“Hi Ginny.” Harry smiled as he greeted his fiancée with a kiss at the Harpies gate right after practice on Thursday evening, her one night off that week.
“Hi Harry. I’m glad you could get away. From what Ron’s been telling me, I wasn’t sure you could,” Ginny said with a kiss of her own as they slid their arms around one another’s waist and began walking towards her flat.
“I’ve learned to delegate,” Harry said with a shrug. “Remember? On Monday when you called while I was working late…I said I wouldn’t be doing that every evening this week.”
“Well I’m glad,” Ginny replied as they continued walking through the town of Holyhead. “I have the whole night off. I don’t have to be back until practice mid-morning tomorrow. I even brought my broom with me so I can go there directly from home.”
“You did?” Harry asked in surprise.
Ginny nodded. “I shrunk it. See?” she asked opening her tapestry mirror and showing him the little loop holding her broom.
“Brilliant,” Harry beamed as they arrived at her flat and she let them both in.
“So where should we go? The Italian place?” Ginny asked.
“Or we could do Chinese. We haven’t done that in a while.”
“I think Italian,” Ginny told him. “I feel the need for comfort food tonight after what you told me on Monday.”
“I didn’t really tell you all that much,” Harry reminded her.
“Exactly. But I do know you needed the Sword of Gryffindor again, so…I feel the need for comfort.”
“You’re worried,” Harry concluded.
“Yes. Should I be?” Ginny asked.
Harry sighed. “Italian food it is. It might be just the place to go after I tell you about our plan.”
Wendy and Dean, who were assigned to man the post at the Digg Hut on Thursday evening, arrived right on time, just before the sun went down. Rupert and Dudley were already there and were once again making preparations to go down into the caves. The process of preparing for the journey through the caverns had almost become routine. On this night though, Dean would be going with them as far as the junction. He would carry the heavy sledge hammer down the tunnel to a place where it would be easily concealed and convenient for when they needed it.
As always when Dudley was working at the dig, Esme was there, working by his side, doing her part in protecting the artifacts and the condition of the archeological site as best she could. She considered it her responsibility to be present whenever the team working with her fiancée went through the burial mound, and so she’d become quite familiar with how it was done. One time she’d even convinced Dudley to take her into the inner chamber, just so she could have a look around. She knew about the magical barrier, even if she didn’t understand it, and she knew there was danger in the cave below. So she anxiously watched the barrier as one by one each man went under Harry’s cloak and disappeared, marveling at the fact that while she could no longer see them, she could hear them for a good while afterwards. This time once they were through, Dean threw back the cloak to get it out of the way. Apparently the footing was so precarious on the other side, that handling the sledge hammer was a bit of a challenge and he feared tearing the cloth if he tried to bring it with him. Esme saw a bit of the cloth come through on her side of the barrier inside the mound and she knelt to examine the cloak more carefully.
She’d never seen anything like it. Harry had said there wasn’t another one like it and Ron had told her once it was valuable. Its main used seemed to be in protecting David, Marcus, Rupert and Dudley whenever they went down, though Dudley had also used it the one time he’d shown her the inner chamber. It was tempting to take it with her back into the hut, but Esme also knew the men would need it to get back through the barrier again, so for the time being at least, she left it where it lay.
Turning her back on the mound, Esme headed to the Digg Hut to watch their progress on the monitor along with Wendy.
“They’re in,” she announced unnecessarily as Wendy sat near the crystal that lay on the desk between herself and the monitor.
“They’re nearly half way down…at least some of them are,” Wendy told her. “I think Dudley’s going to miss the transport crew if he doesn’t hurry though.”
“I think the sledge hammer’s slowing them down. It sounded like Dean was having trouble handling it himself,” Esme commented.
Wendy frowned. “I wonder if I should go down and lend a hand?”
“Do you think so?” Esme asked. That would leave her alone to watch the screen. Dr. Summerby had already taken the evening bus home.
“I’ll watch for a while. Maybe their progress will improve.”
For a short time it did as the bright points of light provided by the sensors illuminated the positions of the infiltration team on their screen. They were currently skirting around the chamber Harry had said was filled with those little glass beads…the raw materials for creating the crystals they and the Death Eaters were using…with two of the dots lagging considerably behind. Once around the room though, one of the two suddenly broke away hurrying to catch up with the three in front.
“That’s probably Dudley,” Wendy commented. “He knows they have to get in on time.”
Esme nodded as she watched too. Now the dot at the rear of the group had really slowed down. The four others had already entered the main tunnel and were moving steadily in a group towards the main chamber and the blank spot on the map where Dudley had told her there was a bridge. Except for the bright dot that lagged so far behind, everything so far was entirely routine.
Harry and Ginny spent an hour in her flat with Harry explaining the details of his team’s plan before the pair apparated to a spot behind the tree in the alley beside their favorite restaurant, appearing with a soft pop. It could be the sound of the street light going on Harry reflected as one flickered to life directly overhead. It really was that ordinary, in the right setting. Looking around, Harry took Ginny by the hand and led her to the front door where they were greeted happily by the maitre’d who recognized them from their many previous visits.
“Right this way Mr. Potter. We have your table waiting,” the Italian man said.
“Graci,” Harry answered.
“Molto buona. Very good! You’ve learned a word or two of Italian I see.”
“Just a few,” Harry agreed with a crooked grin. “Do you know what you want Gin?”
“Give us a few moments please,” Ginny requested and the host left them to themselves.
Harry, who didn’t need a moment to look at the menu, leaned back comfortably in his chair watching her study the list of options, reflecting on how things had changed between Ginny and himself since the first of the year. The highlights in her hair flickered in the candlelight as she tucked a lock of it unconsciously behind her ear. She looked so beautiful sitting there that Harry’s thoughts darted effortlessly between the progress they’d made in their relationship and the beautiful woman she’d grown to be since their relationship’s early days. They were both trying very hard these days, sharing with each other, keeping each other apprised of what was going on in each of their individual lives. It had made such a difference for the both of them that Harry felt his heart swell with happiness and pride. Their efforts had helped them stay involved with one another, even blurring the lines slightly when Harry joined her team after one of Ginny’s games or the times she’d come with him on work related trips to the Isle of Mann. He supposed that was what this evening was all about, the serious talk they had had before coming here and now Ginny supporting him in a way she never had.
