Ron stood there with his sister wrapped in his arms and Hermione holding him. He knew that they too felt as though they’d already lost Harry; they all trembled with unshed tears. Ron forced himself to remain upright as the thought ripped through him. Harry couldn’t be gone. It was impossible. How could their world keep turning without Harry in it?
But Hermione suddenly pulled back and both Ron and Ginny looked intuitively towards her. She gave them the shadow of a smile and said, “He can’t possibly be at ‘King’s Cross.’”
“But why does he keep talking to Dumbledore, then?” asked Ginny, in a faint voice that bespoke disbelief and a hint of hope.
“Dumbledore’s not here, or well, Harry’s not there, rather, because he’s speaking aloud. Whatever that was that he experienced wasn’t on the same plane that we are on. We can hear what he’s saying and so I don’t think he can possibly be in any crossing-over-sort-of-place,” Hermione replied, her eyes fixed on Harry’s prone form.
Considering this Ron said, “But everything we saw was from Harry’s point-of-view so we wouldn’t know what he may or may not have said in reality.”
Hermione shook her head fervently. “First of all, that conversation lasted over fifteen minutes, but the Death Eaters seemed to only feel a few moments pass, during which Voldemort had also fallen down. Second of all, Harry pretended to be dead until the last possible second, which wouldn’t have been plausible to the Death Eaters if he’d been speaking while he was apparently unconscious.”
“And…and…” Hermione uncharacteristically floundered for words. Then in a rush she added, “Besides, even if it was the case I think Harry would have to move on. He could only return to us before because his blood lived on in Voldemort’s veins. But, well, Voldemort’s dead. Therefore there isn’t anything to tie Harry to this world. And I think we can all agree that Harry wouldn’t choose to remain as a ghost, even for Ginny.”
Ron couldn’t find any fault with her analysis and yet it still didn’t answer all of their problems. “Then what is wrong with him?” Ginny asked, addressing the most pressing issue. When Harry let out an almost inaudible moan, she wrenched herself free from her brother’s arms and took up a seat next to Harry, taking hold of one of his hands and bringing it to her lips. She whispered frantically, although Ron couldn’t make out her words.
Hermione’s eyes found those of Madame Pomfrey and did not even need to speak her question.
Madame Pomfrey sighed and said, “As you are aware, he seems to be in a great deal of pain. However we are unable to pinpoint the source. It could be a potion, although I rather suspect that what the Minister saw as a Stunning Spell was some other curse of which we have no current knowledge. Perhaps you could explain to me his most recent injuries.”
She waved a hand at the number of bruises that marred Harry’s bare chest. Hermione immediately explained about the locket becoming fused to his skin, of the Sectumsempra Curse that had left a very vague line reaching around to his shoulder and guessed at the mark from the Avada Kedavra that had hit him in the Forbidden Forest.
“It was really my only hope; that perhaps one of these might be something helpful.” The nurse blew out a frustrated breath.
Ron knew this was no time for confidences and silently apologized to Harry for breaking his word, although since they’d already brought him to St. Mungo’s for treatment he didn’t know if Harry would find this such a large transgression. Besides, if it saved his life then Harry could rail at Ron for the rest of their lives. “I tried to talk to Harry about coming here the other day. He promised that if the symptoms persisted that he would agree.”
He cringed as he went on to describe Harry’s extreme exhaustion and the occasional stomach pains that had been plaguing him recently.
“It sounds almost like poisoning and yet his blood says that he is clean from such an invasion. Therefore we must go on the assumption that this spell, whatever it is, has been used with increasing force and/or frequency over time,” said Madame Pomfrey, more to herself than anyone.
The other healers understood her, apparently though, and suggested they begin trying to find out what sorts of spells could cause such symptoms.
Ron watched his sister, however, whose eyes never left Harry, though he could be sure that she was following the conversation assiduously. He managed to catch Madame Pomfrey’s eye for a moment and asked, “Would it be okay if the family came in? They’re bound to be going spare out there.”
She nodded vaguely at him and intoned, “Just be sure that everyone is quiet, please, Mr. Weasley.”
He gave her a jerk of the head, reminding her that he was all too well aware of proper protocol for a hospital room. Hermione moved to take his place beside Ginny and he gave her an appreciative look that was immediately reciprocated. Ron stuck his head outside the door and found his mother waiting immediately in front of it. She looked at him reproachfully before crossing the threshold and pushing past him. His father was slightly more polite and gave Ron an inquiring look before doing the same after receiving Rod’s nod. Percy and George needed no more encouragement and immediately entered as well, Ron regarding them with fingers over his lips to indicate quiet.
“Kingsley’s gone back to the Ministry to set up some protection here,” George muttered as he passed his brother.
Ron turned around in time to watch his mother take Harry’s hand from the side opposite Ginny and Hermione.
“Molly, Arthur, if you would please…” Madame Pomfrey beckoned them over to where she had been speaking with the other healers.
Ron assumed that she was informing them of the state of matters and found himself gravitating back to Hermione’s side. She stood behind the seat Ginny was sitting in; her hand was still entwined with Harry’s. He noticed that the covers were now pulled up to Harry’s chin and guessed that either she or Hermione had done that once he’d opened the door to admit the rest of the family. Ron wasn’t sure if Ginny even realized that Hermione had a hand on her shoulder, so engrossed was she with the man in the bed. But Hermione knew immediately who had come up behind her and held out her spare arm. Ron accepted her offer and snaked his own around her waist, looking around at everyone else. Percy was trying to appear insignificant in a corner while he watched his sister covertly, his gaze occasionally darting to Harry. Ron deliberately didn’t try to determine what that brother was thinking.
His gaze then fell on George, who had conjured himself a seat at Harry’s head and patted him gently on the shoulder. Ron saw the pained expression on George’s face and immediately knew his thoughts when he briefly looked over his shoulder and then shuddered. He was just as worried as the rest of them, but without Fred he was struggling for words that would bring them all a smile.
Ron wanted to save him, but there wasn’t much need as several things happened simultaneously. Harry moaned, causing the two healers that worked at the hospital to start performing spells at an alarming rate. They didn’t seem panicked though, just trying to get the readings from their wands that they were looking for. Also, Madame Pomfrey had finally finished talking with his parents and was approaching him, Hermione and Ginny. Then there came a knock at the door.
Percy took care of the door, stepping outside briefly. Harry had fallen completely silent once again and Madame Pomfrey conferred with the other healers for a few moments.
“Ron? Hermione?” called Madame Pomfrey. Belatedly she added, “Ginny?”
Ron noticed that even Ginny’s eyes were engaged now as she looked at the nurse that she knew far too well. Their hearts contracted at the look on her face.
“The only thing that we do know is that he remains unconscious, no matter what is happening around him, at least at this time. The strange thing is that during those moments when he is in pain he still doesn’t seem to waken. We will continue to monitor him, but if any of you should see a change in any way, you must make sure to inform someone. There is a nurse’s station just outside the door. There isn’t much we can do at the moment and I must return to continue getting the Hospital Wing back in working order for the coming year. But feel free to call on me at any time,” said Madame Pomfrey, taking her leave.
