(H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G)
There was silence in the room once Hermione had finished outlining their findings, ending with Harry's assessment that they didn't have time to do any sort of scouting, but would have to launch an immediate assault on the Housel property.
'Do you understand what you're saying, Potter?' Vance looked aghast. 'Going into a situation like this without proper recon goes against everything we teach in auror training.'
'But how many situations like this have the auror department been faced with in recent years?' Harry challenged. 'How many of your current aurors have ever even had to do an infiltrate and rescue?'
'We do train for all these circumstances you know Mr Potter.' Vance replied stiffly. 'Each and every one of my aurors has been through vigorous testing before they're even considered for active duty.'
'I'm not suggesting that your department is in any way lacking, Vance.' Harry answered tiredly. 'I'm merely pointing out that some things are always going to be outside the scope of their training and experience.'
'All the more reason to do some recon, perhaps?' Kingsley offered quietly, his tone carefully neutral. 'Harry is correct in assuming that most of the DMLE don't have much experience in this kind of operation, so perhaps we have to offer them every advantage, including the benefit of solid information to act upon.'
'I'd agree with you, Minister, except for two things: firstly, we simply don't have the time or resources for it; and secondly, these are people who have a wealth of experience dealing with the DMLE. They know your playbook, gentlemen, and they will be prepared for someone to come scouting. Ron and Luna will be moved, or….otherwise….before we can get a retrieval party in. The only thing we have to our advantage is the element of surprise.'
Cho shifted uncomfortably in her seat. 'I have to agree with Harry, sir. Based on my….experience of these people, they are ruthless and well aware of auror procedures and techniques. I'd be hard pressed to believe that they wouldn't have measures in place to alert them of anyone encroaching on the property, if that is where they are.'
Tonks spoke up too, quietly but with a forceful edge to her voice. 'I have to agree with that assessment too. If we go in softly, we risk spooking them and losing tactical advantage – hitting them hard is also a big risk, but I'm sorry to say that it may be one that we have to take. They are no certainties in this.'
Vance scanned the room, taking in the array of grim faces, a mixture of aurors, former Order members and other MOM employees. He sighed, and rubbed a hand over his tired eyes.
'Fine. I don't like it, but there is a level of risk that we must accept in this, no matter what course we choose. We'll organise a squad and go in, standard retrieval operation.'
Harry cleared his throat, and Vance turned irritated eyes to him. 'What now, Potter?'
'Well, as I said, the people we're dealing with know DMLE procedure. They'll be expecting you to scout first, and will probably be counting on that to give them advance warning – going in without prior recon will definitely swing things in our favour a little – but we could swing things in our favour even more by throwing the auror rule book out of the window entirely. They'll be fully prepared for your standard ops.'
'I can't tell my aurors to forget all their training and then, what, just turn them loose on this?' Vance hit the desk in front of him with a fist. 'It'd be a shambles! We work as a team, we work in units, we utilise game plans that we've executed in training time and time again! We are not a rabble!'
'I understand that, Vance, but frankly, this is well beyond the scope of the aurors!' Harry finally lost his cool and rose to his feet, bracing his hands on the edge of the desk and leaning confrontationally towards the head of the auror department. 'We're talking about the last of the death eaters – evil, vicious bastards who've spent huge amounts of time steeped in dark arts, who learned their tricks from Bellatrix Lestrange, from Lucius Malfoy, from Voldemort himself. People with no remorse, no compunction about using the most evil curses you can imagine. A group of people who, in the last few months, have committed crimes in quidditch stadiums, in St Mungo's, in the Ministry itself, without the DMLE being able to touch them. This is out of your league.' He straightened up. 'But it isn't out of mine.'
Vance turned an interesting shade of puce that Harry had once seen on Uncle Vernon, but before the enraged head of department could open his mouth, Harry was already addressing Kingsley.
'You let me run this one Minister, my way, or I'll go right ahead and do it without the Ministry. Let's be brutally honest here, there's nothing you could do to stop me.'
Kingsley locked eyes with Harry briefly, before skimming his gaze quickly around the room; it wasn't hard to tell that more than half the people in it would follow Harry straight into this fight, and truth be told, he might be one of them. He'd rarely felt conflicted in his time as Minister – he'd always allowed his conscience to lead him in matters of government – but while he knew his official position ought to be one of support for Vance's conservative methods, he couldn't help feel the same loyalty to Harry that he'd felt as a member of the Order of the Phoenix. Closing his eyes briefly, he made peace with his decision.
'Okay Harry. We'll do this one your way.'
