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Regrouping

The trek back to the others was not one that could be described as enjoyable. Far from it. Ginny, after leaving her father’s office without so much as a goodbye, had opted to return to everyone else only after she had cleared her head. Apparating directly back would not give her enough time to do this, so she chose to walk for as along as it took her to sort out her thoughts and come to a sensible conclusion. The journey was long enough, Harry’s grandparent’s abode being only a few miles south from her childhood home. But, even with the long stretch of time that she would be provided, it still was not proving quite enough to help clear her head. In fact, after close to an hour of slow walking, her thoughts seemed cloudier than ever.

Her father had been in love with Lily Potter, Harry’s mother - a relationship that was kept quiet, ended badly and posed some kind of threat to her father’s credibility. But, to this day there were still remnants of emotion lingering within her father, even after being ‘happily’ married to her mother – this was proven by the heartbroken demeanor Arthur had clouded over him. He was guilt-laden by the killing of a past love and was willing to walk directly into death’s hands without as much as a fight. Ginny was sure that none of her brothers knew of her father’s plan to give in to James. But, even if they did, Ginny doubted they could dissuade him. With ambition usually comes stubbornness and it was a trait her father carried heavily.

Ginny sighed and rubbed at her eyes. Her father would not allow himself to be stopped and that was something that she had to accept. But what still angered her was how blind both he and James Potter were being. Both sides knew for a fact that they did not commit any of the atrocities they had been blamed for, yet they allowed the war to continue without trying to clear things up. Sure it would take some serious coaxing and well-thought-out words but revealing the truth would have proved a lot better than waging physical wars. The latter only yielded deadly results – Molly, possibly David, Bill, Lily, and countless other henchmen and front-line soldiers – with neither side retreating.

Again, Ginny found another sigh escape her lips and then rolled her eyes. Pretty soon, her breath would tire of the repeated action. She had been sighing so much that it felt like it was becoming the only way for her to keep breathing, for her to stay alive. She shuddered at the unexpected thought and realized how closely connected it was to her previous thoughts. How long did she have to live? Who else would die before all of this was over? The thought did little to comfort her already stirred nerves. They were all in the line of fire – her, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Luna, Neville, and her remaining brothers. It was only a matter of time before things reached a level of dire proportions. They had to end this. Lives were literally at stake.

Glancing up, Ginny realized that she had already arrived at the neighbourhood’s shopping district. She had never ventured here before, only admired it from the windows of their refuge home. Up close, she felt comforted by the vigorous signs of carefree life. People bustled to and fro, smiles adorning their faces and laughter escaping their lips. There were groups of teenagers huddled around store windows or venturing into the tattoo parlours and piercing stations. Mothers held tightly onto the hands of their children, leading them into clothing stores or purchasing cones of ice cream. Some older people ventured around alone, hands shoved into their pockets simply enjoying a walk through familiar territory. A few of them even acknowledged her presence with curt nods and simple waves. Finding herself smiling, she waved back before finally disappearing onto the street that led to the hill.

When she turned the corner a sudden chill crept up her spine and she slowly turned her head to the side, peering over her shoulder. It felt like someone was watching her, their eyes boring into her back as though they were ready to pounce. Her hand instinctively gripped at her wand as she steadily resumed her walking. After a few moments, the sensation slowly died away and she tried to think about something else – the happy-go-lucky-people below.

The quick lapse into a world outside her very own – where things were easy and simple and there was no threat lurking around any corners - revitalized a hunger within her. She longed to have a life like that. She wanted nothing more than to be able to live and paint to her heart’s content without news of another death or battle that ensued at the hands of her father or even Mr. Potter. She craved for this all to be over. And, in order to do so, they had to find this maniac culprit fast, and stop him before he succeeded.




Harry paced back and forth, his hands shoved into his jeans pockets and eyebrows knitted closely together. His once slightly calm demeanor had shifted dramatically after Ginny’s abrupt departure. He was at first baffled, wondering where she could have gone and pondering over Luna’s last revelation: ‘It wasn’t necessarily something he needed but he wanted it nonetheless. For blackmail.’ He still had yet to understand what in the box could be used for blackmail and Luna was unhelpful, not knowing anything besides what she had already said. Their trail had ended with that clue.

