Blake sat contentedly in Ron’s lap, tugging on the large button holding his cloak closed, trying to pull the round wafer into her mouth. When she couldn’t make the button reach she leaned forward and brought her mouth to it. She gnawed on the bit of mettle for a moment before leaning back, shaking it several times, than leaning in again.
Smiling, Ron relaxed into the armchair, one arm held protectively around his daughter’s middle, precaution against any sudden change in the bus’s momentum. He watched Blake with a content smile on his face. If it made her happy he’d let her eat all the buttons he owned. And when those were gone he’d go and purchase more.
Sighing, he turned his head to look out the window and gage how far away from home they were. He recognized a long row of low rock wall and the pasture behind it and knew they weren’t far.
The bus made a long turn in the road and the sun flooded through the window, blinding him. Ron put up a hand to shield his eyes, frowning at the sun’s position in the sky. He hadn’t been expecting to return home so early. He’d imagined as soon as his mother saw the little girl in his arms she’d insist they stay for dinner, pudding, possibly even for the night, all in hope of making up for missing time with him and his daughter. But, much to his bewilderment, she hadn’t been home. She was always home this time of the day. As was his father. Ever since the war Arthur had taken to coming home at his midday break to have a meal with his wife. Ron had specifically chosen to arrive at the Burrow around noon so that he could tell both his mother and father the good news together.
Needles to say he’d been more than a little surprised to arrive and find that not only was his father not home, but his mother was absent as well. Thinking that perhaps today his mother had gone into the city to meet his father, or that she’d momentarily stepped out of the house on an errand, Ron had waited an hour and a half for her return. As the second hour drew closer to an end he’d written his mother a note, letting her know he’d stopped and would return later, and left, hailing down the Knight Bus and taking off for home.
He could only imagine the reunion in store when he returned that evening. Molly’d grab Blake out of his arms and smother her in thousands of kisses and wouldn’t let Ron have her again until he was forced to take her away in order to leave. That of course was the primary reason the Burrow had not been the first stop after leaving St. Mungos the night before. He’d wanted time alone with his daughter, before he was forced to share her with the rest of the family. To reconnect. To just stare at her and hold her in his arms and know that she was safe and sound. Forever. He pressed a kiss to the crown of her head. He’d keep her safe forever, or dye trying. His heart picked up a beat. No one was ever going to take her away from him again.
Ron’s arm tightened reflexively around Blake’s middle. Even now he couldn’t bare the idea of letting anyone else hold her, even if they were a member of his family. Actually, he imagined it would be quite some time before he trusted people to be alone with her and not expect them to flee with her the moment his back was turned.
Gently Ron’s arm tightened, easing Blake forward until she was nestled right against his chest. He’d been without her for so long…he hadn’t realized how empty his arms felt until he had her comforting weight back in them.
A smile turned up the corners of his lips as he remembered the night before and Winifred trying to convince him to put Blake down long enough to sign the adoption papers. He managed just fine without. The way he felt at the moment, like she would be safe nowhere but in his arms, she’s be lucky is she learned to walk before the age of four.
Blake leaned back away from his chest again and tried once more to pull the button free of his cloak. She gave a squeal of indignation, flailing her hand. The wet button slipped free of her fingers and she screeched, lurching forward to attack it with her mouth again.
Ron laughed as he bent his head and kissed her hair, closing his eyes with content.
The bus made another wild turn, causing the armchair to slide across the floor and stop only when it reached the other wall of the bus. “Finally.” Ron said under his breath, bending to the side to reach for the nappy tote tucked under the legs of the chair. He felt the momentum of the bus shift again and he clutched Blake protectively to his chest as the breaks screamed and the bus skidded to a halt.
“There we are.” Ron said, getting to his feet. “Home, safe and sound.”
He wove his way through the scattered seats to the back of the bus where a man with yellow blond hair waved them off, whishing them a good day. As soon as they were clear of the bus it jerked back into a motion and only just cleared him when with a bang it jumped and disappeared, leaping half way across the country to its next location.
Cursing under his breath Ron turned left towards his house. He hadn’t taken a full step when he stopped. His body tensed, ready for flight. Someone was sitting, in what had to be a conjured chair, at the exact location he knew his wards ended. Uncertain if his visitor was friend or foe he debated recalling the Knight Bus.
Before he could decide whether to stick out his thumb or not, the person turned in his direction. He recognized instantly the face looking back at him which had him sighing with relief. He rolled his eyes as he moved into step. How could he have not recognized who it was? There was only one person he knew outside his family with hair that colour, and hers had the distinct quality of being curly, not straight.
He watched her lips separate into a smile as he drew closer and he picked up his step.
“Bernie,” he called, lifting a hand in greeting. “What are you doing here?”
Bernie rose lightly from the seat, banishing the chair with a lazy flick of her wand. “I told you,” she said, tucking her wand away, “I was off today and would be stopping for a visit.” The wind picked up, blowing her free hair into her face. She used her fingers to comb it back out of her eyes and hold it place at the crown of her head. “Did you know,” she jabbed a thumb over her shoulder, “that you have a wicked strong ward around your house?”
“Yeah,” Ron said with a laugh. “I should think so. I put it there.”
