A/N: So here it is, finally. There's something so satisfying about hitting the 'complete' button.
I can't say I'm totally happy with it, but I feel like it's about as good as it's getting. I hope it's not a let down for you all - enjoy!
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'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.
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The first thing that actually caught Ron's attention was a strange sensation at the base of his neck, like a sudden change in pressure. It was surprisingly easy to zone out and ignore your surroundings while you focused all your energy on something else, once you knew how, but it didn't stop you from still being sensitive to actual physical changes around you. He rubbed absently at the feeling, his still mind focusing on his situation and giving no real consideration to the cause of it.
But the second thing that caught his attention snapped him out of his reverie and sent his auror instincts rolling – the faintest sound of what he was sure was a curse rebounding on stone. Mind working furiously, he began to investigate the cell he was being held in again, looking for anything useful and probing for any sign of a change in the magic that the room was bound in.
'Luna.' He whispered her name at the wall that divided their cells. They hadn't seen any glimpse of their captors since they'd come to, so they were unsure whether there was someone nearby, watching and listening. It was entirely possible that they were being spied upon by magical means of course, but there was no reason not to take every precaution they could, limited though they were.
There was no response, so her risked calling her a little more loudly. This time he heard the faint noise of someone moving, and then Luna's voice drifted through the wall.
'Ron? Is that you?'
Dampening down the desire to respond with "no", he answered quietly. 'Yes, it's me. Did you hear that noise?'
'I heard spells, about a dozen of them. Not all cast by the same person. ' Luna answered gently. 'And they weren't too far away, but they weren't right on top of us either.'
'Huh.' Ron mulled it over. Luna appeared to have heard more than him, which made him wonder if her cell was closer to the action, or if there was perhaps a weakness in hers, a gap in the stone or similar. The alternative was that Luna Lovegood was more perceptive than he, a trained auror, was, and that made him shiver slightly.
Spells being fired meant fights, which he figured could mean one of two things – either there was dissension in the ranks of their captors and things had become violent, or a second group had entered the building they were being held in. Unfortunately, there was no way to know which, and if the latter had happened they couldn't possibly tell if the newcomers were friend or foe. Frustrating though it was, the situation hadn't changed –they still couldn't do anything but wait, and prepare for any possible opening to change their circumstances.
Or maybe they could. Maybe they did have something they could use, something he'd overlooked…
'I need you to do exactly what I tell you, will you do that for me?'
'Of course.' Her soft voice came back instantly, filled with confidence in him.
'Go to the door of your cell, and find the hinges. Then I need you to run your fingers over them very slowly – you're feeling for a humming sensation, like when you first touch a broom….'
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Charlie Weasley was a large man, tall and broad, and had always been the most bluff and upfront of all the Weasley siblings, which was impressive when you considered Ginny's usual lack of filter between brain and mouth.
It had therefore come as somewhat of a shock to his younger brother, George, to discover just how much sneaking his elder sibling was capable of. For someone practically twice the size of him, George would have sworn that Charlie was actually somehow less obtrusive than he was as they crept as silently as possible along the fire-damaged stone corridor.
So far their incursion into the house had been completely uneventful, and since they'd heard nothing but the odd scurrying rat they assumed that the others hadn't run into any trouble yet either.
Not knowing the numbers they were up against, or the extent of their skill, made the whole excursion more nerve-jangling, but both remained cool and quiet as they cleared the wing they'd been assigned, working seamlessly to enter and check each room along the corridor. It was surprisingly easy to fall into habits that had been honed through conflict, into patterns of movement and counter movement that neither man had used for half a decade.
They'd just come to the end of the corridor, and the first point at which they'd have to choose which direction to take, when the sound of distant spell-fire came somewhere behind them.
'That came from Harry and Ginny's direction, right?' George looked behind him, in the direction they'd come from.
'It did.' Charlie looked grim, but his face was set. 'Come on George. We have to keep going.'
'We have to trust them to look after themselves. We've got our job, they've got theirs'.'
They moved forward cautiously, feet quiet and wands out as they checked each room, every window and alcove they passed. Less than ten minutes later, they rounded a corner and a bludgeoning hex hit Charlie squarely on the shoulder so hard it half spun him around as he dropped to the floor. He cursed and tried to shake off the pain in his shoulder as he groped for his dropped wand, and tried to get his feet back under him.
George placed himself squarely between his brother and their attacker, spells firing rapidly from his wand as he tried to locate his opponent in the gloom of the hallway. He knew they were raising an awful racket, and fervently hoped that there was no-one nearby to hear. Either way, he needed to cut this short.
A tell-tale flash of light gave away their attackers position, and his well-aimed cutting hex was rewarded with a squeal of pain. He followed it with the strongest gagging and binding curses he could manage, and resisting the urge to turn to check on Charlie, followed his Order training to secure the area first.
He recognised the bound death eater from the Ministry Wanted posters, and he checked he was thoroughly restrained before he double-checked that there was no-one else lurking in the darkened hall.
By the time he'd returned to Charlie, the older man had regained his footing and was prodding at his shoulder, wincing at every touch.
'Buggering hell, leave it alone. Even I can see it's dislocated.' George slapped his hand away. 'It won't get better if you poke it.'
Charlie offered him a withering glare. 'Who are you, my mum?'
'Worse.' George fired back at him. 'I'm the one who is going to have to explain how you got injured to her. That'll be fun, when I tell her about you prodding at it, making it worse.'
Charlie's frown deepened. 'That's a hell of a cruel thing to threaten a bloke with, setting his mum on him.'
'Well, leave it alone and I won't have to.' George glanced over his shoulder at their prisoner. 'What do you want to do with this tosser anyway? Just leave him here, or toss him out a window?'
