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The Granger Principle (Harry Potter AU)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Starfox5, Jun 15, 2019.

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  1. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    It'll be a little longer - there's some loose ends to be tied up, so to speak.
     
    Prince Charon likes this.
  2. Threadmarks: Chapter 11: The Dinner
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 11: The Dinner

    Black Lake, Scotland, Britain, July 16th, 2005

    “Oh, Ron…”

    He felt arms wrap around him from behind. A nude body pressed against his back. A chin on his shoulder, hair tickling his ear. Taking a deep breath, he smelt her scent. “Yes, love,” he whispered, slowly turning around.

    Then they were on the bed, him on top of her. Kissing. Her bushy hair covering the pillow...

    Ron woke up, alone and feeling disoriented. Had he had that sort of dream, featuring Granger? Bloody hell, he must have had a pint too many last night. No, he’d only had the one pint Luna had liberated from the kitchen. Had it been tampered with, perhaps? Luna was smart, but she wasn’t exactly a master thief, so, odds were, the kitchen staff were aware of her ‘pilfering’.

    He blinked. His room looked the same. No trouble with his eyes. His sense of balance was fine, too.

    He sighed. Well, it had been a while since his last relationship. Or one-night stand. His work made having a relationship a little difficult. And Granger was about the only woman with whom he’d been spending time lately. Apart from Luna, of course. And Luna was his ex.

    Totally normal. Probably.

    A shave and a shower later, he went to the lounge, which served as their ‘private’ dining room as well. Harry was already buttering a scone at the table.

    “Morning,” Ron said, sitting down and grabbing the teapot.

    “Morning,” Harry replied. He didn’t look or sound too chipper, Ron noticed.

    “Did you have trouble sleeping?” he asked.

    His friend shook his head. “No.”

    That didn’t sound convincing. But before Ron could think of a way to dig a little without making Harry mad, Luna arrived, Granger in tow. Literally - she was holding her hand and dragging her along, from the looks of it.

    “Good morning!” Luna announced. “Oh, scones!”

    “We had scones yesterday as well,” Granger said, frowning. “Morning.”

    “That’s no reason not to enjoy them!” Luna replied, grabbing two before she had taken a seat.

    Granger snorted and looked around. Ron handed her the teapot - he knew what she wanted first thing in the morning.

    She didn’t look like she had in his dream, he noted. And not just because she was dressed. Her hair wasn’t free, but up in her usual messy ponytail. And she was grumpy and growling, not moaning. But the way she stood fit. And the proportions seemed to match, as far as he could tell with her wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

    “Is something wrong?”

    Ron blinked. He had been staring at her! He quickly shook his head. “Oh, no. Just wondering if Luna dragged you out of bed to here.”

    Her eyes widened, then narrowed, and he saw her baring her teeth when she frowned at him.

    “Oh, no, I would never do that!” Luna said. “Unless it was an emergency, of course. But I dragged her out of her room.”

    Fortunately, the news started on the TV in the lounge before Granger had enough tea to tell him off.

    *****​

    “... and the Metropolitan Police have just confirmed that the main suspect in the murder and missing person case that culminated in a shoot-out leaving half a dozen dead in the middle of London a week ago is Chief Superintendent Corban Yaxley, a subordinate of Deputy Commissioner Rufus Scrimgeour and Commissioner Amelia Bones, the two murdered police officers. Officer Yaxley’s current whereabouts are unknown, and he is considered armed and dangerous. Should you recognise him, do not confront him. Remove yourself to a safe place and inform the police at once.”

    Ron snorted at the picture that illustrated the news report. Someone had found the most unflattering shot of Yaxley for the press release. “Finally!” he exclaimed. “It was about time…”

    “Shhh!” Luna interrupted him, pressing a finger against her lips. “It’s not finished yet!”

    And, indeed, Granger’s picture - quite a bit more flattering - appeared on the screen. “There has been no news regarding the fate of missing scientist Dr Hermione Granger, though usually informed sources claim that she, like her parents, was in protective custody and that the police officers guarding her haven’t yet come forward because Commissioner Bones warned them about possible moles in the force before her death. The Metropolitan Police have declined to comment.”

    “Anyone want to bet Dumbledore had a hand in how quickly they changed their tunes about us?” Harry asked. “We’ve gone from ‘suspicious police officers with a troublesome past’ to ‘diligent bodyguards’.”

    “That’s a fool’s bet,” Luna replied. “The question should be: Who arranged for you to come under suspicion in the first place?”

    Ron shrugged. “Wouldn’t take much. We’ve made our share of enemies. Both in the police and outside.” And they had some - minor - incidents on their files which someone could blow out of proportion.

    “The Skeeter I knew,” Granger said, “thrived on this sort of scandal-mongering. And she’d do it just to sell more newspapers. Completely amoral.”

    “Our version is a little more careful,” Ron pointed out. “And her name didn’t appear to be connected to the news reports.”

    “That doesn’t have to mean anything. She could already be writing a new book, and any scandal centred on you would help with advertising,” Luna said.

    Ron could imagine that. On the other hand, Dumbledore probably had a lot more influence - and Ron couldn’t tell what the old man might think would serve his goals best: them being fully cleared or them remaining under suspicion. Both situations had their advantages and drawbacks.

    He’d have to gather more intel about Dumbledore - and about Grindelwald.

    But first, he had to talk to Harry. His friend was… looking happy now? Ron suppressed a frown. Talking to Harry without anyone listening would be a little tricky. “Better eat a light meal,” he told Granger and the others, “we have our morning run to do.”

    Granger groaning he had expected. Luna’s lack of enthusiasm he hadn’t. “But it’s raining!” she protested.

    “Fitness doesn’t care about the weather,” he replied.

    “Fitness does care about getting a cold!” Luna retorted. “And it’s raining.”

    “There’s no bad weather, only unsuitable clothing,” Ron told her.

    “That was Percy’s line when he chased us out of your home to play,” Harry said. “And you know he only did that so we wouldn’t bother him when he had Penny over.”

    Ron hadn’t known it back then, of course. “That doesn’t make it wrong,” he pointed out. He wasn’t about to wink; Harry already knew why he wanted to go on a run. “Besides, since we don’t know what we’ll face once Dr Granger finishes her portal, it only makes sense to be physically fit. Just in case.”

    That convinced her; he could see her pressing her lips together as she inclined her head. She didn’t like it, but she saw sense. But then she suddenly frowned. “You plan on coming with me?”

    Of course. “Yes. We’re your bodyguards, aren’t we?” he added, to sound less pushy.

    “And I’ll come because I’m your friend!” Luna piped up. “And because I want to meet my counterpart! It’ll be fascinating! Like having a twin sister! And a second Daddy! We’ll be a whole family!”

    Ron suppressed a wince - the loss of her mum was still hurting her and her dad. He was almost glad her counterpart had lost her mum as well - if there was a Pandora Lovegood in Granger’s world, Luna might not want to come back.

    Like Granger, he thought, pressing his lips together. Her family and friends were waiting for her. Or so she hoped. And her world, in more than one sense.

    “Let’s meet outside in five minutes,” he said, finishing his tea. A fast run was just the thing to clear his mind of these depressing thoughts.

    *****​

    “So… what was so important that you had to run them into the ground?” Harry asked in a low voice behind Ron as they stretched.

    Ron felt a little guilty - and dirty - as he glanced at Luna and Granger. They had collapsed and lain down on the grass in the small clearing where they had taken their first break, uncaring of the drizzle hitting their faces as they struggled to recover their breath. “Technically, they did that to themselves, trying to keep up,” he defended himself. The pace Ron had set had been challenging, indeed - for him and Harry.

    “Yeah, right. As if we’d let them run at their own pace by themselves,” Harry replied.

    Ron cleared his throat. “What are you going to do now that we’re about to be cleared?” he asked, changing the subject.

    Harry shrugged. “What we agreed on: staying with Granger. And Luna, now.”

    “I didn’t mean that,” Ron said. Though it was nice to have confirmation that there hadn’t been a change of plans. “Will you be meeting Ginny?”

    “That wouldn’t be smart,” Harry replied.

    Ron snorted. He knew an evasive answer when he heard one.

    Harry glared at him. “I want to, but it would endanger our cover.”

    “Well, she’s pretty famous,” Ron remarked. Which was a slight understatement. And which was, in hindsight, a little odd. “I wonder why the newspapers didn’t bother her about the affair.”

    “She’s probably gone to ground,” Harry said. “But they should have mentioned her, you’re right.”

    Ron muttered a curse under his breath. “Do you think Dad got Dumbledore to pull some strings?”

    “We’d have to ask him.”

    “You’re training in dodging today, I see,” Ron remarked. He ignored Harry glaring at him again.

    “I want to see Ginny. Happy now?” his friend spat.

    “Well, we should be able to arrange that, once we’re fully cleared and Yaxley’s caught.”

    Harry scoffed. “That would be putting her in danger. Whoever’s behind Yaxley will follow her. And even if Dumbledore manages to protect her, it would mean that he’s got more leverage on us.”

    That was true, Ron knew. But he also knew that it didn’t really matter. “He already has Dad in his pocket. And do you think he wouldn’t offer to arrange for Ginny to visit us if he thinks it’ll make us feel indebted to him?”

    Harry’s curse would have even gotten Mum, who adored the bloke and still saw the poor orphan boy Harry hadn’t really been, to scold him.

    “So, might as well meet her anyway - she’ll be furious if she thinks you didn’t want to meet her,” Ron told him.

    Harry scoffed again, but Ron caught a faint smile on his face as they went to get Granger and Luna so they could continue their run.

    At the second break, near the shore - not planned, but necessitated by the pace Ron had set at the start - Granger approached him. “Did you have to run us into exhaustion just so you could talk privately with Harry?”

    He didn’t try to deny it. She wouldn’t buy it. “When did you figure it out?” he asked, instead.

    “Just now,” she admitted. She looked a little embarrassed, but after running three-fourths of the route, she was red-faced from the exertion, so he couldn’t tell if she was also blushing.

    “Ah.”

    “Couldn’t you have just told us that you wanted to have a private talk?”

    That made him feel embarrassed. “Now that you mention it, yes. I could have.”

    “And why didn’t you?”

    He shrugged. “Habit. I grew up with six nosy siblings. Fred and George were especially bad - still are, actually, just in case you ever meet them - so if I’d told them I wanted to have a private talk with Harry, they’d have gone to even greater lengths to listen in. And you and Luna would behave more naturally if you didn’t know the reason for the run.”

    “More naturally out here, where we weren’t under surveillance?”

    He grinned at her. “Would you believe me if I told you that I was taught to pay attention to the smallest detail when creating a cover story?”

    “Yes.”

    Right, she knew Moody’s counterpart. “Let’s blame my instructor, then.”

    “As long as you don’t repeat this stunt,” she replied.

    “Alright.”

    The looked at each other for a moment. Just long enough for the sudden silence to become awkward. “You should stretch,” he told her. “You pushed yourself hard today.”

    “You pushed me,” she retorted.

    “As I recall, it was more like leading. I ran, and you followed. No pushing was involved - on my side.”

    She glared at him, then sniffed. “You told us to keep up.”

    “And you always do what you’re told?”

    “You are in charge of our training,” she retorted.

    “And now I’m telling you to stretch.”

    He could almost hear her jaw snap together and feel the heat from her glare. But she was stretching.

    His smile slipped a little when he remembered what she had told him about ‘accidental magic’. Perhaps he really shouldn’t push her too much. Or lead her, in this case.

    “I’ll hold you responsible if I don’t make as much progress in my work today as planned!”

    A little late, but she had retorted, he noted. Well, he already knew that she was passionate and stubborn.

    *****​

    Too stubborn for her own good, Ron thought hours later, when he looked into her room and saw that Granger had fallen asleep at her desk, not on the bed right next to her. Shaking his head, he went in.

    Once again, he noted how she looked softer when asleep. Usually, she was always pushing. Herself, or others. Driven. But when she was sleeping… He snorted. She wasn’t drooling on her notes, but she had an ink smudge on her cheek.

    He could tuck her in - she wasn’t as slender as Luna was, but he wouldn’t have any trouble lifting her, and the bed was right next to the desk. And she certainly needed the rest.

    But it was dinner time, and she needed food as well. So he reached out and gently shook her shoulder. “Wake up!”

    She didn’t shoot awake but slowly opened her eyes, blinking and looking confused as she saw him. “Ron?”

    He felt a small pang of guilt. And jealousy. “That’s Officer Ron,” he joked.

    “Oh. Sorry. I was… Dear Lord, I fell asleep at the desk!” She started to check her notes, ignoring his reassurances that she hadn’t ruined them.

    He knew better than to stop her and waited until she had stashed the notes in her beaded bag. “It’s time for dinner.”

    “What? Already?”

    “A few minutes past dinner time, actually,” he told her with a smirk.

    “Why didn’t…” She bit her lower lip, trailing off. “Let’s go, then.”

    “After you, Dr Granger.” He held the door open with an exaggerated flourish.

    “Officer Weasley.” She walked past with a curt nod and toss of her head that could have fit into a number of fantasy novels he had read.

    Which reminded him. “Say, Dr Ganger…” he said as he followed her out of her room, “did you read a lot of fantasy when you were younger?”

    She narrowed her eyes at him for a moment. He grinned - he wasn’t talking about magic, even if he was skirting the line a little.

    “I haven’t read a fantasy book since I was eleven.”

    “Ah.” He forced himself to look embarrassed and add: “Sorry” - Dumbledore would assume they were talking about her kidnapping, not her entering magic school.

    “It’s OK. It’s in the past.”

    “Ever tried picking up the habit again? A lot has changed in the last ten years.”

    “I’m too busy for such diversions,” she replied as they entered the lounge.

    “Hi, Hermione! Ron, what took you so long?” Luna asked.

    “I had to wake her up.” That earned him another glare from Granger and a giggle from Luna, but it was worth it to shut down any off-colour jokes about needing a chaperone from Harry before his friend could make them.

    It wasn’t like that, anyway. A wet dream didn’t mean anything. Certainly not at his age.

    *****​

    Black Lake, Scotland, Britain, July 17th, 2005

    Ron groaned after waking up. A second wet dream involving Granger didn’t mean anything, either. Other than that he was probably going stir-crazy. Which a good run would help with. Should. The shower wouldn’t help, though. Too close to the dream. Perhaps a cold shower… Yes.

    He nicked himself while shaving, his concentration broken when he had a disturbing thought: Was this perhaps some ‘bleed over’ from her Ron? Some connection across the dimensions? A psychic or magical link? Granger had mentioned something about Harry - her Harry - being tied to the Dark Lord, hadn’t she?

    He’d have to ask her for more details. Without letting her know the reason. After breakfast. Well, the light breakfast they took before the run.

    *****​

    His chance came an hour later, at their break. He hadn’t set a punishing pace this time, but he hadn’t gone easy on her, either. So she wasn’t exhausted but still needed a short break. He watched her stretch - correctly, as he had shown her - then glanced around. Harry and Luna were a little too close. “Did anyone spot a bug? The electronic kind,” he clarified.

    “Oh! You think they started hiding them in the forest?” Luna perked up. “That would be just like a corporation built on blood! Spying on people and harming the environment at the same time!” She got up from where she had made a ‘grass snow angel’ and started to look around for listening devices.

    Harry sent him a look, and Ron nodded at Luna, then at Granger. His friend shook his head at him but turned to follow Luna, as Ron had known he would. Which left Ron to talk to Granger in peace.

    “I thought you said you wouldn’t try such stunts any more.” She wasn’t amused.

    “I didn’t. You didn’t have any trouble keeping up, did you?”

    She scoffed. “You would make a good lawyer, weaselling your way through loopholes.”

    He ignored the barb at his name - after seven years in the same school as Malfoy, there weren’t many insults that he hadn’t heard often enough to grow bored of them. “Knowing how to bend the rules is essential to be an effective police officer.”

    “I notice that you didn’t say ‘a good police officer’.”

    He shrugged with a grin. “We get results.”

    “And your colleagues don’t, I guess. Yaxley is still at large, after all.” Her smile wasn’t that friendly.

    “He might be already dead, the body dissolved in acid. Or dropped into wet cement.”

    “Do you think so?” She changed positions, hands on the trunk and bending her knee while stretching her other leg.

    He shook his head. “No. He’s too smart for that. If he were that dumb, he wouldn’t have been in CI5 for this long. If he’s really smart, he’ll be on some tropical island by now, with a fake ID and some dirty money he’s laundered.”

    “His counterpart wasn’t very smart.”

    “Which is why I don’t think he left Britain,” Ron said. “Anyway, I wanted to ask you something.”

    “Something you don’t want anyone to overhear.” She nodded. “Go ahead.”

    “You said Harry’s counterpart was tied to Voldemort through his scar.”

    She pursed her lips and stopped stretching. “I didn’t exactly say that.”

    “Cursed scar, ties to the Dark Lord, fated to face him…” He smiled at her glare.

    “Yes.”

    “Did that happen to others?” he asked.

    “I’ve never heard of another case - but few would have made such an event public.” She shrugged a little, then rubbed her shoulders. “Why do you want to know?”

    “I was wondering if someone could have a tie to their counterpart. It would be a huge security risk if one of our enemies had such a source of information.”

    “Oh.” She nodded. “That would be a problem. Although most of the people who could do us much harm were dead when I left - or are dead here.”

    “That didn’t stop the Dark Lord, did it?”

    “He was a special case. And he had a link to Harry through his cursed scar.” She smiled thinly. “In order to duplicate that feat, a dark wizard would have to curse someone from this world. And if they could do that, they would be here - and would have used magic against us already.”

    “Ah.” That was comforting. In a morbid way. “Are prophetic dreams real in your world?”

    She frowned at that. “No. Divination is nonsense. Real prophecies are very, very rare.”

    She sounded quite invested in this, he noticed. “Speaking from experience?”

    “No,” she spat. “Or, yes, sort of - I took Divination until I realised it was nonsense. Harry and Ron - my friends - took it as well, and they made up all their dreams and visions, and the teacher never noticed.”

    “Ah.” Ron smiled. It was reassuring to hear that he wasn’t being influenced by the soul or spirit or psychic echo of Granger’s lover.

    But that meant that he dreamed of her because he was attracted to her or because he was so randy, his subconscious was fixating on the closest woman.

    Neither was a very reassuring thought.

    *****​

    Black Lake, Scotland, Britain, July 18th, 2005

    Ron had to hand it to Dumbledore: The man had kept his word. At least to Granger - she was currently ordering a dozen men and women around in order to get her new lab set up just as she wanted it. Like a queen ruling her realm.

    “No, no - that terminal needs to be all the way back at the wall. Move it!”

    “Hey! Stop that - that needs to be in the exact centre of the room. And you! Don’t drill a hole there!”

    “What did I say about the computers? You need to run their power lines around the room, not through the centre! The magnetic field they could produce might ruin an experiment otherwise!”

    A queen that might be inciting a revolution among her subjects - Granger wasn’t the most diplomatic woman on a good day, and this wasn’t a good day. Too much stress. Ron shook his head as he leaned against the wall next to the entrance to the lab. Perhaps he’d have to act as a bodyguard and protect her from angry workers. Workers, he reminded himself, who Dumbledore trusted to keep a secret - they weren’t just the hired help. And they weren’t used to being micromanaged, either.

    Granger glowered at the last worker she had addressed, then walked over to Ron, sighing. “This will take longer than planned,” she said. “I didn’t expect that I would need to explain everything twice. Dumbledore should have sent people who can follow directions!”

    Ron glanced around, but they were far enough away that, with the noise from the drills and other power tools, no one seemed close enough to overhear her. “They are experienced employees,” he told her, “and they’re probably used to just getting told what they have to do, not how to do it.”

    “Hmph. That only works if they know what they need to do. And they don’t! I’m the physicist here!”

    He shrugged. “It’s not their fault - you are breaking new ground, aren’t you? I doubt that most physicists would know what you need.” And she was planning to use magic as well.

    She frowned, but then bit her lower lip. “I guess I might have been a little too harsh.”

    “A little bit.” He didn’t quite grin at her, but judging by her scowl, his tone had given his thoughts away.

    She huffed and turned to look at the workers in the centre of the room.

    “Not going to apologise?” he asked.

    “No.”

    “Ah.” He shouldn’t have taken such a condescending tone. But he couldn’t resist.

    She glanced at him with her lips pressed together. After a moment, she sighed again. “I might have been a little rude, but it wouldn’t have happened if they had been following my instructions to the letter.”

    “And you don’t want to admit that you were also in the wrong,” he replied.

    She huffed and went to her temporary desk without another word.

    Watching her go and shuffle paper, he felt both satisfied and disappointed. And a little bit guilty.

    *****​

    Black Lake, Scotland, Britain, July 19th, 2005

    “Someone important is coming to visit,” Harry said as they approached the building on their morning run.

    “Either Dumbledore or Grindelwald - or both,” Ron agreed. They were running at a quite comfortable pace; Granger would be insufferable if he ran her into the ground right when she was about to finish her new lab. More insufferable.

    “What?” Granger asked.

    “There are more guards than usual, and Filch was up already, inspecting his crew,” Ron explained. “And weren’t the workers in your lab making more of an effort yesterday evening?”

    She didn’t answer that. He hadn’t expected her to, either - she hadn’t talked to him much since yesterday. The woman could hold grudges. “Ah,” she said after a moment.

    “Oh, the spymaster returns!” Luna cut in, blurting out a sentence per breath while she ran. “Will he arrive in a submarine? Did you have magical submarines, Hermione?”

    “No, we didn’t. There were spells which let you breathe underwater. We had a giant squid, though.”

    “A giant squid?” Ron blurted out. He hadn’t heard about that. Was she taking the mickey?