Releasing a hand from his pocket to rub his neck, Harry leaned against the kitchen sink and stared at the floor. He had been trying adamantly to decipher what Luna could have hinted at but was coming up blank. Around him, everyone else seemed to be in their own world as well. Luna sat on top of the counter, her legs swinging back and forth, occasionally thumping one of them against the wood. She bit her lip in concentration as she stared at the blank wall. Her mind was focused on trying to remember any other conversation she might have overheard in terms of the box but she was coming up short every turn. The tidbits she was remembering were pieces of information she had already divulged – the identification of Lucius, the cloaked figure being the leader of it all, something used for blackmail (which she guessed was the box) and the plan to destroy both the Potters and the Weasleys. Although all of it was critical information, it was not what she was looking for. She cracked her neck and her back as she tried to fish through her memory some more. Hopefully something would show up.

Meanwhile, Hermione and Ron remained seated at the table next to each other. Hermione held the piece of parchment on which Ginny had deciphered the markings while Ron leaned close to her, examining it as well. Both were trying to figure out if there were any other secret messages hidden within the symbols. Hermione, although skilled in Ruins, could not make sense of the unique combination Arthur Weasley had used. She understood the method Ginny had adopted to decipher the code but still could not see any other way for translating it that could surface another message. Ron was having an even more difficult time, being untrained in any kind of ruin symbology. His skill was mostly in dueling and keen observation. Anything like this was mostly Percy and Ginny’s expertise so he was a little out of his element.

Realizing that, Ron crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. Hermione looked up at him and noticed that he had closed his eyes as well.

“Tired?” she asked, leaning back slightly.

Ron nodded without opening his eyes. “I don’t know why, though. I slept fine last night.” He opened one eye and shot her a wicked grin before closing it.

Hermione giggled. “You’re acting like we actually did something tiring.”

Ron chuckled, sat up and looked at her. “No, but you’re company alone was enough to help me sleep pretty well.”

“Likewise.” She smiled at Ron and he returned it.

Their exchange was interrupted when a figure stepped behind Hermione’s chair. “Anything yet?”

Hermione shook her head and turned back to the parchment. “I can’t figure it out. It just seems so foreign, and I don’t just mean because it’s in a completely different language.”

Harry sighed and took a seat across from Hermione. “I guess we just have to wait until Ginny comes back to figure out what the hell was inside the box.”

Ron nodded. “In the mean time, maybe we should try figuring out what course of action we’re going to take.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” he started, “even though we don’t know who the real culprit is, we at least have some idea who’s behind all of this. I think that if we target Lucius, we may draw out the guilty party.”

“But who’s to say that will even have any affect?” Harry asked, folding his arms across his chest. “Maybe this person wouldn’t care if anything happened to Lucius. For all we know, Malfoy could just be another pawn in his game, a sucker for punishment.”

“True,” Ron conceded. “But, even still, if we get him, then we might be able to get him to reveal the truth.”

“How?” Hermione asked, arching an eyebrow.

Ron looked at her unblinkingly. “There are ways of persuasion.”

Hermione gaped at him. “Torturing him?” She stood up and flung the parchment down onto the table. “Ron, how could you even suggest something like that? That would be stooping to their level. I refuse to allow something like that to happen!”

“Relax, Hermione.” Ron stood up, rather calmly, and gently took hold of Hermione’s finger that she had pointed at him when she stood up. “I was meaning something along the lines of Veritaserum -” He paused and let her finger go. “- truth potion.”

Hermione dropped her hand. “Oh.”

“I’m not like my father, you know” Ron said, avoiding her gaze as he sat back down. “I would never put someone’s life in danger just to gain information.”

Hermione sat back down speechless and just continued to look at Ron. She didn’t mean for her words to sound accusatory; but for a split second she had actually thought that Ron had been suggesting making Lucius suffer until he confessed. She didn’t know why the idea swept into her mind so easily but she suddenly felt guilty and turned away from Ron, gazing instead at the table.

