Harry woke in rather a different state than he’d blacked out, laid out on his back with a nest of cushions underneath him and one hell of a headache. His ribs and right arm didn’t feel much better, and he panicked for a moment, thinking his bones had been Vanished again and he’d have to Skele-Gro them back. But no, surely there were Healers more accomplished than Gilderoy Lockhart out there, and besides, perhaps he had only sprained something.
He blinked slowly, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dim light and wondering why everything was blurry before remembering that his glasses had come off somewhere in the crash. He’d need to Summon them—assuming they were still in one piece.
What he could see of the room he was in, he didn’t recognise—but it looked like a lovely sitting room. He hoped he hadn’t crash-landed in some Muggle’s backyard—he hadn’t the foggiest idea how to Obliviate someone. Could you still be brought up on charges of breaking the Statute of Secrecy if you got blown out of the sky by a power-hungry madman hell-bent on your destruction and the subjugation of magical and non-magical folk alike?
His head throbbed, bringing with it a wave of nausea and pops of colour flashing in his vision—and then he suddenly recalled Hagrid, lying broken and still on the ground as Harry tried to shake life back into him. He shoved himself up, gasping, “Hagrid—!”
“Shh, shh—there, there,” someone soothed, and a fair-haired, big-bellied man shuffled into view, a hand on Harry’s shoulder and an anxious expression on his features. “Hagrid’s just fine, son.” He drew back and nodded over the back of the sofa Harry was sitting on. “He’s got ‘Dromeda seeing to him, and you couldn’t ask for a more attentive nurse. How are you feeling, though? Anything else broken? Here you go.” He reached into his vest pocket, pulling out Harry’s glasses; the lenses were scratched and muddy, but they were at least in one piece.
“Anything—else?” Harry asked, slipping his glasses on.
“I’ve seen to your ribs, and your arm—I’m nowhere near as good with Healing spells as ‘Dromeda is, but I manage. You should be right as rain once she’s tidied up after me.” He thrust a hand forward. “Oh, I’m Ted, if you’re wondering. Ted Tonks—Dora’s father.”
Harry didn’t have the breath to spare for an introduction at the moment, blurting out, “Voldemort—”
“Whoa, whoa, easy there,” said Ted, placing a hand just over Harry’s chest to encourage him to lie back against the cushions again. “Don’t strain yourself—that crash was no joke. You ought to see the state of our garden.” He gave Harry a curious look. “What happened, anyway? Something go wrong with the bike? I keep telling Arthur he needs to actually study a manual or two before going fiddling with Muggle vehicles—I mean even I wouldn’t touch one with a barge pole, and I was raised Muggle.”
Harry strained to pick out the most relevant bits of information from Ted’s genial blathering. “No, it wasn’t the bike…” Harry said, grimacing, and his scar gave a needling pulse of reminder. “Death Eaters, loads of them. We were chased—”
“Wait, Death Eaters?” Ted straightened, all good humour gone from his face. “Why would you run into those? The whole plan was to—”
“We didn’t ‘run into’ them—we were ambushed; they knew we were leaving tonight. Somehow.” Harry glanced around, suddenly fearful he’d led them straight to these lovely people who’d offered their home to shelter Harry. “Whatever the plan was, it’s been compromised. We should—”
Ted gently guided Harry back down when he struggled to sit up. “You should relax, is what you should do.” Ted glanced up at the ceiling. “Well, I guess if the Charms weren’t holding, then we’d already be dead and you’d be captured, so there’s that at least, right? We should be safe in here for now—though I wouldn’t want to test it for too long.”
Charms… That was why Voldemort had vanished; the bike had crossed the protective perimeter of the Order’s spells. Harry swallowed. “I—thank you for getting me patched up, but…can I see Hagrid? Only, he seemed in terrible shape when I—”
“Better shape than you, I imagine!” Hagrid grinned, poking his shaggy head through the door before squeezing the rest of himself through—worse for wear but alive, and at this point, Harry would count that as a win. He launched himself at Hagrid, who pulled Harry into a crushing hug. Harry bore the pain in stride. “Can’t believe we made it outta tha’ in one piece!”
“That makes two of us…” Harry said, trailing off when his eye caught on the woman who had slipped into the sitting room just on Hagrid’s heels. “You’re—!” His hand went instinctively to his hip, where his wand usually sat in his pocket—but came away empty, and a soft chuckle burbled up from behind him.
Something tapped against his arm, and he tore his eyes away to glance down as Ted offered him his wand. “Found it in the wreckage and figured you might have a need for it—though I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t Jinx my wife while you’re under my roof. At least have the good graces to take it outside.”
“Your—wife?” Harry looked again, and instead of the near-mirror to Bellatrix Lestrange he had seen only a moment ago, now he saw a different woman, the resemblance far less pronounced now that Harry knew to look for it. Her hair was a light, soft brown, and her eyes were wider and kinder—though when she smiled, it came out just shy of a smirk that betrayed her family roots.
“I’m pleased to see you’re up and about, Harry—but perhaps you can tell us what’s happened to our daughter?” She looked to Ted, and the cool confidence she’d worn about her shoulders on walking into the room began to melt away, wringing her hands. “Hagrid said there were Death Eaters—that they’d found you. Where is Nymphadora?”
