All the pieces are in place, next move is Voldemort's
Harry looked around and locked eyes with his bushy haired best friend.
Hermione meant to say "Hi Harry, how are you? How did you make a baby so fast and how is it that you're an auror officer and how is it that you're married to two women and a ghost?"
What actually came out was something that sounded like "urk?"
Not exactly how he'd planned to introduce his family to the 'old school chums.'
Harry stepped toward Hermione and she took a step back simultaneously raising both hands in front of her as if to push him away if he got too close.
"Hermione," he said gently, "can I tell you about my summer?"
She looked over Harry's shoulder at the three worried looking ladies and her gaze hardened, "yeah Harry, let's write an essay, at least three feet of parchment, what I did over my summer holiday."
She counted off on her fingers one "You managed to have a baby, which means if he was born in July you had intimate relations with this lady in October of last year, funny, you never mentioned her. Come to think of it, we didn't see much of you last October."
Holding up a second finger she continued "you managed to get a commission in less than the standard 14 weeks, which means either a time-turner was involved or your commission is fraudulent!"
She folded back her third finger until it looked painful and raised her voice "and now you say you're married to not one but three women, one of whom has been dead for fifty years! Eeeeew!"
Harry could take abuse, it rolled off him like water off a duck's back, but no one was allowed to debase his ladies, not even her.
Harry's eyes flashed a dangerous green, "of all people, I thought you knew me best. Of all people I thought you would understand."
He ticked off his own list, "One, Paul is our son, our adopted son and we love him none the less for it."
"Two, my commission is genuine, there is a Commandant and a Brigadier here who will attest to that and you should know deputy that it is a crime, punishable by up to a year in Azkaban to impersonate an officer in the auror corps."
"Third and fourth and fifth and last these three ladies, one of whom carries my unborn daughter love me and I love them, and they would not have me choose between them so they all married me, and they know that there is a place in our family for one more, for the girl who has had my heart these past six years and has stood by me in bad times and worse and who seems to be determined to piss away that friendship because she didn't think before insulting my wives, and my son and my life on the eve of what will probably be my last day on this Earth!"
Hermione gaped, open-mouthed and wide eyed as she saw tears filling Harry's eyes. She tried to speak but the silencing charm was still in place. He blinked and tears flowed freely down his cheeks. He whispered "finite" and turned away sadly into the arms of his loves. Myrtle glared at her and turned her back on the bushy haired know it all.
Hermione ran sobbing out of the hospital wing.
Belle conjured a handkerchief and handed it to Harry, who blew his nose and sighed, "Well, that could have gone better . . ."
"My Lord Husband, will you come to bed?"
"I'd love to Milady Wife, but I'm afraid I would only disappoint tonight; much too much on my mind."
"Just a bit of rest, then?"
"I'll rest, one way or another, after tomorrow."
"Then we'll rest together milord, for I know you will win!"
Harry took heart as Belle was so convinced, for her it was truly a foregone conclusion. He slipped into 'command mode' "Lieutenant Potter, do we have an illusionist for the Burrow?"
"I'm afraid not Commander Potter, it was going to be Hermione but now . . ."
Harry nodded, "well, 'good enough' will have to be good enough, let's go back to Ottery St. Catchpole."
Myrtle said, "I'll stay here and coordinate with the castle spirits, dears, do be careful" saying this she brushed her warm ectoplasmic cheek against his, then touched foreheads with Belle, Marie and little Paul.
Marietta hefted a rough canvas sack, and with a flick of her wand shrunk it to pocket size.
'Something about that bag looks familiar' Belle thought to herself; then asked out loud "What is that Marie?"
"Just a little surprise for your nephew if I happen to see him Belle" she said sweetly "a little gift courtesy of Auror Rolfe."
As Belle and Harry and Marie went in search of a floo connection Myrtle went in search of a Granger.
One hour before sunrise the silver cage that contained the trapped lycanthropes fell open. The top of the cage swung inward and the walls of the cage fell outward. The werewolves slept on. Goyle crab-walked backwards away from the pile of lycans as Cruz, Morris and Smythe magically bound the sleeping beasts.
"No muss no fuss no botha," Morris said, "we missed all the fun!"
Cruz wasn't so sure; he'd seen the biggest werewolf twitch when he was bound. So he kept his rifle at the ready.