Ron scratched the back of his neck trying to come up with the most tactful way of asking the remaining healers for what he wanted. “I’ve noticed that there aren’t any other patients in this room,” he finally said, waving a hand at the two empty beds beyond Harry’s. “Is there a way to make sure it stays that way?”
“I’m Healer Jessup, Mr. Weasley. We could do that, although you should be aware that you will have to pay for it since we are unable to use those beds,” said one of the healers, his bushy mustache twitching, whether out of annoyance or amusement Ron couldn’t be sure since the man’s voice held almost no inflection.
“That’s fine. Hermione and I will pay for it. Is that all right, dear?” he said, not taking his gaze off of the healer. He saw Hermione’s approving nod out of the corner of his eye. And now for the hard part, Ron thought. “Also, I must ask whether or not you intend to keep Harry’s condition private. The last thing we need is for this to be bandied about.”
“Ronald! It was extremely rude to even suggest that they wouldn’t take this seriously and maintain privacy about the situation!” Molly scolded, her tone shocked.
Ron winced and said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply that you would betray us, it’s just that…this is Harry we’re talking about and…”
His voice trailed off, unable to come up with a better apology. “It’s okay, young man,” said the other healer kindly. She introduced herself as Kathleen Ring and continued, “Please be assured that we will work as hard as we can to make Mr. Potter better. Even if it weren’t for the fact that we hold him in high esteem, our vows do not allow us to gossip about our patients. But you should be aware that in order to better aid him we will need to discuss his ailments with our colleagues.”
“That doesn’t mean that we will divulge which patient we are talking about,” added Jessup.
Satisfied, Ron fell silent and shook both of their hands wondering just how well he would get to know them. Before they could leave, Ginny, speaking for the first time in awhile, said, “May I stay with him tonight?”
“Although highly unorthodox, I don’t see why not. It might be best for someone to remain in the room in case something does change,” said Ring.
As she and Jessup left Percy reentered and said, “Perhaps you should take care of this, Ron.”
Surprised that there was something that Percy was willing to pass off onto someone else, Ron rather intrigued. Hermione gave his hand a little squeeze before he went to find out what was going on.
Ron’s partner, Beulah, greeted him once he’d gotten to the corridor. He was happy to see that Kingsley, or more likely Robards, had sent their own Auror team to guard Harry.
Ron chose to address Harry’s partner first, since she appeared rather upset and said, “Thanks for coming, Eleanor.”
“No problem. How would you like to work this?” she replied, her voice shaky.
“Well, right now I think it’s best just to make sure that no one comes in that we don’t know,” said Ron.
Eleanor nodded and Beulah said, “I assume that you don’t want any members of the press to have access?”
“Definitely not,” replied Ron. He thought about revealing the fact that Rita Skeeter was an animagus but realized that he would also be revealing the fact that Hermione was a blackmailer and so shut his mouth. He didn’t know these people well enough to trust that they wouldn’t turn her in. “I’m sure the rest of the family will be arriving soon as well as some of our friends. Just to be on the safe side, have them knock.”
They all nodded solemnly, even Raleigh, who usually seemed to hold Harry with contempt. Ron discussed some spells that he would like to keep in place for the time being and went over some Polyjuice questions that they could ask of people they hadn’t met yet. He never thought he’d say he was thankful for the File Task-Force, but it had allowed the Aurors to mingle with the Order. Otherwise someone would have to continually come out of Harry’s room to check on people.
“Should we use a password?” asked Beulah, drawing Ron’s impressed look to her.
“Perhaps we should. Let’s make it Half-Blood Prince,” said Ron, thinking Harry would like that one, obsessed with Snape as he’d been recently. No one found it odd and agreed to use it to avoid unnecessary interrogations of those they hadn’t met.
Ron found the room had been rearranged in his absence, Hermione and his father still holding their wands out as they put the finishing touches on things. Whereas Harry had been lying in the middle bed he was now in the one nearest the wall. The other two beds had been fused into one in front of the door.
His confusion must have shown on his face because Hermione said, “I thought it best if we stayed here overnight as well.”
Expecting Ginny to object, Ron looked at her. “It’s okay if you want to, Ron. Maybe it would be good to have all of us to protect him,” she said.
He knew that she must be in a right state to accept their help without argument. “Thanks,” he said, realizing that it wasn’t quite the proper response, but not particularly caring. He just appreciated that she was willing to let him and Hermione stay on the scene without having to camp out in the waiting room. He went on to explain about the Auror team outside and the password.
Hermione immediately pulled her enchanted coin out of a pocket, presumably to inform the Order of what was going on. Ron began rifling through Harry’s robes, expecting an objection that didn’t come from anyone. He found nothing interesting but for a few folded notes from Draco Malfoy. He passed them to Hermione who told him he ought to talk to Dominic about letting the Malfoys know what they could.
In short order they were all once again sitting in an awkward silence. Ginny looked at George expectantly. He seemed to be thinking very hard. Ron was sure he was the only one to see the tears that pricked George’s eyes briefly. Then he felt Hermione’s gaze lift to George as well; hoping for anything that would break the silence.
George’s hand tightened perceptibly on Harry’s shoulder and there gleamed mischief in his eye. Then he said, in a confidential tone, “You know, you really ought to wake up, mate. Ron and Hermione are being nice to each other and all. You wouldn’t want to miss them getting back together, would you?”
Hermione gave a half-hearted chuckle that might have been hiding a sniffle. The rest of the family let out a stream of nervous laughter, as though they’d been caught in wrongdoing. Ron knew that he and Hermione tended to lean on each other when it came to Harry, especially when he was difficult to deal with or injured, as he was in this case. They could easily put aside their anger for Harry’s sake and so all would seem well between them for the moment. But Ron was not so optimistic as to hope that their reconciliation would last beyond Harry’s recovery. Then again, they’d gone through so much and always come back to one another.
Ron responded with mock-seriousness, “I’m always nice to Hermione.”
The incredulous look on George’s face brought another touch of levity and so laughter nearly drowned the knock on the door.
A quick “Enter,” from Ginny, who was wiping tears of unwanted mirth from her eyes, brought Neville and Luna into the room.
They were quickly filled on what few details were known of Harry’s condition and Neville explained what was happening outside of their cloistered room.
“It’s turning into a madhouse out there. We had a difficult time even getting up here,” he told them. “Pretty much everyone from the press conference followed.”
“Is the rest of the Order that were there in the waiting room outside?” asked Hermione, gesturing to the small vestibule where they’d sat before being admitted into Harry’s room.
“We asked them to go home and wait for further orders for now,” explained Luna, frowning. Did she think they’d overstepped their authority?
“But it’s getting late. We can stay here for a bit if you lot want to get a bite to eat in the cafeteria,” offered Neville, before anyone could reply.
