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Peace Always Has A Price



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Old October 31st, 2009, 11:58 pm
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Peace Always Has A Price

This story explores the sentiment expressed by Frodo at the end of "Return of the King": "I tried to save the Shire, and it has been saved, but not for me."

Time period: Epilogue + approximately 10 years

With very few exceptions, the characters are not mine. I am "borrowing" JK Rowling's characters, plus a few from the "pseudo-canon" of USNAGator91. While I also incorporate some ideas from his pseudo-canon, there are some items I have also chosen to ignore.

Chapter 1 - If A Tree Falls In The Forest...

It was a late Friday evening near Christmas in the Potter home. Harry and Ginny were relaxing in their sitting room, together on the couch, just enjoying each other's presence. They had just returned home from a quiet dinner in muggle London and would soon head up to bed.

Harry briefly considered his life at that moment. He was married to (still) the most beautiful woman in the world. She was a multi-award winning journalist with the Daily Prophet and a wonderful mother. He had the job of his dreams as the Head of the Auror Office, ably assisted by his best friend and several veteran Aurors whom he had trained himself or fought beside on numerous occasions.

Their children were now beginning their own lives after having been nurtured and guided by their loving parents. James was a fully-trained Auror in his own right, with the same personality his father had brought to the job. Married and with a young child of his own, he had accepted a position with the Foreign Ministry as an Auror in their Diplomatic Protection Group, and was stationed with the Embassy in Washington, DC. His family loved the change of scenery, and took every opportunity to travel about the United States.

Albus followed his brother into the Auror Academy, but did not have James' panache or wanderlust. Instead, he chose to remain in London, and had himself recently graduated to being a full-fledged Auror. His training had been slightly unorthodox, having apprenticed under both Mortimer Gafney and Silas Hornsby. Silas had marveled at how much like Mortimer Albus was in the methodical and analytical way he went about his business, so he teamed up with Mortimer in order that those abilities could better honed. Meanwhile, he had shown Albus the "muscle" end of the business. Together, they made Albus a much more complete Auror than either of them ever dreamed of being. Albus decided to branch out in another direction than James; rather than finding a girl immediately and starting a family, he spent his free time alone in his muggle apartment near the Leaky Cauldron, reading as many subjects as he could lay his hands on.

Lily had been even more introspective and studious at Hogwarts. Her favorite subject had been History of Magic, and her perfect NEWT score in the subject resulted in her appointment as an Assistant Archivist with the Department of Mysteries. She was currently apprenticing in the Antiquities Office, often filling the quiet overnight shift researching, cataloguing, and studying the numerous artifacts stored there. Like Albus, she currently led a quiet, solitary life, spending much of her free time at an apartment near Albus.

The three children, assisted by Ron and Hermione, had chipped in to surprise their parents with a Mediterranean cruise for their recent 25th wedding anniversary. Now, Harry idly paged through the scrapbook holding the magical pictures that recorded that trip.

The only reminder he had of the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead was the face he saw in the mirror every morning. It had been 29 years since it had last pained him. All was well.

************************************************** ******************

He had no name that anyone would use, only a number. He had been a prisoner at Azkaban for so long he had lost track of the time. However, he never lost track of the hatred he held for the person who had sent him here: Harry Potter.

He was performing his semi-weekly stint of manual labor in the small out-building near the fortress prison. It was physically demanding, but mind-numbing work. Basically, his job was to move large rocks from a pile at one end of the building to the other end, where other prisoners would break them into boulders using sledgehammers and their own muscles. The muggles called the activity "making big rocks into little ones".

Near the door stood three members of the Ministry Hit Squad, who made up most of the guard force at Azkaban. Though isolated, it was a fairly easy posting, as the prisoners had no recourse to magic. Plus, the prisoners schedules were purposely kept random, which resulted in more docile behavior. Finally, the tours were kept short, with each Hit Squad member being assigned for no more than 6 months every 3-5 years, and "isolated duty" pay being added to their normal salary during that assignment.

The prisoner walked with his rock-cart as slowly as he could get away with, back towards the never-ending pile of large rocks. His hatred of his ultimate captor kept him focused, working out plans and contingencies for escape, if the moment suddenly presented itself.

************************************************** ******************

Royal Air Force Flt. Lt. Walter Higgins leaned back and relaxed in his swivel chair. He marveled at his luck in landing such a quiet assignment. A junior watch commander at the Advanced Space Early Warning Site (ASEWS) at RAF Fylingdales, his job was to supervise the crew of enlisted radar surveillance operators during his evening watch period. With the reduction over the years of the danger of large-scale ballistic missile attack, the mission of the base had expanded somewhat into tracking Earth-orbit satellites, assisting the US Air Force and their North American Air Defense network of radars. It was not a particularly demanding assignment, but it still held the coveted title of "commander". Not many junior officers were blessed with the opportunity, and the fact that he had made Flt. Lt. Higgins grateful on a daily basis.

"Sir, I have something new here", Sgt. Rhonda Willby called out. "Unexpected target, coming in very fast. Computer is having trouble with trajectory right now, there's almost no cross-range motion."

"Do we have anything at all on the target,", Flt. Lt. Higgins responded, jumping out of his comfortable chair and bringing up the relevant information on his own computer screen.

"No, sir!" said Sgt. Willby. "No alert traffic, no launch profile, no satellite problems I'm aware of, entry direction is all wrong for a warhead...sir, I think it's a rock. A big one."

"Any trajectory yet? Projected impact point? Hell, even a time-to-impact?"

"Trajectory firming up a bit, sir, just a few seconds longer. Getting some cross-range now...yes, it looks like it will miss us here, but it will still be closer than I'd like. Impact should be in about 30 seconds."

Higgins didn't respond to this; he knew the Sergeant knew her job better than he did and didn't need him trying to "drive from the back seat", as the USAF liaison officer often chided others about.

After a few seconds, she piped back up. "Sir, projected impact is five-zero nautical miles north-north-east this site. North Sea impact, sir. Nothing out there but some fish."

"Any shipping traffic out there?"

"At this time of year, sir? Not bloody likely. Weather is usually right nasty around now. Ought to make a bonny splash, though."

Higgins let out a breath. Disaster averted, he thought to himself. Now he understood the often-quoted phrase about air combat: "hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of sheer terror". He sat back down and started a call to his NORAD counterpart to make sure everyone was aware of the situation.

************************************************** ******************

The meteor was small by most standards, but large in comparison with what usually entered the atmosphere. Oblong, roughly 2 meters long and 1 meter wide, it hit the first wisps of atmosphere and immediately began burning. Its high speed meant it didn't have long to wait before it hit something, but there was still enough time for the heat to burn its way through a weak point about midway along the rocky body. The rock split into two rougly equal halves, and to all outside observers, made a "bonny splash" in an isolated portion of the North Sea.


To inside observers, the splash was not so pretty. The two meter-sized rocks crashed into Azkaban Island like overgrown cannonballs. One hit the top of the fortress and destroyed most of the top three levels, either directly or by incinerating what was inside. The second hit the side of a smaller building just outside the fortress.

************************************************** ******************

As the prisoner was preparing to work the large rock onto his cart, a deafening explosion happened on the other side of the pile from him. The blast came over the top of the rock pile and shoved him straight down into the ground. He later realized this saved his life. After the few seconds of hell had ended, he slowly got up from the ground and saw nothing but devestation around him. The entire wall had been blasted inward...a wall that was normally 3 feet of very solid stone. He could see no one that had been in the room with him.

Suddenly he heard the Caterwaul Charms going off. Spurred to action by the noise, he climbed out towards the erstwhile front wall. Just before clearing the building, he made a gruesome discovery. A hand protruded from underneath a large section of rock. It was obviously the hand of one of his guards...as the hand still clenched the wizard's wand. Not believing his fortune, but made ready by his constant planning, he snatched up the wand and placed a Dissolutionment Charm on himself. He waved his arms in front of his face...a little wavering, but enough to keep him hidden if he was careful not to rush around while others might be watching.

Slowly now, he crept out of the ruins. Keeping as many rocks between himself and Hit Squad members now rushing about the island, he gradually made his way to the water's edge. Washed up on the beach was a moderately-large piece of driftwood. The prisoner carefully moved the wood into the water and held on while producing a small Repulsion Charm against the water to move away from the island. Keeping his speed low so as not to attract attention, he floated out into the open North Sea for an hour or so, keeping himself as warm as possible, though with varying degrees of success, being rather out of practice using magic. Finally, judging he was far enough away from land that he would not be heard, he closed his eyes, concentrated very hard on his destination, and with a faint pop, Disapparated.

************************************************** ******************

Author's note: While I was once an Air Force officer, I was never involved in missile defense, space tracking, or other related fields. RAF Fylingdales is a real early-warning site (you can find it on the internet), but there is no such thing as "ASEWS". Remember, this is the future, so I did a little extrapolation based on what current early-warning sites do plus what might be "fun" for radars to do in 20 years or so.

So...who is the mystery prisoner? Where did he go? What is he planning? Tune in soon for the next episode...same bat-time, same bat-channel.

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Last edited by texan_muggle; January 16th, 2010 at 7:10 pm.
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  #2  
Old November 3rd, 2009, 12:58 am
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 2 - Hiding In Plain Sight

Harry stood at the door to Dennis Creevey's office in the Hit Squad area. "So what happened up there, Dennis?" he asked.

"I don't know yet, Harry'" said Dennis. " The reports I've gotten are really sketchy. Something fell out of the sky and tore the place up. I have 5 guards dead or unaccounted for, and they're still checking on prisoners. I'd like to take 4 or 5 members with me and get a look for myself. It'll only be a few days, for me anyway; then I can give you a better answer."

"Approved. Who'll be minding the store while you're gone?"

"Josh Duncan. He's going through Auror Upgrade training right now, but as I said, it'll only be a few days. Sarah can have him back when I finish up there," said Dennis. A few years before, Harry had suggested to Dennis that he become Auror-qualified, on the theory that it would better equip him to lead his team while integrated with other full-time Aurors. Dennis took to the idea immediately and was able to become fully-qualified in just over a year. Now, Dennis was having his exec and platoon leaders undergo the same training. While this had originally raised some objections at higher levels in the Ministry, it was argued that they would not be operating as full-time Aurors, and thus shouldn't count against the limit imposed by the Wizengamot. While there were still some reservations, the Wizengamot had given approval.

"That's fine," Harry said. "I'd imagine Josh needs a little time to let the bruises heal, anyway." Both men laughed at that. "All right, I'll get out of your way. Just get back to me as soon as you can." Harry left the office and walked over to report to Hermione.

Hermione Weasley was still Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. When she accepted the position from John Dawlish, she never imagined she'd be still be here nearly 20 years later. In fact, she had discussed retiring from the position more than once; however, the competence and honesty with which she ran the department came back to haunt her. The Wizengamot simply refused to let her go.

Harry smiled at the secretary on his way in, received a nod and a quick head-shake towards the open door, and knocked on the door-frame. "Got a minute?" he asked.

"Hi, Harry, come in," Hermione said. "What did Dennis say?"

"Not much more than we already know, really. Some sort of impact from the air, lots of damage, some guards killed. He and a few Squad members are on their way out there now to take a look and supplement the current force. Dennis will report back in a few days; you'll hear from me as soon as I know anything."

"OK, Harry, I guess I can't force people to tell me things they don't know," said Hermione. "I just don't like the idea of Azkaban being in turmoil like that. It's just asking for trouble from the prisoners."

"I hear you, Hermione," said Harry. "I'm sure Dennis will get everything under control. Are you and Ron still coming over tomorrow night?"

"Oh, absolutely! It's going to be chaos with all the families coming in around Christmas. This will be our last chance for a nice quiet dinner for a while."

Harry chuckled. "I know what you mean. OK, see you tomorrow night, then." Harry left to go back to his office.

************************************************** *********************

He Apparated in a small, heavily wooded area. He knew the area well; it had belonged to his family for generations. No one bothered to come out here anymore, so he wasn't worried about being observed.

A plan was beginning to form in his mind. But to bring it about, he knew he'd have to get a few things done first. On the top of that list was getting some money. His holdings at Gringott's were long since confiscated or tranferred to his family...family he knew would not be pleased to know he was out and about. But even when he'd been a servant of the Dark Lord, he'd first been a servant to himself. Long ago, as a never-to-be-used contingency, he'd buried a stash of Galleons deep in the woods of his estate. Now that stash was going to come in quite handy.

After a few minutes of looking, he found the gnarled, old oak he'd buried his emergency money under. A quick wave of his new wand, and a mound of dirt lifted from just in front of the tree. There in the hole was a fairly large box. He opened the lid, and sighed with relief. The thousand Galleons he had hidden away hadn't been disturbed.

It was too much for him to carry all at once. So, he grabbed a hundred or so of the bright gold coins, replaced the lid and the dirt, and DIsapparated once more.

************************************************** *********************

"I saw Hermione at the office today," Harry said to Ginny as they relaxed in their sitting room. Ginny was looking over some notes for a new story, while Harry was thumbing through some of the vacation pictures that hadn't yet made it into a scrapbook.

"Are they still coming tomorrow night?" asked Ginny.

"Umm-hmmm," said Harry, a grin forming on his face as he stopped flipping photos and stared at one in particular. "She's looking forward to it. Says it'll be the last bit of peace and quiet for a while." A low chuckle escaped from his lips.

"What's so funny?" asked Ginny.

"I just need to find a good place for this picture," said Harry with a big grin on his face. "Are we out of scrapbooks?"

Ginny looked over at Harry. "Why? What do you have over there?"

Harry flipped the photo around, but kept it strategically out of Ginny's reach. "Don't you think this shows your best side, sweetheart?"

Ginny's eyes widened in horror. The picture showed her lounging in a deck chair wearing Harry's favorite bright green bikini, her left hand extended to try and block her face from the camera, while her right hand groped frantically for a towel with which to cover herself.

"WHAT? No, Harry, that picture is not going in any scrapbook!" Ginny tried to grab the picture from Harry, but he was ready for her and quickly put the photo in an inside pocket of his robes. "Unh-unh, no touching," said Harry. "This is my picture."

"Harry, I don't want that picture in any scrapbook!"

Ginny didn't think it was possible for Harry to have a wider grin than he'd had before. She was wrong.

"Fine," said Harry. "Maybe I'll buy a nice frame and put it on my desk at work."

Ginny gave him a look that would have curdled milk, and then froze the curds. "Do you want to stay married, Harry? If you do, that picture had better not go anywhere near your office, framed or not."

Harry looked down at the stack of photos still in his hand. Once again, he set a personal record for size-of-grin. "You're right, honey. This one is much better for my desk." He showed her the next photo in the sequence, which was taken as Ginny had tried to escape her camera-mad husband. She hadn't quite succeeded; the picture showed her bent over trying to escape, with her upper half out of the frame. Which left her lower half in rather prominent position in the photo, including that bright green bikini bottom. What there was of it, anyway.

Recognizing his life was in danger, Harry quickly shoved the second photo into his robes, dropped the rest, and sprinted for the stairs, Ginny close on his heels.

************************************************** *********************

Author's note: OK, so I thought we needed some humor. Married guys, you know exactly where I'm coming from, right?

I made a miscalculation in starting this story now. I have the major storyline pretty well planned out. However, I realized (too late) that I was going to need to come up with some secondary stuff. Sooooo...I'm coming up with that stuff sort of on-the-fly. If any weirdness occurs later on, that's why. It has nothing to do with the author's state of mind. Really. Besides, Gator does it too.

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Last edited by texan_muggle; November 3rd, 2009 at 1:10 am.
  #3  
Old November 10th, 2009, 12:22 am
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 3 - Wolf In The Fold

He Apparated in a small alley near Parliament Street. He needed to buy some clothes and a satchel, and then he needed to find a place to stay. Clothes first, he decided. Looking into the darkened window of an abandoned warehouse, he quickly changed his hair color to a dark brown, shortened it, rounded his cheeks slightly, and gave himself a dark Garibaldi beard. He would have preferred to change his eye color as well, but the reflection wasn't very good and so he decided not to risk ending up with purple eyes. He then quickly cleaned his robes and changed their color to a soft brown.

Satisfied he would pass all but the most determined inspection, he emerged from the alley and entered Parliament Street. As no one was around at that time, he immediately headed for the grating that served as the entrance to Vendira Avenue. Once inside the magical flea market, he quickly found several stands selling discarded robes at reasonable prices. He chose three robes of neutral quality; he didn't wish to look destitute, but advertising obvious wealth would draw attention. Therefore he decided to assume a solidly middle-class persona: not well-off but with sufficient means for small luxuries, and utterly invisible.

A small leather satchel with a shoulder strap, large enough to hold his new purchases, completed his attire. After a short trip to a public restroom where he changed into a pair of newly-purchased robes and checked his appearance in a decent mirror, he Disapparated once again.

************************************************** **********

"Are you taking any time off next week for Christmas?", Harry asked Hermione at dinner that night. Hermione and Ron were visiting the Potter home, which was only a short walk from their own, for a quiet dinner. As much as they saw one another at the Ministry, they were often too tired at the end of the day to think of getting together such as they were that evening.

"Take time off? Harry, you do remember my wife, don't you?" Ron said with a chuckle.

Hermione gave Ron a look that promised she would remember that little tease. "As a matter of fact," she said, "I am planning to take the entire week off. My deputy is not married and has no immediate plans for the holidays, so he volunteered to stand in for me. So I plan to get in a little reading and a lot of Christmas shopping."

"In that case I'm glad we each draw a salary," Ron shot back. Everyone laughed at that.

"I'm taking some time for myself as well," said Ginny. "I'm just starting a new assignment, but I won't be able to do any interviews until after the holidays anyway. How about you and I spend some of our hard-working husbands' money together? Maybe we can discuss it over lunch tomorrow?"

Harry said, "Wait a minute! What about your salary?"

Ginny batted her eyes at her husband and said, "Honey, those are discretionary funds. These purchases are necessary."

Harry said "Well then, I know what you can get me for Christmas...my own Zoom-Gotcha Instamatic. You know...for our next vacation." He then gave his wife a huge grin.

Ginny narrowed her eyes, but before she could retort, Hermione said "Oh, that's right! How was your cruise? Do you have any good pictures?"

Ginny yelled "NO!", while Harry simultaneously said "Oh, absolutely!" When Hermione and Ron began laughing at their reactions, Ginny blushed and said, in an exasperated tone, "My dear husband decided he liked photography after all, as long as I was in the picture." She looked at him once again with narrowed eyes.

Hermione fought back a giggle, while Ron said "Oh, now I have to see these pictures!"

Ginny turned to Ron and said "Picture yourself with bats coming out of your nose." Once again, the room filled with laughter.

************************************************** **********

He walked into the Leaky Cauldron and saw the attractive young lady behind the bar. He pasted a relaxed smile on his face, walked up and, remembering at the last moment to disguise his voice, asked "Do you have any rooms available for an extended period? Let's say...oh, a month?"

Hannah Longbottom smiled and reached under the counter for her reservation book. "Let me see...yes, I can give you a single room for a month. Normally the cost is 75 Galleons for 30 days, but if you pay in advance I can knock that down to 65 Galleons."

"I like that. Yes, please put me down for a month of rent. I'll pay now."

Hannah found a quill and said "Excellent, sir. May I have your name?"

He hesitated for a second. He had forgotten that small detail. However, his reason for being there reasserted itself, and with a sly grin he said, "Reaper. Graham Reaper."

************************************************** **********

Author's note: I know it's a little slow right now. Don't worry. When the crisis hits, you'll be complaining that it's going too quickly. (Well, if I can't please everyone, why not try pleasing no one? )

Thanks to Gator and especially JJFinch for providing feedback!

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Last edited by texan_muggle; November 10th, 2009 at 12:35 am.
  #4  
Old November 17th, 2009, 11:43 pm
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 4 - A Plan Comes Together

Once established in his rented room, "Graham Reaper" required only two quick Apparations to his hidden cache of gold to retrieve the entire holdings. He then began his initial preparations for bringing down the illustrious Mr. Potter. He had the beginnings of a plan forming in his head, a general idea of what he wanted to do and to whom. What he didn't have yet was sufficient infomation to build a timeline, or specific actions to be taken against particular individuals. However, he was not particularly concerned; one thing all those years in Azkaban had taught him was patience.

