|SIYE Time:4:25 on 23rd June 2018|
Genres: Drama, General, Romance
Warnings: Death, Extreme Language, Intimate Sexual Situations, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Sexual Situations, Violence
Summary: Things are not looking good for Harry Potter. Lord Voldemort has been defeated, but many of his Death Eaters are still on the loose, and Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, will not let Harry anywhere near them, insisting he needs time to recover from the trials of life on the run. And to top things off, he still canít manage to sort things out with his ex-girlfriend, Ginny.
Hitcount: Story Total: 7514; Chapter Total: 625
Hiya everybody. Iím sorry for such a long delay for such a short chapter. I typically do most of my writings on the weekends, but two of my best friends are getting married on Saturday and so my last few weekends have been filled with bachelor/bachelorette party trips, dress fittings, venue tours, and all that crazy adult life stuff. Iím still struggling with the status of Harry and Ginnyís relationship at the moment; I still think I made the decision to split them up a bit rashly and didnít think through enough where I was going with it. Oh well. These authors notes are certainly becoming the place where I voice all my insecurities about my writing. Thank you, as always, for reading and reviewing. This is also my first time ever (even in, like, high school creative writing class) writing an action sequence, so let me know what you think :) (unless you hate it then please spare me). chapter titled after a song by the velvet underground (but i was listening to the cat power version whilst writing).
"Hermione's not coming," Ron said, looking up from the letter he'd just received. He was sitting at the table in their tiny flat, already fully dressed in his best set of robes, despite the fact that it was not yet eleven.
Harry straightened the tie on his own dress robes. "Big surprise," he said, inspecting himself in the mirror hanging over the fireplace. "Exams are in less than a week; I doubt she'd leave the library even to eat."
Ron grimaced at the thought, shoving Hermione's letter out of the way.
"Is it too early to start drinking?" he asked Harry.
"It's not going to be that bad," Harry said, though he hardly sounded convinced himself.
Ron shook his head. "We've been in the field a week and they've called us back for some stupid unveiling ceremony. I can't decide if I'm more concerned about how terrible it will be to watch all those families accepting the Orders of Merlin or that the Lestranges movements will be unsurveilled while we're sitting there."
Harry countered with a grim laugh. "Unserveilled?" he repeated, trying out this made-up word. "As if we have any bloody clue what they're doing. They're clearly aware that we're monitoring virtually every Wizarding settlement in Europe. They're not stupid; we're sitting ducks whether we're here or in the Hebrides."
For the Scottish archipelago was the last place anyone had reported seeing the Lestranges, though that was in February and from a source that was disreputable at best. It was late-April now, and Harry and Ron were preparing to attend an event that was both an unveiling of the Ministry's new Remembrance Memorial and ceremony awarding Orders of Merlin to the deceased, accepted on behalf of their grieving families. Harry had already brought Teddy Lupin, newly turned one-year-old, to his childminder's house the previous night. Andromeda was preparing to accept awards on behalf of her husband, daughter, and son-in-law and had decided that such an event was hardly an appropriate setting for her young grandson.
Ron stood from the table. "I still don't like it. Putting everything on hold for such a well-publicized event? Wouldn't it make us an easy target?"
"We've got security all over the thing," Harry reminded him staunchly, though he too shared in Ron's fears. "Robards thinks that they'll be too smart to try anything, but if they do, they'll be walking into a trap."
Ron sighed, removing his wand from the pocket of his robes and twirling it around in his hands.
"I'm glad Hermione's not coming," he said finally.
Harry was unsurprised. He knew that Ron's instinct was largely to be overprotective; Hermione had told Harry that Ron had lasting anxiety from her encounter with Bellatrix Lestrange the previous spring.
Harry, too, was struggling not to let the creeping paranoia take hold of him. He knew that fear of Death Eaters, and by extension, a fear of the lingering influence of Voldemort, was exactly what gave them their terrible power. He knew that Kingsley, Proudfoot, and Robards would collaborate to make sure the event was secure, and that it was important to show a united front of both acceptance and reunion to avoid further ideals of blood supremacy bubbling up as they struggled to reconstruct their society.
