A/N: This chapter is dedicated to Cygnus Crux, for reasons which should be obvious to any who know him as they read on. Please review!
Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Hermione burst through the door to Harry and Ron's room, wands drawn.
"We can't just let them fight it out on their own," said Ron.
"We can and we will!" said Hermione. "They've got training we don't; we'll only get in the way."
Harry shook his head; he didn't know what to do. The old familiar feeling of adrenaline pumping through his veins gave him no guidance, only the urge to leap the stairs and take the fight to the foe.
He looked up, only to find that the three of them were looking to him.
"I want to go," he said. "I can't just sit here! But I think we have to. Hermione's right - we're not ready to fight them head on."
"You think my Mum is?" asked Ron, pointedly.
"Mum knows how to take care of herself," Ginny said. "It's Fred and George I'm most worried about. They've never been in a fight like this before."
"You don't know that, Ginny, perhaps they have," said Hermione comfortingly, though the worry was clear in her eyes as well.
"Yes I do," said Ginny. "Fred and George are good at keeping secrets - but not from me."
Harry was silent. He didn't know what to say. The urge to run down the stairs and join the fray was almost overwhelming, and his limited resistance was dropping as the sounds of frenzied battle outside carried upward into the room.
"What if we hex them from the open doorway?" said Ron, suddenly.
"What?" asked Hermione.
"We're under the Fidelius Charm, right? So even though the door's open, they can't see us. If that had changed, they'd be inside now, yeah?"
Hermione shook her head. "No, Ron! They may not be able to see us or the building, but that doesn't mean they can't cast a Killing Curse in our direction."
"You're positive? What have you read on the Fidelius Charm?"
Hermione reddened. "I... not much, actually. That's the sort of information they keep in the Restricted Section. But that's just it, we don't know what might happen if we're in range of curses.
"Hermione's right," said Ginny. "It's too much to risk."
Ron sighed heavily and sunk to the floor. "Yeah. Yeah, I know. Bloody bad strategy, is what it would be."
Harry started to slip his own wand back into its new place at his wrist.
Just then a pained scream reached their ears; it sounded like Fleur Delacour.
Whipping the partially sheathed wand out, Harry leapt from the room and dashed down the stairs, Ron, Ginny, and Hermione hot on his heels.
Standing in the front doorway, he surveyed a scene of complete chaos.
Ryan Ames, Sturgis Podmore, Emmeline Vance, Fred Weasley, and three Death Eaters were collapsed on the ground, unmoving.
Kingsley Shacklebolt was trading hexes with a flaxen-haired female Death Eater, who had been unmasked in the fighting. From what Harry could see, she was more than holding her own against him.
Yasmeen was locked in combat with an unknown masked Death Eater. So far, she seemed to be doing alright, but he clearly was a bit more skilled then the young Auror.
Tonks, Mr Weasley, and Mad-Eye were chasing off large groups of Dementors with their Patronuses.
George and Mrs Weasley were caught up in duels of their own.
Suddenly Harry spotted Fleur.
She was on her knees, hands clutching her face, with a Death Eater standing over her, blasting her with the Cruciatus Curse.
Bill was halfway to her, but had been cut off by another black robed Death Eater.
Harry raised his wand and aimed, but realized he couldn't cast anything for fear of hexing Bill or Fleur instead of helping them.
There was a sudden loud bang, and Harry saw to his shock that the top half of the Death Eater Bill had been fighting was simply gone. Blood and gore stained the streets, but the eldest Weasley son ignored these and ran towards Fleur.
The Death Eater hitting her with the Cruciatus didn't see him coming until it was too late. Bill dropped him with a Stunner and ran to Fleur's side.
Off to the left of the stairs, Harry saw George Weasley Disarmed by his opponent.
Taking aim, Harry pointed his wand at the Death Eater and cried, "Impedimentia!"
There was a flash of gold light as the spell hit the air in the open doorway, and then it fizzled into nothingness.
"Bloody hell. I guess we were safe standing here after all." Ron pushed past Harry, stepped outside, and screamed, "Stupefy!"
Ron's spell caught George's opponent in the side just as George himself was hit with a Silencing Charm.
Ron frantically beckoned to George to come inside.
A cloaked figure appeared at a distance as if out of nowhere, catching Ron with the Impediment Curse.
Harry dashed through the opening and stood in front of Ron as the Death Eater raised his wand to cast a second hex. He prepared to cast a Shield Charm, but this turned out to be unnecessary, as Bill stepped in and began to duel with the newcomer.