He knew he would need some potions to execute even the outline of his plan. He did not want to risk actually brewing the potions in his room; further, he did not want to concede the amount of time it would take to prepare them. He knew the Apothecary in Diagon Alley would serve for some of his needs, but others would be harder to fill there without drawing attention. He remembered a potions shop in Knockturn Alley from his days as a Death Eater; if it were still in business, he was reasonably sure he could purchase his harder-to-find items without raising suspicion. Tucking away a couple hundred Galleons into his satchel, he made his way out for a short shopping trip.

************************************************** ********

Harry was having the time of his life. Believing that Ron had eaten a bit too much at their dinner the previous night, he sprung an impromptu training session on him and his team. Now Harry, Ron, and the six other members of Ron's team were in the training room engaging in a bout of what Harry called "all in". It was a cut-throat, all-against-all free-for-all decided by a single criterion - last one standing. Even as the years continued to accumulate, it was a rare occurrence that Harry didn't succeed in being that last one.

As he had expected, Ron was still feeling the effects of the large meal; he had been downed fairly early in the firefight. Now only Harry, Albus, and Silas were left, firing from behind piles of debris, Apparating from one end of the room to the other, and attempting to stay "alive". Peeking from behind the church building he was hiding behind, he saw Albus Apparate directly behind Silas and, before Silas could react, Stun him. "The boy is good", thought Harry, as he ducked back behind the building, his senses at full alert. Suddenly, with no warning, he felt himself go completely rigid. His body toppled backwards to the ground, giving him a perfect view of Albus standing on the church roof aiming his wand at him.

With a joyful whoop, Albus Apparated off the roof and appeared next to Harry. "Finite", he said, and Harry regained his ability to move. Shaking his head, Harry said, ruefully, "Nice move, but how did you get the jump on me?"

Albus said "I saw you duck back after I Stunned Silas, so I popped up onto the roof and tried to hit you non-verbally. It worked." Albus had a big grin on his face; while he had won these competitions before, he had never won against his father.

"Yes, it did, and the non-verbal was a nice touch. Keep practicing with that," Harry said, and clapped Albus on the back. As Ron and the rest of him walked up to offer congratulations, Harry asked Ron, "What does the winner get when your team trains?"

"The rest of the day off," Ron said, smiling. "Celebration is good, but I don't like it to go to their heads." Harry laughed and said, "OK, son, enjoy the rest of your day."

Harry walked back to his office to find Dennis Creevey waiting at the door. "Dennis! Back so soon?"

"They don't need me hovering over them," Dennis said. "My men had it under control quickly, and the additions will just keep things smooth". He followed Harry into the office and, after a gesture from Harry, took a seat.

"So what can you tell me?" asked Harry.

"Well, there's good news and bad news," said Dennis. "Five of my men are dead, all accounted for. That wasn't pretty," he said with a grimace. "One of my men was interested in Astronomy in school; he said it was almost certainly a meteor strike. Rather, two strikes: one hit the top of the fortress itself and one hit the rock house. Three of them were in the rock house; they were crushed by the walls caving in from the impact. The other two were making rounds in the top of the tower, and...well, there wasn't much left of them."

"How are their families? Do you need me to make any visits?" Harry felt he should visit the families of the dead as a matter of course, but as they were under Dennis' command, he deferred to his judgement.

"No, I will do it. Thanks, Harry, I do appreciate it, but these are my men...my families. It's my job."

"All right, Dennis. Just let me know if you need anything," said Harry.

"I've set up a fund at Gringott's for the families. Maybe you could spread the word around?"

"That I can do," said Harry. "All right, what about prisoners?"

"Ten confirmed dead, three unaccounted for and presumed dead. Two of the unaccounted were in the cells the meteor came through. Those cells aren't there anymore. The third was in the rock house. He could have been close to the impact point itself; we'll probably never know."

"I assume the names will be in your report?" asked Harry.

"Of course."

************************************************** ********

It had been a fruitful trip for him. The Apothecary had some Befuddlement Draught in stock, as well as a few innocuous ingredients he required. The potions shop in Knockturn Alley was still in business as well, and had sold him a bottle of Veritaserum and some hemlock extract with no questions asked. His only complaint was that prices had increased dramatically since he had been sent to Azkaban.

He was sitting at a small table in the Leaky Cauldron, finishing a lunch of turkey sandwich and butterbeer while reading the Daily Prophet. Or, at least pretending to read it. Sitting a couple of tables from him were the Mudblood freak and the blood traitor brat...no, for now he musn't think of them that way. Mrs. Weasley and Mrs. Potter...yes, that's who they were. They were sitting close enough to him that he could hear most of their conversation if he concentrated.

************************************************** ********

"So you're really going to take the entire week off?", Ginny asked Hermione with a somewhat-disbelieving smile.

"I know, it's so out of character for me, isn't it?" said Hermione with a chuckle. "But there's really not much for me to do right now, and I need to get the house ready for the kids. And Mallory...it's so hard to think of myself as a grandmother!"

"I know what you mean," said Ginny. "But with James in the States, I don't get to play grandmother much."

"That's the best part, holding Mallory whenever I get the chance. It brings back so many memories of Rose and Hugo."

"How are they doing?" asked Ginny.

"Well, between work and Mallory, Rose is being run ragged. But Brian has been a real help to her. I'm so happy she was able to find someone like that. And Hugo is very busy as well. He works for Bill over at Gringott's as a curse-breaker. He'll be around for a couple of days and then it's back to work for him."

"All right, enough of this or we'll end up crying our afternoons away," chuckled Ginny. "When do you want to get together on Monday?"

"How about 10 o'clock? You can come over to our house and we can leave from there."

"Perfect. That will give me a little time to organize some notes for my holiday replacement and owl them over before we go."

Just then Albus appeared in the floo, dusted himself off and headed for the door. Ginny saw him and called out, "Albus! What are you doing here?"

"Hi, Mom," he said, coming over giving her a quick peck on the cheek. "Hi, Aunt Hermione! I got the rest of the day off, so I'm headed home to relax."

"Off?", asked Ginny. "Nothing's wrong, is there?"

"Wrong? No, no, everything is great! Dad decided to stage a no-warning all-in session with Uncle Ron and the rest of us. He had a bad day." Albus was grinning ear-to-ear.

"All-in session? What's that?" asked Hermione. Meanwhile, Ginny had smile of her own beginning.

"Training," said Albus. "Everybody against everybody. Last one still standing is the winner. Today, Dad decided to play, and he never loses. Well, almost never."

Ginny stood and gave Albus a hug and a kiss. "Congratulations, sweetheart. And now I have something to annoy your father with tonight."

Albus laughed and said "Are you still upset about those pictures, Mom?"

"Me, upset? Of course not," Ginny said, smiling. "I just needed something to get back at him about, that's all."

Albus laughed again and said, "Well, you have some fun with that. I'm going home, bye Aunt Hermione," as he leaned over and gave Hermione a quick kiss and headed towards the door.

"Bye, Albus" said Hermione. "He looks more and more like his father as he gets older, doesn't he?"

No one noticed the bearded man putting his Daily Prophet on the table and slipping out the door behind Albus.

************************************************** ********

As soon as he got outside, he glanced around quickly to make sure no one else was around, then cast a Dissulutionment Charm on himself. Falling in a few steps behind Albus, he tailed him quietly down the short street. Near the end, he saw Albus walk up to a small apartment building and walk in the main door. He smiled to himself, and said quietly, "Tomorrow. Tomorrow it all begins."

************************************************** ********

Author's note: This chapter is probably way too long, but I couldn't stop writing, and I couldn't figure out where to split it. Action is on the way, though.

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Last edited by texan_muggle; November 17th, 2009 at 11:48 pm.
  #5  
Old November 19th, 2009, 12:47 am
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Age: 55
Posts: 56
Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 5 - Climb Mount Niitaka

He was in a very good mood. Yes, it had been sheer luck that Albus Potter had walked through the Leaky Cauldron while he was having his lunch, but he was not so proud as to minimize that. Besides, he thought, what was important was not how you gathered your information, but what use you made of it. And he had already begun making use of what he knew.

Looking at the clock on the bedtable, he noted it was 1:00. The lunch rush would be mostly over; it was a good time to go. He made sure he had his potions and other ingredients in his satchel bag, reapplied the Transfiguration charms to his face, and left the room. He went downstairs, walked through the bar area, and out the front door to the sidewalk. Once outside, and after making sure no one was around to watch, he cast a Dissolutionment Charm on himself and walked to the apartment building he had seen Albus enter the day before. He checked the main door and, finding it unlocked, slipped inside.

He took note of his surroundings in the foyer. A hallway extended on in the direction he came in, leading to apartments on the ground floor. Immediately in front of him was a staircase, leading to more apartments on the first, second, and third floors. To his left was the apartment building landlord's office, the door closed, shades drawn, and a note in the window reading "Back at 1:30". To his right was a large trash can standing slightly away from the corner, with enough room behind it to sit against the wall. Quietly he eased himself into the space, sat down, took a few relaxing breaths, and began his vigil.

************************************************** ********

Harry was reading Dennis' trip report from Azkaban. The damage to the facilities was extensive, but repairable. There were a sufficient number of undamaged cells to house the survivors from the damaged floors, so security would be maintained.

His eyes wandered to the "Missing - Presumed Dead" section of the report. Three names were listed there: Dolohov, Lestrange, Malfoy. Three very nasty prisoners. He felt a lingering disquiet over their "unaccounted" status; however, he told himself there was nothing to worry about. The only traffic to and from the island since the disaster had been the Discooperire taking Dennis and his men out and returning with Dennis. He had no qualms about trusting the security of any ship commanded by Adelina Barretto; no one could have escaped that way. And without wands, what could anyone do but swim? "You're getting paranoid, Harry", he chuckled to himself, tossed the report in his outbox, and packed up to head home.

************************************************** ********

He heard the front door open, and saw his quarry enter. Slowly he stood up from behind the trash can and began quietly following Albus upstairs. When he reached the second floor landing, he saw Albus inserting a key into one of the apartment doors and readied his wand. When the door opened, he quickly whispered "Stupefy!". Albus immediately dropped to the floor, Stunned.

He trotted over to the unconscious form on the floor, whispered "Mobilicorpus", and waved the body into the apartment front room. He then conjured ropes around Albus' body, produced a blindfold and wrapped it around his eyes, and whispered "Silencio" for good measure. No need to take any chances, he told himself. His work securing the body complete, he cast soundproofing charms around the room, and headed into the kitchen.

Once there, he found a small water glass in the cupboard, and poured the entire contents of both the Veritaserum and Befuddlement Draught bottles into it. It was a little-known but very useful fact that Veritaserum and Befuddlement Draught interacted quite badly with the person taking them. As one potion forced the drinker to tell the truth while the other caused confusion, the victim's mind was forced into a vicious spiral that left him unable to distinguish reality from fiction, and made it possible for an outside entity to implant a new personality with new instructions to follow. It was stronger than even an Imperius Curse in that it would even work against someone who was adept at throwing off the curse. Its drawbacks lay in the longer time required to force the victim to do the will of the attacker, as well as the need to isolate the victim and the attacker in order to perpetrate the mental violation.

He walked out into the front room again and poured a generous gulp of the mixture down Albus' throat. Mumbling to himself, "Now let's see what answers you can give me", he pointed his wand and said "Rennervate!"

************************************************** ********

Harry and Ginny were sitting together on the couch, Ginny resting her head on Harry's shoulder, looking at the sunset through the large sitting room window. It was a quiet Friday evening, and they had nothing planned for the weekend except a lot of relaxation time with each other...some of which could actually be relaxing. Harry smiled at the thought while gently stroking Ginny's hair.

"Oh Harry," Ginny said, "I understand my hero may be starting to feel his years?"

"What are you talking about?" asked Harry.

"Well, I heard a rumor that Albus beat you in training yesterday. You know, there are cultures where when a man comes of age, his first task is to strike down his father?" Ginny had an evil grin on her face.

"Oh really?" Harry asked, a mixture of amusement and mock-annoyance in his voice. "Well, I'll have you know that I am very much alive, and I guarantee it will be a long time before he gets the jump on his old dad again."

"Mmm-hmmm", Ginny said, still smiling. "But what about me? Do I have to worry about my husband losing his touch? Should I start looking for a newer model?" She made a move to jump away from him, but Harry grabbed her and pulled her back in to him. Ginny playfully fought his grasp, giggling the entire time.

"You need to worry about keeping up with me, lady." Harry leaned in and passionately kissed Ginny's giggles away. Very soon, Ginny was no longer even pretending to resist.

************************************************** ********

The questioning had been going on for several hours. It was slow work, fighting through a trained Auror's defenses and creating a new personality, but he was making progress. He started in again.

"Now, Albus, you really should tell me where your sister lives. You need to tell me. The more you fight, the more the pain increases. I don't want you to hurt, Albus. You're making it harder on yourself. Just tell me what I need to know."

Albus was stumbling through a field of broken volcanic rock. There was no sunlight or vegetation; the only light was a red tinge cast on the underside of billowing black clouds by what he assumed were volcanoes. The ground shook incessantly, making it hard to keep his footing.

Every so often, the dragon would appear again and blast him with agonizing fire. He had no wand to protect himself, and the dragon fire was blistering his body. His fingers were charred, his robes were in tatters, he felt blood pouring from a cut in his forehead. He frantically looked for someplace to hide, but all he saw were deep crevices in the rock.

Suddenly he saw a form shimmering ahead of him. It appeared to be human, and it seemed to be struggling to take shape. After a minute of so of watching, the form solidified enough that he could see it was, indeed, human. He walked toward it, but stopped in horror when he was a few feet away.

He was looking into his own face. But it wasn't his face...the eyes were glowing a deep red, and the expression on that face was cold, hard, calculating. Before he knew what was happening, the other-Albus opened its mouth and said, "She is in this building, room number 304."

Albus stared at his doppelganger in horror. "What are you doing?", he cried out. "Why are you helping him? We have to fight him!"

"No,", said other-Albus. "He is my master now. I must obey him." And with that, he jumped at Albus, grabbing him by the shoulders and throwing him into one of the nearby crevices.

Albus desperately reached out as he fell, and grabbed hold of a outcrop of rock just below the edge. "Please don't do this!" he cried.

The other-Albus walked to the edge, and with no expression whatsoever on its face, brought his boot down on Albus' hand. Albus lost his grip on the rock, and fell, screaming, into the abyss.

************************************************** ********

"Yes," he said quietly. "Now, for the finishing touches." He bent back over Albus' body and began to whisper quietly.

************************************************** ********

Author's note: For those of you unfamiliar with US military history, "Climb Mount Niitaka" was the code phrase sent to the Japanese fleet telling them to begin the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Finally...some action. The big crisis is looming now!

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Last edited by texan_muggle; November 19th, 2009 at 12:58 am.
  #6  
Old November 20th, 2009, 12:54 am
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Joined: 3330 days
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Posts: 56
Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 6 - Tora, Tora, Tora

Harry stepped quietly into the bedroom. It was Monday, and he was on his way to work. Ginny was still sound asleep, taking advantage of her days off. She and Hermione had planned a shopping trip for later that morning. He leaned over her prone form and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek. "I'm leaving. Have fun today." Ginny stirred, murmurred a sleepy "bye", and went back to sleep. Smiling, Harry walked out of the room, closing the door behind him, and headed for the fireplace.

************************************************** ********

He accompanied Albus out the door of the apartment. After having firmly planting the mission he wanted accomplished in Albus' mind, he had strengthened the compulsion with an Imperius Curse. Now he was setting his weapon loose to wreak havoc.

"Have no fear. You know what you need to do, and you will succeed. And then you will be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams," he told Albus.

"I'm not afraid. I will not fail you," he replied.

"Excellent. Now, go." He watched Albus walked downstairs and through the building foyer. He then headed upstairs, to wait in front of the door to apartment 304. He cast a Dissolutionment Charm on himself, and stood against the wall facing the door. He did not have long to wait. Within minutes he heard footsteps approaching the door from the inside. He readied his wand, and as the door opened, he said firmly...

"AVADA KEDAVRA!"

Lily Potter had no warning. One second she was opening the door to go to work, and the next...she lay dead on the floor, never knowing who her killer was.

He stepped over her body into the apartment and moved it away from the door so he could close it. He calmly walked through the apartment, opening cupboards and drawers, until he found some parchment and a quill. He wrote a brief note on the parchment, then went into the kitchen to gather a small paring knife. He laid the parchment on Lily's chest, and plunged the knife through the parchment into her body. Then, with a smile and a whispered "musn't be late", he took Lily's hand and Disapparated.

************************************************** ********

Albus walked calmly through the Atrium toward the lifts. His face was expressionless, his gait precise, almost mechanical. He acknowledged no one in the lift with him; instead, he stared straight ahead at the door.

Once he reached the second floor, he resumed his walk directly into the Auror offices. He headed straight for his team leader's office, Ron Weasley. Coming to the open door, he saw Ron at his desk, reading a piece of parchment. Ron looked up, and said, "Hi, Al, what's...AL! NO --"

Albus had already raised his wand, and with the same lack of expression he had worn while walking in, yelled "AVADA KEDAVRA!"

************************************************** ********

He Apparated with Lily's body in a small grove across the road from the entrance to the Potter residence. Glancing around to make sure no one was about, he checked to make sure his hood covered his face, then levitated the body and placed it at the head of the sidewalk leading to the front door. Raising his wand, he chanted, "MORSMORDRE!" A green bolt of light burst forth from his wand, climbed into the sky, and exploded into a skull with a snake slithering out of its jaws. With a feral grin, he Disapparated once more.

************************************************** ********

Harry heard Ron yell "AL! NO!", followed immediately by a flash of green that reflected all around the Auror offices, accompanied by the characteristic sound of wind rushing into the area. Without even thinking of his reaction, he jumped from his chair and sprinted from his office towards Ron's voice.

He and Sarah reached Ron's office together. Bursting inside, they saw Ron crumpled in the corner behind his desk, his eyes open in a mask of disbelief. In the other corner, behind a shimmering Shield Charm, stood Albus, his eyes wide and unseeing, his face without color or concern. Before Harry had an opportunity to react to the horror before him, Albus opened his mouth to speak.

"I have a message for you from my master, Harry Potter. You will never again know peace. To the last, I grapple with thee." Then, in a quick motion, he pointed his wand at his own chest and yelled "STUPEFY!"

The charm blasted into Albus' chest from point-blank range, lifting him off his feet and driving him into the wall behind him with murderous force. He slid to the ground, blood smearing down the wall from where the back of his head had smashed into the wall. On his face was the same wide-eyed look of disbelief shown on Ron's face.

************************************************** ********

It was a short distance to the Weasley home. He stood outside the two-story structure, trying to decide where to place his next charm. "I need to do this properly," he thought to himself. He pointed his wand at the house and whispered "Homenum revelio". His wand twitched to the left, and the left hand window on the second floor glowed briefly.

************************************************** ********

Hermione was relaxing in her personal library when she felt something in the room with her, as though a spirit had passed over and through her. She got up from her chair and started for the doorway.

************************************************** ********

"Perfect...she should suffer for a while before the end," he gloated. Then, aiming at a point above the front door, yelled "CONFRINGO!" The outer wall exploded in a flash of brick, wood, and flame. The area to the right of the door on both floors was fully ablaze, with smoke beginning to seep from the windows on the left side. Once again, he raised his wand and chanted "MORSMORDRE!", and another Dark Mark appeared over the previously quiet countryside. Glancing at his handiwork, he once again Disapparated.

************************************************** ********

Hermione had made it halfway to the door when suddenly the entire house shook. A loud explosion assaulted her ears, and she stumbled towards the door. What she didn't have time to see was the bookcase falling from the wall directly towards her. Before she could take another step, the top of the bookcase hit her, driving her into the floor. Without an opportunity to brace herself, her head hit the floor hard, leaving a cut on her forehead and rendering her unconscious. The bookcase landed on her hips, covering the entire lower half of her body. Smoke began to crawl beneath the door to the hallway into the room.

************************************************** ********

He once again Apparated in the small grove across from the Potter residence. Just as he finished, he saw Ginny rush from the front door towards the body of her daughter. She knelt beside her and looked around in a state of horrified confusion. She saw the smoke pouring from the Weasley home, rising into the Dark Mark that floated above it. Her mind was still trying to cope with the sights and sounds when the red bolt hit her, and she dropped to the ground.

************************************************** ********

Harry stumbled forward into the office, his legs giving way. He knelt beside the body of his son, refusing to believe what his eyes were telling him, unable to process what he had just seen. His head swam, his breathing became rapid, as he tried to cope with what had happened.

