Ron arrived at George’s shop after an intense day of Auror training, and he was in a decidedly foul mood. Instructor Pierce had told them that they’d be going out on a raid, but he’d refused to give any further details. Ron knew from Harry that this was what they’d been waiting for. While he was thrilled to be able to go along, he wished that Harry wasn’t coming.
His friend was sick — really sick.
Harry was currently at St. Mungo’s for a treatment. They hoped Healer Larkin could at least give him a boost to get through the raid Thursday night. They had to find what Lestrange had added to the poison. There was simply no other way.
Harry wasn’t going to make it much longer.
Ron hated to admit that, but it was becoming obvious.
Ron really wanted to punch a wall to alleviate some of his frustration, but his toe was still sore from the dresser he’d kicked that morning.
To top it all off, Hermione’s parents had been writing her incessantly asking when she’d be visiting Australia. She’d told them she would return before the summer holidays were over, and there was now just slightly over a fortnight left to go. Hermione couldn’t leave things this way — Harry might not be there when she got back.
Ron squelched that unpleasant thought.
This raid would lead to something. It had to.
“What’s up with you?” George asked, noticing Ron’s cross expression as he emerged from the back room carrying several glass jars.
“Long day,” Ron replied shortly.
“How’s Harry?” George asked. Apparently, Ron wasn’t the only one worried about their dark-haired brother.
He put his jars down next to the till as he studied Ron’s face intently.
“Not so good. He went over to St. Mungo’s again,” Ron said, sighing. He’d expected George to make a wisecrack or some joke to make Ron feel better, but when George remained silent, Ron looked over at him.
George was pale, and his eyes looked rather haunted, far more serious than his mischievous brother had been of late. He hadn’t seen that expression on George’s face since— oh.
He hadn’t given a lot of thought to how much George and Harry had bonded over the past few months. George couldn’t handle losing Harry any more than the rest of them could. They needed that antidote.
Ron poked at the jars on the counter — Doxy eggs and Valerian root — while he took a steadying breath.
“He’s going to be all right, though,” he said, hoping his voice was filled with more confidence than he felt. “We’re onto something. It shouldn’t be much longer.”
“Yeah?” George asked hopefully.
“Yeah,” Ron said, nodding.
“Is he still telling everyone he’s fine?” George asked, his voice very low.
Ron rolled his eyes. “Wouldn’t be Harry if he didn’t. Ginny’s the only one he’ll answer honestly.”
“I wish he’d just complain once in a while. Dad says he was conditioned by his awful relatives to downplay his own suffering,” George said, a hint of anger in his eyes.
Ron knew George had taken the revelations about the Dursleys very badly. He’d been developing a whole new series of products with them in mind, some too ghastly to even consider putting on the shelves. Something George said suddenly registered in Ron’s anger-laced brain.
“Wait. When did you talk to Dad about this?” he asked.
“He’s been stopping by after work. He wants to make sure I’m not drinking,” George said wryly, “but we’ve been talking. He’s really upset with himself for not putting it all together sooner.”
“None of us put it together sooner. Harry should’ve said something, at least to me and Hermione,” Ron said, feeling that old familiar stab of annoyance that Harry hadn’t trusted them with this.
“Dad says it’s really important not to blame Harry. He was doing the best he could,” George said.
“I know,” Ron replied grudgingly. Hermione had told him the same thing. It was just hard, and it made him want to hit something.
“Ginny told me she banned ‘fine’ from his vocabulary. He only seems to remember when she’s around, though,” George said.
“I get angry at us, too,” Ron admitted quietly. “We were there. We saw the bars on his window.”
“I know. It seemed like a great adventure at the time,” George said.
“We’re not going to lose him, George. We’re going to find this cure, and put all the remaining Death Eaters in Azkaban for good,” Ron insisted.
“I hope so. I… I didn’t handle losing Fred so well—”
“No, I didn’t. Harry… he’s lost more than anyone, and he never fell apart like that. I keep wondering if the wrong twin died,” George whispered painfully.
