rurounihime: (loki)
Okay, so this fic is Getting Finished. I'm so done with this constant waffling, letting the writer's block win. Just so everyone is aware, there is a massive edit going on in preparation to transfer this story over to AO3 in the near future. I am 20 chapters into that. I would love to have the entire thing done by the time I head to Leviosa Con in July (anyone else going to be there? ^_^ ) but that's too optimistic. I'm predicting anywhere from 5 to 7 more chapters, depending on how each one pans out. A rather momentous shift occured recently in regards to one of the characters, which I will talk more about when I get to it, but it could add a little more meat to the story, so, there we are.

Title: The Road (31/?)
Author: rurounihime
Rating: hard R when all is said and done.
Pairing: H/D
Summary: In the midst of a disintegrating war, Harry awaits the arrival of the Order's last hope.
Warning: violence, character death, spoilers for all seven books. This fic is now AU because of Deathly Hallows. At the risk of much silliness, I have discovered that there are apparently DH spoilers in this story from the beginning.
Disclaimer: The HP characters and most of the spellwork do not belong to me.

Previous chapters



Chapter 31: Strategists and Sirens


The reclaiming of the Ministry may have been fought by the Slingers and held by the Snuffs, but it was won by the Ghosts.

~

Ginny stood behind the table where the inner circle sat in the banquet hall. She could see the twins by the doors, a small contingent of Krum’s army near the massive hearth, and Su and Morag at the far end of the table. Others had fit themselves in, lining up along the walls once seats became unavailable. All adults; the youngest of the castle’s denizens had gone into the kitchens to be distracted by the elves.

For all the people crammed into the space, it was breathtakingly quiet. Even Luna’s song hung discordantly. Ginny could now feel the strained quality of it, and the thin spaces.

Too many people under one cloak.

McGonagall’s voice, bolstered by Sonorus, rang throughout the castle. “Thanks to your combined information, we have determined that Voldemort’s army is currently making their way down from the Highlands toward the Scottish border. They are not using magic to travel, doubtless to keep us from pinpointing their exact location, but Ms Lovegood tells me that they will be here in days. She also assures me that they have as yet no knowledge of the true force they face.”

“Why not just let them go past?” Fred said, raising his hand and then lowering it again. The charms Shacklebolt had laid over the room amplified his voice as well so all could hear. “Come at them from behind?”

“That may have been possible a week ago, but the now magic contained in this castle has become too turbulent. They cannot see us from where they are, but they have powerful individuals among their ranks. Were they to get close enough, they would sense that something prominent is being shielded and they would investigate.”

“Why not lead them off?” George this time. “Send a few people out—”

“—people they want—” Fred.

“—to use their magic openly, draw them away?”

McGonagall gestured to the rest of the council: Shacklebolt, Moody, Harry, Hermione, Draco, Oliver, Lupin, Pomfrey, Su, and Morag. Technically, Ginny should have been among them. “That has been considered carefully and determined to be unwise. After so long with no sign of anyone, the Death Eaters would suspect either a trap or a lure. Either way, the risk of them finding the castle is too great. We must meet them on our own terms, before they have the opportunity to pinpoint any anomalies in the area. We will never get a better chance to surprise them.”

A Patronus Ginny didn’t recognise swept in through the open doors and raced up to McGonagall’s feet. It was a sparkling fish, a salmon of some kind. “Why is the magic here so out of control?” it asked. “I know there are more of us, but that means more knowledge, more experience. Can’t we just shield ourselves further?”

“As some of you already know,” McGonagall said after a brief pause to allow the question to settle, “our battle plan hinges on a very old, very powerful set of spells. The ward protecting this castle is one such spell. But another incantation, one that has been building for some time, is about to reach its peak. It is the continuing evolution of this spell that is causing most of the upheaval. The stronger it grows, the more Ms Lovegood’s ward will fluctuate.”

Muttering. Ginny didn’t need charms to know what they were saying. Perhaps if she’d not known about these plans for months herself, she would have felt more sympathy, but she was long past that now, and growing more and more irritated at the delay.

Sure enough: “You’ve led us into this castle without telling us that we were still in danger here?” someone called from outside in the atrium. Another person shouted from further back, but McGonagall spoke over them both.

“You were in danger anywhere. Let’s not mince words. Look around you: there are no more cities, no more warded spaces. The magic that we do use calls the Death Eaters down upon us.” She swept a hand out, taking in the room and beyond. “This, these people standing next to you, are all that’s left of our society. Those still outside have little power and no incentive to use it to help you. The only thing they want now is to stay alive. That is their choice, and their right.”