The Remembrance Memorial itself had become the physical representation of this goal; a massive slab of black marble resting in the center of the Ministry of Magic's Atrium. Replacing both the Fountain of Magical Brethren and the "Magic is Might" Monument, it bore the names of every being, Wizard or Muggle, human or otherwise, killed in the Second Wizarding War. The great sculpture was being unveiled at the beginning of the ceremony, which would culminate in the awarding of Orders of Merlin to those who died fighting Voldemort in both the Order of the Phoenix and the Battle of Hogwarts.
The Wizengamot had offered to bestow the same honor upon Harry, Ron, and Hermione. All three had declined in order to revert attention back onto the deceased. Harry was already dreading watching poor Andromeda take the stage three times; he could hardly bear to think about how terrible it would be to hear Kingsley stoically read the citation of Fred Weasley's Order in front of his grieving parents.
"Is your entire family going?" Harry asked, attempting to sound casual.
"Ginny's not going if that's what you're asking. I don't think Charlie's coming either, though you probably don't care as much," said Ron, stifling a yawn with his hand. Harry caught sight of himself again in the mirror as a creeping blush rose steadily up his face. Ron seemed to notice, and continued.
"Dean will be there," he said with a smirk. "I hope you have a few good jinxes up your sleeve."
Harry narrowed his eyes. He was already fully aware of Dean's impending presence at the unveiling ceremony, and that Ron was taking the piss out of him.
Harry had, as of yet, been unable to remove himself from the unfortunate shadow cast by his reaction to seeing Ginny and Dean together at Seamus' party. Cho Chang had kindly summoned Ron and Hermione to the bathroom, where they had found Harry in a puddle of his own vomit, sincerely regretting ever being born. It wasn't much longer before they had bundled him up and Apparated back to London.
It was the next morning that, while sitting at the foot of his bed as he fought a vicious hangover, Hermione had relayed to Harry that Dean and Ginny were little more than friends. Apparently, during their time spent at Shell Cottage during the war, Dean and Luna Lovegood had grown rather close, and Ginny had been assisting Dean in wooing the rather aloof Luna, explaining their closeness at Seamus' party. Which, Hermione had remarked, she would've told him had he not run from the room in a fit of angst.
Though Harry found this explanation annoyingly simple, Hermione had also pointed out that Harry had neglected to tell Ginny he would be attending Seamus' bash, and, given his absence from Christmas at the Burrow the week prior, it was a bit foolish of him to expect her to be anticipating his arrival. Also, Hermione noted, he probably should've looked outside when he first arrived.
But then, as Harry squinted to see her in the oppressive light, Hermione had asked him the question he was certain now he didn't want to hear.
"What are you going to do about it?" she'd wondered.
Harry didn't know. He knew he didn't want to be with anyone who wasn't Ginny. He had headed to Seamus' house intent upon winning her back that very night. But seeing her, he faltered. It was easy to be with Ginny around the Burrow; it always had been. It took little effort to stomp around the orchard all summer, discussing everything and nothing as the sun lingered high in the sky. But now they had responsibilities; how would Harry feel if he knew their time spent together would cut into her training, or her schoolwork?
And there was the fact that he was still a marked man. He couldn't help but assume that if the Lestranges were to lash out again, it would be at him or someone close to him. He would always be a target for Dark wizards, and he didn't much like the idea of Ginny having any proximity to such dangers, not that he would ever admit that to her.
Hermione looked unconvinced as he relayed these worries to her. Harry had begun to care very little for her opinions, though, as his head pounded and his stomach churned. He was never drinking again, he promised himself.
"I think you're making excuses because you know being with Ginny will never be easy," Hermione had voiced reproachfully, looking down at him with a mixture of disapproval and pity.
"Look, Hermione, she's got all of these things going on for her; she's athletic and intelligent and popular," Harry had reminded Hermione. "She needs to be with someone who has the time to prioritize her. She was right about that when she broke things off with me."
Hermione had rolled her eyes at that. "How many times do I have to tell you that she said those things because her pride was wounded? In exactly the way that you're saying these things because your ego is wounded right now. You're both so ridiculously stubborn, and frankly I think that's the only reason neither of you have attempted to figure this out yet."
"I was going to try at the New Year's party," Harry'd said moodily.
"Well, you didn't try very hard, did you?" Hermione shot back. "Anyways, Ginny doesn't want someone who prioritizes her, or puts her on a pedestal. That was a huge part of why she and Dean broke up, if you recall."