“Knock it off!” Ron said hotly. “Fred wouldn’t have been any different. Now it’s our job to pull Harry through, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
George looked up at Ron uncertainly.
“We’re getting him through this,” Ron insisted.
George took a deep breath, steadying himself. “Let me know if there’s any way I can help. I want to help,” he said, nodding.
“We all do, George. We all do,” Ron replied grimly.
“Can you and Lee handle closing up tonight?” George asked, grabbing his jacket from behind the counter.
“Sure. Why? Got plans?” Ron asked, glad to change the subject.
“Percy and I are going to look at flats,” George said.
Ron’s eyebrows rose in surprise. He knew George and Percy had been slowly repairing their own strained relationship, but this was the first he’d heard of a flat.
“How come?” he asked.
“Percy doesn’t want to go back to his old flat, but he’s ready to move out of The Burrow. He says he wants a fresh start, so I told him I’d help him look,” George said, shrugging.
Ron smiled. “He doesn’t want to be left alone with Mum and Dad once Ginny goes back to school more like,” he said.
“Can you blame him? I love them dearly, but there is no such thing as privacy in that house,” George said.
“Too right,” Ron said, nodding fervently.
He and Harry would have to get back to renovating Grimmauld Place. And that led his thoughts right back to where they’d started, right back to where they always ended up. This raid had to bring results. As the evening wore on, and he and Lee eventually closed up, Ron’s mood hadn’t improved.
Hermione met him at the shop after closing. She walked over and kissed him on the cheek when she came in, but Ron barely looked up from the till.
“What’s bothering you?” she asked.
“I’ve counted this three times and got a different amount every time,” he growled, slamming the drawer shut again.
He just wanted to close out for the day and get out of here, but he couldn’t until he finished balancing this till. Hermione grabbed his hands, stilling them.
“Let me try,” she said calmly, taking his place in front of the till.
“Thanks, Hermione,” he said, relieved.
“How was class today?” she asked.
Ron sighed. “Pierce told us we’re going on the raid.”
Hermione looked up sharply. “You are? Isn’t that going to be dangerous?”
“So? We’re Aurors, Hermione,” he replied hotly, feeling insulted. She hadn’t been surprised that Harry was going along, and he felt stung that she would react this way about him.
“I know that, but the last time the interns went out, it was to search an abandoned building, and as I recall, one of the interns overreacted. This time, you’re dealing with real — and desperate — Death Eaters. That just seems like a big risk to me,” Hermione said as she continued to count.
Ron knew she was right. Susan had fired at nothing, but that was weeks ago. They’d learned a lot since then, and all hands were needed. He couldn’t find the words to explain his desperate need to be part of this, and his frustration kept growing. This couldn’t go wrong. And Ron had to be there.
“I have to be there, Hermione. I have to look out for him. It’s my job to look out for him,” he said earnestly.
“Ron—” Hermione said
“No, it is. I’m the sidekick. I’ve always been the sidekick, and I always will be to him. I’m good at it, and he needs me. I wouldn’t trust anyone else to have his back like I can. I will not let anyone hurt him again,” Ron insisted.
Hermione’s eyes filled. “You’re more than just a sidekick, Ron. You always have been, but I know what you mean about wanting to protect him. No one did when he was little, and it’s our job now. It’ll always be our job.”
“Yes,” Ron breathed, thrilled she actually got it.
“But that doesn’t mean we should be reckless. If you’re in over your head, let the experienced Aurors handle it. Follow their lead,” Hermione pleaded.
Her words were like am icy blast of water over his already frayed nerves. He didn’t want to admit that Hermione was expressing some of his own doubts. Anger was an easier emotion to deal with, it was familiar, and he grasped onto it now.
“I can do this, Hermione,” he said stiffly.
“I didn’t say that you couldn’t,” Hermione snapped. “I’m just saying that I don’t think bringing a bunch of untrained candidates into a Death Eater stronghold—”
“We are trained! What do you think we’ve been doing these past few weeks, sitting around memorizing text books?” Ron shouted.
“Studying rules is an excellent way to be prepared, Ronald.”