Keeping her wand trained on Goyle she called out "Oi, step lively now, over to the wall hands over your head."
She stepped over the prone form of Fenrir Greyback who sprang to life, broke his magical bonds and raked her back with his claws. The auror screamed and fell, dropping her wand in the process. The werewolf was too quick for JosÃ©, who couldn't risk a shot for fear of hitting Tina.
Goyle couldn't believe his luck, he snatched the wand at his feet and pointed it at the larger of the two aurors, but the big man drop-rolled and fired a cutting curse that neatly holed the center of the death eater's chest.
Greyback rose from the downed auror and howled his defiance to the one who was just getting to his feet. The outsized lycan crouched to spring.
JosÃ© didn't even raise the rife to aim, he just fired from the hip, putting a silver round lengthwise through the mad were's body. As the crack of the weapon echoed through the sewers he smoothly worked the bolt and chambered another Ag round. With a grim expression he raised the rifle and put a second bullet in Fenrir Greyback's skull. Cruz shouldered the firearm then ran to his fallen comrade.
Smythe was working on the wounds, trying to close them and stop the bleeding, but lycanthrope gashes were devilishly hard to mend.
"That's a right cock-up" Tina Morris groaned "turned me back on im' I did!"
"Its all right, /mi querida/, you couldn't have known."
"I could've and should've. I assumed, /damnit!/" she hissed as the infected scratches stung her back, "and you know what that means!"
"I know," he said gently, "makes an ass out of you and me."
"Oh JosÃ©," she sighed, "just let me die, or better yet, put a bullet in my brainpan."
"No, we'll get through this, you and me!"
She wanted so much to believe him, but knew their life together was over before it had truly begun.
"Smythe, I'll take over here, make sure the others are really asleep and double the bindings, all right?"
Smythe nodded and tended to the prisoners.
Hermione ran blindly down the corridor and into a girl's bathroom where she locked herself in a cubicle, sat on the only seat available and began to wail in earnest. Goddamn overactive teenage hormones, was Harry letting his todger do all his thinking for him? She felt as though her life was over. Harry, her Harry was married. Her monogamous upbringing didn't allow her to wrap her brain around the concept of polygamy or polyamory for that matter. When she allowed her logical self to look at the real reason for her anguish it was simple. She was the plain-brain. The 'bushy haired know-it-all' and that's all she would or could ever be to Harry. And then there were the other 'wives;' one drop-dead gorgeous redhead and one auror whose athletic beauty could easily grace the cover of the Sport's Illustrated Swimsuit edition. How could she hope to compete with that? Myrtle, on the other hand, was a complete and utter mystery.
So in fits and starts Hermione spent the better part of two hours being bewildered and heartbroken, crying like she had that day six years before when Ronald had called her a nightmare. As she remembered this she thought of how precious little Harry had jumped on a mountain troll's back to protect her and how she had fallen completely in love with him at that moment and she howled in grief, mourning for the love that was now beyond her grasp.
"Somehow, 'Howling Hermione' doesn't have the same ring to it."
Hermione looked up and saw Myrtle's face phased through the cubicle door.
"Shut it, you! Just leave me alone!"
"Well there's the problem then innit? You barge into the one room that has been my home for the past fifty years then tell me to get out?"
The corporeal girl stood in a huff and said "fine, I'll leave you to it then."
Myrtle did something that she hadn't done in fifty years as a ghost, she pushed a corporeal being, causing Hermione to sit down, shocked.
Before she could ask 'how' the ghost girl shrugged and said, "I got a little coaching from Peeves."
"Brightest witch of her age, huh? Tell me, Hermione Granger, what's come over you in the past year or so? You used to be so good at reading Harry and now you can't tell anymore when he's hurting, when he needs you, when he needs his best friend? You were so good together, real friends and then everything went to shite last year, why? What did Harry do that was so awful that you stopped being, well, his Hermione?"
In a very small voice she said "he stopped needing me . . ."
"Oh Great Goddess of All give me strength! What made you think /that?/"
"I'm not pretty, I'm not athletic; I'm 'the brainy one,' all right? All of a sudden he's popular, captain of the Quidditch team. Girls are falling all over him and he doesn't see me anymore. He's Slughorn's favorite little 'potion's master' because of that damn book . . ."