Harry cleared his throat, quite aware of the tension that suddenly rose between the blossoming couple. “Well, I think Ron may have a point about the Veritaserum. The only problem would be trying to get our hands on Lucius. He’s quite evasive and cunning. We’d have to be careful.”

“Where would we even start?” Luna asked, finally joining the conversation. She jumped off the counter and moved to stand in front of the table. “Do we even know where to look for him? After our unexpected escape from the house, I’m sure he’s not there anymore. They may have relocated, knowing that I may have passed information to you.”

“He works at the Ministry doesn’t he?” Harry asked, glancing at her as he stood. “Neville would probably know where his private office is. We could have him scout it out but it would be dangerous, especially after last time.” Harry fought back a shudder as he remembered how Neville had been kidnapped and held hostage. Obviously, Luna had remembered too because she bit at her lip and looked away. Harry put an arm over her shoulder. “Nothing’s going to happen to him, or to you. We’re all going to make it out of this. I promise.”

“So, that’s our next step, then?” Ron asked. “We find Lucius, capture him and get him to talk.”

Harry nodded. “It’s the best we’ve got.”

“I don’t think that’s what we should do.”

The four cluttered around the table looked up at the voice and saw Ginny leaning against the doorway. Her arms were folded and she was watching them with a stoic expression upon her face.

“Ginny,” Harry finally said, walking over to her. “What took you so long?”

“I had to think through some things,” she replied simply, unfolding her arms and standing up straight.

“Did you get to dad?” Ron asked, without looking at her. He still looked a little wounded from Hermione’s accusations and kept his arms folded and his gaze fixed on the table.

She nodded but then realized that he couldn’t see her. “Yes. And I also think I know what our next step should be. Hopefully, it would prove to have to be the final phase.”

She walked deeper into the kitchen and made her way towards the table, everyone watching her with anxious faces, save for Ron. She took a seat and prepared herself for what she was about to reveal, mentally going through it in her mind before she started to speak. The plan was so simple that she was surprised it took her this long to figure it out.

“Ok, first things first,” Harry said, sitting next to her. “Why shouldn’t we go after Lucius?”

Ginny looked at him and quickly went over things in her mind. When she had entered the kitchen, she had listened to them attentively and was immediately struck by how quick they were to accept Ron’s plan of capturing Lucius. It was a good idea, yes, but there were so many problems with it that she was surprised no one picked up on them. Firstly, Lucius was undoubtedly well guarded considering his high rank in the operation. They would probably need an entire army of Aurors and duelers before even attempting to make a move. Then, there was the fact that they had no clue where he was. It was a high possibility that he was not at work like Harry believed. Things had gotten far too out of hand so Lucius was probably hidden away - using some lower representative to do his official work at the Ministry while he tried to stabilize whatever operation his side was planning. And, if that was the case, there would be more guards to consider and they had no clue about the kind of numbers they were dealing with. It was far too risky and they would need a more solid and quicker approach.

When she noticed that everyone was staring up at her, Ginny quickly explained all of this to them, trying to get them to understand that it would take longer than they thought to complete their plan. Before they even considered making a move, they would have to find out where Lucius was stationed, and then estimate the amount of people they were up against. This meant that they would need reinforcements and only then would they be able to make a move. They just did not have that kind of time.

“So, you see,” she added, noticing the defeated expressions on everyone’s faces, “we need another course of action.”

“Ok, fair enough,” Harry said with a sigh. “So, what is this next step you think we should take?”

“Getting our father’s together and on one side,” she said simply, looking straight into Harry’s eyes, which widened at her words.

“That’s going to prove as difficult as getting Lucius,” he said. “There has to be something else.”

She shook her head. “There isn’t time for anything else.”

“Ginny, you’re mental.” Ron finally looked up. “Dad and Mr. Potter hate each other. There is no way in hell that they would agree to meet each other, much less work together.”