She looked around the room, and Ginny had the unnerving thought that she could see everyone, even those on the upper levels. “This castle is the last safe haven, thanks to the very same texts that gave us this magic, and even greater thanks to Luna Lovegood. She could not have called you here if you did not feel somewhere inside that you could, and would, fight! And do not mistake me, without Ms Lovegood’s protection or the strength of this other maturing spell, there is no guaranteeing what would have become of any of you.”

An uneasy hush descended. Luna’s song turned soothing, an apology and a reminder all at once.

McGonagall continued. “Now. Since you have come to us, you have the right to know that the rumors, if you have heard them, are true. An ancient binding magic is at work in this castle, with the ultimate goal of Voldemort’s destruction at its heart. When this magic climaxes, as it soon will, the battle that will decide our fates will begin. The bonding spell may well put us in danger, but if we work together, it will also ensure our victory.”

More muttering, less than convinced. Ginny craned to see Harry’s reaction, but there was no support to be had from him. He looked like he hadn’t slept in days, and he stared across the table at Draco, who didn’t return his gaze. The grief in Harry’s eyes was bottomless. Hermione, where she sat at Shacklebolt’s right, just looked sick.

Ginny’s nerves burned, thumping higher with each heartbeat. These were their leaders, and in the middle of their war council, in front of an army whose nerves were already as skittish as Doxies, they were letting themselves crumble.

“This bond will allow two individuals to pool their magic into a force more powerful than anything Voldemort has yet used against us. Its mere existence will draw the Dark Lord to us and it will prove his weakness: as he seeks to destroy it, the bonded pair will instead destroy him. It is a dangerous undertaking; the magic itself is untested, but the results, as you no doubt have felt, are most potent.”

“Who is to bear this mantle?” Krum asked. He at least sounded game, ready to consider whatever tools were available. Neville, who was stood beside him, immediately turned to look for Seamus, confusion on his face. No doubt he was wondering how they would do it with Blaise gone and the bond broken. He obviously had no idea about Harry.

Seamus, in the shadows behind the door, didn’t move.

“The bond itself will determine who it works upon,” McGonagall lied, so smoothly that Ginny’s lip curled. What Voldemort didn’t know gave them the upper hand, and no one in the inner circle would allow such a crucial detail to fly free until it was too late to turn back. But there were aspects Voldemort already knew, too. McGonagall nodded to Harry, offering a reserved smile. “Harry Potter has selflessly offered himself as the bond’s core half.”

Shocked silence.

“What will it do to him?”

“We should get a say in who is bonded,” called a voice, and another piped up just behind.

“Yeah, I don’t want just anyone being the only thing between me and the Dark Lord.”

“You can’t ask Harry to do that!” someone yelled. “He’s done enough!

“You can’t ask anyone to do that!”

Shouting erupted. Shacklebolt and Moody tried to quell it, but now the dissent was coming from all over the castle, Patronuses arriving, the agitation ballooning in volume. McGonagall rapped her wand against the wall, a series of augmented bangs, but no one paid attention.

It was Hermione who stifled the tumult.

“Do you honestly think,” she yelled, casting her own Sonorus, “if there were any other way, any other way, that we would resort to this? That we would allow this to be done to two of our own?”

The dissension quieted.

“Is anyone prepared to offer up anything else? A better option?”

Again, no one answered. Hermione took a deep breath.

“Harry is my best, my oldest friend. Every day I think about what he has offered to do, and I feel sick to my bones. I know that I can’t use him like this, that I have no business asking this of him. But I say this with all of that in mind: this bond is the last option. The absolute last. The Dark Lord’s reach has grown too wide. We need something that can counter it, and we are out of alternatives. At this point, we attack, or we lie down and get overrun.” She shook her head, rubbing a hand over her mouth. “Maybe if it had been gradual, if we’d not noticed and our lives had gone on just the same, like the Mongols, positioning themselves over the wizards and Muggles they conquered… I don’t know. But not when we’ve already fought so hard. Lost our homes. Given so much. We are this close to the end, I feel it, and now we have the arsenal we need. I refuse to lie down and let him win. I have to fight.”

“That’s you,” someone grumbled, “you can’t ask us to die.”

And that was quite enough, as far as Ginny was concerned.