"Well, if it isn't Harry Potter."
Harry's eyes widened as two Death Eaters cast off their Invisibility Cloaks not two feet away from them. Their wands were already raised and pointed at him.
Harry knew the voice from somewhere he couldn't remember.
"Looks like you wanted a front row seat. Mulciber had you pegged," said the Death Eater. With a start, Harry recognized the voice of Marcus Flint, former captain of the Slytherin Quidditch team.
"I did at that," said the man next to him, who Harry could only assume was Mulciber. "You'll be coming with us. The sooner you surrender yourself, the sooner we leave, the sooner we leave, the more of your friends survive."
"I might make you the same offer," said Ginny, behind him. She and Hermione stepped to his left and right, wands raised at the ready.
"Counter-offer," said Mulciber. "Scurry back inside or I'll peel the flesh from your bones, pluck your eyeballs for potions ingredients, and mount your skinless heads on my wall to look at whenever I need arousing."
Ginny's response came in the form of a Bat Bogey Hex, which Mulciber quickly blocked with a Shield Charm.
He was forced to block again as Hermione cast the Leg-Locker Curse at him.
Ron, having recovered from the Impediment Curse, cast a Stunner at Flint.
Flint brought his wand up to block.
Seeing his chance, Harry raised his wand and Disarmed Flint.
The ex-Quidditch captain growled and tackled Harry, grabbing his wand arm with one hand and punching him in the stomach with the other.
Harry felt the wind go out of him with Flint's blow; he struggled but couldn't shake the Death Eater's strong grip.
To the left, Mulciber clearly said, "Imperio!"
This was followed by the sounds of Ron's cry of, "Fight it, Hermione!" and Mulciber hissing the incantation to block another curse from Ginny.
Frantically, Harry brought his knee hard into Flint's groin. Flint stopped punching long enough for Harry to slam the end of his left fist into Flint's ear.
Flint cried out in pain.
Harry slid his hand down slightly, grabbed Flint's face, and pressed on a pressure point Karl had taught him, while trying to push Flint off of him.
Still, Flint clung to him, howling in pain now.
Meanwhile Mulciber brought his wand up and hissed, "Avada Ked-"
There was a bang like a gun and he was thrown from the stairs. Flint let go of Harry and looked up to see Mrs Weasley pointing her wand at him. "Stupefy!"
Flint fell backwards and landed next to Mulciber, unconscious.
"Thanks," Harry panted, rising to a crouch.
Mulciber also stood up, only to be tackled by George Weasley.
Harry had never seen Mrs Weasley so furious. "GET INSIDE NOW!" she shouted.
There was another loud bang as George was thrown from Mulciber with a heavy length of chain wrapped around his body.
Mrs Weasley charged at Mulciber and began to duel him.
Heeding her command, Harry stepped back inside.
Ron, who was holding a struggling Hermione in a half-nelson, pulled her in with them.
Ginny followed them, with both her and Hermione's wands in hand. She looked unsure of what to do.
All of a sudden Hermione exhaled sharply and slumped somewhat in Ron's arms. "I beat him!" she said triumphantly.
There was a bright flash of green light in the street behind Harry, and he spun around in time to see Yasmeen fall to the ground, dead.
The man who had been fighting her yelled out, "Mulciber, Loretta, Jugson, let's wrap this up! We accomplished what we set out to do!"
Mulciber dodged a hex from Mrs Weasley, raised his wand, and vanished with a crack.
The other three paused long enough to do the same.
Three hours later, Harry lay collapsed on his bed, glasses off, hands over his eyes. Mrs Weasley had confined them to their rooms as soon as she knew they were unharmed.
Ron was with him, but Ginny was alone in her room - it apparently wasn't enough to confine them to a room, they all had to be confined to their own rooms.
Hermione was being examined by Mad-Eye in the kitchen. He had reckoned that she could still be under the Imperious Curse, and while she vehemently insisted she wasn't, both Kingsley and Mr Weasley agreed that it was prudent to run a few tests.
Meanwhile, the Department of Magical Catastrophes had shown up, and were presently trying to smooth things over with the Muggle police.
Harry didn't know why the police hadn't shown up during the fight, or why the Muggles in the neighbourhood hadn't screamed or something when the street they lived on turned into a paranormal war-zone.
All of this Harry had learned in the first five minutes following the close of the battle. He knew that Ryan and Yasmeen Ames were dead, and that Fleur and Sturgis had been transferred to St Mungo's in critical condition.