“Are you ready?” Harry asked when at last Ginny looked up.
She met his eyes and broke out into a radiant smile filled with love at his expression. Harry returned it, and just for a moment he thought he saw her ring flash brightly before she tucked her hands neatly under the table.
“I think I’ll have the spaghetti,” she said lightly as though this was an unexpected revelation.
“As usual,” Harry smirked with a teasing grin.
“Of course. But I also want a salad and an order of garlic bread and some dessert before we go home. That’s what I was looking at,” she said clarified calmly.
“Okay,” Harry answered still feeling amused. “But I thought Hermys was making us dessert tonight.”
“Okay we’ll have dessert at home then, but I still want the salad and the garlic bread,” Ginny said sweetly.
“How about some wine as well?” Harry suggested.
Ginny studied him thoughtfully for a moment. “I’d like to, but I shouldn’t. I do have practice tomorrow and we’re not supposed to. Team rules,” she answered apologetically.
Harry nodded then smiled.
“Merlin you are beautiful, do you know that?”
Ginny giggled, smiled demurely and said, “Thank you. That is nice to hear once in a while…out in public I mean.”
Harry grinned if possible, even more broadly than he had been a moment before.
They ordered their meal and ate leisurely, talking about everything and nothing at the same time. It was such an ordinary night out in so many ways. Afterwards they had a leisurely walk home, still talking about all the things that currently filled their lives.
That evening when they returned to Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, Harry wandered into the drawing room out of habit to check the tapestry before taking Ginny upstairs. Everyone he cared about was represented by their name and symbol, and so it had become his practice to survey it regularly, but especially on nights like tonight when he knew that some of them were out on a mission. Ron was home, so was Hermione. He and Ginny were home. Dudley’s name showed a black dark mark which was no surprise. It usually did when he was working in the cavern, occasionally even turning green during those times he was near the anti-Potter room. Esme’s though showed a broom instead of the quill it usually did when she was working and Harry wondered where she was going. Dudley and the rest of the muggles should be coming back up soon. He glanced at the clock and pulled out his mirror to check.
“Wendy? It’s Harry. Are you there?”
“Hi Harry, it’s Dean,” the dark skinned wizard said looking into the mirror their team shared. ”Wendy’s outside looking for Esme. She went out for some fresh air, but she’s been gone for a while.”
Harry glanced at the tapestry with a slight frown. “How long has she been gone?”
“About a half an hour, she went out right after I got back from placing the sledge hammer and she hasn’t come back. Normally Dudley and Rupert would be back about now so she may be waiting for them, but I think they’ve decided to do an extra muggle tonight. They had an extra shirt with them, so they said they’d try,” Dean explained.
“Did you explain that to Esme?” Harry asked. “I know she gets worried when Dudley’s over due.”
“I didn’t think about it to be honest,” Dean admitted. “She doesn’t usually talk to us much when we’re here.”
Harry nodded. “Okay thanks Dean. Have Wendy call will you? When she gets back.”
“What’s wrong Harry?” Ginny asked as she came in and wrapped her arms around him.
“Nothing I hope. Esme’s gone for a walk and she’s overdue getting back. Dean didn’t think to tell her that Dudley said they’re putting in an extra couple of hours tonight. They’re coming back with the second transport out instead of the first,” Harry explained glancing once again at the tapestry. None of the marks had changed.
“Come on down to the kitchen and have dessert with me,” Ginny urged. “Hermys said he’s made something special.”
“What?” Harry asked curiously.
“Treacle tart,” Ginny said with a grin.
Harry grinned too. He was just about to go with her, when the broom beside Esme’s name changed. It now showed a grey dark mark. Except for its lighter shade, it was nearly the same as Dudley’s.
“Ginny…look at this,” he said pointing to the mark. “You don’t suppose…has Esme ever tried to go down into the cave?”
“I don’t see how. She couldn’t get through that barrier without your cloak,” Ginny reminded him.
Harry nodded, pulling out his mirror again. “Hello, Dean?”
“Wendy’s not back yet Harry,” Dean said from the other end.
“I know. I think Esme may be headed for some kind of trouble. Where’d you leave the cloak when you went through?”
“At the edge of the inner chamber waiting for them to pull back through when they come back, same as always,” Dean said.
“Do me a favor Dean. Go check for me and tell me it’s still there,” Harry said. “Take the mirror with you, and hurry.”
“Really Harry? Everything looks alright on the monitor.”
“Really. I just …something doesn’t look right at my end,” Harry said tersely.
Harry waited impatiently, pacing in front of the wall while he waited for Dean’s return call.
“I’ll have Hermys bring it up,” Ginny offered taking in the concern on his face.
“Thanks Gin. Merlin, I hope nothing’s happened to her,” he said distractedly as she left to find Hermys
Hermys soon arrived with a large portion of dessert and Harry ate it more for something to do than because he was really aware of what he was doing. Minute by minute, Esme’s symbol grew darker.
“Harry, it is just inside the passageway…but, definitely not where I left it,” Dean told him from the mirror. The seriousness of the situation was just beginning to show on his face.
“Leave the cloak there. Go find Wendy,” Harry ordered. “I’ll send a message to Robards to stand by. You contact every member of our team, tell them to be ready and stand by. Then get back to your post and watch that screen!”
“Right Harry. Out.”
Dean broke the connection at the other end, just as the mark beside Esme’s name did precisely what Harry feared. It suddenly turned from dark charcoal grey to bright green. Less than two minutes later Dudley’s did the same thing.
Harry ran to the kitchen to make his floo calls, alerting Robards and Kingsley, and Hermione and Ron that something was going wrong. He’d hardly had a moment to look up to figure out the next thing to do when a silver raven patronus appeared in his kitchen, speaking with Justin’s voice.
“I just got a dove from Rupert at the same time I got Dean’s call. His note says, ‘Tell Harry they’ve got Esme! Dudley’s going in. I can’t stop him. Rupert’ Can you confirm Harry? Is it real? We’re standing by, awaiting the order to go in.” Justin’s voice faded away as the silver mist figure dissolved in front of him.
