Weasley Brothers: Makers of Specialist Wands Since Last July
This version of the Room of Requirement was unfamiliar to most of the members of the revived Dumbledore's Army, who glanced nervously at the long corridor it had become, and at Harry. Only a few books remained of the large collection of anti-Dark arts literature once present and there seemed to be a line of targets on the far wall.
"Thank you for coming," said Hermione. "Last time the DA met, we studied topics from the OWL curriculum, because there wasn't really a proper teacher for Defence Against the Dark Arts. It saved our lives in the Ministry of Magic, although we didn't plan for that at the time. This is different." She looked towards Harry.
"I've had a lot of help," he said. "I led some of you, and others, into a trap at the Ministry, but you got me out of it. Then I tried to fight this war on my own, but..." He looked down at Ginny and squeezed her hand, "I was, well, persuaded out of that." Harry blushed, and Ginny, Ron, and Hermione laughed. Despite this, Harry seemed very serious. "I've also been persuaded to ask you to risk your necks again. If you leave now, I'll support your decision wholeheartedly. In fact, it's the only sensible thing to do. If you stay, I'll ask you to practice a lot of stuff that makes no sense, and not to tell anybody else about it. In fact, you're not even to talk about it amongst yourselves. Then we'll all go out and risk our necks again, and it might just be another trap. But it might do some good as well. If you're sensible and reasonable and want no part of this can you go now, please?"
"One moment!" It was Cho Chang, looking pale and grim. "That wouldn't have convinced me, but I'll be turning up now and again to help train you. I know what's going on, and you can guess why I can't tell you anybody who's studied Goblin rebellions should know about the element of surprise. I'm not here out of loyalty to Harry, and I've not been seeing visions" Harry grimaced "Sorry, Harry. I'm taking a calculated risk. I think this is the best bet available, at the moment, if you want to rid the world of Voldemort. You won't get an explanation until the very end, but I hope you'll agree with me later, if there is a later."
Anthony Goldstein and a group of Ravenclaws, who had been edging towards the door, moved back to the rest of the group. Blaise Zabini, on the other hand, strode out, followed by a mixed group. Hermione spoke up: "You remember we had a list of signatures last time?" A few more Slytherins left, rather hastily, and she grinned. "Well, we won't be doing that this time. The teachers can't encourage you to risk your necks, but none of them are against us, either. If you tell a teacher, they'll tell us and we'll ask you to leave. If you tell a Death Eater, there's nothing I ought to do to you that's bad enough to satisfy me, and well that's why we're not telling you very much."
"We'll be working a lot on Stunning Spells," said Harry, "power, focus, and, most of all, accuracy."
"Stunning Spells!" interrupted Michael Corner. "What good are Stunning Spells against Voldemort? I can block them, so I know he can."
"They use Stunning Spells on dragons," said Cho. "Professor McGonagall had a trip to St Mungo's after some Stunning Spells. As for blocking them, why don't you get ready to raise a Shield Charm now?" She took out her wand. Michael looked suspicious, but confident. He not only took his wand, but also put on a baseball cap marked 'WWW', nodded his head, and stood concentrating on her. "Ready!" he said.
Nothing happened for a few seconds, then "Stupefy!" A bolt of red light streamed past Cho, raised a shower of sparks a few feet from Michael, and continued on to strike him. Michael was knocked off his feet as well as Stunned. The sound had been Harry's voice, not Cho's. He checked Michael over, loosened his tie, and then paused. He took Michael's shoes off and placed them just beside his face. Then he stood back a little, raised his wand again, and said, "Ennervate!" Michael opened his eyes, raised his head a little, and grimaced at the smell from his shoes, before rolling away from them and getting up, looking furious.
"What did you do that for?" he said, and then, "And..."
Harry interrupted him. "To block a spell, it helps a lot to know from where and when it is coming. Voldemort and Snape use Legilimency for that. That usually means eye contact, and they need to know whose mind to read. We plan on not allowing them either. You'll also learn a lot about the theory of Shield Charms." Here Harry glanced at Hermione. "How to build them and how to beat them. We know a lot about Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes shield hats, too. As for the shoes, I did it because I could. I could have done anything I wanted, while you were asleep down there. Being unconscious in the middle of a battle is no joke."