Ron felt nothing but pure shock that he hadn’t noticed just how hungry he’d become and then knew a moment of panic that was shared by the two females flanking him. They all looked at each other for a moment before declaring, “Kreacher!”
Hermione looked at her watch and said, “Oh, we should have been home at least an hour ago.”
“The poor dear must be panicking by now,” said Ginny, looking guilty.
“I hope that dinner isn’t ruined,” said Ron, earning himself reproachful looks from nearly everyone except for George, who seemed amused.
“I’d better summon him before he does something rash.” Ginny closed her eyes and apparently had called Kreacher to her, since he appeared moments later.
“Is something amiss, Mistress?” asked Kreacher with a bow to her and a nod of respect toward everyone else. He seemed very nervous.
Ginny seemed unable to answer and turned her gaze to Harry, bringing Kreacher’s attention to the bed as well.
“Kreacher should have known something was wrong. Master is never late for dinner without telling Kreacher first.” The elf grabbed onto the end of the bed. Ron guessed that he was about to injure himself for some imagined wrong and got up to stop him. But just then Kreacher let out a groan of anguish. “But Kreacher is not allowed to hurt hisself!”
Ron realized that Harry had prevented his house-elf from harming himself with an order, probably unconsciously. Did it hurt the elf to not be able to physically punish himself? He looked at Hermione, intending to ask her just that and expecting to see her upset over Kreacher’s obvious agony. Instead her eyes were moving back and forth from Kreacher to Harry and back again. He knew that look and knew that she was working something out.
Before he could question her, Hermione said, “Kreacher, can you tell us what Harry is thinking right now? Can you tell us what’s wrong with him?”
Ron felt utterly stupid not to have thought of it. But that’s what he had Hermione for, he supposed.
“Kreacher is not supposed to listen to his master’s thoughts,” said Kreacher, looking decidedly uncomfortable.
Ginny frowned at him. “But that one day after the battle, just before we went home you brought Harry a cup of coffee saying that you knew he needed it. I suppose it could have been a good guess on your part, but I was under the impression that you’d sensed it.”
There was no denying the guilty look on Kreacher’s face now and Ron wondered if they need look no further to identify the one who must surely have betrayed Harry just as he’d once his previous master, Sirius. He was about to grab the house-elf and wring a confession out of him when Kreacher finally said, “Kreacher isn’t supposed to read his master’s thoughts. Sometimes I cants help it. Kreacher is old and makes mistakes. That time, Master Harry was very much craving a cup of coffee and Kreacher felt it. I is sorry.”
Ron’s urge to strangle the elf disappeared. In its place settled an incredible sense of self-recrimination. He knew Kreacher better than that; at least he ought to, he thought to himself in disgust. If he carried on this way, he’d soon be interrogating his own brothers and wondering if they’d had a hand in the crime against Harry.
He figured Hermione had guessed at his thoughts when her foot discreetly found his shin. Ron managed to hold in the hiss of pain that tried to pass his lips while Hermione said, “It’s okay, Kreacher, really. We have no way of finding out what happened to Harry. But if you could get into his mind, it would be beyond helpful. He passed out before he could explain everything.”
Every eye in the room was upon the elf, who looked at Ginny for confirmation of this strangest of orders. At her nod, he closed his eyes, presumably to obey her. He then began to stagger visibly. Molly, who was nearest, leaned down and supported him.
At her touch, Kreacher’s eyes flew back open. Ron’s heart began to beat faster at the look of absolute terror on Kreacher’s face.
Kreacher spoke tremulously to the ground as he gave his report. “Master Harry has retreated into himself. He fights against pain and guilt. He gives in to oblivion where he is safe. It is easier than facing the…burning…” Kreacher struggled to describe what he’d felt. “Pain beyond pain…beyond all reckoning…”
His voice finally trailed off and his eyes lifted from the floor and warily found Ginny’s. “Kreacher wishes he had happier news, Mistress.”
“Thank you, Kreacher. No one else could have done that,” said Ginny, her voice devoid of emotion but her look conveying her gratitude to Kreacher.
Ron decided to give Kreacher something to do to get his mind off of the task he’d just had to perform by saying, “I don’t suppose dinner is ready?”
“Yes, Mr. Ron, of course it is. Shall Kreacher serve here in Master Harry’s room?” asked Kreacher eagerly, pointing around the room to tally the number of people.
He disappeared only to return moments later with Winky, each bearing large trays carrying steaming bowls of Consommé Colbert.
Ron ate through all of Kreacher’s fabulous food, but for once he barely tasted it. Everything was well-seasoned and perfectly cooked, but it didn’t satisfy him somehow. He watched Ginny take token bites, to appease Kreacher’s pride, but she didn’t eat much beyond that. In fact, he couldn’t ever remember a meal with his family that had ever been so dismal and quiet. The silence was only rarely broken by pathetic attempts at conversation.
Finishing off the cracker loaded with Brie and pouring the last bit of coffee down his throat, Ron decided that they ought to find out more about what was happening down in the reception area. “How are people getting through for healing and visiting and such?” he asked Neville and Luna, remembering what they’d said about the congestion, due to the media.
Those two shared a look. “It’s not so good right now, although at least the press is allowing those with legitimate business to pass by. But I can tell you that if anyone besides Aurors were sent to break it up there would be trouble,” said Neville darkly.
Luna piped up beside him, “Of course St. Mungo’s has its own security and are trying to keep things in order. We had some difficulty getting past them. Eventually we had to have one of your Aurors come down to identify us.”
“So St. Mungo’s security has no authority to actually oust them from the hospital?” asked Percy, speaking for the first time in a long while.
“This is a public building and so they have to be causing a large enough disturbance for them to enforce anything,” Arthur explained. “I should imagine that being members of the press they’re quite good at being a nuisance but not actually breaking any rules.”
“They would have gotten rid of the press by now, if they could. We’ll have to deal with them at some point though,” sighed Ron.
“We could get Kingsley to approve an injunction, allowing the Ministry to temporarily take over security of St. Mungo’s. Then either the Aurors or the Magical Law Enforcement squad would be able to remove any unnecessary persons from the property,” said Hermione, sounding every inch the lawyer to Ron’s mind. At least this time he was able to get the gist of what she was trying to say.
“We ought to have the Order protect Harry and the Aurors disperse the crowd in the foyer downstairs,” suggested Luna, as though this were perfectly obvious.
Of course it was obvious, but Ron had to admit that none of them was thinking completely straight just then.
“Yes, but one of us needs to speak with the press before we just eject them from the building,” insisted Hermione. When they all looked at her like she’d transfigured into a hippogriff she rolled her eyes. “Honestly! They all just saw Harry collapse. If we don’t explain everything then there could be panic about what’s happened to him. These are reporters we’re talking about and they won’t keep quiet about what they’ve seen.”