Charlie's frown turned into a grim smile. 'Oh, I've a few ideas.' He tightened his grip on his wand and made his way over to where the death eater still lay where George had left him, immobile but still glaring coldly at the two Weasley brothers.
'Milton Moorvane.' Charlie crouched down and looked the death eater up and down coldly. 'My, you've been on the run a long time, haven't you?'
Moorvane stared back, defiantly meeting Charlie's eyes without flinching.
'Know what this one is wanted for, George?' Charlie continued conversationally, as he began to methodically check over the prone man with his good arm, digging through pockets and patting down his robes. 'All the usual, of course – crimes against the Ministry, muggle baiting and so on. But this one had a specialty, didn't you Moorvane?' He jerked the man into a sitting position by his collar, and propped him up against the wall. 'This one…' he eyed the man in front of him with undisguised contempt, 'this one spent his time exterminating muggleborns. Not exactly unusual, for a death eater, except for the fact that he specifically targeted muggleborn children. By intercepting their Hogwarts letter. Had to make sure that you got rid of them before they - or worse, their muggle parents - found out about magic, after all, right Moorvane?'
Moorvane gave no reaction.
'We're talking about eleven year old children - how many did you kill? How many families did you destroy?' Charlie leaned in and spoke in a quiet, menacing voice as he removed George's magical gag. 'I want you to understand, Moorvane, that I know who you are, and what you did. And I have no – absolutely no – qualms about what I'm about to do. You really need to understand that I do not care what happens to you.'
George stood quietly behind his crouching brother, listening to every word but only paying attention to the space around them, scanning the area for anyone who might have heard the scuffle and come to investigate.
Charlie carried on speaking in that low, calm tone. 'Somewhere in this house, there are two prisoners. A red-headed man and a blonde woman. Do you know where they are?'
'Charlie…' George spoke quietly. 'Weren't we just supposed to clear this section?'
'Oh, we will.' Charlie assured him. 'But then we'll have some free time on our hands, and I've a few thoughts about how to use it.' He turned back to Moorvane. 'So why don't you be a good little death eater, and tell us everything you know about this damned house.'
Moorvane's face became even more set, and he remained silent. Charlie sighed.
'You know, I don't want to be a cliché, but there really is an easy way and a hard way. How many of your people are in this house? Where are they based? Where do you keep the prisoners?' He waited a beat, and got no response. He shook his head in resignation. 'Hard way it is then.'
He moved his wand slowly and deliberately up so that Moorvane could see it, and cast a silencing charm. Then he pulled the man's collar to one side to expose the wound that George's cutting curse had left through his clavicle and shoulder, and raised his wand to it. He glanced up at Moorvane's face, but the man stared resolutely ahead, his jaw set in preparation. Then he flicked his wand aside, stuck the thumb of his free hand in the wound, and twisted.
Moorvane's body stiffened and jerked, his mouth moving in silent screams of pain.
The sound of spell-fire again echoed through the night from another part of the house, and the two Weasleys' made brief eye contact before George looked forward once more, and Charlie turned his attention back to the man writhing on the ground in front of him.
'Interesting thing about muggles,' Charlie continued conversationally, 'they're a creative bunch. They manage all kinds of things without magic. Even worked out some interesting techniques for making someone talk.' He stuck his thumb in a little deeper and watched the man's body jerk again as his face paled even more. 'So you see, there's all kinds of things I can do to you, without leaving the tiniest bit of magical trace, so they'll never prove I did anything, and some of them…well, some of them you really won't enjoy at all. So, let's just get straight to the bit where you tell me what I want to know, shall we?'
He removed his thumb, and cast a weak numbing spell on the wound, watching the relief cross Moorvane's face briefly. He removed the silencing spell and waited expectantly. 'Well?'
The death eater stared resolutely at the wall ahead, and Charlie lifted one eyebrow. 'Fair enough.' He recast the silencing spell and cancelled the numbing spell, before lifting his hand once more to the open wound. He'd only just brushed against it when Moorvane thrashed violently in his bonds, shaking his head and shouting silently. Lifting the silencing spell once more, he waited for the man to speak.
George remained on the lookout, his eyes determinedly not looking at his older brother during his interrogation. He could only just about hear Moorvane's whispering, but he heard Charlie's stunning spell loud and clear. He felt rather than heard his brother stand up, and turned his head to look at him.
'He didn't actually know much, but he reckons that most of the death eaters are down in the cellars, just like Hermione thought. He's only up here for a walk, or so he says.'
'Can't imagine he was lying. You were very convincing with the threats.' George cringed a little at the thought.
'Yeah, well. He says that they've been rotating guard duty on a corridor on the far side of this wing, ground floor. He doesn't know what they're guarding, but worth a look right?'
George gave Charlie a serious look. 'We're going off book then?'
Charlie stared back at him steadily. 'Are we?'
George let out one long breath. 'Of course we are.'
They moved off stealthily along the hallway.
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Sirius shoved Remus hard, forcing his oldest friend out of the path of an oncoming curse. The werewolf swore loudly as he crashed painfully into a wall before bouncing back into the fray, his arm swinging out as he scattered curses as rapidly as possible.
A block of stone exploded into fragments alongside them as a stray curse hit it, stinging them with tiny chips as they both dove for the floor with surprising speed.
'You know,' Sirius panted out as they rolled to opposite sides of the wide hall they'd been ambushed in, 'in a sick kind of way, I've sort of missed this.'
Even in the midst of a fierce magical fight, Remus managed to find a moment to stare incredulously at the dark haired man who was grinning maniacally as he gripped his wand tightly and looked for an opening to cast again.
'Of course. I mean, who wouldn't?' The mockery was evident, and Sirius' grin widened.