    “Really?”

    “Don’t squids need salt water?” Harry asked.

    “Normally, yes,” Granger replied. “This was an exception. He served as a lifeguard when the first-years used the boats.”

    “What?” Ron shuddered. To be dragged out of the water by a giant tentacle with suction cups...

    “Oh!” Luna exclaimed. “Was he sapient or just well-trained?”

    “I don’t know,” Granger replied. “It’s sometimes hard to tell with magical creatures. Or with some wizards and witches,” she added and Ron could hear her smirk.

    “Your school was crazy,” he told her.

    “Yes, it was,” she agreed.

    And she was missing it anyway. Ron felt guilty again. But they reached the building, and there was no more time to talk about magic.

    *****​

    Ron frowned at the mirror as he adjusted his tie. Unlike the suit he was wearing, which fit him well, the tie was proving a little difficult to handle. His first attempt had resulted in the tie being too short, the next had left it too long.

    He snorted. Why did he care about the length of his tie? They were in a secret lab, not at a gala. And it wasn’t as if he were wearing a tailor-made suit, either.

    But he wanted to look good. With the effort being spent on this dinner - suits had been provided for Harry and himself, dresses for Granger and Luna - he didn’t want to look like he shouldn’t be there. Mum and Dad had raised him better than that. It wasn’t the money, but the manners - something Malfoy had never wanted to accept.

    And Ron didn’t want to look bad next to Harry, who cut a dashing figure in a suit, as he knew from experience. And from Ginny’s pictures and stories.

    His tie finally adjusted, he brushed a piece of lint from his shoulder, checked if his guns were showing - they weren’t - and left his room.

    Harry was already waiting in the lounge, looking sharp, as Ron had expected. And grumpy, too. “What a load of… whatever,” his friend complained. “We look like we’re going to a ball. We’re even waiting for the girls. It’s just a dinner invitation.”

    “Did you ever tell Ginny what you think about balls?” Ron asked with a faint smirk.

    “Do I look like I’m a fool?” Harry shot back.

    Ron chuckled. “Well…”

    His friend rolled his eyes. “She loves them.”

    Indeed, Ron’s sister liked being the centre of attention. As the youngest of his siblings, and the only girl, she was used to being treated like a princess. And becoming a - minor - celebrity in her own right hadn’t exactly helped there.

    Harry, though, loathed balls. Ron’s friend was frowning at him, he noticed. “We don’t go to many balls,” he said.

    “Unless you count fancy parties as well,” Ron pointed out.

    “Those are different.”

    “Just because there are no formal dances?”

    “Yes.”

    Ron was about to point out that those dances were what little princess Ginny loved the most at balls, but then Luna and Granger finally appeared in the hallway.

    He blinked and almost whistled. Granger cleaned up really well. Luna, too, of course, but he already knew that. But Granger almost seemed like a different person in her little black number instead of her usual clothes. Sensible shoes, he noted - not flats, but the high heels weren’t too high. And nice legs. Even her hair looked nice, framing her face in soft waves instead of being tied back in a bushy ponytail.

    “You two look nice!” Luna announced. “Don’t they, Hermione?”

    Granger nodded, a little stiffly, Ron thought, as she said: “Yes, one could say that.” She did seem a little too self-conscious for the occasion. “I guess Dumbledore wants us to make a good impression.”

    “Well, you’ll certainly succeed at that,” Ron told her. “Both of you,” he quickly added, ignoring Harry’s snort.

    “Indeed,” his friend remarked.

    “I would prefer to impress people with my mind,” Granger replied.

    “You can be pretty and smart,” Luna said. “Don’t let old men - and some young ones - tell you otherwise! That false dichotomy is just another tool of the conspiracy to divide us!”

    Ron cleared his throat before Luna could go into details - her unhappy experiences at school hadn’t been solely because of blonde stereotypes, but they had certainly contributed. “So, shall we?” He offered Granger his arm without thinking, and, for a moment, both of them seemed to freeze.

    Then she took his arm. “Let’s go, then.”

    As they walked down the hallway towards the lift, he kept an eye out - and one on her. “Say…”

    “Yes?”

    “Did you adjust the dress?” She’d know that he meant ‘with magic’.

    “No, I didn’t,” she replied. “I don’t have the necessary tools, even if I wanted to alter a dress.”

    Ah. “It fits you perfectly,” he pointed out. And it looked nice on her, which didn’t matter, of course.

    “Thank you.” She flashed him a smile - a pleased smile. She didn’t understand.

    “As if it had been tailor-made for you,” he went on.

    “Oh.” Now she got it.

    He nodded. How had Dumbledore’s men managed to get her sizes without her - or him - noticing?

    “I guess my tailor’s computer security is poor,” she said.

    “You had dresses tailored for you?” Ron asked before he could help himself.

    She frowned at him. “Once. At my... family’s request. For a celebration.”

    “Ah.”

    “I don’t see the need to spend more money on tailor-made clothes,” she continued.

    “I didn’t think you would.”

    And there was the glare he was so familiar with - until she suddenly laughed.

    He blinked. Oh. “What did my counterpart do?” he asked.

    “You don’t want to know,” she said, with a slightly sad-looking smile.

    But Ron did want to know. Very much, actually. Even though he didn’t know why.

    *****​

    “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” Dumbledore greeted them as they entered what Ron had overheard the staff call ‘the Presidential Suite’. “May I introduce you to my dear friend Gellert Grindelwald?”

    “Good evening.” The other man in the room, which was quite a bit bigger than their lounge, nodded at them as he stepped closer.

    Ron looked him over. Dumbledore had a slight paunch, but Grindelwald made him look almost fat; the former German spy was rail-thin. And looked tough as leather - a far cry from his jovial partner.

    “Mr Potter. Mr Weasley.” The man met Ron’s eyes but seemed to dismiss him at once, focusing on Granger. “Dr Granger. I’ve been looking forward to making your acquaintance.” He had a slight German accent. Probably put-on, Ron thought - a spy turned CEO would have learnt perfect English, especially if living with Dumbledore.

    “Good evening, Mr Grindelwald.” Granger looked and sounded composed and polite, Ron noticed.

    “Gellert’s been badgering me to arrange this visit,” Dumbledore cut in with his usual smile.

    “It’s a fascinating tale. And a priceless opportunity,” Grindelwald said, nodding. His lips twisted slightly, subtly signalling some doubt.

    For all her occasional lack of social graces, Granger, of course, had to pick up on that. She was probably used to people at Imperial doubting her. Ron saw her raise her chin and frown at the German. “I will deliver what I promised.”

    “Don’t you trust your partner’s judgement, Mr Grindelwald?” Luna spoke up. She was frowning as well, and much more noticeably, with an added pout.

    “Trust but verify, Miss Lovegood,” Grindelwald replied with a slight sneer.

    “Words to live by,” Dumbledore cut in. “Shall we sit down? I’ve found that most meetings run more smoothly if people are more comfortable. And I have it on good authority that our meal deserves to be eaten at a proper table.” He smiled, seemingly unfazed by the latent hostility, and gestured towards the table in the back.

    As soon as they had taken their seats, a waitress started serving the hors d’oeuvres - bite-sized meat pies. Quite delicious, as Ron discovered.

    “One of the few pieces of English cuisine of which Gellert ever grew fond,” Dumbledore commented.

    His friend snorted. Once. Ron wasn’t sure whether that was affected as much as the man’s accent - Ron knew the stereotypes about Germans - or if it was genuine.

    “My compliments to the chef,” Granger said. Luna signalled her agreement with an appreciative noise.

    Ron nodded. “It’s very tasty.”

    Dumbledore beamed at them, though Grindelwald soon did his best to ruin the mood again: “While Albus, as usual, deduced a great deal, I do think it all sounds a little fantastic. Another dimension? A parallel world? Counterparts so close to us, even the DNA matched, so you could pass for a kidnapping victim?”

    “If you remove the impossible, what remains is the truth,” Dumbledore said.

    Grindelwald scoffed in reply. “Or the impossible. I haven’t seen any proof so far.”

    “If I could prove it easily, I wouldn’t be here,” Granger retorted.

    “Really?” Grindelwald scoffed. “What about the device you used to save Mr Weasley?”

    “What?” Granger froze for a moment, and Ron barely kept himself from wincing.

    “You claim you have no proof, yet you cling to the same ugly, ratty bag you were found with after your arrival - you even take it with you on your runs,” the German said before picking up and eating another pie.

    “You searched my room!” Granger shot back.

    “The staff uses your absences to clean it and do the laundry,” Dumbledore cut in. “Like in a hotel.”

    And then reported to him. Which had been obvious - at least to Ron. That was part of the reason they only talked about magic on their runs. And once more, Granger was spilling information.

    “I analysed the reports and records from the shoot-out in the park. There’s no known method to achieve the ‘cloud of darkness’ that covered Mr Weasley,” Grindelwald said.

    “There you have your proof, then,” Granger retorted.

    “A deduction. Not quite proof.” The old man’s smile was a far cry from Dumbledore’s. Hard and triumphant.

    “What I used was a limited resource,” Granger told him.

    “And I’m very grateful she used it, despite it being irreplaceable,” Ron cut in. “I was in a sticky situation.”

    “Sticky indeed,” Dumbledore said. “There was a lot of blood on the ground - I would have assumed that you were gravely wounded, if not for seeing you here, hale and healthy.”

    Ron forced himself to keep smiling and nodded. “Yes.” He wouldn’t show any reaction. Even though the two old men were already aware that he had been hurt.

    “Another irreplaceable resource, I assume,” Grindelwald said with obviously fake sincerity.

    For a change, Granger didn’t reply.

    But it wasn’t because she had managed to bite her tongue, Ron realised with a glance.

    *****​

    “Episkey! Episkey! Episkey!”

    It wasn’t working. The wounds weren’t closing. It was a dark curse.

    “Vulnera Sanentur!”

    She all but yelled the incantation, then sighed with relief as she saw the wounds close. But he had lost a lot of blood. She reached into her bag and pulled out a Blood-Replenishing Potion.

    “What are you doing?”

    She froze at the acerbic tone. Snape.

    “Saving Neville,” Harry spat.

    “You’re wasting time.” The professor - she would never call him ‘Headmaster’ - sneered. “Time your friends are buying for you with their lives. What use is it to waste a valuable potion on him if he’ll pointlessly die anyway so long as you don’t accomplish your task?”

    “You bloody git! He’s our friend!” Ron roared.

    “He’s not going to bleed out any more.” Snape sneered and flicked his wand. A moment later, Neville opened his eyes and groaned. “There. Healthy, if not hale. Now go and destroy the last Horcrux before the last of your allies falls to the Dark Lord!”

    “What?” Neville asked, blinking. Then he focused on Harry. “Go! We’ll hold them.”

    She bit her lower lip. But Harry nodded - with clenched teeth. “He’s right. Let’s go!”

    And she stashed the potion in her bag again as she followed her friends to the Room of Requirement.

    *****​
     
  3. Threadmarks: Chapter 12: The Cover Story
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 12: The Cover Story

    Black Lake, Scotland, Britain, July 19th, 2005

    Granger recovered quickly, but not quickly enough for the two old men to miss what had happened. Ron saw Dumbledore smile in apparent sympathy - which was probably faked - and Grindelwald’s lips twitch a little as Granger took a deep breath.

    “Sorry,” she said. “Memories.”

    “I see how you managed to convince people that you were a kidnapping victim.”

    Granger glared at him. “I was a kidnapping victim.”

    Ron kept himself from reaching over to touch her hand or shoulder. She wouldn’t appreciate it.

    “Not for long, though, according to your story,” Grindelwald said in a very clinical tone. Had he sounded like that when he had interrogated people for the Abwehr?

    “Long enough to be tortured extensively,” she spat.

    Luna gasped, and Ron winced. He hadn’t known that, though he had suspected. Some of the nightmares had been a little too specific.

    “Gellert.” Dumbledore inclined his head, and Grindelwald leaned back. Was the old man pouting? Was that a hint at who called the shots in that relationship?

    Ron focused on Granger. She was trembling and tenser than a bowstring. But she kept staring at Grindelwald, her jaw clenched and her teeth bared. Too stubborn for her own good.

    And too gullible to keep such information secret. Ron cleared his throat. “Do you really want to waste an irreplaceable, possibly life-saving resource on satisfying your curiosity?”

    Grindelwald’s expression told Ron that he did - but it was Dumbledore who replied. “Perish the thought! Although if you have access to any renewable resources, we’d be delighted if you were able to provide a demonstration. Or if you could manufacture a small device.”

    Granger pressed her lips together. They really should have thought of a good cover story for magic. Well, there was always Clarke - but technology was replicable. Generally. Perhaps... “The resources needed for her advanced technology aren’t available in our world.”

    Granger shot him a look he couldn’t read, then nodded. “Yes. I’m focusing on opening a portal to my world since I know how to do that with the resources available. But to recreate most of my world’s advanced technology, I would have to know how, first of all, and then have access to resources unique to my home world.” She hadn’t stumbled over ‘advanced technology’. “And, seeing as I barely managed to save Ron’s life, I’d be loathe to waste what devices I have left on demonstrations. That I packed for a fight doesn’t help, of course - most of what I have left is meant for emergency use in combat.”

    And there she went and said too much, again. Ron suppressed a sigh.

    “And your healing technology?” Grindelwald asked.

    “Limited to wounds,” she replied.

    “Ah.” He slowly nodded.

    Was the man sick? Ron wondered.

    “All we - all of us - need is a portal to your home world, I think,” Dumbledore said.

    “And hope that your doctors accept what we can offer,” Grindelwald added.

    “That shouldn’t be a problem,” Granger said. “If my friends are still fighting, they should be able to grant you access to advanced healing in exchange for material support. And if they won, I’ll get you access myself.”

    “And if they lost?” Grindelwald asked.

    She clenched her teeth again. “Then we’ll see if the French have a taste for what you can offer. But someone will want this world’s luxuries.”

    “Luxury goods are a quite common start for trade relations, if I remember my history lessons correctly,” Dumbledore said.

    Was the old man planning to open a trade route through the portal? How would that play with the ‘Statute of Secrecy’ Granger had mentioned? Probably not too well, Ron thought. Something they couldn’t let the two men know or there would be problems.

    “I would be interested in hearing more about your home world, Dr Granger,” Grindelwald said after the main course - excellent ‘schnitzel’ with pommes frites - was served. “Nothing that would trigger traumatic memories. Just a basic overview - how advanced is your world? I would prefer not to emulate the Indians selling their land for glass beads.”

    “It’s ‘Native Americans’,” Granger told him. “And I can assure you that I wouldn’t let you be tricked like that.”

    “That’s laudable of you, and your help is appreciated,” Grindelwald replied - though he didn’t sound particularly grateful, at least in Ron’s opinion. “But surely you understand that we’d prefer to make our own informed decisions? As you would in our place, I think.”

    “Yes, I understand.” Granger sounded reluctant. But Ron knew this had been well-played by the old man. “Now, in my home world, it’s mainly the elite who have access to such advantages. Unless born into the right family, you have to be extraordinarily talented to join the club, so to speak.”

    “Like yourself, Dr Granger?” Dumbledore said.

    “Yes. My parents were, like the Grangers in this world, dentists.”

    “I presume that you faced a lot of resentment and jealousy,” the old man went on.

    “Yes,” Granger confirmed in a flat voice.

    “Up to a war against you and your peers?”

    “Yes. And against everyone who’d stand with us.”

    “Such as Albus’s counterpart,” Grindelwald commented, finishing his schnitzel.

    “He was our leader,” Granger confirmed what Grindelwald would already know.

    “And defeated my counterpart in a duel when he was poised to conquer Europe in the 1940s.” The old man snorted. “A tall tale, if ever I heard one.”

    “That’s the official story,” Ron cut in before Granger could reveal more clues about magic. “Shooting his lover from behind probably wouldn’t have made for a good story.”

    Dumbledore chuckled at that, then sent a wry glance at Grindelwald. “While I like the thought of my counterpart saving his country single-handedly, killing his beloved seems a little too pragmatic.”

    “I like the thought that my counterpart only lost because of love,” Grindelwald replied.

    The smile they shared was creepy, in Ron’s opinion, though it was also clear that there was more behind the exchange.

    “Your counterpart didn’t kill Grindelwald. My Grindelwald. He imprisoned him in a prison Grindelwald had built,” Granger said.

    “Ah.” Dumbledore nodded. “That changes things, I believe.”

    Grindelwald snorted. “My counterpart was kept in his own private prison? That’s certainly a better fate than what awaited the leaders of the Reich.”

    “You make it sound as if there was no trial, Dr Granger,” Dumbledore commented.

    “I don’t know. But I think that if there had been a trial, it would have been both public and would have revealed their personal relationship,” Granger replied.

    “So much for due process,” the old German commented.

    “Quite,” Dumbledore agreed. Once more, it sounded like hinting at a shared event. “Though I presume that such revelations would have put a crimp in my counterpart’s political ambitions.”

    Ah. That might explain why Dumbledore hadn’t been knighted after his service as ‘C’ twenty years ago. Ron nodded.

    “It was revealed after his death to attack him posthumously,” Granger said.

    “Ah.” Dumbledore’s smile turned wry again, and he glanced at Grindelwald with another unreadable expression.

    “Err.” Granger bit her lower lip. “The attack wasn’t aimed at the homosexual nature of the relationship, should that be your assumption. It was the fact that the famous Albus Dumbledore had been the lover of one of the most infamous people in the world that was meant to wreck his reputation and demoralise our side.”

    “Ah.” Dumbledore nodded again. “And that only happened after my counterpart’s demise, not before. So it didn’t impact his political career.”

    “No, it didn’t. For decades, your counterpart was an internationally-famous politician and the headmaster of our most important boarding school. At the same time,” Granger said.

    Dumbledore looked surprised for a moment, and Grindelwald cackled. “I was a headmaster?”

    “And a teacher before that.”

    The old man slowly inclined his head. “Shaping the future leaders of the country, I presume. And recruiting operatives - like yourself.”

    “Yes,” Granger confirmed.

    “I have to admit that I never contemplated that course of action. Although I probably wouldn’t have been a very good teacher.” But probably a good recruiter, Ron thought.

    “I believe I mentioned before that we cannot trust my knowledge about someone’s counterpart in order to draw conclusions about them,” Granger pointed out with a smug smile.

    “Ah, but the temptation to do so remains as strong as ever!” Dumbledore replied. “The ultimate game of ‘what if?’, so to speak.”

    “Well, I, for one, am glad I wasn’t sentenced to life in Spandau,” Grindelwald said. “Hess would have been a very boring cellmate, I think.”

    “Quite,” Dumbledore agreed.

    “Were you ever tried?” Luna asked.

    “No. Not by the Reich nor by the Allies after the capitulation.” Grindelwald smiled with a cold expression. “I was a mere junior officer doing my duty in the Abwehr during the war.”

    Luna frowned, but before she could push the old spy, Dumbledore stepped in. “And when he was forced to choose between his duty and his love, he couldn’t decide.”

    “I might have managed to make a decision if someone hadn’t pushed me out of a window.”

    “On the first floor.”

    “Yes.”

    Both chuckled. Ron glanced at Harry, who hadn’t said anything in quite a while. His friend was staring at the two old men with a very guarded expression.

    As expected, Harry hadn’t been fooled by the ‘harmless old men’ act the two were putting on for them.

    *****​

    “And did you never use your influence or your access to privileged information to help your business interests?” Luna asked with a frown.

    “My dear, that would have been unethical,” Dumbledore replied, finishing his dessert - a rather conventional mix of various flavours of ice cream; apparently, Grindelwald wasn’t fond of ‘fancy desserts’.

    “I doubt that you ran the Secret Service with ethics in mind,” she retorted.

    “Oh, but that was in the interest of our country; ethics are a little more flexible in that case.” Dumbledore nodded with a very patronising expression. He found this as amusing as Grindelwald, Ron realised, but was a little less blatant about it.

    “And yet you haven’t actually denied it,” Harry pointed out.

    “Habit, Mr Potter,” Dumbledore told him. “I have had to neither confirm nor deny any speculation in the press for a long time.”

    “I’m not the press,” Luna said. “I’m just a concerned citizen.”

    “A very concerned citizen, I’d say,” Grindelwald commented.

    “Are my questions making you uncomfortable?” She frowned at him.

    “I’ve dealt with such questions for decades - as a weapons manufacturer in Germany, the press is a regular concern.”

    “It’s only fair to answer questions of yours after asking so many ourselves,” Dumbledore said - as if they had actually answered any questions, instead of deflecting them.

    Then again, they would have realised that Granger was giving evasive answers as well. Which, Ron realised, was probably the reason they were treating Luna like this. A subtle hint.

    *****​

    Black Lake, Scotland, Britain, July 20th, 2005

    “We need to think of a cover story for magic,” Harry said during the first break of their morning run. “Otherwise, they’ll figure it out. Quickly.”

    Granger was still catching her breath, as was Luna - they had stepped up the pace, to explain the longer breaks they would be taking. Not that Ron expected to fool Dumbledore, but getting sloppy was a bad habit to develop. But Granger managed to reply, if a little choppily: “Easier… said… than… done.”

    Ron watched her rest while he stretched. Truth to be told, he could use a break as well, if only to be fully ready should someone attack.

    “Difficult or not, we have to do it,” Harry retorted. “If they realise that it’s magic, and not technology that could be copied and controlled, they won’t be pleased.”

    “They’ll have to be told when I open the portal,” Granger said. “I won’t be able to conceal the ritual’s nature.”

    Granger had made it clear that she didn’t like the ‘Dark Arts’, as black magic was called in her world, but that still sounded a little worrying.

    “You need to keep magic secret until you can return to your world!” Luna cut in. “If they find out that you need to be born with magic, they’ll try to start a breeding program!”