“You didn’t think so when our OWL results were on the line!” Ron snapped.
“That’s not fair!” Hermione cried, grasping at the jar of Doxy eggs George had left on the counter.
“We went an entire year making decisions on our own without a guidebook while we hunted those Horcruxes, and we were pretty damn successful at it. Why, as soon as there’s trouble, do you want to go back to find someone in authority?” Ron demanded.
“And why do you go back to responding with anger? You make rash decisions when you’re angry. Didn’t you learn that lesson after your fling with Lavender?” Hermione spat, pushing the jar away.
“Lavender?” Ron asked incredulously. “Why do you have to bring her back into things whenever you’re upset?”
“Maybe because I find her upsetting!” Hermione snapped, her eyes bright.
“Maybe you should trust me once in a while,” Ron said, feeding his hurt with more anger.
“I do trust you! Haven’t you seen that at all?” Hermione asked.
Ron knew she was right. She did trust him. Hadn’t she shown him that time and again these past few months? This was spinning out of control, and she wasn’t the one he was angry with. It was the situation. He’d promised to make some changes and stop lashing out. With monumental effort, he tamped down on his own urge to fight back.
“We’re going to be careful, Hermione. The Aurors will deal with the Death Eaters. The interns are going to search the house. The Death Eaters have been on the run for months, so they can’t always get out to get what they need. We’re hoping some potion ingredients might have been left behind that are at their disposal. It might tell us something.”
Hermione’s face glazed over as she stared at the counter. Her eyes were far away, as if pieces of a puzzle were clicking into place in her head. Ron had seen that look many times on her face in the past.
“What?” he asked.
“Nothing…” she said vaguely, closing the till. “I need to check on something.”
“What do you need to check?” he asked desperately, knowing something he couldn’t see had registered with her.
Hermione absently kissed him on the cheek before hurrying out the door. After she’d left, Ron realized she’d never told him her tally of the till. He groaned. This just hadn’t been his day.
Harry stared through a wrought-iron fence at the gloomy outline of the Lestrange house. Why did their properties always look like something out of a horror novel? Seriously, didn’t any of them want a nice picket fence, and light, airy windows? He could never be a Dark wizard. He didn’t get the appeal of the doom and gloom.
Harry had to cover a snicker. Maybe he was finally cracking up.
He’d arrived at the Ministry shortly before sundown along with the rest of the recruits. They’d broken into smaller teams and silently Apparated to the location in Nottingham that Draco Malfoy had personally told each of them. Now, they were gathered on this hot, sultry summer night ready to raid the haven of the elusive, missing Death Eaters.
Draco was part of Harry’s group, along with Susan Bones, John Dawlish, Owen Savage, and Mr. Weasley. They were all dressed in dark, Muggle-style clothing, and they were scattered in small groups along the street city street. The Lestrange house blended in with Muggle buildings around it, and Mr. Weasley was along to ensure they didn’t call undue attention to themselves.
Harry was impressed with the level of detail in their plan. The Aurors planned like Hermione — only with equally-thought out contingencies should anything go wrong. He’d done enough subterfuge in his life to know something always went wrong.
Harry glanced over at the blond Slytherin accompanying them. Draco looked agitated. He was pale and sweating slightly, and Harry could detect a slight tremor in his hands.
Harry knew this was dangerous. The missing Death Eaters were desperate, and desperate people had nothing left to lose. Malfoy was right to be frightened. Why, then, did Harry feel more alive than he had in weeks? What did that say about him?
Earlier that day, he’d wanted nothing more than to crawl back into bed and sleep for days. His feet were unsteady, and he’d lost the ability to breathe properly. Naturally he’d been sick before — he’d suffered colds, bouts of the flu, and various sore throats the same as anyone — but he’d never experienced anything as debilitating as this. Even his hair hurt.