They didn't start off learning the theory of Shield Charms. Harry started them off with basic stunning practice. He lined the students up not far from one wall, opposite to the targets on the far wall. Then he, Hermione, and Cho walked behind the students as they fired Stunning Spell after Stunning Spell at the targets. These glowed for a minute or so when hit, which for some students, wasn't often. Some of them were just rusty. Others were over-excited, trying to fire off as many spells as possible. Harry slowed most of the students down, alternating between "Concentrate on good form, before you worry about speed or power," and "accuracy, accuracy, accuracy."
At the end of the hour, the other DA members left, leaving Hermione, Ginny, Ron, Cho and Harry alone in the room. Harry looked outside and then closed the door. Hermione was concentrating on a tricky little charm. "OK," she said when she finished "I don't think we'll be overheard."
"Thank you again for coming, Cho," said Harry. "You've helped us recruit more members, and I think we've got people keen on Stunning Spells and Shield Charms, too."
"Thanks for inviting me," said Cho. "I haven't been able to settle on anything else. I had offers to train as a Seeker, but I just didn't feel like it. The ministry was worse; they're frantically recruiting for Obliviators, which means they'd want me to go round the country covering up after Voldemort. Since I've got involved in this, I've even stopped breaking down when I remember Cedric." Harry and Ginny glanced at each other, as did Ron and Hermione, but none of them said anything. Cho sat nervously, practising wand movements, and then said, "Mind you, they're going to need a lot of practice. When do we put them on brooms?"
"Next lesson," said Harry. "I just haven't told them yet."
The next meeting was held at the Quidditch pitch. It was a damp and dreary November day. "Harry," said Dean Thomas. "I'm as keen on Quidditch as the next man, but..."
"Sorry," said Harry. "No explanations." He raised his voice. "Thanks for coming here again. I've got all the school brooms out. I'd like you all to have a go, just a gentle circuit." The first few minutes were a bit like the Quidditch trials, except that he wasn't trying to find a few really good flyers, just weed out the hopeless cases to go with Neville. They were in for a lot of running, crouching, and crawling. He didn't envy them; Neville had spent part of the summer playing some Muggle sport called "Paintball," and seemed frighteningly keen to put what he had learned into practice at or sometimes very nearly below ground level.
"This is like Quidditch," Harry said to his flyers, "but you'll be both Snitch and Seeker. You're going to see without being seen, because with a broom you can hide where you wouldn't even dare Apparate." He waved his hands in the air. There was a jet of sparks from the top of one of the trees at the edge of the forbidden forest. Then Cho rode her broom out from behind a branch and started flying towards them, at speed, but very low, so that she was often screened from them as she flew where the ground dipped. Harry could hear Michael Corner whisper.
"At least if it all goes pear-shaped this time we'll be able to get out quick." Harry spoke to the group, not Michael. "And please remember not to speculate on the point of all this," he said.
Some weeks later the Room of Requirement contained Harry, Ginny, Hermione, Ron, Cho and Remus Lupin. They had drawn up a horseshoe of chairs around a desk supporting the Marauder's Map. "Are you ready?" asked Remus.
"On a few days' notice," said Harry. "We're really just keeping in practice now. But I'm not sure about this any more. If they knew that we were trusting..."
"We're not trusting him," said Remus. "No more than we have to, anyway. And it's entirely in character. He has no more loyalty to Voldemort than he has to you, you know. Less you didn't threaten to kill his family. If we win, he's not just out of a hole, he's set for life; the Ministry will reward him well."
"And if he betrays us," said Ron. "He's set for life as well. There are more Weasleys than there are Malfoys."
"Ron!" said Hermione. "That's just what we're fighting to stop! We'd be as bad as they are. Do you want that?"
"It still makes sense," said Cho. "Malfoy can't know about the wands. We've set things up as best we can. Do you want to know when and where Voldemort is going to strike next, or not?"
"We're ready," said Ginny, "And don't take all the responsibility on to yourself. It's still their choice. There's only one lone madman giving out orders, and he's on the other side." She reached out and took Harry's hand.
"OK," said Harry. "Well, there's a new moon in a few days, and we should move before the start of term, anyway. We'll brief the DA tomorrow morning. Draco can find his way in again on Friday."