Suddenly, the Caterwaul Charm began wailing. Sarah jumped up and ran out of the office, while Harry was startled from his reverie. "Get hold of yourself," he growled. "You have a job to do, now get to it!" Presently, Sarah ran back into the office.

"Dark Mark sighted in Godric Hollow. I'm taking the team now!"

"Hang on, I'm right behind you," Harry yelled. His duty as an Auror had kicked in and he was functioning as he would automatically. "MORTIMER!" he yelled.

"Here, Harry," he said, standing right behind him.

"Your team has this investigation. I need information quickly. SEAN!"

"Got it, Harry," Mortimer said, moving into Ron's office.

"Right here, boss," said Sean.

"Your team is now on duty. Take Ron's team to supplement yours." He then ran off to catch up with Sarah's team.

************************************************** ********

Knowing he had no time to waste before someone approached, he Apparated directly to Ginny's side. Reaching down, he took her hand, and seeing a house-elf appear in the doorway, immediately Disapparated.

************************************************** ********

Sarah's team arrived in spear formation, with Harry at the apex. As Ron and Albus had been the objects of the first attack, they decided to Apparate directly to Harry's home. Once Harry had gained his bearings, he looked up to find Kreacher, laying across Lily's...body? His head took another spin, and he lurched towards the pair.

Kreacher was fully prone over Lily, wailing loudly. Harry stumbled up to him and spat out, "What happened?"

"I---I---I am n-not knowing, M-M-Master Harry," Kreacher sobbed. "L-L-Loud n-noises...M-Mistres-s-s G-Ginny outs-s-side...m-m-man in h-hood...m-m-mistress GOOOONE!" And he began wailing again.

Harry looked around in confusion. Yes, this was Lily, lying dead on the ground. That was a Dark Mark above them...and another one? His mind slowly tried to piece things together. Finally he registered the fact that there were indeed two Dark Marks, and one of them was amid a cloud of smoke.

"Hermione!" he cried. "She was at home today!" Once again, his mind went into an instinctive mode. He jumped up, turned to Sarah, and cried "Take charge here. Get what you can from Kreacher. Kreacher!"

Kreacher looked up. "Y-Y-Yes, Master H-Harry?"

"Kreacher, I need you to calm down and cooperate with Auror Jordan. Tell her what happened. Answer all questions she has. I will talk to you later." He got up and made ready to Disapparate.

"Wait, Harry!" Sarah cried. "What are you doing?"

"Sarah, Hermione was supposed to be at home today. I know that house, if she's still in there I can get her out. I need to go now!" And with that, he Disapparated.

He reappeared at the head of the sidewalk leading into the house. The right side of the house was completely on fire, and smoke billowed from the windows on the left side. He pointed his wand and yelled "Homenum revelio!" Instantly, his wand twitched to the left and the left hand window on the second floor glowed. He immediately began to Apparate...

...and landed next to the house. There was still enough structure standing that the Anti-Apparation Charms were holding. Realizing he would have to do this the hard way, he quickly conjured a Bubble-Head Charm over his nose and mouth, and headed for the front door. Yelling "Aguamenti!", he charged into the foyer.

Everything around him was ablaze. The staircase was still standing, but it, too, was on fire. He knew he had no time to put the fire out, and a Shield Charm wasn't going to protect him enough to get him through the fire. Once again, he yelled "Aguamenti!", and using the jet of water to clear a path, rushed through the foyer and up the staircase.

When he reached the landing, the floor lurched, and he stumbled to the side. Looking behind him, he saw the lower half of the staircase had collapsed. There was no longer any way out in that direction. Putting his concern for how to get out aside, he ran for the door to Hermione's library.

He turned the doorknob and opened the door. After moving forward about a foot, the door jammed. Harry squeezed his way between the door and jamb, to find Hermione, unconscious and pinned beneath the bookcase. "Wingardium Leviosa", he yelled, and the bookcase rose from her body. Harry waved it aside quickly and stooped over Hermione's body. Feeling her neck, he was able to find a pulse. He looked around the room while trying to figure a way out of there...when a memory came to him. A memory of shattered glass and cold air and flying.

He pointed his wand at the window and yelled "BOMBARDA!" Instantly the window exploded outward, along with the surrounding wall from floor to ceiling and several feet to either side. Pointing his wand at Hermione, he said "Mobilicorpus!" Her body floated into the air in front of him. Taking her into his arms, he let out a loud yell, and sprinted through the hole he had just made.

About a foot above the ground, there was a *pop*, and the two of them Disapparated.

************************************************** ********

Author's note: More US military history. "Tora Tora Tora" was the code phrase radioed back from the Japanese air commander to the fleet signifying that total surprise had been achieved.

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  #7  
Old November 21st, 2009, 6:55 pm
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 7 - Trying to Make Sense From Chaos

As soon as Harry left Ron's office, Mortimer called the rest of his team over. "All right, you heard Harry, we need to find out just what the hell happened here and we need to find out now. Max, you head over to St. Mungo's and grab a Healer. No, make that two. I want these two examined down to the dirt underneath their fingernails. Rachel, James, go over to Diagon Alley and start asking around if anyone there has seen anyone new or suspicious in the area lately. You might start with the Leaky Cauldron; Hannah has a good eye and a better memory. Anna, Stefan, you two go to Albus' apartment. Leave no stone unturned. I want to know anything and everything there is to know about that place. Move out!"

Five Aurors rushed out of the office, leaving Silas alone with Mortimer. "You have something in mind for me, Mortimer?" he asked.

"Yes. You've always been my sounding board. I need to figure out what kind of person would do something like this."

"It sounds like you need to get into the head of someone you know nothing about," Silas said.

"Exactly," Mortimer answered. "I'm good at deducing things from scant information, but I've never tried deducing someone's motivations without having them here to question."

Silas furrowed his brow and rubbed his chin, thinking. After a few seconds, he said "I think I know someone who might know how to do that." He left the office at a run, returning after only a few seconds. "I gave Harry one of these several years ago. There aren't many wizards who handle this sort of thing." He handed Mortimer a business card.

Mortimer looked at the card and smiled. "Of course. All right, there's your job. Bring her in. We need to talk."

************************************************** ********

Harry, with Hermione in his arms, Apparated into the waiting area at St. Mungo's in a heap, Harry tucking his body around Hermione's so he would absorb the brunt of the impact. He immediately got up and began yelling for a Healer. As Apparating anywhere holding an unconscious body was bound to attract attention, he didn't have to wait long before three Healers rushed up to them with a stretcher. Laying Hermione on the stretcher and lifting the Mobilicorpus charm, Harry watched as she was taken away to a room on the ground floor.

Harry followed at a slower pace, finally stopping in a small waiting area outside a room with a small window in the door. He sat on a nearby bench waiting for one of the Healers to come out of the room. Meanwhile, he tapped his Auror badge and sent messages to Sarah, Mortimer and Sean.

"Hermione alive but hurt. At St. Mungo's"

Presently a Healer came out of the door to Hermione's room. When she saw Harry stand, she immediately walked over to him. "Her injuries are extensive, but straightforward for the most part. We fully expect her to pull through. What can you tell me about her?" She held a clipboard with several pieces of parchment.

"Her name is Hermione Weasley, and she was injured in an explosion and fire at her home," Harry said. "She was underneath a bookcase when I found her and the fire was approaching the room."

"And you are?" asked the Healer.

"Harry James Potter, Head of the Auror Office," replied Harry, briskly.

She made a few notes on her clipboard, then said, "Well, Mr. Potter, that does make some sense of her injuries. Is her family available?"

"Healer..." Harry glanced at her nametag, "...Porter. She has two grown children, both of whom are working and one who also has an infant daughter. I was going to owl them as soon as I knew more about her condition. She has been family to me for nearly forty years. Anything you could tell her children you can tell me." Harry was not rude, but direct nonetheless, giving her a look that said he was in no mood for administrative red tape.

The Healer looked uncomfortable. "Ummm...this is highly irregular, Mr. Potter. What about her husband?"

Harry's look grew darker. "Her husband," he said in a dangerously flat tone, "was killed this morning in an attack probably related to this."

"I see," the Healer said, uncomfortably. "Well...knowing of your reputation, Mr. Potter, I will relax our regulations this one time, but I must insist you have her children confirm that with me once they arrive."

"Fair enough, Healer, you have my word," Harry said, giving her a respectful bow of his head. "What can you tell me about her condition?"

"Well," she said, consulting another piece of parchment lower down in her stack, "she has broken bones in both legs, a fractured pelvis, bruised ribs, and a mild concussion. We are treating her bones at the moment; they should heal with no problems. Her concussion will heal overnight with rest and a potion, but she needs to be conscious before we give her the potion. It is her lungs that concern me."

"Her lungs?" Harry asked, startled. "Why? What's wrong with her lungs?"

"She is suffering from smoke inhalation, Mr. Potter. She breathed the smoke from that fire long enough for it to cause some damage. There is little we can do for that; for the most part, she will have to heal on her own, and she will never heal fully."

Harry was stricken. "What will this do to her?" he asked.

"Assuming there are no complications, she will carry some scar tissue in her lungs for the rest of her life. This should not impair her day-to-day activities, as long as she is not pursuing a heavily active lifestyle. She will suffer shortness of breath more easily and with less exertion, and she will be more prone to respiratory ailments."

Harry closed his eyes, took a deep breath, exhaled slowly. "All right, thank you. When may I see her?"

"She will probably begin to regain consciousness within the hour. I will call you then." With a nod, she turned and went back into the room. Harry sat back down on the bench.

As he did so, Sarah and Mortimer walked up, with two unexpected beings in tow. Holding Sarah's hand was Kreacher, his head bowed down in sorrow. Walking with Mortimer was Dr. Alicia Spinnet, Harry's counselor for many years.

"Alicia! What are you doing here?" he asked as Alicia came forward to give Harry a hug.

"I'm so sorry, Harry." She gave a nod in Mortimer's direction. "Auror Gafney here wanted someone who could look into a killer's mind who wasn't actually there. We've begun piecing together a few things, but I needed some more information, so I came along."

"Good call, Mortimer," he said, nodding towards him. "Thank you, Alicia. Now then...Kreacher." He sat back down on the bench and beckoned the house-elf over.

Kreacher walked over as though it was to his execution. "Master, Kreacher is sorry he could not stop what happened, and if you wish--"

"Kreacher, stop! I can tell just from what I saw that you probably had no chance to do anything, so let's have no talk of punishment or clothes or the like. OK? I just want to know what you saw."

Kreacher looked up at Harry, eyes brimming with tears. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and began. "Mistress Ginny was in the kitchen with her tea when we heard a loud noise outside. Mistress immediately ran to the door, while Kreacher looked out the kitchen window. Kreacher could see the smoke and the...his sign, but Kreacher could not see anything else. Then Kreacher heard Mistress scream, so Kreacher hurried to the door. When Kreacher got to the door, Kreacher saw Mistress lying on the ground with a man in a hood standing over her. Then they both disappeared. When they were gone, Kreacher saw Mistress Lily on the ground with a...with a...with a knife in her chest." At this, Kreacher broke down and began crying softly.

"Knife?" Harry asked sharply. "What knife? Where?"

Sarah spoke up. "Harry, she did have a knife in her chest. We didn't see it until Kreacher moved away from her body. We do know that the knife didn't kill her; she was definitely stabbed after being cursed. The knife appeared to be only a...prop, I guess." Sarah winced at her choice of words. "It seemed to be there in order to fasten this note to her body." She held out a piece of parchment.

Before Harry could see the note, Alicia spoke up. "Let me see that note!", she said, sharply, snatching it from Sarah's hand. She read the note quickly, her eyes scanning back and forth as though she was searching for hidden meaning in the scrawled script. Then, she handed the note back to Sarah, saying, "Sorry about that. I tend to be direct. Harry, this is very bad."

Harry took the note from Sarah and began reading.

Potter -
You will never again know peace. From Hell's heart I stab at thee.


"What the hell..." Harry said. "Albus said something like that before he..." Harry winced, "before he killed himself."

"Yes, Harry, Auror Gafney told me. 'You will never again know peace. To the end I grapple with thee.' Harry, you've never read much Muggle fiction, have you?" Alicia asked.

"No, I haven't read any at all."

"In each case, the tag lines are from a famous passage from a very famous Muggle book. The lines symbolize the obsessive hatred and thirst for revenge held by the person who uttered them. Whoever killed Lily and broke Albus did it out of a very personal hatred towards you, and he wanted you to know about it. The first line, 'You will never again know peace', appears to be his own personal curse towards you."

"Wait a minute, 'broke Albus'? What do you mean by that?"

"The Healers were still completing their examination of the bodies," Alicia said, "but they had already found indications of large doses of Veritaserum and Befuddlement Draught in Albus' body."

Harry looked confused. "Veritaserum and Befuddlement Draught? What does that do?"

"It's not widely known, because the combination isn't used very often," answered Alicia. "But mixing the two together acts very much like an Imperius Curse, except stronger. There's no fighting it once you have it in your system. It's not used because the perpetrator must have his victim locked up for a time in order to bring about the behavior he wants. It can take a couple of days to fully warp the victim enough to carry out whatever he is told. But in that couple of days, the old personality disappears and is replaced by a completely new personality. Muggles have a term for it, maybe you've heard of it."

"What's that?" asked Harry.

"Brainwashing."

Harry's blood ran cold. So that's how his Albus could have been so twisted to the point he could kill his own uncle and team leader. Yes, he'd heard the term, but no one in the Auror office had ever experienced the effects of someone having undergone the procedure. The Imperius Curse was much easier to administer.

"All right, back to the killer," Harry redirected the conversation. "You said this was bad. I know you're not speaking of the obvious, so tell me what you did mean."

"Harry, let me quote the entire passage to you.

To the last, I grapple with thee.
From Hell's heart I stab at thee.
For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee.


This is a person willing to pay any price, including his own life, to gain revenge on you. If this person is holding Ginny..." Alicia closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and said "Harry, you're my friend, and you deserve to know. This is my best professional opinion. This person has nothing to lose. There are no constraints on his behavior. I would be surprised if he expected to live through this. I am very afraid for Ginny."

************************************************** ********

Author's note: I'm sure some readers had already picked up on the references.

The next chapter may not be for a while. I've been procrastinating doing some very important school work, and now I really need to get cracking at it.

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Last edited by texan_muggle; November 21st, 2009 at 6:59 pm.
  #8  
Old November 28th, 2009, 7:22 pm
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 8 - Sharing of Pain

Harry winced in pain on hearing Alicia's words. His mind threatened to fall into the cave once more; only his concern for Hermione, lying in the next room, kept him in the present. For the moment, he told himself, he was going to have to maintain his Auror professionalism. Losing his composure would not bring Ginny back, nor would it help find who perpetrated this madness. There would be time for grief.

He looked over at Alicia and patted her hand. "Thank you. You're right, I did need to hear that. We all need the truth if we are going to figure this mess out." He then looked up at Sarah and Mortimer. "I need to talk to Rose and Hugo, and Arthur and Molly too. I also need to wait for Hermione to wake up so I can talk to her. Then I'll be in. I want anything and everything you have ready when I get there."

Sarah crouched down and looked Harry in the eyes. "Harry, you are not coming in to the office. You have too much involvement in this, not to mention too much to take care of right now."

Harry was firm in his response. "Sarah, I have to know what's going on. I have to be a part of this. How can you expect me to --"

Sarah cut across his words with equal firmness. "Harry, if Lee had been shot down in the street, do you honestly believe you would let me anywhere near the case?" She reached over and took his hand. "Harry, I'm telling you this as your friend. You know I'm right. Please don't make take this over your head. I promise you'll be kept in the loop."

Harry looked at Sarah, his face a mask of confusion and hesitation. Intellectually, he knew he had to remove himself from this investigation. He also knew he had plenty to do to take care of Hermione and to...bury his children. As usual, his heart did not agree with his head. It wanted nothing more than to charge out of St. Mungo's, wand at the ready and living on rage, ready to find who did this and deal with that monster himself, "justice" be damned.

Sarah never took her eyes off of his; she never let go of his hand. She knew what was going through his head because, frankly, it was what would be going through her head if their roles were reversed. She knew what Harry would be doing for her in that position, so she did the same for him.

Finally, Harry closed his eyes and dropped his head in defeat. He nodded weakly and said, "I know you're right. I don't want you to be right, but I know you are." He took a deep breath, gave Sarah's hand a squeeze, and said "All right. I'll stay away, but keep me informed. Take charge of everything for now. I'd keep Sean's team on duty while you and Mortimer keep tracking this down, but you're Acting Head for now. I'll be easy to find...either here or at home."

Sarah leaned over and gave Harry a hug. "Just remember that you need to start healing too, all right? Be sure and take care of yourself while you're taking care of everyone else." Harry nodded and Sarah stood up to leave. "Kreacher," Harry said, "get one of the bedrooms ready. Hermione will be staying with us."

Kreacher bowed, said, "I will see to it now, Master," and immediately Disapparated.

At that moment, Healer Porter came out of Hermione's room and said, "Mr. Potter, Mrs. Weasley is beginning to regain consciousness." Harry jumped up, gave everyone a quick "keep me informed", and rushed into the room.

************************************************** ************************************************** ****

Ginny awoke to a dimly-lit, cavernous room. Her hands were in manacles over her head, and she could feel the cold steel cutting and abrading her wrists. She felt a chill in the air as well; she looked around and saw the room was open to the elements through a large hole in the high, domed ceiling. Her body was sore from the Stunning charm, and she knew her legs would soon be tired of standing.

From the shadows to her left, she heard a silky, baritone drawl she could not immediately place, but that put a deep sense of foreboding in her heart. "Ah,", said that voice, "are we awake now, Mrs. Potter?" She heard footsteps approaching from the direction of the voice, revealing the face of her captor as he stepped into the dim light.

Ginny's eyes went wide with fear and disbelief. "You!" she exclaimed. "You can't be here!"

"Oh, can't I?" drawled that voice again, adding a slow, deep, evil-sounding chuckle. "I once promised you I would make you suffer and then kill you, Mrs. Ginevra Weasley Potter. I am now here to make good on that promise." His mouth extended in an feral grin as he continued, "For now, I believe I will allow you to become better acquainted with your final home. I have an errand to accomplish, and I shall return shortly. Don't go anywhere," once again chuckling.

He began to walk back into the shadows when he stopped, turned back towards Ginny, pointed his wand at her and said "Oh...silly me. I nearly forgot. Silencio!"

Ginny immediately went silent, mentally cursing her captor for remembering. She had no way of calling Kreacher now to save her. Nevertheless, she tried to relax, and called to him in her mind as strongly as she could.

************************************************** ************************************************** ****

Harry rushed over to Hermione's bedside, pulling up a chair and sitting next to her. She was moaning softly, and her eyelids were fluttering. "Hey,", Harry said. "Good morning." He reached over and took her hand.

"Harry?", Hermione said weakly. "Where am I?"

"You're in St. Mungo's. You were pretty banged up this morning. How do you feel?"

"Sore...all over. Head hurts. A little hard to breathe." Her eyes finally came open fully, and she looked around sleepily. "Where's Ron?"

Harry froze. He knew the question was going to come, but hadn't the nerve to face that fact and prepare an answer. Hermione sensed his hesitation and looked directly at Harry. "Harry, where is Ron?"

Harry closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and said "Hermione..."

"Where's Ron", she interrupted, her eyes wide and full of fear.

"Hermione...there is a bit of a story and you're going to need to listen to all of it," Harry said, now taking Hermione's hand in both of his. "Somebody wanted to...hurt...me," he began, haltingly. "They killed...Lily...they took Ginny..." Harry took another breath, Hermione's eyes fixed on his in horror. "Albus was...twisted...like being Imperiused...he...killed himself..." Harry squeezed his eyes shut, unable to look at Hermione any longer. "But...before he did...he...he...killed Ron."

What color had returned to Hermione's face now drained completely away. She gripped Harry's hands as hard as she could and tried to pull herself up. Harry stood up and eased her back into her pillows. "You need to stay resting, you have a concussion," he said.

"To hell with my concussion," Hermione said. "Ron is dead?" Her eyes were now pleading, begging Harry to take back what he said.

Harry nodded slowly, and said, softly, "Yes, he's dead."