“The first half of that is already taken care of,” she said, leaning her elbows onto the table. “Dad thinks that Mr. Potter is going to come after him because of what he did.” She quickly glanced at Harry who gave a curt nod. “And he’s going to let him,” she added, glancing back at Ron.

“Dad’s going to willingly allow Mr. Potter to attack?”

Ginny sighed and looked down. “He never told me what his exact plan was but when I went to talk to him, I-” She paused and took a deep breath. “I found out some things,” she said, looking back up, “some things that I think change the course of everything and will make him be sought after.”

“What did you find out?” Ron asked, highly intrigued. “Does it have anything to do with the box?”

She nodded. “The box was a collection of -” She paused, searching for a word. “- a collection of trinkets of sorts.”

“Would you just spill it out,” Ron said, wanting to hear what Ginny was holding back.

“The box contained old letters, photographs, and even a few pieces of jewelry that I guessed were once presents that never made it to the receiver.” She closed her eyes, not wanting to see the looks on everyone’s face when she said what she was about to say. “It was a record of a past relationship that had ended years ago – a relationship between dad and Lily.”

The room fell silent and Ginny opened her eyes to see everyone staring at her with questioning looks. Hermione’s facial expression was unreadable; Ron looked befuddled and Luna looked as though she was still trying to work through what she had said. The only person she could not see was Harry because he was seated next to her; but from the way his body slumped, she guessed he was shocked.

She continued, “They were in love. I didn’t believe it at first. When I had opened the box, what I found was a letter from Lily to dad, saying how she missed him and loved him dearly. The photographs were pictures of them two holding hands, playing around and…kissing. When I went to dad, he explained it all to me.”

“What did he say?” Harry asked weakly.

She turned to face him and saw that he was indeed shocked but it was mixed with a look of revulsion and bewilderment. Keeping her eyes on him, she explained everything her father had told her. She told them how they met, became fast friends and then started a relationship that no one knew of. She then dived into the story of how they fell apart and how her father and James became enemies over the speculation that Arthur wanted Lily back. She ended by telling them that it was supposedly the reasoning behind what had sparked the war – Arthur believing James had killed Molly to warn him and James thinking Arthur took David to get back at him for having Lily.

“Neither one of them bothered to find out if the other one really did commit those acts,” she finished, her voice merely a whisper because of how subdued the mood became throughout her tale.

“So,” Harry said in a quiet voice, “my mom and your dad were…lovers?” The word was barely audible but Ginny heard it nonetheless and nodded. “And this secret relationship was supposedly the fuel behind the war?” Again Ginny nodded and Harry fell silent.

Ron shook his head. “I still don’t get it. Why start something over only a speculation?” He looked up at Ginny. “Mr. Potter didn’t know for sure that Lily and dad had been together but yet he still attacked?”

Ginny let out a deep breath. “Mr. Potter didn’t attack. Yes, he thought Lily and dad had something going on and yes he feared that dad would be after her but he did not start anything. I thought we established that a long time ago.”

“Right,” Ron said, leaning back in his chair. “Sorry.”

“What I don’t get,” Hermione said, “is how this could be used for blackmail.” She quickly explained what Luna had told them in response to Ginny’s raised eyebrow.

“It all makes sense,” Harry said suddenly, jumping up. “All of it.”

“Great,” Hermione said, standing up as well. “Now that you realize that, do you mind clearing things up for us?”

Harry looked at her. “The relationship is the perfect leverage. Whoever was after the box wanted evidence of the relationship so they could use it as a way to prove that the war is just between the two men.”

“I’m not following.”

Harry started pacing. “Alright, we know that Molly Weasley was killed by this third party and that they also took David. But there was a slight problem. Before they could act, they had to figure out a plausible reason why these attacks would happen without there being suspicion of someone else involved. The past relationship was a perfect tool. There was already a rift between the two men because of it: my dad believed that Arthur was after my mom and Arthur believed that my dad was waving Lily in his face, gloating about winning over him. They only needed to ignite a fury that would drive them to fight each other.”