She stood up to do just that but Ron remained stubbornly in his seat. He didn’t like what she was suggesting, despite the fact that she was nearly always right. “I’ll take care of it,” she said, straightening her robes and making for the door.
“Would you care for an escort?” asked Neville, getting up as well. He caught Hermione before she got out of the room and used his hand to try to tame her hair that had come undone from its plait.
Ron fully expected the talons of jealousy to gouge him at the sight, but they didn’t. He knew that Neville just wanted to help Hermione and there was no reason for him not to. Perhaps it would be better for Neville to handle the reporters. He was much less likely to lose control, after all. Right now all Ron wanted to do was pummel all of them. He caught Hermione looking at him and let her know that he agreed with her. They were out the door before he could even say a word, but it didn’t really matter. Neville would protect her no matter what, not to mention the fact that Hermione was no meek lamb anyhow. Ron smiled at the thought of what she might do. She’d better give details when she returned.
It occurred to him that he ought to begin making a thorough search of the room and enlisted the aid of the family. At least it would give them all something to do, he thought.
* * *
Hermione said a muted ‘hello’ to the Aurors, deciding that it would be best to make the switch after they’d actually spoken with the press. She hadn’t really expected an escort, although it would have been nice if Ron had volunteered. Then again he’d looked so dumbfounded at her idea that it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea to bring him. She loved the Weasleys very dearly, but they did tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves. She’d also been surprised that he hadn’t been jealous of Neville’s offer to accompany her.
She squeezed Neville’s hand, which was holding hers, as the lift came to a halt at the ground floor. He gave her a look of encouragement when the doors opened and let go of her hand before any more romantic speculations could be inferred. Hermione nearly panicked at the sight that greeted her. Every reporter in the room had turned to look at her.
Shouts of “Miss Granger” reached Hermione, accompanied by wands and Quick-Quotes Quills aimed at her.
Hermione nearly froze, but Neville nudged her and she was able to do what she had to.
“I understand everyone’s concern for Harry. We are making sure that he receives the best of care,” she began.
At this statement, questions began to rush at her so fast that she wasn’t sure that she’d heard any of them correctly.
Beside her, Neville shouted, “Stop! Why don’t you let Miss Granger speak before bombarding her with uninformed questions?”
He blushed furiously over his statement and just looked to Hermione, who felt amused by not only his defense of her but by his embarrassment.
To cover the moment, she immediately began to explain what they knew to the wizards and witches in front of her. It didn’t take all that long, since her information was so limited to begin with. Using the same tactic that Harry had during the interrupted press conference she asked for raised hands to address any questions. While some of them were quite astute and probing, she didn’t have much to give them in the way of responses. She cut it off as quickly as possible, hoping to avoid any more questions like the ones about the horcruxes and the Elder Wand that had come up before.
Rather than telling them that they must vacate the foyer, she decided to leave that up to the Aurors. It wasn’t her place to do so, in any event, she realized.
“If you’ll give us your names and directions, we’ll see that you are kept updated as things change,” said Neville before they turned to leave.
Nearly all of the journalists had cards printed with their personal details and simply handed them to him.
* * *
Meanwhile, Ron had found no evidence of magical concealment in Harry’s room and, after using numerous detecting spells on every inch of it, no trace of Rita Skeeter. So far, she hadn’t been able to get in. But he knew that they would have to continually update the charms they’d put on the door to indicate the entrance of anyone other than those they expected. Hermione had found a spell in one of the books Harry had gotten her, which would indicate human presence. It was similar to the Homenum Revelio spell except that it worked even on anyone in their animagus form and made it perfectly obvious to anyone in the vicinity when it worked properly. It was this that he placed on the threshold to the room.
In fact, he almost laughed when Hermione and Neville both looked perplexed when the door flashed a red light twice upon their entrance.
“What did that just do?” Neville asked, looking down at his body, almost expecting to see something odd.
But Hermione wasn’t called a genius for nothing. She smiled at Ron, her expression noting nothing but absolute pleasure. Whether it was because she was impressed that he’d thought of it or pleased that it had worked just like the book said, he wasn’t sure. She said, “You checked the whole room and this is your method of keeping her out?”
Ron nodded, trying not to take offense at the look of incredulity on her face. His family had not argued with him in the least while they’d made their search of the room even if his father did say, “Did you really expect someone to be hiding in the drawer?” after following his instructions to use certain charms. But now their curious stares were volleying back and forth between him and Hermione.
“I think it’s safe to say that we can trust everyone in this room. Maybe it’s time to come clean?” he asked, expecting to feel the full-blast of Hermione’s wrath at his revelation.
But she only winced and explained to all of them about Rita Skeeter being an unregistered animagus as well as the blackmail she’d employed, not once, but twice.
Ron looked first to his father, who just kept muttering things such as, “Bloody hell,” and “Merlin’s white beard,” under his breath.
“Why don’t we keep that information under wraps for now,” suggested George, smiling unrepentantly at Hermione with utter pride. Ron supposed that he and Fred would love to take the credit for having corrupted her, although in all truth the blame lay quite squarely at the feet of Harry and Ron.
“It was done during the war and everything, so perhaps that can be taken into account,” said Percy, in a reasonable tone. “But we can’t seriously allow Skeeter to just keep on the way she has.”
“Is this really something we need to worry about right now?” growled Ginny.
“It’s okay, Ginny, we’ll just keep this a secret within the Order for now and figure out how to deal with it once Harry’s back on his feet,” concluded Molly, reassuringly. She unnecessarily straightened Harry’s covers when she finished speaking.
Everyone else in the room involuntarily looked at Percy. His face suffused with color. “I know how to keep a secret when it’s warranted. Now is not the time for this, and I swear I shan’t tell a soul about it.”
Ron could only guess that the others had looked away in shame since his own eyes were firmly fixed on his knee. Hermione suddenly cleared her throat and said, “You know, Ron, you really ought to effect the switch between the Aurors and the Order. We can’t have the press clogging the reception room forever.”
“Why me?” asked Ron, wondering why she was appointing him this unpleasant task.
“Well, son, seeing as you’re the only Auror in the room it makes sense that you handle that end of business. And as for the Order, Harry is currently incapacitated. That would make you our leader,” said Arthur, giving his youngest son a pointed look.
Ron felt nothing but sheer terror at the thought. He couldn’t possibly be in charge, could he? He’d always wanted the mantle Harry bore, so why wasn’t he pleased that it was now his? Was it because he didn’t want to gain such responsibility under these circumstances? At the moment, though, there was no choice, not if he was going to save Harry.
He almost opened his mouth to try to give some orders when Hermione saved him. “Why don’t we handle getting all of the Order here while you go and talk to your team?”
“That’s right. We’re happy to help.” Luna smiled at him and pulled out her galleon.