“Oh,” her eyes widened, impressed. “It wasn’t there the last time I was here.”
Ron nodded his head toward the babbling child in his hand. “Things have changed since the last time you were here.”
“Clearly,” She grinned back. “That would explain these, of course.” She held out a hand full of post. “I hope you don’t mind. The owls looked exhausted.”
“No,” Ron sighed, reaching for the stack. “That’s fine.” He quickly stuffed the bundle into the nappy tote. “I suppose it needed to be done.”
“So,” she said turning with him as he passed, “I decided that with all the excitement, what with bringing little Blake here home, you haven’t had time to cook yourself a proper meal.” She hurried ahead a few steps and scooped up a large box sitting on the ground. She turned to Ron with a smile, giving the box a gentle shake. “I made a chicken with a side of mash,” she looked down in the box, “a dozen rolls and fresh green beans. You’ll have to cook those,” she said looking up, juggling the box into a more comfortable position, “but I didn’t think you’d mind. They’re best if you haven’t let them sit.”
Ron breathed in slowly through his nose, savoring the heavenly sent seeping through the box opening. “It smells delicious. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” She beamed.
“You’ll be joining me, of course.” He offered when the silence lingered a little too long.
She grinned at him guiltily, her nose scrunching slightly on the sides. “I was hoping…”
“Of course you were.” Ron said brightly as he stepped past, shifting Blake’s weight into one arm, freeing the other to pull his wand.
Bernie watched, head tipped to one side, as Ron went about removing the more powerful wards that protected his property. She was impressed. He was confident in his movements, adept at the spells. And if the charge in the air was any indication, his magic was exceptionally strong. It was a good thing she hadn’t tried apperating directly to the house. Coming up against that barrier without warning would have left her flat on her back and in loads of pain.
“There,” Ron said, lowering his wand. “You should be able to get through now.”
Shifting her fingers under the edge of the box so that she had a stronger hold, Bernie followed Ron through, fighting not to wince until she was clear. She felt only a moments resistances, like the air had become momentarily thicker, but had no trouble beyond that.
“What type of ward was that?”
“That,” Ron said with a satisfied smirk, “is an interesting little charm I learned from Bill, my brother. It’s very tricky to cast, very difficult to get right.”
Bernie rolled her eyes at the back patting Ron was giving himself. “Yes, but what does it do?”
“It judges the intentions of the person trying to pass. If their intention if pure, they can proceed. If not…” he cocked his head, “they should get tossed back on their arse. It should work nicely for my purposes.”
“To keep out the press.”
Bernie nodded her head back the way they had come. “Was that the reason behind the more powerful ones?”
“Partly.” He shrugged before he took the two steps up to his front door. “There were also a few members of my family who I wasn’t ready to see.”
Bernie’s surprise halted her step a moment as she looked up at him. Knowing what she did about Ron and his family she found that last bit of information more than a little surprising. “I’m sure that’s an interesting story.” She hedged, stepping onto the stoop beside him.
Ron shrugged dismissively as the door opened. “You’re off today? Why are you here with me when you could be off with friends or family of your own?”
“Because,” she squeezed through the gap between him and the door, ducking under his arm, “they all have jobs that actually require them to be at work on a week day.” She looked up at him pointedly, one brow arched high, before she moved on towards his kitchen.
“I’m taking a few days off.” He called after her as he closed the door.
“And how long is a few days exactly?” She asked with her back against the kitchen door. “When do you intend to go back?” She stepped backwards, pushing it open with her foot and catching it with her back to hold it open wide for him.
“I don’t know yet. Do you need some help?” He asked, eyeing the box.
“No.” She stepped away from the door as soon as he passed, letting it swing close. “You go sit down.” She brought the box to the counter and heaved it up. She pulled her wand and with a flick the food stuffs rose out of the box and soared through the air to the refrigerator where they would wait until they were needed.
That done, Bernie turned and leaned her hip against the counter, arms crossed over her chest. Her eyes narrowed as they swept over the room, lips pursing the more she stared. “This place is a mess.” She scowled, eyeing the pile of unclean dishes in the sink.
“Yeah,” Ron flushed, kicking his feet up into the seat of the chair across the table from him. “I’ve had other things on my mind.”
“I can clean my own house, thanks.” He snapped, cutting her off before she could finish the offer, face flushing with heat.
Bernie shifted uncomfortably, her eyes darting back to the dishes. “At least let me do the washing up.”
Ron’s scowl deepened.
“Alright. Alright.” She put up her hands, deliberately turning her back on the sink. “Using magic it would only take me a minute. But I’ll just sit here,” she pulled out the chair and sat, “minding my own business.” Crossed her arms. “Trying not to look...”
Rolling his eyes, Ron drew his wand from the pocket of his coat and jabbed it at the dishes. Instantly the basin began to fill with warm, sudsy water and then, as if a pair of invisible hands were at work, a rag plunged into the water and began scrubbing the first plate.
“Better?” He asked, setting his wand down.
