Prompts: Patronus and Gringotts
Word Count: around 11,500
Warnings: Character Death
A/N: Usial disclaimer: I am not JKR and would never pretend to be. Many thanks to libgirl who was, as always, an enormous help.
It was easier than they had anticipated. The humans, in their self-congratulatory arrogance at the defeat of Voldemort, failed to notice, as they had always failed to notice, that there was unrest in the shadows. So on a sunny afternoon on the last day of July when the doors of Gringotts closed for the first time since the Goblin Rebellion, there was only the vague assumption that the goblins were taking advantage of the holiday for employee training, a notion reinforced by the fact that all of Gringotts' human employees were called in. It wasn’t until that night, when the doors had yet to open, and the wizards and witches had yet to return home, that it occurred to anyone that there might be a problem.
Ron’s lungs were burning. He held his breath, not wanting to inhale the searing smoke, and staggered blindly, arms outstretched towards the corner he knew Harry had been standing in before the explosion. Ron’s straining fingers encountered a shoulder. He tugged Harry into his arms and Apparated out as the ceiling collapsed.
Ron gulped clean, cool air as they arrived at Grimmuald Place, relieved to hear Harry doing the same. He gave his best friend a quick, tight squeeze before stepping back, keeping a hand on Harry’s shoulder.
"Yeah," Harry wheezed, ineffectively rubbing at the soot on his glasses.
Harry’s singed hair was standing straight up, causing Ron to chuckle in spite of himself.
"Give ‘em to me," he said, grasping the bridge of Harry’s glasses and pulling them off. Harry blinked, his eyes so green on his dirty face, but didn’t protest as Ron tapped the lenses with his wand in a quick glass cleaning spell.
"Don’t know why you just don’t get your eyes fixed," Ron said, handing the glasses back to Harry.
"I like them," Harry protested defensively.
"Yeah, a regular fashion statement," Ron replied. Harry cast an Impervious charm on the couch and the two friends slumped on it unceremoniously.
"We should probably let Kingsley know that we were in the building and that we’re alright," Harry spoke quietly. "He isn’t going to be pleased that we were there, but it’s better than him thinking we might be dead or hurt or something."
Ron nodded, "I left my cloak there. It might make them worry. I’ll tell Kingsley, you tell Mum." Harry grimaced, but called his Patronus, ghosting his fingers over the stag’s head before he sent it to Molly Weasley.
Ron took a fortifying breath and cast the spell, seeing Harry turn his head away as his Patronus took form. "Kingsley, we were in the building, but we’re fine. Will debrief tomorrow." He flicked his wand to send the animal to Kingsley, but it waited, as it had waited for the past two-and-a-half years, for Ron and then Harry to touch its head. Only then did the otter disappear.
"Goblins, Death Eaters or New Order?" Harry mused idly, his shoulder touching Ron’s, offering up the threads of conversation to change the unspoken subject.
"Don’t know. Don’t care at the moment," Ron said and then straightened as Kreacher pushed through the kitchen door, a decidedly displeased expression on his face. "Harry did it," Ron exclaimed, pointing at Harry.
"Wheezy is not to be blaming Master Harry," Kreacher said sternly. He turned his attention to Harry as Harry snickered "and Master Harry is not to be thinking Kreacher is stupid." Harry sobered instantly. The old house elf sighed, "Go wash, Kreacher will make food."
Ron’s subconscious added "Boys!" and an eye roll to the end of Kreacher’s sentence and winced.
They leaned against each other as they stood, automatically offering support as weary, lead-filled limbs protested.
"Thanks Kreacher," Harry said quietly, "We’ll be down in a bit."
"Take your time, Master," Kreacher replied, his wizened face softening at he looked at the young men standing before him. "Master and Wheezy need food and rest tonight."
The house elf turned and walked back through the kitchen door.
"Ready, mate?" Ron asked as he stared apprehensively at the long staircase.
"Let’s go, then," Harry sighed and the friends began to climb the stairs in companionable silence.
Things could be worse, Ron supposed as he lay in his bed, clean and full-bellied with Harry safe and sleeping in the room across the hall. Ron could be held in the bowels of Gringotts like Bill, if Bill was even still alive. He could be fighting on the front lines like Charlie, or a spy like Percy, or empty like George, or he could be confused and hurting and have joined the New Order like Ginny. He could be maimed or starving or homeless or crazy, like so many witches and wizards seemed to be these days.