'Weeeellll, makes you feel alive doesn't it? And it's a lot simpler, and a damn sight more effective than drafting bloody legislation and bickering in court. I'm a man of action, Moony, relegated to an action-less role.'
'Bloody hell.' Remus rolled to his feet and threw a brutal curse straight past Tonks' ear and into the face of the death eater that she was duelling, who promptly dropped his wand and clutched at his head as his flesh began to burn and blister.
'Thank you!' She yelled back over her shoulder as she rushed over to Cho, who was cursing loudly as she performed field healing spells on an obviously broken arm, a prone death eater at her feet.
Remus turned back to Sirius, just in time to see him fell the last death eater with a solid punch to the throat. He raised an eyebrow, and Sirius shrugged. 'Got under his guard.' He grinned wickedly. 'Too obsessed with their wands, that's this lots problem.'
The four of them took a moment to regroup before setting off again, Sirius and Cho taking the lead and Remus and Tonks providing cover.
'Sirius is finding this exhilarating, huh?' Tonks whispered, shooting a half grin at Remus as they paused and waited to be gestured ahead by the other two.
'How could you tell?' Remus muttered back.
She gave him a full grin this time. 'Not feeling the same thrill, eh Remus?'
'I was never as much of an action man', he rolled his eyes at the phrase, 'as Sirius or James.' He stared at the side of her face, her attention firmly ahead of them, as he continued tentatively. 'And I'm finding it much worse this time around. It's a lot harder when you're fighting alongside someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. I understand James' moods a lot better now.'
Tonks' body jerked and her head spun to face him as his words sank in. 'I'm sorry, what?'
He drew in a deep breath. 'Assuming we get out of here alive….would you marry me?'
She stared at him open mouthed, finally jerked out of her shock when Sirius whistled to attract their attention back to the task at hand and call them forward. Seeing Remus' crestfallen face as he began to move towards the rest of their team, she reached out and grabbed his arm.
'What?' Remus felt his heart rise up his throat and he stared at her, eyes wide. He hadn't meant to ask, not now; he wasn't sure he'd ever have asked if it wasn't for the desperate fear that had been building up in him since they'd entered this god-forsaken, death eater infested house, fear that one of them would die with so much unsaid. He had nothing to offer, but he'd give her anything.
'Yes, I'll marry you. When we get out of this, I'll marry you.'
A grin spread across his face, one that stayed there long after Sirius' low whistles had become fiercely whispered insults about being ignored.
They moved quietly on through the house.
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Charlie and George had made it through the rest of their assigned section without any further incident – it seemed Moorvane had been right about being the only person moving around in this part of the house – and were carefully heading down the last set of partially crumbled stairs to the other side of the ground floor when they heard the echoing sound of spells being cast once again. They came from a different direction this time though, and both men felt their spirits lift a little at what that meant; at least some of the remainder of the rescue team were in the building.
As they reached the last step, the shadowy outline of a person moving stealthily in their direction in the gloom caught George's eye and he cast a binding hex swiftly in the hope of avoiding giving away their position in an extended fight. The hex hit squarely, but the figure clearly wasn't alone since a dizzying array of spells began flying in their direction.
'Bugger!' George cursed as he hit the floor next to Charlie. 'Knew it was too quiet.'
Charlie lifted his head long enough to spray blinding white sparks from his wand wildly around the corridor, then the two of them used the brief moment of distraction to take better cover.
'Too much to hope that our little fight with Moorvane upstairs wouldn't attract at least some attention.'
The spells stopped abruptly, and the silence thrummed for a moment before a feminine voice piped up from the darkness: 'George? Charlie?'
The two brothers glanced at each other before George answered. 'Tonks?'
A patch of shadows solidified into the shape of the young woman, who grinned at them. 'Nice to see you.' She turned and disappeared back the way she'd come, returning a moment later with Cho, Remus and Sirius.
'Anyone hurt?' Asked Sirius, adjusting the hastily conjured brace they'd used to support Cho's badly healed arm.
'We're good.' Answered Charlie. 'You lot?'
'Nothing major.' Cho answered. 'What are you guys doing down here? Weren't you clearing through the far side of this wing?'
'All cleared.' Charlie replied. 'But we did bump into a death eater who told us that they're pulling guard duty on a corridor down that way,' he gestured in the vague direction, 'and decided it was worth looking into.'
'You were supposed to clear your section, and then get out to report back to command. Which is what we'll be doing once we've checked out that corridor, which is in our section.' Said Tonks sternly, one hand resting on her hip and the other brandishing her wand in what they all assumed was supposed to be an admonitory way.
Unfortunately it was very hard to take a reproachful attitude with someone that had seen every dreadful phase you'd been through since age eleven, and who had probably seen far more of you than he ever should have after that unfortunate skinny dipping incident in sixth year, and Charlie merely stared back at her, unblinking.
After a brief pause to allow the two of them to glare impassively at each other, Sirius patted his cousin on the shoulder sympathetically. 'Very authoritative. Very… "by the book". You can tell that you're an auror.' His face hardened slightly. 'But I'm not. And I am not leaving this hellhole of a house without my godson.'
He dropped his hand from her shoulder and faced the others squarely. 'I'm going to check out this corridor that they're guarding, and if they aren't there then I'm going to carry on looking for Ron and Luna, and then I'm going to find Harry and Ginny. No hard feelings if anyone wants to stick to the plan and get going. In fact, Cho, you should probably clear out with Charlie and George now if they're going.'
'What am I, some delicate flower?' Cho answered indignantly. 'I may only have one useable arm, but I can still cause bloody hell with it if I need to.'
George tried to muffle a laugh and ended up snorting loudly instead, earning bemused looks from most of the others and a warning glower from Cho, and Charlie simply folded his arms and stared impassively at Tonks.