Harry didn’t hesitate. He rushed back up to the drawing room to check the tapestry once again. Esme’s mark had turned from the dark mark to a scarlet red scull and crossbones.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Harry said turning to Ginny. “What does it mean?”
Ginny shivered. “I’ve seen it once…that time you went in with Dudley. I think it was when you were in the anti-Potter room. Kreacher says it’s very bad.”
Harry nodded. “Gin, I’ve got to go. This is it. We’re going in.”
Harry grabbed his cloak and apparated away from the middle of his front hall, just as Ron and Hermione came pounding up the stairs from the kitchen.
“Was that Harry?” Ron asked.
“Yes. He said to tell you this is it. Everyone is on alert. Tell them Harry is going in,” Ginny said.
Ron spun round. “Hermione?”
“I’m on it. Good luck Ron. I’ll see you at Digg Hut when it’s over,” Hermione said she kissed him and ran back down to the kitchen to spread the word as Ron disapparated directly after Harry.
Harry appeared at the top of the passageway, grabbed his cloak, threw it over himself and apparated again to the anchor point farthest from the palace on the bridge. Muggles were running everywhere, Death Eaters appeared to hover in mid-air firing spells at them. Shots were being fired from handguns from muggles crouched down behind rocks or stalagmites or even the pedestals that flanked the attachment points for the bridge. Dudley was ahead of him mid span, firing shots as he ran for the palace door. Harry got off a couple of shield charms himself as he ran, protecting the muggles closest to him and his cousin as well, just as Dudley’s broad back disappeared through the crystal palace door, heaving the heavy sledge hammer over one shoulder as muggles fired shots around him. Harry sprinted as fast as he could trying to follow him, throwing up one last shield charm as he went through the door to protect their backs as he pulled off his cloak and stuffed it under his robes.
“Dudley, where are you going?” Harry shouted as the constable ran towards the portal at the back of the hall instead of heading directly up the stairs, the heavy sledge hammer they’d brought down earlier in his arms.
“We have to get to Esme Harry! They’ve got her!” Dudley shouted back.
“We will Dudley, but we have to do this first,” Harry called grabbing his arm and trying to pull him back, but it was like trying to hold back a rhinoceros intent on moving forward; Dudley just pulled Harry’s thin form along in his wake.
“We have to help her Harry, we have to save her!”
“This is the only thing that can Dud, believe me,” Harry said earnestly.
“I love her Harry,” Dudley said turning around the panic clear on his face.
“I know Dud, and that will make all the difference. Come on.” Harry said it with such authority in his voice it stopped his cousin in his tracks.
“Are you sure Harry? Are you sure about this?”
“Dead sure. I’ve risked my life on this…and won. Come on.”
This time Dudley followed as Harry turned and headed up the stairs, jumping out of the way just in time on the second floor as a small army of imperiused muggles marched blindly towards him knowing only that they were told to go down.
‘”We’re going to help them too if we can,” Harry declared.
He darted past them, stunning a surprised Death Eater controlling the muggles from the top of the stairs before shouting incarcerous, binding the surprised man in ropes and hurrying on.
Ginny hovered behind Hermione as she watched the other witch make the calls which would put into motion the plans Harry had been telling her about vaguely for nearly a week and in detail just tonight.
“What can I do Hermione?” Ginny asked in between Hermione’s calls to the Minister of Magic, the director of the Auror Department, and the Aurors already on the front lines.
“Go up and watch the wall Ginny. I expect the dark mark, but just come and tell me if there’s a sudden change,” Hermione advised.
Ginny nodded. “Right. That’s all I can ever do for Harry is to watch that bloody wall!”
There was bluster in her words but Hermione could tell from her tone that Ginny was scared. She was too truth be known. They hadn’t faced anything like this since the war. But Hermione knew she had a job to do and she kept on it until everybody knew. The last thing she did was to run to the square and call Beth using a cell phone one of the muggles had provided at their last meeting and left behind. The muggle officer was on alert and knew to expect Hermione’s imminent arrival as soon as the call went through.
“Has there been any change?” Hermione asked when she joined Ginny in the drawing room.
“Harry’s mark is green. So is Dudley’s. Esme’s is bright scarlet red. She’s in real trouble Hermione. I know she is,” Ginny said worriedly.
Hermione nodded, her brow furrowed in concern. She knew only too well what the Death Eaters did to muggle women. They’d been discussing little else for nearly a week, and she guessed that’s what Esme’s bright red skull and cross bones might mean. If only Harry got there in time.
“Ron’s is green too,” Hermione noted. “At least he’s there…helping Harry.”
They stood there for a while, silently watching, and soon the two house-elves were watching too. Suddenly Hermione gasped.
“Oh! I’m supposed to be at Digg Hut with Beth for when they get the muggles out. I’m sorry Ginny, but I’ve got to go. We’ll talk to you after,” Hermione told her as she hurried out of the room and into the entry hall where she apparated away with a pop.
Ginny stared at the place her friend had just been, feeling helpless and alone. Everyone was out facing danger, out helping Harry, and here she was stuck at home. That’s when her eye’s fell on two things: Harry and Dudley’s marks turned blood red too, and the velvet covered bundle Harry had brought with him from Hogwarts was still in the corner of his drawing room. Ginny’s mouth opened slightly as she realized what that meant, and her mind whirred as she formed a plan. Harry had told her just how vital those items were, what he needed them for, and none of what he was trying to do was going to work with any of that still here.
“Harry needs these!” she declared to the empty room. “Kreacher!”
The old house-elf appeared directly in front of Ginny at her summons.
“Harry needs our help. It’s going to be up to us to get these to him,” she told the house elf.
“Kreacher understands Miss,” Kreacher said, though his color turned very, very pale. Both the house-elves seemed to know what was going on and both had done their best to stay out of the way.
“I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important,” Ginny insisted.
“Kreacher knows Miss. I’s musts help Master too!”