"She told me when she ended things that she wanted to be prioritized, Hermione!" Harry cried, exasperated. It had been months, he was tired of beating this dead horse. "Why would she say that if she didn't mean it?"
"Because she thought you were going back to school with her to rebuild your lives together!" Hermione said. "And then you decided run off with Ron and become an Auror without asking her how she felt about it!"
"Ron didn't ask you how you felt about it!"
"Because Ron already knew that I thought it was the right choice for him!"
"Well, I thought Ginny would know the same," Harry said.
"She does," Hermione said. "But you and Ginny are different than myself and Ron. Ginny wants to be asked. Ron and I have spent nearly every waking moment of the last seven years together. You and Ginny need to learn how to communicate. Ginny wants to feel like you're a unit, that she has a role in the decisions you make."
"Sure, yeah, which is exactly why she hid from me for the entirety of the party. Not because Dean's gone and given her a role in all the decisions he's making; maybe that's why he's making out that he fancies Luna, so they can plan together… get close again-"
"We've all gotten close again!" Hermione cut across him. "Dean's one of the only ones who really understand how it… what it was like, Harry. Of course he and Ginny stick together…"
"Slick git," Harry said. Hermione rolled her eyes.
"You know, Harry, I don't believe that you really dislike Dean. You were very happy to see Dean, if you recall, a year ago when we were all on the run and thought we were going to die and none of this nonsense mattered. It still doesn't matter. We survived Harry. Won't it have all been for nothing if you and Ginny can't figure this out?"
"I don't want to talk about this anymore, Hermione," Harry said, crossing his arms and staring at the ceiling of his bedroom.
Hermione sighed, but gave a small shrug of defeat and stood. She'd made it almost all the way to his bedroom door before turning, needing, in a typical Hermione fashion, to have the final word.
"You love Ginny," she'd said. "Please don't act like you're doing her any favors by acting like you don't."
"It's not that simple-" Harry had started, but Hermione cut him off again.
"It is, Harry," she'd replied. "I miss Ron everyday, and sometimes I resent him so much for not returning to school with me, but I love him. Don't wait for something terrible to happen before you realize that Ginny is what you want; more than you want to find the Lestranges or save the world or whatever it is that you think you need to do."
Harry closed his eyes, feeling his headache growing stronger by the second.
"Please, Hermione. Can you please just go?"
He didn't reopen his eyes, but heard the door open and then shut again. He had burrowed further under his blankets, hoping to sleep for the majority of the day.
It seemed that he had just drifted off when he was awoken by the sound of raised voices coming from the hall outside of his room. It was already dark in the flat, and Harry had rose from bed, wondering if they had anything he could turn into something resembling dinner. As he had made his way to the door, he caught what Hermione was loudly saying to Ron.
"I don't understand it!" she was saying loudly. "I don't think either of them can give me a reasonable explanation as to why they've ended things."
"You're going to wake him," Ron had said quietly. Harry heard a shuffling of feet and peeked out of the crack of his door.
"They're both acknowledging that they want to be together but can't discuss it with each other for the most pigheaded reasons!" Hermione cried in a heightened whisper, clearly having moved away from his door towards the living room.
"They're stubborn people," Ron replied calmly. "It's easier for Harry to keep her at arm's length than to confront how much he actually needs her, and she's never going to admit that she overreacted about him deciding not to return to school until he discusses it with her first. The only thing they need is time."
Hermione huffed, and then there was silence. Harry retreated back into his bedroom, thinking of something Hermione had once said about him and Ginny many years ago, when he had thought Ron and his sister were avoiding him because they had thought him possessed by Voldemort.
"Maybe you're taking it in turns to look and keep missing each other," she'd told him, nearly laughing. Harry knew now she was quietly mocking the two for not being able to acknowledge their feelings for one another. She had been right about them for so long.
Harry knew Hermione was right now. He did love Ginny. He wanted to be with Ginny. But he couldn't help thinking about all the things that could go wrong again. What if they didn't have time for one another? What if something happened to him? What if something happened to her, because of him? He didn't think he could bear to put it all out there again to have it not work out. He'd gone to bed for the second time that day, attempting to push all thoughts of Ginny Weasley as far from his head as possible.