(H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G)
Harry finished outlining his plan, and looked around the room to try and gauge the general feeling. He'd been interrupted repeatedly by various former members of the Order of the Phoenix, all keen to offer their own ideas and experience, but by and large the entire room had listened as he'd detailed his strategy.
Cho broke the silence by blowing out a long breath. 'That's….ambitious, Harry.'
'I know it's unorthodox, I know I'm asking a lot of all of you, but it's my honest assessment that this is our best chance.' Harry looked around the room. 'This is pretty much off book, albeit with the Minister's grudging authorisation, so no-one is being ordered to do this. If you want to back out, no hard feelings. You'll be risking your lives if you come.'
'Okay then. Vance, I'll let you and Sirius sort out the teams – between you I would think that you know everyone in here, and have a rough idea of strengths and weaknesses.'
Vance acknowledged him with a nod, skimming his eyes around the room and over its occupants. Oddly enough, the department head seemed to have gotten over his qualms about having Harry throw away the rule book and leaping into a fight. Or perhaps he was happy enough as long as he didn't have to actually order his aurors into that kind of situation.
'I'll need at three to four volunteers to come with me.' Harry continued, carefully avoiding looking at anyone in particular; he didn't need people volunteering out of mistaken obligation. 'You'll need to be strong fliers, willing to carry out some difficult and dangerous mid-air manoeuvres, able to keep your head, and good at duelling. It's a lot to ask.'
'Me then.' Charlie Weasley spoke up from his seat next to his father. 'I'm a good flier.'
'He is too.' Tonks grinned at him. 'Scouted for England and everything. And he plays with dragons for fun, so he's got quick reflexes, and no sense of personal danger.'
'Thanks Tonks, the support means a lot coming from you.' Charlie answered, his expression deadpan.
'Me.' Ginny said quietly, deliberately not looking at Harry's face, though she felt his head to turn to her and his eyes bore into the side of her face. 'Duelling and flying, the two things I'm best at.'
'And me.' George spoke up. 'We Weasleys are just naturals at fighting and flying – though Gin is the best of us, I have to admit it.'
'If you really need another person, then I'll come with you.' Cho offered. 'I used to play quidditch, and I wasn't bad, and my duelling is decent. But I'm probably not as good as those three.'
Harry hesitated. 'Four including me should be enough, but I'd like to have you and Tonks following us in as back up, if you're both okay for it.'
Both women nodded, and Harry ran a hand through his hair as he looked at Vance, who turned to face Sirius, his quill scratching over a piece of parchment. The rest of the room broke into quiet murmurs as everyone carried on their own conversations.
Ginny finally looked up to find Harry watching her with an indecipherable look on his face, but before he could say anything the door opened and Remus re-entered, carrying a large wooden trunk that he placed on the table nearest him. A tap of his wand had the trunk enlarging itself to more than twice its original size, and Remus opened it and began digging through.
A moment later he threw what looked to Ginny like an odd bundle of straps made of webbing at Harry, who caught it without a moment's thought. He looked at it for a brief moment with a resigned expression before attaching the straps around his waist and thigh, and reaching an arm over to accept something from Remus. She let out a gasp as she recognised it as a muggle gun.
'We used them in the war.' Harry spoke quietly without looking up from his task of checking his weapon before holstering it. 'Voldemort's pure blood mania was one of his biggest weaknesses too. His followers knew nothing about the muggle world. Eventually we realised that we could use muggle transport, muggle communication methods, muggle weapons and it would stump them entirely. These things,' he tapped his gun with two fingers, 'aren't exactly the most effective thing against a wizard armed with a wand, but they can be a serious advantage. Sometimes you can get off a lucky shot, sometimes they provide a much needed distraction.'
'I've never heard that, not in any training or history lessons.'
'The Order was careful about how much information we let out – we didn't want to publicise our methods in case we needed them again, nor did we want anyone else to decide to use them. Officially, the Order debriefed with the Ministry after the war and disbanded, but Kingsley redacted most of the debrief report, and the Order may be disbanded, but friendships hold pretty firm. As you can see.' Harry gestured to the room at large. 'We could recall the Order pretty quickly if we had to. And we stored all our equipment.'
Ginny leaned back in her chair and stared up at him. 'You think we can do this?'
Harry paused in the process of adjusting his clothing. 'We did enough things like this before. So yeah, I think we can. I just hate having a personal stake.'
Ginny's eyes went far away for a moment. 'Poor Luna. You'll get her back, Harry.'