Ginny nodded. “Good. First of all…“ she looked around in the corner to where Harry had gathered some of his supplies. “I want you to wear one of these,” she told him as she bent and pulled out the two bullet proof vests Dudley had brought them and both Harry and Ron had left behind. “I’ll wear the other. Harry says it’s dangerous and the wall agrees, so we’re going to do it Kreacher, do you hear me?”
“Kreacher will do as Miss says,” the house-elf said and he slipped the vest on under his tea towel.
“Good,” Ginny said as she slipped on her own vest under her robes. “And just so you know, these aren’t clothes. Now, hold still Kreacher.” With a few flicks of her wand, the vest shrank to Kreacher’s torso. She then directed her wand to her own vest, and snugged it up as well.
“Kreacher understands. They’s is for Kreacher’s and Miss’s protections,” Kreacher agreed.
“Yes. Now I’ve got all these…” she picked up the heavy bundle wrapped in its velvet cover, tied with the golden cord. It was a good thing she was in shape, because the items in the oddly proportioned bundle, along with being awkward to carry, were heavy.
“Kreacher I want you to take me to Harry. Hermys, I want you to wait here. People are bound to be getting hurt. We may need you to heal them. Do you understand?” Ginny asked. “Get your medical supplies ready. If anyone needs you I’ll try to send them to the drawing room.”
“I’s will be ready Miss! Hermys promises! Good luck!”
Ginny smiled at the little house elf as she took Kreacher’s hand. “Now Kreacher!” she said and the elf pulled her after him into the squashing space characteristic of apparition.
When the world expanded again they were in a place that was unbelievably noisy. Kreacher and Ginny were standing at one end of a darkened hallway being lit from other end. Shouts and the loud report of gunfire reached her ears from somewhere outside. At the other end of the hall Harry, Dudley, and to her surprise Laura were running towards her, their weapons out, and it looked as though they’d had to fight to even get this far.
“Ginny! What are you doing here?” Harry cried in dismay. “Kreacher, take her home, straight away.”
“Not yet Kreacher. Harry you need me. I brought you these!” she told him as she thrust the bundle into his arms.
“Ginny! You’re amazing!” Harry said happily the momentary relief evident on his face as he pulled her into a rapid but passionate kiss. “Thanks! I was trying to figure out what else we could do with out them.”
“Did Ron find you?” Ginny asked. “He left right after you.”
“I haven’t seen him. Ginny go find him. Help him get to the dungeon with the women if you can. We need to deploy those canisters now!”
Ginny raced down the stairs with Kreacher right behind her, realizing as she ran that she had been on the third floor, probably just outside the room with the weapon. She ignored the fact that she’d left Harry behind with Laura, focusing instead on the way he’d tried only briefly to send her home before giving her an order and accepting that she was there to help. Ginny reached the front hall just as Ron burst through the door.
“Ginny, what are you doing here?” Ron exclaimed.
“Helping Harry. I brought him the sword. Come on, he needs those canisters deployed now.”
Ginny turned on her heels and raced in the opposite direction. She’d never been down this hall before, but from Harry’s thorough descriptions of the place it felt like she had. Pulling Ron behind her, they pushed through the barrier and descended the stairs as Ginny pulled her broom from her robes and enlarged it.
“Throw me the canisters!” she cried as she mounted it and prepared to fly over the heads of the women to deploy the gas.
Upstairs Harry raced on, firing spells into every open doorway as he came to them. Below him bullets were being fired everywhere in the open part of the cavern in front of the palace. They had to end this and soon or the casualties were going to be high. Using Dudley’s brute force, they forced open the door to the anti-Potter room and there it was; the weapon that threatened every wizard in Britain, the one that kept the muggle workers under its control, and the most vial thing Harry had ever seen. Rapidly Harry unwrapped the bundle and thrust the sword into Laura’s waiting hands while Dudley held the sledge hammer at the ready.
“Now?” she asked as she eyed the pulsating wand surrounded by the shimmering glass and Dudley watched Harry expectantly.
“Not just yet,” Harry said. He took a step up onto the platform and thought as hard as he could on the releasing spell Hermione had found, hoping against hope that it would work. Harry fired the spell into the device. For a moment the cavern outside was filled with a golden glow before a beam of golden light shot out through the tunnel towards the coast. Harry turned to his cousin and yelled,
“Now! These first. Break the glass Dudley. Laura, it’s going to try to talk to you. Don’t listen to it. Stab it as soon as the wand is free,” Harry said taking up one of the fangs for himself.
Dudley swung shattering the first glass container, the one over the wand and Harry stabbed the shattered container immediately after as it fell. A cry of freedom and pain, high pitched and feeble erupted from the glass.
“The next one Dud! Keep going!” Harry urged. “Do all six first,” he instructed.
With the next swing, the top panel shattered, flying into a million tiny pieces, back into the sand it had originated from, leaving the wand it had protected exposed.
“Now Laura! Stab it where is lies!”
Harry glanced at the French Auror as she stood there hesitating, the sword held high above her head, her arms shaking as she struggled to control it. Harry heard Bellatrix’s voice emanating from the wand taunting her as the grotesque image of her face emerged bubble like from the tip of the wand. The apparition spoke to Laura as she held the sword, torturing her, doing just what Voldemort had done to him, Hermione, and Ron during the war.
“She killed your mum Laura. She deserves it!” Harry urged.
The sword came down.
“No!!!” Bellatrix’s cry echoed round the room.
“Again!” Harry said, and soon Laura was striking the cursed object again and again.
“Now the rest of them Dud. Smash then stab. We have to get them all. Every last one!”
The sledge hammer came down on the rest of the glass vessels that made up the case which held Voldemort’s wand. Smash! Stab! Wails and howls filled the air, the terrifying sounds of souls in pain. The shrieks of pain followed by triumphant cries of freedom as women’s and children’s voices filled the room while the luminescence escaped their glass-made prisons, the lights fading from the glass as it flowed up into the air then fled down the stairs.
Down in the dungeon the quiet forms of the dazed women and children looked up in wonder as Ginny flew above them, filling the room with the mist which seemed to bring them around. Then suddenly, one of the children convulsed and began to scream.