But now, here in the dusky light outside a Death Eater stronghold, Harry felt better than he had in days. While it still hurt to breathe properly, the bone-weary exhaustion that had been plaguing him had lifted. He supposed it was merely his adrenaline rising to meet him like an old, familiar friend, but whatever the cause, he’d take it. He felt as if it were a sign that this — chasing the bad guys — was what he was meant to do. He could read fear on Malfoy’s face, see indecision written all over Susan’s, but he recognized the same quiet thrill in Owen Savage’s ready posture that Harry felt.
He could do this.
“All right, Malfoy. It’s bloody time,” Owen Savage said, the scar on his chin highlighted by the lone street lamp. “Once you’re inside, nod your greetings to your cronies and take a seat. Keep your arse in the chair and your head down. Do as little speaking as possible. I’ll cast a spell to keep the door from latching once you’re inside.”
“And what if something goes wrong? How are you going to get me out in time?” Malfoy asked, his voice very high.
Harry was forcefully reminded of their detention in the forest during first year, and he could barely contain his smirk. Of course, Malfoy’s fright had nearly got Harry killed during that excursion, so that thought sobered him up a bit.
Draco glared at Harry. “You find this funny, do you, Potter? It won’t be so funny if they suspect something. Both of us could end up dead here,” he spat.
“No one is going to die as long as you keep your head. We’ll be right behind you,” Harry said easily.
Seeing that Harry was handling Draco, Owen turned his attention to Susan Bones and began reiterating the instructions to her.
The plan was for Draco to join the meeting, as expected. This would remove any suspicion from him should something go wrong. The Aurors would surge in and capture them all unaware. The weak link in the entire plan was Draco himself. He looked much too nervous, and he’d have to sit still without drawing attention so the Aurors wouldn’t have to follow him in directly.
“Once they’re all captured, your mother’s life will be safe, as well. Think of it as protecting her,” Harry said.
Malfoy visibly pulled himself together, standing straighter. He nodded resolutely and turned to the gloomy old house. He pulled a wand from his pocket, and Harry was pleased to note his hand wasn’t shaking.
“You got a new wand,” Harry said.
Draco glanced at the sleek, cherry wand in his hand. “I had to, didn’t I? You never bothered to return my original,” he drawled.
“Wouldn’t matter. It’s loyal to me now,” Harry said, smirking at the thought of Malfoy’s former blackthorn wand that still sat in his trunk.
Draco scowled. “One of these days, Potter, something isn’t going to go your way,”
“Yeah, because my life has been such a breeze so far,” Harry scoffed, rolling his eyes. Malfoy really could be a prat.
“All right, keep your knickers on. This isn’t nursery school,” John Dawlish said, approaching them with a scowl. Mr. Weasley walked with him, although his expression showed more concern.
“Potter, you and Bones are to stay behind Savage and me. You’re back up only, so no heroics,” Dawlish continued, staring daggers. “Taking amateurs and civilians into a raid is madness,” he mumbled under his breath.
“And yet, it was Gawain Robards’s idea. Do you think he’s mad?” Mr. Weasley asked calmly.
Dawlish flushed. “No, sir. That’s not what I was saying.”
“Ah, I thought not,” Mr. Weasley said, smiling. “I’ve cast the Muggle-Repelling Charms along the perimeter, and Bill is with the other group taking down the wards in the rear of the building.”
Dawlish nodded, obviously still feeling uncomfortable. “And you’ll stay behind the trainees.”
Mr. Weasley’s head dipped, his eyes glancing toward Harry.
Harry felt a wave of unease. Mr. Weasley was a member of the Order. He knew how to take care of himself, but Harry couldn’t squash the desire to protect him. Mr. Weasley had taken on a role that hadn’t proven to be very safe one to have. Harry couldn’t bear it if something happened to him now.
“You let me do my job, and I’ll let you do yours,” Mr. Weasley said quietly so only Harry could hear.
Harry looked up and flushed, embarrassed that his misgivings must’ve shown so clearly.
“I’m worried about you, too, lad, but we have to trust each other. It’s what families who work together always have to learn,” he said, nodding reassuringly.
Warmth flooded Harry at his words, and he forced himself not to drop his head. “You be careful,” he said a bit gruffly.
“And you,” Mr. Weasley said, and Harry could tell he was pleased.