"He offered to share that with you; couldn't you see that his potions were better because he dared to be different? It could've just as easily blown up in his face, but he was willing to take a chance."
"Then Ginny is all over him like a cheap robe . . ."
Myrtle's eyes grew wide and her mouth hung open in utter disbelief. Jealousy; she was plainly and simply jealous. She was envious of his athletic prowess, resentful that he had out-performed her in potions and green-eyed because he was finding love and she wasn't.
"Its not very becoming, y'know" Myrtle offered.
"What do you know?"
"Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude."
Hermione's Church of England upbringing kicked in "Paul to the Corinthians . . ."
"Paul could have easily been describing our Harry, he isn't jealous or arrogant and he is very patient and kind, he's so easy to love."
Hermione looked up at the ghost and realized that Moaning Myrtle was feeling sorry for /her/. "What do you know?" She repeated, this time sans sarcasm.
"I know I had to die before love found me, I know I will do whatever I can to help him. I'm trying to help him now. He needs you."
"He'll find himself an illusionist . . ."
"No, not as good as you, and 'good enough' won't be good enough, but that's not what I'm talking about, he needs you."
"What do you mean?"
"When we're, y'know, 'with him,' he invites me in - we call it 'visiting.' I get to share his thoughts, and you know that 'little voice' we all hear in our heads, our conscience?"
Hermione nodded her understanding.
"That little voice is you. Don't you know he's loved you for over five years?"
Her tear puffed eyes grew wide, "oh God!"
Myrtle nodded, seeing the understanding in the other girls face.
"Right now he feels your disapproval washing over him and it's tearing at him, in his mind if you think he's wrong then he can't be right, and in this frame of mind he's about to face Voldemort. You may have just done more to defeat my husband than all the death eaters under Riddle combined."
"Oh God, no!"
Hermione burst out of the stall and ran back to the hospital wing, crying "ohGod ohGod ohGod" all the way down the hall and up the stairs. She skidded to a halt before running into Madame Pomfrey, who was cradling baby Paul; little baby Paul Potter, whom Harry loved.
"Where are they?" she asked, out of breath.
Myrtle floated up from the floor, "they're at the Burrow; take the hospital floo, hurry."
Hermione literally fell out of the fireplace in the Weasley's home, knocking over somebody who had arrived a few seconds before.
"We have got to stop meeting like this" said a slightly annoyed Marietta Edgecombe Potter.
Hermione broke down sobbing and wailed "I'm so sorry, oh God I'm so sorry!"
Marietta held her close and said, "s'okay, nothing's broken - see?"
"No I'm sorry for the awful things I said to you, all of you and I'm sorry I wasn't there for Harry all last year and I've been a right bitch about everything!"
She felt herself being lifted up by strong arms and pulled into a gentle embrace and wailed into Harry's chest.
"It's alright love, it's all right now."
Living with three ladies had given Harry the experience to handle a crying female, he knew to cuddle and caress and that little rocking thing and to say "it's all right, it's all right love, you're here and that's all that matters."
After a while she realized what a sight she must be, her hair even more frazzled than usual, her eyes blotchy, her nose red and runny, marks on her cheeks where she had scratched them in her anguish. She stepped back and was shocked to see him looking at her as though she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
"We told him you'd figure it out" Marietta smirked.
"She had to," added Belle, "brightest witch of her age, after all."
Hermione composed herself as best she could "Deputy Granger reporting for illusion duty, sir!"
"Glad to have you aboard, deputy" he said with a broad smile. Then he went into his 'command mode.'
"The plan is to set up golems and illusions around the Burrow, to make it look like there's a wedding celebration going on. We know Moldishort's will be arriving about mid morning with some goblins to drop the defensive wards and a few DEs to create mayhem, we plan to let them. Then my troops will take out the death eaters and any dark creatures with them and I'll face his snakeyness, don't give me that look, you know the prophecy. Only I can do it, anyone else who tries, dies."
Hermione looked at the golems, which met with her approval, then pulled her wand and drilled a hole in one with a cutting curse. The golem stood there blinking.
"We have to spell them to react to curses, and we need to hollow them out and fill them with something that will pass for blood, otherwise the death eaters will know they're not real in the first ten seconds."
Belle nodded in satisfaction "can you . . ."