Harry shook his head. “I—I don’t know. I don’t know what’s happened to anyone else.” He’d honestly been hoping they’d heard. How long had he been out? Hagrid seemed relatively unscathed—but he was half-Giant. The others were far more fragile, and far less experienced in battle. Even Ron and Hermione had only really brandished their wands in out-and-out fighting the one time at the Ministry…
God, he’d never forgive himself if…
Wait—the Portkey! They were all supposed to meet back at the Burrow, so that was where everyone would be. “She’ll be at the Burrow, if anywhere—there should be a Portkey?”
“Oh! Yes, yes, that’s right,” Ted said, beckoning them to follow him. “It’s just through here.”
Harry moved to follow, but Andromeda stayed him with a hand on his arm. “…You’ll let us know straight away, won’t you? If anything’s happened to her? I just…I have to know… I can’t stand not knowing…”
He patted her hand gamely. “Absolutely, we’ll send you word, or…or Tonks will, since I’m sure she’ll be there.” He hoped his words didn’t sound half as disingenuous to the Tonkses as they did to Harry’s own ears.
“‘Dromeda—you know our girl. She’ll be fine,” Ted reassured. “She knows her stuff.” Andromeda gave him a tight smile and quietly nodded, releasing Harry.
He snatched up the muddy rucksack Ted had set at the foot of the couch, certain the contents were ruined but feeling obligated to bring it along, if only to catalogue the destruction within. His broom was probably lying in pieces somewhere in the English countryside, and Hedwig and her cage were but ash on the high winds.
Ted led them down a short hallway to what appeared to be a guest bedroom, Hagrid squeezing in after him—and Ted pointed to a silver hairbrush on the chest of drawers. “Your Portkey, sirs.”
Harry grabbed it, extending it toward Hagrid so he could place a finger on it as well. “Thanks again for patching us up—for everything, really. You saved us.”
Ted only waved him off, but Hagrid straightened with a frown, glancing around. “Wait—that’s all yeh’ve got? Where’d Hedwig get off to?”
Harry wished Hagrid hadn’t noticed, fingers clenching around the strap of his rucksack as he focused on the floor. “She…she got hit, in the commotion.” He could feel the others give a soft intake of air and knew condolences were forthcoming—he couldn’t stand to hear them right now, he thought, so he said gruffly, “It’s—never mind. It was quick at least, and she—”
He was spared the need to continue the pithy explanation as the Portkey abruptly activated, and with a jolting jerk that hooked into his midsection, Harry found himself pulled into the weird spinning space of Portkey travel, hurtling away from the Tonkses.
Only seconds later, his feet slammed onto hardpack, and he pinwheeled forward onto his hands and knees in the great garden backing up to the Burrow.
Someone screamed—though not in pain or terror this time, only relief. Mrs. Weasley and Ginny appeared at the back door and scrambled down the steps, racing to meet Harry and Hagrid, who had also collapsed on landing.
“Harry? Harry—are you the real one? What happened? Where are the others?” cried Mrs. Weasley, patting him down.
The real one? Harry endured her groping with mounting confusion. “Wait—huh? What d’you mean? We’re the first? Isn’t anyone else back?”
“No one,” said Ginny, voice flat, as she stood back with her arms crossed over her chest and shifting from one foot to another with nervous energy. Her eyes looked red-rimmed and puffy.
“Oh, you look terrible!” Mrs. Weasley said, unable to resist further patting and poking. “Was there a battle? Did You-Know-Who…?” She brought a hand to her mouth, eyes shining, and Harry wished for so many reasons he hadn’t been the first one back, having to explain things to her.
“Somehow the Death Eaters found out the Order was moving me tonight—they jumped us as soon as we left. A few of them chased me and Hagrid, I’m not sure about the others. It was all we could do to get away—and then Voldemort caught up with us—”
Mrs. Weasley pulled him into a hug he didn’t feel he deserved. “Thank goodness you’re all right,” she said, voice breaking. “Ron and Tonks were meant to be the first back—” She pointed to an empty oil can on the ground. “—But they missed their Portkey. It came back without them. And that one—” She pointed to a dirty, worn-down plimsoll. “—That one should have been Arthur and Fred’s. You and Hagrid were third, and—” She gave a gasp, checking her watch. “George and Remus ought to be arriving any minute now—”
“Mum!” Ginny shouted, gasping, and pointed to a spot several feet away—where a glint in the dark shortly popped into existence, growing until Remus and George, already transformed back to himself, came spinning into existence. Remus sank to one knee once he hit solid ground, supporting an unconscious George with one shoulder—his face was grey, and he was covered in blood.
Mrs. Weasley shrieked George’s name, and Harry rushed forward to help keep Remus from collapsing under George’s weight. Between the two of them and Hagrid, they managed to manoeuvre George into the cosy sitting room, where Ginny was already fluffing cushions on the sofa to make him comfortable. It was impossible to miss where all the blood had come from: one of George’s ears was missing. A nasty gash had ripped a jagged hole down the side of his head, and before Harry could so much as blink, Mrs. Weasley was elbowing him aside, casting a rainbow of spells he suspected she’d been brushing up on in recent months.
He was dithering with deciding what he ought to be doing to help when Remus stalked in, grabbed Harry by the upper arm, and dragged him none too gently back into the kitchen, shoving him against a cupboard with his wand levelled at Harry’s throat.
“Oi!” shouted Hagrid, still trying to fit himself through the door. “Whadyeh think you’re doin’ there?!”
Remus ignored him, pressing the tip of his wand just at Harry’s jugular. “There was a creature in a tank the first time Harry Potter visited my office at Hogwarts. What was it?” Harry tried to swallow, mind racing, and Remus dug the wandtip in with a bite of fury. “Answer me!”