Harry wasn't sure what he should be feeling about the whole thing. He was sad the Ames had died, certainly, but he had barely known them. He was relieved that no one he loved had been killed, and also felt guilty for not thinking more of the Ames, who had risked their lives for him on more than one occasion.
He turned to look at Ron, who was sitting next to the closed door, listening for sounds of Hermione coming up the stairs.
Finally, Ron broke the silence. "D'you suppose Dumbledore is here?"
Harry nodded. "By now, probably, unless there was another attack elsewhere worse than this one."
"What could be worse than this? The Order's headquarters is completely blown, Harry. The Ministry knows where we are now, not just the Death Eaters."
"Why didn't we change headquarters after what happened with Kreacher?" Harry asked, not really expecting an answer.
Ron looked thoughtful. "I reckon that was a gamble on Dumbledore's part. I mean, we'd be crazy to stay here, you know. Last thing You-Know-Who would expect."
"Apparently not," said Harry.
Ron shrugged. "Not all gambles pay off. If that was his plan, I'm sure the rest of the Order knew the deal. It's not like we were in danger staying here though; we took a Portkey in, remember?"
"We weren't, until we bloody went and stepped outside," said Harry.
Ron shook his head. "Correct me if I'm wrong, Harry, but I thought it was me who first stepped outside. You wouldn't have stepped outside if I hadn't been hit."
"You don't know that," said Harry. "And none of this wouldn't have happened if I hadn't charged down the stairs."
"Oi," said Ron. "Fleur's dating Bill. That makes her family. Not as much as you, but still, she's someone we all care about. I don't blame you for a minute for charging down there when you did."
"I'm...I'm family?" Harry asked, surprised that Ron would label him as such.
Ron threw him a look. "Yes, you prat. Where have you been for the past...I dunno, six years?"
Harry was able to smile at that. "Thanks, mate."
Ron half-smiled as well. "Any time. D'you suppose they're going to keep us in this room until term starts?"
"Knowing your mum, I wouldn't be surprised," said Harry.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door.
Harry opened it to find Dumbledore standing there, looking grave. Hermione was with him.
"Professor..." said Harry, trailing off.
"You will be pleased to know, I believe, that Hermione is now free of Mr Mulciber's Imperius Curse."
"Wait!" exclaimed Ron. "You mean she wasn't before?"
Hermione hung her head. "No, Ron. I'm sorry. He was too strong."
Dumbledore put a hand on her shoulder. "I imagine you have read that the Imperius Curse was a particular specialty of Mulciber's. In the First War, he had several trained Aurors under his spell, in addition to countless other Ministry employees and civilian witches and wizards. There is no shame in what happened to you; save on the part of the one who used the curse in the first place."
Hermione sniffled but nodded.
"Wait here a moment while I retrieve Ginny. There are some matters I think we need to discuss," said Dumbledore.
Harry nodded. Dumbledore was going to tell them offfor being reckless, and Harry didn't blame him.
Dumbledore turned and left the room.
The instant he was gone, Ron stepped forward and pulled Hermione to him, clinging to her as though he were worried she'd fade away if he didn't hold her where she was.
Dumbledore returned a moment later with Ginny, who was looking at him with quiet defiance. He shut the door and turned to look at them with that penetrating gaze Harry knew so well. "I am told that the four of you felt the need to insert yourself into the middle of a battle with the Death Eaters," he said softly.
Hermione hung her head, and Ron nodded guiltily.
Harry was about to acknowledge Dumbledore as well, but Ginny wasn't having any of it. "Are you saying you wouldn't have, if you were in our position?"
Dumbledore paused a moment before speaking. "No. I believe I would have done exactly the same, at your age. However, I believe you should all be fully aware of the consequences - and potential consequences of your actions."
"All actions have consequences," said Ron firmly, though he looked extremely nervous. "We didn't have time to sit around thinking about all of them any more than we did."
"That is quite true, Mr Weasley," said Dumbledore. "You acted on what knowledge you had, and you acted out of love for your friends and family. However...as it stands... I'm sorry, Harry, but I'm afraid I must tell them -"
"They already know," Harry cut him off.
Dumbledore looked at Harry for a long moment before saying, "Did you tell them that you are the only one who can defeat Lord Voldemort?"
Hermione, Ron, and Ginny gasped.
"I - I told them that either I would kill Voldemort, or he would kill me. That's what it says, doesn't it?" Harry demanded.
Dumbledore nodded. "I understand that you weren't trying to withhold anything from them, Harry. But sometimes wording can be important, and judging from the expressions on the faces of your friends, I think that you didn't make the point clear enough."