    And that was a very disturbing thought. Though Ron had no doubt that Grindelwald would be all for it, and Dumbledore would at least entertain the idea - and probably try to subtly arrange a relationship with one of his agents. Or try to clone her.

    Granger seemed to turn slightly green. “That’s…”

    “Not too far-fetched,” Ron cut her off. “Do you think a country wouldn’t go to such lengths to secure wizards and witches for themselves?”

    “To such lengths, and more!” Luna told her, nodding repeatedly.

    Granger sighed, then also nodded. “I guess they would.”

    “Which is why we need a cover story that will hold up,” Harry said, rolling his shoulders. “At least so you can make chit-chat without revealing crucial secrets.”

    Granger glared at him, but Harry ignored it. “As I already said,” she replied through clenched teeth, “it’s not easy to cover up magic. It’s not the same as advanced technology, no matter what certain fantasy authors claim. You can’t just replace a spell with some machine when telling a story.”

    Ron nodded despite the dig at Clarke. “Using spells instead of machines causes distinct differences in the entire society. Like a war being decided by a duel between the two most powerful wizards.”

    Granger blinked, then nodded. “Exactly! Most of what I could tell them about Wizarding Britain wouldn’t make any sense if magic were a form of technology. And they would realise that very quickly if they haven’t already,” she added with a gloomy expression.

    “No thanks to you telling them too much. You don’t have to answer every question,” Harry told her.

    Granger scowled at him. “If I don’t say anything, it’s even more obvious!”

    “Old men are stuck in their ways,” Luna said. “They will have trouble accepting the existence of magic, especially without a demonstration.”

    Ron glanced at Harry. They certainly had taken some time to accept magic despite a demonstration. His friend shook his head. “Don’t count on that. They’re former spies, and they’ve already accepted dimensional travel.”

    Ron grinned. “We’ll make a sci-fi fan out of you yet, Harry.”

    Harry rolled his eyes as he continued. “But we need to have a cover story.” He looked at Ron. “One that will at least seem plausible.”

    Ron realised that all three were looking at him.

    “You’re the one most experienced with fantasy and sci-fi books, Ron,” Luna told him.

    “I’m not a wizard, though. You’re a witch,” he addressed Granger, “You know how actual magic works.”

    “Which won’t help overly much with hiding it. Without memory-wiping spells, at least,” she retorted. “You probably know more about creating a convincing society that uses advanced technology than I do.”

    “Probably, yes,” he admitted. Certainly, actually - but it was probably already hard enough for her to admit relative ignorance on any subject.

    “So it’s up to you!” Luna declared. “Our fate, the fate of Hermione’s world, depends on you!”

    “No pressure,” Harry commented with a smirk.

    Ron glared at him, but his friend’s smirk only grew more pronounced. Git.

    *****​

    By the time they were starting their evening run - or late afternoon run: there was another dinner with the two old men scheduled - Ron hadn’t yet found a good cover story. Any kind of technological explanation he could think of that would explain magic without revealing that it was magic wouldn’t explain the sort of society Granger had already laid out. Or why there hadn’t been a revolution or a large-scale civil war.

    “An aristocracy?” Granger sounded incredulous.

    “Well, not officially. More like a hyper-capitalist society with a very steep class divide between the rich and the poor, where the rich have access to advanced technology and the poor live in squalid slums. And where the best and brightest of the poor get a chance to join the rich, which serves as a pressure valve to keep them from starting a revolution,” Ron explained. “And any conflict between the rich is kept ‘in the family’, so to speak.”

    “So… like our society? Just without the magic technology?” Luna asked.

    “More like every cyberpunk novel, ever,” Harry commented.

    “Those are basically our world, just with the blinders removed. Cyberpunk is classic social criticism disguised as a fantasy story to make it more palatable to both the masses and the shadow conspiracy,” Luna retorted.

    Granger looked a little lost. Ron smiled at her. “I can tell you which are the best novels to read from the genre. So you know what you should be talking about.”

    The way she seemed torn between surprise and annoyance at the fact that she might have to read ‘such diversions’, as she had called them, made her look very cute.

    *****​

    “...so, your civil war was not an open war, but fought in the shadows?” Dumbledore rubbed his beard. “A struggle for dominance amongst the country’s leadership, with all means short of the military being used?” He probably was very familiar with that sort of conflict.

    “More or less,” Granger replied. “It was mostly covert actions on both sides. Death squads and strike teams. You had to hide since if you were discovered, you were usually dead.”

    “That should have kept the overall death toll low, though.” The old man nodded. “If all conflicts I had to meddle with had been so contained… I almost envy my counterpart. A lot of conflicts were… messy.”

    Granger frowned, but, fortunately, didn’t reveal too much as she replied: “There was still some collateral damage, and some of the hired guns had some disgusting habits more suited to the era of the Landsknechte.”

    Her dessert was slowly melting, Ron noticed - between answering the two old men’s questions, she had barely eaten half of her ice cream. But at least she hadn’t let slip more crucial information, and it seemed as if their cover story was holding up so far.

    “Ah.” Grindelwald nodded. “That’s quite typical for mercenaries. No discipline. Remember the Congo?” he asked Dumbledore, who chuckled at the question.

    “Were you involved in the coup?” Luna asked.

    “I couldn’t possibly comment,” Dumbledore replied.

    “Ah.” It was clear that Luna saw that as confirmation. “And is that your opinion of your own mercenaries?”

    “We do not employ mercenaries,” Dumbledore told her. “Though you might have a mistaken impression that we do due to the fact that many former soldiers tend to work as security guards or bodyguards.”

    “They have a rather proactive view of ‘guarding’, if I recall correctly,” Luna retorted.

    “If you’re facing terrorists and pirates, you won’t be able to do your job with a club and a taser,” Grindelwald said. “And we prefer employees who take the initiative if needed.”

    Luna wrinkled her nose. “That’s scant consolation to the ‘collateral damage’ they cause.”

    “Sometimes, such tragic incidents happen despite the best precautions,” Dumbledore replied. “I don’t doubt that Dr Granger has had similar experiences.”

    The old man was getting better at changing the subject back to Granger’s world, but Ron knew Luna was too stubborn to stop and would continue her ‘interrogation’ at the next opportunity - as she had done for the entire meal.

    “I wasn’t part of the teams that went out and attacked our enemies,” Granger said.

    “But you did fight. Several times.”

    “Yes. But I didn’t attack civilians,” she retorted.

    “Not intentionally, at least.”

    Granger glared at him with her lips pressed together but didn’t deny the implied accusation.

    “Besides,” Grindelwald spoke up again, “unless you plan to abandon Dr Granger and Miss Lovegood, you’ll be quitting the police and entering the private security sector as well, won’t you?”

    “I think after surviving those shootings, we could easily get a few months of leave to recover from our ordeal,” Harry said.

    “Faking combat shock?” Grindelwald didn’t bother to hide his sneer. “You expect your superiors to fall for such a transparent ploy?”

    Bones and Scrimgeour would have seen through it, but both of them were dead. Who knew who’d be put in charge of CI5 now? None of the remaining superintendents would have made a good impression.

    “And what would Officer Moody think about that?” Dumbledore asked. “Not to mention the effect it would have on your future prospects. And people suffering from PTSD are rarely allowed to carry weapons.”

    Ron clenched his teeth. The old man was correct. Using such a loophole wouldn’t work out well for them. He forced himself to shrug. “We’re still hiding with our charge, so that’s not an immediate concern.”

    “I don’t expect that situation to last much longer,” Dumbledore said. “As the investigation uncovers more of Mr Yaxley’s past, it will soon reach a point where you’ll have to be officially cleared - although you will have to testify to settle the matter, I believe. As will you, Dr Granger.”

    Ron wasn’t worried about that himself - he and Harry had had to testify several times in the past. But Granger… if she was as uncooperative as she had been with them, it might result in a problem.

    “I think a good, discreet solicitor would greatly facilitate the process,” Dumbledore suggested - of course, he would be aware of Granger’s past interrogations. He had probably read her entire file already. “I’ll cover their fee, of course.”

    “A lawyer?” Granger seemed surprised. “Could they be trusted?”

    “Oh, you won’t have to tell them the truth.” Dumbledore smiled widely. “And they usually know not to ask too many questions.”

    “Who do you have in mind?”

    “The unfortunately named, but quite skilled, Cornelius Fudge.”

    “What? Him?” Granger gasped, then wildly shook her head.

    *****​

    Near Ipswich, Suffolk, Britain, July 22nd, 2005

    “Well, Fudge can’t be an incompetent lawyer if he can afford this sort of vacation home,” Ron commented, studying the small manor as their driver, one of Dumbledore’s employees, drove the limousine towards the parking area. He couldn’t see any signs of an ambush or trap. Neither did Harry, or Ron’s friend would have said something.

    “He could have inherited the house,” Granger replied.

    “He didn’t. We checked,” Harry said. Fudge wasn’t one of the best solicitors, but certainly one of the most discreet.

    “Or he could be corrupt.” Granger sniffed. “Selling out his clients for the right price.”

    “I don’t think Dumbledore would have referred you to Fudge if he were that corrupt,” Luna said, straightening the summer dress she wore. “He’s an evil corporate tycoon, but he’s not naive or stupid.”

    “Well, it’s just as you said: You can’t judge people based on the actions of their counterparts,” Ron remarked.

    The glare Granger sent him was very impressive. “I agreed to meet Fudge,” she said, “didn’t I?”

    “You did,” Ron agreed. “After a heated argument, though.”

    “I merely voiced my doubts,” she replied.

    Ron suppressed a chuckle at that blatant understatement. Harry wasn’t as successful - or didn’t bother.

    “You voiced them very vigorously and passionately,” Luna said, nodding.

    Granger huffed in response, shook her head, then walked towards the manor’s door a little faster than before, forcing them to catch up. Not that it took Ron much of an effort. Nor did he mind - he was starting to feel a little exposed out in the open, especially as the sun was setting.

    The door opened a few seconds after Granger had rung the bell, revealing a slightly corpulent middle-aged man with a receding hairline. “Good evening, Dr Granger! Officer Potter. Officer Weasley. Miss...” he blinked.

    “Lovegood. Luna Lovegood,” Luna told him.

    “Ah. Good evening, Miss Lovegood. I’m Cornelius Fudge. Pleased to meet you all! Please come in!”

    The entrance hall was decorated with a few too many paintings and a few too many antiques. Trying too hard, Dad would call it. Sirius would make a comment about the ‘nouveau riche’. Still, what it fell short of in style it certainly made up for in impressing upon visitors that Fudge had money. Of course, the kind of people he probably wanted to impress wouldn’t be impressed at all by such a display. But they weren’t here to judge the man’s interior decorator.

    “Please join me in the salon,” Fudge said, gesturing towards the door to the side, next to a landscape painting.

    The ‘salon’ sported too many stuffed animal heads. They sat down on a couch below an elephant and a rhinoceros staring at each other.

    “Please serve yourself,” Fudge told them, pointing at the low table where several bottles and two bowls with crackers stood. “Unfortunately, due to the discretion this meeting requires, I had to send the staff away for the evening.”

    Which meant they would be aware there was something important and secret occurring. Not the safest way to handle this, Ron thought. But Dumbledore was vouching for the man.

    “Thank you,” Granger said - she wasn’t even looking at the refreshments, Ron noticed. Luna, though, was already happily munching on one of everything. Sometimes, she was far too trusting.

    “Do you know why we’re meeting with you?” Granger asked.

    “Well, even if I hadn’t been told by my very good friend Albus, I would have deduced the reason for your visit by now - you’re famous, after all. Most of you.” Fudge flashed pearly-white teeth.

    “Of course. As you’ve deduced, I need a solicitor for my upcoming interview with the police.” Granger managed to say without losing her polite smile.

    “And the gentlemen and Miss Lovegood?” Fudge asked.

    “We’ll be fine,” Harry told him, “and Luna’s not involved.”

    “Well, not in the criminal case,” Luna said. “I’d like to think I’m involved in the lives of my friends.”

    “Quite. If you change your mind, my partner is an excellent solicitor and would be happy to assist you in your interviews.” Fudge widely smiled at them. “Just in case - one can never go wrong with competent help, after all, and any money spent on keeping oneself free of legal entanglement is worth spending, wouldn’t you agree?”

    Ron kept a polite smile on his face even though he’d never let Fudge or one of the man’s partners represent him in an interrogation. A former Chief Superintendent who had switched sides and become a solicitor after a scandal? His colleagues would assume that he was guilty as sin with that sort of solicitor.

    Which, he realised, might also be the case for Granger. Might - she wasn’t under investigation, after all. But to show up all lawyered up with Fudge? That would leave an unfavourable impression. And Dumbledore would have known that.

    “To business then,” Fudge said, putting his glass down. “I’m afraid that I need some privacy for my talk with Dr Granger. Procedure, you understand - it would be unethical to discuss anything pertaining to the case with two persons of interest in the same case present. So, feel free to avail yourself of the rest of the refreshments while my client and I confer in my office.”

    Ron nodded. “Of course. Although one of us will have to wait in front of your office. Procedure, you know.”

    “Albus mentioned something like that,” Fudge replied, apparently unfazed by the dig at his former career. “Please follow me, then.”

    At least the man seemed to be a competent lawyer.

    *****​

    CI5 Headquarters, Westminster, London, July 25th, 2005

    Dawlish was leaning against the wall, glaring at them as they approached the waiting area for their interviews. A number of their colleagues had done the same since they had stepped into the building, but he was one of the few doing it openly, Ron noticed.

    “So you finally stopped hiding.” Dawlish didn’t bother to conceal his sneer, either.

    “Yes,” Harry replied. “We would have resurfaced sooner, but we had to wait until you lot figured out that you had a traitor in your midst - wait, it wasn’t you who figured that out. You had to get help.”

    “No thanks to you,” Dawlish retorted.

    “You had all the clues,” Ron told him. “Bones and Scrimgeour couldn’t have been killed without inside information. And who benefited the most from their deaths?”

    “Really? You want to tell me that Yaxley had them murdered to get promoted? He wasn’t that dumb.” Dawlish shook his head. “And you have a lot of nerve to talk like that - you were present at both murders, and vanished afterwards.”

    “Because we realised that there was a traitor,” Harry said.

    “And we were almost killed,” Ron added.

    Dawlish scoffed. “So you say.” He glanced at Granger, who was talking with Fudge behind them. “You going to hide behind him as well?”

    Dawlish knew as well as they did that Fudge couldn’t represent all of them. This was just another dig. Ron shook his head anyway. “We’ve got nothing to hide,” he lied.

    The other officer shook his head and walked away without another word.

    Perhaps quitting CI5 was a good idea for other reasons as well.

    “Why are we being interviewed here?” Granger asked after catching up to them. “I thought the entire department was under suspicion.”

    “Not officially,” Ron told her. Officially, the various other organisations were only providing assistance to CI5.

    “But anyone in CI5 will be seen with suspicion for some time,” Harry added.

    “Or derision for not spotting the traitor.”

    “Well-deserved derision!”

    Ron whirled around with a sinking feeling in his gut. Moody was standing in the door to one of the interrogation rooms, glaring at them. And he had gotten the drop on them.

    “We fucked up,” their old instructor said. “Rufus, Amelia, you two, myself.”

    “How could you have detected Yaxley’s treachery?” Granger asked.

    Moody narrowed his good eye at her. “Dr Granger.”

    She didn’t flinch - she was even smiling, a little at least. “Yes. And you are…?”

    “Alastor Moody. But you knew that already.” The older man turned to glare at Ron. “Been telling stories, have we?”

    “Not many,” Ron defended himself. Granger knew Moody because she had known his counterpart. Who had, apparently, lost more in the line of duty than an eye.

    “Just enough to recognise you,” Granger added.

    Ron glared at her, and she flinched. Good. This wasn’t her Moody.

    “Did they tell you how I lost my eye?” Moody’s hand rose to touch his eyepatch.

    “No.”

    Ron tensed. The other man wouldn’t… He would. With a practised motion, Moody pulled his patch off, revealing the scars and empty socket beneath.

    But Granger didn’t shriek or gasp. She probably had seen worse in her world. Had definitely seen worse, Ron corrected himself.

    Moody sniffed. “They warned you.”

    Granger tilted her head in response. “Constant vigilance?”

    That earned her a chuckle. “You’re a tough one, aren’t you? Or a cold one.” Moody nodded at the room behind him. “Get in. We’ve got a lot of questions.”

    “As long as you refrain from any attempt to scare or surprise my client,” Fudge spoke up. “Dr Granger didn’t take the risk of revealing herself while the main suspect in the attacks on her is still at large to be abused by the police.”

    “Fudge.” Moody bared his teeth.

    “Moody.” If the solicitor was nervous, then he hid it well, Ron thought.

    After a moment, Moody snorted again and repeated his invitation: “Let’s get started, then.”

    *****​

    “...did you recognise any of the attackers in the park?”

    “No.” Ron refrained from adding ‘as I told you before’ - he knew that wouldn’t help. Quite the contrary, actually - he had been in the place of the detective from the Met himself.

    “Were you wounded during the fight in the park?”

    “I was knocked down and briefly knocked out,” he answered. Lying and claiming he hadn’t been hit would be foolish - they had to have footage showing him and Granger retreating.

    “Knocked down? Were you shot?”

    “I wore a bullet-proof vest, which saved my life.” That was a blatant lie. His first in the interview. “I ditched it afterwards - the trauma plates were broken. Some of the shards cut my skin.”

    “That must have been a large-calibre hit,” the detective commented.

    “It certainly felt like one,” Ron agreed.

    “Was the bullet stuck in the vest?”

    Ah. “I don’t think so - we would have noticed. But it might have fallen out during our retreat - we weren’t exactly paying attention to anything other than the attackers.” He was talking too much. But it was better than to answer with single words. Ron knew how to make a testimony sound plausible. But the detective did as well.

    “How did you escape from the park?”

    “We took our car.”

    “Did you expect an attack in the park?”

    “Yes. We were trained to always expect the worst.”

    “Did you attempt to warn Commissioner Bones?”

    He winced. “We assumed she was aware of the threat herself.”

    “Ah.”

    Ron pressed his lips together. Getting angry at the man was pointless. The detective hadn’t been there. And didn’t understand the situation.

    “When did you become aware that you were under attack?”

    Ron didn’t sigh, even though he felt like it. He should be the one asking the questions, not the one answering. “When Harry warned me about a car approaching us.”

    “What did you do in response to the warning?”

    “Not much. Before I could do anything, the Commissioner got shot and…”

    *****​

    Half an hour later, the interview was finally over, and Ron could leave and return to the waiting room. Harry wasn’t done yet - Ron could see the room Harry had entered was still occupied - but Granger and Fudge were waiting. Both were reading - The Times in Fudge’s case, a thick physics textbook in hers.

    Ron let himself fall into the seat next to Granger’s with a theatrical sigh.

    Granger slowly looked up from her book and glanced at him. “There you are. What took you so long?”

    “Unlike you, I didn’t have a solicitor with me to tell the interviewer to shut up.”

    “By choice, as I recall,” Fudge cut in. “The offer stood.”

    “Where’s Harry?” Granger asked.

    “He’s going to be a while longer,” Ron explained. “They’ll have a lot more questions for him since he shot half a dozen of them - unlike me.”

    He saw her tense. Her jaw muscles slightly twitched. “You were shot,” she said. Ron heard the unsaid ‘and you almost died’.

    “The vest stopped it,” he replied with a smile. “As you know.”

    She sniffed in return. Not quite a huff.

    “Did everything go well?” Fudge asked.

    Ron shrugged. “I’d say so.” He didn’t know Brown, but Ron hadn’t given the other officer any cause to suspect him - and who would even suspect magic?

    “Good, good,” Fudge replied. “Once Mr Potter is done, this whole affair should be settled.”

    “For us,” Granger said. “There’s still the matter of Yaxley being at large.”

    Or dead, Ron thought.

    “That shouldn’t be a source of concern for you,” Fudge told her. “He’s alone and on the run. He’s probably halfway to Brazil by now, though I dare say he’d receive a far different welcome there than a famous train robber.”

    “I certainly hope so,” Granger replied.

    Ron’s money was still on Yaxley having been killed by his backers. But he couldn’t mention that here or he’d run the risk of another interview - or interrogation. “So do I,” he said instead, wishing they had stopped by a bookshop on the way to headquarters - he hadn’t checked for new novels in a while. At least he had a battered copy of ‘A Civil Campaign’ to pass the time. Bujold never failed to entertain.

    After half an hour spent reading in silence, Harry finally showed up. He didn’t look relieved - he looked angry.

    “Those idiots!”

    He also sounded angry.

    “What happened?” Granger asked.

    “Do you need a solicitor?” Fudge added, looking eager.

    “What? No. They didn’t openly accuse me,” Harry snarled. “But the comparisons between my shooting and the shots the sniper took to murder Scrimgeour and Bones…” He shook his head. “Someone at least thinks I could have killed them.”

    Well, technically, Harry could have done it - he was an excellent marksman. But he wouldn’t have done it. And he had an alibi - although it rested on Ron and Granger’s testimony. “You know how investigations by other departments are,” Ron told his friend.

    “Yes. But want to bet some idiots like Dawlish believe it as well?”

    That was a sucker bet. Ron shook his head.

    “I don’t think too many will be sad to see us go,” Harry went on.

    Ron remembered the glances they’d received coming in and nodded. Some would be envious, some would blame them for CI5 getting investigated and humiliated - and some would blame them for Bones and Scrimgeour’s deaths. “Colin will be sad, though,” he said.

    That didn’t do much to console Harry. And Granger… Ron frowned as he glanced at her. She wasn’t looking at anyone or anything.