'I think that answers that then.' Remus muttered. 'Let's get a move on, try and keep some element of surprise, shall we?'
After a brief and somewhat muffled argument, Tonks and Charlie led the way once she'd managed a somewhat clumsy repair to his injured shoulder, scouting on ahead with Sirius and George bringing up the rear and Remus and Cho in the centre.
'I'm getting demoted for this.' Cho muttered, more to herself than to Remus. 'Command are going to do their nuts when none of us come out to report.'
'I wouldn't worry too much.' Remus reassured her. 'Vance might get himself all lathered up, but there's no way Kingsley or Moody expected this to stay on track. Way too much experience with us lot to imagine that could happen. They always knew that Sirius wasn't coming back out of here without Harry.'
They hadn't gone all that far when Tonks' signal to stop was relayed and the four at the rear stationed themselves along the wide hallway, ready to intercept reinforcements. There was a momentary burst of sound and light from up ahead of them, then the hallway fell quiet once more and they held their breath as they waited to see if they'd attracted any unwanted attention.
Their luck held, and nothing broke through the gloom until Tonks and Charlie came back to re-join the group.
'Stuffed the two guards in one of the hallway closets.' Charlie announced mock cheerfully. 'All clear, so whenever you're ready.'
'I didn't want to just barge in through the door, just in case.' Tonks explained, with a withering look at Charlie. 'Godric only knows what the bloody hell is in there.'
'I remember you being more fun.' The older Weasley mused.
'I remember you being exactly this dumb.' She shot back. Turning back to the others, and studiously ignoring Charlie's grin, she resumed speaking. 'I think we should go in as a group, just in case we can't handle whatever it is individually. There was no reaction in there from us knocking out the guards, so I assume there isn't anything alive in there, but…well, you know…'
'Never underestimate the weird resourcefulness of death eaters.' Sirius nodded sagely, urging everyone to move forward and turning his head to address Remus as they walked. 'Remember back in Sunderland, must have been around the end of '79, when we thought that safe house had been abandoned but there turned out to be a bloody manticore in the pantry? Or that group of inferi they had in Nott's boathouse?'
'I'm sure these would be great stories to hear when we aren't about to go strolling into what might be some weird death eater trap.' Cho put in, as they stopped in front of a heavy wooden door, hung on a large iron frame. They all looked apprehensively at the door for a few seconds until she spoke again.
'Let's just plough on in – we're not going to get the chance to plan for whatever is in there, no matter how long we hang around here for.'
'I quite like her.' Charlie said aloud, to no-one in particular.
'Alright then, here goes.' Tonks lifted her wand to the heavy door and smashed it in with a blasting curse.
Using the smoke as cover, they dashed into the room and took up defensive postures, wands at the ready. As the smoke cleared and revealed them to be alone, they relaxed their stances and began taking in their surroundings.
They were standing in a stone room, heavily vaulted and presumably one of the oldest parts of the house. Large wooden bookcases lined the walls, piled high with assorted odds and ends.
'They're guarding a store room?' George asked questioningly, keeping his wand raised as he slowly walked further into the room.
'Must be storing something important then.' Remus wandered over to a shelf and prodded a stack of books with his wand. 'Although these are just Hogwarts textbooks.'
'Old uniforms over here.' Cho called from the furthest corner. 'Lots of Slytherin scarfs and stuff, but some from the other houses too.' She pulled something from another stack. 'And death eater robes and masks.'
'What is all the crap?' Tonks holstered her wand and picked up a rock from a small pile of almost identical rocks on another shelf.
'I recognise this.' Sirius picked up a small bronze jug. 'It's a Black heirloom, one of my many cousins was gifted it when she married into the Rosiers.'
'This belonged to Barty Crouch Jr.' Charlie held a locket out with a picture of a woman inside. 'I remember him raving about it, they wouldn't let him keep it in Azkaban.'
'So…death eater keepsakes?' George frowned. 'They never really struck me as the sentimental type.'
'Maybe it's more than that.' Remus put down the books he'd been examining and looked around the room with a critical eye. 'Some items are intrinsically powerful, some are imbued with power, others absorb it. Things that look normal can be much more than they appear.'
'Yeah, like this.' George held up an item between thumb and forefinger, his voice dripping with disgust. 'Where the hell did they get hold of this?'
Tom Riddle's diary looked very much the worse for wear, its tattered binding barely holding together and the hole in the very centre of it revealing disintegrating pages.
'That should be in Ministry storage.' Sirius said slowly. 'We argued for a long time over whether we should destroy it, but it's just a relic now, so letting the Unspeakables study it seemed reasonable.'
'Have you ever heard that saying about death?' Remus asked suddenly. 'About dying twice or something? No-one is really dead until no-one says their name anymore, and that's when they're really gone?'
'No.' Sirius answered bluntly, staring at his best mate as if he'd gone mad. 'Is this really relevant?'
'Yeah.' Said Remus, taking the diary from George. 'I've got the horrible feeling it might be.' He flung the book across the room, where it hit the wall and fell to the floor with a thump much louder than an object of its size should have caused. 'We need to torch this place. Everything in it.'
Aware of the stares from his companions, Remus drew his wand grimly and aimed it ahead of him. 'I'm serious. Burn it all, right down to ash.'
Sirius shrugged and grinned wolfishly. 'You're the Dark Arts expert. And I've got just the spell.'
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The green light of the avada kedavra scorched the kitchen wall, while the curse Ginny had cast in retaliation found its mark easily and a death eater fell to the floor screaming and clawing at his own face as his flesh begin to sag off.