“Where the hell do you plan to go?” she shouted. She aimed Sonorus at her own throat. “Where do any of you plan to go? Out there?” She threw a hand toward the front doors. “I’ve been out there, and I promise you, they’ll catch up with you. They might even take you back to meet Voldemort before you die. Are you planning to beg him for forgiveness when he wins?”

Moody looked like he might kill her, but Remus’ hand clamped onto his arm. There was a new quality to the silence now, a dread that Ginny could feel like fingers over her skin. It did nothing to perforate the contempt she felt. She turned around, taking in all the faces she could see.

“You think he’ll spare you?” A sneer had crept into the words and she didn’t care. “He’ll kill you. My family’s pureblood and he’s all but annihilated us, what do you think is going to happen to anyone who even once stood against him? Or stood neutral?” She snorted, disgusted, and shook her head. “He’s not looking to conquer anymore, he’s looking to wipe us out. If you’re a threat, you’re a target, and if you leave, you’re a target all alone.”

She could have heard a feather drop. Harry was looking at her at last, as were Draco and Hermione, the brothers she had left, and her old instructors. A great and loving warmth infused her limbs, and she realized with a flicker of astonishment that it was Luna’s doing.

Out of habit, she looked for Seamus.

He was unmoved. For the first time, she noticed the arc of empty space around him, as though no one could bear to get too close. He watched everything with the same stony stare, including her. Ginny faltered.

Hermione picked up the thread. “If you stay here, you’re not alone. We’re strong together. If we fight together, we’ll end this for good.”

There was another lengthy pause.

“Please think carefully on it, for the next day,” McGonagall finally said. “By this time tomorrow evening, if you wish to leave, you’re free to go. Ms Lovegood cannot hold you here. But if instead you will stand at our side, fight for your land and your freedom, then help us now to formulate the best plan of attack possible, using all the gifts at our disposal.”

She raised her hands. “Those who are still considering their options, this meeting is concluded. For those of you who have decided to stay, we must discuss the assignment of roles. Ms Lovegood intends to extend her protection away from the castle over all of us during the battle. To do this, we will require four people to assist with the transference of the Siren’s Ward to give us more control. Those of you who have already volunteered to bolster the transfer, please step forward.”

Fleur Delacoeur stood up. Hestia Jones joined her, and Rose Zeller, a woman Ginny remembered vaguely from school. Finally, a young man detached himself from Krum’s contingent and was greeted by McGonagall as Danail Radkov. The four of them looked at each other, taking their measure.

“Good. You will go now with Bathsheba Babbling into Ms Lovegood’s chamber to learn the transference spells. Your part begins tonight.”

Please send Oliver as well, Luna said. I’ve something special planned.

She was the only one who still sounded lofty, as though she knew the outcome of everything already and couldn’t understand why such gravity was warranted.

“The rest of you, please respond by Patronus if you can fill the following positions. Slingers?”

Silvery animals began to filter into the room, carrying message after message from all over the castle. Pomfrey and Remus listened as the volunteers made their wishes known, and sent back the instruction to meet Moody and Shacklebolt in the dungeons without delay. Fred and George went with them, George throwing Ginny a salute as he left the room.

“Now the Snuffs,” McGonagall said next. “Anyone with particular talent guiding or repelling fire magic.”

More Patronuses. This time, Remus departed for the empty hall on the first floor.

“Concealment and disillusionment, with Morag MacDougall in the east wing. You will be our Shrouds, and you will work together with Su Li, in charge of the Hooks.”

Assignment after assignment was given, and the hall slowly cleared. Soon, Ginny could see Seamus without having to strain. He still made no sign that he was listening to any of this. Harry had gone back to pleading silently with Draco. Hermione took the best sigil writers and headed upstairs toward the makeshift library.

When the last rush petered out, McGonagall terminated the Sonorus. Her Muffliato was discreet and directed toward the open doorway. “The final role that must be filled today is that of the Ghosts.”

She waited, but when no one in the room came forward, she cleared her throat. “Voldemort will be looking to find Harry Potter and the one bonded with Harry, whom he believes at this time to be Ginevra Weasley. We will require at least two Ghosts to act in their stead in the field, to draw the Death Eaters’ eyes until such a time as the real Harry can get close enough to dispense with their leader.”

So that was why she’d kept this one for last, Ginny thought. She wanted a pair from the inner circle.

“I will.”

Ginny blinked as Seamus pushed off the wall, more energy in him than she had witnessed since Blaise’s death. McGonagall too looked startled, and Pomfrey made an aborted twitch towards him.