“Much.” She beamed, lifting one foot comfortably onto the chair with her, pulling her leg against her body. She settled her chin on the top of her knee and watched as Ron turned Blake so that she was facing towards him and held her hands so that she could sit up and face him. Contorting his face into a ridiculous expression he bent both his knees slightly and began bouncing her gently. The little girls eyes lit up and her bubbly laughter filled the kitchen.
Bernie’s smile grew. “You’re so good with her.”
Ron didn’t look when he answered, focused solely on entertaining Blake. “She is my daughter.”
“Still,” she persisted, “for a first time father.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” He finally pulled his eyes away from Blake to look at Bernie. “I’m a father. She’s my daughter. I want to spend time with her.” He continued to bounce her gently.
“I only meant…well, it took my brother-in-law a lot longer to be comfortable holding his first than you seem to be holding yours.
“I’m a Weasley,” he said almost dismissively, returning his focus to Blake. “Family is our thing. Or haven’t you heard?” His lip smirked sarcastically, “we breed like rabbits.”
Bernie’s skin instantly stained a deep red. Immediately she ducked her head, hiding her face from Ron behind a curtain of red curls. She bit her lip as she tugged on a single strand, watching it bounce back into a tight twist when she released it. “So, where were you?” She asked, trying to relieve her discomfort by changing the subject. “I would have thought you’d stay into today. You know…considering…”
“I went to the Burrow. Wanted to share the good news with mum and dad.” His bouncing knees slowed to a stop. “I wanted to tell them myself before they learned about it from someone else.” His brow furrowed deep. “But they weren’t home when I got there. A bit odd really. Mum’s always home during the day.”
Bernie’s face smoothed into a look of confusion. “You sound a bit worried.”
“Of course I am.” Ron took Blake under the arms and lifted her against his chest. “Do you have any idea how upset my mother’s going to be when she learns she missed seeing Blake today? She’s going to be a tyrant. And do you know how difficult it was for me to go over there today to begin with? All I want to do is pack up my things and run. Somewhere far away where no one can ever get their hands on Blake again.”
“Well,” Bernie’s foot slid off the chair and landed on the floor with a loud thud as she moved to the edge of her seat. “Why don’t you?”
Bernie reached out to put a hand on his arm. “Why don’t you run with her?” She nodded her head towards the door, “Take her and go. Get away from all of this madness for a while. Give yourself some time to think. No one would blame you. After everything that’s happened to you both,” she shook her head, “no one would think less of you for wanting to hide her away.”
Ron cocked his head, considering for a moment. “Perhaps I will.” He agreed. “But I have a few things here I need to take care of first.” He said slowly.
Bernie nodded, trying to hide the unwarranted relief she felt with a look of understanding. She forced herself to look him in the eyes, trying to clear her mind of her unconscious thoughts. Now was not the time.
“Yes,” she said absently, mind beginning to focus. “There’s a lot you’ll have to do. Tell your family. Sign some papers. Release a statement to the press.”
“Like hell I will.” Ron sat up, feet slamming to the floor. “The press has been driving me mad trying for an interview. Why would I willingly give them any information about Blake or myself?”
“Blake?” Bernie’s brow furrowed with confusion. She sat forward. “I…I wasn’t talking about Blake.”
Ron’s eyes narrowed on her face. “Then what…”
“I thought you’d want to…” She twirled a lock of hair around her right pointer finger, “I mean to say…” she bit at her lip. “You…you did make a decision…didn’t you?”
“A decision about what?” Ron rolled his eyes with exasperation when she didn’t immediately answer. “Merlin’s beard, Bernie. Spit it out, would you? Did I make a decision about what?”
Bernie’s tongue slid across her dry lips, wetting them. “About what we talked about?”
Ron encouraged her with a look.
“That day in the underground.” She looked awkwardly about. “About…her.” Bernie had to look away. It felt like bands had strapped around her heart and it was making it hard to breath. “About…Hermione?”
“Hermione?” Ron sat back surprised. “What about Hermione?”
“I just assumed…” She stammered. “I mean you didn’t show up to testify the other day… and you’re not there today… I thought you’d made your decision…you know…about what we talked about.”
“Testify?” Ron’s lips formed the word, but there was no air to push it out. It had all poured out of him in a moment of surprise. “Her trial?”
Bernie nodded. “They’re making closing arguments today.” She confirmed. “Probably right now as we speak.”
Her heart sped up as his face drained of all colour. He sat there a moment, frozen like a statue as his mind raced ahead, his thoughts and emotions overwhelming him until he couldn’t think. He blinked at her several times before he moved.
“I have to go.” He was on his feet in an instant. “I have to go, now.” He said again, tuning one way and then the other. “Where do I…” He looked down at his daughter, arms tightening reflexively, than up at Bernie, his face a riot of conflicting emotions. His breath came labored, the muscles in his arms bunched as they tensed. “Would you?” He asked, after several deep breaths. He took step towards her. Than another. “Would you watch her for me…please?”
“What?” Bernie asked, shocked. “Why?” She put out her arms as Ron handed her the child. “Where are you going?” She asked, though Merlin help her, she already knew the answer.
Ron didn’t respond. He bent his head to press a kiss to Blake’s cheek, than without missing a step, turned and broke into a sprint.
Bernie hesitated a moment, her thoughts at war with each other, before grabbing the nappy bag and following Ron at a run.