Owen Savage and Susan Bones joined their small gathering. “All right. Malfoy, you’re up,” Savage said.
Draco steeled his shoulders and began his lonely trek up the front pavement. He climbed the stone steps and rapped twice on the heavy, dark door.
Harry could hear Susan breathing heavily behind him, and her apprehension was infectious. He held his breath until the door opened, and Malfoy was enveloped in the shadows of the entryway.
Owen Savage muttered a quick spell to keep the heavy door from latching as it closed.
Harry’s chest protested the lack of oxygen, and a wave of dizziness overtook him. He forcefully shook it off. Okay, so holding his breath was a bad idea. Got it. He took a pained breath, clutching his wand, and waited for the signal to proceed inside.
Hermione wiped sweat from the back of her neck as she leaned over her cauldron. She and Ginny were holed-up in Mr. Weasley’s shed where they’d been testing the results of adding various ingredients to the Intrudunter Elixir. The shed was stifling hot in the summer heat, and despite the cooling charms they’d added, the heat from the cauldron was oppressive. The fact they had to use Bubble-Head Charms to ensure they didn’t inhale any of the fumes wasn’t helping.
Hermione’s T-shirt stuck to her back, and the discomfort made focusing difficult. With supreme effort, she forced her attention back to her task. It wasn’t the first time she’d had to revise under stressful circumstances.
Harry had first given her the idea that perhaps the missing ingredient wasn’t something Dark at all. When they’d first started brewing, she and Ginny had been testing a vast number of illegal potion-making supplies that Neville had been providing them, but nothing had produced similar results.
It was only while in the shop with Ron that her thoughts clicked on Grimmauld Place. The Death Eaters had been hidden there, hoping to capture Harry. Grimmauld Place was full of creatures that offered a wide variety of potion-making options. She just had to narrow down which one. There had been a jar full of Doxy eggs on the counter at George’s shop, and Hermione remembered cleaning the foul creatures from the drapes at Grimmauld Place during fifth year.
The hair on the back of her neck stood on end as she dropped several of the slimy eggs into her potion. The poison Harry had inhaled had also been found on the drapes.
Hermione shook her head inside her bubble, trying to push her sweaty hair out of her eyes as she watched the colour of her potion.
“What do you think is happening?” Ginny asked tensely, her voice distorted slightly under her own Bubble-Head.
The younger girl had been to see Neville earlier that afternoon, and she’d returned with another batch of ingredients to try, but her mind was obviously elsewhere. It was on the raid that both Harry and Ron were involved in.
They were all working on a cure tonight in their own ways.
“Hopefully it will be over quickly,” Hermione said, trying to tamp down on her worry.
“Even once they catch Lestrange, there’s no guarantee he’ll tell them what they need to know,” Ginny said, counting as she stirred her cauldron anti-clockwise.
“Maybe they’ll get lucky and find the ingredients right there in the house,” Hermione said hopefully.
“Or they could torture it out of him,” Ginny said grimly, and Hermione suspected she wasn’t kidding.
“Ginny,” she scolded, but only half-heartedly.
Ginny scowled. “Let’s not be dependent on any of those pricks, anyway. Let’s find this cure ourselves.”
Hermione didn’t know if she should scold Ginny for her coarse language or applaud her resolve. She put her head down and continued to work.
Darkness had completely enveloped the street by the time Owen Savage gave the go-ahead to move inside. With the synched rhythm of a silent predator, the Aurors moved quickly and stealthily toward the door, wands drawn. It opened easily, thanks to the charm Savage had cast when Draco entered the building.
As his team moved inside, Harry saw Mr. Weasley casting Anti-Apparition Wards. This had to be done from inside the house, and if any of the Death Eaters were on their game, they’d notice the moment the wards were cast.
Voldemort would have noticed.
These men weren’t Voldemort, and no one raised an alarm.
Harry cautiously entered the elaborate hallway. Marble columns rose on each side, giving plenty of cover. He could hear the murmur of voices from a room along the hallway, but no one was keeping watch outside the door.