“That’s the first one Ron!” Ginny yelled. “Do you have the control potion?”
“Yeah I do. How did you know about that?”
“Harry told me the plan. Give it to him and get him out,” Ginny cried.
“Kreacher can take him Miss Ginny. Where?” the house elf asked.
“Just take him to St. Mungo’s,” Ginny said. “Tell them to take care of him and to contact the Auror’s office for details. Then come back. There are going to be more.”
“Yes Mistress!” Kreacher said as he saluted.
As soon as Ron had the vial of potion down the boy’s throat, Kreacher grabbed the boy by the arm, turned and took him away.
The brother and sister team moved as quickly as they could, helping each of the woman and children as they came back to themselves, using Kreacher’s magic to move them out of the cave.
Hermione apparated in bringing Beth with her to the approved space in the lea of the hill formed by the burial mound. They arrived at the site just as Wendy and Dean came rushing from the hut.
“We just heard from Harry. It’s started!” Dean cried.
“Yes, I know. I just came from his house. He left before Ron or I got there,” Hermione said. “Ginny said something about them taking Esme captive. I went to get Beth and apparated straight here.”
“Do the rest know?” Wendy asked.
“Yes. I sent out the alarm by floo according to plan. We’re to man this station, wait for and treat the hostages and monitor the situation from the Digg Hut,” Hermione reminded them. “Send any muggles you get out here.”
“The potion’s in the refrigerator Hermione,” Dean confirmed.
“Be careful Dean!” Beth cried.
“You too, Sis!”
“Good luck!” Hermione cried as the Aurors spun away, going to join the fight below.
Edward Smith was in the blind beneath the dragon’s cave with Justin when they recognized that the situation was about to change drastically. The first call had been from Dean, alerting them that everyone was being put on standby. The second had come less than a minute later through Rupert’s dove, then ten minutes after that from Hermione Granger, calling everyone to action. Even without the messages from others however, he’d known it was going down. Shouts coming from directly overhead, the dragons roaring, stomping and firing flames through the crack above the two Aurors in their disapproval, and the distinctive sound of muggle weapons being fired clued the two Aurors in to the fact that all hell was breaking loose in the caverns above.
A rug full of muggles landed at nearly the same time, and they all stood as usual, but when the wizard controlling them hesitated Edward took his chance and stunned him, breaking the concealment offered by their blind. Two of the muggles raced into the tunnels with guns drawn while the rest stood around looking bewildered.
“Get them on that other rug and set the time!” Edward called to Justin who likewise broke the blind.
They had just barely stunned the wizard and were getting the muggles onto the rug when the first call to arms from Dean arrived, nearly at the same moment as the dove. They stunned the muggles to keep them in place while Smith took the call and Justin set the time as he sent Harry his patronus to relay the message. To Edward it felt like the call had come a bit late. Clearly it had already begun, whatever ‘it’ was. Both he and Justin hurried up the tunnel closing in on the main cavern when a second call, Hermione’s, came. After hearing their orders, they relayed their information that the first of the muggles would be at their destination in five minutes time. Hermione confirmed their information and said she was on her way.
As Edward and Justin dealt with the transport full of muggles, Wendy and Dean appeared in the main tunnel a mere fifteen feet from the dragons. Thankfully the irate dragons were already being lured towards the mouth of the cave. To add to the confusion, more Aurors apparated in on all sides. Among the first to arrive was the memory squad Harry had worked with the previous summer in France. The Aurors surged forward into the cave as more appeared behind them. To Wendy’s astonishment though, the tiny Auror Laura Dupont rushed in ahead of all of them and disappeared at the front. There was absolutely no sign of her once they got to the main room of the cave…not that anyone had time to think about it. Confused and panicked muggles were coming at them on all sides, forcing the Aurors to fire stunning spells at the muggles to slow them. However, over their heads the Death Eaters were firing off more powerful spells. Chunks of the cavern wall exploded overhead as fighting moved away from the edges and towards the center of the great space, dominated by its lagoon and bridge. Remembering their assigned tasks, the Aurors began to fan out, levitating and moving as many muggles back through the tunnel as was magically possible. Dean broke from Wendy’s side and began pulling rugs out from the side tunnel where they’d been hidden, helping to move both them and the muggles into the ward-free space beneath the main cave.
Hermione blinked for a moment at the space where the Aurors had just been before rushing into the Digg Hut to have a look at the monitor. Already she could see the confusion of movement amongst the dots. Sudden stops followed by rapid movement which suggested stealth like movement on the part of the tagged converted muggles. She barely had a moment to register that though, when a pop from outside announced the arrival of the first muggles.
A moment of panic struck as the bushy haired witch realized she and Beth were there by themselves. When it came to representing the Ministry of Magic though, Hermione was on her own, Beth was there representing muggle law enforcement, but Hermione was the only magical person there. She hadn’t counted on doing this solo! But that meant she was needed all that much more. She had a job to do…and she had a plan. Hermione took a deep breath to steady herself, then grabbed the rack of potion vials from the refrigerator and headed out to the rug with Beth right on her heels.
Glass, blood and vaporous, eerie images filled the air making it difficult to see as Harry and Dudley and Laura worked to reduce the weapon Death Eaters had made to a pile of dust, splinters, and bloody sand. The sledge hammer came down again and again, breaking every vessel, smashing every shard of glass that had once held a muggle soul captive. Harry stabbed at the vessels killing the magic in it that was holding the souls, releasing them back to themselves. Laura swung like a witch possessed, screaming at those who would dare to do this, torturing and killing without mercy, without care, those most innocent and most able to be hurt. She cried out sounding like she was in as much pain as the spirits were who were escaping, until a figure emerged from the dust into the room.
Harry’s first instinct was to fire a hex at the figure until the newcomer spoke in rapid French, searching frantically for Laura. Instantly she fell into his arms, shaking and sobbing into his chest.
“Come on Dud,” Harry said as he recognized Jean through the mist, wondering for a microsecond what he was doing there. But Ginny was, so the fleeting thought left him and he shrugged it off. There was too much going on. “Our job here is done. Let’s find Esme. And we’ve got to get the Lestranges too. They’ll be down one floor.”