"But the prophecy didn't say I was the only one who could stop Voldemort, did it? I mean, if I don't, there's got to be someone."
Dumbledore sighed. "If you die, it is entirely possible that someone else will arise with enough power to defeat Voldemort, in fifty to a hundred years perhaps. By then he could have the entire world within his grip - and it would be much easier for him to destroy anyone he thought would have the capability of bringing about his downfall."
Harry's jaw dropped. "W-why? Why didn't you tell me this before?"
Dumbledore sighed again, heavier this time. "I thought I had."
"Professor," said Hermione, finally. "We need to get Harry out of here. If what you're saying is true, he can't go back to Hogwarts. We've got to hide him, somewhere away from the Death Eaters, away from Europe."
Harry's heart was in his throat. He didn't know whether to plead with Dumbledore or throttle Hermione, however well-meaning they both might be.
Dumbledore, perhaps sensing the coming storm, held up a hand. "I'm afraid that Harry will be staying in Europe - and in danger's way - for the foreseeable future."
Hermione looked at Harry in anguish but pressed on. "Sir, you can't do that! You can't risk that many lives for one person's happiness. I'm sorry, Harry..."
Dumbledore shook his head. "Had you voiced this argument a few months ago, you would have found me in almost complete agreement. The events of recent months, however, have forced me to reconsider my point of view. Fate is an interesting force, Hermione. At some point in the future, Harry is either going to kill Lord Voldemort, or be killed himself. This will happen no matter how well we hide him, no matter what precautionary measures are put into effect. Quite simply, we can't get around it."
"Wouldn't it make sense to put that time off for as long as possible?" asked Hermione.
Again, Dumbledore shook his head. "Because we do not know when this event is to take place, or for that matter how, we cannot know if the actions that we believe to be putting off the inevitable are actually bringing it closer." He turned to Harry. "The decision at which I've arrived is this: We will protect you as best we can, prepare you to the best of our abilities, and provide a relatively safe environment to do these things. As it stands, the happier you are during this time, the greater your chances may be of defeating Lord Voldemort. I should never have brought you back to this house."
"Hold tight," said Ginny. "How does this square with what you were telling us before, about not knowing the potential consequences of our actions? From what you just said now, it sounds as though you should be congratulating us."
"You risked your lives for your loved ones, and that is always an admirable thing," said Dumbledore. "However, you also needlessly put yourselves into harm's way, and in so doing, threatened countless lives. What would have happened if Harry had been taken by the Death Eaters?"
There was a long silence where no one said anything.
Finally, Harry broke the silence by saying, "I'd probably be dead by now."
Dumbledore nodded. "Unless you found some way to escape on your own, I believe that is an accurate assessment. We don't know where he's lairing, if indeed he has chosen one specific place as a hideout."
Harry nodded, thinking it best not to say anything. He was reasonably certain that Voldemort wasn't in his head at the moment, he felt nothing that would indicate so, but just the same, the risk increased with every minute they talked.
"Where do we go from here?" asked Ginny.
"Hogwarts," said Dumbledore. "I think you've been in this house long enough, and recent events have shown that keeping you at the Order's headquarters is perhaps not the wisest course of action."
"Is this still the Order's headquarters?" asked Ron.
"Until I can find something better, Mr Weasley, yes," said Dumbledore.
They were interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Come in," said Dumbledore.
Emmeline was at the door, tears streaming down her face. "Sturgis is gone, Albus. The Healers t-tried but they couldn't...they couldn't..."
Dumbledore closed his eyes for a long moment, then opened them and nodded. "I'm sorry, Emmeline. What of Miss Delacour?"
"S-she's stable. They t-think she'll...she's lost her vision. They can't get it back, but they think she'll p-pull through."
Harry blinked his eyes for a moment, stubbornly refusing to tear up.
Hermione was weeping openly, and Ron was holding her tightly, his own eyes squeezed shut.
Ginny wasn't crying at all. Her face was expressionless, but she kept nodding her head, almost rocking back and forth as if struggling to prevent some inner beast from breaking free of itscage.
Harry stepped to her and pulled her into his embrace. Not knowing what words to say, doubting any words would be adequate, he said nothing. He held her as though to shelter her from an unseen storm, though his logical mind told him she could stand on her own. He reckoned Hogwarts would do them all some good, if for no other reason than its being big enough that they'd have space to wander in and fewer reminders of the deaths so recently inflicted on the Order.