Ron felt somewhat bemused as he went to speak with his coworkers again, after first making sure that the change in plan would be okay with Robards. They were reluctant to move until nearly the entire Order had arrived on the scene and were assured that there would be no question as to Harry’s protection. But they understood that they were the only ones with the full power of the Ministry behind them and were best able to clear the foyer for St. Mungo’s. They’d decided that one Auror would remain downstairs in order to ensure that their orders continued to be carried out. Neville and Luna quickly worked out a schedule for at least two of them to guard Harry’s door. Everyone began to filter out but for Dean and Seamus, who would be relieved by Michael and Anthony at midnight. They were the ones who had to be to work the earliest the following day and so it made the most sense. Everyone else was given additional orders to carry out during the daytime. Michael suggested that any message that was too large to be sent by coin be delivered personally to Ron to ensure that the utmost secrecy was maintained. The way he said it left little room for anyone to argue.
When Ron returned, it was to find most of the family getting ready to leave, although it was clear that his mother wasn’t pleased about the prospect, his father holding her firmly by the arm. She managed to give the inert Harry a light hug and kiss on his waxy cheek before being ushered out.
Hermione and Ginny had already taken advantage of the in-room-bathroom to don their nightclothes and so Ron followed suit. Kreacher must have come and gone again since there were fresh robes for them to wear in the morning and the bedding that was usually on their beds at Grimmauld Place had been brought in. Upon catching sight of Ron, Hermione cleared her throat. “Just about everyone must have left by now. I did have an idea, although it might not be to your taste, Ron. And it could be difficult on Ginny.”
Ron had a sneaking suspicion about what she wanted to suggest but didn’t say anything and just indicated for her to continue. “So far Harry hasn’t reacted to anyone’s words or actions. He doesn’t even seem to feel it when we touch him. Ginny, has he responded at all to you?” Hermione finished with a grimace.
Ginny shook her head, her lower lip trembling. Hermione took a deep breath and whispered, “What would you think about trying something a bit more…er…amorous with him?”
A look of realization dawned on Ginny’s face and she nodded her head eagerly. Ron warned her, “Ginny, don’t get too excited. I’m not sure it’s all that likely to work. I don’t want you to get your hopes up.”
“I’m willing to try anything,” she said fiercely and Ron backed up a step. There was a fiery determination in her eyes that he instinctively feared. He knew what his sister was capable of, especially if one pricked her ire as he’d just done. Ron had been on the receiving end of her temper too often to take it lightly.
“Do you want us to leave for a few minutes?” Hermione asked awkwardly. Ron didn’t think much of the suggestion, but knew that it was probably for the best. He certainly didn’t want to think of what sorts of things his sister might try.
“We’ll give you two minutes,” said Ron, moving toward the door, taking Hermione with him as he did so.
“Knock before you come in?” said Ginny, not really leaving it up do debate.
“Of course,” murmured Hermione. Her hand tightened around Ron’s when she shut the door behind them.
At the questioning gazes of Seamus and Dean, Ron said, “Ginner…er…wanted a few moments to say good-night.”
It was a sign of the gravity of the situation that none of them laughed. In fact, both Seamus and Dean looked pained by the thought.
“Do you think Robards will let our team work with yours to find out what happened to Harry?” Dean asked, his tone suggesting that anything else would be absurd.
“I’ll talk to him first thing in the morning,” Ron assured him. He knew they were going to need all of the reliable help they could get and the fact that some of Harry’s most ardent and loyal supporters were almost Aurors could be invaluable.
They spoke for a while about what might happen the next day, Hermione remaining unusually quiet. It was the sound of muffled sobbing from the room behind them that brought the conversation to an abrupt halt.
Ron quickly and loudly knocked on the door, wrenching it open without waiting for a response. He saw Ginny’s hand hastily draw out from under Harry’s covers and Hermione rushed over to her.
Ginny let Hermione comfort her, breaking her contact from Harry. Ron walked to Harry’s other side and grasped his friend’s shoulder. He hadn’t realized how much his own hopes had been lifted by the thought of Ginny being able to do the impossible until that moment. Now all Ron felt was crushing disappointment, shared by the two witches he cared about most.
“We should try to get some sleep so that we can take care of Harry in the morning,” Ginny said, wiping her face on the corner of the blanket, getting up and moving around the bed to slide in next to Harry.
Hermione made no response but to mop her own eyes with the handkerchief that Ron held out to her and get into the bed closest the door, taking the inside spot. He was glad that they wouldn’t have to have one of their more frequent arguments. Ron preferred to sleep closer to the door, making it more difficult for an intruder to get to her, unlikely as it might seem.
But perhaps she didn’t feel as safe as she did when they were at home or at Hogwarts or maybe she just didn’t want to start a fight over something so small. Whatever the reason, Ron was grateful and settled in next to her. He was even more pleased when she immediately backed herself up so that they were spooning. They both had their eyes on the other bed. Hermione whispered, “I’ll take the first watch.”
It took him a few moments to understand what she was talking about and almost objected. In the end, though, he said, “Okay, wake me in four.” He could see her wand sticking out from under the covers. She was poised to act should the door open.
“You don’t trust the others’ ability to protect the room?” Ginny asked incredulously.
“We’re worried about that wand, Gin. What if we didn’t do a good enough job of convincing someone earlier?” said Ron, Hermione’s fears being contagious.
“Should we move it?” Ron asked, thinking it would be better protected nearer to him and Hermione.
“No,” said Ginny vehemently. Forestalling any objections she pointed out, “We can’t treat his holly wand any differently from someone else’s. That would only defeat our purpose.”
A few moments passed and Hermione finally said, “She’s right. We need to act as though all is normal.”
Ron didn’t like it, but he knew that they were right. “Very well, then, shall we just trust that the Order will protect us?”
The response was “yes,” and so he said, “Good-night, you two.”
Ron thought that he would never fall asleep and was therefore quite surprised to wake up to find light shining in through the windows. No sooner had this thought occurred to him than a knock came on the door. He gave a groggy, “Enter.”
Parvati stuck her head inside and said, “Healer Ring is here to check on Harry.”
He nodded at her and she walked in with the healer on her heels. Both were unperturbed by the flashing red lights upon their entrance and Ron guessed that Neville and Luna had made the appropriate explanations the previous evening. “Has there been any change?” asked Healer Ring, her voice doubtful but sympathetic.
Hermione spoke with her quietly, presumably to tell her about their experiment the previous evening. Ring seemed mildly impressed and said, “It was a good idea, but clearly it didn’t produce results.”
She only sighed as she began performing some complex magic and writing down readings on the clipboard she carried.
Ron’s stomach growled as the healer finished up her duties, explaining everything she did to Parvati. Parvati winked at all of them as Ring prepared to leave. She said, “They’ve decided that Lavender and I could do with some on-the job training this week.”
Hermione gave a little laugh and said, “Something tells me that our favorite Minister of Magic had a chat with the Director of St. Mungo’s.”
“It’s quite common, really, but it’s definitely more than just a coincidence, I should say,” mused Parvati. “Well, I only had a few moments. I’ll be back in a little while, Ginny.”