Or Harry could be dead.
Ron Weasley had survived a lot in the three years since the Goblin War began, but he was pretty sure that the day Harry Potter died would be the day Ron’s heart would just stop beating. There was nothing else for it. What Ron had learned, because she had always been insistent that he learn from his experiences, was that there was not a thing in this world that he couldn’t withstand. No loss too great, no betrayal too breath-taking or scene too grisly or torture too painful that he couldn’t limp away to fight again - as long as he had Harry.
It was late. He should be asleep. Instead, Ron rose from his bed, pausing to pull a pair of dirty jeans over his bare arse and moved out of his room and across the hall to Harry’s. Neither ever closed their door. It was understood that some nights the voices in their heads were too loud to be drowned out by anything other than the steady breathing of a friend in the dark. So Ron stood in the doorway of Harry’s room, leaning against the frame as he listened to The Boy Who Lived snore.
The humans had stolen for the last time. Their precious hero, the golden child with the thin face and his sturdy friends had used an Unforgivable curse on one of their own, had taken back a sword that was rightfully theirs and had stolen a dragon. And he was celebrated. Revered as a pillar of Wizarding society. That entire year the goblins waited for an apology, or even an acknowledgement of the great wrong that had been done to them. They were patient, for the world had been turned on its head, and they knew that Harry Potter was aware of his transgressions. He never went to Gringotts in person anymore, relying on Bill Weasley to make withdrawls in his name.
So they waited and they planned. Just in case. They gave the unknowing wizard a deadline of his nineteenth birthday. That year brought representatives from every goblin clan to the bank in England, each clan corresponding to a separate branch of Gringotts. The ignorant humans never noticed - a goblin from Seoul looked the same as a goblin from Lima, as far as they were concerned.
On July 31, at exactly noon London time, the doors of the Gringotts banks across the globe swung shut trapping the unsuspecting humans inside. As the final middy chime from the Gringott’s clock tower in Diagon Alley faded, the witches and wizards of Gringotts found themselves surrounded, the first casualties of the newest goblin war.
Ron woke to sun streaming into his room and Harry’s raised voice floating up from somewhere downstairs.
Without thinking, clad only in the jeans from his nocturnal wandering, Ron grabbed his wand and raced down the steps, bursting into the kitchen with his wand raised and his free fist clenched. The sight of his sister in the kitchen did not make him lower his wand, and he pushed that terrible regret to the side as he confronted her.
"What do you want, Ginerva?" he growled.
"Ever the charmer, Ronniekins," she said, unconcernedly and Ron’s chest ached as he looked at his beautiful, too thin, cold, misguided little sister in the sunlight. He hadn’t seen her in two years.
"My fault," Harry said, "I never even thought about the fact that she was still privy to the Fidelus. I’ll be rectifying that shortly." Harry’s voice was icy as he stared at his old flame. "No kiss for old time’s sake. Gin?" he sneered.
"You wish, Potter," Ginny said, flipping her shiny red hair before sitting at the kitchen table. "Kreacher, may I have some tea please?" she asked. Kreacher looked at Harry, who nodded tersely, before sidling over to put the kettle on.
Harry and Ron remained standing, looking down at Ginny as she gazed back at them. Ron broke the look and turned to Harry "What’s going on, Harry?"
"No idea," Harry said, not taking his eyes off the enemy like the well trained Auror he was. "She popped into the kitchen babbling about that explosion yesterday and some kind of deal."
"So you know something about it, do you Ginny?" Ron’s voice was cool, "Second thoughts? Could it be that my little sister’s re-grown her heart?" Ron asked turning back to Ginny as Kreacher silently handed her a mug of steaming tea.
"Thanks," she said warmly to the house elf before shifting her attention to her brother. "Think what you want of my choices in life Ron, gods know I question yours, but you are my brother and I would have been sorry if you had been killed yesterday. We’ve already lost Fred and Dad and probably Bill. Not to mention Her-"
"Do not complete that sentence," Ron snarled.
Ginny sipped her tea, unfazed. "My saying it or not saying it won’t change anything, Ron, but I’m not here to fight with you."
"Then why are you here, Ginny, other than your touching concern for your brother’s welfare?"
"I do still love the both of you, Harry. I miss you," Ginny’s face clouded for a moment before the mask of cool efficiency was back in place. "I’m here to ask you to join the New Order," she said.