'I know.' Harry fussed with his watch. 'But it's not just Luna, you know. Ron is a friend now. And there are plenty of people I care about putting themselves on the line for this rescue attempt; Tonks, Remus, Sirius, Charlie, George….you.' He turned and knelt down in front of her. 'I wish that you weren't coming Gin, I really do. And I can't help that, I don't want you within a million miles of this fight, or these people.' He reached up to cup her face with one hand. 'But I'm also not stupid, and I know that leaving someone with your talents on the sideline just because I'm terrified for them is tactically unsound. So in a bizarre way, I'm also glad that you're coming, because there's no-one I'd rather have with me. So all in all, I don't quite know what I'm feeling, but it's a bloody awful mix of emotions and it's causing quite the pit in the bottom of my stomach, I can tell you…'
He was cut off by Ginny's lips landing on his, and despite the room full of people, many of whom were related to her, he took the opportunity to kiss her thoroughly. When she broke away from him, he grinned at her and lifted her hand to his lips to kiss it.
'Let's go get your brother, shall we?'
(H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G)
'You know, this is so painfully obvious I can't fathom how we haven't thought of it before.' Ginny looked directly down on the burned remains of the Housel mansion, hovering comfortably on her broom as if it was second nature to be in the air. Which it had been for her, once. George, Charlie and Harry all hung suspended in the air alongside her, watching the ground as closely as she did.
Harry shrugged. 'Most people never give much thoughts to how wards work, they just care that they do. The fact that they form a dome over the area being warded is a known fact, if you seek it out – most people just don't give a damn.'
'But still, how come it's never occurred to anyone that that means that you can fly above the wards?'
'It occurred to us.' Charlie answered with a grin. 'Using broomsticks was one of our biggest tactical advantages in the war.'
'Muggles again.' Said Harry quietly. 'Airborne warfare, not something wizards picked up from them even after WWII, but the tactics are sound against an enemy on the ground, whether you're on a broomstick or in a muggle plane.'
'I'd feel more comfortable if I'd had the opportunity to do this a few times in a training exercise.' Ginny muttered.
'Don't worry Gin-bug, I've never done it before either.' George gave her broomstick a friendly nudge with his foot. 'I'm not worried – we Weasleys' are just naturally talented. I reckon you should worry more about the boy wonder here.'
He jerked his thumb at Harry, who swerved his broomstick out of range of George's foot with natural ease and grace.
'Anything you can do, Weasley, anything at all.' He looked at Ginny with amusement. 'There's only one thing for it Gin – you're going to have to become head of the auror department so that you can incorporate all these things in.'
Ginny raised an eyebrow at him. 'Why don't you do it, Potter? I'm not "Head" material. They wouldn't even make me a prefect at school.'
'Can't, sorry.' Harry grinned at her. 'Too many little golden balls to chase, fans to make happy – you know, all that stuff.'
'The life of the rich and famous, eh Harry?' Charlie shifted his weight on his broom. 'I can't say I'm sorry that I turned it down. What about you Gin, any regrets?'
'Nope.' Ginny answered immediately, pointedly looking away from Harry.
'You were going to play professionally?' He asked curiously, and she sighed as she turned back to him; she really didn't want to discuss this.
'When I was younger I wanted to, and I was offered a place on the Harpies, but by then I'd changed my mind and went into auror training instead.'
'Hmm.' Harry looked at her thoughtfully. 'What changed your mind?'
'Can we talk about this later? It's not exactly the time, is it?'
'Sure, of course.' Harry graciously gave up the conversation and focused on fiddling with his goggles, which made Ginny feel a hundred times worse.
'Bill's started on the wards.' Charlie said quietly, pointing out the very brief flash of light that was the first signal. 'Any moment now.'
All four of them watched anxiously, waiting for the flashes of yellow light that would signify the failure of the wards, nerves rising as they waited.
'That's it!' George was the first to spot the crackle of magic as the wards fizzled out beneath them.
Harry drew in a deep breath. 'On my mark then. Check your equipment….ready….drop!'
All four of them vaulted off their broomsticks and plummeted down towards the house, through the boundary the wards had previously marked out. The other three followed Harry's instructions to the letter, tucking their arms in with their wands firmly clutched in their dominant hand.
As they came closer and closer to the ground, they watched Harry anxiously, waiting for the signal – just when Ginny was starting to panic that they would all be splattered on the ground shortly, Harry's free hand shot out, his fist clenched as he made a pulling motion with his arm.
Ginny immediately pulled her wand and aimed a cushioning charm directly beneath them, the strongest one that she could manage; alongside her, Charlie did the same, while Harry and George both cast arresto momentum to slow them down. They tucked their legs up, folded their arms back in until they were curled into foetal position, and let themselves fall.