Once he’d taken his spot on the far end of the columns, he had to wait while the rest of his team got into position. He knew Ron’s team was entering from another location somewhere in the vast house. A tickle rose in the back of his throat, and he had to forcefully suppress a cough, causing his vision to swim. His adrenaline was struggling to keep his sickness at bay, but he feared the illness was beginning to win out. He had to keep it together. He fought a wave of dizziness as his chest gave a painful throb.
Savage nodded, and they crept toward a room at the far end of the hallway. Harry could hear the clinking of glasses as he got his first, brief glimpse through a crack in the doorway. The ragged bunch of Death Eaters were gorging themselves. Most were filthy and bedraggled, barely acknowledging one another as they devoured the food in front of them. He couldn’t see Draco from his vantage point.
Harry shouldn’t have been surprised. One of the hardest parts they’d faced being on the run was the inadequate food supply. These Death Eaters had been underground for several months now, living on the scraps they could scavenge and steal. Of course food would be their first priority when they found it in abundance.
Perhaps this would be easier than he’d thought.
No sooner had the notion crossed his mind before all hell broke loose. A small house-elf emerged from another door, and upon seeing all the Aurors crouched in the hallway, let out a blood-curdling screech.
“Intruders! Intruders in the Noble House!” the elf screamed.
Panicked and scrambling to their feet, the Death Eaters dropped their plates and began blindly firing spells nearly simultaneously. Furniture was upturned as they darted toward two separate exits, quickly realizing they couldn’t Disapparate. Someone broke a window and tried to fling his body outside, but the wards cast by Bill and Mr. Weasley caused him to bounce backwards and onto the floor.
Another Death Eater fired several spells toward the main door as he tried to force his way outside.
Harry slammed his back against the wall, raising a Shield in one quick motion. Susan Bones wasn’t as fast, and blood spurted along her shoulder and dangerously close to her throat as a Cutting Curse hit its mark. She shrieked in pain, covering her wound with her hand, leaving herself exposed.
Harry grabbed her uninjured arm and pulled her back behind his Shield. “Stay down, and put a Shield up,” he barked.
Blood oozed from beneath Susan’s fingers, and she was rapidly losing colour as she whimpered in pain. Harry whipped off his jacket, bunched it up and held it to her wound.
Owen Savage traded spells with the Death Eater who’d tried to force his way from the room. Harry recognized the fugitive as Rabastan Lestrange. Glancing quickly inside, he couldn’t see Rodolphus, but the smaller door at the back of the room was open.
“Keep pressure on that wound, and don’t move. Use all your energy to keep up your Shield,” he said.
Susan nodded, her eyes showing fright. He moved one of the statues in the hallway in front of her to offer her some cover. Owen Savage and John Dawlish continued to trade spells with several others in the larger room. Dawlish’s expression was grim, but he was determined and very good with his wand. Savage was in his element and swore with glee as he charged into the room.
Harry turned from Savage and Dawlish, leaving Susan under the protection of her own Shield, and hurried to the adjacent room just as Rodolphus Lestrange pushed his way out, dragging Draco Malfoy with him.
Draco stumbled, and when Rodolphus leaned forwards to pull him back to his feet, Harry cast a Disarming spell. Rodolphus’s wand flew from his hand, and his startled eyes followed its progress. It landed further down the hall, skidding out of reach.
“Potter!” he spat, dropping Draco back to the floor and grabbing the blond’s wand.
Harry evaded a series of rapid-fire curses, his own Shield faltering slightly. He ducked behind a marble statue along the hallway while Rodolphus did the same on the other side. Draco crawled back inside the room from which he’d come, keeping low to the ground and away from the spells.
The roar of shouts and spells echoed through the corridor, making it impossible to distinguish any of the voices or what they were saying. It was chaos.
Glancing upward, Harry noticed a large light fixture swinging precariously above their heads. A surprised yell startled him as more spells erupted further down the hallway. The other teams had finally made their way into the fray.
A pained scream and Owen Savage’s gleeful cursing behind him alerted Harry that Rabastan was down. Blind fury showed on Rodolphus’s ravaged face.