    *****​

    “You’re being accused of murder? Of Diggory’s murder?” She couldn’t have heard correctly. Harry had tried to save the other boy.

    “They’re ‘investigating’,” Harry told her, shrugging. “Dumbledore said they’re trying to frame me so he’ll have to expend political capital and open himself to accusations of corruption when he intervenes. They’ve been dragging up Sirius’s disappearance from Hogwarts last year.”

    “Percy said the same thing,” Ron added. “Malfoy’s spending gold like crazy to sway the Wizengamot. And he pretty much owns Fudge.”

    “But Diggory?” She couldn’t believe it.

    “As long as they can point at me, they won’t have to explain who killed him,” Harry said.

    “Those…” She pressed her lips together, clenching her teeth to keep from cursing the Ministry. How could they do this to Harry? Her friend was… She blinked. “You’re taking this quite well…” she trailed off, not wanting to insult him by criticising his temper.

    Harry chuckled, but without any humour. “Dumbledore warned me about this. Kept me up to date during the holidays.”

    “Oh. So… it’s being handled?”

    He inclined his head. “He’s got a plan. If all goes well, it’ll put a crimp into Malfoy’s scheming and expose his allies.”

    Ron nodded. “And he’ll get leverage on Fudge.”

    That sounded promising. But Harry was the one under investigation. For murder! “And if it doesn’t go well?”

    He grimaced. “Well… then Dumbledore will have to step in and prove their accusations about him right.”

    “Probably end up in an open war,” Ron added, looking grim.

    So that was why they were in Grimmauld Place instead of The Burrow. “What can we do?” she asked.

    “Nothing,” Harry told her. “It’s out of our hands until the DMLE decides to put me on trial or drop the investigation.”

    She really didn’t like hearing that. She hated being unable to do anything. “I’ll study wizarding law, then,” she announced. “Just in case.”

    Her friends knew her too well to point out that she wouldn’t be allowed to speak in his defence. She knew it as well. But she couldn’t just wait without doing anything.

    *****
     
    Beyogi, inky, preier and 4 others like this.
  4. Simonbob

    Simonbob Really? You don't say.

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    That's a pretty dark Wizarding World.

    It'd make a pretty good story on it's own, I think.
     
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  5. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    It's actually less dark than canon. More evil murderers die. Fewer of their supporters get away. More innocents survive.

    I've written civil war stories before with similar scenes. It'd need more changes for me to write it.
     
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  6. Beyogi

    Beyogi I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    It also makes more sense. In hindsight I always wondered why they didn't try to pin Cedric's death on Harry. Instead they tried to pretend he died in an accident. Because Avada Kedavra is such an accident.
     
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  7. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    A lot of stuff doesn't make sense apart from "it has to happen so the plot won't get derailed".
     
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  8. Threadmarks: Chapter 13: The Tank Commander
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 13: The Tank Commander

    CI5 Headquarters, Westminster, London, July 25th, 2005

    Granger shook her head and muttered something Ron didn’t catch despite being sat next to her.

    “Pardon?” Harry frowned at her.

    “Nothing.” After a moment, she added: “I’ll explain later.” Meaning: once they were outside.

    But as they stepped out of the building - into the interior yard, where their car was parked - Ron spotted Moody leaning against the wall near the corner, arms crossed, and watching them. No, waiting for them.

    Granger had spotted him as well - Ron heard her curse. “He wants to talk,” he told her.

    “I’d advise against speaking with any police officers at this stage of the investigation,” Fudge spoke up. “At least without a solicitor present.”

    “It’s not that kind of talk,” Harry told the man.

    “He was our instructor,” Ron added.

    “I’m aware of that,” Fudge said. “I’m also aware that he’s a very obstinate man.”

    There was no point in denying that. Ron glanced at Moody again - the man hadn’t moved, but was staring at them with his good eye. They should talk to him. Not only did he deserve some sort of explanation but he’d probably track them down if they simply quit and vanished. Although he might do that anyway. On the other hand, they couldn’t leave Granger alone.

    “Well, get on with it,” Granger told them. “We can wait in the car.” At Ron’s glance, she sniffed. “I’ve spoken to Officer Moody quite enough for this week.”

    Ron nodded in sympathy as Harry snorted. They checked the car before letting Granger get in, then walked over to Moody.

    He scoffed. “Took you long enough.”

    Harry shrugged. “Had to check for traps and ambushes.”

    Moody grunted in response. “Did you?”

    “Yes,” Ron replied.

    “Really.” Moody pushed off the wall. “Perhaps you did. This time.”

    “Neither Scrimgeour nor Bones was our fault,” Harry spat.

    Moody looked at him. “Yaxley was too eager. Should have noticed that.”

    Ron couldn’t tell if Moody meant them or himself. Probably both.

    “That’s hindsight,” Harry said, frowning.

    Moody shrugged. “And it shouldn’t be hindsight.”

    “We weren’t around much when Yaxley got involved,” Harry retorted. His friend was still wound up by the accusations levelled against him, Ron realised.

    “I’d tell you to do better next time, but you’re not going to stay, are you?”

    How had he…? Ron pressed his lips together - if Moody had been guessing, then their reaction had just given the game away.

    The older man chuckled. Once. “As I thought.”

    So Moody had been guessing. Swell.

    “What would be the point?” Harry said, scoffing. “They blame us for the whole affair.”

    “You’re no quitter, Potter. And neither is Weasley.” Moody grinned. “Matter of fact, you’d stay on to spite everyone, wouldn’t you? Unless you had another reason to quit.” He turned his head to stare at the car.

    Bloody hell! Ron almost felt bad for telling Granger off for spilling information. “Someone has to protect her,” he told Moody.

    “And you want to be the one.”

    “She needs someone she can trust and who can do the job. Not too many of them around, are there?” Ron replied.

    Moody snorted. “It’s more than that, though, isn’t it?” He glanced at Harry, then looked at Ron again. “You wouldn’t have told her to hire Fudge. In fact, you’d have told her not to hire the man. And Fudge isn’t cheap.”

    “Granger’s the most famous kidnapping victim in Britain,” Harry pointed out. “Good publicity.”

    “Fudge isn’t after publicity. There won’t be a trial, anyway. Someone’s paying him, and the Grangers don’t have enough money to cover his fees. Fudge quickly shut that question down when I asked the girl.”

    Well, that mistake wasn’t their fault, but Dumbledore’s. “Can’t tell you,” Ron said, showing his teeth. “Loose lips sink ships.” Moody had taught them that.

    “Good lad.” The older officer nodded. “Looks like you remembered at least one lesson.” He cocked his head. “But you forgot my lesson about women and work.”

    “It’s not like that,” Ron told him. He wasn’t mixing work and his private affairs.

    Moody shook his head with a twisted grin. “And you forgot what I told you about politics.”

    “We’re just protecting a woman,” Harry told him.

    “Against Russian ‘mercenaries’?” Moody shook his head. “And a woman who’s hiding something? You’re fools, lads.”

    Ron clenched his teeth. They were doing the right thing.

    “Unless you already know what she’s hiding.”

    They didn’t react to that probe.

    “Better.” Moody grinned again. “I don’t know who’s paying you - or will be paying you. But I know enough to tell you that they’re bad news. They always are, in this sort of business.”

    Well, Ron couldn’t disagree with Moody there - he didn’t trust Dumbledore and Grindelwald.

    “Keep your wits about you, lads. What’s left of them, in any case.” Moody nodded at them.

    “We will,” Harry replied, nodding firmly.

    “You better. I don’t want to hear that all that time I spent training you was wasted,” the older man said, then turned away.

    *****​

    No 12 Grimmauld Place, London, July 25th, 2005

    “That’s different,” Granger remarked as Harry drove their armoured car - they’d switched cars, with Fudge being driven home in the original car - down the ramp that led to the garage of Sirius and Harry’s home.

    Ron didn’t know how Sirius had managed to get planning permission for it in this neighbourhood, but he was glad for the privacy and security it granted them. If they had had to park in the yard, they would have been too exposed. Too vulnerable - Yaxley still hadn’t been caught, and Ron didn’t think that the man’s sniper was among the people Harry had killed in Clissold Park.

    “Well, you don’t need a garage for brooms, do you?” Harry said as he parked the car.

    Granger snorted. “Wizards don’t use brooms in the middle of London - not many are able to cast the Disillusionment Charms needed to hide them from muggles, and invisibility cloaks are expensive and don’t last long. Most use the Floo Network or the Knight Bus.”

    “The bus?” Ron asked.

    “An enchanted bus that covers all of Britain, providing transportation for wizards and witches who couldn’t use the Floo or apparate for one reason or another,” Granger explained. “Fast, but very uncomfortable.”

    “Ah.” Ron nodded. “Do people enchant cars as well?” he asked as he got out.

    “Your… I mean, my Ron’s father did. A Ford Anglia that could turn invisible and fly.”

    Ron wanted one. No, he wanted his Ford Capri enchanted like that.

    “I can’t do that,” Granger told him as if she had read his thoughts.

    Well, perhaps he could ask the man himself, once Granger managed to open a portal.

    “Harry!”

    Ron jerked, almost going for his gun when he heard the yell. Who would…?

    “Ginny?” he and Harry said in unison just before Ron’s sister tackled her boyfriend. Well, technically, she hugged him, but Harry had to take a step back or he would have fallen down.

    “Ginny…” Ron heard Granger mumble next to him.

    “How did you…?” Harry managed to say before Ginny silenced him with a kiss. A very French kiss.

    The answer, of course, was standing in the door of the lift. Sirius. And Luna.

    “Hi, everyone!” Luna said, waving.

    “I arranged her visit when you contacted me about staying over,” the older man told them as he approached. “Sirius Black. Enchanté!” he announced as he bowed with a flourish to Granger.

    “Good afternoon, Si… sir,” she managed to say. “Thank you for having us over.”

    “It’s Harry’s home,” Sirius replied. “Of course he can bring friends. Ron practically lived here for a time.”

    Until he had managed to get a flat of his own.

    “That was dangerous.” Apparently, Harry had finally managed to tear his face away from Ginny’s.

    “I picked her up in a parking garage in the City,” Sirius said. “Just like Luna.” Whose pickup had been planned by Harry and Ron. “And I’ve got the tickets to prove that I wasn’t followed.” Which meant he had been speeding again.

    “Ah.” Harry nodded - a little reluctantly.

    “Yes, so you can’t complain,” Ginny told him. “Did you really think I wouldn’t visit?” Without waiting for an answer, she turned to Granger and stuck her hand out. “Hello, Dr Granger. I’m Ginny.” Of course, she would assume everyone already knew her. Well, she wasn’t wrong with regard to Granger, but not for the reasons she probably thought.

    “Hello.” Granger nodded. She was quite tense, Ron noticed.

    He cleared his throat. “Shall we head up? I don’t know about you, but I think the living room would be more comfortable.”

    “Oh, of course!” Sirius grinned. “Unless Harry and Ginny would prefer their room.”

    “Sirius!” Harry frowned at his godfather.

    Ron was looking at Granger, though. She didn’t seem surprised by the remark, so she probably had expected something like that. Or she was too tense to react.

    A few minutes later, everyone was settled in the living room and, apparently, the roast for dinner was in the oven. Ginny had claimed Harry’s lap, of course, but that was pretty normal for the couple.

    “So, have you quit CI5 yet?” Sirius asked while he was serving drinks. Apparently, Luna had told him their plans.

    “No. We’re suspended anyway; we’ll quit once the investigation is over or it’ll look as if we’re guilty,” Harry said.

    They’d look guilty anyway, Ron knew. They couldn’t tell the truth, and their soon-to-be-former colleagues would know they were hiding something.

    “But you love your work!” Ginny exclaimed.

    “I might love the next job more,” Harry told her. “We might be going private - that way, I would have more time travelling with you.”

    “You want to become private detectives?” Ginny frowned. “Does that pay well?”

    That was aimed at Ron, of course - between his inheritance and being Sirius’s heir, Harry didn’t need money. And Ginny’s job paid very well. “Private security pays reasonably well,” Ron replied.

    “Really.” Ginny narrowed her eyes at him, then looked at Granger, who had been uncharacteristically silent so far. “Private security for Dr Granger.”

    Ron glanced at Luna, whose smile looked a little guilty. Well, he had only himself - and Harry - to blame for that; they had arranged for Luna to stay with Sirius while they went to CI5. Of course, leaving her alone in the lab would have been out of the question.

    Granger sighed. “Please excuse us for a moment. I need to talk with Luna, Mr Weasley and Mr Potter in private.” She marched into the hallway, leaving Ron and Harry to follow her.

    “I think we need to tell them,” she said as soon as the door had closed behind them.

    Ron saw Luna looking relieved while Granger glanced at him as if she wanted his approval.

    Well, even if they weren’t the Ginny and Sirius she knew, Ron trusted them, of course.

    So he nodded in agreement. They had checked the room for bugs, anyway. Harry nodded as well, though he didn’t look relieved.

    They went back to the living room, where Ginny received them with narrowed eyes, frowning at Ron as if it was his fault, then at Luna. “You knew their secret already!”

    “Yes,” Luna replied. “Well, one of them. The most important one, I think. I’m sure they have more secrets.”

    “Do tell!” Sirius cut in with a wide grin. “Harry is usually so close-lipped about his work. Well, I guess if he’s planning to quit, that will change.”

    Harry rolled his eyes. “There’s also the matter of revealing classified information being illegal.”

    “As long as you don’t get caught, who cares?” Sirius shrugged.

    “This is more important than any police file,” Granger said in a clipped tone. “This cannot be told to anyone, under any circumstances. Lives depend on it. Our lives.”

    To Ron’s surprise, Ginny seemed impressed - for about a second.

    “Our lips are sealed,” Sirius declared, then mimed zipping his mouth shut.

    Granger studied them both for a moment - was she reconsidering her decision? - then slowly nodded and took a deep breath. “I’m not from this world. I’m a witch from a parallel dimension where magic exists and was transported to this world against my will in 1998. People mistook me for the Hermione Granger who had been kidnapped here in 1991.”

    “A witch. From a parallel dimension.” The doubt in Ginny’s voice couldn’t be more obvious.

    “It’s true,” Ron told her. “It’s not a prank.”

    “Magic?” Sirius seemed more amused than impressed, although he didn’t openly doubt their claim. Yet.

    “Magic.” Granger nodded at him. “I lost my wand, so I cannot demonstrate much - witches and wizards need specially-made wands to do most magic. But I can do this.” She held out her hand and yelled: “Accio pen!”

    At once, a silver pen left Sirius’s pocket and started to fly - slowly - towards her.

    “That’s… that’s…”

    Ron really enjoyed Ginny’s expression. “Go on, check for magnets or wires!” he told her.

    She did, glaring at him the whole time. When she didn’t find either, she huffed. “That doesn’t prove the existence of parallel dimensions or magic!” At Harry raising his eyebrows at her, she pouted. “Ron was always watching those series on the telly and telling me about his books.”

    “And you liked them,” Ron reminded her. Until she had grown ‘too old’, in her own words.

    “As impressive as this demonstration is,” Sirius spoke up, “it doesn’t prove her story.”

    “Dr Granger also has magic potions and a magic bag,” Ron told him.

    “And she knows our counterparts,” Harry added.

    “Who aren’t identical to you,” Granger pointed out, pen in hand. “But there are similarities.” She looked at Ginny and Sirius. “I knew both of your counterparts very well.”

    “Not as well as she knew our counterparts, though,” Ron pointed out.

    “We are both witches in Hermione’s world!” Luna exclaimed, beaming at Ginny. “And all of us were fighting an evil fascist regime!”

    “What?”

    Granger explained before Luna could: “Your counterparts in my world are witches like me - we all went to the same boarding school in Scotland - and when I was transported here, we were in the middle of a civil war with a dark wizard and his followers who had taken control of the country - well, the magical parts which formed Wizarding Britain; the United Kingdom wasn’t much affected - and wanted to kill all those they considered ‘impure’. Which included me.”

    “Exactly!” Luna nodded several times as if this were a good thing.

    “What? How old were we?”

    “I arrived here on the same day I left my own world,” Granger told her. With a grim expression, she added: “We had no choice, even as children - they wanted to kill us. Well, me for being born, and my Harry for defeating the Dark Lord when he was a baby. Harry, that is - the Dark Lord was an adult at the time.”

    That made both Ginny and Sirius focus on Harry. Ron’s friend wasn’t happy about it, of course.

    “And the Weasleys are purebloods, but still opposed the dark wizards,” Ron said while Ginny ran a hand over Harry’s back. “Their Ginny is a courier on a flying broom.”

    As it turned out, flying on brooms apparently was a little too clichéd for his sister, and Granger had to demonstrate her bag of holding to convince Ginny that this wasn’t a hoax, psychic powers or not.

    As if Ron would do such a thing. Now, the twins, on the other hand...

    *****​

    “You were shot and would have died without a magic potion?”

    Ron winced - like their mother, his sister had a strong pair of lungs. Perhaps they shouldn’t have told her the full truth. Sirius looked rather taken aback as well.

    Well, what was done was done. Ron shrugged. “I survived. All of us did.”

    “And the enemies didn’t. Well, most of them didn’t,” Harry added.

    “You almost died! If Dr Granger hadn’t been there, you’d have been killed!”

    “Well, you saved me,” he defended himself, looking at Granger.

    “You didn’t know that I could save you,” Granger pointed out.

    “Anyway, it happened. Let’s talk about something more productive, shall we?”

    “How about we eat first?” Sirius asked. “The roast should be done now.”

    Ron agreed at once. A good meal would soothe Ginny’s temper.

    *****​

    “...and we became a couple in my fifth year?” Ginny asked over pudding.

    “Your counterpart’s fifth year.” Granger corrected her for the umpteenth time.

    Ron wondered - privately - if he should tell her that his sister was now probably only doing it out of sheer stubbornness.

    “See, your magical counterpart was smarter than you were,” Ginny said, turning to face Harry with a smirk.

    Sirius laughed at her joke - or at Harry’s slightly forced smile. “Now that we’ve heard everything about our dear celebrity, how about some information about my own counterpart?” Ginny had the grace to blush at the slight admonishment, Ron noticed. If he had said that, or Mum, she would have gotten mad. Or made a scene. “Harry might not have told you, but I’m a retired officer in the British Army,” Sirius told Granger. “A tank commander, to be exact. I gather my counterpart held a similar position?”

    “Ah.” Granger grimaced. “Not exactly. Your counterpart fought in the First Wizarding War and the Second Wizarding War - or the First and Second Blood War, as we called them - but as a private citizen. And in between, he was imprisoned on false charges until he broke out shortly before the Second War started. He died in our seventh year in one of the skirmishes.”

    “Oh.” Sirius lost his smile.

    “Sorry,” Granger belatedly added. She looked more tired than sorry, though - but then, after being interrogated first by Moody and then by Ginny, not many wouldn’t be tired.

    Sirius waved her apology away. “Don’t worry about it. Though are you certain that you want to return? Your world sounds like a nightmare.”

    Ron rolled his eyes. Sirius sometimes was terribly blunt, and Ron had never managed to find out if it was by design or if was merely carelessness.

    “Yes,” Granger stated in a flat voice, “I’m certain. Deadly certain. I’m not going to abandon my friends in the middle of a war.”

    Luna nodded in obvious agreement as Ron refrained from pointing out that Granger had, involuntarily, of course, done exactly that.

    “Very noble,” Sirius said. “Although are you planning to drag Harry and his friends into your war?”

    “What?” Granger shook her head, sending her ponytail whipping about. “Of course not! This isn’t their war. And they couldn’t do much, anyway, without magic.”

    Ron clenched his teeth. He wasn’t useless.

    “You don’t strike me as bulletproof,” Harry commented with a glare. “And I didn’t get the impression that you were a particularly weak witch.”

    “Many places are protected by Muggle-Repelling Charms,” Granger shot back. “You wouldn’t be able to enter those areas, much less fight anyone. And those spells can be cast in combat as well. Imagine suddenly forgetting that you’re fighting and wandering off in the middle of a battle!”

    That was a terrifying prospect, Ron had to admit. And yet, there were more ways to fight than directly attacking the enemy. “That doesn’t make us useless,” he told her. “We just need to pick our fights. And you can protect us against such spells, can’t you?”

    “Not very effectively,” she replied. “It’s easier to cast such spells than dispel them.”

    “You aren’t seriously planning to fight in a magic civil war?” Sirius asked, staring at them.

    “Of course he is,” Ginny replied - rather snidely, in Ron’s opinion. “It’s like one of his books, but he gets to take his guns with him.”

    This wasn’t the time to educate Ginny about fantasy and science fiction novels. Ron shook his head. He turned to Granger. “You don’t have your wand. You were, in your own words, one of Britain’s most wanted witches. How long will you last, alone, if your enemies are still fighting - or have won?”

    She glared at him and raised her chin. “Longer than you would!”

    “And do you really think Dumbledore and Grindelwald would let you enter alone?” Ron pointed out. “We’re not wizards, but you’ll need us.”

    “And me!” Luna piped up. “I’m no witch, but, as you said, most of your world isn’t any different from our own. I know how to fly under the radar.”

    “Unless it’s literally flying under the radar,” Ginny added with a grin. “On a broom.”

    Sirius shook his head. “Jokes aside, this is a very, very dangerous course of action.”

    “Yes, which is why they should stay here,” Granger quickly said. She looked at Ron. “I’m very grateful for your help - I owe you my freedom and possibly my life - but this isn’t your war. You’ve got your family and life here.”

    That was true. But it was his life. And Ron was the one who decided when to risk it. And for what or whom. “So?” he said. “Mum and Dad taught us all to do what’s right, not what’s easy.”