They hit the rear lawn of the house at speed, but no harder than from a fall in quidditch, and the cushioning charm meant that they landed without injury – all four of them immediately rolled until they felt solid ground, then came up in a fighting crouch, wands out and ready.
George and Charlie went in one direction, Ginny and Harry another, without a word passing between them; everything had been planned, and now all they could do was execute their tasks as well as possible.
(H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G)
Ginny was impressed once again with the way Harry moved in this kind of situation – light on his feet, almost soundless, and with an oddly predatory grace. They entered the building quickly, by the large door on the west side that Hermione had judged to lead to the kitchens, according to the old plans she'd dug up, and made their way down the large hall easily, now so attuned to each other that they found it second nature to understand each other without the need for words.
She felt a strange sense of detachment as they moved, as if she'd left her worried mind behind and was acting purely on the training that was now so deeply ingrained in her that it was all but instinctive. Her mind registered the layout of the building as they travelled through the narrow ground floor hallways; number of rooms, possible exits, windows, weak points, defensible spots, each thought catalogued and organised to be pulled out when needed. She briefly wondered what was going through Harry's mind, since he'd never to her knowledge been through any standard training for this kind of situation, but she dismissed it out of hand – there had been nothing standard about Harry's upbringing, and she imagined his take on their current state of affairs would be somewhat unique.
They were just reaching the end of the hallway when they heard low voices from behind the door to their right. Harry cast a quick disillusionment charm on himself and moved to one side of the door frame, wand at the ready, before nodding at Ginny, who followed his lead with the disillusionment charm and then positioned herself directly opposite before aiming a low level blasting curse at the door – strong enough to break through, but hopefully not loud enough to draw too much attention.
She moved swiftly through the tattered remains of the door, with Harry covering her back, and a quick scan of the room revealed three men, two of whom she recognised as wanted Death Eaters. All three men were moving gingerly towards the now destroyed door with their wands out, and she swiftly pointed her wand at the nearest one, her hexes causing the other two to begin casting curses wildly in an attempt to hit their unseen assailant. The curses stopped as abruptly as they had begun, and once she'd finished dealing with the first man, Ginny turned to see what had happened behind her, wand still held in front of her warily.
The sight in the front of her came as somewhat of a shock. Without giving it a single conscious thought, Ginny had allowed her auror training to drive her approach; as a result, the first Death Eater, the one that she had dealt with, had received a rather aggressive punching hex to the face, followed by a powerful stunner to the stomach, and had then been magically bound.
The other two had been left to the mercy of Harry, and it seemed he didn't have all that much today. One had been hit with a slicing hex so violent that it had left his now lifeless torso a tattered, bloody mess, and the other was just a crumpled heap in the corner, having been hurled into the wall so violently that several of his bones had been shattered.
She stared at Harry for a moment, watching his completely passive expression as he took in his handiwork with what appeared to be complete disinterest. This was a side of Harry that she had never seen before; she remembered him at St Mungo's, how cautious he'd been with his magic, how careful to cast only non-lethal, low level hexes, and now she understood why. He knew exactly what he was capable of, and he had tried very hard not to have to be that person again, to be Harry Potter, Chosen One. But once again he had been forced into a situation where he had to defend others at all costs, and prior to this encounter she hadn't really understood the meaning of that. But with the briefest of shivers, she felt a momentary pang of pity for all the people who would stand between Harry and his goals tonight.
She pushed those thoughts from her mind, and refocused on their objective; to sweep the west side of the house as inconspicuously as possible, incapacitating anyone they found in their search for the hostages, and to send a message to the other teams the moment they found any sign of the captives.
Harry looked at her questioningly, and she offered him a brief nod of acknowledgment before moving back into the hallway and continuing their route towards the kitchens.
(H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G)
The house was eerily quiet, though she supposed that she only thought that because she was aware of what was going on in it – in all parts of it, aurors and members of the Order of the Phoenix were moving quietly, searching, fighting. She was somewhat surprised that they weren't experiencing more resistance, that someone hadn't noticed the falling wards, that no Death Eater had managed to raise the alarm before being silenced, but she was thankful for the same because as long as they were unaware of the assault on the house, there was no reason for them to hurt Ron or Luna.
She and Harry had made it more or less to the end of the long hallway without any more encounters, when a cat jumped out of a window alcove at them and Ginny reflexively fired off a curse that sent the cat sprinting off as it ricocheted around the walls in a blaze of orange light, accompanied by a series of cracking noises as the stones split where it hit.
Harry turned to grab her and span them both on the spot, pressing her into the wall and covering her small figure with his larger frame. Once the racket had died down, he pulled back a little and looked down at her with amusement. 'Well, that was impressive.'