"No," Ron said simply, sitting down across from his sister.
"No," Harry said, sitting down next to Ron, briefly putting his hand on top of Ron’s and squeezing before letting go to toy idly with his wand.
Ginny’s eyebrows raised, "Still no?" she set her mug down with frustration. "Damn it, you two!" she hissed. "When are you going to start living up to your responsibilities?" she demanded, stabbing her finger at Harry, "and when are you going to stop following him around like some lost puppy and think for yourself?" She asked Ron.
"And when are you going to stop pretending that you don’t work for a terrorist organization that set off what amounts to a bomb in the Aurors' Office yesterday night?" Ron yelled. "Merlin’s Balls, Ginerva! You’re lucky that Harry and I were the only ones in there and that you didn’t kill anyone!"
"Nobody was supposed to be in there," Ginny said quickly, "it was just supposed to be a warning."
"A warning about what, you stupid girl?" Ron bellowed, "You and your precious order have no idea what you are fighting against, let alone what you are fighting for. Just because you call it the Order of the Phoenix does not make it true." He pulled at his hair in frustration before slamming his hands down on the table, making the tea cups rattle.
"Why now, Ginny?" Harry asked, ignoring the siblings' shows of temper.
Ginny glanced over at Harry before turning her appeal to Ron, "Because I miss you. I miss my family. Because we almost killed you last night, and I can’t bear to be on a different side of the fight than you are."
Ron shot his hand out across the table and grasped his sister’s wrist. "Ginny, stop it. I know you’re remembering the good old days when it was the Order against the world, but you have to see that this is not the same thing." It was odd, mused Ron, to think of that final, horrible, hungry year before Harry had killed Voldemort as the good old anything. "Kingsley is a fine minister. Shit, Harry and I are Team Leads in the Aurors. Think about what you are doing. The Ministry is already fighting the goblins and the Death Eater resurgence; please don’t make us fight you as well."
Ginny shook her head stubbornly, "He should have known better. There were signs-"
"We all should have known better, Gin" Harry said wearily. "None of us saw it, not even Bill or your dad. I just- I don’t understand what you are trying to accomplish."
Ginny drew herself up to address Harry but let Ron keep hold of her wrist. "We are fighting for a better world, one where the rights of goblins and house elves and everyone are respected. Surely you can understand that? Harry, what you caused by your disrespect for goblins-"
"Shut it" Ron growled, hand tightening on Ginny’s wrist.
She plowed on, "-and the continued disrespect by the ministry. Why can’t you try another negotiation?"
Bloody curls flashed into Ron’s mind, empty brown eyes and a shattered wand.
"Has the Order entered into negotiations with the goblins?" Harry asked.
"They don’t recognize us as a legitimate representation of the government, but-"
"But you have attempted to strike a bargain with the goblins? The goblins who have destroyed our economic structure and killed a third of our population over a bloody sword?" Harry demanded.
Ginny’s gaze faltered. "Why haven’t you saved us yet, Harry?" she whispered. Harry’s eyes went blank and Ron ached.
"Don’t you think he would if he could?" Ron asked quietly. "This is an old argument. We can give you immunity. We can keep you safe. You can turn in the location of your bosses and we can have one less front in this three front war on the Ministry. You can come home."
"I appreciate the offer." Ginny said pulling her hand from her brother’s as she stood up, "but, no. If the Ministry can’t do its job and keep us safe, then we need a new Ministry and if Harry-" she stopped and shook her head. Harry looked away.
Ron rose. "Do you need money? Food? You look thin, Ginny."
For a moment, Ginny looked like she was about to cry, "Still trying to look out for me, are you big brother?"
"Always," Ron said, walking around the table and pulling his sister in for a hug. "I love you. Be safe," he said into her bright hair as he felt her brittle body relax into the embrace.
"You too, Ron. Take care of Harry," Ginny said.
Harry appeared next to them and tucked a small bag of gold into Ginny’s robe pocket. "He always does," he said. Harry and Ginny shared a long look as Ron held his sister in his arms. "I won’t wish you luck, Gin, but I wish you well. Don’t try to come back here. I’ll be changing the wards and would hate to see you hurt."
Ginny nodded, and, with visible regret, she pulled away from Ron’s arms and Apparated out of the kitchen.
As Ron felt another piece of his heart break off, Harry’s hand found his shoulder and anchored him.