Hermione's eyes squeezed shut, tears beginning to pour out. "Nooooooooooooo! It's not true, Harry, it's not true it's not true..." Harry sat on the bed next to her, pulled her head up to his shoulder, and held her. He rocked her gently as she cried hysterically into his chest, repeating "No!" and "It's not true!" over and over. Her arms flailed weakly, her hands clenched into fists, trying to hurt whatever or whomever she could to make this nightmare end. Harry took her blows in silence, continuing to rock her and stroke her hair, and waited for the storm to pass.

Eventually, her weakened state would no longer allow her to sustain the hysteria. Once she quieted down, he gently laid her back on her pillows and resumed holding her hand. In an attempt to get her mind working on something other than dwelling on Ron's death, he asked her "Hermione, what happened? Did you have any warning?"

She shook her head slowly, "No, none." She wiped her face, and her brow furrowed. "Wait...a little. It felt like someone cast a Revealing spell just before...I got up and walked to the door...and then I woke up here."

"Well," began Harry, "that saved your life. Someone blew your house apart just before Ginny was taken. The bookshelf landed on top of you, but since you had moved away it didn't crush you entirely."

"Landed on me?"

"Yes. You have a concussion. Broken legs, fractured pelvis. And...smoke inhalation. But you're alive and I can take you home tomorrow to rest."

"Take me...home?" Hermione asked.

"Yes...well, to my house. Look, you're going to still need to rest. Neither Rose nor Hugo have the room, and they really can't afford the time away from work, they're just starting out. Plus Rose has Mallory to care for. I have plenty of room, and...well, I'm going to have plenty of time too, it looks like."

"What...why?"

"Hermione, you're my boss. If it were anyone else, would you let them handle the investigation?"

Hermione closed her eyes. "No, you're right, you can't handle this. As much as I'd like you to, you can't." She paused, then said, "But I know you, Harry. How did you figure this out on your own?"

Harry gave her a small, sheepish smile. "Well...I didn't. Sarah threatened to go over my head if I showed up at the office. She's in charge there for now. Anyway," Harry, started again, "I thought it best if I took you to our house. I haven't presented this to Rose and Hugo, yet, but..."

"That's all right, Harry...it's a good idea, I'll tell them I agreed. Where are they?"

"I haven't owled them yet," said Harry. "I wanted to have better information on your condition before I hit them with...all this..."

Hermione looked ready to burst into tears again, but closed her eyes and forced herself into some semblance of composure. As she nodded her understanding, Healer Porter came into the room. "Mrs. Weasley," she began, "your family is outside. Shall I send them in?"

Harry was incredulous. "Outside? But I haven't owled..." He trailed off, realizing whether he had owled them or not, the fact was they were here. "Hermione, maybe I should talk to them first? That way you don't have to..."

Hermione looked like she was fighting back tears again, and nodded "yes". Harry patted her hand, kissed her gently on the forehead, and said "I'll send them in presently." He got up and walked to the door.

************************************************** ************************************************** ****

The pain was becoming debilitating. Ginny had been standing for several hours now, and her shoulders were extremely cramped. Her wrists were being rubbed raw, and small cuts were being forced into her skin by the manacles. Her legs were getting very tired, and she feared she may end up being suspended by her wrists when her legs finally gave out.

"Still here, I see," the hated voice said. "My errand is done; your dear husband should find out where you are in a couple of days. Meanwhile," and once again he showed a feral grin, while reaching out to grab her jaw, "I am going to derive great pleasure with you over that time."

Ginny went white with horror, and her breathing became rapid. Her captor noticed this and said "Oh no, no, no...not that kind of pleasure. I assure you, it is all I can do to touch you even this much, filthy blood traitor that you are." His grin became a sneer. "No, that would give me no pleasure at all. But this...ah, this will be...exquisite." He raised his wand and yelled, "Crucio!"

Immediately, every nerve burst into flame. The pain was more than she ever imagined it could be. Her legs gave out, and her twitching body forced her wrists back and forth inside the manacles, causing blood to begin to slowly flow down her forearms. Her throat ached to scream, but the Silencing Charm he had placed on her was still active. She thought briefly about Harry, who had suffered this way so many times, and wondered how he had been able to do it. At that moment, death would have been a welcome respite.

Without warning, the flames went away. Her body ached with the abuse it had withstood. Slowly, she was able to get her legs under her, albeit shakily, which took the weight off of her bleeding wrists. Her breath came in large, grunting gasps.

"I think that's enough for the moment," the hateful voice crooned. "I don't want you to die too soon. Instead, why don't I give you something to think about." His voice sounded as though he was fighting back laughter as he began, "I know you saw your lovely daughter before I took you so unceremoniously. Yes, I did that. Your son...Albus, is it? Yes, Albus. Or I should say, 'was'. I made him my slave before he died. And what did my slave do? He killed that idiot brother of yours. Oh how delicious that must have been!"

The voice was definitely gleeful now. Ginny, meanwhile, listened with a deepening shock descending over her. "Oh yes, and his Mudblood freak concubine? Yes, I killed her too! Burned alive in her own home." He began to chuckle again. "Oh, it is a wonderful day today! The infernal Potters and the interfering Weasleys both receiving their rewards."

He began to walk away, but stopped once more. "I could use some rest now, but I thought you might like to know your day went. Pleasant rest." And he moved back into the shadows. Ginny, still Silenced, uttered no sound, but tears poured down her face as she stood, bloodied, contemplating the deaths of her children...and her family.

************************************************** ************************************************** ****

Harry walked out of Hermione's room to find Rose, Hugo, Arthur and Molly standing there, all with stricken looks on their faces. "How...how did you know..." Harry stammered. Arthur held up something that looked like a spoon with Ron's picture on it.

Harry closed his eyes and nodded. Of course, the Weasley clock would know that Ron had died. He took Rose and Hugo by the hand and led them to the bench, Molly and Arthur taking seats next to them. Harry pulled up another chair and sat directly in front of Ron and Hermione's children. He again took each by the hand as he began.

"Rose, honey...Hugo...your father was killed at work today." At this, Molly buried her face in Arthur's shoulder. He continued, "Someone wanted to hurt our family very badly. Lily and Albus are also dead." Rose and Hugo stared at Harry the entire time, tears coursing down their cheeks. "They tried to kill your mum too, but she will be OK. She's in the room there." Harry nodded towards the door to Hermione's room.

"Now, she only needs to stay overnight, but the house...your house...well, it's gone. So I'm planning to take her home with me tomorrow when they release her, all right?" At this, Rose seemed to regain some life.

"Why wouldn't she come with me, Uncle Harry?" she asked.

"Rose, honey," Harry said, "it is not any reflection on you, but you know you don't have a lot of room right now. Neither of you do," he said, looking over at Hugo. "You and Brian still need to work, as do you Hugo. You still have Mallory to care for. I have the room, and I will have the time to care for her. You are all welcome at any time, day or night, you know that. But you have enough in your lives right now to be going on with. Let me take this one for you."

Rose and Hugo looked at each other for a few moments. Then, they turned back to Harry and nodded. Harry leaned over and hugged them both. Arthur piped in, asking "What about...arrangements?"

Harry said, "Well, I have to take care of Lily and Albus, I think it will be easier if I handle all three." Arthur thought for a moment, then nodded. "I think that might be best. I should probably take Molly home now. Would you let Hermione know we were here?" Harry nodded, and watched as Arthur guided Molly, walking much as a sleepwalker would, back out into the hall. Then, he took Rose and Hugo by the shoulders and led them in to see their mother.

************************************************** ************************************************** ****

Author's note: Another transition chapter. More crises to come.

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Last edited by texan_muggle; November 29th, 2009 at 12:21 am.
  #9  
Old December 8th, 2009, 1:14 am
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Posts: 56
Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 9 - Despair and Weak Moments

After taking Rose and Hugo into Hermione's room to stay with her, he confirmed with her Healers that he would be taking her to his home the next day, and would be back later to complete any paperwork that needed to be accomplished. He talked with Hermione for a few minutes, then left her in the company of her children. His first stop was back to the Auror Office.

After Apparating to the Ministry, he headed directly to the Office, stopping at the door to Sarah's office. She was sitting at her desk talking with Alicia Spinnet when she looked up and saw Harry standing there.

"Damnit, Harry, what the hell are you doing here?" she exclaimed. "I told you not to come in here."

"Hold your fire, Sarah," Harry said, raising his hands in mock surrender. "I'm only here to check on the disposition of..." He paused for a second, pain evident on his face, "...the bodies. I'm setting up the...uh, arrangements for all of them."

Sarah's expression softened, and she motioned for him to take a seat. "The Healers are done with their examinations and are finishing up their report. Alicia's been briefing me."

"Alicia?" Harry asked, surprised. "No offense, but I thought you were only a psychiatrist."

Alicia gave Harry a tolerant smile. "Harry, in the muggle world, psychiatrists are doctors. We go through the same training as any other doctor. We specialize after our...apprenticeship, I'd guess you'd call it. Plus, I'm now a fully-qualified Healer."

"Sorry," said Harry. "What can you tell me?"

Alicia immediately assumed a professional pose. "Well, let's start with the easy parts first. Ron and Lily were definitely victims of the Killing Curse. Nothing abnormal about them in any way except for that. The...desecration of Lily's body was after she was already dead. We are completely sure about that."

She continued with a dark expression on her face, "Albus...well, Albus is a different story. He very definitely had large doses of Veritaserum and Befuddlement Draught in his body. Very large doses. On top of that, there are obvious signs of magical injury. Confundus Charm, Imperius Curse, Cruciatus Curse for sure, several others probably as well. I can imagine it would have taken a fair amount of time to break down his defenses, quite possibly all weekend. Now then, those two potions added together, besides being used for mental compulsion, are very hard on the body. It would have taken a few days for his body to flush them out of his system. In the meantime, any injury could have been fatal, as his internal healing responses would have been heavily suppressed. The proximate cause of his death was the Stunner to his chest, stopping his heart, along with the severe head injury he sustained when he hit the wall. Under normal circumstances, one of you could have revived him and kept him alive until a Healer could take over. This time, there was absolutely no chance."

"One last thing," she continued. "His mind was definitely taken over by the time he was sent over here. To put it bluntly...his body may have walked through that door, but Albus Potter was dead long before."

Harry closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and nodded. "Thanks for your help, Alicia. Are you still working with Mortimer?"

"Yes," she replied. "I'm just waiting for him and his team to return."

"All right. I guess all that's left for me to do is take charge of the bodies."

"I'll take care of that for you, Harry," Alicia said. "You need a Healer to release the bodies anyway. I'll send them over to the mortuary myself. When and where is the burial?"

"Godric's Hollow, tomorrow at noon. It's probably best to get this over with as soon as possible."

"I agree," nodded Alicia. "You go take care of letting everyone know. I'll handle things on this end."

"Thanks, Alicia," said Harry. "And thank you, Sarah. I consider this 'above and beyond', all right?"

Sarah gave Harry a faint smile. "You just take care of yourself and Hermione. Let us handle things here for a while."

Feeling as though he had aged 30 years in the past day, Harry slowly got to his feet and left the Office. He immediately headed for the Floos in the Atrium and went home, where he was greeted by Kreacher and a hot meal.

Harry looked at Kreacher for a moment, deep in thought. Then, haltingly, he said, "Kreacher? Can I...ask you something?"

"Master Harry may ask Kreacher anything."

"Have you...you know...heard anything? From Ginny?"

Kreacher's brow furrowed for a moment, then he said, "Kreacher is unsure, Master Harry. At times, it feels as though Mistress Ginny is calling for Kreacher, but from very far away. Kreacher can sense her presence, but cannot find her. Kreacher believes she is being prevented from calling."

"Then," said Harry, "as far as you can tell, she's still alive?"

"Yes, Master Harry. Kreacher is not sure, but Kreacher believes he would know if Mistress Ginny were no longer alive."

"Thank you, Kreacher," answered Harry. "I think I'll just eat and then go to bed early."

************************************************** ************************************************** ****

Ginny had hardly slept at all, her position not being conducive to being able to sleep. She had alternated between a hazy semi-consciousness and agonizing awareness all night. She was very cold, as the room was exposed to the elements. Her arms were now covered in blood, as she had periodically lost the use of her legs and was forced to hang by her wrists until her legs were strong enough to support her weight again. All night, she had cried out in her thoughts for Kreacher to appear, and she had become desperate in her need for Harry to rescue her.

Where are you, Harry?, she would have screamed, had she not been Silenced. If ever I needed you it's now! I can't take this much longer! Why won't you hear me? And the tears would begin again. Although perfectly understandable given her condition, it shamed her to cry so much.

On top of that, her captor had periodically returned to subject her to more Cruciatus Curses, as well as taunting her about the deaths of her family.

"It's rather unfortunate your oldest son no longer lives in England," he drawled. "Otherwise, my victory over your sainted husband would be complete. Still, I think two children out of three is a reasonable substitute, don't you?" He leered evilly at her. "And I'm sure his pain is doubled right now because he has no idea where you are." He walked away, chuckling to himself.

Ginny noticed that there was light building in the hole in the high ceiling. She had been here an entire day, with no end in sight.

Forgive me, Harry, she thought to herself. I know you are doing your best. Please forgive me...I love you, Harry...please forgive me...

************************************************** ************************************************** ****

The funeral was held as a triple ceremony, with all three graves near each other. There had briefly been some question about Ron's arrangements, as Molly had made a feeble protest.

"Why can't he be buried with the rest of the family?" she asked Arthur.

"Molly," he replied, "Ron and Hermione made their lives in Godric's Hollow, not here. It is only logical he would be buried there. Besides," he continued, as Molly seemed ready to argue, "we may be his parents, but Hermione is his widow. Her wishes must take precedence." At that, Molly ceased her arguing, but was clearly unhappy about it.

James had managed to arrange for an emergency Portkey from the States to attend the funeral, although he left his family behind. When he arrived, Harry told him in no uncertain terms that he was not to go off alone. "We don't know who did this yet, or where he is. I've already lost two children, I don't want to lose a third." Not wishing to cause his father any more pain, James acquiesced without any argument.

Hugo carried his father's body to the gravesite, followed by James carrying Albus' body, and finally Harry with Lily in his arms. They all then sat down next to Hermione and Rose and listened to the service in silence, their minds not really concentrating on what was happening, but rather caught up in thoughts, remembrances and sorrows.

After all was done, Harry took Hermione by the shoulders and guided her up the walk away from the cemetery. She was able to walk unsteadily, but Harry knew she was not in any condition to guide herself back to the house. He bade Rose and Hugo good-bye, explaining that their mother needed to rest, but that they could still come by later to visit. They nodded in understanding, gave their mother each a hug, and went their own ways.

Once they arrived at the Potter home, James helped Harry put Hermione to bed in one of the spare bedrooms. After they left her to rest, James turned to Harry and said, "I need to get back, Dad. We're on short-staffing right now because of the holidays."

"I know," said Harry. "But I need to come with you to the Ministry. I'm not letting you out of my sight until you have that Portkey. Let me tell your aunt I'll be gone for a little while." He walked back into her bedroom and asked, quietly,

"Hermione, I am taking James over to the Ministry to catch a Portkey. Do you need me to get you anything while I'm gone?"

Hermione shook her head "no", a blank look on her face. No words left her mouth.

Harry gave her a quick kiss on the forehead and left her room. He saw Kreacher and said, "If she needs anything, give it to her. Treat her as you would treat me or Ginny, all right? I'll be back soon"

"Of course, Master Harry," Kreacher said, bowing. Harry and James left.

For the next half hour or so, Hermione was alone with her thoughts. Though she needed rest, she couldn't sleep. Her thoughts were constantly on her final morning with Ron...or, more properly, what little there was of it. He had gone in to work a little early, and since she had taken the week off, had decided to sleep in. She hadn't fixed Ron any breakfast that morning, or given him a proper good-bye kiss. All she did was grunt at him when he told her he was leaving, rolling over to get a little more sleep. Her memories of that morning tortured her now. She didn't need to rest...she needed Ron. And now she would never be able to relive those moments.

Finally, she got up slowly from her bed. "Kreacher," she called. Immediately her door opened.

"Yes, Mistress Weasley?"

Not noticing his form of address, she continued, "Does Harry have a potions closet here? I need to refill my healing potion."

"Kreacher can make Mistress' potion easily."

"No, Kreacher," said Hermione, "I need to be doing something. But you could help me find the ingredients. Would that be all right?"

Kreacher nodded and helped guide Hermione downstairs to the cupboard in which Harry kept his home store of potion ingredients. He often needed to replenish his personal supply, and over the years he had found it easier to keep a store at the house rather than constantly go to Diagon Alley when he needed something.

After reading it herself, Hermione gave Kreacher the list of ingredients for her potion, and the two of them looked around the cupboard for the various things she would need. As they were looking, Hermione spotted a small green bottle. It was something she recognized as being necessary for Harry's work, but did not hope to find anything like that in his home potions closet. While Kreacher was looking away, Hermione quickly grabbed the bottle and hid it in her robe.

After finding all the ingredients necessary for the potion, Kreacher guided Hermione back to her room and left to return to the kitchen. She Summoned a small cauldron and burner and began adding ingredients to the mix. She took the small bottle out of her robe, set it down on the table next to the cauldron, and looked at it fully for the first time.

ESSENCE OF HEMLOCK, the label said.

Is this the right thing, she thought to herself. She needed to be with Ron. Every portion of her being was telling her this. She then thought about Rose and Hugo. What would they do without me, she thought. Go on with their lives, they're adults now, she answered herself. She then took the bottle, un-stoppered it, and emptied it into the cauldron.

At that moment, Kreacher knocked on the door and entered. "Is there anything else Kreacher can help Mistress Weasley with?" he asked.

"No, thank you, Kreacher," said Hermione. "As always, you have been most helpful." She gave him a small, but warm, smile. "You have always been a wonderful being and I am fortunate to have known you."

Kreacher bowed uncertainly. Her words to him did not seem to make sense. He glanced at the table where the cauldron was, and saw the small green bottle. Kreacher knew what was in that bottle, and he knew it was not an ingredient for her potion. Thinking quickly, he said "Kreacher thanks Mistress for her words," and backed out of the room.

Immediately he ran downstairs to the kitchen and Disapparated, arriving in the kitchen at Rose's house. Her house-elf, Balmy, was there attending to baby Mallory while Rose was out for a few minutes.

"Balmy," Kreacher said, quickly, "I must take Miss Mallory for a few minutes. It is a matter of life and death for a master."

Balmy's eyes grew wide with fear. She did not wish to give her charge to another. However, her trust for Kreacher was greater than her fear, and she handed the sleeping child over to him, her hands shaking.

"Do not fear," Kreacher said. "She will be as one of mine while she is with me. I will return soon." And he Disapparated with the baby in his arms.

Arriving back at the house, he quickly but carefully headed upstairs to Hermione's room. Once again, he knocked and entered. To his joy, he saw the cauldron was still cooking, still full to the brim. Hermione was standing, looking out of the bedroom window. "Mistress," he said, startling Hermione; she turned around quickly. "There is someone here to see you." And he walked fully into the room, holding the sleeping Mallory in his arms.

Hermione's eyes went very wide. "Mallory?" she said. Slowly she walked over to Kreacher, lowered herself to sit on the floor, and gently took the child from Kreacher. She gently rocked back and forth while looking into Mallory's peaceful face, and tears began to leak from her eyes. No, she thought, this is all wrong. I can't leave her without a grandmother. And she began to cry in earnest, cradling Mallory to her breast, continuing to gently rock back and forth.

As she was rocking Mallory, she seemed to hear a voice inside her head. ...'mione, 'mione, it's all right, it's not time... She felt a small warmth on her lips, which faded away almost before she could take notice.

Kreacher watched, and his heart was eased. While her attention was on the baby, he unobtrusively waved his hand, and the cauldron, burner, and ingredients all Vanished. He then turned his attention back to the scene before him.

Soon, Hermione regained her composure, and wiped her face with one hand. She then looked up at where the cauldron was...and noticed it was now gone. She looked over at Kreacher, and saw a sad, knowing look on his face.

"Kreacher, how...how..." she stammered, "how did you know?"

Kreacher hesitated for a moment, then answered, "House-elves are familiar with despair, Mistress. When we feel as though the world must end, we are able to fall back on our duties to keep ourselves going. Kreacher has noticed that humans do not have that ability as strongly. So Kreacher decided he must remind Mistress that she does have a duty remaining."