At breakfast the next day, the DA members gathered in the main hall, which was curiously bereft of teachers. Hermione raised her voice. "We have received information that Hogwarts is no longer safe. Those of you staying over Christmas for the usual reasons, please follow me to the staffroom, where teachers will help you to leave via the Floo Network. Those of you who are in fact staying here for the DA, this is your last chance to opt out safely. If you stay to be told what we plan to do, you are not obliged to fight, but you must remain at Hogwarts while we do so. Those leaving, follow me please." She left, followed by a mixed group, mostly of younger students staying over Christmas who had not been invited to be in the DA.
Harry looked around to check that everybody there was a DA member, and then spoke up. "Since Dumbledore was murdered, Voldemort has been trying to find a way to get past Hogwarts security. He seems to want to ransack the school, as well as to kill some of those here. He thinks he can attack at dawn on Friday, taking us all by surprise. He's half right he will be able to get through; by then he'll know exactly what spells were used to protect Hogwarts against him, and their keys. We're going to attack him as he comes in. Mostly from hiding, as you can guess. But he'll spot us, and he won't be using Stunning Spells. We think we can stop him. Fred?"
Fred and George entered the Great Hall, carrying a trunk between them. "Weasley Brothers," said Fred. "Makers of specialist wands since last July."
Fred pulled out an unlikely-looking wand from the trunk and passed it to George. It had the shoulder stock of a Muggle rifle, but no trigger, and a highly polished wooden rod instead of a barrel. On top of this was a brass cylinder, looking something like an antique telescope. "Recycled gamekeeper's hut and unicorn hair, two feet," said George. "Half a pair of Omnioculars as a scope. No good at all for Charms or Transfiguration." He raised it to his shoulder, and sighted on the large hourglass used to record the Slytherin house points. "Stupefy!" A bolt of scarlet light shot out of it, and hit not the large hourglass itself, but the centre of one of the bolts securing it in its niche, barely visible from this end of the Great Hall. It unscrewed itself immediately, and the hourglass slowly fell outwards, still intact until it shattered on the floor with a resounding crash.
"Bloody brilliant for Stunning Spells, though," said Fred. "Muggle sniper's rifles have a much greater range and accuracy than an ordinary wand. These are that much better again, and they work against Wizards. If you can see it, you can stun it at least, it won't be walking around after you've finished. Word of advice: don't try using these for Stinging Hex tag. They're a bit more vigorous than ordinary wands, too."
Hermione returned with her wand out, entering the hall by a door close to the hourglasses. She shook her head as she picked her way between the emeralds from the Slytherin hourglass. The targets floated behind her, and when she stopped, they settled down to the ground. The centre bulls-eye had been removed, and replaced with a fine gold dot surrounded by concentric circles. She walked towards the main group.
"When Hermione's clear, we'll hand these out," said Harry. "We'll start off indoors with the same drill as with ordinary wands, but you'll probably need to use the scopes to see how close your shot was as well as to shoot what George just did isn't that hard. You'll also want to adjust the shoulder straps before we go outside. You should be able to ride a broom with one of these securely over your shoulder. DON'T try to shoot and fly at the same time. You're more likely to fall off than hit your target. You'll shoot from cover and then use the broom to fly to a new hiding place and shoot again, just like we (nearly) practised. If you're with Neville, make sure you chose REALLY good hiding places."
Apart from its unusually-early start (well before dawn), normality seemed to have returned to the Great Hall at breakfast on Friday. The shards and emeralds from the Slytherin hourglass had been removed, and the targets had long since been taken outdoors. The few remaining teachers ate at the staff table, and the DA members ate together at a single table, as if members of one house. The other tables had been removed, and nobody could tell from the position of the single student table which of the old house tables it might have been; any house colours it had once borne had been removed. After a while a hush fell, and Professor McGonagall walked over. "Harry Potter!" she said, "on whose authority have you acted?"
"On nobody's, Headmistress," said Harry, sounding rather uneasy.
"Is there anybody," asked Professor McGonagall, "who repents of this folly? It is no longer safe for you to leave Hogwarts, but we have prepared a place of safety for you, in the Slytherin common room."
The students looked everywhere but at Professor McGonagall. Nobody spoke till Harry broke an awkward silence. "Apparently not," he said.