"Explain to me why you two were even in the office in the first place? No one is supposed to be there after hours, or anytime after sunset. It’s called a curfew for a reason." Kingsley’s voice was calm. Kingsley’s voice was always calm, even when the great, gleaming Ministry had been destroyed, killing half of the Ministry’s employees, even when only essential, surviving Ministry employees had to set up make-shift offices all over the country, and even when he was glaring at his two wayward Aurors' heads bobbing in the fire place of his living room. It was something that Ron admired about him. As long as Kingsley Shacklebolt was in charge, Ron felt a modicum of hope that things might work out.
"Well, Minister," Harry began, shifting so his side was pressed more firmly against Ron’s as they knelt in front of the grate at Grimmuald Place, "we were talking it over after work yesterday, and thought we should try to find a way to get the sword to the goblins, to make it stay with them, and we wanted to look at Hermione’s old notes." Only Harry could say Hermione’s name without making Ron feel sick. Harry rushed on before Kingsley could protest, "It’s a little thing, sir, just a sword. If we aren’t willing to give them something . . . we just don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to keep this Ministry together. Word from Charlie is that he’s on his way back; Romania has fallen."
"You want to surrender the Sword of Gryffindor?" Kingsley asked, flatly. Ignoring the rest, as he, no doubt, knew more about the state of the world than they did. He certainly was aware of the refugees beginning to pour into the U.K. as, one by one, wizarding governments across the world buckled under the constant goblin guerilla attacks and lack of money. Ron thanked every insanely paranoid Black that had ever walked the earth that their wealth had not been entrusted to goblins and, instead, lay in an enormous vault beneath Grimmuald Place.
"We’d surrender a great deal more to get out of this bloody war," Ron answered. "Not like the sword wasn’t part of the original negotiations."
"Which were emphatically rejected, as you two know" Kingsley said, "What makes you believe they’d accept it now?"
"Hermione thought that there was a risk in not bringing the sword to the negotiations in the first place. She also didn’t think that trying to give the goblins a sword that still might disappear to a true Gryffindor was a well considered plan. Maybe that was part of the problem. Maybe if we break that charm, offer it to them in good faith-" Harry trailed off. There was no way of knowing if the Sword of Gryffindor was an acceptable peace offering to the goblins and the only other attempt at negotiations had been a dismal failure, but they had to try something. The Wizarding World was not going to be able to fight their way out of this and survive as a community. It wasn’t as simple as a quest for Horcruxes and slaying a Dark Lord. There had been no attempt to communicate with the goblins since the initial negotiations had failed so spectacularly. Even the declaration of war from the goblins was simply a list of grievances with no demands, followed by silence. The goblins now spoke only through the ferocity of their attacks, and the desperation of the world as it plunged into an economic depression.
"Harry, I don’t think-" Kingsley sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. "You’re right, both of you. We have to try something. I am not opposed to giving them a hunk of metal, what I’m worried about is how such a thing would take place, and who we would have to sacrifice to give back a sword that most likely won’t bring any change to the situation whatsoever." He shook his head to clear it, "I don’t suppose you saved those notes from the burning inferno?"
"Yeah, I put them in my pocket before we got out of there," Ron said.
"Good," Kingsley said "then, since we have no more office to speak of and can’t afford to fix it, I expect you to work on that from Grimmuald Place. You two are the only ones who can get in?"
"Yes," Harry said firmly. "What about our teams?"
"Check in with them twice a day, but I’ll most likely be re-assigning your people, maybe splitting them up between the other three leads." Kingsley held up his hand to stave off protests. "You two need to concentrate on the sword and the plan surrounding it. Use whomever you need to use. Anything else?"
"It was the New Order that set that explosion, Minister," Ron reported.
"I know, Ron," Kingsley said, "the bank across the street has surveillance cameras and it caught sight of the perpetrators."
"Who?" Ron asked.
Kingsley hesitated, "It was Ginny. Also Terry Boot and Luna Lovegood."
"Luna!" Harry exclaimed in shock.
"Her father has joined the Order in a misguided attempt to make up for his mistakes in the Voldemort situation. Luna followed him."
"How’s Percy, Kingsley?" Ron asked, not wanting to think about another friend joining a futile, destructive cause.
"An excellent spy," Kingsley smiled sadly, "I miss him a great deal, but he’s doing alright. He’s angry that he didn’t catch wind of the attack on the office, but it appears that the Order is very siloed."