Fuck—what had it been? He closed his eyes, trekking back over the years in search of a Remus a little less lined than now, with more friends and less guilt. “A—a Grindylow, wasn’t it?”
Remus’s features smoothed with relief, and he released Harry immediately, tripping over himself as he stepped back and only barely managing to slide into one of the seats at the dining table.
“Wha’ in blazes were you doin’?!” Hagrid’s face was ruddy with anger, and he had one arm and leg through the door—Harry hoped he didn’t destroy the jamb trying to charge to Harry’s rescue.
Remus was panting, rubbing the heels of his palms into his eyes. “I’m sorry. I just—I had to make sure it was really you, that you hadn’t been compromised.” He pulled his hands away, forcing himself to meet Harry’s eye—his guilt and shame were on full display. “You might have been an impostor. Somehow Voldemort learned we were moving you tonight, and the only ones that were aware of that plan were the people you saw in that room. Trusted Order members.” He shook his head. “So if it wasn’t you…then it’s one of the rest of us.”
Harry rubbed at his neck, where there was probably a red mark now. “It can’t have been, though. No one in the Order would do that—not when we’ve all sacrificed so much already.”
Remus grimaced, lips twisting in wry humour. “I know you’d like to see the good in all of us, but the Order are hardly all saints—”
“I know that,” Harry snapped. “But—Voldemort only caught up with me when we were just coming up on Tonks’s parents’ place—he didn’t know which one I was at first. If someone actually betrayed us, they did a piss-poor job of it, seeing as they left out the really crucial detail that I was riding with Hagrid.”
A bolt of fear rippled through Remus, and he straightened. “Voldemort caught up with you? What happened? How did you escape?”
Harry recounted their journey—leaving out the unnecessary detail of Hedwig’s demise but including how the Death Eaters seemed to have recognised he was the real Harry and summoned their Master, who’d wasted no time in making sure Harry died properly this time.
“How did they recognise you, though? The Polyjuice couldn’t have worn off on the others by then—George’s only wore off just before we made our Portkey.”
What had done it, indeed? There’d been no real trigger that he could recall. “I dunno. I did catch one of them without their hood, though, and saw it was Stan Shunpike. I thought maybe he might’ve been Imperiused, so I tried to Disarm him—”
“Disarm? Harry, why?” Remus looked very much like he wanted to shake some sense into Harry. “Disarming is a luxury we can no longer afford, not in these times! It’s kill or be killed.” Harry opened his mouth to protest. “Yes, even if they’ve got no control over themselves. This is war, Harry. Life and death—you can’t show pity. Do it, and you’re dead. I’m surprised you’re still here after all that, honestly.”
“Yeah, I am here—without killing anyone, at least with intent to do so. I’m not gonna Confringo someone when a Stunning Spell will do just as good.”
“Then Stun them! Just don’t try to Disarm them again.”
And now Harry was more confused than ever, wondering if he’d misread Remus’s evident bloodlust. “Don’t see what that’s got to do with anything. Disarming or Stunning—it’s all nonlethal.”
“And I admire that you’re looking for ways to live with what you might have to do in the coming months—but let’s not forget you’ve something of a penchant for casting Expelliarmus in battle with Voldemort. Were famously witnessed doing so by an army of his followers, as I recall. It’s your signature, a trademark almost. None of us Order members—no one but you—would think to cast that at a Death Eater.” Remus placed a hand on his shoulder. “You must be careful. Be true to yourself, always, but be smart.”
Harry shifted uncomfortably, only nodding ambivalently, and glanced back into the sitting room. “…What happened with you and George? Will he be all right?” Mrs. Weasley was still hovering anxiously over her son, but her wand movements had calmed, and she seemed to be wrapping up whatever Healing spells she’d been focused on.
“I think he should be…but it was a Dark curse that took his ear off. There won’t be any replacing or growing it back, I expect.” He didn’t elaborate on how George had suffered the injury.
Scuffling from outside drew their collective attention, and Remus was on the defensive again, shoving Hagrid back outside and sprinting into the garden with Harry on his heels to see their new arrival.
Two shadowed figures were racing to meet them—Kingsley, holding a bent coat hanger and loping with a limp, and Hermione, now back to her normal appearance with her bushy hair wilder than usual. Hermione darted ahead, eyes wide and white as she wrapped Harry in a frightened hug. “Ron—have you seen Ron?”
“No—not yet, he hasn’t made it back. We’ve been—”
Kingsley jostled past Harry, marching on Remus with his wand raised and dark accusation in his eyes. “The last words Albus Dumbledore spoke to the pair of us?”
Remus stood his ground, chin jutted. “‘Harry is the best hope we have. Trust him.’” Not missing a beat, Kingsley turned and pointed his wand at Harry, but Remus rushed him, staying his hand. “I’ve already checked he’s the real Harry! Whoever was responsible for this, it wasn’t him.”
Kingsley made a noise of disgust, stowing his wand, and growled, “Then how the hell did this happen? Someone either isn’t who they say they are—or we’ve got a mole. Otherwise there’s no way the Death Eaters could have known the plan was to move him tonight.”
“Granted. But apparently they didn’t realise there would be decoys. It took some time for them to recognise the real one and summon Voldemort to finish the job.”
Kingsley’s dark brows furrowed. “So that’s why he left…” He shook his head. “I couldn’t understand why he vanished, just when he’d nearly caught up to Hermione and me. How’d they figure it out?”
Remus threw Harry a long look. “An incident involving Stan Shunpike, evidently.” Harry wasn’t sure if he ought to feel grateful or not for Remus’s covering for him.