The trip to the Ministry was a blur for Ron, one moment he was standing at the edge of his property the next he was standing in front of a lift, pounding the palm of his hand against the call button, striking it a few more time when a gate didn’t immediately open. The ride in the lift was excruciatingly long and the sprint down the hallway even longer. The doors to the courtroom flew open before him, eliciting shouts of surprise and outrage from the witches and wizards standing in the back. There was an unnaturally synchronized groan of old wood as the entire room turned as one to learn the cause of disruption.
For one split second Ron feared he’d walked headfirst into a trap set just for him. The room exploded into a roar of sound and light, blinding him through his closed eye lids. Only when he heard the pang of used bulbs hitting the floor did he realize the blinding flashes of light were from press cameras. Fantastic, he thought, walking blindly forward, trying to push his way through the crowd. This was just what he needed. As if he hadn’t dealt with the press enough already.
“Captain Weasley,” A voice rose over the tumult from somewhere beyond the blinding white light. “I was wondering if we would be seeing you.” Ron made a final push and crossed the press line. With the flashing bulbs at his back he could finally see. He took a moment to straighten his robes before he made his way to the half wall that separated the proceedings from the rest of the room.
The Official, a tall woman with gray hair pulled back in a non-nonsense, but somehow still flattering bun, frowned at him with disapproval. “We expected you here some days ago, Captain Weasley.”
“I’m sorry, Your Honor,” Ron continued to move forward, ignoring his mother hissing his name or the eyes of his family watching him so intently. “I only learned just now this trial was in process.” One brow arched high on the Official’s brow. “Which is no excuse, of course.” Ron hastened to add. “I realize how poor of an excuse that sounds, but sadly it’s the only one I have.”
“Unfortunately for you, Captain Weasley,” Olivia Endor sat forward in her seat, hands folded gracefully on her bench, “I was just about to deliver my verdict.”
“Please, Your Honor,” Ron raised his voice to he heard over the rise in commotion behind him. “Before you make your decision, there are a few things I believe you should know.”
“Is that so?” Endor’s eyes rounded with interest. “And what are these things, exactly?”
“Your Honor,” The Wizard sitting behind the prosecution table stood, “Closing arguments have been made. The Defense cannot be allowed to enter further evidence...”
“I’m not here to speak on behalf of the Defense,” several people gasped behind him. If he were listening closer he could make out his mothers words, though her tone left him certain she was scolding him. It was the emaciated figure he saw disappear further into her chair from the corner of his eye that caught him. Without meaning too Ron’s head jerked to the left and almost as quickly away again. He shifted uncomfortably, passing his weight from his left foot to his right. He could hardly recognize the girl sitting there. Pushing the image out of his head, Ron forced himself to focus on the task at hand. “I wish to speak on behalf of my daughter.”
“You don’t have a daughter.” A sharp voice cracked over the crowd, silencing the mounting din. The room turned as one again, this time to face a woman sitting in a seat near the back. Jillian Oldham rose to her feet, chin tipped defiantly, a glare filled with detestation fixed on Ron. “The court does not recognize your claim on the Blythe baby. Which means you have no legal right to that child.”
Ron stared at her a moment in stony silence, his eyes boring into her like finely tuned blades. “Actually,” he turned back to the bench only when Jillian averted her eyes, “if your Honor will allow me to approach the bench?” Olivia Endor stared at him a silent moment before motioning him forward. Ron used his hip to swing open the half door set in the wall. He reached deep into his pocket and extracted a sheet of folded paper shaking it by the corner when it was free to open it. He smoothed flat the creases as he set the parchment on Endor’s bench. “I think you’ll find that well in order.”
Olivia Endor bent her head, her eyes still on Ron as she lifted her reading glasses from the top of her head and placed them gingerly on her nose. She took up the parchment, her lips moving silently as she read through the document. She angled the parchment away from her, better to read the bottom half. Her eyes widened at the signature scrawled across the bottom. Her eyes met with Ron’s. He nodded. “I see,” she. She folded the parchment and handed it back to him. “I hardly see how that changes these proceedings, Captain Weasley.”
“I believe it changes everything, Your Honor. “Slowly Ron turned until he was facing his family. He drew in a slow breath. Mum, Dad.” He watched him mum reach for her husband’s hand. “I wanted you both to be the first to know. I made a visit to the Burrow this morning, but you weren’t home.” He made a quick glance around the room. “Now I realize why. So I’m afraid you’re going to have to find out along with everyone else now.” He turned back to the judge. “Your Honor, the Delta Squad recovered Blake yesterday afternoon. Abandoned.” He had to keep himself from looking back at Harry and Parker, both of whom he knew were sitting with his family. The very thought of what could have happened… His head shook imperceptibly to clear it of the thought. “At the Leaky Caldron. She was returned to me yesterday evening.”
The Official’s response was drowned out by the uproar in the crowd. Patronuses were suddenly scattering in all directions, the owls soon to follow, bolting from the room as fast as their wings and legs could carry them. Ron knew Blake’s return would be headline on every newspaper by morning.