“Avada Kedavra,” he hissed, and a strong green light burst from Draco’s stolen wand and hurtled toward Harry with deadly speed.
Despite the vivid flashback playing in his mind, Harry tucked and rolled away as the marble statue behind which he’d been hiding shattered into a million pieces. He untucked from his roll directly beside a startled Draco, and aimed a strong Blasting Curse at the light above them. His heart hammered in his chest as he shook Voldemort’s face in the forest from his mind.
The huge, wrought-iron light fixture collapsed, pulling a good chunk of the ceiling down with it. It was too big, and Lestrange couldn’t completely move out of the way in time. It landed on top of him, pinning him to the ground. He shrieked as his bones crunched sickeningly, dropping the stolen wand from his shattered arm.
Harry reached out and snagged it as it rolled away. Panicked, Draco began to crabwalk backwards, but Harry shoved him down.
“Stay still, you moron,” Harry hissed. “There are plenty more Death Eaters still loose.”
His vision swam alarmingly, and he took a shaky breath, attempting to see properly through the haze of pain that had enveloped him.
He wasn’t supposed to use magic. Right. Well, that particular Healer instruction was out the window.
“Effin’ nice job, Potter!” Owen Savage shouted, running after a fleeing Death Eater, swearing his head off as he did so.
Lestrange moved feebly beneath the massive light fixture, but he was too weak push it off. Good.
“What’s wrong with you?” Draco asked, watching Harry closely. “Did you get hit? We have to get out of here.”
Harry swallowed heavily as the blood rushed to his head. “I’m fine,” he said shakily. “Stay down.”
“Don’t tell me what to do. You’re not fine, and if I get caught with you, I’m a dead man, anyway. I’m getting out of here,” Draco snapped, attempting to pull himself upright.
Harry didn’t have time for this, and he was the one who still had his wand. Aiming it at Malfoy, he muttered, “Stupefy.”
The blond crumpled to the floor, his head luckily resting on the back of a stuffy-looking chair.
That ought to keep him out of trouble, Harry thought, beginning to giggle deliriously.
Hermione watched her cauldron carefully, waiting to see if the Elixir would turn the greenish-yellow colour they were hoping to achieve. The potion swirled, transforming. Hermione felt crushed when it stilled. It was green, but a vivid, violent shade of green with no yellowish tones. It didn’t work.
Hermione had been so certain it would work.
She watched Ginny’s face mirror her own despair. This was hopeless.
“I thought the Doxy eggs would work,” Hermione whispered, her throat raw.
“I did, too,” Ginny said quietly, voice full of despair. “Colour is nearly right, but something is still off.”
Hermione jerked back, turning toward the shelf where they’d stored the items Neville had been giving them. “Colour is nearly right. So… what else comes from a Doxy egg?” she mumbled.
Ginny looked up sharply, her eyes widening. “A Doxy,” she exclaimed, reaching past Hermione to grab a jar with a small, black-haired, fairy-like creature inside.
She began removing the lid.
“How are you going to keep it from flying out?” Hermione asked, alarmed. Doxy eggs were used all the time, but she’d never heard of a potion that used an actual living Doxy. Most potions called for parts of things, removed beforehand. She’d never had to kill anything to get her ingredients, and it made her uncomfortable. But it was for Harry.
Ginny didn’t respond. She grasped the Doxy firmly in one gloved hand, while putting her other hand between her knees, pulling off her glove.
“What are you doing?” Hermione asked, alarmed.
Doxies were known to bite.
Ginny put her bare hand on the Doxy, and sure enough, the struggling creature viciously clamped onto her finger with its razor sharp teeth. Ginny pulled her hand back quickly, holding it above her cauldron. Several drops of her own blood dripped into the potion below.
Ginny slammed the Doxy back in its jar and reattached the lid.
The potion bubbled and churned before turning a perfect shade of lime green. Ginny’s eyes rose to meet Hermione’s. “Doxy venom,” she breathed.