Ginny looked a little embarrassed, feeling the tell-tale Weasley blush creeping up her neck to her spread across her cheeks. 'I'm a little on edge.'
'Can't blame you.' Harry answered, almost absent-mindedly. 'But on the plus side, it might have answered an important question for us - if there was anybody on this side of the house, that should have brought them running. Maybe Hermione was wrong about the kitchen being the most likely to have survived the fire.'
'Or maybe they are using cellars, and the stone floors are solid enough to block out a lot of sound.' Ginny suggested.
Harry looked thoughtful. 'I don't like this situation, Gin. There should be protective spells, magical alarms, something to warn of intruders. Even if they weren't expecting an offensive, they would want to know if someone stumbled across the place.'
'Maybe they're overconfident in their wards.' Ginny replied, peering around Harry to look up and down the corridor. 'If their wards were up, no-one would be able to even see this place, let alone wander around in it.'
'Arrogance always was a Death Eater trait.' Harry responded, moving his body away from hers and relaxing his stance back into that loose, dangerous posture. Ginny fell in beside him, her body unconsciously mirroring his movements as she allowed him to lead them the rest of the way down the hall to the large door that Hermione had told them would lead them into the kitchens.
'Ready?' Harry asked, and at Ginny's nod he pushed open the door and moved stealthily through, his footsteps making next to no noise; she followed him carefully, her eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness of the room beyond, devoid of even the minimal light that the ruined walls and windows of the rest of the floor had let through so far.
In the unnerving quiet, the only sound Ginny was aware of besides her own breathing was Harry's deep breaths alongside her, no hint of nervousness in the rise and fall of his chest, in sharp contrast to the clenching that she was feeling behind her own ribs. The darkness of the room belied the ruined state of the building; it was so complete that this room would have to be completely intact, and the windows covered.
Too late she realised the likelihood of the darkness being unnatural, and she knew that Harry had come to the same conclusion at roughly the same time as her because his whispered lumos came only a second after hers.
The light flaring from the tips of their wands illuminated the trap they'd walked into – eight figures in dark robes and masks, arranged loosely around the room, and one final robed figure seated calmly in the centre of the room.
They felt rather than heard the anti-apparition wards going up around them, heard the door behind them slam and seal, and both stared defiantly ahead at the seated figure as he pushed the hood of his robe back.
'Fitzwilliam Avery.' Harry stated the fact calmly. 'Heard you were dead.'
'Gross exaggerations.' The old Death Eater rose from his chair. 'But I saw no need to correct them. Not when it brought me so many advantages.'
'So to what do we owe the pleasure of seeing you now?' Asked Ginny, with only the barest curl of her lip.
He stared back at her, his eyes bereft of emotion. 'Why, to restore the natural order of things Miss Weasley.' He stared off into the distance for a moment, his eyes unfocused. 'The wizarding world is in a poorer state than it was all those years ago when the Dark Lord first foresaw the need for great change. Mudbloods and half breeds everywhere, in respectable jobs, breeding with good society. And decent purebloods dying in prison.'
'We'll have to agree to disagree on the definition of decency, I'm afraid.' Harry responded with the same chilly calm. 'If you're referring to your son and his ilk, I never saw less decency, or less talent. They had nothing to offer society, though with every one of their deaths, they improved it a little.'
If he'd expected Avery to lose his cool demeanour at the insult to his son, he was disappointed. The old man stared at him as if he'd only barely paid his words the slightest attention.
'But no matter.' He continued abruptly, as if Harry's interruption had never happened. 'There is someone who can repair the damage done, who can restore magic to its former might.'
'Oh Lord.' Ginny rolled her eyes despairingly. 'Please don't tell me all of this was because some deranged fool has decided to style himself the new Dark Lord.'
'No indeed,' Avery answered, 'there is only one Dark Lord. And with the blood of his enemy, we shall resurrect him once again.'
'I doubt that would work a second time, you bloody fool.' Harry actually raised his voice for the first. 'He wasn't actually dead before, you know, his spirit lingered, like a pathetic ghost. The resurrection ritual merely restored him to a body and his full strength. He's gone now. Dead. I was very thorough about that. Set fire to his body and everything, scattered the ashes across three continents. There's nothing of your precious Dark Lord left.'
'You don't know nearly as much about Dark magic as you think, Potter.' Avery's calm voice had the slightest hint of smugness to it now. 'And death is not as simple as you believe.'
And he cast the killing curse straight at Ginny.
(H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G) (H&G)
A/N: Sorry, not sorry. It was the natural place for a break. One more chapter to go!