“You will stand for Harry?” McGonagall clarified carefully.

“Yes,” in the same monotone. It was as though Seamus wasn’t the one in his own body, someone else speaking out of his mouth.

“Good,” McGonagall said, after a beat. “Thank you, Mr Finnigan.”

Something happened to Seamus’ mouth, an indecipherable twist that pushed Ginny’s heart into her throat. McGonagall tried to give him instruction, but Seamus just turned around and exited the hall. Pomfrey shared a glance with McGonagall.

Ginny looked after Seamus for another second, then said, “I’ll Ghost as well.”

“Ms Weasley?” McGonagall sounded frankly astonished. “But—”

“It’ll be simpler. It’s me they’re looking for anyway.”

Harry roused, staring horrified at her from the other side of the table.

“If you’re certain,” McGonagall was saying.

“I am.” And never more sure than she was at the instant she’d spoken. She nodded to Pomfrey and McGonagall, and took her leave of the hall, fingering her wand where it rested in her jacket pocket.

*          *          *

An attempt on the life of Charlotte Lécuyer, commander at Calais, ended up costing the Death Eaters the port and arming the opposing side with the perfect method of camouflage: the Ghost walks unarmored into battle, either by magic or by metal, with his or her aura laid bare by a prolonged application of the Flen Magos Curse. On a battlefield where the very use of magic paints a target upon the user, the “bleeding” effect of Flen Magos on the Ghost’s magic muddles all else and draws every locator spell straight to the cursed.

                                                                      ~an excerpt, Notes on Modern Warfare

*          *          *

Harry caught up with her outside, fingers cinching around her arm.

“Ginny.”

She looked at her arm where he held her, and he let go. But he did not leave her, instead following through the doors onto the front steps. The Siren’s Ward had tightened down palpably; the edge of it was a quaking net not five feet from the doorway. Though she couldn’t see it, Ginny had the sense that if she reached out, she would touch its surface.

“Gin, you’re not doing this.”

“You’re going to tell me what to do now, Harry?”

His face crumpled. All the lines she’d seen from a distance in the hall flooded his features, and a wall of exhaustion bore down on them both. For a while they just stood there, the morning breeze playing with the ends of Ginny’s hair.

“No,” he whispered at last, then looked her in the eye. “But please. Please. I’m begging you not to.”

She searched for her anger, but it wasn’t there anymore. There was no accusation in Harry, nothing but a terrible nakedness. He was a man watching the end as it barreled down, obliterating every soul he held dear, and for an endless moment, all she wanted to do was crush him in her arms. Kiss him. Swear to him that she wouldn’t allow it to take everyone, that it would be okay.

The feeling passed, leaving nothing but a dull inevitability in its place.

“I’m going to fight,” she said hoarsely. “You know that.”

“Not like this.”

“Exactly like this.” She watched him, dared him to contradict. “All of us together are going to give you every chance to kill that bastard, once and for all. This is how I do that.”

His throat worked. “No,” he whispered, “no, you can’t be killed, too.”

She searched his face. There was something hidden, a knowledge she suddenly knew he possessed, and that she didn’t. For an instant, she fully understood the frustration that the people in the castle had felt upon hearing Minerva’s news.

But it still didn’t matter. And she couldn’t figure out how to tell him that during the fight, she wanted to be as far from him as possible. That she couldn’t watch him fight alongside Draco like he should have fought with her, and moreover, that when that day dawned, she couldn’t allow Seamus from her sight. She didn’t know where the foreboding was coming from, but it had fallen into step with her the instant Blaise had died.

If she had to lose Harry to Draco Malfoy, if she couldn’t spirit her brothers away and if she had to lose Ron and Blaise to death, she sure as hell was going to save Seamus Finnigan.

When she touched Harry this time, the contact was strangely unfettered. Just warm, human heat. His fingers slid over hers and gripped.

“I can’t lose you,” he croaked.

She didn’t want to break his heart. But there it was.

“We can all be killed,” she told him. “Even you. But I’ll try not to be.”

She went back inside and up to her room, where there was space enough to recall the magic that had served her so well for years.

*          *          *

She searched for Seamus once dusk fell, and followed the misery that floated round him to the Infirmary. It was empty, no new wounds to treat. One of the massive casement windows hung open. The air had grown cold once the sun set and the apexes outside were dark with shadow. She was about to turn away when the slightest of whispers caught her ear.

She stepped over the frame and out into the evening, gripping the ancient shutters for balance. The voice grew stronger, though she couldn’t make out the words themselves, just a vague sense of… deformity.