Now Kingsley looked uncomfortable. “That means Azkaban’s been taken. Suppose it really was Travers who nearly took my head off with a Reducto.”
Azkaban had been taken. There’d been a breakout—and if Stan Shunpike was out and whoever this Travers fellow was…well then Lucius Malfoy was probably out, too.
Had word made it to Malfoy that his father was on the loose again? Or—the thought only just occurred—had Malfoy been in there as well, spending father-son bonding time behind bars? But surely the Ministry would have had the Prophet running stories day and night about that if so. And if Malfoy had broken out, Harry felt like…well, like he would probably have tried to find Harry again.
Or would he? The display at Hogwarts had only been because the dragon bits of him had taken over the human part, right? That wasn’t going to be a problem now he was back in his right mind, in full control of his own thoughts and actions.
But what if he had busted out, or colluded with the other Death Eaters for some other reason? He’d told Harry he’d feared for his parents’ safety, so perhaps Voldemort had managed to find a pressure point with his youngest recruit. What if he’d been out there somewhere tonight, hidden among the hooded figures…? It would certainly explain a lot. Malfoy might have even figured out which Harrys were the fake ones and which the real one—whatever Remus said, Harry sincerely doubted that something as simple as a choice in spell amounted to a tell in the heat of battle.
He decided, though, to keep these suspicions to himself for now. He’d had quite enough of everyone accusing him of being unaccountably obsessed with Draco Malfoy over the past year already.
“How’d things go on your end, Remus?” Kingsley asked, glancing around at all who’d gathered to meet the new arrivals. “Where’s George?”
“Inside, laid up.” Remus touched his ear. “He took a curse to the side of his head. Lost an ear.” He snarled, lip curling. “Snape’s work.”
Hermione gasped, hands gone to her mouth in horror, and Harry choked—no one had mentioned a word about Snape being responsible.
The others continued to discuss their respective harrowing escapes as they made their way back inside, but Harry was elsewhere entirely.
Snape. Snape, back amongst his fellows and shooting off like party poppers spells that killed people. Snape who’d practically force-fed Harry a potion and claimed to be working to rescue Malfoy from the prison of his own mind.
That must have been it—Snape had sprung Malfoy from the Ministry somehow, once Harry had gotten him back into his human form, and gifted the poor sod to Voldemort on a silver platter. He felt a stab of pity for Malfoy, as he’d genuinely believed that Malfoy had mostly cared about saving his folks and wouldn’t have ducked his head and gone scampering back to heel at Voldemort’s feet if he could’ve helped it. He’d have been more likely to grab his mum and dad and fuck off to Fiji to wait the war out, spineless twat that he was.
As if Snape’s role in Dumbledore’s downfall hadn’t been enough, here he was now trying to murder Harry’s friends, in plain sight. Like he didn’t give a damn who knew. Like he was proud of it.
Harry’s skin burned, blood boiling just beneath the surface, and Hermione gave him an odd look. “You all right, Harry?” she asked once they’d trundled back inside.
He shook his head—grateful when she took it to mean a dismissal rather than the No, no I’m not it had actually been.
They gathered around the sofa in the sitting room; George had been cleaned up, and he was breathing slowly but evenly. “I…I think he’ll be all right,” Mrs. Weasley said once they’d all made it in, including Hagrid, who’d had the door enlarged so he could squeeze inside. She gestured to the patch of new, raw skin where George’s ear had been. “I can’t make it grow back—Dark Magic, you know. But it could have been ever so much worse.” Her tone suggested she was still trying to convince herself of this fact. “He’s alive, that’s what matters.”
A great crash from the kitchen had them all on alert, wands at the ready. Kingsley shoved past to meet—Arthur Weasley, spectacles cracked and panting like he’d just run a marathon. There was a little trickle of blood winding its way from one nostril, and he looked more than a little crazed. Kingsley pointed his wand. “What did you tell me when we—”
“Question me all you like, Kingsley, but you’ll do it after I’ve seen my boy!” Arthur brandished his wand in real threat, enough to match Kingsley’s and then some. “Move.”
Harry took a step back, never having heard Mr. Weasley take such a tone before. Kingsley evidently hadn’t either, for he gave Mr. Weasley a wide berth, and Arthur sprinted to his wife’s side, dropping to his knees to lay a trembling hand on George’s cheek.
“Dad—? George!” Fred was right on his father’s heels, long legs making the trip from back door to sofa-side in only a few strides. Mrs. Weasley swept him up in a hug before he made it the whole way, though, sobbing her relief into his chest. Fred indulged her, patting her gently on the back, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off George, gaping in bald, unvarnished fright. Perhaps he saw in George a visage of what might have happened to himself.
Perhaps sensing his family’s near-complete presence, George stirred—and Mrs. Weasley sobbed even harder.
“How you feeling, Georgie?” whispered Mr. Weasley.
“Oh, you know. Just peachy. You should see the other guy.”
Mr. Weasley looked to Remus. “…Who did this to him? Did you see?”
Remus’s expression was grim. “Snape. You know anyone else who likes to sling around Sectumsempra like it’s going out of style?” Harry was suddenly very interested in a thread he found sticking out of a throw tossed over the back of the Weasleys’ sofa.
George braced his arms like he wanted to push himself up—then winced in pain when this pulled something he probably shouldn’t have moved. “Well, at least Mum’ll be able to tell us apart now.” He glanced round the room, brows lifting when he saw Harry. “Well well—there’s a bit of good news. You made it back, then? Or ‘s that Ron in Polyjuice still?”