They tried to keep to their normal morning routine. Ron and Hermione took turns using the loo to freshen up. Kreacher brought in their breakfast and fussed over all of them, although his attentions mostly concentrated on Ginny. There had been some discussion the previous evening when Arthur had offered to speak with Ron and Hermione’s bosses to let them know that neither would be able to work that day. Ron had insisted that he needed to be at the Auror office to help out. In the end, though, Ginny had been the one to bring Harry’s wishes into play. He would want his two best friends to live as normally as possible. Their immediate acquiescence left little doubt that they would all likely give in to any demands she might make of them right now since no objections were raised after that.
Ron wondered how much sleep his sister had actually gotten when he and Hermione finally had no choice but to leave if they wanted to get to work on time. They wished Ernie and Justin a good morning and gave a nod to Auror Kniery in the foyer, who was standing on duty along with two of the hospital’s own staff.
Hermione’s hand was firmly in his when they Apparated into the Atrium, which was crowded with personnel as well as some reporters. They both stiffened slightly and slouched down, nearly running to a lift, which thankfully arrived moments later. They were lucky to find only other Ministry workers who only gave them nods of recognition. Ron hugged Hermione tightly when he let her off at her floor. He was pleased when she returned it, clinging to him for an extra minute.
Ron felt uncommonly nervous as he looked at the door to the Auror Department. He would like to have said that it was due to the skirmish that had taken place there the previous day, but in truth he’d never walked in there without Harry. He steeled himself and pushed the door open, half-expecting someone to ask him what he was doing there. Other than a number of empty desks that represented the Aurors now facing trial, nothing was out of the ordinary. He focused on his desk, and only his desk, not looking to either side. He did not want to see the disappointed look on anyone’s face that Harry wasn’t with him. He blew a sigh of relief when he made it to his chair without incident and sank into it.
His relief was short-lived as he found a mountain of correspondence waiting for him. There were a few choice words swirling around in his head that he thought best not to voice. He tried to stop his hand from trembling as he pulled one of the envelopes closer.
It was just as he thought; they were all letters from concerned witches and wizards who wanted to know what was going on with Harry. He quickly shuffled all of them until he found one from Stan Shunpike. Ron still needed to speak with Robards and so decided to send a memo to Hermione, asking her to take care of their renewed problem with the post. She’d be better able to handle it anyway, he told himself.
He then sent a note to Robards asking to speak with him privately, although he first asked Proudfoot if that would be okay, not wanting to break the chain of command. He needn’t have worried since his team leader was just as worried about what had happened to Harry and didn’t see the need to inform Dawlish either. On Ron’s other side, Beulah talked to him about some investigations they were to get started with later that morning. He was about to go into the file room to get some research materials when the Head Auror demanded to see him and Proudfoot in his office immediately.
“Auror Weasley,” Robards began briskly. But he faltered and suddenly his tone softened and he continued, “Ron, Kingsley has asked us to put the best of our force into finding out what happened to Harry. Ordinarily something of this nature would be up to the normal patrol officers of the MLE, but because this is the only department we know to be completely free, or nearly so, of infiltration, he would prefer us to handle it.”
Ron was quite certain that Robards had intended to say more but there was a knock and his assistant informed him that there was someone there to speak with Auror Weasley. Robards only looked mildly surprised and nodded for her to admit the person. Katie Bell walked in and kept her eyes on Ron.
“I have some rather important information for you,” she whispered.
“You can speak freely here,” said Ron, indicating the other two wizards in the room. He quickly introduced her to his superiors and she blushed as she shook hands with them. Ron nodded encouragingly at her.
“Well, apparently Reichgard only took over when Bagman, you remember him…” she started. Ron nodded his head quickly, knowing he could never have forgotten Bagman running from the goblins after the Triwizard Tournament. “Anyhow, we learned that before that he worked in the MLE for the office overseeing Azkaban. His specific job was to approve visits there and to document them. I’m sorry to say that we don’t know anything beyond that yet, but I thought it was important enough to inform you immediately.”
“Thanks, Katie,” said Ron while he desperately tried to come up with what he ought to say next.
“Are you working alone, Miss Bell?” asked Robards.
“Do you mean on Harry’s case? No, our friend Alicia also works in the department, although she’s full-time and I’m just a temp during the off-season,” said Katie, clearly flustered at being addressed by the Head Auror.
But the brief exchange had allowed him time to gather his thoughts and so he steered Katie’s attention back to himself, saying, “Good job. Keep on it, but just make sure you and Alicia are discrete. Send her next time so that it doesn’t look so odd that you’re visiting the Auror department too frequently.” She might have smiled her pleasure at his praise but it looked more like she had a toothache and simply said that she ought to get back to work. Katie gave an embarrassed nod to the other two Aurors and made haste to retreat from the room.
Ron remembered Hermione complaining about not knowing who had visited Bellatrix Lestrange while she was in Azkaban, but he rather knew at least how it was done, if not necessarily who had done so. He was elated by how quickly he’d been able to get information and anticipated that by the end of the day they would have all of the answers they needed. He shared what he knew with Robards and Proudfoot and then suddenly remembered the vial of memories that Harry had handed him the day before. Even after having viewed them a few times in the Pensieve that Robards kept in his office they weren’t much farther along than before.
There was yet another knock on the door, Robards’s secretary indicating that another witch was there to see Ron.
This time it was Hannah Abbott, who was currently working in the Leaky Cauldron to help her Uncle Tom. She told him about some obscure bit of information she’d gleaned from one of her customers. Apparently the wizard had been sent once a summer to secretly visit a set of boy and girl twins out in Somerset and report on his findings to Reichgard. She knew nothing about the wizard, but that when she’d turned around to ask him another seemingly innocent question, he’d disappeared.
“Well, one thing is for certain-” began Latimer, the moment she’d left. Robards finished, “-clearly Reichgard had a couple of lovechildren with Mrs. Lestrange.”
Ron was just as curious as they were, but he didn’t know how this would help them with Harry and said as much. “If your telling of Harry’s duel is correct, then I would expect that his extraction of that particular memory is what caused Reichgard to act as he did. After all, he stood nothing to gain by trying to kill Harry unless it was to silence him. He did it in front of an entire room of spectators, knowing he couldn’t possibly escape what sentence he would receive for the deed,” said Robards, feeling the words around in his mouth as he spoke, coming to conclusions as he went along.
“But he didn’t try to kill Harry at first, only stop him from seeing anything more,” insisted Ron, knowing that there had to be more to it than that. “I think that he was hoping that whatever he’s been concocting for these past few weeks would do the job for him. Then he had no choice but to try killing Harry, once he’d been confronted by Harry about those memories.”
The three wizards went in a round-about fashion for some time before Robards finally asked Proudfoot and Ron to begin doing some more research about Bellatrix and Reichgard before some of the more formal investigations would start. Ron thought he was making some headway, noting the dates of visitation on Bellatrix’s file were decidedly concentrated for about two months, some twelve years previous. The children would surely have been sent to Hogwarts, their blood-status verified by their father, even if they themselves didn’t know about it. But what Death Eater sent his children to live with muggles? It was an enigma he couldn’t solve.