Professor McGonagall laughed. "How can I help?" she asked.
"Could you help Madam Pomfrey with the sick bay?" asked Harry, now also grinning.
"We'll move that down to the Slytherin common room, then. It is, after all, below ground level and heavily built. Mind you," she said, sounding severe again, "if I were even twenty years younger I'd be out there on a broom, too. Don't look so surprised, Mr Weasley. Have another look at the Hogwarts Quidditch annals! Hard work and application pay off outside the classroom just as they do inside..." She caught herself, and then said. "Madam Hooch and some of the others will join you shortly. You will find them well prepared. You are not to address them as teachers. We resigned."
"When?" Harry asked, stunned.
"Just now. When none of you said you wanted our protection, of course." Ms McGonagall walked off looking disappointed in him.
Harry had just a few final words before what some people had begun to call 'the match'. Remembering the chaos at the Ministry of Magic, he was more concerned about calming down the reckless than instilling a fighting spirit. "Your first duty is to look after each other," he said. "Remember the Quidditch World Cup: the winning team wasn't based around individual achievement, but on superb teamwork."
Harry arrived at the Astronomy Tower before he could tell light from dark. As a place of concealment, it was a dead loss, but he wanted the best view he could possibly get, and the telescopes might come in handy. As well as his rifle, and a Quidditch referee's whistle, he carried a pair of Omnioculars Mr Flitwick had charmed. He looked round continuously, first with just his eyes (and glasses), then with the Omnioculars, and then glancing through one of the telescopes, which had been trained on the front gates, before returning to using just his normal eyesight again. In the dim light, the Omnioculars gave by far the best view, nearly as clear as day, but that didn't make waiting any easier. Harry couldn't help thinking that if Draco had in fact simply done nothing at all, he would have pulled off a prank to eclipse any of Fred and George's.
The first sign was a sickly green glow, visible only through the Omnioculars. The bars of the main gate seemed to grow lighter, while the spaces between them grew darker. Eventually all the space between the pillars was filled with a uniform grey fog. Out of this loomed a motley variety of figures, walking unhurriedly towards Hogwarts. Unrecognisably masked and hooded Death Eaters, some looking round nervously, others apparently treating it like a reunion. Giants, spreading out in front of the others, and to either side. Small groups of trolls, each led by a single Death Eater. More, many more than they expected. Why had Voldemort brought so many Death Eaters to an almost-deserted school? Why hadn't Draco warned them about this? Harry hoped the DA remembered their instructions.
"Don't fire till I do and then pick your shots. That's when we can really surprise them, so make it count."
Harry waited. Surely he hadn't missed him? Every second he waited, the enemy was a second nearer the cover of Hogwarts itself. Come on, come on...
A large group of trolls emerged from the fog, led by... Snape! with two lesser figures in the middle: a tall, thin, robed figure, with Draco Malfoy by his side, but a very different Draco Malfoy. He wasn't wearing Death Eater robes like the others. In fact he was stripped almost naked, wandless, shivering, and limping. Harry waited for them to get well clear of the mist, and saw no-one following them. As in the Ministry of Magic, it appeared, Voldemort did not believe in leading from the front. Harry raised his new wand, and centred him in his sights. At that moment Voldemort looked up, apparently straight into his eyes. "Stupefy!" The bolt wasn't blocked, and Voldemort dropped when it hit him, but got up again, using a troll to pull himself up and then moving behind it. It seemed that Horcruxes could protect you from unconsciousness as well as death. Too bad, but they hadn't made the mistake of trying to kill him, either; he was still identifiable as Voldemort, and if they stunned enough of his Death Eaters they could still, as Cho put it, come out ahead.
Harry's shot had unleashed a volley of others, from treetops, from some of the many balconies and roofs of Hogwarts, and from behind a few of a huge number of screens Hagrid had dotted around the grounds near the castle. As Harry dived onto his broom and left the tower he could see some of the DA behind them. Hopefully, few of the Death-Eaters had the means to attain a similar view. As he dived to cover, the Astronomy Tower exploded into ruin. Pity about that he and Ginny had liked the view from there, and it pretty much confirmed Voldemort was still in the game. A few of the trolls tried to return to the gates, but reversed themselves when the whole area turned into a swamp. It looked like Fred and George were following the script, anyway.