“No, it’s the real me,” said Harry, moving closer so George didn’t have to angle his neck so awkwardly to see.
“Well good; this way your untimely death won’t have gotten in the way of people fawning over my heroic battle wound.” He frowned as he counted those present. “So if you aren’t Ron or Bill, then where are they and why aren’t they here feeding me soup and massaging my toes? Far as I can tell, I’ve paid the highest price for my part in this little adventure so far.”
Everyone went quiet. “They’re not back yet,” Ginny said in a small voice, and what little of George’s colour had begun to return promptly faded again.
“They were meant to be the first here,” Mrs. Weasley warbled, emotion welling up in her throat. “But their Portkey came back without them.”
Mr. Weasley was at her side in an instant, drawing her and Ginny close for a hug and whispering soothing reassurances into their hair as the others looked on awkwardly.
Harry took his chance to slip outside, in desperate need of some fresh air—he couldn’t breathe in there, with all that tension and worry, knowing it was all his fault. He wished he could be confident the others would turn up unscathed or at least alive, or at least fake it.
He jogged down the back steps, tilting his head back to take in the night sky speckled with stars he could never see from Number 4. If Snape had sprung Malfoy, would he be able to track Harry down, the way he had at Hogwarts? Would whatever protective enchantments had been placed on the Burrow be enough to shield Harry’s presence? Was Voldemort maybe up there right now, circling the Burrow like a vulture and probing the charms for chinks?
“Come at me, you fuck,” Harry muttered under his breath.
He turned back to the house to see Ginny and Hermione had followed him outside.
“You’re sure you’re all right?” Hermione asked.
He was starting to lose count of all the ways he wasn’t all right, but he just shrugged. “I didn’t want to get underfoot. I’d rather wait out here for the others.”
“There’s still Ron and Tonks, and Bill and Fleur, and—who else was it?” Ginny asked.
“Mundungus and Mad-Eye,” Hermione said, scanning the skies with Harry. “You don’t think he’ll find this place, do you? It’s not Unplottable—at least I don’t think it is—but still…”
“I’d rather operate under the assumption he will find it than hope that he won’t,” Harry said, scar pulsing with phantom twinges. “Besides, I can’t stay here forever.”
At length, they were joined by Kingsley, Hagrid, Remus, and Mr. Weasley, and they paced as an impatient group, wearing nervous tracks into the Weasleys’ lawn.
After perhaps twenty minutes, though, a broom came screaming through the barrier, two figures huddled atop it—
“It’s Tonks!” Hermoine shouted. “And Ron!”
They descended in less of a ‘landing’ and more of a ‘controlled crash’. Tonks hit the ground with both feet, but her legs buckled, sending her face-down into the sod while Ron was launched off, rolling a few times before skidding to a stop. Hermione was on him in a flash, wand already out and what were likely Healing spells on her lips.
Remus rushed over to help Tonks dazedly to her feet, and Harry joined Hermione to ensure Ron hadn’t been hurt too badly, Ginny and Mr. Weasley hot on his heels. Hermione had him locked in a forceful embrace, not unlike the one she’d given Harry when he’d arrived—but not entirely like it either, now that he thought about it. Ron gave a weak wave at Harry. “Hey. You’re alive.”
“Against all odds, yeah. You’re alive too.”
“Ron was great,” said Tonks, leaning on Remus as she brushed the hair from her eyes. The bubblegum pink was stained with dark, crusting blood and sweat, but she was smiling despite it all. “You’d think he’d already made it past Auror Training—should’ve seen him slinging Stunning Spells left and right. Why, one even managed to actually hit a target!”
“Was a moving target,” Ron reminded, drawing himself up. “Those’re harder.” He scrubbed cheek. “Thank goodness for your lessons, though, Harry. Saved my skin, honest it did.”
“And all the stuff inside it, too.” Tonks ruffled his hair, then glanced around the yard at those gathered. “Are we the last back?”
“No,” said Ginny. “Bill and Fleur missed their Portkey—and Mad-Eye and Mundungus too.” She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “I’m gonna go let Mum and Dad know you’re here and fine.”
Remus crossed his arms, glowering. “So what kept you? What happened?” His tone was accusing, as if she’d taken the scenic route just to piss him off.
Tonks stowed her wand and snatched up the broomstick, now one of the precious few that had survived the escape from Privet Drive. “Auntie Bella. She’s got it out for me—went after me almost as hard as she was going after Ron.” She rubbed one arm, shuddering. “She…tried very hard to kill me. I didn’t really appreciate that; wish I could’ve given her a memento in return after…well.” She took a bracing breath. “Anyway, we definitely gave Rodolphus a good spanking, between me and Ron. Then by the time we got to Ron’s Aunt Muriel’s, we’d missed our Portkey—I know I could’ve sent on a Patronus, but I just wanted to get us back here as quickly as possible.”
“You didn’t notice any Death Eaters lurking in the area on the way in, did you?” Harry asked, supposing the answer was no but unaccountably curious all the same, and Tonks paled in boggling shock.
“Wh—no, of course not. Why would there be? Surely they couldn’t track you here, right?”
“Oh, no—no, you’re right. Just…” Harry bobbed his head. “Paranoid, I guess.”
Tonks gave a sympathetic nod. “Can’t blame you, I suppose.”