    Contrary to his expectations, that line shut her up.

    It didn’t shut up Sirius, of course - there wasn’t much, if anything, that would shut up the man, in Ron’s experience. “Boys! I’ve been to war. It’s not heroic, it’s not fun - it’s bloody dangerous! And this isn’t even a proper war - it’s a damn civil war. Insurrections. Death squads. Like that mess in Iraq. And with magic! Not even a tank would protect you, I wager!”

    “Hermione’s going back to war,” Luna pointed out.

    “Into a witch war, where we couldn’t do anything. We wouldn’t have dragged civilians into combat in the Falklands,” Sirius replied.

    “We’re not civilians,” Harry shot back.

    “You’re not a soldier, either,” Ginny told him. “You’re a police officer.” Who had killed more people in the line of duty than Sirius, as Ron knew.

    “And we’re probably better prepared for this kind of war,” Ron said. “We’ve fought terrorists before.”

    “You haven’t fought wizards,” Granger told him.

    “The basic principles are the same,” he told her, hoping that he was correct.

    “You don’t know anything about magical combat,” Sirius said. “How can you prepare for a war if you don’t know what the enemy can do?”

    “Dr Granger can tell us,” Harry said.

    “You could probably give us a lecture on magical combat,” Ron added with a grin.

    No one seemed to find that funny, though. Granger glared at him, though he had expected that.

    “I don’t want you to go to war,” Ginny told Harry. “I already worry about you when you are at work.”

    “We don’t know if there’s a war,” Ron said. “It’s been seven years since Dr Granger left.”

    “The First Blood War lasted a decade, depending on what you consider its start” - Granger proved his earlier joke correct - “Most put the start at the first use of the Dark Mark following an attack, but some - correctly, I believe - attribute several killings of key government officials in the months before that to the Death Eaters, and, therefore, consider the war to have started with those murders.”

    “And what if the war’s over and the enemy won? Won’t they detect the portal, gate, whatever you’re building? And what if they invade us?” Sirius changed tack.

    “They haven’t invaded muggle Britain. Why would they go after a whole new world without magic?” Granger retorted. “There’s nothing here that they couldn’t get in my world. There’s precious little that they would want in the first place.”

    “There’s you,” Sirius said.

    Ron saw her purse her lips before she answered: “They wouldn’t know it was my doing. I’d leave the country - go to France, probably. Claim I’d been hiding for seven years.”

    “Would anyone who knew you believe that?” Ron asked her.

    She glared at him, then spat: “I can’t leave my friends to their fates!”

    He didn’t look at her while she wiped her eyes after her outburst.

    “Of course you couldn’t!” Luna said, glaring at the others, including Ron. “And we won’t let you go back alone.”

    “I said that all along, didn’t I?” Ron pointed out.

    “I know why he’s going - he’s stupid,” Ginny snapped. “But why are you going?” she asked Harry.

    “Ron’s my best friend,” Harry said as if that explained it.

    Well, it did. It also made Ron the target of both Sirius and Ginny’s glares.

    He met them with a smile. Sometimes, you had to do what was right, not what was easy. And it didn’t hurt that doing the right thing would let him visit another dimension - a realm of magic.

    “And what about the risk to our world?” Sirius wouldn’t let this go.

    “We’ll minimise it, as I said,” Granger replied. “We’ll sneak in. There are a few caches we had prepared, in case the worst came to pass. I can get a new wand there and other supplies. Then we can gather information - and stay in muggle Britain, where it’s safer.”

    “Yes! We know all about hiding from the authorities!” Luna cheered.

    “If the situation is… worse than anticipated, we’ll return at once and discuss further steps.” She cocked her head at Sirius. “Is that acceptable?”

    “I want to be involved,” he shot back.

    “We can do that,” Harry said at once. “Granger’s calling the shots, after all.”

    “The Phoenix Gruppe is funding you.” Sirius shook his head. “I knew I should have bought a Scorpion for old time’s sake when New Zealand sold theirs.”

    “They were broken,” Harry told him. “They never worked.”

    “They could have been fixed. I’ve got the money.”

    “And you wouldn’t have been allowed to keep the gun functional,” Harry went on.

    “Phoenix Gruppe could replace it.”

    “And you don’t have a crew for it.” Harry glared at him. “And no, we won’t play crew for you.”

    “I could drive!” Luna piped up. “Daddy taught me how to drive tracked vehicles.”

    Ron was suddenly very glad that Sirius didn’t actually have a tank.

    “Well… Some of those Scorpions should still be available, for the right price.” Sirius rubbed his chin. “And it would be a nice vehicle to get around the estate with if it’s too cold or wet for the horses. Fastest tank, ever!”

    “Sirius!” Harry all but hissed. “You just told us that this isn’t a conventional war. It’s an insurrection! A magical civil war! There’s no place for a light tank. Or any tank!”

    “Tanks are very useful in insurrections. They protect you much better than other vehicles,” the older man retorted.

    “A Scorpion’s not a Challenger,” Ron pointed out, ignoring Luna’s frown - presumably at having her tank driving dreams spoiled.

    “Indeed,” Granger cut in, “a tank of any kind would be completely useless in the kind of war we fought. It’s not mobile enough to actually reach a fight before it’s over, and it would be quite easily dealt with by a competent wizard. Even if it were too large to be transfigured into cheese or something similar, a bog could be conjured right underneath it, sinking it in seconds.”

    “You need to see the tank first before you can destroy it,” Sirius replied. “We were very good at hiding and preparing ambushes. And the gun will hit an enemy out to two thousand yards.”

    “And what if the fight is in the middle of a city?” Ron asked.

    “Hermione can turn it invisible!” Luna said. “They’ll never see it coming.”

    “They’ll hear it,” Harry replied.

    “She can silence it as well! Or shrink it and carry it with her!”

    Luna was far too enthusiastic about tank warfare, in Ron’s opinion.

    “That’s an excellent idea, Luna!”

    And so was Sirius.

    “I can’t just wave my wand - if I had one - to turn a tank invisible and silent,” Granger told him. “Well, I could, with serious effort. But that wouldn’t be a proper enchantment. And it might affect the tank’s electronics.”

    “But others could do it?”

    “Yes,” Granger admitted. “But that still leaves the problem of actually transporting a tank - first through a portal, and then to a hiding place - and it still wouldn’t be useful. Not to mention that driving an invisible tank on the road would be a danger to all the other road users.”

    Ron could imagine that. But he could also imagine how enchanting the thing to fly would solve that issue - provided it kept low to the ground to avoid air traffic. And… “How fast could a vehicle fly?” he asked.

    He thought Granger mumbled ‘not you as well’ under her breath, but he wasn’t sure. She certainly glared at him, though.

    *****​

    Two hours later, he licked his lips, took a deep breath, then knocked on the door to her room. “Dr Granger?”

    After a few seconds - which felt much longer - he heard her voice. “Yes?”

    “Are you decent?”

    “That’s a peculiar way of asking if you can enter my room,” came the more than slightly sarcastic reply.

    “Is that a yes?”

    For a moment, he feared he had pushed too far, but then the door opened, and Granger was frowning at him. She was decent - sort of. Her tank top and shorts were a little more revealing than he was used to from her - not counting his dreams. It also made him, still in his slacks and shirt, feel slightly overdressed.

    “Can I come in?”

    She scoffed but stepped to the side. Bare feet - no wonder he hadn’t heard her steps.

    “I’ll take that to mean yes,” he said lightly as he stepped past her, making her snort.

    “So, why did you want to visit?” she asked as she closed the door.

    He sat down on the chair at the desk - which was covered in parchment and smiled, if a little weakly. “I came to apologise. I got a little carried away. Sorry.” But who wouldn’t have been enthusiastic about a flying, invisible tank?

    She sniffed. “You and everyone else but for Harry and Ginny.” She blinked. “Mr Potter and Miss Weasley, I mean.” Who had retired to Harry’s room shortly after dessert, for obvious reasons.

    “You know,” he told her, “we’ve been in three shoot-outs together now. Shouldn’t we start using our first names?”

    She laughed at that - though it sounded a little forced... no, reluctant - as she sat down on the bed. “I guess there are a few things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, hm?”

    That sounded like a comment with a lot of backstory. “You seem to be speaking from experience,” he told her.

    She snorted. “Did I ever tell you how I became best friends with my Harry and my Ron?”

    He shook his head. “Not in detail. You were in the same year at your magical boarding school.”

    “The same house. But that wasn’t the reason we became friends - well, in a way, it was.” She shook her head. “It started with a troll breaking into the school, and me having a cry in the bathroom...”

    *****​

    “You fought a twelve-foot-tall troll?” He couldn’t quite keep the incredulity out of his voice.

    “I mostly cowered. Ron - my Ron - and my Harry fought it. And defeated it,” she replied.

    ‘My Ron’ grated on his nerves. It sounded so possessive. Or something. And all that after he made her cry? “And that happened at your school.”

    “It was a diversion for an attempt to steal the Philosopher’s Stone.”

    “That’s real?”

    “Was real. It was destroyed after our first year. At least that’s what we were told.” She shrugged. “It might have been a lie to protect its owner. At the time, we didn’t question it.”

    “Dumbledore told you that?” He raised his eyebrows.

    “My world’s Dumbledore.” She narrowed her eyes at his expression. “He wasn’t like this one’s.”

    “Or was better at hiding it,” Ron retorted.

    She bit her lower lip at that, even as she glared at him. He refrained from smirking - it was obvious that she wanted to contradict him, but couldn’t. Not without lying.

    “Anyway, that was a horrible experience.”

    “Your school years weren’t exactly perfectly safe, either,” she told him.

    Pettigrew. He remembered that she’d read about the incident in that stupid magazine. Shrugging, he said: “We were just facing a man. Not a monster.”

    Her sniff told him that she wasn’t falling for his attempt to downplay the incident. But she wasn’t pushing, either. He nodded. “Well, I can see why you three became best friends.” Events like that forged bonds. Like combat.

    She smiled in return. She looked nostalgic - a little sad as well.

    He stood. “Well, I should head to bed.”

    She slipped off the bed. “It’s getting late.”

    For a moment, they faced each other without saying anything. Ron had the sudden urge to lean forward and embrace her. Instead, he nodded again. “Goodnight, Hermione.”

    “Goodnight, Ron.”

    He kept smiling all the way to his room.

    *****​

    No 12 Grimmauld Place, London, July 26th, 2005

    Between Harry’s odd hours as a police officer, and Ginny’s career leading to her travelling the globe, they were effectively having a long-distance relationship. Ron knew that. He also knew that neither of them liked it, even though they wouldn’t consider changing careers, either. And he was no stranger to seeing both of them tired but very happy at the breakfast table.

    But he couldn’t help envying them. He hadn’t had a steady relationship since Luna - few women could handle his working hours and the danger. Harry was very lucky that Ginny could.

    He sighed as he refilled his cup and grabbed The Times.

    “Is something wrong, Ron?” Ginny asked.

    “Hm?” He raised his head and looked at her, hoping very much that she was wearing something under that robe. Unlike the time she had surprised Harry at home, and Ron had happened to visit as well. She didn’t sound smug, he noted. Which meant this was Ginny trying to help him. Damn. “I’m fine. Just a little tired - I didn’t sleep too well,” he lied.

    “Oh?” She looked at the empty spot at the table.

    He rolled his eyes. “Not like that.” Not like them.

    “So nothing happened?” Harry asked.

    Ron frowned at his friend. Harry had been very much occupied, so how had he noticed Ron’s visit? “Did you bug the hallway?”

    “Luna didn’t want to disturb you two,” Ginny revealed.

    “Where is she, anyway?”

    “Checking the net,” Harry replied. “She wanted to catch a friend of hers before they went to bed.”

    Ron pressed his lips together. Luna didn’t have friends on the net - she had contacts.

    “Don’t try to distract us!” Ginny cut in. “What happened?”

    “Nothing happened,” Ron told her. “I just apologised to Hermione for annoying her with our talk about flying tanks.”

    “Oh! It’s ‘Hermione’ now?” Ginny smirked.

    He rolled his eyes. “There are a few things you can’t share without ending up liking each other...” he started to quote Hermione.

    “Oh, really? It’s not the other way around?”

    Of course she would misunderstand what he meant! And Harry was chuckling.

    Ron shook his head and focused on The Times.

    *****​

    “So, which shop are we hitting first?” Ginny asked an hour later, as they gathered in the entrance hall. “You have to pretty much buy a whole household, right? For your new home? Clothes, furniture, cosmetics, bedsheets, favourite mug and teapot...”

    “Books,” Ron said. He didn’t think A Feast for Crows was out already, but perhaps...

    “Yes,” Hermione agreed, nodding.

    “Seriously?” Ginny shook her head, though she seemed amused rather than annoyed. “Well, I should have expected that. When Ron moved out, he bought shelves for his books before he bothered buying non-essential stuff like pans, pots and dishes…”

    Perhaps she was a little annoyed, Ron corrected himself. “Well, my favourite book shop is on the way to whatever other shops we need to visit.”

    “Only if you’re driving,” Harry said.

    “You’re not driving with Ginny around,” Ron replied with a grin.

    “Hey!” Ginny glared at him.

    “And they have all the magazines I need, too!” Luna chimed in, if a little belatedly. Well, she had visited the shop often enough when they were a couple, Ron reminded himself.

    “Let’s go then,” Sirius said. “We can take the SUV.”

    Which would fit all six of them comfortably and leave enough room in the boot for essential purchases.

    “So, are you a fan of fantasy novels?” Ginny asked as they descended the stairs. “Or do you think they are weird, having real magic?”

    “I prefer non-fiction books, actually,” Hermione told her.

    “That covers a lot since magic has been revealed to be real,” Luna said. “How many fantasy novels could be considered ‘based on a true story’?”

    “Those aren’t exactly non-fiction,” Hermione replied.

    “Certainly not if written by Skeeter,” Harry added.

    And that killed the conversation until they reached the garage. “I’m driving,” Sirius announced. “It’s my car.”

    “His replacement tank,” Ginny stage-whispered to Hermione.

    “It actually has better all-round armour than his tank,” Luna pointed out. “This car’s got B7-level of ballistic protection.”

    “It lacks a gun, though,” Sirius complained. “And it’s not quite as able in rough terrain.”

    “Because it weighs almost as much as a tank,” Harry said.

    “Speed isn’t armour,” Ron told him. The Royal Navy had learned that at the Battle of Jutland.

    “Stop complaining about my car and get in, everyone!” Sirius exclaimed, clapping his hands. “We don’t have all day!”

    Ron ended up in the middle row, next to Hermione, with Harry and Ginny in the back and Luna riding shotgun.

    “At least we’re not behind the lovebirds,” he told Hermione as they stopped at the first crossing.

    She laughed, briefly, and nodded. “Oh, I’ve seen worse.”

    He saw her smile fade a little and her eyes unfocus as she remembered - right before a bullet struck the windshield and Luna screamed.

    *****​

    “What?” Harry all but yelled. She controlled herself better, but she felt the same.

    “I said I’m not going into hiding.” Ginny glared at him, hands on her hips. “You haven’t gone deaf over the summer, have you?”

    “But…”

    Ginny cut him off. “If you can risk your life fighting them, I can do my part, too.”

    “You’re sixteen,” she pointed out to the other witch.

    “I fought Death Eaters when I was fifteen!” Ginny retorted. “You were there, Hermione!”

    She knew that. “But that was before they took over the Ministry. Now they can use the Trace to track you. You’d be a liability.”

    Ginny scoffed. “The Trace? Please! Bill got rid of it.”

    “What?”

    “What did you expect? He’s a Curse-Breaker, and it’s a standard enchantment. Easy to dispel if you know how.” Ginny grinned. “Mum and Dad asked him to do it so I would be able to use magic if I was in danger.”

    “I don’t think they want you to risk yourself,” Harry said.

    “Tough.” Ginny scoffed again. “I’m already in danger as a blood-traitor. And you need all the help you can get.”

    She stiffened. Did Ginny know about their task? How?

    “Oh, relax!” The other witch shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re supposed to do. But I know Harry has an important task - I know him, after all,” she added, smiling at the still scowling Harry. “So, I’ll be joining you.”

    She shook her head. “No, you won’t!”

    “The hell I won’t!”

    “We’ve been training for this for a year. You haven’t,” she told her. “You wouldn’t be risking just yourself, you’d put all of us at risk. And especially Harry.” Without Occlumency, Ginny wouldn’t be able to resist the Horcruxes’ effect. Not after what she went through with the diary.

    “This isn’t about being able to fight,” Harry explained.

    “What?” Ginny exclaimed.

    She glared at Harry. He was coming close to revealing their task. Dumbledore had been quite clear about the need to keep it a secret - from everyone.

    “Please. You can’t come with us.” He embraced her. “I’m sorry.”

    She turned and left them when Ginny started to cry.

    *****​

     
    dylanredefined, Beyogi, inky and 6 others like this.
  9. Beyogi

    Beyogi I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Hm... isn't this quite daring what they're doing? Yaxley may not be a mole anymore, but I would guess whoever was trying to nab Hermione is still around.
     
    Starfox5 likes this.
  10. Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Yes, it's a tad daring. They just visited the CI5 headquarters, but as events prove, they calculated wrongly.
     
    Prince Charon likes this.
  11. Threadmarks: Chapter 14: The Road Trip
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 14: The Road Trip

    Islington, London, July 26th, 2005

    A spiderweb of cracks covered half the windshield as Sirius pressed the gas pedal and the SUV accelerated across the crossing. Another shot hit the windshield and also failed to penetrate. Luna stopped screaming and ducked down. Hermione grabbed her bag.

    Sniper, Ron thought. Just like with Scrimgeour and Bones. If not for the bulletproof glass, Sirius would’ve been hit - and possibly killed. He drew his gun. “Expect company!” he snapped. They had shot at the driver to immobilise them.

    “Can’t see anyone,” Harry reported. “Looks… there! Three o’clock, Mercedes, speeding.”

    Ron glanced over his shoulder as Sirius turned, driving away from the approaching car. Or trying to - the armoured SUV wasn’t exactly a race car. But if the other car was catching up, that meant it wasn’t armoured very much.

    Harry had come to the same conclusion since he was already climbing over his seat into the boot, where they had placed their bags. “Get down!” he yelled as he rifled through the sports bag, pulling out his carbine.

    Hermione was still rummaging through her bag, so Ron pushed her head down to the bench, ignoring her yelp of protest. “They won’t send just one car after us!” Not after Clissold Park. He looked around. He knew this area. If they wanted to catch the SUV in a pincer attack… “They’ll cut us off at the next crossing!”

    The first shots were hitting the rear of the car, but Harry had the carbine out and yelled: “Get down! I’m opening the rear window!”

    “What?” Hermione yelped.

    “He needs to shoot back,” Ron explained.

    “Hold on!” Sirius screamed. A moment later, the car almost rolled over as he took a too-tight turn on to the pavement, narrowingly avoiding getting rammed by another Mercedes from the side. Screaming pedestrians were jumping to the side as Sirius accelerated next to the Mercedes.

    They would be trying to pass them, to cut them off, Ron knew. Probably got stuck in traffic or they would’ve attacked at the same time as the other car. “Stay down!” he yelled, lunging over Hermione to hit the button to lower the window on her side as the two vehicles drove parallel to one another. And the windows on the Mercedes were being lowered as well!

    Ron was a little faster, however, starting to fire while the bloke opposite him was still moving his SMG around to take aim. Most of Ron’s bullets missed, but one clipped the man’s head, and he fell back, taking his SMG with him.

    But the man’s accomplice had brought his own gun to bear, and Ron had to duck down as a volley of bullets hit the armoured window. He did a tactical reload under cover.

    “Ginny, lower the window!” Harry yelled.

    Ron glanced over - his friend had his carbine ready. A moment later, the window started to open. Harry jammed the muzzle through the gap as soon as it was wide enough and opened fire. A burst went wide when Sirius drove over something - Ron hoped it wasn’t someone - and the car bucked, but the next burst was on target, and the shooter went down. Ron came up again and emptied his magazine through the open window of the passenger seat.

    The car swerved to the side and crashed into a parked limousine. Either Ron had hit the driver, or they had lost control while evading.

    That left the Mercedes behind them. Where at least two people were busy peppering Sirius’s car with SMGs or rifles.

    “Get down! Now I’m opening the rear window!” Harry yelled.

    “I can use Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder!” Granger shouted.

    “No need,” Harry replied.

    “Save it for emergencies!” Ron added, crouching on his seat, stabilising himself with his free hand as he took aim at the driver side of the pursuing car.

    Harry flipped the window - or what was left of it - open and they started firing.

    The other car’s windshield wasn’t armoured to the same degree as Sirius’s, and Harry’s first salvo put several holes into it. Ron didn’t see if his own shots hit anything since the Mercedes abruptly pulled to the right and rolled over. The shooter hanging out of a window on the passenger side wasn’t quick enough to either get out or back inside and was caught between the vehicle and the street as the car rolled over them, while the shooter on the driver side was thrown clear and landed on the pavement, hard.

    “Any others?” Sirius yelled.

    “Don’t see anyone,” Ron called back after looking around.

    “Keep driving!” Harry snapped. “The sniper’s still out there!”

    “I am!” Sirius retorted. “To CI5!”

    “No!” Harry, Ron and Hermione yelled in unison.

    “They’ll expect that,” Ron went on. “We need to ditch the car and disappear.”

    “That sounds familiar,” Hermione mumbled as they took another turn.

    “We can take the Tube,” Harry said.

    “I hope my insurance covers attacks by terrorists,” Sirius complained as he swerved around a slower car. “This car was expensive.”

    “You were planning to buy a tank yesterday,” Harry told him.

    “That’s different! And a tank wouldn’t have been wrecked like this! Hey, Dr Granger - can you repair it with magic?”