Hermione gave him a watery smile, and said, "Yes, Kreacher, we do. And thank you for reminding me." She wiped a few more stray tears from her face, and made to hand Mallory back. "And now, I think she should go back to her mother. I need to get some rest." She slowly got up and walked back to her bed, while Kreacher prepared to leave.

"Kreacher," Hermione said suddenly. "Harry...Harry doesn't need to know about this, does he?"

Kreacher thought for a moment, then said "Master Harry has much on his mind because of what has happened. Kreacher does not feel the need to trouble him with things that have not happened."

Once more, Hermione smiled at Kreacher. "Thank you, Kreacher. Oh...and when you return? Maybe...maybe it would be best if you made my potion?"

Kreacher gave Hermione something that looked like a small, sly smile, bowed his head, and said "It would be my pleasure, Mistress." And with that, he Disapparated.

************************************************** ************************************************** ****

Author's note: This is not a gratuitous crisis. It has bearing on something that is coming later.

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Last edited by texan_muggle; December 8th, 2009 at 1:05 pm.
  #10  
Old December 11th, 2009, 1:05 am
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Posts: 56
Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 10 - The Nightmare Becomes Reality

Once he had seen James safely to his waiting Portkey at the Ministry, Harry took the Floo back home. All was quiet in the house. Kreacher was in the kitchen finishing up what appeared to be a potion. He was pouring it into a bottle when Harry walked in. He looked quickly at the door as Harry walked in.

"Master Harry," Kreacher said, "Kreacher did not hear you arrive. Is all well with Master James?"

"Yes, Kreacher," answered Harry, "James left safely. Is that Hermione's potion?"

"Yes, Master Harry. Mistress asked me to make it for her."

"Thank you, Kreacher. Why don't I take it up to her," said Harry, reaching for the bottle. "I'd like to check on her if she is awake."

"Very well, Master," said Kreacher, handing him the bottle, bowing, and retreating towards his cupboard. Harry went upstairs and opened the door to Hermione's room quietly. Peeking in, he saw her sitting up, propped up on pillows, dozing lightly. He tiptoed in and placed the bottle on the nightstand. As he turned to leave, Hermione opened her eyes.

"Hi, Harry. Did everything go all right with James?"

Harry looked quickly back at Hermione, startled. "I didn't mean to wake you. Yes, James is fine now."

"That's all right, Harry. I'm feeling a little better now. If you don't have anything to do right now, I could use some company."

Harry smiled and pulled a chair up next to the bed. "I don't have anything to do right now except wait. How are you healing?"

"I'm sore pretty much all over," said Hermione, with a small, tired smile. "And sometimes I feel short of breath."

Harry nodded. "The Healer said you'd have scar tissue in your lungs for the rest of your life, but that it shouldn't bother you in routine day-to-day activity. I'd imagine it will take some time for your body to get used to it."

Suddenly there was a tapping at the window. Startled, Harry walked over and saw an owl perched outside with a piece of parchment tied to its leg. He opened the window to let the owl inside. The owl came only as far as the sill and extended its leg for Harry to retrieve the letter. Once Harry untied the letter from its leg, the owl immediately flew back out the window. With a confused look, Harry closed the window and returned to his chair to read the letter.

Hermione watched as he opened the scroll, and saw the blood immediately drain from his face. "Harry," she cried, "what is it?"

Harry didn't answer, but instead grabbed his Auror's shield, tapped it, and sent a message to Sarah.

Sarah. My house. Now. Bring Alicia. Floo OK. said the message.

"Harry," Hermione said again, "what is wrong?"

Again, Harry said nothing, but handed the scroll to Hermione for her to read herself. He then buried his face in his hands.

Now worried, Hermione opened the scroll. As she read it, she too felt a sense of dread descend upon her.

Potter -

It is time for me to complete my victory over you. I must do this in person so that you fully understand.

You will meet me at 8 PM Tuesday evening. You will not come early, nor will you be late. You will come alone.

Meet all these conditions and you will leave unharmed, and your wife will be with you. Fail to meet even one and you won't even have your wife's body to bury.

I await you at Cape Wrath.


************************************************** ********

Ginny was finding it difficult to stay conscious. Her body had absorbed the torture and pain long enough that it was beginning to lose sensation. She couldn't even feel her wrists anymore, even though her weight was fully on them now. Blood still seeped from her wounds, and her arms were now red well past her elbows. Blood had even begun to cake her hair where her head rubbed against her arms.

She didn't notice when her captor walked up to her. It was therefore a surprise when he grabbed her by the hair, pulled her head back, and quickly poured a vial of liquid down her throat. She coughed and sputtered, but most of what went in her mouth made it down her throat.

Once she recovered from coughing, her captor sneered, and said, "A little-used, but quite lethal poison. It is almost time for you to return to your husband. He should be here in about an hour. Unfortunately, the poison takes about that long to kill you. If you're lucky, you might see him before you die. Oh, and if you are hoping for an antidote...there is one. Unfortunately for you, it must be taken within the first 5 minutes after you ingest the poison." He then walked back into the shadows.

Once again, tears began to fall from Ginny's eyes. It seemed there was no escape this time. Her luck had finally run out. She prayed quietly to herself, hoping to be able to see Harry one last time.

************************************************** ********

"Cape Wrath?" Hermione exclaimed. "Cape Wrath?! But...that's not possible."

"Unfortunately," Harry answered bleakly, "it is. He was one of the prisoners unaccounted for after the meteor hit Azkaban. Don't ask me how he got off the island."

"Harry...is there no one else it could be?"

"What other possibilities are there?" Harry asked. "Everyone else is either dead or still in prison."

Just then, the door opened and Kreacher escorted Sarah and Alicia into the bedroom. Harry got up, offered his chair to Sarah, Conjured another chair for Alicia, and sat on the bed next to Hermione. He took the letter from Hermione and handed it to Alicia, saying "This just came by owl."

Alicia read the note, and said "Cape Wrath? I don't understand."

Sarah jerked her head towards Alicia and said, "What? Cape Wrath? Let me see that." She grabbed the letter and began reading herself. After quickly reading through the letter, she looked up at Harry and said, "But that's just not possible. That was over 25 years ago. You stopped him. He's in Azkaban."

"Check the 'unaccounted' list in Dennis' report," replied Harry.

Sarah winced in realization. "Oh, damn. But how did he get off the island?"

"Search me," said Harry. "But I don't see as I have any choice but to do what he wants."

"It has to be a trap, Harry," said Sarah. "I can't let you do this."

"I'm not giving you the option, Sarah," retorted Harry. "Alicia, you read the earlier notes. Will he do what he says?"

Alicia replied, "As far as disappearing with Ginny's body, I have no doubt whatsoever. As to the rest of it...probably. It sounds like he's drawing this to an end."

"There," said Harry to Sarah. "Fine, it may be a trap, but I have absolutely no chance of recovering Ginny unless I do exactly as he says."

Sarah took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and nodded. "I know."

Hermione grabbed Harry's hand. Tears filled her eyes. "I know you have to go, Harry. Just...please...be careful."

Harry smiled, and said "I will. I promise." He leaned over, kissed her on the forehead, and looked at his watch. "It's 7:45 now. I need to go. You all can wait here until I get back." He stood up and walked briskly out the door.

************************************************** ********

Author's note - I wanted this chapter to be longer, but this is all I had time for tonight, and I did say I'd get it up tonight. So you get an extra chapter.

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Last edited by texan_muggle; December 11th, 2009 at 1:10 am.
  #11  
Old December 15th, 2009, 3:10 am
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Location: God's Country - Texas
Age: 55
Posts: 56
Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 11 - Life In Prison

Harry Apparated outside the squat redoubt at Cape Wrath. It looked even more deserted than it did 25 years previously. The brambles had grown up around it, and from the outside one could see the collapsed dome Harry's Patronus had caused. Only the fact that the building was of heavy stone allowed it to still be standing after all this time.

Harry held his wand out and muttered "Lumos". By the light cast, he made his way through the brush, occasionally pausing to extract his robes from the thorns hidden within. Once he reached the entrance, he saw the way in was clear; any door previously there had been long since removed or disintegrated. He entered cautiously, pointing his wand all about him as he walked by the double staircases to his right and left.

Once past the stairs and into the main room itself, Harry saw a flash of red against the far wall. Shining his wand in that direction, he saw Ginny, cruelly hung by her wrists, her head slumped forward, her arms and hair coated in blood. All thought of caution left him at that point. He immediately began to run towards her body, and thus never saw the red bolt of light that shot from the shadows beneath the staircases.

When he revived, he found himself simultaneously Petrified, Silenced, encased in magical ropes, and hovering upright some four feet above the ground. He saw his wand lying on the floor several feet away. Chagrined at allowing himself to land in this predicament, he began to concentrate on releasing himself from the spells cast on him. He quickly found it to be a losing battle. As soon as he would break one spell, he would have to move on to another, which allowed his up-to-now hidden captor to re-establish the original spell. After several tries at escaping without success, he allowed himself to stop and rest for a moment. His captor then began to chuckle, an evil, baritone chuckle. And Harry knew his fears were correct.

Out of the shadows walked Lucius Malfoy.

************************************************** **************************

Alicia had a perplexed look on her face. "What is this 'Cape Wrath' reference," she asked.

Sarah looked up. "It's an isolated spot in northern Scotland. It was the site of a battle between what was left of the Death Eaters and a group of Aurors led by Harry, who was a junior Auror at that time. The Death Eaters, especially their leader, wanted to kill Harry in revenge for the death of Voldemort and managed to lure several of his friends up there as hostages. Hermione and Ginny were two of them. I was a first-year trainee back then, but I have a personal involvement as well...after the battle, and for reasons I'd rather not go into, Harry was made my trainer. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me, at least professionally. For Harry and the others, it was hell."

"Who was their leader?" asked Alicia.

"Lucius Malfoy," said Hermione. "He hated all of us back then, but it was visceral with Harry. He blamed Harry for everything that had gone wrong in his life."

"Yes, I've heard," said Alicia, a dark look on her face. "Yes, I'm familiar with Mr. Malfoy. And his involvement fits everything that has gone on here. Obsession, hatred, a desire for revenge. Ladies, I don't have a good feeling at all about this."

Sarah nodded mutely; Hermione merely closed her eyes and leaned back on her pillows. A tear began to leak from one eye.


************************************************** **************************

"Ah, the illustrious Mr. Potter," drawled Malfoy. "We meet at last, for the final time. And this time, my victory is assured." His eyes were wide and wild-looking; his formerly platinum hair was now a flat white, stringy rather than silky. He had lost weight. But the angular face, albeit more lined, and the voice were unchanged. "Now then, if you are through with your useless struggles, we can get on with this, and you will be able to leave here that much sooner. Oh...Finite Silencio."

Harry found his voice returned. "What about being able to return with Ginny, Malfoy?" Harry yelled.

"Oh, you may take her body with you, Potter, rest assured," smiled Malfoy. "However, I never said what condition she would be in, only that you would be unharmed. Now then...let me confirm what you must have surmised by now. Yes, I killed your daughter. Yes, I made your son my slave and forced him to kill your blood traitor partner. Yes, I destroyed the house he shared with the Mudblood freak and killed her inside. And by now, yes I killed your wife."

"In short," continued Malfoy, "I have taken from you everything you held of value. Just as you took from me my family, my status and my wealth, I have taken from you those who would have provided you comfort in your older years. And you, Potter, will have to live with the knowledge that I took them from you. Not only that, but you will never be able to bring me back to your justice. My victory over you is final. And you will be haunted by that fact until the end of your days."

"What makes you think you can escape me," asked Harry.

"This does," said Malfoy, aiming his wand directly at Harry's face. "For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee." Then, with a smooth motion, he flipped the wand over in his hand, so that it pointed directly at his own chest. "AVADA KEDAVRA!"

As the green glow enveloped Malfoy's body, Harry dropped to the floor, ropes disappeared and able to move. He immediately picked up his wand and ran over to Ginny's inert form. "Relashio!" he cried, pointing at the manacles and taking Ginny's weight onto himself. Immediately the manacles opened, and Harry gently lowered Ginny onto the floor, her head and shoulders resting on his lap. "Ginny," he whispered desperately, lightly tapping her cheeks. "Please, please, don't be dead.."

A weak smile began to creep across Ginny's face. "Harry?" she whispered. "You're here. I knew you'd come."

"Oh, thank God!" cried Harry. "Here, I have to get you out of here now." He moved to set Ginny down and stand up.

"NO!", Ginny croaked, wincing in pain. "No, Harry, it's too late. Poison. Should be dead already."

Harry was horrified. "But Ginny...there might be a chance..."

"No chance," Ginny whispered. "I just had to hold on long enough to see you again." Her voice was weak, her cadence unsteady. "I'm too weak to Apparate anyway. Please...please just stay with me..."

Harry's head was spinning. His breathing became labored; his vision began to blur. He had to concentrate to keep Ginny in view. Her face was all he could focus on. "Oh, Ginny," he whispered, his sorrow and desperation coming through. Quickly, he waved his wand over her, casting some minor spells to help alleviate her pain.

Ginny smiled. "That's better." Her eyes opened, and she looked into Harry's eyes. Her expression became pained. "Harry, I have to know. Is what he said...the kids...Ron...Hermione..."

"Hermione's fine," Harry broke in. "Ron...and the kids...yes. All that was true. But I was able to get Hermione out of the house."

Ginny closed her eyes and smiled. "That 'saving people thing' still works, I see."

Though she meant it in jest, her words cut Harry like a knife. "Not good enough, evidently," he said, his voice shaking.

"Harry, no," said Ginny. She slowly raised her right hand, the pain showing on her face. Harry took it in his left, kissed it and placed it on his cheek. "You had no chance. I was dead the moment he took me."

Suddenly she winced, her back arching in pain. As Harry tried to comfort her, the spasm ended. "Harry," she whispered, "I'll be waiting for you...on the other side...of the veil." Her hand slowly moved up into his hair. "I...love...you...Harry..."

"I love you, Ginny," whispered Harry. He leaned over and pressed his lips to hers. He felt her lips tighten, returning his kiss. Then, after just a few seconds, her lips went slack. Her hand became limp in his hand; her head lolled to one side.

"No," Harry moaned. He took her by the shoulders and shook. "Please...please..." But it was no use. Ginny was dead.

************************************************** **************************

Kreacher had brought glasses of lemonade to the three waiting women. As he was walking towards the bedroom door, he suddenly stumbled, dropping the serving tray. Hermione, fully aware of Kreacher's almost maddening perfection, noticed immediately. "Kreacher," Hermione said, alarmed. "What's wrong?"

Kreacher turned slowly towards Hermione, his eyes glistening with tears. "Mistress..." he croaked, and then was silent, shaking his head.

Hermione's hands went to her mouth; Sarah and Alicia looked on in fear. "Ginny?" Hermione asked.

Kreacher nodded slowly, turned, picked up the tray, and shuffled out of the bedroom. Tears flowed freely down Hermione's face, while both Sarah and Alicia fought back tears of their own.

************************************************** **************************

Harry was paralyzed. He couldn't move. He couldn't breathe, except when he concentrated on taking a breath. He felt nothing inside...it was as if a heavy, iron casket had suddenly formed around his heart, blocking any emotion from leaving, keeping everything out. His brain barely functioned; he fixated on the lifeless form in his lap. His life...his light...his reason for existing...gone. A part of him registered that there was nothing he would like better than to join her...if he could only move. Didn't she say she'd be waiting? Yes, of course she did. Naturally he needed to meet her...if he could only move.

Then another part of his brain offered the suggestion that he had one more duty to perform. He needed to bring her body home first. Yes, that's right, he thought. I did it for Cedric, I have to do it for her. Slowly, he took some deep breaths. His hands slowly regained their ability to move; his legs regained enough strength that he knew he'd be able to stand. One more job to do, sweetheart, Harry thought, then I can come home. He tapped his wand to his Auror's badge, and sent a message to Sarah to come help.

************************************************** **************************

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Last edited by texan_muggle; December 15th, 2009 at 12:49 pm.
  #12  
Old December 20th, 2009, 7:26 pm
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
First Year
 
Joined: 3330 days
Location: God's Country - Texas
Age: 55
Posts: 56
Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 12 - Too Little, Too Late

Harry and Sarah Apparated directly to the Auror Office's designated Apparition point, Sarah guiding the body of Lucius Malfoy, while Harry carried Ginny's body in his arms. Once fully in place, Sarah turned to Harry and reached to take Ginny's body from him. "Harry, I can take care of this. You should go home and rest."

Harry stared blankly at her, neither moving nor making any move to release Ginny to Sarah.

"Harry!", Sarah yelled. Harry slowly seemed to gather his attention. "You need to go home. I've already sent Mortimer over to the Foreign Ministry to communicate with James. The Healers will need to examine the bodies before they're released. Hermione and Alicia are waiting for you, and I'll send James over once he gets here. Go home."

Harry seemed to take a few seconds to process what Sarah had said. His mind was sluggish; he had to consciously think about what was being said to him. Finally, he nodded slowly and released Ginny to Sarah's arms. As he turned to walk away from her, Sarah said, "Harry? I think you'd better take the Floo." Again, Harry nodded, as if in a daze, and began to walk towards the lift to the Atrium.

When he arrived home, he found Hermione and Alicia waiting in the living room for him. Hermione immediately got up from the couch, walked over and threw her arms around him. Harry returned her embrace, but mechanically. Part of his mind recognized he should be more appreciative of the support, but he couldn't seem to muster up any feelings. He was merely going through the motions of surviving.

Hermione released him, gently took him by the shoulders and looked him in the face. Seeing the blank, unfocused look Harry had, she said, "Harry? Maybe you should go up to bed?" Harry thought for a second, then nodded slowly and made his way upstairs. Meanwhile, Hermione looked back at Alicia with concern.

"Would you consider this normal?" Hermione asked when Harry was out of earshot.

Alicia considered for a few seconds, then said, "To some extent, yes. The last two days have been a horrible shock to his system. You've been forced to face some of it already because of your healing, but he hasn't really had a chance to face up to what has happened until now. Ron and his children dying was bad enough, but tonight I'm sure was a real hammer blow. The apparent extent of his detachment concerns me, but until I can talk to him, I can't say whether or not it is beyond what I would consider normal. How are you feeling?"

"Better. Still tired, still sore, but I can move around. This shortness of breath is annoying, but that's all."

"Your body will adjust," answered Alicia. "It will just take some time." She waved her wand quickly over Hermione and said, "Yes, you appear to be healing well. Give it another week or two and then you should be fit enough to go back to work." She turned to gather her things, and continued, "I should be going. If you are feeling up to it, I suggest you keep an eye on him for a while, at least until I can sit down with him. Give him a mild Sleeping Draught tonight and make him take it. I'll check back with you tomorrow."

Hermione nodded and showed Alicia to the door. "Thanks, Alicia," she said, giving her a hug. "I really appreciate everything you've done these past few days."

Alicia gave her a small smile and said, "I'll see you tomorrow." Then she walked down the sidewalk to the road and Apparated.

Hermione walked into the kitchen and called, "Kreacher?" Immediately, Kreacher appeared, saying "Yes, Mistress?"

"Does Harry have any Sleeping Draught already made?" she asked.

"No, but Kreacher can make some quickly," he said. "It will only be a minute." He immediately Conjured a caudron and began gathering the ingredients.

"Thank you, Kreacher. Dr. Spinnet suggested a mild draught for Harry tonight. I can take it up to him when it's ready."

"Very well, Mistress," Kreacher replied, not breaking stride.

Kreacher was as good as his word; he was done in less than 5 minutes. He poured the potion into a glass and handed it to Hermione, saying "Master's potion is ready, Mistress."

"Thank you, Kreacher," she replied. "That should be all for tonight." He bowed her out of the kitchen, and she made her way upstairs to Harry's room. She knocked quietly on his door and entered, finding him laying under the blankets, propped up on his pillows, eyes wide open and staring into space.

"Harry?" she asked. "Alicia thought you should take this. It should help you sleep."

He nodded and said, "Put it on the table, I'll drink it later. I don't want to sleep right now."

Hermione set the glass down and pulled up a chair. "Would you like to talk about it?"

Harry took a deep breath and shrugged. Accepting that he wasn't dismissing her, she moved closer to the bed. "What happened, Harry?"

"Not much to tell you," he said in a flat, almost disinterested tone. "I got there, Malfoy kept me tied up for a while, then he killed himself. I went over to Ginny but I was too late. I couldn't save her."

Hermione reached out and took his hand. "I hope you're not blaming yourself," she said. "You probably didn't have a chance to save her."