They passed another half hour waiting for the final four members to return, explaining to Tonks and Ron all that had happened on their respective journeys and offering up their own suspicions as to just how Voldemort had learned of their plans for the evening. Harry, wisely, didn’t say a word about Malfoy or Snape—he’d wait at least until he found some privacy with Ron and Hermione before he brought it up. Mrs. Weasley joined them for a bit to shower her youngest son with relieved affection before trading off with Fred to prepare everyone a spot to eat.
Kingsley had to return to Downing Street, where he was stationed guarding the Muggle Prime Minister, but not before extracting promises he’d be contacted once Bill and Fleur had safely arrived. Harry watched him Disapparate with a frown, knowing he’d lost yet another chance to ask after Malfoy’s whereabouts. It would certainly clear up a few of his suspicions. He’d just have to lay out what he’d learned so far and rely on Ron and Hermione not to chastise him yet again for jumping to conclusions with limited information. He’d been right before—kind of—so there was every chance he was right now, too.
Mrs. Weasley was just navigating the back steps with a large basket under one arm and a tea set floating behind her when a cry went up and Ginny’s hand shot toward the sky: a Thestral, almost invisible against the night sky and beating the air with its great leathery wings as it came in for a landing only a few paces away. Astride it rode Bill and Fleur, who looked harried but did not seem to have met with nearly the bumpy ride other members of their party had.
Mrs. Weasley dropped the basket, racing over. “Bill! Oh, thank Merlin! We’ve been so—”
Bill didn’t look at his mother, though, even as she wrapped her arms around him and sobbed into his chest, instead staring at his father, jaw tense. “Mad-Eye’s dead.”
Everyone went quiet, and even Mrs. Weasley’s tears dried up as she drew back, brows knitting. Bill looked away, and Harry felt something inside him clench, then crack, and then shatter into a million pieces no Reparo could ever hope to mend.
Mad-Eye Moody. The ever-vigilant.
“But—” Mr. Weasley brought a hand to his bald spot, rubbing. “No, couldn’t he have—?”
Bill shook his head. “I saw it with my own eyes. We had eyeline with him and Dung after lift-off—we’d been heading in the same general direction, see—but then, well, we got waylaid. They went right for Mad Eye, just like he’d figured they would, and he might’ve been fine—was doing all right, even, for a while there—but then Voldemort showed up and—” At this, he looked to the other Order members. “He can fly now—didn’t have a broom or anything, not that we could see. Anyway, once he showed up, well Dung flat out panicked and tried to bolt. Mad Eye tried to stop him, but before he could Petrify him or anything, Dung Disapparated, and…” He took a bracing breath. “Voldemort got him. Square in the face. We wanted to save him—at least get his body—but I mean, it was Voldemort, and we were already fighting off a half dozen of our own—”
Fleur laid a hand on his arm, squeezing gently, and he choked off his words.
“There was nothing you could have done,” said Remus as Fleur drew out a handkerchief and offered it to Bill. “It’s enough you were able to let us know what happened—and that you made it back yourselves in one piece.”
They fell into silence again, none knowing quite what to say. Harry didn’t even know what to think. Hell, Mad-Eye had been one of the only ones Harry had been sure would actually survive this whole mess. He’d made it his life’s work, not dying when the whole world seemed bent on doing him in.
With everyone now accounted for—living and dead—Mrs. Weasley instructed her tea set to return to the dining room, and Remus relieved her of her basket, which smelled like it contained some manner of pasties. They silently filed back into the Burrow, filling the living room where George was sitting upright and looking very put out at having been left alone with just Fred for company.
He lit up when he saw Ron and Bill, though. “My heroes have finally come to pay their respects!” he exclaimed, arms outstretched. Ron shuffled over, but not before George caught everyone’s dour expressions. “…What’s happened? Who’s—”
“Mad-Eye,” said Mr. Weasley. “He’s dead.”
George slowly slid back down on the sofa, defeated.
A grim quiet settled across their shoulders, and Bill pulled some glasses and a bottle of Firewhisky out of a sideboard. Harry remembered Mad-Eye, standing back in Aunt Petunia’s kitchen, going on about toasting to Voldemort’s imminent demise with the same spirit Bill was now pouring measures of for the group. The memory tasted bitter as old coffee in his mind, so Harry was glad when the Firewhisky burned fiercely as he knocked it down his throat, praying the liquor would burn it to ash. By the time he’d finished his glass, the memory felt a little fainter, and he could feel a little life working its way back into his limbs, so perhaps the Firewhisky had done the job.
“You-Know-Who knew we were moving Harry tonight,” said Remus, who’d drained his glass in one. There would clearly be no time for mourning, not when everyone seemed convinced there was betrayal afoot. Harry agreed that someone had betrayed them, he just didn’t think the culprit was in this room.
The pleasant warmth of toasting a fallen comrade in silent communion was chased away by the coldness in Remus’s voice.
“Yeah, it did seem that way,” Bill admitted, “But the Death Eaters didn’t seem to be expecting so many of us, did they? I know it won’t be a popular opinion, but I don’t think it was Dung—he knew every detail of the plan, down to who he’d be riding with. Blimey, he was the one that suggested it in the first place. That little shit wouldn’t have told the Death Eaters what we were doing and chanced them targeting him by mistake. He’d have made well sure that if anyone survived, it would’ve been him and Mad-Eye.” He set his glass, empty now, down on the table. “I honestly think he just panicked, and I can’t entirely blame him. He didn’t wanna be part of this in the first place. Any of us might’ve done the same as him with Voldemort right there in our face throwing a Killing Curse at us.”