Harry had been impressed with the sheer speed of her reaction; she had dropped to the floor in the brief instance between Avery starting and finishing his curse, and it had sailed harmlessly over her head. That, however, was nothing to the sheer admiration he felt at the return curse, both for the speed of its casting, and its ruthlessly incapacitating nature.
He had thrown a curse the second he'd unfrozen from the spot - which happened to be the exact moment that he'd realised that Ginny had avoided the killing curse - with his heart in his mouth the whole time. The fact that someone had just attempted to cause her death might have gone some way to explaining why he'd chosen to use a bludgeoning hex so powerful that it might have been impossible to discern that its luckless victim had ever been human, if it weren't for its robes holding the body into some semblance of shape.
No sooner had the body hit the floor than he'd disappeared behind the nearest item of furniture, which happened to be the kitchen table – not the most defensible thing in the world, but better than being entirely exposed. He wasted a few precious seconds attempting to locate Ginny, who he was fairly certain had moved to the opposite side of the kitchen to him, then decided that since she was more than capable of looking after herself, that he'd leave her to it. They both knew what they needed to do, and communication beyond that wasn't necessary.
So he leapt out from one side of the table and aimed a trio of curses at the nearest death eater as quickly as possible; as he dropped back down, trying to avoid the returning fire - and largely succeeding, feeling only a stinging cut across one shoulder - he heard a shriek of pain, which suggested he'd struck only a glancing blow, since he was using spells designed to be fatal. At this point there was nothing left of Harry's usual desire to minimise violence, no part of his conscience concerned with what happened to these people, and vicious spells flew from his wand; blasting curses, bone breaking jinxes, flesh melting hexes – nothing was beyond his anger.
It was surprisingly easy to drop back into old, wartime ways – his body remembered how to move, how to fire curses rapidly while avoiding those being sent his way, how to look and listen for movements, how to use the brief glimpses he could get of his surroundings to catalogue them, how to identify which opponent was casting what.
He barely thought for the next several minutes; his arm cast spells directly from some primitive part of his brain, his reasoning abilities having no say in what occurred in this forgotten kitchen, the monster in his chest that he'd thought he'd buried years ago roaring again as he fought and killed and destroyed.
Nothing got through the haze of rage and revenge until the sound of his name being shouted mingled with a feminine scream of pain.
He rose from his crouch, slowly, cautiously, his wand held defensively as he noted the broken and bleeding bodies scattered around even as he located the two remaining Death Eaters; Avery and one other, at the back of the kitchen, with Ginny struggling defiantly but weakly between them, blood pouring from an open wound on her throat.
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'Anything?' Ron tried to keep the defeated tone from his voice as he leaned his head against the wall that divided their cells and waited for Luna to answer for what felt like the hundredth time since they'd begun to grasp at this last, desperate straw.
'I'm not sure...maybe?'
His ears pricked up at the unsure tone in her voice, and he adjusted his position, rising to his knees and pushing his face closer to the wall. 'What can you feel?'
'Like… a throbbing? No, that's not quite it – a pulsing sensation maybe?' Luna replied softly, her voice thoughtful and unhurried.
'Okay, good, that's good.' Ron answered, careful not to let his voice change despite the tendril of hope creeping into him. 'I think that's the magical reinforcement on the cell. Now what you need to do Luna, is focus on the feeling, okay? Just try and…breathe along with it, feel the pulse of it. You need to try and feel it like you do your magic when you cast with your wand, do you understand?'
'Of course.' Luna's voice remained light and steady, and Ron shook his head at how easily she seemed to take all this in.
He knew the theories of wandless magic of course, had studied them in relative depth, but had never been able to do it himself, despite spending quite some time trying. He'd only ever met a handful of wizards or witches who could, and most of those could only manage basic spells. It was madness to think that Luna Lovegood, with no training at all, would be able to do this, and yet…..hadn't she heard the spell-fire? And hadn't she known how far away it was, and what direction it had come from? He was beginning to think that some of those junk items in her shop might simply have qualities that the average magical person wouldn't be able to spot, that despite all assumptions to the contrary Luna Lovegood might actually have magical perception far beyond the usual. If she could get hold of the magic holding them in the cell, she'd only need to be able to exert a little of her own to be able to break through it; without proper training, there was no way she'd be able to use her own magic strongly enough to help them. If, of course, he was right and she was capable of wandless magic at all.
'I can feel it.' Luna's breathy voice had taken on an undertone of excitement.
'Good, that's excellent.' Fighting to keep his voice steady, Ron exhaled a long breath before he spoke again. 'Now turn it inside out. Twist it around so that it rebounds back on itself.'
There was silence for a moment or two, then the strangest explosive sound that Ron had ever heard came from the corner of his cell. Acting purely on instinct he turned his back and threw himself to the floor, rolling face down and wrapping his arms around his head. Clouds of dust swirled over and around him, and he felt the stinging pelt of stone chips raining down all over him.
Once the awful noise of falling rock and crumbling walls had subsided, he lifted his head cautiously and peered through the dust, mouth falling open in shock at the sight of what had once been the corner of his cell.
The blast hadn't been, as he'd thought, an explosion, but an implosion. A huge section of wall was simply missing, and his cell was now open to both Luna's and the hallway outside. As he stared at it, a piece of masonry dislodged in the magical detonation finally worked its way free and fell from the ceiling to the floor, shattering into several dozen pieces.
'Luna?' He managed weakly as he pushed himself to his feet and stared at the destruction, shocked that no-one had come running to see what had happened yet. Then again, if he'd witnessed it while on guard duty, he'd have been tempted to leg it too. Apparently, and against all his expectations, Luna had managed to exert an awful lot of magical power.
The dreamy blonde appeared in the newly created gap, looking quite pleased with herself.
'That went well, don't you think?'