Dudley followed Harry without a word, never hesitating as he dropped the sledge hammer on the pile of debris next to the fangs and the sword Harry threw down.
Together they moved from room to room with Harry firing spells from the windows onto the Death Eaters below as they went, searching for the Lestranges who were behind this whole thing and, trying to help Dudley get to Esme. Harry stunned every figure they came to, taking a moment to mark them as muggle or magical as they fell. He managed to come across several Death Eaters unawares, firing their curses from the upper windows of the palace, never dreaming that there were Aurors inside. Harry stunned them where they stood, resisting the urge to hex Rudolphus when he recognized him. Instead Harry bound him and the other Death Eaters in cords, snapped their wands and left them where they lay. The muggles he charmed to float magically downstairs. Not one was Esme though, not on the third or even the second floors. At the landing on the first floor the pair turned towards the back of the hall intending to search the dungeons when Ron burst through the barrier.
“Have you seen Esme?” Dudley roared without preamble.
“Yeah. Ginny’s with her,” Ron nodded towards the portal behind him and Dudley pushed past him frantic to get to her. “The weapon?” Ron asked Harry.
“It’s dust,” Harry reported. “The Death Eaters?”
“There are none down here. Any upstairs?”
“Only stunned ones. We’ll need a team to take them in,” Harry said.
“Harry, help!” Dudley yelled. “I can’t get in.”
“Ron, see if you can find Wendy, Smith or the rest of our team, then try to get the muggles out,” Harry ordered. “Leave the Death Eaters to the rest of the Aurors.”
“Right Harry. Muggles first,” Ron repeated and he rushed towards the front door.
Harry pulled his cloak from beneath his robes and threw it over his cousin as the pushed through the barrier and down the stone steps into the dungeon. There was only one muggle woman still in the room and Ginny was kneeling beside her. They arrived just in time to see that it was Esme as Ginny stood back and Kreacher grabbed Esme’s hand apparating her away.
“Where’s he taking her?” Dudley demanded.
“To St. Mungos. We’ve sent all of the victims there,” Ginny said.
Harry nodded. “Good. They can take care of her Dudley,” Harry assured his cousin. “How did she look Ginny?” he asked when Dudley hardly looked mollified.
“Good. She’s in shock but she’s stable. She seemed to realize what was happening better than the rest. I asked her to try to explain it to the other women when she got there,” Ginny explained. “She’s safe there Dudley, away from this and with people who can help her.”
Dudley nodded looking relieved.
“Good. Great,” Harry declared. “Ginny, when Kreacher gets back, I want the two of you to go home.”
Predictably Ginny started to protest.
“Ginny look, I love that you are here helping me, and you’ve done great, really. But I need you to go home. I need you to be safe. Please!”
“I heard you tell Ron you needed help with the muggles Harry. Just let me do that, please? I can get a few more out, I know I can!” she pleaded.
“Just a few more, then I promise I’ll go home.”
“You’d better. Look Ginny, I don’t have time to argue, but please do as I say.”
“I will Harry,” she promised. “As soon as Kreacher gets back.”
Harry nodded and pounded back up the stairs intending to search the rest of the palace.
“Cover me,” Harry said as Dudley followed him and together they began to search the rest of the first floor.
Together the muggle constable and wizard Auror duo moved from room to room, securing the building before joining in on the fray outside the palace. Harry stepped out to see Ginny flying overhead levitating several stunned muggles out of harms way, moving them out towards the entrance to the caves. Death Eaters were firing spells from ledges to the sides and Harry shot hexes back at them…stunning…leg locker…petrificus totalus…the spells came automatically and unbidden to his mind. Dudley stayed at Harry’s back firing at anyone casting spells at him from behind, with Harry occasionally turning to cast a shield charm around himself and his cousin.
Once when Harry turned he caught a glimpse of his elf, grabbing a stunned muggle hostage by the arm and apparating away, one or two at a time. It was a slow way to do it, but Harry realized that every one they got out was another life they’d saved.
Up at Digg Hut Hermione began the task of sorting out the stunned muggles as soon as the first rug arrived.
“What’s wrong with them?” Beth asked.
“They’re stunned. They’ll come around shortly,” Hermione answered as she counted them. “We’re expecting as many as a hundred, so I suppose we’d better set ourselves up a better triage area than this. Let’s just get them off the rug for now then I’ll send it back.”
The two women pulled fifteen men from the rug and Hermione tapped it with her wand, triggering the return charm.
Turning she chose a spot and conjured a large tent, setting it up beside the Digg Hut. Next she conjured cots and they began to move the men onto them, and one by one administering the potion while Beth administered basic first aid.
“How do you know how to do that?” Hermione asked watching her curiously.
“We’re all trained as paramedics in my force,” Beth explained.
Hermione nodded and was about to ask her more about it when another rug full of muggles appeared and they began the process all over again.
Ginny flew as high and close to the ceiling as she could, dodging stalactites and natural protrusions from the ceiling as she went while focusing all her attention on the six stunned muggles she was levitating and moving directly in front of her. Below her, the fight raged on the floor of the main cavern with muggles and wizards on both sides. As she reached the tunnels, there were more Aurors than muggles, although no one was looking up, so she was able to fly more or less unhindered, setting down once she spotted Dean near the mouth of the cave.
“Dean here!” Ginny called as she turned the stunned muggles over to him.
“Ginny! What are you doing here?”
“Helping Harry,” she called simply and she kicked off again.
Ginny levitated three more men she found that had been stunned in the tunnels to keep them from being trampled by the oncoming Aurors, moving them back to Dean. She kept at it, pulling muggles out of harms way until there were twenty at least that she knew she’d helped save. It wasn’t until all the stunned muggles in the tunnels had been moved that Ginny ventured back into the main cavern again.