He'd largely succeeded, in the last few months, from getting too worked up about the events of Seamus' party. Full-time training was rigorous, more so than Hogwarts had ever been, and Harry spent most of his days completely exhausted. They had given the Auror Department a long weekend for the ceremony, but Harry felt that it was completely irrelevant if he had to be up and in dress robes long before noon.
"D'you reckon we should leave now?" Ron said. "I've no idea how busy it will be."
Harry frowned at his reflection for the final time before turning to Ron.
"Let's get this over with," he said.
They'd decided to Floo directly into the Atrium, and Harry stepped forward first into their narrow fireplace. Their flat was old and Muggle; the tiny fireplace hardly had room for a young man to stand upright.
Harry hunched over, picked up some Floo dust and clearly called "Ministry of Magic."
A moment later, coughing up ash and nearly overtaken with nausea, Harry tumbled out into the vast Atrium. He bumped immediately into one of the many Hit Wizards stationed around the fireplaces; the tall man looked him up and down and waved his wand briefly before nodding. Harry didn't take this invitation to step forward, though.
Rather, he glanced immediately to his right, where he knew the memorial would now be in place: the great slab of marble was already encased in a swath of purple velvet at the far end of the hall.
Hundreds of golden chairs had been laid out in the hall, facing towards the monument, in front of which a stage had been erected. Dozens of witches and wizards were already milling about, looking at the tiny placards on each chair that denoted where each person was assigned to sit.
Harry already knew that he and Ron had spaces in the frontmost rows, sitting with the Weasleys amongst most of the Wizengamot and various high-level Ministry officials.
Ron had already commented on the way the war had largely risen his family's place in the Wizarding world. Fred was being bestowed an Order of Merlin, First Class, for his bravery and sacrifice in the battle, and the family was being heavily reported on for their selfless involvement in the fight against Voldemort. Arthur had been reassigned to the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes, and was now heading the Office of the Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee, working with the Muggle Minister in the attempt to sufficiently explain the seemingly inexplicable random acts of murder, terror, and violence that had plagued the Muggle community for over two years.
Before Harry could move out of the hearth, a great force shoved him forwards and he tumbled, only just catching his balance.
"Sorry," Ron huffed, grabbing him quickly by the front of his robes and righting him so he stood upright. "Merlin, there are so many people."
Harry couldn't help but agree. Gesturing to Ron, he began to push his way up the aisle between the rows and rows of chairs, steadfastly ignoring each and every person who attempted to call out to him in thanks, congratulations, or any other foolish comment, the likes of which he'd been besieged for what was nearly a long year.
It was easy enough to find their seats: one blonde flanked by three redheads three rows back from the stage. Harry slid in next to Percy, who greeted him with a wry smile. George sat next to him, with Fleur to his right and Bill beside her.
"Where're Mum and Dad?" Ron asked wearily, sitting next to Harry.
"Your muzzer has taken eel again," Fleur replied, reaching a hand over to clasp Harry's kindly. Bill nodded towards them from beside her, but his smile was more painful than anything.
"Dad'll have her here soon," Percy said reassuringly. "And one of us can always accept if they can't."
He turned and looked expectantly at George, who glared back in response before fixing his gaze on the golden symbols flying across the ceiling of the Atrium. Harry too, turned away from the Weasleys before their squabbling increased, staring across the hall hoping to find a familiar face. It wasn't long before he was rewarded.
"Alright, Neville?" Harry called, gesturing to the blonde wizard a few rows from him.
"Been better," Neville smiled, rolling his eyes.
Harry glanced down at the empty chair bearing a name card reading Hermione Granger, and then back up at Neville.
"Come sit with us, mate," he said, gesturing to the empty chair. Neville hesitated for a moment, before shaking his head and grinning. Seconds later he was sliding into the empty seat on Ron's left.
"Your grandmother coming?" Ron asked casually, leaning back as a sudden crack sounded to their right. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley appeared on the opposite aisle nearest Bill, the former seemingly supporting the latter. Neville watched them curiously for a moment as Mr. Weasley guided Mrs. Weasley into one of the gilded chairs, before looking back to Ron.
"She said she had better ways to spend a Friday morning," he said with a small smile.
"Can't say I disagree with her," Ron said, rubbing his nose. Harry sidled down in his chair, trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible.