"I always did before," he replied. He didn't look at her, and while he didn't push her hand away, he didn't return her pressure either. "He hurt her badly. She was covered in blood and almost dead. But she was still able to talk to me for a minute. She waited for me."

Hermione's eyes filled with tears. Trying to get his mind off of his perceived failure, she said, "Then she died seeing you and knowing how much you loved her, Harry."

"She shouldn't have had to die at all," he replied.

Hermione closed her eyes and fought back more tears. "Harry," she said, "I think you need some sleep. I want you take this now, all right?" She picked up the glass and handed it to him. Harry looked at the glass, but didn't do anything with it.

"Please?" Hermione prodded. "I'd really like you to drink that, Harry. Please."

Harry listlessly brought the glass to his lips and drank the potion. When he was finished, Hermione took the glass from him, setting it back on the table. "Thank you, Harry. Now, James should be here in the morning, and Alicia said she would be by as well. And of course I'm not going anywhere." She helped Harry crawl deeper under the blankets and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "And if you need anything, wake me. Anything at all." She saw him give her a slight nod and close his eyes, and then she quietly made her way to her own bedroom. She crawled underneath her own blankets and softly cried herself to sleep.


************************************************** **************************

Hermione woke up early, as usual. She put on a robe and headed downstairs, checking to see that Harry was still sleeping on her way. When she got to the kitchen, she saw James sitting at the table, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the Daily Prophet while Kreacher prepared breakfast. He immediately stood and gave Hermione a hug.

"You're looking better," James said. "How are you feeling?"

"Better, yes," she said. "I think I need to walk around more today. I feel stiff. When did you get here?"

"About an hour ago," he replied. "Got into the Ministry early this morning. Sarah and Mortimer were working late, so I spoke with them for a while, and then I came here." He took a sip of coffee, and then asked, "How's Dad?"

"He's still asleep, but...", began Hermione, "he was in very bad shape last night. I hope he's better today, but I don't know..."

"What do you mean?" asked James.

"He seemed...empty," answered Hermione. "Emotionless. I've seen him keep things to himself, James...but not like this."

Kreacher walked over with two plates of food, set them down in front of James and Hermione, and bowed himself out of the kitchen. James then said, "All right, I thought I might have to do this, but now I'm sure. Can you keep Dad here today?"

"Yes, I think so," said Hermione.

"Good. I'll take care of making all the arrangements for Mum. If he tries to argue, tell him that I said he's staying home today and that he can yell at me later." He ate his breakfast quickly and gathered his cloak to go.

"Don't you think you should rest a bit first?" asked Hermione.

"No," answered James. "This needs to get done soon. Anyway, if I stop to think too much, I might end up unable to do anything myself." Giving his aunt a quick peck on the cheek, he stepped into the fireplace and was whisked away.


************************************************** **************************

Later that morning, Hermione was sitting in the living room, reading the Prophet, when a knock sounded at the door. Opening it, she found Sarah and Alicia on the porch. Hermione quickly ushered them into the room, inviting them to sit and calling Kreacher to bring some cups of tea.

"Here to check on Harry?", Hermione asked, sipping her tea. "He's still asleep, I believe."

"That's all right," Sarah said. "He can wait. Actually, we're here to brief you, if you feel up to it. We've pretty well finished the investigation. I know I can count on you to brief Harry when you feel he is ready."

As Hermione nodded her assent, a voice carried down from the top of the stairs. "He's ready now," said Harry, still in a flat monotone. He walked downstairs, still in a robe and pajamas, and sat in a chair across from Sarah and Alicia. "I'm not going to run screaming from the room because I heard some clinically gruesome story about Ginny."

"Well," started Alicia, "maybe that's the problem. Maybe you should run screaming from the room."

"What does that mean?" asked Harry.

Alicia sighed and rubbed her eyes. "Harry, I don't think this is the place for that particular conversation."

"Anything you can say to me about me you can say in front of them. They'll find out eventually anyway, won't they?"

Alicia and Sarah both frowned at Harry, but Hermione gave him a look of concern and compassion. It was unnerving to all three to hear words of obvious anger and frustration being delivered in a mechanical fashion, almost as though he was trying to force himself to be angry. Hermione didn't need Alicia's professional expertise to see that Harry was struggling with unvoiced emotions inside. What she didn't realize just then was just how right she was.

"All right, Harry," said Alicia, in a calm tone. "Just what are you feeling right now? Be specific, be graphic if necessary, but tell me exactly what you feel."

"Feel? I feel nothing. Not one bloody thing. I don't have to hide any feelings or emotions from you because there aren't any. How does that strike you?"

Hermione's eyes widened in fear; Sarah leaned down and put a hand over her eyes. Alicia kept her professional calm, and said "Should it strike me any particular way, Harry?"

"I would think so," said Harry. "I just lost my best friend, two of my children, and my wife. You'd think I could muster up a bit of grief, don't you think? I know emotional pain, Alicia, I've felt it often enough. I've never felt this empty."

"Yeeeeeeess..." said Alicia, slowly. "The fact you are repressing is not surprising necessarily, but that doesn't mean you are all right. It may just be you need some more time for your mind to process all that's happened."

"So I should just go on with my life and wait for everything to fall into place, is that it?"

"Oh no, that's not what I said," shot back Alicia. "Far from it. Harry, I'm going to recommend you take a medical leave of absence until either I or someone else of your choice can clear you."

"I'll make it official," Sarah said. "Harry, you know I have the authority to do this. Please don't fight me. I want you back in the office more than you can imagine, but not as you are now."

Harry gave a deep sigh, shrugged his shoulders, and said "Fine, whatever. Now what have you found out?"

Sarah looked at Alicia, then at Hermione, and said "I'm sorry, Harry, but if you are on medical leave, you aren't cleared for this. I'm going to have to ask you to leave the room."

Harry's face didn't change expression; he merely stared at Sarah. Sarah, for her part, felt fear towards Harry that she had never felt before. The blank look he gave her was more frightening than any expression of temper she'd seen from him. However, before she felt any need to force the issue further, he stood up and walked back upstairs.

Hermione took a deep breath, gathered her composure, and said, "All right, what have you found?"

Alicia began. "First, Ginny. Cause of death was definitely poison. Not often used, but quite lethal. There's an antidote, the Healers told me, but it's basically an academic exercise, as you have to take it within 5 minutes of taking the poison."

"So Harry really had no chance to save her?" asked Hermione.

"No chance at all," answered Sarah.

Alicia then continued, "Physically, she lost a fair amount of blood because of the wounds to her wrists. She was in those manacles for a day and a half, often suspended by her wrists. However, outside of that, there was no other physical injury. Magically, she showed the effects of the Cruciatus Curse. Several times, in fact. She was definitely tortured, and severely."

Hermione rubbed her eyes, and said, "All right, let's move on. What about Malfoy?"

Sarah jumped in, "Definitely identified as Lucius Malfoy. His wand, however, we traced back to one of the Hit Squad guards who was killed at Azkaban. Malfoy was signed out to the rock house at the time; he obviously managed to survive the destruction of the building and found the wand. After that, all he would have had to do was float away from the island for a while in order to Disapparate. Next, we searched the rented room of one 'Graham Reaper' at the Leaky Cauldron. There was nothing there except for a few hundred Galleons hidden in a bathroom cabinet. The Galleons themselves were quite old, and the goblins at Gringott's were able to trace their numbers to Malfoy on the order of almost 60 years ago. We believe he must have created a secret stash around the time he first became a Death Eater. Hannah vaguely remembers this 'Reaper' and she said he looks pretty non-descript. And that's about it. A wand, some money, a little time hanging around Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron, and he was able to put together a plan to hurt Harry and you very badly."

Hermione nodded and stood slowly. "Thanks, both of you. I'd better go up and check on Harry. By the way, James is arranging everything right now, in case he asks for anything."

"Yes, we've talked," said Sarah. "We'll help him as much as we can."

Hermione walked both of them to the door, then headed upstairs to check on Harry. She found him in bed again, staring at the ceiling with the same blank look.

"Well? Are they done discussing me?" Harry asked, his tone almost completely disinterested.

"We didn't discuss you, Harry," Hermione answered, gently. She pulled up a chair and sat next to him. "I just came up to check on you."

"Well, it looks like I'm not going anywhere for a while," answered Harry. "I assume James already left to handle everything?"

"Even before you got up," said Hermione, to which Harry gave a sigh. "Harry..." she continued, "you know I can't tell you everything, but I think you should know this. Malfoy didn't lie to Ginny when he said he poisoned her. The Healers identified the poison used, and you definitely had no chance of saving her by the time you found her. All right?"

Harry gave no reaction, except to say "Thank you, Hermione. I think I need to be alone for a while." Hermione nodded, brushed her hand lightly over his head, and left the room.

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  #13  
Old December 23rd, 2009, 12:41 am
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 13 - Coming To A Decision

Harry stared at the ceiling, the empty feeling in his chest a now constant companion. His mind was dutifully checking off all the items that should force him out of his state, but his emotions stubbornly refused to cooperate.

She's gone, he thought. The one thing in my life I lived for. She trusted me to rescue her and I couldn't do it. Why can't I feel grief about that?

More images floated through his mind. My kids. Why kill them like that? What had they ever done? They hadn't even had time to live their lives yet. I'll never be able to walk Lily down the aisle or dance at her wedding. And Albus...Al was going to the be greatest Auror who ever lived, I just know it. Stolen, both of them. And what kind of father am I not to feel anything for them? Might have been more merciful if they'd never lived than have someone like me for a dad.

Ron, he continued, brutally lashing himself, hoping to feel something...anything. My best friend. And what did I do for him? Put a damned bulls-eye on his chest, thank you. That nearly killed Molly...and now what? Ginny's gone too. Molly can't take any more of this.

He rolled over onto his side, pounding his pillows, hoping to feel some frustration. Still nothing. Hermione. Damn near killed her too, didn't I? Only sister I've ever had and I couldn't keep her safe either. And now she's scared to death of me. She probably doesn't think I noticed, but I saw how she looked at me. Thought I was Voldemort, she did.

He considered that line of thought for a moment. That's it, isn't it? All those years of fighting and killing and death. I've turned into Voldemort. Nothing means anything anymore. Love, hate, joy, grief...it's all meaningless to me now, isn't it?

A gentle knock sounded at the door, and James peeked in. "All right if I come in, Dad?" he asked.

Harry rolled back onto his back. "Come in," he said.

James stepped in and took the chair next to the bed. "I went ahead and took care of everything, Dad. I figured you could use the rest. Besides, it kept my mind off of things for a while."

"Fine," Harry said, listlessly. "When?"

"Tomorrow morning, at sunrise. Mum always loved sunrise and sunset, you know. And sunset seemed to be too depressing a time to do it."

"Yes," agreed Harry, "she always loved those times. It seems like you made a good choice."

There were several seconds of awkward silence. Finally, James took a breath and said, "Dad...if you want to talk about anything..."

"No," he cut in, "not right now. No offense, but I'd like to be alone for a while, if you don't mind."

James looked briefly disappointed, but quickly smoothed his face over, nodded and said "All right, Dad, whenever you're ready, I'm ready." He patted Harry on the shoulder and left the room.

Not long after, Hermione slipped quietly into the room, holding a glass. "Harry," she said in a weak voice, "with the...you know...the funeral...being so early tomorrow, maybe you should get some sleep now?" Her brow was furrowed in concern, and her body language betrayed her nervousness.

Harry sighed deeply, and said "Hermione, I'm not going to curse you, you know."

Hermione seemed to jump a bit at his words. "No, Harry, I don't think...I mean..." She began to blush. "I'm just worried about you, that's all."

"Stopped thinking about Ron already?" Harry asked, wondering why he was saying such a thing.

Her eyes grew wide as saucers; all color drained from her face. "What...why...how could you say..." Tears filled her eyes; the hand holding the glass began to shake. "Of course not, Harry...but...with you...like you are..." She closed her eyes and tears began to fall.

"Hermione," Harry said, "sit down. I'm sorry. I don't know why I said that, either."

She made her way to the chair, shakily set the glass down on the bedtable, and sat down. She took several deep breaths, trying to regain her composure.

"I'm sorry," he said again. "I would give anything to be able to feel that pain right now. Anything is better than what I feel right now. At least you can feel."

"It's all right, Harry," Hermione said, her voice cracking. "I think I understand. It's just that...I've cried for Ron every day, but sometimes I just have to worry about you, all right?"

"And you have every right to be angry at me for that, all right? All your emotions may be negative right now, but be thankful you have them. I'm being completely serious." He sighed, then said, "Maybe I should just drink that now. You didn't slip poison in there when I wasn't looking, did you?"

Hermione again went wide-eyed, then realized he probably meant it as a joke. "No, Harry," she said, forcing a chuckle. "Just a Sleeping Draught."

Harry noted the forced chuckle and tried to give her a smile. It looked more like a grimace to Hermione, but she recognized it for what it was. He took the glass from the bedtable and drunk the contents in a single pull. "There," Harry said, "I'm being good, all right?"

Hermione gave a weak smile, ran her hand over Harry's head, and said "Get some sleep. I'll wake you in the morning, all right?" She stood up and left the room, while Harry closed his eyes and surrendered to the potion.


************************************************** **************************

The beauty of the sunrise struck Harry as a mocking salute. Ginny deserves to see this, he thought, not me. He was carrying her shrouded body to lay in the coffin, already above the freshly-dug grave. Again, he sat next to James and Hermione, hearing the words of the presiding wizard without letting them impinge on his consciousness. Instead, he was picturing their final moments together...his crowning defeat; his greatest failure.

He was shaken from his thoughts by those around him rising; the presider had stopped speaking and people were preparing to leave. Some were making their way over towards where he sat, evidently to pay their respects. He really didn't feel up to talking to anyone at that moment, but seeing Arthur Weasley at the head of the line caused him to change his mind. Arthur deserves something from me, he thought. He just wished he could give it to him.

Arthur extended his hand, and Harry took it, trying to inject some semblence of appreciation into the handshake. "Harry," Arthur began, "I don't want you to take this the wrong way...but I think it might be best if you avoided coming by the Burrow for a little while."

Harry frowned in confusion. "It's not your fault, Harry," Arthur put in quickly, "but Molly is...well...she's not well. And the boys...well, they are feeling very protective of their mother right now...deep down they know, but..." He trailed off, seeming to know this was not coming out the way he had intended.

Harry looked over to where Molly sat, surrounded by all four surviving Weasley brothers. He was shocked; he had never seen Molly look so...old. What was once a face maturely lined was now awash in loose wrinkles. The wild red hair she once sported was gone; in its place was a somewhat unkempt mop of stringy white. She had obviously lost weight. The sight merely intensified the emptiness Harry already felt.

Then, as he was turning his sight away, he caught George's eye. The look on George's face was one of loathing. It was something Harry had not seen on George's face since the days of Umbridge's reign at Hogwarts. His head spun, his vision began to blur, his mind grew sluggish. Had he lost his entire family as well?

James saw Harry begin to sway and stepped in. "Grandpa, why don't I come over and talk with you a little later? It's been a while since we've had a good talk anyway. Would that be all right?"

Arthur gave James a small smile, patted his shoulder and said, "I think that would be fine, James."

"Let me just meet with those who came here first, and I'll be over right after. Aunt Hermione...maybe you should get Dad home?"

Hermione had also seen Harry begin to lose composure and had gently taken his arm to steady him. "I think that's a good idea, James," she said. "C'mon, Harry...let's go home, OK?" Harry nodded dumbly and consented to be led off; meanwhile, James stayed behind and accepted the wishes of those who had gathered.

It took about 15 minutes to walk back to the Potter home. Hermione, not fully healed from her own injuries, was breathing rather hard once they got to the door. Nevertheless, she managed to manuever Harry towards the stairs, saying "Go on up, I'll be there in a minute." When she saw that Harry was heading up, she motioned to Kreacher, pantomiming a pouring motion, a sleeping head, and showing him her fingers positioned a short distance apart. Kreacher immediately bowed and went into the kitchen, coming out almost immediately with a small glass of Sleeping Draught. She nodded and smiled her thanks to Kreacher, then headed straight for Harry's bedroom.

Harry was already lying on his back in bed, on top of the blankets. He hadn't bothered to get undressed. His face showed confusion; it appeared to Hermione that he was having difficulty focusing. Without a word, she gently tilted his head up and brought the Sleeping Draught to his lips. Harry allowed her to feed him the potion without resistance. Once done, he laid his head back down on the pillows and went immediately to sleep.

Hermione quietly left the room and went downstairs, wiping tears from her eyes. Just as she got downstairs, James walked into the house.

"I'd better go over to the Burrow straight away," he said. "I didn't like the look on Uncle George's face."

"I know," said Hermione, trying not to start crying again. "I know they're hurting...but how can they think...don't they know..." Tears began to leak from her eyes.

James walked over and hugged his aunt gently. "They know. It's because they're hurting. Grandma's not well. They're just not thinking it through yet. Hopefully I can help with that." He gave her a quick peck on the top of her head and said, "Maybe you should get some rest too. I'll be back later." He then walked back out the door.

Hermione wiped her face and headed upstairs to her room. Once again, she laid down on her bed and softly cried herself to sleep.

************************************************** **************************

Harry slept for about four hours. Waking up, he quickly wished he could stay asleep. The empty feeling just wouldn't go away.

Now he had a new vision running through his head. He saw Molly Weasley, the closest thing he had to a mother growing up...seemingly aging 30 years in a matter of days. He saw the look of unmasked hatred in George's face. He saw the other brothers studiously avoid meeting his eyes.

Ginny...dead. His kids...gone. Ron...cut down. Hermione...injured for life and living in fear of him. His foster family...running away from him as quickly as they could. And still...nothing. Nothing but emptiness and confusion.

It was this latest vision that brought him to a decision. It was time. He got out of bed and rummaged through his bedtable, finally extracting a quill and a piece of parchment. Quickly writing a few sentences, he rolled the parchment and sealed it, writing "Hermione Granger Weasley" on the outside. Then he put his shoes back on, grabbed his coat, put his wand in an inner pocket, and left his room.

When he reached the living room, Kreacher came out of the kitchen to meet him. "Is Master needing anything," he asked.

"No, Kreacher, I'm fine," Harry replied. He laid the parchment down on the coffee table and adjusted his coat. "I...need to take a walk. I'll be gone for a while."

Kreacher frowned, having seen Harry's state when he came from the funeral. However, he merely bowed and said "Very well, Master. I shall have dinner prepared for your return."

"That's fine," Harry said. "I think Hermione is still resting. It should do her good." He paused a moment, then added, "Kreacher, I don't tell you often enough how much I appreciate what you've done for me all these years. I just want you to know that no matter whether you are working or not, you will always have a place here."

Kreacher felt alarm grow within him. History seemed to be repeating itself. Once again, he betrayed none of his feelings and said "Kreacher thanks Master for his words." Harry nodded and walked out of the door.

Immediately, Kreacher headed up to Hermione's room. Quietly he stepped over beside her sleeping form, and gently placed his hand on her arm. "Mistress..." he croaked.

Hermione woke up suddenly to see Kreacher standing next to her. She quickly sat up, wide-eyed, and said "Kreacher! What's wrong? What is it?"

Kreacher hesitated a moment, before saying, "Kreacher is unsure, Mistress, but...does Mistress remember the other day...with her potion?"

Immediately, Hermione felt fear drop into her gut. "Yes, Kreacher, I remember...what are you saying?"

"Master Harry...he..."

"What?!" Hermione exclaimed. "Has Harry done something? Has he hurt himself?"

"No," Kreacher began, "not yet...but Kreacher thinks he is going to."

"Where is he?" Hermione asked, throwing the blankets aside and climbing out of bed.

"Gone," said Kreacher.

"Gone?!" cried Hermione. "Gone where? Kreacher, where did he go?" She began finding clothes to wear.

"Kreacher does not know," he answered, miserably. "Master said he was going for a walk."

Hermione paused for a moment, then blurted out, "Yes...I know where he's going. Kreacher, go find my cane. I'm going to find Harry."

"Yes, Mistress," Kreacher said, and hurried out of the room.

Meanwhile, Hermione quickly dressed and put on her coat, scarf and gloves. She knew she wasn't quite up to this, but Harry's life was at stake, and she wasn't going to let a little infirmity on her part keep her from bringing him home. As she headed downstairs, Kreacher was waiting by the door with her cane. She took it from him, then touched him on the top of the head and said, "Thank you, Kreacher, for warning me. Whatever it takes, I'll bring him back."