By this time Harry and Dudley were standing back to back in the center of the bridge, providing cover for those squads of Aurors surrounding and trying to subdue the Death Eaters, or for the converted muggles still firing, trying to protect the Aurors working to stun the unconverted muggles. The flash of red hair diverted Harry’s attention just for a moment just as the sectumsempra spell was cast at him from a Death Eater up on a near by ledge. He dodged out of the way and the spell hit the bridge cracking the stone beneath their feet. Dudley turned to protect his cousin, firing repeated shots towards the dark haired Death Eater who’d cast it, hitting him in the shoulder of his wand arm, effectively disarming him, but another Death Eater immediately fired a spell back at him. Harry whirled around blocking it with a shield charm he cast over his cousin, just for a moment leaving himself open, the same moment when bullets fired from the muggle forces intending to protect him hit both the Death Eater and the ledge he’d been standing on. The Death Eater fell, but so did Harry, hit by the bullets that ricocheted off the ledge.
“No!” Dudley screamed as Harry fell, his cry echoed by Ginny who was flying over head.
“Cover him!” Ron yelled appearing out of no where by the side of his friend, firing protective spells as Ginny landed beside Harry and Ron and Dudley on the bridge.
Ron glanced down at his friend and saw blood pouring from his side. Harry’s eyes focused on him and Ginny just for a moment before rolling back in his head.
“He’s been hit!” Dudley shouted unnecessarily.
Ginny nodded screaming, “Kreacher!” as more bullets rained down on them.
Ron grabbed Dudley and shouted to Ginny, “Get Harry off this bridge!” as he apparated he and Dudley to better cover.
Ginny did as he said, hesitating just for a moment as Kreacher appeared beside her on the bridge.
“Take Harry home!” Ginny cried, just as bullets flew over head, some bouncing back and hitting the bridge. Two hit both she and the old elf, thankfully hitting the vests they were wearing instead of their skin. “Me too, now!”
Ron glanced back at the bridge from his more protected place behind a stalagmite column to the side of the main chamber where he’d taken Dudley as the pair continued to fight. For a fraction of a moment the red-haired Auror nodded in satisfaction as he saw his sister, best friend and their elf all disappear from the bridge, hoping against hope that Ginny had actually done what Harry said, and taken them all home.
Hermione looked up as two additional rugs with muggles appeared. At last count forty-two muggles had already been brought to safety, most by rug but a few by Kreacher. Hermione had exclaimed in surprise when she saw him, but Kreacher refused to explain, saying only that he must continue to help Master and Miss Ginny before disappearing again. Those on these new rugs full would make more than fifty. Hermione levitated the unconscious muggles from the rugs to their waiting cots where Beth took over giving them potions and muggle first aide. Hermione ran the numbers in her head. They had fifty five. Harry had said there were one hundred twenty two muggle captives at last count, one hundred and thirty four including the women and children. All those that had come to them had been men, which meant there were sixty seven still below. If one discounted the twelve that according to Beth had been converted then that made fifty more left to go. They were more than half way there!
Hermione straightened from sending the rugs back as she wondered again what had become of the women and children. They’d been so central to Harry’s plan! But she didn’t have time to wonder for very long. Another rug of nine appeared directly in front of her and she began the task once again.
Dean Thomas moved swiftly and smoothly in the junction between the passageway and the tunnel, and the passageway to the cave below, levitating muggles as he went. Other people were down the tunnel further working closer to the action, moving bodies as they fell back to him. Shouts of spells and curses and the reports of gun fire echoed throughout the cave, making any meaningful communication nearly impossible. Occasionally Dean would catch a glimpse of the wizards whose job it was to lure the dragons away, tempted by a good run of salmon, their very favorite fish; but he longed to know what was going on.
He was slightly better positioned to know what was going on than Justin though, who was taking the muggles from him, down through the boundaries of the wards to the chamber below, loading them onto the rugs, and sending them away. Everything seemed to be going amazingly smoothly, probably the result of their careful planning. To his knowledge very few people had even been hurt. Two muggles reached him with bullet wounds in their shoulders, suggesting that some were, but none had been wizards. That was until word reached him that Harry Potter was down. No one seemed to know how serious it was though as the battle raged on.
Ginny hovered anxiously by Hermys’ side as he vanished Harry’s robes and began to examine his wounds.
“This looks bad Miss Ginny. Master does not move,” Hermys said anxiously as he worked to stabilize his patient, applying a poultice and bandages to stem the blood flow.
“Miss, we’s must get Master to St. Mungos. This is as much as I can do for him here,” Hermys told her.
“Okay Hermys, if you think that best,” Ginny readily agreed.
“I is taking him. I is knowing the healers there. Papy can bring you after,” he told her with a note of authority in his voice as he reached down, touched Harry and the two of them disappeared.
“Shall I take Miss?” Kreacher asked wobbling a bit on his feet.
“In a minute Kreacher. I need to let the family know what’s happened,” Ginny said and she conjured several patroni to send to her parents and brothers and Hermione too. She hesitated in sending one to Ron. In all likelihood he was still fighting and the distraction of her patronus would be dangerous for him. So instead she sent a second to Hermione, telling her to let Ron know as soon as it was safe, before she took Kreacher’s hand and allowed him to apparate her away.
Ron looked up as a squadron of Aurors surged forward. He recognized them. They were the Aurors designated to take up the rear. They wouldn’t be here unless the tunnels and passageways leading to this cave were entirely clear.
“Hold your fire!” he shouted at Dudley. “They’re the rear flank. Find the rest of your team and concentrate on getting the rest of the captives out!”
“Right,” Dudley shouted as he spotted another red-haired man and leaving Ron’s side, sprinted over to him.
“Ron says they’re the rear flank. It’s time, get everyone out. Let the Aurors handle it from here,” Dudley shouted in Rupert’s ear.
Rupert nodded, pulling a brass constable’s whistle from beneath his bullet proof vest and crystal covered shirt. Putting it to his lips he blew one long shrill blast, followed by three short ones. It was the signal they’d agreed upon to signal triumphant retreat.
Together the law enforcement officers began to move through the cavern, moving every muggle they encountered ahead of them. Those that were converted were recruited to help those that weren’t back to the mouth of the cave, promising them a way out. Rupert repeated his whistle blasts as irregular intervals, distracting the Death Eaters, giving the Aurors an edge, and keeping the muggle part of their team coordinated and moving together through the Auror ranks.