The gavel struck several times as Endor fought to be heard. She struck a few more times, silencing many, slowly drawing the room back in to order. “Everyone,” Endor’s voice echoed off the walls, Sonorus being used as a last resort to quiet the last few.
“Oh Ronnie,” his mother’s voice was the last quiet, “Oh Ronnie.”
“Molly,” Arthur squeezed her hand and shook his head once when she turned to him.
“Everyone back to your seats. This instant.” She slammed her gavel one last time. “Another outburst like that and I’ll have the entire room cleared. Now, sit down.”
Wooden benches groaned as they received the weight of so many bodies. Jillian Oldham was the last to return to her seat, her lips pursed so tight they appeared fused together.
Endor placed her gavel carefully in the corner of her desk. “Where is the child now, Captain Weasley.”
“I’ve asked a friend to mind her while I came here.”
“How do we know you’re not lying?” Ron turned to the Prosecutor. “Where’s your proof?”
“I believe Winfred Edgecombe in the Office of Children and Family Services will be able to verify my story. Shall I call her here?”
“No,” Endor held up a hand. “That won’t be necessary. Captain Weasley, please continue.”
“But, Your Honor…”
“Mr Bomberley,” Endor cut off the man sitting behind the Prosecutor’s desk. “That will be quite enough.” The strength in her gaze brought the prosecution silently back to his seat. “I would like to hear what Captain Weasley has to say. Please Captain,” she invited without looking at him, “continue.”
“I don’t know what else there is to say, Your Honor. You should already have all the evidence you need to dismiss this case.” Ron was prepared for the crowds vocals this time and paid them little attention.
“Do I?” The Official asked, her right brow quirked, the barest hint of a smile on her lips.
“Yes, Your Honor.” Asnath rose eagerly to her feet, eyes brimming. She looked like a drowning woman offered a rope to safety. “Hermione Granger has been incarcerated for the last month. Her only human contact has been with the Aurors investigating her case, her guards and myself. There is no way she could have orchestrated the child’s return.”
“That’s not entirely true though, is it?” Jillian had made her way to the barrier without anyone having noticed. She smiled sickingly sweet at Ron as she said, “Ms Granger had contact with both you and Captain Potter. I monitored both interviews myself.”
“Really,” Ron’s arms crossed over his chest, purveying confidence as well as putting his well corded muscles on threatening display beneath his robes. “And what kind of information did Ms Granger pass me, exactly?”
“The location of your daughter, or course.”
Ron’s eyes narrowed into thin slits, the muscles in his biceps tightening. “’What exactly are you implying, Oldham? That I had a part in my daughter’s kidnapping?”
“If the wand works.” She drew out each word, accentuating them until they rang like an insult.
Ron lowered his arms from his chest, the hands still tightly curled. He leaned forward, putting his intimidating height too good use as he strode towards her. “I have put everything I have into finding my daughter. I’ve…”
“The Bythe Baby, you mean.”
“No.” Ron snarled. “I mean mydaughter.” He snapped open the piece of parchment once more. He thrust it in front of her face. “Blake is mine. She has been from the very beginning. And magic recognized that at her naming ceremony. She is bound to me, to my heart, to my blood, by magic. As you can see here, the court has recognized that.” He held the page aloft, like a beacon for the courtroom to see. “This document, this legal document, says that Blake is mine. That she has been all along. So you will call her by her name. Blake. Kinley. Weasley.
“And as for your ridiculous suggestion that I had anything to do with her disappearance,” he folded the parchment slowly, menacingly, “I have put everything I have into finding her. I nearly compromised my position with the Aurors, with my family, with my friends, all in order to get her back. I have run myself and my team into the ground trying to find her. I haven’t slept in weeks because I couldn’t stop thinking about her. Worrying, never knowing if she was alright. If she was scared. If something had happened to her. You have no idea what it feels like to have your child missing and being powerless to do anything about it. You have no idea what it’s like to come to terms with the fact that you might not ever see your daughter again, or that if you do…she most likely won’t be alive. So when I tell you that I had nothing to do with my daughter’s disappearance, I expect you to believe me.” He drew in a long shallow breath, trying to force some of the tension out of his body through his fingertips. He turned slowly to the front, eyes moving past the woman sitting shrunken in a tight ball in her seat. He let the breath out. “And as much as I can’t believe I’m saying this… neither did Hermione Granger.” There was a spattering if whispers but no one seemed to be brave enough to raise their voice any higher than that. “She’s innocent, Your Honor. You have to see that.”
“No.” Jillian shrieked, slamming her hand down on the banister. “Hermione Granger is guilty. Guilty. She orchestrated the whole thing. Along with Harry Potter.”
No bulbs flashed. No quills scratched on parchment. Every person in the room seemed to be holding their breath. Waiting. No one knowing how to respond.