'Yeah.' Ron gulped, mildly concerned about what he might have just loosed upon the world. 'I have to say it went much better than I expected.'
'What in the name of Merlin happened here?' George's voice came from just behind Luna, and a moment later his brother appeared in front of them. 'If you were trying to let us know where you were, whistling or something would have been fine.'
Then he broke into a huge grin, crossed the cell in three fast strides and caught Ron in a quick hug. 'Should have known you weren't likely to sit here and wait for the rescue.'
'I should hope not.' Charlie appeared next, moving carefully around the rubble, Cho just behind him. 'I'm at a loss at what you planned to do next in this escape attempt though. If we hadn't just taken out the guards for this bloody dungeon, I'm assuming they'd be crawling all over you by now.'
'I wasn't really expecting Luna to manage such strong wandless magic.' Ron admitted. 'I thought at most she might be able to wiggle loose some bricks, or destroy the magical wards for us to break out by muggle means. I wasn't expecting this.'
Charlie twisted to look at Luna, who was still dreamily admiring her handiwork. 'You did this?'
She nodded serenely, and he blinked at her repeatedly before turning back to the others. 'Anyway, time to go. Anyone else locked up down here?'
'No idea.' Ron replied. 'Luna and I have been talking through the walls since we've been here though, and no-one else has ever spoken to us.'
'Well, we'll check the rooms along here before we head out.' Cho said, peering back out into the hallway. 'There's only a couple.'
'Come on then, you two. We're clearing out now. The others are giving us a head start.' Charlie gestured for Luna and Ron to head out in front of him.
'A head start from what?' Ron asked as he moved stiffly towards the massive hole in the wall.
'Apparently Sirius has some fairly permanent plans for this place, but he's holding off for a bit to give everyone else a chance to get clear.' Charlie waited until everyone else had left the cells before falling behind them. 'You two stick to the middle of the group until we can grab you some wands. We'll nick them off the guards we killed. Luna, put a pin in the wandless magic for now sweetheart, I'm not sure the rest of this building can take it.'
'Of course.' Luna smiled easily, stepped over to Ron and looped her arm through his. 'It's nice to be able to see you while I'm talking to you.'
Ron covered her hand with his free one and squeezed with genuine affection. 'It's good to see you too Luna. Let's get out of here.'
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The distant sound of a small explosion echoed around the room, causing everyone to freeze for a brief moment. Harry eyed the two death eaters, hoping for a moment of confusion or chagrin that he could use. Ginny made brief eye contact, and he gave the slightest shake of his head; he suspected that she'd lost a significant amount of blood, and in her weakened state she simply wasn't up to whatever she was thinking of doing. Any rash actions would do much more harm than good right now. Avery merely sighed.
'Don't look at me like that Potter, I'm hardly surprised. I didn't expect you to come alone – though you obviously realise by now that I was expecting you. Your type are very predictable.'
'You'd do well to let her go, Avery.' Harry spoke in low dangerous tones. 'You don't want to even think about what I'll do to you if she gets hurt.'
'If you think I'm afraid of you, boy, then you're more of a fool than I imagined.' Avery's voice remained calm and clear, and he appeared completely unperturbed by the almost total elimination of his forces.
'Don't underestimate me.' Harry warned, his grip on his wand continually shifting as he looked for an opening. 'You wouldn't be the first though – your dear departed Dark Lord made the same mistake, and look how that turned out for him.'
'He will return.' Avery enunciated every word. 'And he will be the one to wring the last breath from your body. I'll be sure to leave you enough blood to make certain that you're still alive by the time he's revived. '
'For the last time, my blood won't do you the slightest bit of good.' Harry ground out through clenched teeth. 'The circumstances of Voldemort's resurrection last time were unique.'
'And so are these circumstances! 'Avery roared suddenly. 'I have everything I need to bring about the revival of the Dark Lord.'
Harry realised in that moment that despite his air of calm, and his eloquent and educated manner of speaking, the man in front of him with a death grip on Ginny was quite, quite mad, and therefore even more dangerous than he'd previously considered.
He couldn't be convinced.
He wasn't going to be convinced to surrender.
Harry began to move very slowly out from behind the overturned kitchen table, watching his two enemies with total focus. He had no idea what he was going to do, but if he kept their attention on him, then they weren't thinking about Ginny, who was pale from blood loss and looking increasingly unsteady.
Noting the slightest tremor in the wand hand of the second death eater, Harry seized on the possibility of a weak link and launched a powerful slicing hex at his side, taking two quick steps forward in the ensuing commotion as the other man flung his body out of the path of the curse before recovering his duelling stance.
'Now, now, Potter.' Avery hadn't released his grip on Ginny at all, and now he raised his wand to the wound on her neck. 'It wouldn't take much to just open this all the way across her throat you know.'
'How do you see this going Avery?' Harry asked scornfully. 'What do you think is going to happen?'
'I'm glad you asked.' He replied. 'You are going to throw your wand onto the floor behind you. In return, I will let go of your little blood traitor here.'
Harry cocked his head to one side. 'And then you're going to carry out your absurd little ritual? Do you even know what it involves?' He held up his hand, bleeding from a slicing curse. 'Blood of the enemy, all right, fair enough. What about bone of the father? The Ministry had his father's body cremated, precisely so people wouldn't get this sort of crazy idea. And how about flesh of the servant, Avery? Do you really fancy that bit? And even if you're willing to lop off a limb for this insanity, Voldemort is dead. He isn't coming back.'
'He will.' Avery's calm façade was beginning to crack a little now as his voice began to wobble, but his grip on an increasingly unsteady Ginny held, even in the face of her continued wriggling, and his wand arm remained steady. 'We have all the means to call him back.' He gestured at the death eater standing next to him, who pulled a large ring from within his robes and held it up.
