed as his search came up empty. It was a small consolation, but Harry was damned if Ron was not going to get an earful from him for breaking his promise.
"What in Merlin's name were you thinking, Ron. You could have been killed!"
Ron rolled his eyes. Someone had been killed, but it wasn't him. Instead, Greyback lay impaled by the boards of the demolished house, finding a fitting end after all the destruction he had levied upon countless victims during his reign of terror.
"Could have, but didn't," Ron replied with cheek, as he wiped spit from his mouth.
Harry turned to stalk about the grounds, unsure if he rather punch his friend or hug him.
"You're going to get fully checked out, Ron, and then we'll talk."
Ron made to protest, but knew he had no say in the matter. Every Auror who came in contact with a werewolf or vampire had to go through the standard physical to rule out any possible risk of turning.
Harry continued to shake his head, as he let a ragged breath out and patted Ron on the back. His anger disappearing as he saw his best friend safe and sound, next to him.
"If you ever think of doing something so stupid ever again, I will lock you up in myself for your own safety," Harry warned jokingly, leaving the scene with Ron, letting the backup Aurors take care of Greyback's remains and the bloody mess.
The wait did not take as long as Harry had imagined. In barely an hour, Ron was getting dressed after receiving a perfect bill of health from the chief-healer at St. Mungo's. Apparently, Ron had been correct; he hadn't even received a bruise, let alone a bite. So, with an extra spring in his step, Ron jumped from the examination table and went to pull back the curtains. However, instead of seeing his best-friend at the other side of the flimsy, magenta flap, his mother's worried and red face met his coy, sheepish smile.
"Ronald Weasley! Do you have no consideration for my poor, worn nerves? What were you thinking chasing that blasted, good-for-nothing Death Eater to the second floor of a collapsing house?"
Molly waited for an answer as Ron looked at the scene. Before him the entire Weasley clan, along with Harry, Hermione, Moody, and Lupin waited to hear his reply.
A swift slap up the head met with his stuttering, as Molly quickly pulled her son in for a motherly hug.
"That's right, you weren't thinking," Molly berated Ron, as she gave him fierce kisses and checked to see if her youngest son was unharmed.
Hermione smiled, letting a stubborn tear fall as she fell into Ron's open embrace once Molly was appeased with her own inspection.
"Promise you will never do something so foolish ever again," Hermione choked, as Ron hugged her tightly.
"I'm an Auror, Hermione. It's my job to do stupid things."
Ron laughed as Hermione swatted him for his cheek. She didn't want to smile considering just an hour ago her best-friend had wrestled with a madman and barely escaped with his life.
"Too right, Weasley!" Roared Moody with a merry laugh, shaking Ron's hand.
Molly quickly shot Alastair a warning glance, and instantly the veteran Auror back-peddled. "I mean constant vigilance, safety, and the sorts."
Everyone laughed as the room circled Ron. The twins tried to take the mikey out of their younger brother's plight, as they mimicked their mother's attentive cooing, though they quickly met the end of their mother's wand.
"Are you sure everything is all right?" Hermione questioned, as the Weasleys were getting ready to leave for the Burrow.
Ron nodded his head. "Healer gave me a clean bill of health, and besides, why is it such a shock to everyone that I won the fight. I mean, I've won my fair share of scuffles back in Hogwarts."
The room erupted in laughter, Ginny the first to point out the error in her brother's memory.
"Are you sure Greyback didn't knock you about a bit too roughly, because your memory is slipping. I can't remember a time in Hogwarts you won a fight."
Ron gasped in mock horror. "Please, there was that time with Malfoy and his cronies; back in fifth year, on the train."
Hermione snorted as she remembered the scene. Her recollection didn't have Ron serving as much of a help.
"Please, you were jumping around like a leprechaun that lost his gold, while waving your wand about like a Nancy," Ginny stated. "Did you even land a hex on Malfoy?"
Ron had had enough of Ginny's quips as he hoisted her up in the air and handed her over, kicking and screaming, to Harry who had been silent the entire time, though had been enjoying the argument thoroughly.
"Take her already, man. She's too much for six brothers to handle."
Molly shuffled back to where Ron was torturing his sister.
"Ron, put your sister down this instant! You've been through an ordeal. You don't want to exert yourself."
Ron obeyed his mother's command and put his sister on the ground, smiling smugly over the wise words he heard.
"Did you hear that? Ordeal," Ron enunciated.
Ginny rolled her eyes as she grabbed Harry and pulled him in line, behind her brothers, who were making their way to the floo.
Hermione picked up Ron's robe and waited for him to lead the way, happy to have gotten a few moments of privacy. Ron took full advantage of the empty room and pulled Hermione into a gentle kiss. Their relationship was no secret, but snogging your girlfriend before friends and family as they tried to inspect you after a run-in with a werewolf wasn't the brightest of ideas.
"Go, save a spot in line. I'll be there in a minute. I just need to grab my wand."
Hermione smiled as she leaned in for another quick kiss, and followed Ron's advice, whipping about the corner to where the Weasleys were arguing over the proper amount of floo to use. Apparently, Molly thought it a sin to waste perfectly good floo for no other reason than pure, absent-mindedness.
"Don't use the entire decanter boys. A simple handful does the trick!"
Hermione grinned, looking back to where she left Ron, though quickly striking up a conversation with Harry and Ginny. However, back in Ron's room, things weren't as sunny as they seemed. As Ron turned to pick up his wand by the nightstand, he quickly doubled over where a sharp pain stabbed through his gut, knocking the wind right out of him. Falling hard against the bed, taking quick ragged breathes, Ron hoped the pain would ease. Moments passed, and to his astonishment, the pain dissipated to all but a memory.
Lifting up his shirt, he inspected his stomach. Nothing but pale skin met his inquisitive eye.
Swallowing hard, Ron sighed. "It's nothing," he shrugged. "Just a spasm due to the fight," and as he finished his remark, he stepped out from the room and joined his family waiting for him at the Burrow.
The words he spoke were reassuring. However, they weren't going to be for long.