Hermione raised one eyebrow and smirked.
". . . of course you can, let's get started then, we can all help."
They got down to it, Harry getting his camouflaged aurors in place, Hermione and the Misuses' Potters prepping the golems. When they were done the two dozen simulacrums looked and sounded very life-like.
The fireplace burned a brilliant green and Lieutenant's Smythe and Cruz stepped out. Both were very subdued. Marietta noticed and asked "what is it?"
Smythe took a deep breath, then answered, "we got the werewolves under St. Mungo's, all of em,' but Auror Morris got . . ."
Harry knew he'd have to face casualties under his command, he just didn't expect it so soon. "What happened?"
"Greyback happened, sir, the big wolf clawed her before I got him."
"It must have been bad, you were right there at the hospital" Marietta said sympathetically, "I know you tried everything you could; you just couldn't get her help in time."
"In time for what? She said she didn't want to live, she wanted me to shoot her on the spot!" Cruz grieved.
"You didn't . . ."
"Of course I didn't, but she's convinced her life, our life, is over now that she's infected!"
Harry snapped his head in JosÃ©'s direction "she's alive?"
"Yes sir, alive but infected with the lycan virus."
Harry threw a pinch of floo powder into the fireplace and called "Auror Tonks!"
Tonks' head appeared in the fireplace "Yes Commander?"
"He's good sir, thank you for asking." Then she seemed to ponder for a moment, "um, Commander, why are you asking?"
"Auror Morris was attacked by Greyback this morning, she's been infected and I was hoping maybe he could talk to her?"
Tonks understood immediately "I'll send him over as soon as he wakes up, the wolf's bane makes him a little groggy."
"Thanks Tonks; how are things downtown?"
"Ministry's all set, your friend Granger really came through for us, without her we wouldn't have been able to have this little chat, she's kept the floo network open for us."
"That's my Mione" he chuckled, the deputy in question blushed at his praise.
He broke the connection and turned to Cruz "Auror Tonks is in a serious relationship with Remus Lupin, who just happens to be one of my family's oldest friends and a werewolf. When we're done here you are to find Auror Morris and convince her that you do have a life together. Consider that an order, Lieutenant Cruz."
JosÃ© snapped to attention and saluted, "aye sir!"
The golems were set in motion, music came from the wizard's wireless and a pre-wedding atmosphere descended on the burrow.
Karen Ramsey had been cleaning out the offices of the powerful and important wizards for three decades, she was a squib but her work record was impeccable. She was the next best thing to a house elf, very conscientious and meticulous in her duties, and she didn't mind being one of the 'invisibles,' one of the menials that no one noticed unless there was a mess left somewhere. She put her cleaning supplies away, then, taking a little nip from her hip flask headed for the lift that would put her out by way of the old telephone booth.
She warily shuffled behind the dumpster where she met the wide open, sightless eyes of Karen Ramsey. She chucked as she remembered meeting 'herself' as she wandered into work in the wee hours of the morning. A quick AK and the body was dragged to its current resting place. Carraticus Crabbe then took the middle aged squib's identification badge and shuffled to the phone booth to go to work. Imagine his delight when he found he had access to every main office on every floor. He went from room to room, placing the fire runes where they would do the most good. There was nothing Crabbe liked better than a good fire, the heat, the smoke, the smell of burning flesh, he reveled in it. The only thing better was a good AK; he loved the look of utter surprise as his victims were snuffed out like candles. Two simple words and he was death itself. He loved his job.
"Ya done good darlin'" the polyjuiced death eater said to his unappreciative audience of one, then sat down to wait for the polyjuice potion to wear off and to pick off the panicking ministry employees as they ran from the emergency exits.
Deep in the forbidden forest three giants played football with all that remained of Gawp.
"No football, heed-ball" one of the giants grunted out and laughed as he kicked the battered skull yet again in the direction of the two other giants.
A team of goblin mercenaries had created a 'ward tunnel' by finding a weak spot in the wards near the forbidden forest and worrying it until it opened enough to let the Dark Lord's forces through. When the various creatures and humans were through the wards the goblins prepared to leave.
Antonin Dolohov, Voldemort's on-site commander asked "vhat, not stayink? I sought you vas mercs?"
"We were paid to open the wards; we opened the wards, now we will leave."