'Know what that is, Potter?'
'A very ugly ring.' He answered, affecting an air of boredom even as he watched for his opportunity to attack. 'Death eaters have an affinity for ugly, I've noticed.'
'It's a mourning ring.' Avery grinned widely. 'A silly muggle tradition, but a useful one right now.'
'Hair.' Said Harry tiredly. 'There's a lock of hair incorporated into the ring. That's your substitute for bone? Fairly pathetic.'
'Come now Potter. We knew that we wouldn't be able to repeat the exact ritual that restored the Dark Lord last time. We just needed to find the elements of it that made it work, and adjust.' He suddenly pulled Ginny up, holding her tightly and glaring down at her, his hand squeezing her arm painfully and his eyes drinking in the sight of her oozing wound. 'And like everything else to do with real power, it comes down to blood, and flesh, and bone, and relics.' His eyes flicked back up to Harry. 'Wand down, Potter.'
Harry raised his wand slowly, non-threateningly, held only in a loose grasp, his mind racing as he desperately tried to think of something that would get them, or at least Ginny, out of this mess. He twisted his torso around, keeping a watchful eye on the two death eaters, and finally let his wand fall from his hand, hearing it hit the floor with what felt like deadly finality. He turned back to face Avery, his hands held away from his sides to show that they were empty.
'This isn't going to work, Avery.' He said quietly, knowing that the man was too far gone in madness to be reasoned with. 'You can't just create a ritual like this.'
'You really don't know dark magic.' Avery relaxed slightly at the sight of a wandless Harry. 'Think about it, boy. How much of magic is simply concentration? Apparition is all about determination, casting a patronus a matter of your happy memory. Intent matters, and so does focus. Rituals and spells are merely the trappings that enclose the real force. You think the Dark Lord is gone, because you destroyed his body? How could he be, when his essence sank into everything he ever touched, when he imbued his strength into so many of us, living and dead? Perhaps any one relic of his would not be enough to bring him back to us, but dozens of them? Hundreds? All in one place, all reaching for him?'
Whatever Harry had planned to say in response remained unsaid, as the walls of the room were rattled by the sound of a series of several explosions from somewhere else in the house. The floor quaked beneath them, dust simultaneously fell from the ceiling and rose from the long abandoned furnishings, momentarily creating a thin, hazy cloud, and without even needing to think about it Harry launched himself at where he knew Avery was standing, unable to see clearly but completely aware of his surroundings.
His arms locked around Ginny in a rugby tackle and he tore her away from her captors grasp, weakened by the surprise of the moment, and the two of them hit the ground in a tangle of limbs. He rolled with her until he felt her back hit the wall, and then he rolled away from her and back to his feet in a low crouch, taking a quick look around to ensure that he'd kept his bearings before diving for the rough area he'd dropped his wand in.
He heard Avery's shouts of anger, and then the smoky room was lit up by spell-fire as the two death eaters threw curses randomly at every shadow.
'Careful!' Avery's voice hissed at his underling as the sickly green light of the killing curse rebounded from one of the walls. 'Non-lethal curses only, he has to be alive when we collect his blood.'
Then he screamed in pain and lost his grip on his wand as a sluggish Ginny drove a makeshift stake made from a broken chair leg into his foot with all the force she could muster. He kicked at her brutally, and she yelped as he made contact with her ribs.
Harry's groping hand finally closed over his wand, and he felt the same warming surge of connection and power that he'd felt the first time his hand had closed over it in Ollivanders. His holly and phoenix feather wand, brother to Voldemort's, that had already saved him time and again before.
Another shriek of pain from Ginny brought him to his feet, his mouth already shaping the words, his wand already flickering in the movements, and once he'd straightened to his full height his eyes met Avery's, which blinked at him in surprise, even as the left hand side of his torso disappeared in a gory spatter that stained the floor and ceiling where he stood.
Then the old death eater dropped to the floor, body twitching feebly, and the other looked on for only a moment before flinging open a door at the rear of the kitchen and bolting. It took Harry only a split second to decide that he wasn't worth pursuing, and then he rushed to where Ginny lay curled up in a ball in an effort to protect herself.
'Ginny? Gin?' He cupped her face with his hand, and was rewarded with the faintest of smiles as she uncurled.
'Hey.' She mumbled weakly.
'Hey.' He smiled down at her, the peaceful feeling in his gut at seeing her face at odds with the gore and destruction of the room.
'Are we done?'
He looked around at the bodies, the wreckage, thought briefly about the man who'd escaped, and then looked back down at her. 'Yeah, we're done.'
'Good. Let's get out of here.'
'I think you need a little bit of patching up first.' He frowned at the wound in her neck, the bruises blossoming on her face and the depression in her side that was surely broken ribs. He was bleeding from any number of places, he was reasonably sure he had a couple of dislocated fingers, and there was a sizeable chunk of flesh missing from his right leg, but she definitely had the worst of it.
'Do it outside.' She mumbled, her voice drowsy. 'I don't want to spend a minute longer than I have to in this hellhole.'
'Alright.' Harry replied, sliding his arms under her body gingerly and trying not to jostle anything as he rose to his feet. 'Stay awake for me though, okay? Keep talking to me.'
'That's not good enough Gin…' Harry was cut off by the sudden and somewhat undignified arrival of Remus, Sirius and Tonks through the door the final death eater had escaped through. The three of them crashed through, colliding with each other and cursing.
'Harry!' Sirius spotted him immediately and made a beeline for him, arms outstretched, but came to an abrupt halt when he realised that his grim-faced godson was cradling Ginny.
'She's not…' He trailed off, not wanting to even voice his thoughts, relief coursing through him at the sound of Ginny's voice answering him.