Whatever was being spoken itched at her bones, did not sound right.

“Seamus?”

The muttering stopped. He didn’t need to answer her; she came around the corner and found him leaning against the merlons, out of the wind. He held his wand in his hand, elbow braced over one raised knee.

The turmoil that trailed everywhere behind him felt deeper out here, more concentrated. Ginny shivered.

With a sigh, she descended the slope of the roof and plunked herself down beside him. Took out her own wand and studied it in the dimming light. She hadn’t actually used it in weeks. “Looks like I’m your other Ghost.”

He exhaled, nothing but a soft huff. “Who volunteered you for that?”

“Some ginger girl.”

A pause, and he huffed again. It might have been her imagination, but the barrier around him seemed to thin. Ginny flipped her wand end over end, wondering what would happen if she just tossed it over the side of the roof.

“You ever worry that we’ll lose?” she asked. “In spite of all this, in the end, we just… lose.”

She could hear Seamus breathing next to her. “Not anymore.”

It ticked against her nape. She turned to look at him, bracing against the parapet. He let her, but he was hard to see in the darkness. His profile remained empty of any emotion she might recognise. “Why not anymore?”

When he finally turned, his smile was so strange, only a blurry reflection of the one he always used to wear. “I just don’t worry about it. No point, until you can do something in the moment to swing it either way.”

It was Seamus, but not Seamus, a mimic telling her what just she wanted to hear. There was force behind it, but the energy rubbed backwards up her spine and coiled deep in her belly like a snake.

“You’re not planning to do anything stupid, are you?” she whispered.

Seamus’ smile rippled.

“Because I’ll be out there with you.”

The expression fell away. For some reason, the stone mask was more of a relief than anything else. Seamus looked out over the tower tops.

“I’ll protect you,” she thought he said. It was so soft she couldn’t be sure.

Ginny?

She straightened, and felt Seamus do the same. “Yes, Luna?”

Please come inside. We’re about to transfer the wards.

They looked at each other, and the wind whistled through the gaps between the turrets. Something was already shifting beneath them, less smoothly than usually happened at dusk. Ginny got to her feet and climbed up the incline toward the Infirmary.

Seamus followed a step behind.

*          *          *
        

It will take time to settle, Luna had said. A day at least. We must be together, at our strongest, just before I break away.

Now, in the center of the room, their feet bare on the cold stones, Fleur, Rose, Hestia, and Danail stood, the four corners of a compass. To the east, just behind Fleur, Bathsheba Babbling spun her wand and murmured, a litany of Latin. On the final word, Luna plucked the harp strings, letting fly a single ringing tone, and lifted her hands away.

“Incantate,” Bathsheba said.

A low-pitched hum emanated from the walls.

Rose began to sing, one clear note that fell down a step and rose again. Fleur joined in, repeating the same. Their voices flowed over and around each other, and beneath them, the hum grew louder and more layered.

Hestia came in next, a resonant mezzo soprano, building hills and troughs of sound, and on its own, no help from Luna, the harp began to follow. As the song swelled, Luna took up the strings again, matching fingers to notes. Her eyes glazed and her head tipped slowly back. Above her, the ceiling began to roil.

When Danail began to sing, the other three a vibrant harmony behind, the brick and stone disappeared and moonlight showered in. The stars swung with dizzying speed, devouring the walls, and the harmony seemed to expand, filling every corner of the world. A smile flooded helplessly across Rose’s face, then Fleur’s, then Hestia’s and Danail’s, and their voices fused back together, the harp cradling them all. The Siren’s Ward rose up, a behemoth circling endlessly with the stars, and slipped home again.

The four of them stood with hands clasped, smiling breathlessly at each other as their joined note lifted, another star in the darkness.

...

Chapter 32

...
...


This chapter's music: The song they are using to transfer the wards has no religious connection whatsoever, but in my mind, it is Sanctus by Anuna. Gives me chills every time.

More notes: Oh, Ginny. It is SO DAMN GOOD to write you again. Thank god for you. Also, can I just say that I forgot to mention last chapter just how tickled I was to read The Deathly Hallows (yes, this whole premise was planned out and half written way back then) and discover that I was right and Harry was indeed a Horcrux. And had to be killed so that Voldemort could die. AND I COULDN'T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IT BECAUSE I AM SO DAMN SLOW WITH THIS FIC. But anyway. Much hilarity from me. I think I jumped up and danced around the house.
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