Not a giant was left standing now, which showed just how vigorous the new wands were; a single hit didn't always take one down, but it left them dazed and slowed them down so that a second shot could work. Some of the Death Eaters had tried Apparating; it appeared that Voldemort had managed to get to that defence as well. But they seemed dazed when they appeared, usually in very obvious spots, and were easy shots. From his new vantage point behind a Saxifrage, Harry picked off the foremost members of the main group, who were still running towards Hogwarts. For once, he was glad of Hagrid's style of garden design. "What is the point of an alpine that's six foot tall, Hagrid?" Hermione had asked. He could have done without the tendrils, though; he kept having to slap them away from his face, in case they pulled his glasses off.
Were they misting up now? He took them off, wiped them hastily, and put them back on. No... The Death Eaters were becoming obscured by a shimmering haze, like a heat haze, but more so. The Stunning Spells still weren't being blocked, but most of them weren't finding their targets any more, either. Harry mumbled under his breath and then blew into his whistle; it made a very loud sound like an old fashioned car horn.
"When you hear this..." he had said, "It means close in on them. It doesn't mean take stupid risks. It just means that we can't work from hundreds of yards away any more."
Harry took off and headed for the screens nearest the Death Eaters. Ginny appeared beside him promptly, so promptly that she must have been tracking him all along his hide and seek skills couldn't have been good enough to fool another Seeker! He dived behind his chosen screen and then he and Ginny popped out at hopefully-unpredictable moments to take pot-shots at the Death Eaters, who hadn't quite reached there yet. The strain of casting so many Stunning Spells was telling on both of them; they were out of breath, and Harry started to feel light-headed. Some Death Eaters were firing shots at screens or bushes at random and hitting DA members behind them now and then. Worse yet, over the chaos on their side, a high-pitched voice screamed, "Ignite the screens! Ignite the screens!" before matching words with actions. The screens were heavily charmed, but this seemed to be a day for demonstrating that nearly every charm had its countercharm; they would eventually burn or vanish, with some leaving a DA member in the open, an easy target for the following, "Avada Kedavra," or "Crucio!" There were obvious casualties on both sides now.
"Aaaaaaaaargh!" Harry hadn't chosen that signal, but he could interpret it all the same. It came from Hagrid, and it meant "I've run out of crossbow bolts, so I'm going to go berserk and tear the people who murdered Dumbledore limb from limb!" What's more, he had been followed by more DA members, some of whom already lay on the ground. The situation was now so confused that it was impossible to get a really clear shot from anywhere. Harry swore, and blew his whistle again...
"And if you hear a perfectly ordinary Quidditch whistle, Michael," he had said, "it means everything really has gone pear-shaped and you should probably get out quick!" Everybody had laughed then, but they weren't laughing now. But neither were they running away. If anything, they were running or flying in faster, and the Death Eaters seemed to have mistaken desperation for confidence. Some of them were Disapparating, and he didn't think they were turning up elsewhere in the grounds. More of them were running back towards the gates, where the swamp was now frozen over, allowing them passage out. Probably Voldemort's handiwork; he seemed to have led the retreat, at least, from the front.
But DA members were still falling some now cut down by Stunning Spells from their own side. For all the force of the new wands, they were probably the lucky ones. Green flashes lit the scene from time to time. And what did Ron and Hermione think they were doing, running up to Hagrid, yelling? Harry and Ginny popped their heads over the screen together and frantically cast Stunning Spells as quickly as they could. A jet of sparks lit up their screen and Ginny kept on Stunning, while Harry wondered how long they would have to keep this up. Hagrid finally fell, struck by several Death Eater spells at the same instant. Surely Ron and Hermione wouldn't try and take on the whole group single-handed? Harry took Ginny's arm; they really should find better cover before they attracted multiple hexes. Ginny shook him off and kept on; now it looked like she had reverted to the Bat-Bogey hex, but that seemed to be working well enough with the new wand, and was just as disabling, at least in the short run. In desperation, Harry swapped wands and started casting shield spells. "Protego! Protego!" Oh no...!