He hadn’t been back at his desk for more than a few minutes when he smelled his favorite perfume hanging in the air around him. He turned around to find Hermione standing there, hugging herself and looking utterly lost. She simply said, “I can’t do it. I need to help you.”
“I assume you sorted out Stan?” Ron asked, understanding her frustration. At her nod, he suggested, “Why don’t you use Harry’s desk? It’s not like he’ll miss it right now.”
He might have worried about his boss’s reaction except for the fact that he’d already anticipated the possibility that Hermione might need to be in the thick of the action and gotten approval to let her work with them temporarily. Ron couldn’t help but smile when he heard her sigh of disapproval at how Harry had organized his desk.
“She can’t be pleased with the mess over there,” he muttered to Beulah, who managed to stifle a chuckle.
A number of other Order members continually came through with reports as well. It was a constant interruption to the work of everyone near him and after a short period Latimer suggested that those of them working on the Potter case should use the empty office once again.
Ron and Hermione walked in first, soon to be joined by other Aurors. The blackboard (crossed out names of Death Eaters still etched on its surface) that Harry had conjured still hung in the air, slightly surprising both of them. Surely it should have vanished by now.
“Maybe things aren’t as dire as we thought, ‘Mione,” said Ron, touching the blackboard and feeling its solid form beneath his fingertips.
Her mouth opened and closed a few times as she searched for the right words. “I hope you’re right. It should mean he’s still fighting this thing. He’s still in control of the magic he’s recently cast.”
Ron looked around the room and tried to think of some encouraging things to say to the Aurors that would join them soon. He came up short and suddenly felt completely inept. “What if we can’t do this, Hermione? What if we fail? I don’t know how to be a leader. I have no idea what’s happened to Harry,” he said, voicing his fears to the only person that he could.
Her hand immediately found his and squeezed it. “That’s utter rubbish, Ron, and you know it. You kept the fight alive when Harry pretty much lost his marbles last year and you always stand up for what’s right. We can figure anything out if we work together,” she said, her eyes conveying her understanding for his insecurities.
“Yeah, and did we accomplish anything during that time? All I could do was keep us moving. Besides we’ve always had Harry there whenever we’ve done anything spectacular. You may be the brains of the three of us, but he’s the one who comes up with the wild theories that turn out to be true. How are we going to do this without him? I’m not even sure where to start,” Ron said, feeling as though they were fighting a losing battle.
He did not expect Hermione’s next move at all. She was suddenly in his arms and kissing him passionately. He melted into her, taking full advantage of the encouragement and strength that she was imbuing him with. Neither of them heard the door open and it was only when a few throats cleared that Ron and Hermione jumped back from one another, horrified by their actions.
Both of their gazes flew to the door and relief flooded Ron, although not so Hermione beside him. She was standing there straight-backed and red-faced. But it was only Beulah and Harry’s partner Eleanor there, who smiled at the two of them.
“If I hadn’t heard Latimer tell you to use this room, Ron, I might have thought you’d put in a request,” Beulah teased, winking dramatically.
“Er, sorry about that. It shouldn’t happen again,” said Ron, not saying that it wouldn’t, because he didn’t want to make a promise he might not be able to keep. “So, um, have a seat. I assume you’ve brought your things with you? We’ll wait to say anything until everyone’s here, I think.”
“All will work out,” said Beulah, comfortingly.
“We’ll make it happen,” encouraged Eleanor, her eyes alight with fire.
Ron wondered how close Eleanor had gotten to Harry. He certainly always talked of her fondly. He too was pleased with the Auror he’d been partnered with, finding Beulah helpful and pleasant. He just nodded and indicated that they ought to take seats. The room was still enlarged and held the extra desks and chairs that Harry had provided for the File Task-Force.
“Should we make a list of everywhere Harry’s been since in the last week?” Ron asked Hermione.
Her lips twitched and she said, “So that we’re thorough why don’t we include everywhere he’s been since we started here. I know it may be a bit too much, but if we confine our searches to such a specific time we could miss something.”
“Should we think about when he was here before the summer term at Hogwarts as well, then?” asked Ron, dreading the amount of time and manpower that her suggestion would take.
“I don’t think so, since anywhere he visited before we started working here should be the same, including the courtrooms,” replied Hermione, somewhat uncertainly. She added, “One of us should talk to Ginny, though, to see if he went anywhere else before the summer.”
“I don’t think that’s necessary,” said Ron after considering that for a moment and remembering what had gone on in recent weeks. With Hermione’s look of surprise he added, “None of these symptoms we’ve witnessed started until we returned anyway. It wouldn’t matter where he visited before that.”
Their conversation was put to an end when the rest of Team Proudfoot entered, closely followed by Brockhurst’s team. Then another team entered that Ron thought belonged to Team Leader Williamson. This one included Dean, Seamus, Michael and Anthony and Ron knew that their team had probably been included based on the request he’d made to Robards earlier that morning. Ron couldn’t have been more pleased, since he’d worked with most of them, as had Hermione. Some of them had even fought alongside Harry and many others had done so with Ron both in Knockturn Alley and there at the office the previous day. There was a note of anticipation in the air as they all sat down.
Dominic stopped by the desk at the front of the room and told Ron and Hermione that none of the Team Leaders would be joining them as they were going to concentrate on the administrative paperwork that had piled up due to recent activity and the arrest of so many Aurors the previous day.
Once everyone was seated, Hermione gently nudged Ron in the ribs with her elbow, so he cleared his throat and said, “So, apparently they thought we’d be better off here since there are too many people coming to give me information and it was a big distraction.”
He broke off for a moment, but they all still looked at him expectantly. He took a deep breath and said, “We will find out what that bastard did to Harry, or die trying.”
Hermione had kicked him at the last phrase, but he tried to ignore it. And clearly the Aurors took that to heart, voicing their desire for immediate results.
“Miss Granger?” said Dean, once the noise quieted a bit.
She raised an annoyed brow at him and said, “Dean, you’ve known me for over seven years. Miss Granger?”
“Sorry, I didn’t know how formal we should be…you know, here in the Auror Department,” he replied awkwardly. “Anyway, perhaps we should give a name to our group to give us a sense of unity…”
His voice sort of trailed off, not needing to say that he remembered how calling themselves “Dumbledore’s Army” had made enormous strides to create a strong sense of loyalty and purpose three years ago.
“Harry’s Army,” Seamus suggested.
“Too redundant,” said Michael, wrinkling his nose. “How about the Vengeance Brigade?”
“No way, we’re trying to help Harry, not just avenge him,” scoffed Anthony. “Let’s call ourselves the Chosen One’s Saviors. Get it?”
The Aurors in the room got into the spirit of thing and before anyone knew it, names were being shouted all over the place.