` They passed several moments in silence, waiting for the seats to fill up. Harry gazed around curiously at all the witches and wizards, wondering what they could have possibly done to merit being invited to this event. He still struggled with feeling that the vast majority of the Wizarding population had waited out the war in relative safety. The whole world couldn't be divided into the brave and the cowardly, could it?
Finally, finally, the Atrium filled and the chatter quieted. They all sat in silence, unsure of what to expect, when Kingsley emerged from a small anti-chamber to the left of the stage. He took the stage somberly, with little fanfare. He pointed his wand at his throat, murmuring something quietly, before looking out pointedly across the amassed crowd.
"We sit here, nearing the first anniversary of the end of the Second Wizarding War," Kingsley began, his voice magically amplified. "We sit here, unveiling a memorial to those who fell in the fight against Lord Voldemort from his return in June of 1995 to his ultimate demise in May of 1998. Three long years of death and destruction, in which some of the best of our community sacrificed their lives in the fight for what they knew was right; for goodness, for kindness, for love. We stand here today in honour of their sacrifice, and with this memorial, we pledge to never forget, even in our victory, the principles for which they died. Let us always emulate their courage and valor; let us treasure the gift of their sacrifice; and live always with the intention to love fully."
Harry leaned back, smiling in spite of himself. He heard traces of Dumbledore in every word of the short speech, and took a moment to appreciate that likely every member of the Order of the Phoenix had been fighting both for their own purposeful designs but also the large ones of the Machiavellian headmaster.
On the stage, Kingsley turned to watch the great shroud of velvet behind him. The corners began to lift, as if pulled by imaginary birds, and the bottom of the great marble structure became visible. The velvet continued to lift and lift until the entirety of the memorial was exposed; the cloth then vanished as if it had never existed at all, leaving the attendance of witches and wizards facing the imposing monument.
Ron let out a low whistle. "Three years of casualties, I suppose?" he said in a low voice, clearly attempting to sound more relaxed than he actually was.
Harry stared. "I never knew," he said.
The names on the monument had to number in the high hundreds, if not thousands. Harry supposed that the majority of the names had to be Muggles; decent and unsuspecting people who had the misfortune to find themselves easy game to the preying Death Eaters, for whom killing was mere sport. The Wizarding population of Britain alone was not enough to support such a terrifyingly large list of names.
"Goblins, too," Percy said, leaning over to Harry, as though he had read his mind.
The short din that had accompanied the reveal quickly subsided, and Kingsley turned to face the group for the second time, smiling sadly.
"And now, I will summon those accepting the highest Order of our kind, the Order of Merlin, on behalf of their loved ones, to the stage. The family of Abigail Abbott."
Harry saw Hannah Abbott and a man that was presumably her father rise from the opposite corner of the room and make their way to the dais. As Kingsley read the citation on the Order, Harry remembered miserably the day in Herbology that Hannah had been told of her mother's murder. Harry wasn't sure exactly what Mrs. Abbott had done to make herself a target of Voldemort and his cronies; it was hardly a difficult task to accomplish.
Harry found it was much easier to let his mind wander as the citations were read than to actually pay attention to what Kingsley was saying, however disrespectful that may be.
Harry hadn't seen Andromeda arrive, but she was present to accept the golden plaques commemorating her daughter, husband, and son-in-law. She and Harry had had a brief discussion regarding whether she wanted him to accept Lupin's Order on his behalf, but Andromeda had quickly decided it would by far be best for the two Lupins to have their awards collected by the same person. Harry had to admire that her taste for decorum overcame her reservations for her late son-in-law; Harry still suspected that it was largely the existence of Teddy that kept the memory of Remus in Andromeda's good books.
It took the better part of the hour for Kingsley to get through all of the citations, however brief they were. It was nearly a quarter past noon when the family of Fred Weasley was called up onto the stage.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley walked slowly, Mrs. Weasley looking dazed, as though she was unsure of where she was. Mr. Weasley leaned forward to whisper something in her ear, and she nodded softly. They took the stage together, pale-faced and somber, as Kingsley began the citation.
Harry could tell that this one would be longer than the rest. Kingsley spoke personally and passionately of his three years knowing Fred, and though his words did Ron's brother the justice he deserved, Harry couldn't help but feel uncomfortable at the raw emotions they brought up. He knew he was in good company; Percy was picking at a loose piece of wicker on the chair in front of his and Ron swore quietly and began to scuff the soles of his shoes back and forth against the marble floor.