Harry's vision had begun to grey out. "Another thing about Shield Charms," Hermione had said. "With proper motivation and concentration, some people can raise a tremendously strong shield, but not for long periods. So if you do get a tricky customer, just keep on trying." Hermione was down, and Ron was bending over her; tripped, jinxed, or just exhausted? Ginny stopped doing her imitation of a Muggle machine gun and looked at Harry. "I'm sorry, Harry, I got carried away. Oh no!" That spell seemed to cling to the shield before it, and they collapsed.
"To me!" Cho Chang yelled. She walked out past the screens into the open and started firing Stunning Spells without paying any attention to her own defence, still walking steadily towards the Death Eaters. Wearing Hufflepuff Quidditch robes several sizes too big for her, she would have attracted attention from both sides even if the wand at her shoulder wasn't almost continuously spouting fire. Michael Corner ran to her and started shielding, determinedly and very effectively. Now the Death Eaters were jostling and elbowing each other as they ran for the gateway. But "Avada Kedavra" can't be blocked, and one of the last Death Eater spells laid her low.
Harry woke shortly afterwards to the sound of a steam whistle, remembering his own instructions. "Train whistles mean it's all over. Mark each body with a pillar of fire" He shook his head in an attempt to clear it, grimaced, and crawled over to Ginny. She seemed to be still breathing, but he didn't like the look of her wand arm at all. He set up the pillar why did his head hurt so much? and slowly stood up, bracing himself on the charred framework of the screen they'd been using. As best as he could, he jumped backwards in alarm; just on the other side lay Bellatrix Lestrange. "Both sides get a pillar of fire, but Hermione will show you the DA rope trick." He waved his wand twice, to mark Lestrange's body, and then to bind it in magical cords, paying for both spells as the pain in his head flared to new heights. Was this what victory felt like? He looked round; there seemed to be an awful lot of pillars of fire now. Gliding back down to them from the rough direction of the gateposts, he saw a totally illegal six-seater flying carpet, bearing Ms McGonagall, Madam Pomfrey, and Rufus Scrimgeour, who looked thunderous ("The Ministry of Magic aren't in on the joke, but we'll call them in as soon as we've had our little surprise."). Harry began to believe that the Death Eaters really had been routed. Tonks was driving; she grinned and waved in Harry's direction. Her hair was bright blue, and flashing. Harry saw Remus Lupin walk rather unsteadily into his field of view. He stooped slightly and waved his wand twice; the first wave produced magical cords, and the second a pillar of fire. Then he moved on to the next body, and the next, still unsteady, but determined.
In his own four-poster bed, in the sixth-year bedroom just off the Slytherin common room, Draco Malfoy opened his eyes and tried to get up, but failed. Underneath a blanket, his wrists and ankles were tied together, and tied in turn to the posts of his bed. A tall thin wizard with grey hair stood over him. Draco paled. "Dumbledore!" he said.
"Aberforth," replied the wizard, in a grating, but surprisingly quiet, voice. Draco struggled vainly against his bonds. "You would prefer Voldemort?" asked the wizard rhetorically. "You appear to have betrayed both sides. Voldemort won't have liked his reception at all, but he knew enough to bring a small army with him. Cho made a profit on her bet, but she didn't live to collect it."
"Crucio," said Draco. It wasn't a curse. It was a whimper. "I nearly died."
"Cho Chang did die, with too many of her friends," said Aberforth. "But don't worry, I'm sure you had no choice... and neither do I." He opened a carpetbag at his feet and took a wand from it. Draco turned his head away and closed his eyes, but was surprised to find that the spell merely freed his wrists. He sat up.
"For the moment," said Aberforth, "I am the senior member of the Order of the Phoenix not in need of healing. But I am not in charge of you. Read this." He passed Draco a parchment.
Dear Lucius, Narcissa, or Draco,
I believe we shall all be very busy soon, and I may in any case be unavailable. I also believe that you have seen that your support of Voldemort was not in your own best interests. I have therefore prepared for you a rather unusual Portkey. If any one of you touches it, all three will be both transported and Transfigured. You will find yourselves in the care of our American cousins, and with an appearance dramatically different from your own. Any of you in need of healing will find it at their version of St Mungo's. When you are well, Lucius and Narcissa can take up new identities as early retirees, Muggles rich from judicious investments. Draco may take up a place open for him studying Medieval Astronomy and Ancient Runes at a suitable Muggle university. He is far from stupid, and even the Muggle version of these subjects will be practically useful in the Wizarding world, as well as extending his laudable appreciation of our heritage. Your appearance will, shall we say, not mark you as aristocrats, but you will find people friendlier than you might expect, if only because, as I believe they say, "the only colour that really matters is green." If you use your talents and self-control to keep your heads down, and especially to avoid attracting the official notice of the US Department of Magic, you should have a pleasant holiday while we sort out our little local difficulty. Please accept the Portkey offered by the bearer.