Realization dawned on Ginny’s face and she stood up. “Exactly.” She spun to look at Harry. “Both men would automatically think that the other had done those things to warn him to stay away. But this third person knew that pride would not allow either man to heed the warning and the war ensued. It was a perfect plan.”

Harry nodded. “Yes. But they also realized that there was still no physical proof of the relationship. That’s why the third party was after Arthur’s box. Somehow, they found out about it and realized it could help. By having that box, they could bring the information into the open and provide hardcore evidence that the two men did in fact have something to fight over. It would then, hopefully, enrage them even more, causing them to continue to fight and eventually destroy them both.”

“Wait a minute.” Ron stood up now. “So, you’re saying that this person knew about the relationship and was using it as the reason for the war?”

“It makes perfect sense, now,” Luna said, finally joining in. “Something like that – which already had both men on a cliff – would push them over the edge and lead them blindly into battle. It was the perfect way for my dad and his leader to get rid of both families without the bloody work of having to do it themselves.”

“So, you see,” Ginny said, resuming the pacing that Harry had given up on, “this third party was going to make James believe that Arthur really was after Lily and by using dad’s own tools against him, it would make him retaliate. The two men would be pitted against each other in a final battle that would leave the way clear for someone else to take over.”

“So, your plan to get Arthur and James together,” Hermione started, “would prove to both men that neither one really meant any harm.”

Ginny nodded. “Using Ron’s idea about the Veritaserum, we could get dad and Mr. Potter to reveal that they had no involvement whatsoever. With that in the open, we could get them to see that someone else is indeed involved.”

Ron got excited. “That would then make them join forces and we’d have an entire army at our disposal. With all of us working together-”

“We could go after Lucius,” Harry interjected, “and finally put an end to all of this.”

Ginny nodded and smiled, glad that she was able to work things out. It was still a little risky trying to get her father and James to take the Veritaserum but that would be something they would have to wing. Right now, their greatest challenge was getting both men in the same place at the same time.

“Our only problem is figuring out when James is going to take his course of action,” Ginny finally said after everyone fell silent. “It’s our only way of actually having the two men together.”

Harry nodded. “I can work on that. All I have to do is talk to my dad and I’m sure I can convince him to attack as soon as possible.” He paused before adding, “I may have to pretend that I want to fight along with him.”

Ginny moved to stand next to him. “That’s fine, Harry. Try to get him to agree to tomorrow and lead him here. Ron will do the same with dad,” she said, turning to face her brother. “I don’t know if he’d want you there but you tell him that you want to join him nonetheless. I would suggest carrying Fred and George with you but they don’t fully know what’s going on so it may do more harm than good.”

Ron silently agreed. “What do I tell them, then? They’ve been waiting to hear from me.”

Ginny sighed. “Direct them here. With Hermione and Luna’s help, we’ll explain everything to them.”

“In the meantime, I’ll contact Neville,” Luna suggested, grabbing a quill from a nearby drawer. “Should I explain it all in writing or just tell him to come?”

“Just tell him to come back as soon as possible,” Ginny said, handing her a piece of parchment. “We can’t risk anyone intercepting the letter. We may just be being watched.” Ginny quickly thought back to the paralyzing feeling of someone’s eyes on here when she had been walking up the hill but just as swiftly pushed it aside. They had more important matters at hand.

“Alright, so everyone knows what they’re doing?” Harry asked, looking pointedly at everyone who responded with silent nods. “Good.” He turned to Ginny. “When I find out what’s going on I’ll owl you. I’ll make sure put a spell on the parchment so only you can read it.”

Ginny nodded and wrapped her arms around Harry’s waist. “Just be careful.”

“Always.”

Harry kissed her deeply and she fell into the comforting feeling of his kiss. His lips lingered against hers for a few moments before pulling away and heading towards the door. He noticed that Ron barely acknowledged Hermione as he too headed for the exit. Whatever tension had risen between them earlier was obviously something more serious than he had initially thought. With another quick glance at Ginny, Harry turned on the spot, his mind whirring with thoughts of what they discovered and what they were planning on doing next. He hoped that it would work.

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