Harry let himself close his eyes for an instant, wondering if he could find anything else to hone in on to avoid thinking about Fred and his final moments; the terrible smile that would haunt Harry's dreams for months, the memory of Ginny's blotchy face as she looked down upon the shell that was once her beloved brother. Harry cracked one eye open.
Kingsley was still reading the dedication on Fred's Order of Merlin. Mrs. Weasley was pale-faced; Harry wasn't sure how much longer she'd be able to remain standing.
"Hurry it up, Kingsley," Harry muttered under his breath, sitting up and looking around.
Harry noticed a sudden movement from the corners of the hall. He turned, his reflexes heightened by the sheer misery of the event. A pit had formed in his stomach, silently telling him that this was not a safe place to be.
It took him a moment to figure out what was going on, but when he did, he realized that the movement he had noticed were the Hit Wizards stationed around the perimeter of the event quietly leaving their posts, disappearing into the lifts surrounding the hall. The pit in Harry's stomach grew larger. Kingsley was still reading the citation to the audience, who largely seemed unaware that their supposed protectors were up and walking away.
Harry was about to nudge Ron, who was still staring quietly at his feet, when a flock of memos flew in overhead, whizzing in and out of the seated crowd before falling into the laps of a select few Ministry employees. Kingsley looked up as one hovered insistently around his ear.
Small purple aeroplanes fell into the laps of both Harry and Ron. Harry, his heart pounding, hastily ripped his open:
From the Desk of Mileva Proudfoot, Head of Department of Magical Law Enforcement
Members of the Auror Office are hereby informed that at approximately noon, this day, Friday, April 23rd, 1999, Roldophus and Rabastan Lestrange Apparated into Hogsmeade Village, uncloaked and unmasked, and entered the Honeydukes Sweet Shop. Using the Killing Curse, they murdered the proprietor of the shop, Ambrosius Flume, in front of no less than 20 witnesses. The Ministry was informed of these events by a Magical Law Enforcement Patrol stationed in the village. All Hit Wizards have been called to the scene. All members of the Auror Office should immediately report to Level Two to await further instruction.
Harry's pounding heart seemed to fail. He turned to Ron, who looked panic-stricken, and then back to Kingsley, who had grabbed the memo and was reading it now, Fred's citation forgotten. Mr. Weasley was reading over his shoulder, his face grave, while Molly was gazing over the crowd, most of whom were starting to realize that something was quite wrong.
Beside Ron, Neville stood up and began the process of extracting himself from the row of seats, not bothering to apologize to those he trod on as he made his way towards the lifts. Harry wondered why he didn't feel spurned into similar action; he knew he too was supposed to make for Level Two, likely to await instructions from Robards before Apparating to Hogsmeade with his team. And yet, something about the memo didn't seem right.
Harry glanced up again at Kingsley, whose brow was set and whose lips were thin. Harry saw the Minister's right hand dive into the pocket of his robes, and Harry felt himself do the same, fingering with the end of his wand.
It made no sense for the Lestranges, after nearly a year in hiding, to walk openly into a village and kill the owner of a candy shop. It was an effective terror tactic, Harry supposed, to show that they weren't just targeting specific members of the new Ministry or the Order of the Phoenix, but why break their cover for such a small-scale attack?
He checked his watch. It was nearly half-past-twelve now; there was no way a team of Hit Wizards would be able to apprehend the Lestranges with such an amount of time already lapsed. He made to stand, when from behind him he heard a great whooshing sound; he turned in time to see a great blonde figure emerge from one of the fireplaces lining the hall, wand pointing upwards.
Harry's hand drew his own wand from his robes but he wasn't fast enough, for Thorfinn Rowle had already sent a massive fire-like streak from his wand towards the Atrium's bright blue ceiling. There was a terrible silence, and Harry closed his eyes.
The explosion shook the entire room; screams rent the air as the ceiling made a great creaking noise. Harry opened his eyes and looked up; a hole had been blasted in the center of the vaulting; and now bits of ceramic were falling onto the crowd below.
"GET DOWN!" Bill shouted viciously, yanking Fleur to the ground alongside him as he ducked for cover. Harry heard Ron grunt beside him and turned; his friend had been brought down by a hunk of tile. Harry levitated the stone off of Ron and made to bend down, but Ron shook his head.