“And like Bill said, he expected Harry to be with the strongest, most skilled Aurors,” Hermione added. “He came after Kingsley and me once he realised Mad-Eye’s Harry was a decoy.”
“Still doesn’t explain how they knew this was all happening tonight, though,” Ron said, glancing around the room and letting his eye linger on each face. Ron could read people—could read situations. Everyone took him for immature because he could be emotional when he needed to be rational and acted like he had a lot to prove, but he knew how to read ten moves ahead, Harry had seen that in person. He was sizing up those present, looking for weaknesses—vulnerabilities. Who was the most likely to have slipped up, perhaps without meaning to.
Harry hated this. He knew it hadn’t been any of them, and while he didn’t want to get into it just now, with such an audience, he wouldn’t have them thinking this way. Now, more than ever, they needed to be a united front. All in.
“If someone did let something slip,” he said, his voice louder than he’d expected in the unnatural, mistrustful quiet, “then—I’m sure it was a mistake. Or an accident, rather. I know they didn’t mean to—I know they didn’t. There isn’t a person in this room I don’t trust with my life. So I don’t blame them, not a bit.” He kind of wanted a bit more Firewhisky just now. “We’ve got to trust each other—it’s the only thing we’ve got still that separates us from them. None of you would ever sell me out to Voldemort, so enough of this. There’s more important things to focus on now than pointing fingers. What’s done is done—we’re all in.”
Remus was watching him, an odd expression on his face. Too close to pity for Harry’s comfort. Maybe he was being naïve—but hadn’t Remus just told him not to sacrifice who he was in this war, only to act a little smarter about it? Well, he was. He would trust his friends—maybe not implicitly, but this sort of infighting and doubt would not help them in the long run. Better to move on.
Remus pushed away from the table, looking to Arthur. “…We need to get it back.”
“Get what back?” Tonks asked, even as Arthur gave a grim nod.
“Mad-Eye’s body,” said Remus, running a hand wearily through his hair. “We…someone needs to recover it.” Tonks pursed her lips, and Remus added, “Unless you’d prefer we leave it for the Death Eaters to find? I hear You-Know-Who’s making Inferi, now.”
“…Of course not. But you aren’t going alone.”
“No, I was kind of hoping not to.” He offered his arm. “Shall we make a date of it?”
Tonks rolled her eyes but slipped her arm through his all the same.
No one said another word as Remus and Tonks took their leave, though Bill looked like he’d very much wanted to join them and only been stayed by Fleur, who was presently dozing against his shoulder.
Harry looked around—everyone looked somehow worse now than when they’d been worried sick about everyone’s safety. One man had lost his life that evening because of Harry, another his ear, and Hedwig… She hadn’t had a chance. Her death had been senseless and absolutely, utterly unnecessary. More so Harry’s fault than anyone else’s injuries that evening.
“I…I think I should go. I don’t think I should stay here…”
There was a long, heavy beat of silence as everyone processed what he’d just said.
“Don’t be silly, Harry!” said Mrs. Weasley, sharply, as if he were making jokes at an inappropriate time. He supposed he was, from her perspective. “Why, the whole point of tonight was to get you here safely—and that’s just what’s happened. You’re here, the family’s here—we’ll even have wedding guests here in a few days, now that dear Fleur’s agreed to getting married here rather than in France. There’s no place safer for you now than under our roof, and you’re always welcome, you know that.” She glanced around the room. “We’ll look after you, dear. You can count on us.”
He couldn’t explain to her that she was only making him feel worse, not better. He shouldn’t have gone back to the Dursleys at all; if he’d Apparated straight from Hogsmeade after the funeral, he could have been anywhere in England by now, hiding out with his own wits to protect him and no one else’s life on the line.
“If Voldemort finds out I’m here—”
“But why should he?” asked Mrs. Weasley, exasperated, and Harry could feel his justifications ready to explode from him, kept just behind his tongue. “You could be at any of a dozen places right now! He’s got no way of knowing this is the safe house we’ve chosen.”
How to explain it wasn’t his own life he was worried for? She’d nearly lost a child tonight—why wasn’t she more scared? Why had she even chosen to let them bring Harry to the Burrow in the first place? There was only so far good will stretched.
“You leaving now,” said Mr. Weasley, a quiet gravity in his voice that clashed with the bumbling Muggle enthusiast he had always been in Harry’s mind, “would make our efforts tonight pointless. At least consider that—what everyone went through to get you here. What was lost.”
“Yeah, you owe me an ear!” George piped up, hoisting himself up on the mountain of cushions his family had given him.
“I—I know that—”
“Mad-Eye certainly wouldn’t want—”
“I KNOW!” Harry shouted, shocking the others into blessed silence. His head ached, not because of his scar for once, and he felt exhausted. Did they think he didn’t appreciate the sacrifices they’d made in getting him this far? Did they not understand that that was precisely why he felt he needed to get as far away from here as possible, as soon as possible?
“Harry, yeh’ve been through a lot tonight. Try sleepin’ on it,” said Hagrid, comforting. “Yeh can’ go runnin’ off on your own—not now! Now’s when yeh rally more to yer side!” He pounded the table with his fist, grinning. “Wait ’til it gets out yeh’re three fer three with You-Know-Who now! Fought him off again!”
“Certainly gonna do a lot more to boost morale than the Ministry chucking bellhops and busboys into Azkaban,” Fred said, nodding.