"Not so different, then," Harry muttered.
"At any rate, I’m glad that you two are safe. I’ll check in tomorrow." Harry and Ron said good-bye and pulled their heads out of the fireplace. Ron turned to face Harry as they remained on their knees on the hardwood floor.
"No," Ron said.
"What do you mean no?" Harry asked, not meeting Ron’s eyes.
"You will not bring that bloody sword to the goblins, Harry. They hate you."
"It’s just a symbol, Ron. I’m just a symbol. It would be fitting, don’t you think? They might even accept it as a jumping off point for negotiations if they can shackle me up in a vault and torture me every year on my birthday."
Ron put his hands on Harry’s shoulders, cold dread seeping through his bones as he shook his best friend until Harry’s teeth rattled. "You are not a fucking symbol! Stop being a self-sacrificing prat and let’s try to think of a way to save the world that doesn’t involve you skipping off to your death."
"What if we can’t?" Harry asked resting his hands on top of Ron’s "What if it turns out that it’s our best option?"
Ron pulled Harry into a desperate hug, "Then I’m going with you."
"Damn it, Harry!" Ron said harshly into his ear, "Don’t you fucking get it? There is nothing left for me if you’re gone. You know that." He felt Harry hesitantly nod, his wild hair tickling Ron’s cheek. "I’m with you, no matter what." It was no longer strange to reach out to Harry for comfort, or to lend support. After pulling Harry from the lake years ago, after Harry had been dead in front of his eyes and then brought back to life, after Fred had been killed, and Bill had gone missing, then Hermione had been killed, and] then his dad, after Ginny had abandoned them, and Percy left to be a spy and his Mum had shuffled George, Fleur, Victorie, Andromeda and Teddy out of the Burrow and to an undisclosed location. . . well it made feeling awkward about touching the one stable thing in his life seem ridiculous.
Harry pulled back and stared into Ron’s eyes. "No matter what," he repeated gruffly. "Shall we look at those notes then?"
"Yeah," Ron said, reluctant to let Harry go, but relieved at his capitulation, "got ‘em right here, mate."
Hermione had been so proud to be asked to be part of the negotiations team and Ron couldn’t help but feel more optimistic about the chances of getting Bill back when he saw her. She looked so pretty in her best professional robes, so capable and brilliant and his.
"I will try my very best to get him back, Ron," she had said, looking earnestly up into his face, her brown her pulled back into a neat plait.
"I know you will," Ron had replied, quickly kissing the tip of her nose, mindful of the people around them and the importance of the occasion. "Your best is better than anyone else’s." She had smiled then and tilted up her chin to kiss him quickly on the lips before being pulled, laughing, into Harry’s arms. "Oi! Hands off, Potter, you’ve got your own," Ron had grinned at his best friends, slinging an arm over Harry’s shoulder even as Harry maintained his grip on Hermione.
"I love you both," Hermione beamed, "I’ll make you proud."
"You always do, Hermione," Harry said.
"Not a doubt in my mind," Ron replied.
With a final kiss on the cheek for each, Hermione had joined the assembled group of diplomatic wizards from around the world. For the first time in awhile, Ron had felt the panic of losing another brother ease. Hermione was involved, and one of the great truths in his life was that Hermione could fix just about anything. Commending Bill and the other bank employees into her capable hands, Ron waved as Hermione turned to exchange one last smile with her boyfriend and her best friend.
That had been the last time Ron and Harry saw Hermione. Well, second to last. The last time was when they had sprinted down Diagon Alley to the foot of Gringotts to find her body lying broken at the bottom of the stairs.
It was Molly Weasley who had come to get her boys. Who had poured tea down their throats when they couldn’t speak, who had enlarged the old bathtub in the Burrow, thrown them both in it and then had scrubbed the blood and soot from their bodies when they couldn’t move. She had efficiently dressed them, had led them up the stairs to Ron’s old room, had Engorgioed the bed and tucked them in together. Only then, as she had turned away, did Ron’s hand break out from his prison of sheets and blankets and tug her skirt. "Mum," he had croaked, voice breaking. And Molly had climbed into that bed, right in between her boys and had held them to her chest even as their hearts broke in front of her. Only then, did Molly Weasley allow herself to weep for the loss of a young woman she loved as her own, and again for the son who was not coming home, and for the countless time for the son she had lost years ago.
continue with Part Two