"I'm fine," he mumbled, spitting blood out of his mouth. "Go!"
Rowle had already began his signature assault: shooting off Killing Curses in every direction imaginable. It had been mere seconds since he'd entered the room; Harry saw a body crumple before there was time to react. Streaks of red light shot towards the Death Eater but he deflected them all easily from his position in the corner of the fireplace; Harry knew they had to get closer. A jet of green light whizzed overhead towards the daze.
It was utter pandemonium: witches and wizards were attempting to Disapparate from the room but were unable. Harry saw several Ministry officials pointing their wands at the deformed ceiling; attempting to undo whatever Anti-Disapparition Jinx had been level across the room, but clearly to no avail; Harry heard no tell-tale cracks of a fleeing crowd.
Even in his panic Harry felt his Auror reflexes kicking in; 'Rowle couldn't have acted alone, or just with the Lestranges,' he thought quickly. There was no way that Rowle was a gifted enough wizard to cast an Anti-Disapparition Jinx that was strong enough to prevent several witches and wizards from undermining its power. Would the Lestranges have been able to infiltrate the Ministry with their companion.
He didn't have time to think any further; a second beam flew towards George, who was on his feet by now, missing him by an inch. Harry yanked the twin down, behind one of the chairs with him, gazing hurriedly forward in an attempt to see whom of those he trusted, be they Aurors, Order, or D.A., was closest to the fireplace.
Bill and Fleur were still on the ground beside them. Bill quickly sent a neat curse soaring towards the back of the hall, but to no avail; there was too much space and too many people separating Harry and the Weasleys from Rowle; any true defensives hexes or jinxes were too likely to hit an innocent; whereas Rowle was blasting each and every wizard nearest to him out of the way. The fireplaces, the Atrium's only exits at this point, were unapproachable.
Finally, Harry caught sight of a flash of blonde, inching its way closer and closer to the wall of grates, and with a shock of relief he recognized Neville, wand drawn, pushing against the storm of witches and wizards attempting to get closer to the memorial, instead moving towards the source of danger, a look of determination on his sweaty face.
"Neville," Harry shouted ahead. "You're covered!"
Neville turned minutely, enough to nod in Harry's direction. Ron had righted himself by this point, and together he and Harry crawled into the aisle, wands pointing towards the massive hearths. They both sent Stunning spells soaring towards Rowle, forcing him back behind the wall of the fireplace successively enough that it allowed Neville some time to move forward another few feet. Harry and Ron took advantage of their friends assault to gain similar ground; a witch in high heels running for cover knocked Harry in the nose with her handbag, causing his eyes to water. He forced himself to stare through the stinging.
They were close enough now that Neville had a clear shot, and Harry could see Rowle's twisted expression as he gleefully shot off Killing Curse after Killing Curse. Harry, motivated more by rage than strategy, raised his own wand higher, convinced that he could end this all now, bring a true finality to this terrible war.
But then Rowle turned, and looked Harry straight in the eye. His sneer grew, and Harry was sure he was seconds from the need to dodge or deflect a curse meant for him, but curiously, Rowle pointed his wand to a point just behind Harry. Another serpent of fire erupted from his wand, shooting over Harry's head and colliding with something behind them all. There was no silence this time: another wave of shrieks filled the air and Harry suddenly felt a clip to his chin at the same time a whooshing sound engulfed the room and green flames danced in front of his eyes. A flash of darkness enveloped his senses, but they recovered near instantly and Harry found himself lying on the floor, staring up at Ron.
The source of his knockout, was immediately apparent; Rowle's final curse had clearly made contact with the memorial, sending hunks of marble flying in all directions. As Harry lifted himself up and looked around he saw the audience of the ceremony helping one another up, waving wands over the wounds of their friends, and, in one or two cases, clinging to the bodies of those who were beyond help. Harry nearly closed his eyes again.
"Neville got there in time, right?" he asked Ron desperately. "Neville got to the fireplace in time, we can track them-"
"Mate..." Ron began slowly, before turning behind him. Harry saw Neville, wand still in hand, slumped against the wall of the Atrium.
"He could be anywhere," Harry said, the full realization crashing over him. They hadn't been ready. Rowle, the Lestranges, whatever other accomplices they had acquired in the last year… they could be anywhere.
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