'I'm not dead Sirius. Sort of feels like I'm dying, but I'm not dead.'
'Er, Sirius?' Remus' voice cut in as he crossed the room and ushered everyone towards the door Harry and Ginny had initially entered through. 'Would you please like to keep your concentration on the fiendfyre?'
Harry's head twisted to stare incredulously at his godfather, his eyes registering the orange flicker coming from behind the door the three of them had just crashed through, even as they all rushed out through the other door, back the way Harry and Ginny had originally come. 'Fiendfyre?!'
Sirius spun on his heel to face the rear door, which had already been devoured by the fiendfyre in the brief moment between Harry noticing it and him turning, and with a twirl of his wand regained control of the flaming phoenix that had had ridden the waves of magical fire into the abandoned kitchen, sending it in a swirling route around the now empty room.
'Look, we found this room full of weird death eater keepsake stuff, and Moony had a bad feeling about it, and since we didn't know what kind of crazed dark magic was crawling all over it, fiendfyre was the obvious choice.'
'Come on everyone, pick up the pace!' Harry broke into long strides that were almost a run, leading the way back out of the building. 'I'm going to kill you for this, Sirius.'
'It worked didn't it?' His godfather was following them at a slower pace, walking backwards as he guided the magical fire, keeping it a safe distance from them even as it licked at the walls and ceiling and destroyed everything in its path, a roiling mass of hippogriff, phoenix and lion.
'It better have.' Harry muttered darkly, 'because it's going to take a lot of bloody effort to put it out now you've started it off.'
'Did anyone find Ron and Luna?' Ginny managed around gasps of discomfort as she was jostled by Harry's pace, which was steadily increasing as he cast repeated nervous glances behind them.
'Yeah, they were heading out the other side of the building with George, Charlie and Cho.' Answered Remus, his eyes darting between Sirius following them and their route out.
'I don't suppose you caught a death eater running out of the room right before you arrived did you?' Asked Harry, turning sharply left and heading as fast as he could for the exit.
'We did actually, he looked petrified.' Sirius answered. 'To be fair, Tonks did stab him with her wand.'
Harry actually managed a double take while running at that. Tonks simply shrugged.
'Didn't have enough time for a curse.'
'Well that's terrifying.' Harry muttered to himself, colliding with the door and leading them out into the fresh air of the courtyard. 'Let's find the others shall we, get a bit of distance, then we'll have a look at this fiendfyre curse you decided to start.'
'Five.' Sirius sounded quite proud.
'I used five fiendfyre curses. Didn't you hear the explosions?'
'Merlin have mercy.' Harry ran even faster.
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'Something satisfying about it isn't there?' Moody sat down next to Harry on the remnants of a piece of garden wall, near the tent that was serving as a makeshift field hospital to check everyone over.
The crumbling remains of the house were still ablaze, the decision having been made by a rather irate Kingsley and Vance to let the place burn to the ground to get rid of any lingering dark artefacts. The incandescent animals created by the fiendfyre rampaged through the ruins, held in check by a group of reinforcements from the Office for Magical Catastrophes who'd formed a circle around the outside of the building.
'The fire, or the fight being over?' Harry asked, his eyes still on the flames.
'I was talking about watching death eater property being burned to a crisp, lad, but you can find your suggestions satisfying if you like.'
Harry laughed despite himself.
'You did a good job.' Moody dropped a heavy hand onto his shoulder. 'No casualties on our side. Prisoners freed. Whole place cleared out, nice and clean.'
'I didn't really want to ever have to do anything like that again.'
'Aye, well.' Moody sighed heavily. 'Dumbledore felt much the same, lad. Once Voldemort and his death eaters started gaining traction first time around, he could see the whole Grindelwald situation repeating itself. Realising that he wasn't going to be the final answer this time around was a bit of a relief I think, even if he didn't care for the idea of you having to shoulder the responsibility. I'd be a bit worried about you, if you'd started looking forward to this sort of thing.'
'Would it have worked?' Harry asked suddenly. 'Could they have…if they had focused enough power, on all those things that they'd collected, and repeated a version of the ritual, could they have brought him back?'
Moody snorted. 'Don't be soft. Dead is dead. Avery's head was full of bowtruckles. You can't just go around making up stuff like that. There are rules to magic. You can bend some, you work within them, but you can't just write your own. You killed the evil bugger, and he's not coming back, I don't care much bloody memorabilia they collected.'
Harry nodded carefully, his eyes still on the burning manor, and the two of them watched the flames burning a while longer.
The tent flap opened to reveal Ginny being levitated out on a hastily conjured stretcher by Tonks, and Harry jerked to his feet and looked at them enquiringly.
'She's fine.' Tonks reassured him. 'But she's got to be cleared officially by St Mungo's before she can go home. She was sedated for the rib stabilisation, but she's coming round now.'
'She's okay though?' Harry took an anxious step towards them then froze, hesitating.
'Harry?' Ginny mumbled, her head turning in his direction.
'Gin.' He rushed to her side, his hand sliding into hers easily.
She managed a drowsy half smile. 'You're here.'
He pulled her hand up to kiss her knuckles. 'Yeah, I'm here.'
Her smile got a little wider. 'Sticking with me, huh?'
'Yeah.' He squeezed her hand. 'Right to the very end.' And he bent his head down and kissed her, right there in front of the burning building, in a ruined garden surrounded by people, in what would become the first of many promises kept.
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A/N: I'm not even sorry about the truly cheesy ending. Earlier drafts of this had a number of character deaths, and were significantly gloomier than this, but then I thought, you know what? Sometimes you need a happy ending, even if it's improbable. Screw realism, I'm writing a story about magic.
Thanks for reading everyone