Hermione reached for the first-aid kit, removing a stopper full of the antidote for Doxy venom and handing it to Ginny.
Ginny stared at the potion nervously as she applied the antidote to her rapidly-swelling finger. “D’you think my blood will affect the result?”
“It won’t matter. This is it, Ginny. We have to get this to Healer Larkin so she can test it. The lab at the hospital or the one at the Ministry will have Doxy venom without human blood,” Hermione said, smiling. “That was very brave.”
“It’s just a Doxy bite,” Ginny said, scoffing.
“That doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt,” Hermione protested.
“It did,” Ginny agreed, nodding, “but it’s for Harry.”
Hermione nodded her understanding.
“Let’s get this to Healer Larkin,” Ginny said, clumsily wrapping a bandage around her finger.
Hermione gathered some of the potion in a phial, sealed it, and stuffed it her bag. They carefully vanished their cauldrons and cast fresh-air charms around the shed before removing their Bubble-Head Charms and rushing to St. Mungo’s.
“Harry!” someone shouted, kneeling on the floor next to him.
Harry blearily looked up into Ron’s alarmed face, and his giggles began anew. It was really hot and sweat rolled down the sides of Ron’s face. Harry knew he must look the same.
Ron frowned, reaching over to push the hair from Harry’s forehead. “Are you concussed?” he asked.
Harry pulled away, trying to knock Ron’s hand off his head, “Gerroff,” he mumbled, his tongue feeling thick in his mouth.
“You’re burning up,” Ron said grimly. “What happened to Malfoy?” he asked, tossing his head toward the unconscious Slytherin.
Harry looked over to see Draco still slumped against the stuffy-looking chair. “Stunned him. He wouldn’t shut up,” Harry said proudly.
The sounds of spell fire had diminished, and Harry could hear several of the Aurors barking commands.
“Leave him there. We can gather him with the other prisoners. It won’t look suspicious that way,” Ron said, obviously enjoying the idea of treating Draco as a prisoner.
“Did we get everyone?” Harry slurred as the room dimmed around him. He widened his eyes, trying to focus.
“Dunno.” Ron replied. “I got held up out back. I knew they shouldn’t have put McLaggen in my group. He spent so much time telling everyone else how to do their own jobs, he neglected to do his own, and we got delayed. I saw one of the Lestranges pinned under a light outside the door, though,”
“Yeah,” Harry said, his grin turning into a grimace. “Got him.”
“You did that?” Ron asked, impressed.
“I think so,” Harry replied. The fog in his brain made it difficult to follow the conversation, and the pain in his chest was becoming unbearable. His insides felt as if they were caught in a vice.
“Nicely done. Come on, let’s get you out of here. There are teams already searching the premises,” Ron said, slinging Harry’s arm over his shoulder and dragging him to his feet.
“Ron! Harry!” Mr. Weasley said, entering the room and moving toward the both of them.
“We’re not hurt, Dad,” Ron said quickly, “but Harry’s not feeling so good.”
Harry’s legs trembled as his vision swam. He stared dizzily and could vaguely decipher a shadow emerging from the corner of the room behind Mr. Weasley. He couldn’t force his eyes to make the shape take form. His stomach hurt, and he could feel bile rise in his throat.
“Watch out!” he shouted, as the shadow finally took shape, aiming a wand. He pushed Mr. Weasley into Ron as a spell ripped toward them all.
Author’s Note: First off, I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a very happy New Year! Enjoy, everyone!
There was a lot of discussion about Hermione’s Head Girl status last chapter. Of all the stories I’ve read, Hermione is always named Head Girl, and I can’t help but think how much someone from Ginny’s year would resent that. Had Hermione attended Hogwarts with her own class, I have no doubt that she’d get the honor for all her academics and the type of class leader she was. I don’t, however, believe she should automatically get it for a year she’s never before been a part of because of her war efforts. Head Girl isn’t about the war – that’s for the Order of Merlin. Anyway, after everything the students in Ginny’s year went through under the Carrows reign AT Hogwarts, I think that honor should remain with them. That was my reasoning, and I’m sticking to it.