Kreacher bowed low, and Hermione stepped out of the house and headed as quickly as she was able to the one place she knew Harry would be.

************************************************** **************************

Author's note: I don't mean to string y'all along (really!), but as I said once before, sometimes this thing seems to want to write itself. I'm still (I think) 4 chapters from finishing this thing. Meanwhile, I'm off work for the rest of the year, so maybe I'll get a couple of chapters up soon.

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Last edited by texan_muggle; December 23rd, 2009 at 12:49 am.
  #14  
Old December 23rd, 2009, 8:58 pm
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Posts: 56
Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 14 - The Edge of the Abyss

Hermione labored down the lane back towards the center of town. Her legs had still been sore from walking to and from the funeral that morning, and she knew she was pushing them harder than she should now. But there was no other choice. She had to find Harry before he...no, she wouldn't allow herself to complete that thought. She would find Harry. There was no other outcome possible.

Her breaths were coming in long, shuddering gulps. She knew she wasn't doing her lungs any favors, either. The cold air made her mouth dry and her nose runny. She tried to remember to breathe in through her nose and out through her mouth, but being short of breath to begin with sometimes made this difficult to do. Still, she pushed herself on.

There was no snow on the ground, no ice to make footing treacherous. She was thankful for that. True, there were no tracks to follow, but she didn't need a trail. She knew where Harry was going. All she had to do was get there...while she could still talk to him.

************************************************** **************************

Harry was walking, not hurriedly, but purposefully. The empty feeling still hadn't left him, but the fact he had come to this decision seemed to at least give him some energy. He had a reason to be moving, to be doing something. Now, nothing stood in the way of his destination. Cold, pain, fear, emptiness...nothing would stop him now.

The kissing gate had been left open; he walked through it without slowing down. He didn't need to look around for landmarks; he knew his destination. He followed the shortest path available to him while still respecting the other sites around him. It didn't take him long to finally reach the place he knew would be the last sight he beheld. Slowly, he lowered himself to the ground, sitting cross-legged, and took his wand from the inner pocket he had stashed it in. Then, he took a deep breath, placed his hands on his knees, and gazed at the stone in front of him.

Ginevra Molly Weasley Potter
11 August 1981 - 21 December 2027
“A man sees himself through the eyes of the woman he loves”

The grave next to him was freshly filled. All the trappings from the funeral that morning had been removed. All that remained was a stone, a mound of freshly-turned soil, and a lost man searching for his way home. Harry closed his eyes, and tried to find a peaceful place inside himself, some guidepost on the path he was about to embark on.

************************************************** **************************

Hermione reached the kissing gate and immediately looked towards Ginny's grave. There was Harry, sitting on the ground next to the new mound, facing the stone marking the grave. Trying to calm her breathing, she walked carefully along the gravestones towards Harry. He gave no sign he knew of her approach.

She came up from behind him and stopped beside him, facing towards Harry and the new grave. Without saying a word, she carefully lowered herself to the ground, finally taking a position much like Harry's. She looked at his profile; his closed eyes, his erect bearing, his hands resting on his knees, his right hand holding his wand. He looked to be meditating; under normal circumstances, Hermione would have no problem just sitting and watching him until he recognized her presence. But these were not normal circumstances.

"Harry?" she said softly. "Harry, are you all right?"

Harry opened his eyes, blinking rapidly as though he had dozed off. "Hermione," he said, in a tone much like that of a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "I didn't hear you. Ummm...I was just thinking quietly. Needed to be by myself."

"Thinking, yes," said Hermione. "You must have been thinking very hard not to have heard me. Are you afraid someone might attack you?"

"Ummmm...no, why?"

"I was just wondering why you had your wand out."

Harry glanced down at his right hand and looked at his wand. Before he could even attempt to explain why he might be holding it, Hermione jumped in.

"Don't bother, Harry, I know why you're holding your wand. I can't pretend to know what you're feeling, even after you've explained things to me. But I do know what you're thinking about."

"Do you?" asked Harry, his tone cold.

"Well, let's see," began Hermione. "You're tired of feeling empty. You feel the entire world has turned against you. You've become a burden to everyone around you. Every fiber of your being wants to be with Ginny. So...you intend on making it happen."

Harry raised his eyebrows, unable to help being impressed. "Not bad," he said. "How do you do it? Can you read my mind or something?"

Hermione allowed herself a small smile. "No, but I can read you. Harry, I've been your best friend for more than 35 years. I'm your sister, Harry. Forget about blood or parents or anything like that. You and I have been family ever since we were first-years. Of course I know what you're thinking." She paused a bit, then continued, "Besides...where you are now, I have been already."

Harry turned his head quickly towards her. "You? No, not you, I'm not buying it."

"Yes, me," replied Hermione, allowing a little embarassment to show. "Ron was my soulmate...he was my life. When he died..." She fought back tears and sniffled loudly, once. "When he died, I died inside. I hadn't said good-bye, I hadn't seen him that morning, nothing. You were gone with James, and I had the chance to fix things. Well, I thought I did, at the time."

"But,", Harry began, "you've always been stronger than that. You've were always stronger than all of us."

"Strong?" Hermione cried. "Harry, my strength always came from watching you. All those years, I saw the pain you carried, what you had to endure...I never thought I could ever go through what you did. And when I thought about that, I just did what I had to do to help you, because if you could handle your pain, then I...well, I could surely put up with what I needed to..."

Harry considered this in silence for a while. Then, he asked, "What made you stop?"

"Not what," answered Hermione, "who. Kreacher found me tampering with my healing potion and figured out what I intended. He...was able to talk me out of it."

"Kreacher...talked you out of it? Somehow I can't picture that."

"He can be...rather persuasive when he needs to be," Hermione said. "And he was right. It gave me time to think some more about things, and the more I was able to think, the more I knew he had done me a service. I just had to remember why it was better to live, even without Ron."

"Well," Harry began, looking away again, "Kreacher's not here. And frankly, I don't know of any reason why it would be better for me to live. My situation is different from yours."

Hermione took a deep breath. "Maybe things are different for you. We're not the same person, after all. But I know...here", pointing to her heart, "and here", pointing to her head, "that you have plenty of reasons to live, and none that should make you choose to die. Let's see...why don't we start with James."

"James?" Harry asked, incredulous. "James is an adult. He has a family of his own. He has a good life. He doesn't need me."

"Has becoming an adult stopped him from being your son?" Hermione countered. "You don't think he still has a need for a father? You don't think he needs your advice, or your acceptance? Your love? Harry, I thought that way too. But children never stop needing their parents. And grandchildren need their grandparents. You can't just walk away from that."

She took another deep breath before continuing. "Besides, don't you remember what you told me all those years ago? When Remus was going to leave Tonks? 'Parents shouldn't leave their kids unless they have to.' Did that rule suddenly change when James turned 17? Or got married? Or became a father himself?"

Harry didn't look at Hermione; he kept staring at Ginny's tombstone. But Hermione kept her eyes on him. She saw him frown in thought, and a surge of hope welled up inside her. He's listening, she thought to herself. I can't stop now.

"You need more reasons? What about all those around you. What about the Weasleys? They're as much family to you as you are to James. Would you hurt them more by doing this?"

"Hermione," Harry began, a tone of exasperation in his voice, "they hate me. Didn't you see their faces at the funeral? And they're right. What did knowing me ever get any of them? I'll tell you what it got them. Three dead children. Two more maimed for life. They've been targets for every Dark Lord wannabe for years, thanks to me."

"And what about you?", he continued. "What did knowing me ever get you? Well, I'll tell you. It nearly got you killed, more times than I can count. How many times did you have to put your life on the line to save me, Hermione? More times than you needed to, that I can tell you."

"What did it get me?" broke in Hermione. "It got me a husband and two children and a granddaughter, with hopefully more to come. It got me a brother whom I care about as I would life itself. Believe me, Harry, I came out way ahead in this because of you."

"But..." Harry began, "I saw you...when Sarah and Alicia...you were afraid of me, Hermione. I saw it in your face. And I know why...I'm becoming like Voldemort, all over again. I can't feel anything anymore. Nothing matters anymore. What kind of person can I be when I can't feel?"

"Harry," said Hermione, "I wasn't afraid of you. I was afraid for you. I saw the way you were pushing...and I knew that you were heading for something like this. And I was afraid I wouldn't be there to turn you around." A tear trickled down her cheek.

Harry looked away again. Confusion was beginning to mount inside him. He had been so sure of himself as he walked down here. Suddenly, however, the answers he had were making less sense. Could she be right? he thought. He was becoming lost again.

Hermione saw his face churn under his confusion and knew she was on the right path. She also knew she had to keep going; he wasn't safe yet. Before she could speak again, Harry turned back towards her and said, "All right, let's say everything you just said is true. It still doesn't help me with Ginny. She's waiting for me, Hermione. It was almost the last words she said to me. 'I'll be waiting for you on the other side of the veil', she said. I kept her waiting in life too many times, Hermione. I don't want to keep her waiting anymore."

"All right, Harry," Hermione said, "she's waiting for you. But let's think about what she said for just a minute. Do you really think she meant come right now?" Her voice became insistent. "Harry, this is Ginny we're talking about. How many times did she put herself in danger so you could live? Even when you tried to make her stop? And you want me to believe now she would completely change that? 'Drop everything, Harry, and kill yourself so we can be together!' Do you honestly expect me to believe she would say that?"

Harry's head was spinning again. Hermione's words were making too much sense to ignore. His sure answers were now completely gone. He had no idea what he needed to do anymore. He let the wand fall from his fingers and leaned over, holding his head in his hands. "I don't know anything, anymore, Hermione. I can't think. All I feel is confused."

Hermione watched, and waited. She didn't dare touch him, not yet. She knew he had to walk away from the edge of the abyss; she couldn't pull him away or he would only return.

As Harry tried to work through his confusion, a light, sweet scent filtered into his nostrils. Harry sniffed, then picked his head up and sniffed some more. "Hermione...what..." he began, but couldn't finish the thought.

Then the scent hit his mind full-force. Flowers...lilacs. It was Ginny's scent he was smelling! But...no! She was dead. He held her body. He saw her buried. I'm losing my mind he thought to himself.

...harry...

There, he thought, now I'm hearing voices too. Will this never end? He buried his face in his hands again.

...harry...it's all right...

Suddenly he felt a warmth in his hands. It was...almost...like someone was holding them. He held his hands out in front of him and flexed his fingers; the warm feeling didn't go away. Then, he felt that same warmth touch his lips, and an electric shock traveled down his spine. It was almost as if...but no, it couldn't be...

Ginny? he thought, is it really you?

...harry...it's not time...don't be afraid...forever and a day will i wait for you...

"But," he whispered, "how will I know?"

...when the time comes...i will find you myself...don't be afraid...

The smell of lilacs faded away. "Ginny!" he croaked, his voice breaking. He still felt the warmth in his hands and lips. As he concentrated on that warmth, he felt it travel into his body, up his arms, down his neck, and come to rest in his chest, around his heart. Suddenly, the iron casket imprisoning him flashed into ashes, and the full knowledge of what had happened over the last few days came to him. He saw what he had been about to do, and realized how close he was to losing it all.

Then the grief came. Seeing Ron, dead in his office. Seeing Albus, his eyes empty, his blood on the wall. Seeing Lily's body, Kreacher laying prone over her. Seeing Ginny...feeling her last kiss, her hand in his hair falling limp. He felt it all. Pain, loneliness, despair. Tears exploded from his eyes, his breathing became ragged, gasping. He leaned forward, into his lap, and covered his head with his arms, and howled his suffering to the world.

Hermione leaned over and took Harry by the shoulders. With a gentle pull, she lowered him sideways into her lap, and covered him with her own body. Resting her head on his arm, her tears joined his. She said nothing, for there was nothing she could say to comfort him. Instead, she just held him, and let him expunge his grief.

After an uncounted time, his tears stopped, his breathing became more regular, but he stayed where he was, head and shoulders in Hermione's lap, hiding in her embrace. "Hermione," he began, "I think I'm going crazy, but..."

"She was here, wasn't she?" Hermione asked. "Ginny?"

Harry slowly sat up and looked at Hermione. "But...how did you know? Did you hear her"

"No," she answered. "but I heard you. You whispered her name. She was here for you, not for me. And..." she blushed slightly, "when I almost...made the wrong choice...I know I heard Ron's voice...and felt his...kiss..." She wiped away a tear. "It's not rational, I know...but I believe Ginny would have come for you."

Harry closed his eyes and smiled. He looked inside himself...and he could feel again. The grief was still there, and it probably always would be. But there was joy there, too. He knew that Ginny was still waiting for him...and would wait, as long as it took. Forever and a day, she said, he thought.

With that, he stood up, and gently helped Hermione to her feet. Then, with his arm around her shoulders, and her arm around his waist, they left together, through the kissing gate, and towards home.


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Author's note: Credit Gator with the beautiful line on Ginny's gravestone...it's also engraved on her wedding ring.



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Last edited by texan_muggle; December 23rd, 2009 at 9:02 pm.
  #15  
Old January 2nd, 2010, 8:30 pm
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 15 - Starting Again

When Harry and Hermione walked through his front door, Kreacher was there to meet them. His face quickly ran the gamut from fearful anticipation, to joyful surprise, to relief, and finally to a contented neutrality. "Master Harry," Kreacher said, bowing, "welcome home. Dinner will be ready soon. Mistress Weasley," he continued, bowing towards Hermione, "welcome back."

"Kreacher," Harry began, a single eyebrow raised and his eyes narrowed slyly, "you knew, didn't you?"

Kreacher hesitated, brow furrowed in thought. "Kreacher...surmised, Master."

"And then you told Hermione, correct?"

Kreacher stood erect for a moment, his eyes meeting Harry's. After a couple of seconds, he bowed his head and replied, "Yes, Master. Master said Mistress was resting, but Kreacher disturbed her rest. If Master will excuse Kreacher, he will go pun-"

"Stop!", Harry cut in. "Kreacher, look at me."

Kreacher raised his head met Harry's eyes again. Harry held his gaze for a second, then crouched down and met Kreacher at eye level. Placing his hand gently on Kreacher's shoulder, he said "Kreacher, working to preserve a life is never cause for punishment. You did rightly."

Kreacher blinked rapidly a few times, and then bowed deeply towards Harry. Then, without a word, he turned and hurried into the kitchen. A small smile twitched across Harry's face at the sight. He stood up and turned towards Hermione who, he saw, was interested in a small piece of rolled-up parchment. Realizing immediately what she was holding, he was at a loss for words.

"What's this?" Hermione asked.

"Uh...Hermione," Harry stammered, "ummm....well..."

Hermione turned fully towards Harry and crossed her arms. "Harry, just tell me," she said, a hint of exasperation in her voice.

"Well..." he began, "before I left...I...had some business to take care of. I guess...that's yours now."

Hermione raised an eyebrow and slit the seal holding the parchment together. Unrolling it, she read,

I, Harry James Potter, hereby leave my house to Mrs. Hermione Jean Granger Weasley, including the services of one house-elf, Kreacher. I leave these in the knowledge that my debt to her is much greater and can never be paid. I pray her life will be sooner returned to normal through this bequest.

Hermione kept her eyes on the parchment. "You said this is mine?" she asked.

"Yes," replied Harry, as though waiting for an explosion.

Hermione nodded slowly, then turned and walked towards the fireplace. She gently placed the parchment in the center of the grate, then took out her wand and, pointing at the parchment yelled, "CONFRINGO!" With a single, sudden POOF! the parchment flashed into ash and smoke. Replacing her wand, she turned and, again without looking at Harry, said matter-of-factly, "That takes care of that." Walking to the couch, she sat down heavily, sighing "I've been on my feet much too long today."

Harry walked to the other side of the couch and sat down gingerly. "Hermione," he began, "are you angry with me?"

Hermione seemed to startle with the question. "Angry?" she replied. "What...oh, that. No, Harry, I'm not angry." A small smile crossed her face. "No, I just...well, I mean...Harry, there was just no need for it. You don't owe me anything. We're family. Besides...the fewer remembrances of what happened today, the better, don't you think?"

Harry nodded, and sat back in the cushions, allowing his gaze to wander without focus. Together they sat that way for a few minutes before Harry broke the silence. "Hermione," he said, "how were you able to do it?"

"Do what, Harry?" Hermione asked.

"Go on," Harry replied. "How were you able to go on so soon after Ron died? Even now...I mean, don't worry, I'm not planning to off myself anymore...but, right now I find it hard to do anything but think about Ginny."

"Don't think it was easy, Harry," Hermione replied. "It's still not. Keeping an eye on you helped to distract me somewhat, but mostly it was knowing that Ron wouldn't have wanted anything else. I don't think it's going to get much easier anytime soon, but hopefully it will get a little easier every day."

Harry nodded. "You're right. Just like you were right about Ginny not wanting me to...well, kill myself, I don't think she would want me to sit here and pine away for the rest of my life, either." He paused for a few seconds, then added, "But knowing that and living that are two different things."

Hermione moved over to sit next to Harry and took his hand. This time, Harry returned the pressure, then reached around and pulled her into a hug. "Hermione," he whispered, "stay here with me."

She pulled her head back to look at Harry, a questioning look on her face. Harry noticed and responded quickly, "I mean, like we are now. You were right, you're my sister and I love you. It's just...well, I can't see myself ever being with another woman again, and you probably feel the same way about being with another man, right?" Hermione nodded, but still had a question in her look. "Well, I figured, if we can't be with who we want to be with, why not just be with each other. As family."

Hermione smiled, gave Harry a kiss on the cheek and embraced him again. "I think that's a great idea, Harry," she said.

Harry smiled and softly called, "Kreacher?" Immediately, Kreacher came from the kitchen, bowed before them and said, "Yes, Master?"

"Kreacher, Hermione will be staying with us permanently. The room she's in now belongs to her, as does this house belong to all of us here."

Kreacher bowed and said, "Welcome home, Mistress Hermione." Hermione smiled at the change of address and replied "Thank you, Kreacher, it's good to be home." Then, Kreacher asked Harry, "Master, Kreacher is merely curious...but may Kreacher know how Master arrived at his decision?"

"Kreacher is concerned for Mistress Ginny's memory, correct?" Harry asked.

Kreacher's eyes widened and, bowing again, said, "Kreacher is being nosy, Master, and-"

"It's all right, Kreacher," Harry interrupted. "There's nothing wrong with your concern. Hermione and I have been brother and sister to each other since we were children, and family members take care of each other. Is that not right?"

Kreacher let a small smile flash across his face, then said, "Family must always take care of each other. Yes, that is correct, Master." Once again, he bowed himself into the kitchen.

Harry and Hermione again sat back into the cushions, quietly holding each other's hand. After a while, Harry spoke up, "This is not going to be easy, starting over like this."

"Not starting over," Hermione answered. "Call it...starting again. Starting over makes it sound like we're throwing away the past. Starting again implies we keep the past with us, but we just move forward from it."

"Starting again," Harry said. "Yes...that sounds much better. Actually, I think that little change will make it easier to go on. I think I was afraid somehow I'd have to forget Ginny...or that I would, whether I wanted to or not...and that if I couldn't I'd end up driving myself insane. But 'starting again'...that means that not only won't I forget, but that it's OK not to." He sighed, and said "I'm sure none of that made any sense."

"No," Hermione replied, smiling, "it made perfect sense. At least to me."

Just then, James walked in the front door. "Dad!", he exclaimed. "Are you all right? Is everything OK?"

Harry stood up, walked over to James, and wrapped him in a big hug. "No, James," he said, "I'm not all right." He released his son and looked him in the eye. "But I will be."

James smiled, then looked over at Hermione. "How about it, Aunt Hermione? Are things OK?"

Hermione nodded and said, "Yes, James, things are fine right now. And we can look after each other when things are not so fine."

At the quizzical look James gave, Harry replied, "Your aunt will be staying here permanently. We can look after each other, and Kreacher can look after both of us."

James nodded, then said, "Speaking of staying permanently...Dad, I've been thinking..."

"What, James? Thinking of moving back to England?"

"Well..." James began, "yes. Yes I am."

"When?" asked Harry.

"As soon as I can arrange it," replied James.

Harry frowned. "You have three years left on your assignment with the Foreign Office. Why would you do this?"

"Dad, come on," James said, impatiently. "I saw what you have been going through, OK? I'm worried about you."