"If you stay and fight you can haff vhatever you vant from dis castle" the death eater offered.
"Pig in a poke" the spokes-goblin rejoined, "you are not in the castle yet, nor do I think you will be. This castle has never been taken by force."
The goblins walked into the forest to Dolohov's chorus of "off wiz you zhen, who needs you?"
Three hundred inferi ambled aimlessly within a corral. Their movements were being controlled by Phaedra, the Dark Lord's own necromancer, an albino witch with white hair and pink eyes who had been bound to the dead from the moment of her birth and had extraordinary control over lifeless corpses. She became, in fact their will. She didn't particularly like the job, but it was what she was. What she cared about most was getting Selene, her seven year old white haired daughter away from the Dark Lord as soon as possible so that they could go back to their life of well planned obscurity. She felt pity for the victims-to-be but she knew better than most that every living thing dies so she could afford to be philosophical about it.
Nearby a small squadron of dementors hovered just below the treeline, within the wards that kept their soul sucking proclivities away from the rest of Voldemort's troops. The DEs kept one wary eye on them and the other on the giants.
The first mob was made up almost entirely of newly marked grey robes, being admonished by Jack Rolfe.
"We have the honor and privilege of being the point of the spear, we will be the first to the walls of Hogwarts and then what we do will go down in history, every man here . . ."
"And woman!" came a shrill voice in the crowd.
". . .and woman will do what they have ta do or die in the trying, right mates?"
The cheer that went up from the three dozen death eater novices made the more jaded members of the Dark Lord's corps chuckle. Let the cannon fodder cheer, their job was to draw fire from the castle defenders so that the experienced troops could target the defenses. If any of them actually survived their grey robes would be exchanged for black, they already had the dark mark on them; they just needed to be blooded to complete the ritual. Dolohov thought 'Pity about zat Jack Rolfe, he vas all right, a real leader who had managed to pull conscripts into a cohesive unit. Maybe zhey could pull him out just before ze charge?'
Among the grey-robes was Voldemort's mole, a polyjuiced Severus Snape.
Crabbe looked at the wristwatch on Karen's lifeless arm, half past eight, right about now the runes would be bursting into flame all over the ministry, in a few seconds the people would be pouring out of the emergency exits. . . there! He gleefully began casting from the cover of the dumpster "Avada Kedavra! Avada Kedavra! Avada Kedavra!" Into the crowd. It was hard to tell at first if he was having any effect as the people seemed to stumble over each other in their haste. Not that it mattered; he was having the time of his life! Then something slammed the dumpster against him, smearing him along the brick wall, and he knew no more.
As the fiery runes erupted into impotent flames within the building the golems and illusions began running out of the emergency exits. To a muggle on the street it would look as though a crowd was leaving the underground, except there was no station near this location.
Commander Donovan, Sergeant Major Moody and their spotters saw AKs being launched from four different locations, Donovan sighted in on the one behind the dumpster and his fellow marksmen lined up on theirs. At his command "now!" they all fired deadly spells. No sense wasting time and ministry resources on lengthy trials here; just finish the job and move on. Alistor's target had been blasted into the ground by a powerful reductor, he looked more like a stepped on bug than an assassin, which pretty much summed up Moody's opinion of the cowardly scum.
At Hogwarts the dementors glided over the trees and across the lawn, the ensuing drop in temperature, misty fog and smell of death would have everyone in the castle scrambling around in blind panic. Except they weren't, instead half a dozen patroni of different sizes and forms flew out to drive the dementors into a space just above a turreted tower. Five powerful ultra-violet spotlights came on, bathing the dementors in excruciating light. When any one dementor tried to flee the six patroni would gang up on it and force it back into the lights. The sound of an unholy terror screaming in unholy terror was oddly satisfying, even more so was the fact that the dementor borne fog was dissipating; allowing the morning sun to add to their woes. Thirty seconds of this treatment proved to be thirty seconds too long and each of the dark creatures burst into flames.
"Keep the lights on em!" Brigadier admonished "there can't be any part of them left or they'll regenerate!"
Two more patroni joined the group, a Jack Russell terrier belonging to Ron Weasley and an enormous stallion.
"Good one, Neville!"
"Thanks Ron; just needed a happy thought is all!"