Yours most sincerely,
Draco looked at Aberforth, who was holding the carpetbag open expectantly. Draco hesitated and then reached into it for the Portkey. He vanished with an audible popping sound.
Aberforth walked up into the common room. He looked at the beds there without finding Harry and then cleared his throat. "I put them in the first-year boys' bedroom," said Madam Pomfrey. "Best place for them wouldn't keep quiet for a second." Aberforth smiled and walked down the steps. As in the main room, lights from almost every possible point of attachment glared out, dispelling the dungeon-like atmosphere. Ron and Hermione were in separate beds pulled close together. Ginny was sitting on a chair at Harry's bedside, her arm in a sling. Harry was lying down, his head covered in bandages.
Hermione seemed to be holding forth: "... and Padma asked me to thank you, too. We were talking while I was waiting for Madame Pomfrey. Colin Creevey thinks having to re-grow the bones in both legs was a small price to pay. He kept going on about how he couldn't believe what he'd been able to do. So..." She caught sight of Aberforth and stopped.
"The Malfoys have gone," said Aberforth. "I'm sure Albus was right; we're better off with them out of it and more division in Voldemort's ranks."
"I should have planned it better," said Harry. "We should have expected loads of them. We should have practiced..." Aberforth cut him off.
"You will make a better plan," said Aberforth. "Next time nobody on our side will get hurt if they're stupid enough to try a frontal attack again. Albus was confident we could drive them back; that they would come in force, but that you would find a way to beat them so badly they wouldn't ever try that again. That's what you did. You've taken them back to the very beginning of Voldemort's rise, when they were conspirators and vicious hooligans, waiting their turn at the edges; dangerous, but not challenging for control. Now they go back to corruption and deceit. To lying and cheating, but not showing their faces. To making us guess who's on their side and who's on our side and who's been Imperiused. Then the real work starts."
"Will we ever REALLY win?" asked Harry. "Can we track them down now, find the Horcruxes, and settle him for good?"
"Well," said Aberforth, "if they try to come back and you beat them, and they try to come back, and you beat them... why then as Albus said they will have never come back."
"And in the meantime," Ginny said, "Life goes on. We have each other, which is really all we need. We can bear this for as long as it takes. I'd rather take them on for years together than face a month of safety while you risk your life alone. We can do it, can't we, Aberforth?"
"They've seen your secret weapon now," said Aberforth, "but do you know what they won't guess?" The others shook their heads. "They'll think Albus thought of it. Albus wasn't even close to that idea. He should have been; he knew enough magic. Merlin's beard, I know enough magic to duplicate them, now and he knew what a Muggle rifle was but he didn't have that idea."
"I don't really know who had the idea," said Hermione. "Fred and George had dinner with us all at The Burrow, and we were talking. Harry cracked some silly joke, and half an hour later George had his wand Spellotaped to a ladle to see if he could use it mounted on a stock...."
"The point," said Aberforth, "is that you did it; you bounced a load of silly ideas around and came up with one good one that made us all say, 'why didn't I think of that?' Then you found a group of people who could work together, and stick with it when a much larger force broke and ran to save themselves. Albus did predict that. He thought you'd come up with something to break the Death Eaters as a force, and that you'd work together. He thought that after that, you'd come up with something to solve the next problem, and the next, and he thought there wouldn't be many more problems until Voldemort was finally defeated."
"He thought Snape was loyal, though", said Harry. "Well, didn't he? I mean, he was a great wizard, but he said he made mistakes just like everybody else..."
Aberforth looked sheepish. "I've been meaning to talk to you about that. I know this won't be easy, but... Hang on..." He reached down. "I've got this piece of parchment for you..."
Thanks to Tinnidawg and Takeshiyo for being most helpful pre-betas to a newbie.