The silence stretched until a thump was heard towards the back of the courtroom followed by the grunt of an old witch, her blue hair pilled on the top of her head in a nest of curls, as she struggled to her feet. She thumped her cane against the floor again, the glower in her eyes making it a threat. She glared at Jillian over her half-rimmed glasses, her lips pursed in an angry scowl. “Shame on you.” Her voice cracked with rage. “Shame on you. How dare you?” She thumped her cane again. “How dare you accuse Harry Potter? That boy,” she used her cane to point at him, nearly hitting the head of the person sitting in front of her, “that boy is a hero. And so is Hermione Granger.” She lowered the cane to the floor, rapping it once more. “Have you forgot what they’ve done? Have you forgot what they’ve sacrificed? For us? For you? Shame on you. Shame on you for even suggesting that Potter, Granger or Weasley would conspire together to break the law. Shame on you.” She thumped her cane on the floor one last time before sitting and folding her hands over the head in finality, the pose seeming to break the spell holding the crowd in rapture. Witches and wizards were on their feet, shouting and shaking their fists angrily at Jillian. Where before the room had been so utterly silent a mouse wouldn’t have escaped unnoticed, now it exploded with sound so overwhelming no individual voice could be heard. Jillian leaned back into the barrier, her eyes widening comically in her face.
Going straight to the Sonorus char this time, Endor rapped her gavel against her bench. “That will do.” Wood struck together again. “That will do.” Endor pounded her gavel a few more times, slowly quieting the crowd, though some remained on their feet, threat held in the curling of their fingers and the tautness of their muscles. “Ms Oldham.” Official Endor placed her gavel carefully in the middle of her bench. “I think it might be best if you took this moment to excuse yourself from the room. I think you may have made yourself some enemies today.”
“Today?” A wizard who had drawn courage from the old witch’s speech shouted. “Did you read what she did to Granger? Set Dementors on her, she did.”
Several voices joined in with the man, shouting swears at Jillian, who still leaned frozen in shock against the barrier.
Snapping to, Jillian straightened her spine. Defiance filled her pose as she tipped her chin up. “If it’s all the same to you, Your Honor, I’d like to stay.” She glared at the crowd before turning. “I seem to be the only person here not blinded by the Golden Trios fame.” She sneered. “I will not allow this court…”
“You will not allow this court?” Endor cut in coldly. “Who exactly gave you the authority in my court to allow anything?”
Jillian’s head whipped around, her eyes widening at her blunder. “I only meant…”
“I know exactly what you meant, Captain Oldham.” Endor said coldly. “And don’t think for one moment I don’t know exactly what it is you’re trying to do here. Do you think I am unaware of the happenings of the Ministry? I hear the rumors, Captain Oldham. I read the papers. I know that Captains Weasley and Potter were promoted over you. I’m also aware that you have petitioned on several occasions to have the matter reviewed.”
Jillian defiantly arched her chin and thrust back her shoulder. “That has absolutely no bearing on the matter.”
“Captain Oldham, what did you think was going to happen when you illegally had Hermione Granger incarcerated in maximum security? Her confession is inadmissible because you acquired it under duress. Because that’s what it was, Captain Oldham. You used Dementors to torture that girl. And why?” She sat forward in her seat. “Because you had no one who could verify she was exactly where she said she was at the time of the kidnapping?” She took up a stack of papers from the side of her desk. “I’ve looked over the evidence, Captain Oldham. Thoroughly, I assure you. I wanted to make quite certain the ruling I made was based solely on the facts and not my feelings towards the plaintive. You’ve given me nothing, Captain Oldham, nothing. The spells recorded through prior incantantum match none of the spells used at the Javed household. You also have given me no explanation for how Ms Granger could have gotten herself in or out of the Ministry without anyone seeing her.” She let the stack of paper fall on her desk with a light thud. “Nothing you’ve shown me can prove she was anywhere but where she said she was that night.”
“As I said, she had help.”
Endor leaned back in her seat, a sigh rushing from her lips.
“Do you know why Weasley failed to be here when he was summoned? Because he and Parker Gale were in Madrid, Spain. So were Harry Potter, and Fred Weasley. Madrid. The city Hermione Granger resided in for five years. And look what’s happened. They return to England and the day after the child is abandoned in the Leaky Caldron? That is not a coincidence.”
“Do you have any proof of this?”
“Weasley and Gale took an International Portkey. We can have the records called up immediately.”
“That’s not necessary, Your Honor.” Ron interjected. “I can verify. Parker Gale and I were indeed in Spain.”
Endor sat, forward, her hands folded, her face engaged with intrigue. “Really? Might I inquire what you were doing there?”
“What else?” Ron shrugged. “I had similar thoughts to Captain Oldham. I went to Madrid in search of my daughter. And no,” he continued before he could be asked. “I did not find her there. It was another dead end.”
Harry let out a breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding as he released Ginny’s fingers, letting blood rush back into the tips. Ginny stroked the back of his hand, trying silently to soothe him.
Endor seemed to have noticed the movement. “You’ve been awfully quiet, Captain Potter.” She observed.
“I’m sorry, Your Honor,” Harry rose awkwardly to his feet, releasing Ginny’s hand only when it became awkward to maintain his hold. He took care to keep his face a perfect mask of confusion, playing his part well. “I’m at a loss as to what to say.”
“Is what Captain Oldham says true? Were you in Spain, Captain Potter?”
“Yes, Your Honor.” There were gasps of shock from the crowd. “But only because Fred asked me to help him.” He assured.