    “If I had a wand. But I wouldn’t do it, anyway, since repairing the car would reveal the existence of magic,” Hermione replied.

    “Focus on the street!” Harry yelled. “There might be more of them around, and we’re vulnerable.”

    “We’re also attracting a great deal of attention,” Ron pointed out.

    “Can’t be helped,” Sirius retorted.

    “Which is why we need to ditch the car,” Harry repeated Ron’s argument.

    Five minutes later, as they rushed down into the next Tube station, with their larger weapons stashed in Hermione’s bag, almost trampling some of the slower commuters, Ron couldn’t help thinking that an invisible flying car would have been very handy right now.

    *****​

    Greenwich, London, July 26th, 2005

    An hour and several stations later, they were in Greenwich. Ron didn’t think anyone had managed to tail them - there was a lot of surveillance on the Tube, but few would be able to access it.

    “Where are we going?” Hermione, her distinctive hair hidden under a cap she had pulled out of her bag, asked as soon as they entered a narrow side alley.

    “We’ve got a car parked around here, for emergencies,” Harry told her.

    “Another one?” She shook her head. “How many of them do you have?”

    “Not enough,” Ron replied with a grin.

    She narrowed her eyes at him. “That’s a quote from Moody, right?”

    “Right.”

    “Figures.”

    “Can we all fit into it? Or does Hermione need to shrink some of us? If so, I volunteer,” Luna said after they had crossed another street, perking up for the first time since the attack.

    “We just need the money in the car and some gear, then we’ll buy a used van,” Harry told her. Ron frowned at his friend as Luna’s mood fell again.

    “And what will we do then?” Hermione asked. “That was the third attack. And right after our visit to CI5.”

    “You mean there’s another mole? After the police started checking the entire department?” Sirius sounded incredulous.

    “Or they had you under surveillance,” Harry said. “Or Ginny.”

    “What?” Ron’s sister whirled on Harry. “You mean this was my fault?”

    “No,” Harry was quick to reply. “Most likely, they had Grimmauld Place under surveillance. Yaxley would have been able to get the address.”

    Ron agreed. “We should have expected this. It was our fault.” They had already known that their families were in danger. But they hadn’t expected things to escalate like this. Not after the Secret Service had become involved as well. They should have, of course. Moody would have their hides. Well, if they weren’t going to quit CI5 anyway.

    “You can’t go into hiding for the rest of your life!” Ginny snapped.

    “It’s only until I finish my project,” Hermione said.

    “Really? And they’ll magically stop looking for you?” Sirius shook his head. “Even if you return to your world, they’ll keep searching. And they’ll go after Harry and Ron to find out where you are. Or the Grangers here. Should everyone have to hide forever?”

    Ron saw Hermione pale a little at that. “But…” She trailed off, biting her lower lip.

    “Or to get leverage on you,” Luna added.

    “That means we’ll have to find Yaxley and whoever else is behind this, and stop them,” Ron said. Before the information about Hermione’s origin - and it couldn’t be anything else that would drive anyone to risk so much - spread.

    “But you quit CI5,” Ginny retorted.

    “Technically, we’re still police officers. Just on leave,” Harry told her. “But you’re right - we don’t have access to CI5’s resources. We’ll have to rely on Dumbledore and Grindelwald.”

    “What?” Sirius said. “You don’t trust them.”

    “We don’t,” Harry confirmed. “But we don’t have any alternative. We can’t trust CI5, either.”

    “And the government can’t know about this, or we’ll all get disappeared!” Luna said, nodding several times.

    And she might be correct, Ron knew. But they really didn’t have any other options. “We also need to inform CI5 about the attack. And that we’ll be going into hiding again,” he said as they finally reached the garage they had rented under an assumed name.

    “At least they can’t complain about that,” Sirius muttered.

    “They’ll complain anyway,” Harry told him. “Especially Dawlish.”

    Hermione sniffed at the name.

    “Was his counterpart a Death Eater?” Luna asked.

    “No, just an idiot,” Hermione replied.

    “No different to ours, then,” Ron added with a smirk as he opened the boot and pulled out the bag hidden under the spare tire. “Here are the burner phones. We’ll have to wait on calling CI5 or Dumbledore until we’re moving, though.”

    “I know,” Ginny said with a glare. “I’m not stupid.”

    “We’ll have to take the car and buy a van,” Ron continued, ignoring her outburst. She had just been shot at, after all.

    “You and Harry?” Hermione asked.

    “No. Harry will stay with you.” Ron looked at his friend, then glanced at Ginny.

    “Right.”

    “And you can’t come with us since we don’t have fake IDs prepared for you,” Ron told the others. The Met would be out in force - they had barely managed to leave the area of the attack before it had been locked down.

    “I have a fake ID of my own!” Luna spoke up.

    Of course she’d have one! “You didn’t mention that before.”

    “I didn’t want to force you into a conflict of loyalties,” Luna told him. “Between your duty as a police officer to investigate a crime and your friendship with me.”

    “Will it stand up to a check?” Harry asked. “They won’t just glance at it.” Their own were in the system. Illegal, but effective, as Moody would say.

    “Oh, it will!” Luna nodded with a wide smile. “The government’s computer security isn’t as good as they think it is. Sabotaged by the shadow government so they can manipulate them more easily.”

    “You hacked the government’s databases?” Sirius laughed. “Oh, that’s great.”

    It was also highly illegal, of course.

    “I didn’t say that!” Luna replied - but her smile confirmed it.

    “Well, let’s go then,” Ron said.

    *****​

    East End, London, July 26th, 2005

    Ron’s black beard itched. As did his black wig. But the beard was worse. And while the wig barely reached his shoulders, the beard scratched his chest whenever he looked down. Compared to that, wearing leather biker clothes in summer was only a mild annoyance. If Hermione had her wand, she probably could have conjured a perfectly comfortable disguise. Or a magical disguise - hadn’t she mentioned a potion to change one’s shape?

    But if Hermione had her wand, they wouldn’t need to disguise themselves at all, since she could teleport them around. Until she went back to her world.

    He shook his head. He had to focus on buying a van, not on what-ifs.

    “That’s your best van, mister?”

    At least Luna wasn’t getting distracted by her disguise. The Daisy Dukes and the jeans vest over a hot pink crop top with a matching headband weren’t too far from her usual outfits. And a blonde hippie-esque girlfriend fit a biker.

    “Oh, yes. German quality. You can’t kill a van like this!”

    That was because it looked like it had been killed twice already and then stitched back together with parts from two other vans afterwards.

    “Really?” Luna bent down to study the wheels and the undercarriage.

    Ron caught the middle-aged used car vendor staring at her bottom and growled, which made the lech back off and pale a little. Sometimes, maintaining your cover fit the situation perfectly.

    “It looks like it’ll hold up!” Luna announced, with her head halfway under the car.

    Ron nodded - he trusted her assessment - and turned towards the vendor. “How much?”

    A few minutes of haggling later, they were the proud owners of an old, battered Volkswagen van that could have fit into any seventies road trip movie. And which smelled as if it had served as a marijuana delivery van ever since that decade.

    Well, it only needed to last the trip back to Scotland.

    And, as Ron found out quickly, it did handle decently. “Good choice,” he told Luna as he steered the van out of the vendor’s parking lot.

    “Thanks! It’s perfect! No one will suspect that a few good people taking on a world-wide conspiracy would ever drive such an obviously rebellious van!”

    “They wouldn’t?”

    “Of course not! They’d expect us to try and fit in by driving the most average, boring car!”

    “Hm. Like the Dursleys?” That would fit them like a glove, in Ron’s opinion.

    “Harry’s boring relatives?”

    “Harry’s greedy relatives,” he corrected her. They only ever visited Harry and Sirius to ‘network’, as far as he knew. “But they’re boring, too.”

    She snorted. “Sheep controlled by the state media.”

    Ron nodded in agreement as he slowed down at the next crossing. “Say, did you hack Dumbledore’s systems?”

    “Oh, I wish!” He didn’t have to look at her to know she was pouting. “But his system is frustratingly good. I have to be extra-careful to worm my way into it, and, so far, I haven’t gotten very far, yet.”

    “Well, you knew he was good, didn’t you?”

    “Yes, but I didn’t fully realise just how good he is!” She huffed and crossed her arms, sliding down in her seat. “Old people shouldn’t have such good computer security!”

    “He probably has hired help doing that for him.”

    “No doubt. But people like him are supposed to be so arrogant that they sabotage their own security. He’s not cooperating.”

    Ron suppressed a laugh at that.

    “You know,” Luna went on, “perhaps this attack was a false flag operation by Dumbledore. To scare Hermione into returning to her secret lab as soon as possible.” She sat up straight again and leaned over. “What do you think?”

    “It’s possible,” he said - it certainly wasn’t impossible. Just unlikely. “But I think he wouldn’t have needed to do this, and he knows that. Hermione won’t stay away from her lab for long.”

    Luna snorted. “Everyone has a weakness, and they know hers!”

    He took the next turn, then shrugged again. “Or they think they do.” Hermione wasn’t as easily led along by the nose as Dumbledore might think. But she wasn’t as skilled at subterfuge as she thought she was, either.

    “You like her.”

    He still had wet dreams featuring her. But that wasn’t a subject he would ever talk about with anyone. So he picked the safe answer. “She saved my life.”

    Luna sniffed. “That’s true, and yet not. You know what I mean.”

    He shrugged. “She’s smart and stubborn. And a witch.”

    “And you like her.”

    He tilted his head. Not quite nodding.

    Luna snorted again, looking pleased. “She would probably be good for you. And you for her.”

    “She’s going back to her world,” he pointed out. “Where her Ron is waiting.” Who could work magic and had been her best friend for years. Ron hated him already.

    “Mhh.” Luna was smiling.

    He didn’t ask what she was thinking. She was too optimistic, anyway.

    *****​

    Greenwich, London, July 26th, 2005

    “Please tell me that this is actually a carefully disguised high-end vehicle that only looks like a rust heap.”

    Hermione obviously didn’t know much about cars. “This is a classic,” Ron told her as he got out of the van next to their temporary hideout.

    “And it’s mechanically sound,” Luna added. “None of the important parts are rusting.”

    “So we won’t die to mechanical failure. We will die from blood poisoning after sitting down amidst rusty edges and the accumulated dirt of several decades.” Hermione sniffed the air. “It smells like cannabis.”

    “Olfactory camouflage,” Ron replied. “Better shower before visiting Mum and Dad,” he added, nodding at Ginny.

    “I’m coming with you.”

    “What?”

    She was pushing her chin forward and glaring at him. “It’s the safest course of action.”

    “We’re being hunted,” Ron retorted. “We’re certainly not safe.” And more people would now be wondering why someone was using so many resources to get Hermione. They might not realise that she could do magic, but they would soon understand that her research had to be more valuable than everyone had thought.

    “It’s safer than being separated.” She nodded at Harry. “People know about us. They’ll try to get me to get to him no matter where I am. And the usual security on the tour won’t be able to stop them. Not when they’re willing to attack like they did today.”

    She was right about that, of course. The people after Hermione had attacked in the middle of London, on a busy day, twice so far. They might attempt to grab Ginny from the court. And Ron didn’t think that they’d care how many spectators got hurt or killed during an attempt, either. But there were better alternatives to coming with them. “You’d be safer with Mum and Dad.”

    “They’d lock me up in the house. Perhaps the basement,” she shot back.

    “Dad wouldn’t!” Ron shook his head.

    “Mum would.”

    Luna giggled as she nodded in agreement. Ron sighed. Mum was a little overprotective. Still… “There’s also protective custody.”

    “So I can be locked up in a basement without anyone I know?” Ginny sneered. “I’m coming with you. If it’s safe enough for Hermione and Luna, it’s safe enough for me.”

    “It’s not exactly safe,” Hermione pointed out. “We don’t know how far we can trust our ‘hosts’.”

    “So? I couldn’t trust whoever the police sent to guard me, either.”

    Harry hadn’t said anything so far. Ron looked at him, and his friend shrugged. So, he wasn’t going to be any help. Ron ground his teeth. He didn’t like going there, but… “You’d be another person we have to protect, though, making our task harder.” She should get the hint now.

    Ginny’s glare intensified - she knew what he insinuated. “Have you forgotten how many self-defence courses I had to take before Harry stopped being stupid? I can remind you,” she added, taking a step towards him. “And it would count as the regular training Harry also insists I do.”

    Ron scowled at her. He could take her in a straight fight. Usually. But she’d probably manage to hurt him - she was too fit, too trained and too nasty to be easily subdued. He glared at Harry, instead. That was his friend’s fault.

    Sirius laughed. “She’s got you there, Ron.”

    Ron eyed the older man. “Let me guess: You want to come as well.”

    “I am coming with you as well,” Sirius said, grinning. “Everything that applies to Ginny applies to me as well. And I know how to handle a gun.”

    “As long as it’s strapped to a tank,” Harry cut in.

    “I’m a qualified marksman with combat experience,” Sirius shot back. “If Ginny can come, I can come, too.”

    Ron decided to blame Harry for that as well.

    *****​

    Near Hackthorpe, Cumbria, Britain, July 27th, 2005

    “This was a bad idea,” Ron heard Hermione mutter before her head appeared next to him as she squeezed through the gap between his and the front passenger seat.

    “Hm?” he asked, glancing at her before focusing on the road again. Even - or especially - right after midnight, the motorways weren’t free of dangers.

    “Nothing,” she replied in a whisper, leaning back in the passenger seat. “Can’t sleep with the air smelling like a hemp plantation. And the lumpy seats.”

    “The others don’t seem to have problems sleeping,” he commented.

    She sniffed. “Sirius’s claims that the military taught him to be able to sleep anywhere, any time, might not have been bragging. Harry and Ginny are using each other as pillows. And Luna…”

    “I know.” Luna could sleep in any seat as long as it was soft enough.

    “I’m going to smell like a pothead for days. At least I can ditch the clothes afterwards.”

    “You shouldn’t,” he said.

    “Why not? Do you think I’ll need them as a disguise again?”

    “Yes. But also, you look good in that dress,” he said, without thinking.

    He knew without looking at her that she was frowning at him with narrowed eyes before she snorted. “Thank you. But the seventies aren’t me.”

    “Vintage fashion is a thing,” he told her. And the strong colours of the dress did suit her. Just as the short hemline suited her legs.

    “A thing, yes. Not a good thing, mind you,” she said in a hushed voice. “Or would you like to wear polyester suits?”

    He chuckled at that. “Well, they look better than robes, at least.”

    When she didn’t immediately reply, he glanced at her again. She looked pensive. “It would be a change to wear robes again.”

    “Did you have to wear robes?”

    “At Hogwarts, yes. It’s the school uniform. And the unofficial Ministry uniform. Even Mr Weasley wore robes to work, and he loved muggle fashion.”

    “Like a suit and tie.”

    “Yes.”

    He chuckled again. That did sound like Dad, just with different interests. He passed a slower car - with an older driver, as he saw when he overtook it - then returned to the left lane again. “It sounds weird,” he commented.

    But she didn’t answer. When he glanced at her again, he noticed that she had fallen asleep.

    He kept glancing at her for the next two hours, until it was Harry’s turn to drive.

    *****​

    Black Lake, Scotland, Britain, July 27th, 2005

    “So that’s the Black Lake. I thought it would be bigger,” Sirius said as they drove along its shore. “What with a giant squid and a village of merpeople located in its counterpart.”

    “The giant squid isn’t actually that big,” Hermione told him. “Nothing like in the movies you’ve probably seen.”

    “Also, no talk of magic once we’ve arrived,” Harry cut in.

    “We could do a double bluff,” Sirius replied. “Make them think we’re using magic as a code for technology.”

    “That won’t work,” Ron said, suppressing a yawn. He hadn’t slept well in the van. And not for long enough, either. At least he had been able to get rid of his wig and beard once they had entered the Highlands. “Dumbledore and Grindelwald are too smart for that. You would probably make them think about magic in the first place. They already know that alternate dimensions exist; assuming that magic exists wouldn’t be a big step.”

    “Or psionics, which is totally different from magic,” Ginny added. Sitting behind her - Harry was driving, so naturally Ginny had commandeered the passenger seat - Ron couldn’t see her face, but he knew she was smirking.

    “Psionics?” Hermione asked. “Is that from Dr Who?”

    “It’s a sort of not-magic magic in Dungeons and Dragons,” Luna explained.

    “Yes. Ron was very insistent that it wasn’t magic,” Ginny said.

    Ron frowned. “I should never have let you play D&D with us when we were kids.”

    “Mum would have made you play with me,” Ginny retorted.

    “And it was fun,” Luna said. “Even though the monsters were very unrealistic.”

    Hermione snorted at that.

    “It’s true,” Luna told her. “Most wouldn’t have been able to sustain themselves where we found them in the game. Some wouldn’t have been able to enter their own lair.”

    “That was a mistake,” Ron defended his eleven-year-old self. “And it only happened once.”

    “Anyway,” Harry cut in again, “no talk of magic once we arrive. And assume we’re always under surveillance inside the building, or near it. The only time we can talk freely is when we’re taking a run along a random route around the lake.”

    “I’m having flashbacks to Sandhurst,” Sirius groaned. “Tell me we’re not doing the morning run routine.”

    “We’re doing the morning and evening run routine,” Harry told him. “You were the one who insisted on coming along.”

    “Ginny did as well!”

    “I’m not the one complaining about a little running.” Ginny chuckled. “In fact, I’m glad that I will be able to keep in shape. Somewhat, at least.”

    Ron rolled his eyes behind her back. Yes, everyone knew who was the fittest among them. He changed the subject. “Also, be on your best behaviour. We didn’t announce your arrival.”

    “They’ll have anticipated it,” Harry said, “after hearing about the attack in London. And Ginny’s statement about having to recover from yesterday’s attack, and not wanting to deal with anyone outside her family, should have been released to the press by now.”

    “They’ll still try to force a concession out of us,” Ron retorted.

    “That’s their capitalist nature,” Luna agreed. “They can’t let any opportunity to amass more wealth and influence go by.”

    “Well, they’ll be disappointed,” Hermione declared. “They need me, and I don’t see how housing six instead of four could be a significant drain on their resources.”

    “Oh, but we have expensive tastes,” Sirius said. “Ginny is a celebrity, and I’m used to a style of living befitting my station.”

    “I’m certain that they can afford a daily order of fish and chips and pizza,” Harry replied in a dry tone.

    “Don’t forget the curry!” Sirius told him, chuckling. “More seriously, I don’t think they’ll object. The more people who know about this who are here, the fewer they have to hunt down should they decide to stab us in the back.”

    Now that was a sobering thought.

    *****​

    Filch was already waiting for them in the underground garage, standing at parade rest with two guards at his back and a scowl on his face like a drill sergeant in a movie. A show of force.

    Ron was the first out of the van. Standard procedure. “Mr Filch.” He nodded at the man. “You should be aware that we’ve brought two friends with us after we were attacked in London. I trust quarters have been prepared for them.”

    Filch’s scowl deepened. Probably at some petty ploy being foiled, Ron thought. “I heard.”

    “Good.” Ron looked around, not bothering to be subtle about it as he checked the garage before he nodded at the van. “Clear.”

    “Of course it’s clear,” Filch spat, adding something under his breath that Ron didn’t catch.

    “Trust but verify,” Ron replied with a grin.

    “Constant vigilance,” Harry added.

    Ron saw Hermione roll her eyes as she stepped forward. “Ginny Weasley, Sirius Black - Mr Filch. Head of security of this facility.”

    “Charmed, I’m certain,” Sirius said with a wide grin. “Lovely resort you have here. More than meets the eye, right? Good discipline among the staff, too. I like that. Don’t see that as often as one should, these days.” He nodded with a condescending expression. “Don’t bother taking our luggage; we’re travelling light.”

    Filch gritted his teeth as he stepped to the side, letting them go past and into the lift.

    “Was that necessary?” Harry asked as soon as the doors closed. His tone left no doubt that it was a rhetorical question.

    “Yes,” Sirius answered anyway. “I know his sort; he needed a reminder that he’s the help.”

    “I don’t think this was the right time to play officer,” Harry replied.

    “On the contrary! I know a former soldier when I see one.” Sirius grinned. “He was probably drummed out of the service.”

    And probably had a chip on his shoulder about officers, especially the upper-class ones. Ron shook his head. Between Hermione’s demanding nature when working and Sirius’s attitude, the facility’s staff wouldn’t warm up to their group any time soon.

    Well, that would make it easier to remain on their guard.

    *****​

    Black Lake, Scotland, Britain, July 28th, 2005

    What goes around comes around, Ron thought as he struggled to keep pace with Ginny on their first morning run. His little sister had found a way to push herself without running Hermione, Luna and Sirius into the ground - she was literally running circles around those three as their group ran along the shore. As were Ron and Harry, of course.

    It was just a little more difficult than Ron liked. Ginny had always been athletic, and since she was only one year younger than him, she’d been his near-equal, physically - until he had entered puberty. He still remembered the tantrum she had thrown the first time he had easily bested her in arm wrestling after a few months at school.

    And, judging by the nasty grin his sister was sporting as she glanced over her shoulder before stepping up her own pace, so did she. Well, he hadn’t let her forget it for quite a while, back then.

    At least he wasn’t suffering alone.

    He still had to struggle not to let himself fall to the ground at their first break while Ginny kept bouncing on her feet. “Any bugs?” he asked.

    Harry shook his head. “None that I can detect with this,” he answered, holding up his scanner.

    “Is that really necessary?” Sirius asked from the ground. “They couldn’t have bugged the entire area, could they?”

    “You never know,” Ron told him. “All it takes is getting sloppy once.”