Hermione gave Ron a meaningful look that told him she expected him to do something and he knew what was now necessary. Inwardly grimacing, he stood and leaned tightened fists upon the desk in front of him, leaning on it. “That’s quite enough! This group is only temporary. There is no need to worry about whether or not anyone in the room is going to betray us. Hopefully this case will be closed by the end of the day. We need to get to work; not sit here worrying over a stupid name.”
He’d been shocked by the tone of his voice, not to mention how quickly they’d all stopped to stare at him stupidly. He took a breath and then outlined the plans they’d developed so far with the Order to get the information they needed. Soon everyone in the room had been set to tasks. Some were talking and going through research of what they knew of Reichgard and Bellatrix Lestrange. Others had left to visit some of the places that the Order couldn’t. Ron looked down at the file he was holding, but not really seeing the words on the parchment. He just registered Dominic’s statement that Robards hadn’t sent any Team Leader at all to direct them and wondered if it was an oversight. But it couldn’t be because, while Robards might not be the best Auror ever, he was definitely capable and one thing was for certain; he was extremely thorough. There were never any “oversights.” And all of the Aurors in the room had immediately looked to him for leadership. Ron just hoped that Robards’s great leap of faith in him wasn’t entirely misplaced. He felt the toe of Hermione’s shoe graze lightly along the back of his leg. She hadn’t even glanced up from one of the memos from Harry’s desk, but she’d known that he needed her. In fact, she probably felt the same sense of loss and despair. But she was so much more accustomed to authority than he was. He couldn’t understand why she didn’t just step in and take over. Whatever her reasoning, his hand breached the short distance across the tabletop and clenched his fingers around hers. Her smile told him that she understood his appreciation.
He had agreed with her that they ought to try to keep up with Harry’s work so that he wouldn’t be completely overwhelmed when he returned.
“How in hell was he getting through all of this everyday?” she suddenly said, her exasperation causing spittle to fly across the room. Had he ever told her how much he loved that tendency? Or how much it tickled him when she cursed?
Perhaps it would be best to keep those observations to himself. Ron looked at Harry’s teeming inboxes, nearly all of them overflowing with urgent missives. “I dunno. That’s mostly why I wasn’t surprised he was so tired all the time. But now, that clearly wasn’t all there was to it.”
“No, and the goblins are trying to cause even more trouble. Griphook, in particular, is apparently being tried by his peers and demanding that Harry appear to help officially clear his name. Perhaps one of us can go in his stead. We were both there as well,” she said, handing him the long letter.
“Bloody Hell, we don’t have time for this!” Ron frowned. He tried to think of someone they knew that was familiar with goblins that could take care of the problem. No one came to mind until Dean and his Auror mentor returned from a trip to the Atrium to try to pick up some clues. Hermione whispered in his ear and the next moment Ron called, “Hey, Dean, do you have a sec?”
“Of course,” said Dean, looking curious.
“This isn’t going to be fun, but we really need someone to go and try to calm down the goblins, Griphook in particular. I don’t know of anyone better for that task,” Ron said, trying to apologize with his voice and his expression.
But there was no denying the hurt in Dean’s eyes. “You’re sending me away?”
“Look, this is something that we can entrust to no one else. You know the details and how to deal with them. You lived with Griphook for how many months? We need someone capable to handle this situation. Harry needs you to do this. He would never have asked it of you, but we are now asking you. Will you help you with them?” said Hermione, making it sound like a much more important job than it really was.
The way she put it gave Dean little choice but to agree and he did so graciously. “Thank you,” said Hermione, handing him all of the correspondence that Harry had received from the goblins over the past two days. She then accompanied him into the outer office to help him find anything else Harry had at his desk that might be useful. Dean sat down right there and set to work. He would need to know everything that had gone on before trying to talk to any of the goblins.
There was no denying the relief that everyone felt when someone announced that it was lunchtime. How had the morning dragged on so long? There were some comments indicating they ought to remain working and just have something delivered. “No, let’s try to get away from all of this for a short while. We’ll go to the cafeteria as we usually do. Not to do so could cause more comment than not and I think we’d rather avoid that,” said Hermione firmly, standing up and dragging Ron with her.
He was quite astonished by her attitude; it was so unlike anything he’d ever known. He didn’t think she would even have taken meals at all during their last few years at Hogwarts if he and Harry hadn’t forced her. While he wasn’t usually one to fight with a break from working, he had to think that constant work on this particular problem was called for. He wasn’t alone as some of the other Aurors voiced their disagreement, the loudest of which were the newest, in the form of Seamus, Michael and Anthony. Ron noticed that Eleanor wasn’t far behind them.
But he decided to support Hermione because he remembered some of the ridiculous conversations that had ensued the previous year when they hadn’t taken proper breaks to replenish themselves.
It was in short order then, that they all found themselves on lifts carrying them to the Atrium. Upon arrival, Hermione nudged Ron and said, “Can you grab a newspaper?”
“I thought you might expire on the spot during breakfast when you didn’t have a copy of the ‘Prophet’ to read,” he teased.
“I know and then I forgot to get one with the fuss when we got here. I won’t forget to ask Kreacher to bring our own copy tomorrow if it’s necessary, I can tell you that.”
Ron ducked out of the queue that was forming for the cafeteria and tired to discretely buy a paper. Luckily he was able to fob off the boy selling them with a hasty signature and managed to get away without answering any questions.
He looked down at the front page and glanced through the only article on it. There occurred a brief moment of insanity in which Ron considered running with it so that Hermione couldn’t read it. But his plan was scarpered in more way than one. Firstly, she’d already spotted him holding it. Secondly, she could just get one for herself. Thirdly, anyone could tell her what it contained.
“Blimey,” moaned Hermione, after snatching the paper from Ron’s hands.
The headline read OUR SAVIOR LYING NEAR DEATH IN ST. MUNGO’S?. Beneath it was a large photo showing Hermione Apparating the three of them out of the conference room, over and over again. Like Ron, Hermione almost wanted to retch every time she watched the scene replay.
A/N:This took quite a few edits to get just right. I am so accustomed to writing through Harry's eyes and it wasn't easy to switch modes...mostly to Ron. And, yes, I know, it goes on and on. Perhaps I should have made it clear before; that this situation will continue for a few chapters. I have my reasons for this and I only ask for patience from my faithful readers. It will be worth it in the end. As always, I appreciate any feedback, be it positive or negative. Please feel free to let me know what you think.
Trivia Question: Can anyone guess the two meanings behind the chapter title “The New Spark?” 10 house points to whoever gets it right.
A/N #2: No, I have not forgotten about my story. My time in the last two months has been occupied with helping my ailing grandmother who recently passed away. There is still a great deal to do in order to take care of her estate and so I hope everyone will understand that taking care of my family needs to come first for the time being. Everything it still running in my head and I escape on occasion to just lose myself in my work, but it will probably take me longer to write this next chapter than I would like.
Write a Review A Time to Live: Chapter 33: The New Spark