“My brother-in-law.” He turned and used his hand to indicate one of the two twins sitting behind him. “Fred Weasley.”
Fred saluted jauntily at the Official.
“I see. And what exactly were you helping Mr Weasley with?”
Harry turned to look back at Fred, as if silently asking him for permission, which Fred gave him with a nod.
Harry returned forward. “Supplies, Your Honor.”
“Supplies?” She had not been expecting the answer. “What kind of supplies?”
“Er…” Harry turned in place again to look back at Fred, scratching at his head, causing the hair to stand up more crazily in back. “What was that stuff we picked up again?”
“Cuélebre dribble.” Fred supplied.
“Right,” Harry snapped his fingers while turning back, his nose scrunched with distaste. “Cuélebre dribble.” He nodded once for emphasis.
“And what is Cuélebre dribble?”
“Come now,” Fred rose to his feet. “You’re joking me?” When the Official continued to stare at him, no trace of humor on her face, Fred whistled low. “All right then. Cuélebre dribble, Your Honor, is the saliva of a Cuélebre. George and I use it in our shop…for various reasons.”
“For what exactly?”
“Ahhh…” George said, ticking his tongue as he joined his brother on his feet. “Sorry, Your Honor. No can do.” He shook his head, jumping in without missing a beat. “Don’t want our competition ferreting out our secrets.”
“As a matter of fact,” Fred looked around the room, eyeing the quills scribbling across rolls of parchment, “I’m afraid we’ve already said too much.” He continued to turn in a circle as is searching for competition that might have snuck their way into the back corners of the courtroom.
“And why is it you needed to go to Spain to obtain this Culbert dribble?”
“Cuélebre dribble, Your Honor.” Fred corrected. “Isn’t it obvious? Cuélebre are native to Spain.” Harry worked to keep his face impassive while Fred continued. “Very interesting animal, the Cuélebre. Very dangerous. It’s no easy task obtaining their spit without killing the animal. One vial costs, well more than we usually make in a month.” Fred nodded importantly.
“And why was it necessary for you to bring Captain Potter to acquire… the dribble, when you could have brought your brother?”
“Well, I had to stay at the store.” George said, motion to himself.
“And I thought we could benefit from…” Fred waved his hand gently as he tried to find the right words. “Harry’s special services.”
“Celebrity discount.” They said together.
“They’re lying.” Jillian slammed her fist against the barrier. “I caught them at the home of Beila Covas Callas together. She’s a friend of Granger’s.”
Ron’s head jerked up in obvious surprise. “All of us?” He turned to Jillian, head tipped slightly to the right. “I don’t recall seeing you in Spain, Ms Oldham.”
“Of course.” He said glibly. “I’m sorry. With your current suspension it must have slipped my mind.”
Jillian’s nostrils flared.
“I still don’t recall seeing you in Spain.”
“It was after you left, Captain.” Parker folded his hands behind his back at attention. “As Captain Weasley said,” he looked to the Official, “we were already in Spain looking for Blake and I’d met Ms Callas when she came to England to visit Ms Granger. I thought she would want to know what happened to her friend. But…” he turned toward Harry and Fred, “Captain Potter and Mr Weasley had already beat me there.”
“Wait a minute here,” A slow, gleeful smile slid across George’s face. “Don’t tell me you followed that bird all the way to Spain.” he laughed. He clapped Fred on the shoulder, doubling over slightly. “What a Nancy.”
“What can I say,” Fred thrust his fingers through his hair jauntily, trying to cover for the flush that spread across the bridge of his nose and his cheek bones. “She’s a fit girl with a talented tongue.”
George laughed again, this time a few more chuckles joined him.
“Your Honor,” Jillian cried, her frustration bring her to the brink of tears. “They’re lying.” She slammed both hands down on the barrier. “All of them.”
“Captain Oldham, control yourself or I’ll have you removed.”
“It’s not fair. You’re going to let them get away with it again.”
“Captain Oldham,” she warned.
“There’s nothing to get away with.” Ron’s stern voice cut in. He pinned Jillian to her place with his eyes. “I’ve had enough of this. If you refuse to believe that Ms Granger couldn’t possibly have kidnapped Blake, try and wrap your head around this. I never reported my daughter missing. A trial is being held for a crime that, technically, hasn’t been committed.”
“Captain Weasley,” Official Endor said in a low voice, “what are you saying?”
“If this court insists on pursuing this ridiculous trial then I’m going to insist on not pressing charges. Hermione Granger is innocent. And I will not let this…” his lip curled with disgust, “woman…use her own personal vendetta to punish an innocent person.”
Endor looked at Ron from over her folded hands. “Don’t you want the perpetrator caught?”
“Of course I do, Your Honor. There is nothing I want more than to ring that person’s neck.” Ron refused to turn his head, even an inch, to see if Hermione had reacted. “But it’s time for me to face the truth. Blake was left at the Leaky Caldron, a place overrun with magical residue. I couldn’t find a trace of my own magic in that place let alone anyone else’s. This is the first real trail I’ve had since Blake disappeared and it’s a cold one. And if I’m going to be completely honest, she’s home now. She’s safe and healthy and she was well taken care of. Who ever took her, I don’t think they did it to harm her. I prefer to think they were trying to protect her. In their own sick, twisted, demented way. And I won’t ever stop looking for them, Your Honor. I’ll find them… But at the moment I’m just happy Blake’s home.”