    “Moody,” Hermione mumbled.

    “Yes,” Ron said. “Words to live by.”

    She snorted. As did Ginny. At least Ron’s sister wasn’t rubbing in her athletic superiority.

    “You’d never make it on the tour. And I’m talking about the WTA Tour.”

    Not overly much, at least.

    “Not everyone can be a professional athlete,” Hermione retorted. “Some of us have other strengths.”

    Ron smirked as Ginny frowned. His little sister didn’t like insinuations - imagined or not - that she was all brawn and no brains.

    “And united, we’re much more than our individual strengths!” Luna spoke up.

    “As long as we work on our weaknesses,” Ginny replied.

    “I can’t teach anyone physics,” Hermione said. “I’m busy doing research. And for magic, you need an inborn talent.”

    Ron snorted. Perhaps the insinuation hadn’t been imagined. Hermione did strike him as rather competitive. Even in areas where she wasn’t particularly gifted.

    “Physics won’t help you defend yourself.”

    But so was Ginny.

    “Only if you lack the imagination to apply your knowledge.”

    There were entirely too many teeth being bared around here, in Ron’s opinion. He cleared his throat. “Unless anyone has anything important to report, Hermione and I will need to go over the cover story again.”

    They had another dinner with Dumbledore, and possibly Grindelwald, this evening, after all.

    *****​

    “Fascinating. So a massively stratified society emerged as a result of a much more intense arms race during the Cold War?” Dumbledore asked as he finished his dessert - chocolate cake with ice cream and whipped cream. A delight, Ron had to admit - Dumbledore obviously loved sweets, and his staff knew it.

    “I didn’t study history or sociology,” Hermione replied. “I can only tell you how things are. And possible reasons why my world is more advanced, technologically, than this one. In my world, the military spent huge sums on research since to fall behind would have meant defeat. No matter the cost to society.”

    “Like Pakistan’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Or North Korea’s.” Dumbledore nodded. “Ironically, while the quote of ‘being ready to eat grass to get the bomb’ is attributed to the former, it’s the latter’s population who is currently suffering that fate, as far as we can tell.”

    “I think those are good examples,” Hermione replied. “How far would either country have come, had they not wasted so much money on weapons development? And in both countries, the ruling class lives extremely well.”

    “As long as they’re not being assassinated or executed,” Harry pointed out.

    “Quite.” Dumbledore nodded. “However, neither country might have had a choice - their neighbours might have exploited any weakness.”

    “I’m no expert on politics,” Hermione told him. “I focused on physics.”

    “A fortunate choice. However, given such a huge gap between our technology levels, what kind of weapons did your world develop?”

    Ron tensed. They had expected that question - Phoenix Gruppe was an arms producer, after all. At least Grindelwald wasn’t present.

    “Most of the advanced weapons weren’t revealed to the public, but kept secret,” Hermione said. “Presumably so the enemy wouldn’t be able to develop countermeasures or copy them. However, there were the civilian derivatives - primarily medical advancements - and there were rumours that simply couldn’t be quashed. I wasn’t privy to classified research in my field, but I know there was research on personal transporters and a sort of force field.”

    “Really? Teleportation, as seen in some science fiction series?” Dumbledore rubbed his beard, obviously interested. “Such devices would revolutionise warfare - and, of course, intelligence.”

    “They’d also revolutionise our lives,” Luna pointed out.

    “Something to be kept in mind when discussing trade.” The old man nodded as if he cared more about raising the standard of living than lining his pockets.

    “Hermione’s world might not be willing to part with their advanced technology,” Ron said. “If it becomes wide-spread in our world, the lower classes in Hermione’s world might demand it for themselves.”

    “If they haven’t done so already, I doubt they’ll start any time soon,” Dumbledore retorted. “Your world’s major societies seem remarkably stable, Dr Granger.”

    “From what we could tell, there were special units who dealt with incidents that might upset the population,” Hermione said. “I don’t think that the majority of such incidents ever made it into the media.”

    “That would require tight control over all media and news services.”

    She snorted. “The most popular newspaper in Britain answered to the government. And its biggest competition was a magazine widely regarded as satirical in nature, with a delusional editor-in-chief. And the less said about the wireless media, the better.”

    “And yet, you decided to fight for this society?” Dumbledore raised his eyebrows.

    “The alternative was far, far worse. No social mobility at all. A person’s worth entirely defined by their birth.”

    “And the best and brightest of the lower classes eliminated instead of elevated.” Dumbledore nodded. “Such a policy tends to lead to large-scale violence as revolutionary sentiments grow.”

    “Yes,” Hermione replied. “I would assume that would happen.”

    Ron suppressed a wince. They had covered the possible questions, and what to reveal, but this was entering an area they hadn’t - couldn’t have - covered in depth. Alternate history, of sorts, for a fictional universe.

    “Provided, of course, advanced technology cannot be used to stop such developments,” the old man went on. “But even so, without an enemy threatening to destroy you, I don’t think your society can be maintained indefinitely.”

    “Reforms can be achieved peacefully, though, as this world’s history shows,” Hermione said. “Even if that didn’t happen in my world’s USSR and China.”

    “But our circumstances were different.”

    “Yet people are people, always yearning for freedom. You cannot suppress everyone forever - sooner or later, any system will be broken!” Luna chimed in.

    “You’ll find, my dear, that the devil is, as always, in the details - or, in this case, in the definition of ‘sooner’ and ‘later’,” Dumbledore told her. “But I think we’ve monopolised the discussion for too long.”

    “Oh, don’t stop on our account,” Sirius said. “It was fascinating.”

    Dumbledore’s smile didn’t slip at all, despite Sirius’s obvious sarcasm. “If you insist.” He turned to Hermione again. “Were there any smaller wars, such as the invasion of the Falklands? Or low-level conflicts like the Troubles?”

    “You mean like a war that wouldn’t have happened at all at all if there hadn’t been a complete intelligence failure with regards to the Argies’ preparations?”

    Sirius glared at the old man, but Ron didn’t really pay attention. Hermione seemed distracted. Which usually meant she was focused on her past.

    *****​

    “Run! Run!”

    As she turned the corner, moments before a crossbow bolt hit it, exploding as if it were a grenade - enchanted bolts? In goblin hands? - she tried to apparate. It didn’t work, of course - as she knew it wouldn’t. But old reflexes were hard to change.

    In front of her, Harry turned, wand raised. A moment later, his spell blew up the tunnel behind her, shards of stone pelting her Shield Charm.

    “This way!” Ron yelled, waving at her from a side tunnel.

    It wasn’t on the map they had acquired - but the map had been wrong, anyway. Faulty information. And they had no choice. If they stuck to the bigger tunnels, the goblins would run them down.

    She followed Ron, Harry bringing up the rear. They were on… well, the vault level. And the goblins would be blockading the stairs. That left the air shafts - if they could find one. Provided they did actually exist, of course - other than Sally Selwyn’s report, no document mentioned air shafts in Gringotts.

    They had to exist, though - goblins wouldn’t want to depend solely on Air-Refreshing Charms. Not when they didn’t have wands.

    They had to exist.

    She glanced at the bag Harry was carrying. They couldn’t die at the hands of the goblin guards. Not when they had found another Horcrux.

    Not when they were closer than ever to finally defeating Voldemort.

    “Bloody hell!”

    That was Ron! She pushed on, turning the corner - and stopped next to Ron.

    And stared at the huge dragon in front of them. Even chained as it was, they couldn’t get past the beast. And the goblins were coming. This was… this was...

    “Bloody hell.” Harry had reached them.

    “We need to go back,” she told him.

    “The goblins are too close,” he replied, looking around. “No time. Get your brooms. And then destroy those chains!”

    *****​
     
    Beyogi, inky, Prince Charon and 3 others like this.
  12. Threadmarks: Chapter 15: The Albanian Connection
    Starfox5

    Starfox5 Versed in the lewd.

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    Chapter 15: The Albanian Connection

    Black Lake, Scotland, Britain, July 28th, 2005

    Hermione shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said, standing up. “That brought up memories of my own little war. I think I’ll retire for the evening.”

    “Oh, dear me, I wasn’t thinking!” Dumbledore looked appalled at his thoughtlessness. “Please accept my apology for bringing up bad memories.”

    “Apology accepted.”

    Ron didn’t know which of them was lying more right now. But he knew what he had to do. He stood, nodding at the others, then followed Hermione.

    The spymaster wasn’t the sort of man to make such a mistake. So his comment had to have been deliberate. But had he merely wanted to find out what would make Hermione crack or had this been an attempt at getting a specific reaction out of her? Probably both, given the man’s past.

    Hermione glanced over her shoulder at him as he caught up to her. “That was rather thoughtless of Mr Dumbledore,” he said, walking at her side.

    “Yes, indeed,” she replied. Her tone told him that she didn’t believe it had been a mistake, either. “Perhaps he was distracted by Mr Black and Ginny’s presence.”

    A punishment for bringing more people with them? No. Ron shook his head. “I don’t think so. He was probably simply lost in your tales.”

    She frowned at him, then shook her head in turn. “He isn’t getting any younger.”

    Ron shrugged. He didn’t think that this was an attempt by Dumbledore to pressure her into working faster. The old man would know such research couldn’t really be rushed. Although he would have to feel his age constantly - especially after hearing about the latest attack on Hermione. He sighed. He couldn’t get a handle on Dumbledore.

    Hermione flashed him a rueful smile. “He’s quite the enigma, isn’t he?”

    So she was none the wiser, either. Ron nodded as they entered the lift.

    *****​

    Black Lake, Scotland, Britain, July 29th, 2005

    Had Hermione had another nightmare? Ron couldn’t tell. She didn’t look well-rested as she prepared for their morning run, but none of them did. Even Ginny looked a little tired, but that was probably due to her sharing a room with Harry.

    Of course, if Ron’s dream had been real, he’d look even worse. And so would… he buried the thought. He couldn’t really compete with a magical Ron. A Ron who had practically grown up with her. But it didn’t seem that his subconscious understood that.

    She was pretty, but certainly not a supermodel. She was also fairly fit, though she didn’t have the curves of a lingerie model. And her hair was usually a mess, barely tamed by the double-strength scrunchies that kept it in a ponytail. She hardly wore makeup - and with Ginny now around, that was even more apparent.

    But she had something…

    He grit his teeth and focused on stretching and warming up, instead of on her doing the same.

    A few minutes later, they were running. So close to the building, there weren’t many different routes, so they had to assume the area was bugged, and thus couldn’t talk. But Ron didn’t mind the silence. Nor the cool morning air. Nor even Ginny pulling ahead again. Though he grinned when she had to backtrack because Harry decided to pick a new route. Teach her to try and do the work of professionals.

    A few minutes later, she, Harry and Ron were circling the other three again. It was quite the challenge, actually. Since they were inside the forest, the only paths were trails - and animals didn’t walk two or three abreast.

    About ten minutes in, Harry called for a break. Hermione had held up a little better, or so it seemed. Or perhaps she had pushed herself a little more with Ginny present. Without planning to, Ron found himself using the same tree as she did to stretch.

    She glanced at him, frowning slightly. “Am I doing it wrong again?”

    He had been staring! He shook his head. “No, no.” He nodded towards her backpack, which contained her beaded bag of holding. “I was just wondering if Dumbledore might suspect that we’re hiding weapons somehow, since we didn’t take any SMGs or rifles into our rooms.”

    She pursed her lips. “Didn’t we leave two rifles in the car?”

    “Yes, we did. But wouldn’t he have expected us to do that as a distraction?” Ron tilted his head as he changed positions and started to stretch his arms.

    “I think you might be overthinking this,” she replied.

    “Maybe.” He pressed his lips together for a moment. “But we can’t underestimate him.”

    “Our interests align,” she said. “He won’t do anything to sabotage my research, and he must have realised that harming my friends would negatively affect my work.”

    Friends. He liked hearing that. But… “He might prefer more control over you. Which he would achieve if you were isolated.”

    She scowled. “Then he doesn’t know me as well as he thinks he does.”

    She was right, of course - but that wouldn’t help anyone if Dumbledore were wrong.

    Ron really hated these spy mind games.

    *****​

    Ginny approached Ron at the second break. She was trying to be subtle about it, doing stretching exercises as she came closer, but, well... she hadn’t been trained in tailing people and spotting tails. So he made a point of looking at her right before she was about to speak and enjoyed seeing her pout.

    Only for a moment, of course, then she ploughed on and smiled at him, though she showed a bit too many teeth for it to be called sweet. “So… what’s between you and Hermione?”

    He managed to keep from spitting ‘none of your business’ at her. “It’s ‘Hermione’ now, is it?”

    She shrugged. “It would have been weird if I called her ‘Dr Granger’ while Luna called her ‘Hermione’.”

    So simple, he thought with some envy.

    “But don’t change the subject,” she went on, frowning at him once more. “What’s up with you and her?”

    “Nothing.” He glanced over his shoulder. Luna was talking to Hermione at the other end of the small clearing. So this had been planned.

    She actually rolled her eyes at his answer. “Sure. That’s why you follow her around like a puppy.”

    What? “I’m her bodyguard.”

    “So’s Harry, and he doesn’t do that.”

    He was about to tell her that they had split the tasks but sighed instead. For all the years since they had moved out from their parents’ home, she still knew him too well. “It’s complicated.”

    “Really?” She changed her stance and did some squats. Show-off. “Because she was in a relationship with your counterpart?”

    “She told you that?” he blurted out, then drew a sharp breath and checked over his shoulder again.

    “She didn’t have to. Just looking at her as she told us about her best friends was enough. Who, I’ll have you know, also included my counterpart.”

    He shook his head. That was so like Ginny - she’d always hated being left out of whatever her brothers did, no matter how young she had been. Well, so had Ron, actually. He shrugged. “As I said, it’s complicated.” He couldn’t compete with a better version of himself, could he?

    She scoffed. “She’s been here for seven years. If she hasn’t moved on, he surely will have.”

    “You don’t know him.”

    “I know you,” she replied with a smirk.

    “Hey!” He glared at her. “I’m not him.”

    “Well, close enough, from what I can tell.”

    What? He blinked.

    She sighed. “I asked Hermione about your counterpart. She told me about him.”

    “Me too. And we’re very different.”

    “Not really. You’re into sci-fi and fantasy, he’s a fan of a wizard sport. And he can do magic.”

    “Yes.” Huge differences.

    “So, practically the same.” She grinned.

    “Even if that were true” - and it wasn’t - “that doesn’t mean you’re right.”

    “So, you’re not attracted to her?”

    “She’s pining for her Ron.”

    “We’ll see about that.”

    She pushed off the tree before he could react, and then she was too far away for him to call out to her without Hermione overhearing everything.

    Damn. He had known letting Ginny come with them would cause trouble.

    *****​

    Two hours later, Ron was guarding Hermione. Or rather, watching her work at her desk. Unfortunately, he couldn’t keep staring at her. And she wasn’t even running any experiments at the moment - she was just doing calculations and taking notes. He could really use a good book right now. Or a portable DVD player and a few movies. Bodyguarding someone in an isolated, secure room was boring. Very boring.

    He sighed.

    “You don’t have to be here, you know.”

    He looked at her. “I actually have to. Regulations.”

    “What?”

    He chuckled to show he had been joking and saw her purse her lips, then smile. “Seriously, I’m safe here. You personally checked all possible avenues of entry, didn’t you?”

    She was quoting him. He shrugged. “You can never be sure. And it doesn’t really matter whether I’m waiting here or in my room.” He sighed again. “If only we hadn’t been attacked until after our visit to the bookshop.”

    She laughed at that. “I’d prefer it if we hadn’t been attacked at all. The news is going crazy.” She shook her head. “I think I’ve been kidnapped by every terrorist group in existence, according to the tabloids.”

    He nodded. At least they got the latest newspapers - although usually at noon. “The excitement should die down once news of us having gone to ground again spreads.”

    “No more kidnapping rumours would be nice. Not as nice as stopping whoever is behind this, though.”

    He shrugged. “Everyone’s working on that. Sooner or later, there should be results.”

    She didn’t look as if she expected anything.

    If Ron was honest, neither did he.

    *****​

    “The quality of the food alone would be sufficient reason to stay here,” Sirius announced as he finished the main course in the lounge of their quarters. “Say what you want about Mr Dumbledore, but he knows how to pick his cooks.”

    Harry snorted. “Says the man who could live on takeaway food for months. Did so, in fact.”

    “And that’s exactly why I can appreciate a good meal,” the older man shot back. “Or an excellent meal, like this one.” He raised his fork, with which he had speared the last piece of his veal cordon bleu.

    Ron slightly shook his head at Sirius’s antics. At least, Ginny and, of course, Luna, seemed amused. And, as he saw with a glance, even Hermione was smiling. Although that would change as soon as Sirius mentioned his plans for flying tanks. Plural.

    Ron still couldn’t tell how serious Sirius actually was - Harry’s godfather joked a lot about practically everything. Well, it wasn’t important right now. There were more interesting things to ponder.

    Such as the question of why Hermione had changed into a dress for dinner, even though they were just eating in their quarters. Usually, she’d simply drop off her lab coat before joining them. Today, though, she had spent an hour with Ginny and Luna in her room. Had his sister persuaded her to dress up? And how? Ginny was stubborn, but Hermione had her beat in that area. Perhaps Luna and Ginny had teamed up on her…

    His musings were interrupted when the door opened, and two staff members entered with dessert - followed by Dumbledore.

    “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Would you mind me joining you for dessert?” He raised a slim folder. “I bring important news.”

    “Not at all, please have a seat,” Harry said.

    Ron nodded. Important news? That sounded intriguing, especially coming from the old man. Not to mention that telling your host that you did mind would have been rude and stupid, anyway.

    “Important news?” Luna beamed at Dumbledore. Of course she would, what with getting dessert and possibly secret information at the same time.

    “Indeed. MI5 has identified most of the men you killed in the line of duty,” Dumbledore announced as he opened the folder and spread files out on the table while dessert was being served.

    Ron ignored the slight sting he felt at hearing that MI5 had done this, not CI5. Besides, the documents looked like MI5 files, which Dumbledore couldn’t have gotten legally. He skimmed them. “Quite the variety,” he commented. “Americans, Russians, French, a German…”

    “Oh, yes.” Dumbledore smiled. “Someone took care to muddy the waters, so to speak. The police would have some difficulty pinpointing the origin of this operation.” He shook his head. “However, they didn’t anticipate my own resources.”

    Ron wondered, privately, if Dumbledore was talking about his employees - or about MI6. Out loud, he asked: “What did you find out?”

    “We’ve identified one of the men killed in the most recent attack as Avni Berisha - the younger cousin of Burim Berisha, who controls most of the drug and other contraband routes through Kosovo.” Dumbledore looked at Hermione and handed her a picture.

    She shook her head, answering his unspoken question. “I’ve never seen or heard of that person.”

    “Why would a drug lord want to kidnap Hermione?” Ron asked. Of course, her beaded bag of holding would make smuggling easy - but it wasn’t worth angering the United Kingdom over. The SAS might not, any more, pull off the kind of operations they did during the Troubles - if you trusted certain rumours - but murdering police officers and trying to turn London into a war zone could very well merit the kind of visit that rendered both extradition treaties and trials obsolete.

    “I don’t think that he is behind this,” Dumbledore replied as he started on a bowl of chocolate pudding, “although I could be mistaken. However, I think it’s more likely that someone used him to hire deniable assets.”

    “Mercenaries,” Harry said. “Thugs.”

    “Scum,” Sirius added with a sneer.

    “I wouldn’t argue that those particular men were upstanding representatives of their craft,” Dumbledore told them with his usual smile. “But in my opinion, the key question isn’t the hired help’s moral fibre or lack thereof, but whether or not Berisha was aware that his cousin was deemed expendable. Blood feuds have been started for less.”

    “You think that he’ll sell out his contact,” Ron said.

    The old man inclined his head. “I think that isn’t too far-fetched. Alternatively - if he wasn’t involved in the hiring - he might provide us with information that will lead us to Dr Granger’s mysterious enemy.”

    “You want us to find out,” Harry stated.

    “Actually, since blood feuds are a local tradition in the area, I don’t think the same people who actually killed his cousin should meet with Berisha,” Dumbledore replied. “Although in light of the truth behind Dr Granger’s work, I cannot trust my usual assets to stay loyal if given such a mission.”

    So he was afraid that an ex-spy might suddenly decide to inform their old employer, instead of a private businessman. And that those in his employ without any loyalty to a country might sell out to the highest bidder.

    “You have proved to be quite adept at disguising yourself, though,” Dumbledore went on.

    “And we already know the truth about Hermione’s research,” Ron pointed out. “Unlike most of your employees and assets.”

    “Quite,” Dumbledore confirmed with a thin smile. “Even the fact that we’re involved in Dr Granger’s affairs is being kept secret from everyone, save for a select few of my men.”

    The Phoenix Gruppe’s spies and other ‘assets’ would draw their own conclusions from that information, Ron knew. And some might reevaluate their loyalties.

    “So you need us to get the information so it’s kept as compartmentalised as possible,” Harry said. He looked at Ron. “I think we should do it.”

    And they would finally be able to do something about the attacks instead of waiting for the next attempt to kidnap Hermione. “Yes,” Ron agreed.

    Then Hermione spoke up: “I’m coming with you.”

    “No, you aren’t!” Ron blurted out. “This is police work,” he added, meeting her eyes as she glared at him.

    “No, it’s not,” she retorted. “It’s an intelligence-gathering mission. You’re not going to arrest anyone, and you won’t be concerned about evidence or rights.”

    “It’s an investigation,” he told her. “We’re talking to informants.”

    “Informants who will try to kill you if they recognise you.”

    “An undercover mission, then,” he replied.