Ron watched from his position in amazement, watching the careful but coordinated moves of the muggle officers. Ten minutes later the only ones left in the cavern were wizards. The Aurors had the Death Eaters out numbered twenty to one, and without the muggles to worry about, they soon had the Death Eaters trapped and cornered, with no way to apparate out. All that was left was the wrap up, and once Ron spotted that Robards was there and everything here was under control, he emerged from his cover and began to escort the bound and captured Death Eaters out.
Hermione had never moved so quickly in her life. The rugs were coming three at once now, and some of the muggles they brought had been wounded. Carefully she moved the injured and bleeding men from their rugs to the cots and sent the rugs back again. Kreacher had stopped coming bringing them muggles, but she didn’t have time to stop and think what that might mean. They were up to eighty one now, and their numbers were steadily rising. The first of the rugs bearing a converted muggle arrived, and Hermione and Beth gratefully pressed him into service, helping them to sort out those that were beginning to wake from the stunning spells and the potions. Two more rugs arrived, and with them came Marcus, one of the muggle constables, just as Ginny’s patronus appeared.
“Harry’s down,” Marcus announced to Hermione.
“Oh!” she gasped as she turned only to be confronted with Ginny’s mare.
“Harry’s at St. Mungo’s. Come as soon as you can.”
The image had barely faded when a second mare appeared.
“Tell Ron when it’s safe. He’ll want to know,” it said speaking with Ginny’s voice.
Hermione nodded in the darkness, her face filled with fear for her friend.
“Was that about Harry?” Marcus asked as he began to help with the unconscious muggles he’d brought with him.
“Yes. They’ve taken him to…”
“St. Mungo’s…yeah I heard. It’s the same place Ron said Harry’s house elf took the women and children.”
“That explains it then,” Hermione said.
“What’s St. Mungo’s?” Marcus asked.
“Our wizarding hospital,” Hermione explained.
Marcus nodded. He knew it was another thing Harry’s team would have to make him forget and so he decided he was better off if he didn’t ask anything more, but he could tell from her face that the bushy haired witch was worried. Actually, he was too. He’d seen it when Harry fell, and he counted at least three shots that had hit him, most from the side and the back but there were probably more. He hoped wizard healers knew how to treat bullet wounds because from the looks of it, Harry’s injuries were serious.
Ginny landed in the waiting room of St. Mungo’s as Kreacher collapsed by her side.
“Kreacher!” she exclaimed.
“We don’t treat his kind here,” the welcome witch said waving them away.
“You do too treat house elves here,” Ginny said indignantly. “His son who’s a healer sent us here! Besides my fiancé is also here.”
“What’s his son’s name?” the welcome witch asked.
“Hermys,” Ginny said. “And my fiancé is Harry Potter.”
“Of course he is,” the witch said peering over her glasses at Ginny. “I’ll call the healer for your elf Miss. But until you can tell me who you really are, you aren’t getting in to see anybody.”
“I’m Ginny Weasley, Harry Potter’s fiancée, and you bloody well better let me in!” Ginny swore pulling her wand on the witch and threatening to hex her.
“Hey, hey!” two security wizards said hurrying forward. “We’ll have none of that here Miss. Put your wand away.”
“My fiancé is seriously injured and she won’t let me in to see him!” Ginny countered just as Hermys popped into existence by her other side.
“Kreacher needs you Hermys,” Ginny told him. “And they won’t let me in to see Harry!”
“The healers is with Master now Miss Ginny. Nobody can see him,” Hermys said with drooping ears. “’I’s is able to help Pappy though. Come with me.”
Ignoring the welcome witches protests and the stunned expressions on the guards faces, Ginny followed the house elf through the double doors to the patients area and up to the very top floor. Here on a floor that shouldn’t properly even be a floor, whose ceiling was lower than normal because it had been intended as a maintenance crawl space rather than actual store space for the old abandoned department store, was the ward Hermione had fought for last winter. In this space ignored by wizards, the elves had been allowed to set up for themselves a more proper hospital facility to care for their seriously ill.
Bending low Ginny followed Hermys down the row of beds to a child sized cot where Kreacher lay. Ginny found she had to kneel beside his bed to straighten up enough to get a good look at him. His bullet proof vest had been removed and his towel folded back to reveal a large bruise forming in the center of his chest.
“Kreacher! Were you hit?” Ginny asked in dismay as Kreacher’s pale saucer-like eyes stared glassy-eyed up at her.
“Only through the vest Miss,” Hermys told her when is seemed Kreacher was too weak to speak. Hermys held up the vest showing her the pit and damage to the material beneath showing where a bullet had hit. “This vest has saved Pappy’s life.”
Ginny nodded. “So if it’s not from the bullet…what’s wrong with him?”
Hermys ears drooped. “Pappy is old Miss. He is taking his medicine, but his heart is not strong and fighting is hard on him. His greatest wish was to be of service to Harry Potter. He wishes not to fail.”
“He hasn’t,” Ginny assured him. “He got us out of there. If it wasn’t for him, there was no chance that Harry would be alright.”
“We’s not knowing that yet Miss Ginny,” Hermys reminded her.
Ginny blinked, holding back tears. “Hermys, do you know where they took Harry?”
“Yes Miss. I’s will take Miss to him.”
Ginny nodded, looking at Kreacher’s thin form in the bed, laboring to breath as he lay there under the blankets.
“I’ll come back and tell you what they say Kreacher, I promise,” she promised the elderly elf.
“I’s should be coming with you,” Kreacher croaked weakly as he tried to get out of bed.
“No. You stay here Kreacher. Rest. I know Harry will want to see you when he wakes. Try…try to stay here…until then? Please?” Ginny asked.
She could tell from the elf’s face that he was dying. Every last ounce of energy he’d possessed had been used in helping her to help Harry. It was what Kreacher had wanted though, the chance to serve, the chance to help. It was the only reason they’d been able to convince him to take his medicine at all.
“Kreacher will try Miss,” he promised as he lay back on his pillows.
Ginny nodded. “Thank you Kreacher,” she said as she kissed the old elf’s forehead.
Leaving him to rest, Hermys led her from the makeshift elf ward and back down the stairs.