Olivia Endor sat back in her seat. Her eyes moved slowly over the filled room, resting on individual faces, her eyes boring into them as if she could see the truth in their eyes. No one moved. No one said a word.
Hermione had closed her eyes. It all came down to this moment. Olivia Endor would decide her fate and… she couldn’t begin to imagine what would come after, let alone think about it. Ron coming, speaking on her behalf, had not been what she had expected. She needed to keep her eyes closed, to save herself the torment of looking at him. She couldn’t understand why he had done it. It most certainly hadn’t been for her sake. Perhaps he’d done it for Harry.
“Well,” Olivia Endor sat back in her chair. “This has certainly been an interesting trial. Ms Granger,” Hermione opened her eyes and seeing the gentle jerk of the Official’s head, rose to her feet, using the arms of her chair to give her the purchase she needed. She braced her hands on the table in front of her to steady herself. “You seem to have many people who care a great deal about you.” Her eyes swept over the anxious face seated behind the brown haired witch. “You’re very fortunate. And while I feel the truth may have been… finessed slightly, the facts come down to this. There is not sufficient evidence to convict you.” Jillian made a sound of protest, “And you,” Endor’s eyes snapped to Jillian, “Captain Oldham… You have only yourself to blame. We’ll never know now if Ms Granger really was guilty of kidnapping Blake Weasley because you botched this investigation so completely. Instead of wasting time having this trial pushed forward you should have done your job and collected the evidence needed to convict the guilty party.” She picked up her gavel. “I find Hermione Jean Granger innocent of all charges.” She slammed the gavel once. “Ms Granger, you’re free to go.”
Flashing bulbs lit the room a blinding white. Behind him Ron could hear his mother sob as she reached to pull Hermione into her arms.
Ron turned slowly to his left. His eyes lit momentarily on Hermione before moving past her and catching Harry’s. His friend smiled, nodding once in thanks. Ron paused a moment, debating. Letting his breath out in one long sigh, he nodded in return.
“I hope you know this isn’t over.” Jillian hissed at his ear.
Ron turned sharply, startling her to step back in surprise. Disgust contorted his features as his muscles bunched and his spine straightened. He took advantage of his considerable height and musculature to stand over her, cowing her with his presences. “You’re right. I feel it’s only right to give you fare warning. I’ll be personally heading the investigation into your practices. I don’t imagine you’ll be with the Ministry much longer.”
Jillian’s face screwed up in fury. She drew back and let loose with a slap that sent his head jerking to the side. She spat at his feet before turning briskly and pushing her way through the crowd, ignoring the calls and threats being thrown at her from the crowd.
Ron rubbed tenderly at his cheek as he tried to hide his satisfaction. He would enjoy taking her down. With a chuckle he turned…and stopped cold.
His hand dropped from his face.
Brown eyes stared at him hollowly from inside a shrunken face. Hermione. Seeing her properly for the first time in weeks… he very nearly blanched. He could hardly recognize the person staring out at him from behind those eyes. It couldn’t be… not … He wanted to look away, but couldn’t. They stared at each other, blue eyes into brown. Neither moving. Neither breathing. Something heavy settled on his chest, turning the bile in his stomach.
“Ron,” thankful for a reason to look away he followed the sound of his name and his face lip up. Bernie wove her way through the crowd towards him, Blake held comfortably at her right hip. She smiled back, tossing her hair out of her eyes, as she turned sideways to squeeze between two broad shouldered men.
“Bernie,” Ron greeted as he reached for Blake. “What what are you doing here?” He nestled the baby into his arms, pressing kisses to her face. “I thought you were going to wait at the house.”
“I followed you.” She smiled sheepishly as she pulled her hair back out of her face, using a band from around her wrist to tie it back. “I needed to know what happened…” The words faded as she watched Ron turn. She stepped to the side to see around him and, knowing already what she would find, followed his line of sight to where Hermione had been standing moments before. “You made your decision.”
Ron didn’t answer immediately. He’d watched as Harry and Parker had slipped out of the courtroom through the side door, presumably to follow Hermione. “It was the right thing to do.” He said absently.
“She could‘ve at least stopped to thank you before she left.” Bernie said stiffly. “She at least owes you that.” Her eyes moved past him to the Weasleys descending upon them. “I should go.” She said taking a step back. “Your family is coming.” She turned, ready to flee.
“Bernie,” Ron’s hand landed on her arm, halting her.
She looked down at the hand gripping her, refusing to look up into his vibrant blue eyes.
Bernie forced her face into a neutral expression, making her lips smile as naturally as she could. “We’re friends, aren’t we.”
Ron looked between his family and her. “You made me dinner.”
Bernie swallowed, and waved her hand. “Forget about it.”
“No.” His fingers gripped her the tiniest bit tighter. “I’ll make it up to you.”
“You don’t have to do that.” She protested, shaking her head.
“I want to.” He released her as he stepped back to make room for his family. “I’ll owl you.” His family enveloped him before he could get her answer.
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