There was a high, tinny ringing in Harry’s ear, and he closed his eyes, tight. “…Something happened,” he said, in a soft voice that was nearly lost as the group began brainstorming how to turn the night’s events into a thrilling story to encourage others to join their resistance. “Something—happened. With my wand. When I was fighting Voldemort—it wasn’t me that did it. It was the wand, it acted on its own.” He could still feel the weight of the length of holly in his pocket, and just now, he felt a bit nervous to even touch it.
After a few quiet moments, Hermione asked gently, “You mean you did magic without meaning it? That’s not so very uncommon—you just reacted instinctively; it happens all the time. Children in particular are prone to wild magic surges at times of heightened emotion.”
Harry shook his head, lips pressed tightly together. “No. It wasn’t—the bike was falling. I couldn’t have told you where Voldemort was even if he was three feet in front of me. But my wand still found him. It jerked my arm, moved me around until it was pointed straight at him—and then it shot a spell at him, one I didn’t even recognise.” He’d certainly never cast anything that manifested as golden flames before; he would have remembered something like that.
Mr. Weasley cleared his throat softly, “I have to agree with Hermione; such incidents aren’t unheard of.” He gave a wry little chuckle. “You wouldn’t believe some of the cases the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad has had to deal with over the ye—”
“It wasn’t like that,” Harry grit out, feeling despair and frustration claw at his throat. His scar was starting to pulse again. How to get them to understand he wasn’t their Saviour, that he didn’t have anything special inside of him that somehow made him a match for Voldemort—and that he certainly wasn’t going to be able to protect them when Voldemort inevitably tracked him down and found him in their midst?
No one spoke up to refute his argument this time, but Harry knew they didn’t believe him. They didn’t believe him about his wand, and they certainly wouldn’t believe him about Snape and Malfoy, not without proof.
Though admittedly, he’d never heard of a wand performing magic on its own before—but that didn’t mean it hadn’t happened. Harry was hardly omniscient.
Another throb, and his scar seared with pain—the stress of the evening and this circular argument, no one wanting to believe him, was going to split his head in two. “I—I need some air,” he mumbled, just as bursts of colour began to dot his vision, and he shoved his way past Hagrid and out into the back garden again, praying no one followed him this time.
Why was it no one ever believed him? Or at least humoured him, tried to really get to the bottom of why something had happened? Why was it always blithe dismissal and moving on to the next topic, whether Harry liked it or not? Dumbledore would have believed him—he’d certainly paid the price for not heeding Harry’s warnings about Malfoy once already. Or he would have at least known why Harry’s wand had behaved the way it had. He’d have had something more than idle dismissal and patronising platitudes.
So many things would have been a hell of a lot different if Dumbledore had still been here, Harry was reminded for what felt like the hundredth time, and a burning sensation having nothing to do with Firewhisky clawed at his throat.
Then, out of nowhere, the pain in his scar peaked, like someone had just laid an axe into his forehead, and Harry sank to his knees, eyes clenched shut so tight he could feel tears leaking.
A voice screamed inside his head, raw and tortured.
“You lied to Lord Voldemort, Ollivander!”
In Harry’s mind’s eye burst the vision of an old man, skeletal and clapped in chains in some deep, dark dungeon. He writhed in twitching, jerky movements, and Harry could see he was the source of this agonised yowling.
“No! No, I beg you! I beg you…”
“I only had to use another’s wand, you assured me! Then the problem would be resolved!”
“I thought…I thought it would work—I genuinely believed it would!”
“You lied—to help Potter! To help him escape me!”
“I would never—it made sense, a different wand, a different core, a different allegiance…”
“Then what has happened? Explain! Lucius’s wand is destroyed now! Twin core or not, it made no difference!”
“I…I do not understand… The connection—it should exist only between your two wands. It should not…”
“More filthy lies! Perhaps proper punishment is the only way to tempt the truth from your tongue, Wand Maker.”
Voldemort raised his wand—so he’d found another in the end, it seemed—and with a wicked slash, the frail old man cuffed and bound began to contort himself into impossible shapes, his tortured screams echoing in Harry’s mind.
It was over.
Harry’s ears rang with Ollivander’s echoing screams, and found he’d given himself a splinter clutching at a fence post. His knees were wet where he’d collapsed onto them, leaning against the garden gate.
Hermione rushed over, waving just beyond them. “Are you all right? Ron, over here!”
His scar was still tingling, and he was only distantly aware of his friends on either side of him, helping him back to his feet.
“What’re you doing out here, mate?” Ron asked, glancing around. “I know we’re under enchantments, but best not to tempt fate, y’know?”
Hermione frowned. “You aren’t still thinking of leaving, are you? Certainly not without us, at least.”
“He damn well better not be, if he knows what’s good for him,” said Ron, tone severe.
Hermione’s expression softened when Harry had nothing to say for himself, and she seemed to consider he might actually be injured, peering into his face. “You’re not hurt, are you? You look awful!”
Well, he reckoned he was doing better than Ollivander right about now. Finally finding his voice, he shakily explained to them the vision, of Ollivander’s torture and Voldemort’s own troubles with his wand. Ron’s face was stricken, glowing pale in the moonlight, and Hermione seemed like she needed a fence post of her own to lean against.
“But—this was supposed to have stopped!” she sputtered, looking panicked. “The connection was meant to have closed!” She grabbed one of his shoulders, giving a little shake. “You can’t let it open up again—remember what happened last time? Dumbledore made it clear he wanted you to learn to close your mind!”
He nodded, in no mood to discuss this and just wanting to be done for the evening.
Dumbledore had wanted a lot of things, true.
But Dumbledore wasn’t around anymore.