"And what was that?" Ron asked
Neville grinned broadly, "A gentleman never tells, all right? You'll figure it out later, b'sides, we're kinda busy here!"
Yet another patronus joined the group, effectively fencing in the now screeching dementors, this one looking like a large platypus with a crenellated horn protruding from its brow.
"What in the nine hells is /that?/" a bewildered Ron asked.
"Crumple-horned snorkack" Luna answered smugly.
Jack Rolfe saw that the defenders were busy containing the dementors and shouted "Let's go!"
The three dozen cheering death eater novices ran abreast to the long castle wall, appeared to jump and then disappeared. Just like that, gone. No one had fired a single curse on either side, and it looked like the Earth just swallowed them up. What the other death eaters didn't see was the concealed trench that had been prepared for 'Jack's Platoon' as Harry had called it. They also didn't see the grey robed novices empty their pockets of small runes, anti-portkey charms that would not allow anyone to use magical means of transport in order to desert.
"Send in the giants!"
The giant's handlers screamed "Food!" Then pointed to the castle, "there food!"
The giants lifted their clubs and began the ambling walk that could eat up distance in no time. As the giants cleared the trees a half dozen Auror troops popped the covers off olive-drab fiberglass cylinders, each auror marked his or her target with a cry of "left" or "middle or "right!" They then telescoped the tubes to their full length, shouldered, aimed and fired the light anti-tank weapons (LAWs) into each giant's center of mass. Two rockets hit each giant squarely in the chest then exploded. All three giants crumpled like gargantuan puppets with their strings cut.
"Inferi!" Dolohov screamed "release the inferi, follow zhem into castle!"
Phaedra's walking dead began to amble across the lawn, they would form ladders with their own bodies allowing the others to climb up and over the castle walls, there would be more death and more inferi made today. The remaining death eaters moved in behind the soulless automatons using them as shields as they began to fire at the castle defenders.
No one returned fire; instead the ghosts appeared on the parapets. They may have looked very faint in the morning sunlight; but their voices sounded strong and, well, alive!
"For Queen and Country!"
"For our land and our home!"
With that they fell into the inferi, which stopped, then turned around to grab the nearest death eaters who screamed as their limbs were methodically, mercilessly torn from their bodies. The death eater's who were farther back began to fire AKs into the inferi, but being already dead the Avada Kedavras had no effect. One DE got lucky with a severing charm and decapitated one of the murderously efficient corpses, which fell, grizzly head rolling from decomposing body, and was still.
"The heads, the heads! Cut off the heads!" one of the panicky death nibblers screamed.
The cutting curses were flying so erratically that some of the death eaters were cut down by their own comrades.
As she hovered over the far end of the inferi formation on her broom Phaedra was confused, "what is controlling them, if not me?"
"Maw - ma . . ." a small voice said near her feet. "Maw . . . ma . . .ma" it kept repeating.
She looked down in absolute horror at her own little Selene, a tiny caricature of a zombie, both piteous and horrifying.
The necromancer howled "Noooooooooooo!" over and over again in utter grief and rage.
She turned her pink eyes to the newly fallen death eaters and to the giants and spoke the words that would animate them. Then she pointed at the death eaters who were desperately slashing at the rest of her army and screamed "Kill them! Kill them all!"
The newly dead, including the giants surrounded the dwindling mass of death eaters who found they could neither portkey nor apparate away, being prevented by the runes in the blood stained grass.
When the last death eater had died (by his own hand rather than be torn apart by inferi) Phaedra settled on the ground next to her dead but animated daughter. She barked a single syllable incantation and all the dead, even her little Selene, fell to the ground and moved no more.
The spirit of the Grey Lady, Rowena Ravenclaw herself appeared and asked "Phaedra, the Dark has taken much from you, why do you serve?"
"I had no choice, milady, they had my little moon child, they had Selene, and they took her . . ."
"What will you do now?"
"I am a necromancer, I will take my daughter and we will go. Someplace warm I think. Haiti, yes, we will go to Haiti . . ."
Phaedra gathered her small daughter's body into her arms, mounted her broom and flew west.
Back on the battlements the defenders looked at each other, 'was that it?' They didn't know whether to laugh or to cry or to cheer, but they did know that it wasn't over yet. Voldemort was still out there. And their Commander had to face him.