    “You’re going after a drug lord in his home base. You need me.” She was still glaring at him.

    “It’s too dangerous for you.” She wasn’t a police officer or a secret agent.

    “The same could be said about you,” she shot back.

    “But I’m not the only one who can open a portal to another dimension,” he pointed out. Chasing criminals and following leads, though? That was something he could do. And he really needed to do something after being attacked so often.

    “So?” She raised her head, pushing her chin out, and huffed. “If it’s not safe enough for me, it’s not safe enough for you.” She shook her head. “You need me, just in case you get shot again, or your disguise fails.”

    His jaw clenched. He didn’t like the reminder of his close brush with death. He didn’t want to remember how he had felt, falling. Bleeding. Dying.

    Dumbledore finally stepped in. “Joining such a mission would also delay your research.”

    “A necessary sacrifice,” she told the old man. “And it’s not as if we’d be away for weeks. Not that my work wouldn’t be affected if I had to worry about them while they’re away. Given that I’ll need at least several more weeks to complete my research, even if everything goes perfectly, any delay would be of minimal consequence.”

    “Your presence might distract Mr Weasley and Mr Potter,” Dumbledore pointed out. He nodded at Ron. “Further, you and Mr Potter are professional investigators.”

    And Hermione wasn’t. Ron nodded.

    “I think we’ll be safer with her nearby,” Harry said.

    What? Ron glared at his friend. Safer? They would have to protect her! Without her wand, she was too vulnerable, and most of her experience on such missions would be useless. Hell, they might as well ask Dumbledore for… Ah. Of course. With Hermione present, Dumbledore wouldn’t double-cross them and arrange a leak or accident. And magic could literally save lives in a pinch. Not to mention the other options Hermione’s potions offered. Still… Ron pressed his lips together. “In that case, we’ll need help.”

    Hermione looked torn between anger and triumph at that. Before she could say anything, Sirius spoke up: “I’m coming with you as well, then.”

    “No, you aren’t,” Harry told him at once. “Someone has to stay with Ginny and Luna.”

    “We’re coming as well!” Luna said.

    “No.” Even Hermione was shaking her head.

    “If it’s safe enough for you, it’s safe enough for us!” Ginny insisted.

    “You’ll need a computer expert. Even drug lords are going digital these days!” Luna nodded several times.

    Ron glanced at Harry. He expected his friend to tell Ginny not to be an idiot, but Harry wasn’t saying anything. Did he really think Ginny would be safer with them than staying here?

    “The more numerous we are, the more likely someone is to see through our disguises,” Hermione said.

    “That’s nothing money can’t solve,” Sirius declared. “Besides, whoever you’re sending as support for us will have to deal with the same issues,” he told Dumbledore.

    “Undoubtedly. But, leaving aside my concerns about using them, my assets are not only trained for such missions but also used to working together,” Dumbledore replied.

    “And we’re not,” Ron agreed.

    “We’ve worked together before,” Hermione told him.

    “And if we aren’t present we can’t help you even though you might need our help,” Luna said.

    “I can protect the girls so you won’t have to worry about them,” Sirius added.

    Ron saw Hermione frown - probably at getting called a ‘girl’. But Sirius was correct - he could keep them safe. And Luna’s skills with computers could be useful as well. Ginny, though…

    “I’m not staying here by myself while everyone else goes off!” his sister declared as if she had read his thoughts.

    “I’m not joining them, either,” Dumbledore said with a smile. “Although I fear I’d be poor company for a young woman.”

    Did the old man want all of them to go on this trip? Even if it meant Hermione would take a break from her research? What was his angle? Was this just a ploy to make them trust him? A demonstration that he wouldn’t take them hostage?

    Ron didn’t know. But he knew that Ginny wouldn’t accept being left behind, no matter how much sense it made. That was Mum and Dad’s fault, for making Ron and his brothers include her all the time when she was a little girl.

    And he knew that Harry wouldn’t be able to make her stay behind either. If Ron’s friend even wanted to. Ginny might be safer with them, anyway. A medical emergency that required Hermione’s ‘limited resources’ to save Ginny would be an easy way to split them up, after all.

    Damn. Mum would kill him for this.

    *****​

    Black Lake, Scotland, Britain, July 31st, 2005

    As far as birthday parties went, this wasn’t the weirdest Ron had ever attended. That slightly dubious honour still belonged to Luna’s sixteenth birthday. Closely followed by her seventeenth and eighteenth.

    But it was certainly not one of the best, either. The food was excellent, as expected, the cake nearly as good as one of Mum’s, but the fact that tomorrow they’d be flying to the Balkans to meet a warlord threw a damper on the mood. As did the fact that, since the facility’s staff had set up this picnic, the location was probably bugged.

    At least Harry and Ginny had sorted things out between them - they were feeding each other the last slices of cake right now, the picture of a loving couple.

    He took another swallow from his beer. He wasn’t envious. Not really. He shook his head and watched Luna play with the RC helicopter. The thing was hovering above the lake, slowly descending. And Sirius was, apparently, giving her advice based upon his experiences in the army. Which, Ron knew, didn’t include piloting.

    “If she sinks it I’m not going to be the one to recover it,” Hermione commented, taking a seat next to him.

    “Oh?”

    “Did I ever tell you how my Ron and I spent an hour in the depths of that lake, waiting to be rescued?”

    “What?”

    “It was for a school tournament.”

    He blinked. “A school tournament?”

    “Yes. One that had been previously discontinued due to its dangers. Anyway, I was unconscious, but…” She shuddered. “I’d rather not dive down there if I can help it.”

    “Ah.” He almost reached over to pat her shoulder. Or thigh. “I can understand that.”

    “Are you still angry about us coming with you?” she asked after a moment.

    He sipped from his glass before answering. “No.”

    “Really?”

    “I’m not angry.”

    “But you would prefer it if we stayed here.”

    Of course he would. They didn’t have the training for this. Harry had taken Ginny to a shooting range a few times in the past, but that didn’t mean she was trained for combat. And Luna and Hermione barely knew more than how to safely handle a gun. “I wish we had a range here.”

    “A shooting range?”

    “Yes.”

    “For you or for us?” she asked.

    He glanced at her; she was staring at the ruins above the facility. “Both. More training never hurts.”

    “You never had an accident during training?” she asked with a teasing smile.

    “You know what I mean,” he protested. But he was grinning.

    She nodded. “I know. But we could spend weeks on the range and you’d still think it wouldn’t be enough.”

    “Of course it wouldn’t be enough!”

    She laughed, and, after a moment, he joined her.

    *****​

    Tirana International Airport, Albania, August 1st, 2005

    If Ron hadn’t already been aware of how far the influence of the Phoenix Gruppe reached, their arrival in Albania would have made him realise it. They had taken a private jet - rented under a cover name, as far as he was aware - from Scotland to the capital of Albania and seen no custom checks in either location. The plane had taxied straight into a hangar, where two SUVs and two shady-looking men were waiting. No, not SUVs. Proper all-terrain vehicles. Land Rover Defenders, old - or at least old-looking.

    He was first out of the plane, looking around before nodding to the men. And resisting the urge to scratch his face, which itched slightly due to his fake beard. “Good morning, gentlemen.”

    “Morning,” one of them - the one with a moustache - replied. He was wearing a heavier jacket than was appropriate for the temperature, and it was bulging slightly. Oversized handgun or small SMG in a shoulder holster, Ron guessed. The other wore a vest that reached the top of his thighs. No bulges under the shoulders, so probably a holster in the small of his back.

    Ron himself was wearing slacks and a polo shirt, with his pistol hidden in his backpack. He couldn’t spot anyone else inside the hangar, so it looked safe.

    “Oh, nice!” he heard Luna exclaim behind him. “Snatch Land Rovers!” Before he could say anything, she pushed past him, making a beeline for the closest vehicle. The two mercenaries looked surprised as well, and she slipped by them to crouch down in front of the car. “Nice! The upgraded ones! Although they won’t help against explosives, we should be safe from small arms.”

    “The vehicles received additional protections, Miss,” Mr Moustache told her. “They should be proof against heavier weapons as well.”

    “Really?” Luna frowned. “That wasn’t just the usual lie to get a government contract?” She shook her head. “Well, we’ll see. I hope we won’t, but we’ve been having a sort of streak lately, you know.” Without waiting for an answer that wouldn’t come anyway, she crawled under the car, pulling out a small Maglite.

    Ron clenched his teeth at the sight of Luna ruining her dress. He had told her that she didn’t have to prove herself useful, hadn’t he?

    “Ah, those bring back memories! Not good memories, mind you,” Sirius announced as he stepped out of the plane. “I still say we should have gone with a tourist disguise. We could have gotten luxury SUVs!”

    “You just wanted a replacement car,” Harry commented as he joined them. “Good morning.”

    “Not just a replacement car but two!” Sirius retorted with a grin. “So, you’re our guides?” he addressed the mercenaries.

    “Yes,” Moustache said. “I’m Bajram, and he’s Ad.”

    Local names, Ron noted. “Have you been told about our mission?”

    “You want to meet with Burim Berisha,” Bajram replied.

    “And we want to leave again,” Luna added as she reappeared behind the car. Her dress was covered in dirt, as Ron had expected. “This car looks clean. I’ll do the other one now,” she told them, then headed over to the second Land Rover.

    “Ah, finally fresh air!”

    Ron glanced over his shoulder and saw that Ginny and Hermione, both wearing black wigs and colourful dresses like Luna, had left the jet. His sister was stretching - for show, Ron assumed; the jet’s accommodations had been comfortable for him, and Ginny was quite a bit smaller than Ron.

    Hermione refrained from such a display and looked around as she descended the short set of mobile stairs, one hand in her beaded bag of holding. Ready for trouble.

    He pressed his lips together. He still didn’t like bringing the rest of their group with them, but at least Hermione had some idea how to behave in dangerous areas.

    “So… four in each car. We’ll have to split up,” Sirius said. “For the trip to the safe house,” he added.

    Where they’d split up further, of course. And would finally be able - outside, at least - to talk freely. Harry, Ginny and Sirius took the first car with Bajram while Ron, Luna and Hermione followed Ad to the second.

    The car looked newer inside - probably the result of the uparmouring done to the chassis. Ron wondered briefly if Phoenix Gruppe had used their car parts manufacturing subsidiaries for this, then shook his head. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was being able to do this mission safely, and having a pair of armoured Land Rovers went a long way towards achieving that.

    Or would, if Kosovo weren’t riddled with heavier weapons left over from the war against Serbia. Perhaps Sirius had been correct in wanting a tank.

    *****​

    South of Prizren, Kosovo, August 1st, 2005

    They reached the safe house that Dumbledore’s men had prepared in the southern mountains of Kosovo as the sun was setting. It didn’t look like much from the outside - just another small stone building in the mountains. Barely above a converted stone barn, if that.

    But it had an actual barn that hid the Land Rovers, and it was set up in a good defensive position, as Sirius explained as they were getting out of the cars. “Give me a tank, and I’ll block the entire valley from here!” he exclaimed.

    “Until someone blows you up,” Harry retorted. “I’m starting to wonder about your apparent fixation on tanks.”

    “You’re only just starting to wonder?” Hermione said, shaking her head. “It seems like an obsession.”

    Sirius scoffed. “I’m merely practical. A few years ago, a war was fought here. Trust me, the locals will have hidden a lot of weapons in these mountains. Right under NATO’s nose. And Berisha will have had his pick of the hardware.”

    “Whatever tank we could get wouldn’t stand up to a modern RPG anyway,” Ron pointed out as he peered through a gap in the door and studied the area.

    “I’m certain that our friends could get us a main battle tank,” Sirius shot back.

    “And a tanker to keep it fueled?” Harry snorted.

    “It looks safe,” Ron announced.

    “It is safe,” Bajram said. “We know our business.”

    “Trust, but verify,” Ron told the other man with a nod. They certainly had known how to pass a supposedly monitored border without getting stopped, much less searched. Well, that happened when the military was ordered to do police work. “But I don’t like walking to the door in the open.” If there was a sniper, like the one in London...

    Ad chuckled. “We’re too far from any good sniping spots.”

    “That depends on the sniper,” Ron told him. “And the gun.”

    The other man shrugged. “If someone tracked you to this spot, it’s your fault. No one followed us.”

    “Let’s go, then,” Ron said, stepping out of the barn and heading towards the door of the house. He tensed, but no one shot him. Or at him.

    Harry still kept the rest back until Bajram had opened the door, then everyone hustled over.

    The building looked much nicer inside than outside - and bigger, too; Ron could see a hallway leading straight into the mountain slope on which the house had been built. Not a converted barn, but a converted bunker, perhaps. Or an observation post - it did command the valley, after all.

    But whatever it had been, someone had spent quite a large sum to make it liveable by furnishing it. Nothing luxurious, but the furniture was sturdy and well-designed.

    Half an hour later, they had settled into the four rooms at the back of the building and then gathered at the dining table to eat dinner - Harry had thrown together a quick meal of pasta and tomato sauce. Nothing fancy, but certainly better than an MRE.

    “So, when’s Berisha expecting us?” Harry asked.

    “Tomorrow evening,” Bajram replied. “In his home. His clan controls the entire village, so don’t try anything.”

    “We’re just here to talk to him,” Ron told him. “We need some information.” And if Berisha were smart, there wouldn’t be any trouble.

    “No one here like snitches,” Bajram said.

    “It’s not about anyone local,” Harry explained. “It shouldn’t be a problem.”

    Ad snorted, which wasn’t a good sign in Ron’s opinion - the man hadn’t said much at all during the hours long drive up here, but when he had, it had usually been a cynical comment or a joke even Ali G might have found a little too distasteful.

    They would have to scout out the place, from afar. And be ready for anything.

    *****​

    Going for a walk at night felt safer. It wasn’t actually safer - quite the contrary. Anyone who might have managed to find them out here would have night vision gear. But if anyone had found them, they would have attacked already, and the cool air at night made a stroll too tempting to pass up after sitting in an un-air-conditioned car for hours during the day.

    Somewhat unfortunately, Hermione shared his thoughts on the matter and had opted to take a stroll herself - which meant he had been obligated to escort her. Which, in turn, made the stroll far less relaxing than it could have been. More interesting, though, since they could talk without being overheard by Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s minions. Or by the rest of their group, who had chosen to stay behind. That he had to use a flashlight to see the path was a drawback, though - but it was only a few days until the new moon.

    “I should come with you when you go visit Berisha,” she told him.

    “That’s too dangerous,” he retorted. And there was the fact that according to all he had heard, Berisha wasn’t exactly a progressive man with regards to women. Quite the opposite, actually.

    “Hospitality is held in high esteem here,” she replied.

    He scoffed. “Such rules are quickly discarded when it suits people.” You could always find an excuse or pretext to blame the other side for breaking hospitality.

    “That’s quite a cynical view,” she said. “Such systems wouldn’t have endured if people hadn’t respected them sufficiently.”

    He shrugged and walked a little farther along the worn path. “I wouldn’t bet your life on that.”

    “Yet you’d bet your own?”

    He turned to face her when he noticed she had stopped walking. “I don’t think he’ll attack us. Not when he can profit from selling us intel. And I don’t doubt that he’s aware who’s backing us.” One of the biggest arms companies in Europe.

    “Ah.” She cocked her head. “Do you think Dumbledore would leak news of his involvement?”

    “I think his men are a little more obvious than he wants us to think,” Ron replied. “At least to their family.” And Ron would bet that Berisha was distantly related to either Bajram or Ad.

    “Do you think Dumbledore is aware of that?”

    He shrugged. Who could figure out that old spymaster?

    She chuckled. “This feels familiar. His counterpart was the same. Just a little less obviously manipulative.”

    “He was probably better at it,” Ron speculated. “He had more experience, didn’t he?”

    “Yes.” She turned her head for a moment. “Voldemort hid in this region for over a decade, or so we believe. I wonder if that’s related. Though this world’s Tom Riddle is dead.”

    And he had just reminded her of her traumatic past. He ground his teeth in frustration. “Anyway, you can do more to help us, if things do go wrong, if you’re not in the middle of it.”

    “I can’t exactly shoot you with my potions. And my Peruvian Darkness Powder needs to be dropped nearby as well.”

    “You could give it to us. I’m certain that I can manage to drop it,” he said with a grin.

    “But you don’t know what its limits are.”

    “It cloaks the area in magical darkness for a few minutes.” That wasn’t exactly rocket science. “And you can’t heal us if you get shot.”

    “I need to be close enough for that,” she pointed out.

    He didn’t want her there. Not even near Berisha’s village. And he was pretty sure that she was aware of that. And that she didn’t care for it in the slightest.

    Without shining his flashlight at her, possibly blinding her, he couldn’t see her face. He could barely see her limbs in the flashlight’s dimmed glow - it wouldn’t do to announce their presence, after all. But he knew that she would be frowning at him, chin pushed forward, in that stubborn manner of hers.

    He smiled against his will. “Let’s go back.”

    “Yes.”

    *****​

    East of Prizren, Kosovo, August 2nd, 2005

    The village had seen better days, Ron thought as they entered it. A number of houses still sported battle damage - probably from the war, but Berisha might have come under attack from some of his enemies in recent years as well. But overall, the village looked like any other village in the mountains.

    Which meant most men would be armed and suspicious of strangers. Ad was driving, with Bajram riding shotgun - literally - and Ron and Harry were on the backbench. Even with his pistol and half a dozen spare magazines, Ron felt undergunned.

    They stopped in front of a gate in a wall that looked like it had been built by stacking rocks upon each other without mortar, and Ad switched the engine off. “We’ve arrived,” he said as if they didn’t know.

    “Remember: Don’t insult him. He won’t, can’t, stand disrespect,” Bajram told them.

    “We’ve dealt with his type before,” Harry replied. It wasn’t quite true - they had dealt with gangsters, but not with what amounted to a small-time warlord with a fief of his own. But deep down, crims were crims.

    Ron stepped out of the car and rolled his neck as a guard approached, a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder, and started to talk in Albanian with Bajram.

    Some magical way to speak, or at least understand, a foreign language would be very useful right now, Ron thought, but Hermione hadn’t had anything like that on her. Hadn’t mentioned anything that could do that, either.

    After about a minute, Bajram turned towards Ron and Harry. “Berisha has agreed to see you, Mr Smith.”

    “I thought that had been arranged beforehand,” Harry muttered next to Ron.

    “Might have changed his mind,” Ron replied. Or it was just a demonstration of power, as petty as it appeared. Loudly, he said: “Good.”

    “You’ll have to surrender your weapons,” Bajram went on.

    “They stay in the car,” Ron replied before he carefully took off his shoulder holster and dropped it on the backbench, followed by Harry. They dropped their knives as well. Not that Berisha’s men couldn’t steal them from the car if they wanted to, but Ron wasn’t about to hand his weapons over to them.

    While Ad waited next to the car, the rest of them were led through the gate, then frisked in the garden. Berisha obviously wasn’t taking any chances. And he might even be prepared for suicide bombers, as unlikely as such a threat might seem. Of course, the guards didn’t find anything, nor did they notice the fake beards Harry and Ron were wearing, nor the dyed hair - but their necklaces drew some amusement from them.

    “What are they saying?” Harry asked.

    Bajram hesitated a moment, then replied: “They are making comparisons between the necklace and your size.”

    Ron ran a finger over the inch-long assault rifle dangling from his necklace and chuckled, which seemed to confuse the guards.

    Not for long, though. They made some more comments in Albanian, then one yelled towards the house. Ron didn’t understand what he said, but he saw Bajram tense.

    “They called for Berisha,” their guide whispered. “But he doesn’t meet with people in the yard.”

    Oh. Their contact deviating from standard procedure wasn’t a good sign. But then the door opened, and three more guards armed with assault rifles stepped out and took up positions next to it before a man in his thirties appeared. Berisha - he hadn’t changed much from the pictures taken during the war.

    Unlike his guards, he wore a suit. An expensive one, too, as far as Ron could tell.

    He nodded at them with a smug expression. “Mr Potter. Mr Weasley. Welcome to my humble home.”

    Shit.

    *****​

    She hated waiting while her friends were risking their lives. Almost as much as she hated being helpless. She wasn’t, of course. But she wasn’t as good at Defence as her friends. Never had been. She wasn’t weak - she was quite good, actually. Compared to most others. But Harry was exceptional at Defence, and Ron wasn’t far behind their friend. And if this meeting turned out to be a trap, the two of them would be able to survive where she might not. And she wasn’t useless - she was the reserve. She was the ace up their sleeve.

    She still hated waiting, though. And worrying. Especially with her friends out in the open while she was protected by Harry’s Cloak of Invisibility. The meeting had been arranged through the Order. It should be safe. But they knew that nothing and no one was safe in this war - they had proved it themselves, several times, by unexpectedly striking at the enemy. And the Death Eaters had far fewer scruples.

    But Diggle had been an Order member in the first war - he was experienced. Dumbledore had trusted his cell to protect Harry and his relatives. If he needed to meet them, it had to be important.

    But where was Diggle?

    As if he had heard her thoughts, the man appeared. And as soon as she saw him, she knew things had gone wrong. He was hurt. His robes were singed. And he looked confused.

    Harry stunned him at once, then dropped a Portkey on him. A moment later, Diggle, Harry and Ron vanished.

    Hermione, still watching from a distance, activated her own Portkey, dreading what they would learn.

    After all, Diggle’s cell had been tasked with protecting the families of various muggleborns.

    *****​
     
  13. Beyogi

    Beyogi I trust you know where the happy button is?

    Joined:
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    Well shit indeed. Let's hope this guy wasn't behind the hits. Because holy fuck Dumbledore that's a screwup. Unless of course this is a means to improve his negotiation position.
     
    Starfox5 and Prince Charon like this.
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