"Well, I appreciate that, James, but there's no need," Harry answered. "As I said, your aunt and I can keep an eye on each other just fine, and Kreacher will take care of us both. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate your concern, but you have your own life to live now. You have an obligation to the Foreign Office to serve out, and you have your own family to care for. If you and the family want to move back to England, that's fine, but do it because it's what you want to do, not for me or for anyone else. All right?"

James looked hard at his father, and saw his hard gaze returned. Mentally noticing the difference from the look he'd seen over the past few days, he nodded and said, "OK, Dad. We can talk about it later anyway, right?"

Harry nodded. "Sure, James."

Just then Kreacher came out to announce that dinner was ready. James, Harry and Hermione all left for the kitchen together, as family should.

************************************************** **************************

Author's note: Despite the title of this chapter and the (seeming) end, there are 2 chapters still coming.

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  #16  
Old January 13th, 2010, 11:39 pm
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 16 - The Final Chapter Is Written

And so life went on. Within a week, both Hermione and Harry had been cleared to return to work. Immediately, Harry tendered his resignation, stating he no longer had the drive necessary to lead the Office. Hermione, possibly copying a page from her own book of experiences, flatly refused to accept Harry's letter. Instead, she sat down with him, along with Harry's team leaders, and impressed on Harry how much he was still needed.

As a result of that meeting, Harry's duties changed radically. First, he personally took over the Training Division, which handled not only the normal Auror training, but the Hit Squad and Auror Upgrade programs as well. He quickly earned a reputation as a ruthless trainer, rivalling even the legendary Mad-Eye Moody. A trainee under his instruction could expect anything, at any time. The only limits Harry placed on himself when training were that he would do nothing to a trainee that he hadn't either covered or was immediately about to cover. He also tended to hold his trainees much longer than had been the norm, giving them more instruction prior to apprenticing them to a fully-qualified Auror. This caused a few grumbles in the trainee ranks, but not a complaint was heard from the Aurors.

The second change was negative in nature. While he maintained overall control over the Auror Office, he never went on an active mission again. The thrill of being a field commander had died; he no longer needed to be fighting from the front. Instead, he trusted in the abilities of his team leaders (Silas picking up Ron's team, although hesitantly; he never was one who strove for top billing) to read the situation in the field and do what needed to be done. He still offered his help in investigations and after-action inspections, but he never needed to raise his wand again in the line of duty.

His team leaders, for their parts, completely accepted the change in status of their boss. For years, they had been trying to get him to back off of his lead-from-the-front personality; they knew he was needed as much or more at the Office than chasing street hoods in Upper Flagley. They grieved that it took a disaster of the magnitude it did to finally bring him to a more reasonable place, and vowed among themselves never to allow any reason to arise for Harry to return to his older ways. New recruits, knowing of Harry's history, would often ask their trainers why he no longer went out into the field. Those trainers answers were uniformly short: "He's done enough." The tone with which the answer was delivered, along with the facial expressions, normally ensured the question would not be repeated, at least not by that recruit.

James and his family did return to England; however, they waited for his remaining 3-year commitment to be served. On returning, James was immediately picked up as a Senior Auror to fill a vacancy in the Auror Office, allowing him to see his father in action nearly every day, at least in training.

Five years passed. The Chief Archivist in the Department of Mysteries tendered her retirement request after serving the Ministry for some 50 years. The Wizengamot felt her retirement was quite reasonable, except for one small matter: none of the Assistant Archivists cared to advance to the Chief position. Hermione heard of this, and immediately tendered (another) resignation from her own position, but this time offering to train for 30 days under the Chief Archivist prior to taking her place. Faced with little choice, the Wizengamot finally released Hermione from her Department Head position and awarded her what seemed to be a demotion, but what for Hermione was a dream job.

Once Hermione had resigned, Harry tendered his own resignation from the Auror Office, requesting instead that he take on the Training Division position full-time. Hermione's successor was amenable to this, and so Harry converted his Auror commission to a Reserve appointment and became the full-time trainer of Aurors, Hit Squad members, and new recruits. His choice to succeed him was a surprise to no one except the person he chose: Sarah Jordan. It was a long journey from nearly-sacked trainee to Harry Potter's first protegee to first female Head of the Office of Aurors, but no one (except her) doubted she was ready for the challenge.

Meanwhile, in those five years, Harry and Hermione had grown closer than they ever imagined they could be. While the love of a married couple is often held as the ultimate expression, the love between a devoted brother and sister is just as strong, if expressed differently. And devoted only began to describe how Harry and Hermione felt for each other.

They were two halves of a single being. For years, Hermione had been able to sense what Harry was thinking; now, even Harry could do the same with Hermione. Both had healed of the wounds they had received; however, even fully-healed wounds leave scar tissue that never goes away. When that scar tissue would make itself felt to one, the other was always nearby to lend support, without needing to ask. They just knew each other well enough to know when it was necessary.

Between them, a tradition had sprung up as a way to both heal themselves and recognize that they waited patiently to be reunited with their departed loves. Every year, during the week prior to Christmas, the two of them would spend most of their time at home, reminiscing about Ron, Ginny, and their lives when they were younger. Any memory was fair game to examine; they were real people, with real lives, not idealized images. They dug out old photographs and visited their graves. Anything having to do with Ron and Ginny was revived, polished, restored.

Twenty-four more years passed. Hermione and Harry were retired from their Ministry positions. Hermione kept herself occupied by writing updated chapters to Bathilda Bagshot's A History of Magic, specializing in the time from the First War to just after the Battle of Hastings. Harry, meanwhile, tended to stay home and work outside, except when he was invited up to Hogwarts to give a guest address or to teach a few DADA classes. Both were now great-grandparents and, while still keeping in touch with their families, tended to mainly keep to themselves. Molly Weasley had been the party-thrower and family heartstring; when she and Arthur finally passed away, no one felt equipped to take her place. As a result, the extended family drifted apart. Not totally, of course, but it never was as close as it was during the halcyon days after Voldemort's defeat.

It was again the week before Christmas. Harry was spending the week at Hogwarts, after having been invited by their new Headmaster, Neville Longbottom. Harry had been ready to turn him down, but Hermione insisted he go. She reminded him that their Christmas tradition was for them, not for Ron and Ginny, and could be done just as easily when he returned. So Harry left, intending to return after the breakfast feast on Friday the 22nd.

So it was that Hermione was alone on December 20th, the anniversary of Ron's death. Feeling the need to mark the occasion even without Harry, she put on her hat, coat and gloves, and walked down to the cemetary. Arriving at his grave, she was tired and short of breath. She then decided to lay her head down on his grave for just a few minutes, to allow her to catch her breath.

She was awoken by a young Muggle couple who had been walking through the cemetary themselves and had come to check on her prior to leaving themselves. Those few minutes had turned into several hours; even with her winter clothing, she was chilled to the bone, breathing was painful, and her hips were very stiff. The young couple saw that she was in no condition to travel unattended, despite her stubborn protests, and insisted on walking her back to her home. Once there, Hermione thanked them and went inside. No longer was Kreacher around to tend to her; he had died many years previously. Not feeling up to the effort of making herself anything warm to eat, she trudged upstairs, put on some warm pajamas, crawled under the covers and went to sleep.

As expected, Harry arrived home late on the morning of December 22nd, after giving a final address to the Hogwarts student body at breakfast. Surprised that Hermione wasn't downstairs when he came out of the fireplace, he went up looking for her. And he found her...feverish, shivering, her breathing labored, barely conscious of his presence. In near panic, he took the Floo to St. Mungo's to find a Healer who would come back with him. Immediately he saw Alicia Spinnet coming out of the lift and heading for the Floos.

"Alicia," Harry cried, "thank God I found you. Hermione needs help NOW, I've been gone all week and I don't know what's wrong with her but she's shaking and she can't breathe and--" The words tumbled out of him at breakneck speed.

"Harry, calm down!" Alicia broke in. "Take a deep breath, slow down. What symptoms is Hermione showing?"

Harry closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and said "She has a fever. She's having trouble breathing. She's shaking. Those...those are the main ones, I think,"

"All right," Alicia said. "I'll come with you. Let's go."

They both Flooed back to Harry home, and Alicia asked him to remain downstairs while she went upstairs to examine Hermione. He didn't see her again for nearly an hour, not until she walked briskly downstairs to ask Harry if he had a potions closet. "Yes," he replied, "from my Auror days. It's still stocked; just a habit, I guess."

He immediately showed her to his potions closet, where she immediately conjured up two cauldrons and began tossing ingredients from the closet into them. Stunned into silence at how fast she was working, Harry just stood and watched. In what seemed to be no time at all, Alicia was decanting both cauldrons into their own vials and heading back upstairs, at which point Harry realized he hadn't asked her what was going on.

He didn't have to wait long; Alicia came downstairs only a few minutes later. Harry showed her to a chair and took another directly across from her.

"What's wrong with her," Harry cried. "How is she?"

"She has pneumonia," Alicia answered, her voice calm but her eyes betraying the sadness she felt inside. "A very severe case. Evidently she spent several hours in the cold the other day...she said she fell asleep at Ron's grave." Harry winced at her words. "She remembers getting into bed, and then you woke her up."

"But," Harry began, "that means she was in bed for almost two days before I found her!"

"Yes," Alicia agreed, "and between being hypothermic and her already compromised lung function, that was plenty of time for that pneumonia to get a real hold inside."

"But," Harry stammered, "she's going to be OK...right?"

"Harry," Alicia began, taking a deep breath, "there's little we can do for severe cases like this. We have only one potion that works with pneumonia, and the more severe the case, the harder the potion is on the patient. I don't like to give it to patients over 70."

"But...but 70 isn't all that old...is it?"

"Harry, wizards may live longer than Muggles, but 70 is still getting old, even for wizards. And both of you are nearly 80 now, and you didn't lead easy lives when you were younger."

"Anyway," Alicia continued, "it's all academic. I offered Hermione the choice to take the potion anyway, and she refused. She told me if she recovers, she recovers. I did give her something to help with her breathing and to bring her fever down a bit, but that's all she would take."

Harry felt a knot of fear growing in his gut. "Alicia...will she..."

"I don't know, Harry," she said. "I really don't. It's up to her own healing responses now." She got up to leave. "She's awake now, and she wants to see you. I'll come by in the morning to check on her."

Harry stood up and gave Alicia a hug, and watched her disappear from the fireplace. He then walked upstairs to Hermione's room and slowly opened the door. He saw her in her bed, reclining on several pillows. Her face looked drawn, as though she had lost weight. For the first time, she did look to Harry as though she was getting old.

He walked over to her bed and sat in the chair next to her. He took her hand and whispered, "Hermione, I'm here".

Hermione opened her eyes, looked over at Harry, and smiled weakly. "Not there, Harry," she whispered. "Over here." She patted the empty half of the bed next to her. "I need you next to me, not separated."

Harry's fear began to grow. While they had been close for years, he had never heard Hermione say out loud that she needed him to be close to her. He stood up, walked around to the other side of the bed, removed his shoes and his cloak, and climbed into bed next to her, arranging the extra pillows so he could recline in the same fashion.

Harry once again took Hermione's hand, but this time she refused his hand in hers. Instead, she immediately began to roll over, slowly, towards Harry. Harry stopped her, saying "Wait, wait...won't this affect your breathing? Are you sure this is OK?"

"I don't know if it's OK," whispered Hermione, "and I don't know if it will affect my breathing. If it does, it does. What I need right now is for you to hold me, Harry. Please...just hold me."

Harry's eyes began to water, but he blinked them clear and reached over to help Hermione roll over against his chest. After a minute or so, she was cuddled up underneath his left arm, with her head on his chest, and her left arm draped across his body. Harry's right hand slowly stroked her hair.

"Thank you, Harry," she whispered slowly. "I love you, Harry."

"I love you too, Hermione," Harry answered, giving her a kiss on the top of her head.

They laid there in silence for a few minutes. Then, Hermione tightened her hold on Harry, took a shuddering breath, then relaxed and exhaled. Harry waited for her next breath to come...and waited...and waited. After a minute or so, he reached down to her neck to feel for a pulse, but there was none. Hermione was dead.

Tears flowed freely from Harry's eyes. Instead of the hysterical tears he'd shed at Ginny's grave, these were weary tears. He was tired, and alone. His final tie to this earth had finally loosened. He sobbed softly as he washed her hair with his tears, gently stroking her still face with his right hand.

When his tears ended, he made no move to change his position, or to move Hermione. Instead, he merely took his glasses off, laid his cheek on Hermione's head, and fell fast asleep.

************************************************** **************************

...harry...

...harry...


************************************************** **************************

Author's note: Despite the chapter title, there's one more...

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  #17  
Old January 16th, 2010, 7:09 pm
texan_muggle  Male.gif texan_muggle is offline
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Re: Peace Always Has A Price

Chapter 17 - A New Book Begins

Harry walked through a lush grassland along a hillside. The sun was shining, and a few high clouds dotted the rich, blue sky. The air was comfortably mild; despite the bright sun, it felt more like a mid-spring day rather than the heat of summer. A light breeze wafted through, also helping to keep things comfortable. Flowers of all kinds bloomed through the grasses, releasing their scents in a symphony of smells. The combinations were soothing, rather than overpowering. Copses of trees of different varieties dotted the countryside; rather than growing into a solid wood, two or three varieties would group together, their branches intertwined, while leaving room for the grasses and flowers to grow between the thickets.

...harry...

He turned his head and began walking towards a small thicket near the top of the hill. As he approached, he saw tall, mature bushes of lilacs, laden with blossoms, standing sentinel over a mixed thicket of hazel and holly. Rich, brown nuts hung from the slender hazel branches, while growing into them were new growths of holly, not yet mature enough to bear fruit but covered in new, green leaves.

Movement at the edge of his vision attracted his attention. From around one side of the guarding lilac came a beautiful mare. She was snowy white from the tip of her nose to the end of her tail, except for a pair of chocolate-brown eyes and a thick mane of fiery red. She walked head-erect, quivering slightly all the way from her withers to her haunches; she seemed to be spoiling for a race. Yet she stepped quietly, calmly, stopping directly in front of Harry.

Harry slowly walked around the mare, trailing his left hand along her body. She was a gorgeous animal; fit, trim, an obvious racer rather than a plowhorse. As his hand glided softly over an area, her quivering would quiet under his touch. As he came back around to the front, his hand running up through her mane (which was silky soft rather than coarse), she turned her head slightly and gave his ear an affectionate lip-nibble.

Suddenly she gave a soft whinny and tossed her head quickly to the side, almost all the way to her back. Then she turned back around and looked at Harry. He returned her gaze quizzically, moving to her back, and patted her back softly. Once again, she tossed her head to the side, followed this time by a couple of nods.

Harry placed both palms on her back and carefully lifted himself up. She stood rock-steady while he situated himself, and he leaned forward slightly so as to keep his hands lightly on her neck. Then she turned and began a trot straight up the hill. Harry, surprised by the sudden movement, began to grip her neck more tightly, but quickly relaxed as he noticed that, despite her gait, he felt no danger of falling off. If it weren't for the evidence of his eyes and the wind on his face, he wouldn't know he was moving at all.

As they reached the top of the hill, she paused momentarily, and Harry looked with wonder at the vista before him. Before him was a narrow, green valley, with a small river running placidly through it. Over the tops of the hills on the other side he could see the topmost spires of a castle, evidently overlooking another valley fed by the same river, which turned out of sight through a cut in those hills.

In the valley itself, he saw the oddest structure imaginable. One could only describe it as what the Burrow might have become had it been built for fifty people. Several crooked towers circled a common area with a large marquee set in its center. Off towards the river from this grouping, a large field with two sets of three elevated rings was visible, a middling-large shed off to one side.

Again, the mare began to move, this time at a full gallop down the hill. Once again, Harry was impressed to find he had no sense of motion other than his eyes and the wind on his face. This was obviously the race she had been waiting to run.

They came to a halt in front of the nearest structure, right next to the front door. Harry slowly climbed down from his perch and once again gave the mare a questioning look. Once again, she looked back at him and nodded her head a few times. Then she stepped sideways into him, giving him a slight nudge towards the door.

"All right, all right, I'm going," Harry chuckled, giving her a final stroke of his hand along her neck. He turned to the door and opened it. Immediately a cloud descended over his sight, and all faded to black.

************************************************** **************************

Sunlight streamed into the bedroom through the open curtains. Harry opened his eyes slowly, not wanting to leave the peaceful dream he had been in. He felt the weight of a body on his chest and against his left side, and the sadness of the prior evening returned. He had no desire to move from the bed ever again; it would only mean he had more duties to perform. Moreover, he now had those duties completely to himself. He no longer needed to isolate himself as he had often tried to do when he was younger. Now, he truly was alone.

He picked up his glasses next to him and put them on, and prepared to move. As he looked down at the body lying against him, the breath was driven from him in a single, explosive gasp.

Arrayed across his chest was not a head of curly, auburn hair streaked with gray. Instead, that hair was red.

Confusion rose inside him. This is not real, it's still a dream, he thought to himself. But it felt so real. He reached up and pinched his own cheek...he could feel the pain! Wide-eyed, he looked around the room, and he suddenly noticed he was no longer in Hermione's bedroom. The bookcases were gone, and the bed he laid in had suddenly sprouted four posts and a canopy. I got rid of this bed after Ginny died!, he screamed to himself inside his head. What the hell is happening?

Suddenly he felt the body against him move, as though whoever laid against him was beginning to wake up. He closed his eyes tightly, not wanting to see, convinced he was going mad. Then a voice came from the area of his chest...where the head of that body next to him would be. A voice he hadn't heard in nearly thirty years...and a voice he could never, ever, mistake for anyone else's.

"Good morning, Harry."

"This is not happening, this can't be real," he whimpered, eyes still screwed tightly shut. But his own body was betraying him. His nose reported the flowery scent she always wore. His hands noted the silky softness her hair always had. His face told him it was her smooth skin it felt now gently touching his cheek.

"It's all right, Harry," that voice said, a soothing tone, trying to coax him to relax. "It's all real. You really are here with me. You're home now."

Harry slowly opened his eyes, and yes, there was a hand touching his cheek. He moved his head to look down, and yes!...the red hair, those brown eyes, the soft smile...they were real! Ginny's face was looking up at him, and it was a face transformed. She was 25 again, and the most beautiful girl in Harry's world. Her eyes glistened, as though a light film of tears covered them.

Harry gave a short, convulsive bark of a laugh, his breaths coming in gasps. "But...but...how..." he stammered, wide-eyed.

Ginny gave him a sly look and said "Didn't I tell you I would find you when the time was right?"

"Find me...", Harry started, before memory flooded his mind. "That...you...it really was you?"

Ginny closed her eyes and nodded. "I was there. And Ron really was with Hermione, too."

"But...how...why..." Harry sputtered.

"You weren't ready yet, sweetheart," Ginny replied, her face turning compassionate. "You might have lost me forever had you been able to carry..that...out. Choosing our own death by our own hands is generally...discouraged."

"But you really weren't ready to go that far anyway," she continued. "You were confused, lost...you really didn't have any true idea what you were doing. All you needed was a little nudge." She smiled again. "It was the same with Hermione. And we both knew that if we could just get you two away from the edge, you would take care of each other. And you did."

"Wait a minute," Harry began, "you both knew? Ron's here?"

"Yes," Ginny said. "Ron, Mum, Dad, Fred...and all kinds of other people. We've been waiting for you two."

"We two? Hermione's here too?"

Ginny nodded. "She's with Ron now. Their room is a couple of doors down."

Harry took a deep breath and looked around some more. "So where am I? What do I do here?"

"I told you already, silly," Ginny teased. "You're home. And we live here. We fly brooms here. We eat, drink, laugh, visit."

"How long do I get to stay?"

"Forever and a day, sweetheart," she answered, pulling his head down to kiss him fiercely.

After a minute or so, Harry gently disengaged to come up for air. Then he had a sobering thought. "Ummmm...you said Ron was here? Don't you think he might barge in here or something?"

Ginny got that sly look on her face again and said "Trust me, Harry...Hermione isn't letting him out of that room for a while. We just might have to barge in on them."

"Well," Harry said, mirroring Ginny's grin, "we can worry about that later." He rolled Ginny up on top of him, her face directly above his.

"Much...later."

************************************************** **************************

Author's note: No more teasing. This really is it. I hope you all enjoyed it, whether you gave me feedback or not. I want to thank all those who did give me feedback...every single comment was appreciated.

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